Destination: Death Valley
With multiple weeks of nice weather, our posse departed Portland, Oregon early morning on September 17th with a cold front and threat of rain and the occasional spit of rain drops in the face. We haplessly listened to the V-Twin’s drone on as we traveled east on Interstate 84 for 426 miles.
Long delay caused by an overturned Concrete semi on I-84
We arrived in Boise late afternoon which was hosting Oktoberfest in the Basque Block part of the vibrant downtown! We enjoyed some island fare and refreshments on the rooftop tiki patio at The Reef. Crowds gathered in the closed off streets for authentic German biers, food and of course the occasional chicken dance. And in what has to be one of the best Idaho cover bands — Pilot Error — rocked the crowd most of the evening. Here is a video of the band doing a Def Leppard cover with Derek Roy as lead vocal and the awesome Roger Witt – on lead guitar.
As the evening wore on it seemed filled with young college kids who were trying hard to “be” the club scene. Like those videos produced by I’m Shmacked.
Snake River and Great Basin area
The next morning was a continuation east on the mind-numbing straight road of Interstate 84. However, we really clicked off the miles to Twin Falls doing the freeway speed limit which is now set at 80 mph! We rolled along and were surprised by how many 18-wheelers tried to pass us.
As a side bar, you might recall that in the mid-1970s, Congress established a national maximum speed limit by withholding highway funds from states that maintained speed limits greater than 55 mph. Do you remember the “I can’t drive 55” days? The requirement was loosened for rural interstates in 1987 and completely repealed in 1995. As of today, 41 states have speed limits of 70 mph or higher. Oregon state legislators who seem to know more than the average citizen about how to protect us from ourselves just recently increased some rural interstate speeds to 70 mph. Texas is the fastest at 85 mph.
In route to Ely, NV
But I’ve digressed. This part of our arid motorcycle journey took us on the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway which runs through the Snake River Canyon. We rode through bright green irrigated fields, crossed the Snake River, saw a waterfall spilling from the top of a high bluff, and watched windmills turning in the stiff wind. As we headed further south on U.S. Route 93 we split the Great Basin that covers most of Nevada and part of Utah. There were mountains to the East and West, and the traffic thinned to an occasional tractor-trailer hauling freight or cattle.
Our ride ended that day in Ely, Nevada, which was founded as a stagecoach stop along the Pony Express, and later became a booming copper mining town.
We parked the bikes and enjoyed a nice dinner at the La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant.
On Nevada’s Loneliest Road
The following day we were up early and continued our ride south on one of Nevada’s loneliest roads. I’m not sure about you, but I find the Nevada desert to be immensely beautiful and awe-inspiring. Even though most of the roads are flat and straight, the scenery is grand and I always enjoy the ride.
Just a few miles south of Ely is a turnoff for the Ward Charcoal ovens. We didn’t travel down the eight miles of gravel road, but there are beehive-shaped stone kilns built by Mormons around 1876 to produce fuel for the silver and lead smelters serving the mines on Ward Mountain. As you look across the valley at the Big Basin National Park, there is the 13,000 foot Wheeler Peak standing off in the distant.
More Lonely Road…
We traveled the mostly straight 240+ miles and finally rolled into North Las Vegas and could see the skyline of the famous Las Vegas strip. Speaking of the city that never sleeps, our posse picked up a lot of traffic at the U.S. 93/I-15 interchange and were immediately greeted with a dude on a sport bike weaving in and out of lanes. Then adding to the traffic drama he started to split lanes at full on freeway speeds.
I must have missed that part of the training about how motorcyclists should always make sudden moves in heavy traffic! Most people who’ve had any experience driving in and around Vegas know that it can be a bit treacherous. Cages with locals that always seem to be in a hurry and cabbies are out in force all day and night driving fast and cutting across multiple lanes. Add to that the tourists trying to navigate a new city on the freeways and it’s a perfect storm of distracted drivers.
After all the traffic hustle and bustle I was looking forward to parking the bike for awhile and relaxing around the pool for a day. That evening we took on the “clickers” (i.e. porn panderers) who stand on every corner of the Strip and aggressively try to shove advertisements for adult entertainment in your face.
Departing Las Vegas
Don’t take me wrong, Las Vegas has world-class restaurants, cool bars, amazing entertainment and great weather, but after a couple of days of breathing air freshener the casinos pump into their ventilation systems to mask the reeking of camels, cigarillos, cigars and those slot machines going ding-ding-ding… I’m ready for some fresh air and wind in the face!
We did have an opportunity to walk through the sprawling Harley-Davidson dealer across from the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. We checked out the new Milwaukee Eight touring bikes and spent some time chatting with a knowledgeable sales person about the 2017 differences.
It wasn’t too long (about 48 hours) and Las Vegas was in our mirrors as we rode out into the desert on Hwy 160. We departed the city early so that we could tour through Death Valley before it got too hot. It was still in the high-70 degree range as we departed. We increased altitude going through Red Rock Canyon National Park toward Pahrump as the desert landscape morphs from sandy, rocky terrain dotted with low brush and creosote bushes. Big stratified rock formations and hills define the valleys in the distance, closing in on the road periodically before opening up to a wide expanse of flat desert floor. It’s a wonderland of muted color.
Looking back on Hwy 190
We fueled up in Pahrump which is an interesting town. Like in the rest of Nevada, gambling is legal in Pahrump, and there are several casinos to take advantage of that fact. But, unlike Las Vegas, the casinos in Pahrump are present but not dominant. They’re smaller and a little less intimidating. There might be some wisdom in staying overnight in Pahrump instead of the hectic scene in Vegas. Certainly the traffic situation would be a lot less stressful.
At the Death Valley junction we turned west on Hwy 190 and headed for Furnace Creek where the Native American tribe known as the Death Valley Timbisha Shoshone Band of California are located.
Initially it was was quite comfortable, but as we descended into the valley it felt like someone was turning up an oven. It was still early and the temps were in the high 80’s but by the time we stopped in Furnace Creek it was 100 degrees. Surprisingly hot for the end of September, but the scenery is spectacular!
Death Valley – Timbisha Shoshone Tribe
It’s some of the best “landscape” on the planet that looks a bit like you’ve arrived on Mars. There’s nothing growing out there higher than your knee yet it will be forever etched in your memory as not just one of the greatest motorcycle rides ever but one of the most beautiful. At one place in the park you can look down at one of the lowest points on earth at -280 feet in one direction and up to the highest point in the continental U.S. in another (Mt. Whitney, at 14,494). It’s an amazing color contrast.
Exiting Death Valley
We scurried on out of the national park and headed toward Mammoth Lakes on Hwy 395. The first real town you come to is Lone Pine. In the early to mid 20th century, the area around Lone Pine, particularly the Alabama Hills, which lie between the highway and the Sierra range, was a popular setting for western movies. Just west of town you’ll get another nice view of Mt. Whitney.
By the time we rode through the Inyo National Forest the desert heat had faded and we were getting hit with cooler air. Much, much cooler as we gained altitude and it started to spit rain drops. Not enough to soak the road or require rain gear, but enough to make it a bit uncomfortable. Our ride on this day ended at Mammoth Lakes which is a ski and outdoor-sports town.
Heading up toward Mammoth Lakes
Surprisingly it rained most of the night, but the sky cleared up in the early morning and we departed Mammoth Lakes with the temperature only in the high 40’s. A brisk start to our riding day as we continued north on Hwy 395 on the eastern side of the Sierra’s. We rode around Mono Lake, and we climbed to another 8100-foot ridge, which offers a great view back to the Mono basin before starting back down past the turn-off for Bodie.
The last real town before your reach Nevada is Bridgeport. We stopped at the Bridgeport Inn, for breakfast. A nice place built in 1877 and about 23 miles from Mono Lake. It’s a family run historic period Victorian hotel, old Irish pub, and fine dining restaurant. After warming up a bit we continue our ride and crossed into Nevada about 50 miles after Bridgeport. Aptly named Topaz Lake covers the state line next to the highway as you cross.
We arrived in Reno for the start of Street Vibrations 2016. Downtown was rumbling with motorcycles of all shapes and sizes for the fall rally which marks the last big motorcycle rally of the season for the west. There was no shortage of vendors and having been to the event a number of times we repeated some of the events over a couple of days.
The Destination: Timbisha Indian Country Posse
Part of the posse departed early Saturday morning and some headed out late morning to return back to Portland. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t take many photos on the return trip from Reno as I’ve been on these roads a lot over the years and just focused on riding home vs. scenery.
In summary, we traveled over 2100 miles in 8 days with no mishaps, tickets or mechanical malfunctions. What more can you ask for?
Street Vibrations UPDATE: There was some disappointing news surrounding Street Vibrations which I learned of upon my return. Jeffrey Sterling Duke, 57, of Georgetown, Calif. was shot to death on Interstate 80 near Truckee on Saturday night. According to law enforcement he was semi-associated with the Vagos Motorcycle Club and his Facebook page noted that he was a Green Nation Supporter.
According to officials three motorcyclists rode up to the victim and fired multiple gunshots before taking off. It’s not clear if this shooting is associated, but you might recall that five years ago this past weekend, members of the Vagos and Hells Angels Motorcycle Clubs exchanged gunfire during a deadly brawl on the floor of a casino in Sparks.
Randy Burke (Road Shows) applies some media “spin” and explains why the Street Vibrations Rally is not to be blamed for the shooting.
Photos taken by author.
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