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Sierra Nevada Mountain Range

It’s taken me much longer than typical to finish this post, but here is the summary of the Yosemite trip taken last month (August)…  Part 1 is HERE.

The next day (Tuesday, August 2nd) we departed Reno mid-morning and continued down Hwy 395 south.  Others in the posse were heading to Las Vegas and departed early to avoid the desert heat.  Our plan was to ride through Yosemite so there was no big rush.  In fact, after about 30 minutes we made a brief stop at the Carson City H-D dealer.  I was interested to see if they had any 2012 Road Glide models on display – they didn’t – and after some coffee we continue our meandering pace along the high-desert valley floor.  We crossed back over the state line into CA., near Topaz Lake. It was early but the fishing boats dotted the lake in what was likely an attempt to capture a trophy trout.

Mono Lake

Bridgeport was the first fuel stop of the morning and where we paid over $5-gallon.  It’s not highly visible, but Bridgeport hosts the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MCMWTC).  It’s one of the more remote and isolated military posts and conducts training exercises for military personnel headed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  The base is located about 21 miles from the city center on Hwy 108 at Pickle Meadow.

We grabbed lunch at the Burger Barn in Bridgeport.  It’s literally a mom and pop fast food restaurant cooking up some great food, and while there was a number of people ordering it was well worth the wait.  Afterward we continued south and it wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse of Mono Lake.   “Mono” means “beautiful” in Piute and besides being an oasis in the great basin it is an awesome sight.  As we continued around Mono Lake we quickly climbed to another 8100-foot ridge where aspen forest dotted the landscape and then we started back down to the valley floor which sits about 6000 feet.

Tioga Pass Road (Hwy 120)

We continued to cruise down through the southern Sierra Mountain range which in my view is an awesome ride.  I drove much of this same route back in April (HERE) when our group decided to ride down to the Laughlin River Run.  I remember it being much colder and a lot of snow on the sides of the road.  This trip it was t-shirt/vest riding weather which made it a real treat.  As we rolled through Lee Vining, CA., I notice a motel at the edge of town with a vacancy sign and made a mental note.  We hadn’t decided if we were going to ride through the park toward Merced or back track to Reno.  Just outside of Lee Vining we took Hwy 120 (Tioga Pass Road).  The road is a constant climb and gains about 4000 feet in elevation.  We rode along the sweeping cliffs and granite lined road, and entered the park at Yosemite’s Tioga Pass which sits at 9,945-foot elevation. Tioga Pass is the highest automobile pass in California.  It’s a picture postcard view when you across a mountaintop and there are not many experiences like that in a lifetime.

Tioga Pass at 9,945 Ft Elevation

Once at the Tioga Pass checkpoint, it was time for a short break to stop, stretch out and snap a few tourist photos of the scenery. It was at this point of the ride where we started to notice the dramatic number of visitors, RVs, auto’s, horses and hikers. We trekked through the tree-lined roads and over the lazy curves and long straights of asphalt where you can actually see for miles well off into the distance that covers the remaining eastern portion of Yosemite Park, the cliffs, and gigantic jagged granite mountains were spectacular.

After about an hour of slow moving traffic we made a judgment call on where we wanted to look for a motel.  The concern was that if continued west we would be competing with more and more tourists for fewer motel rooms.  We elected to back track to Lee Vining with the hope of nailing down a room in the motel I observed earlier in the day. Heading back in reverse direction actually paid dividends because traffic was lighter and most everything looked different.  The 4000 feet ride down had a much different feel.  Needless to say, you don’t want to misjudge any of these curves especially when the motorcycle gains speed heading downhill. There were some straight stretches of roadway along with “S-curves” thrown in, and where a sheer cliff drop-off of some 2,000 feet straight down awaited anyone who misjudged the road.

Tioga Lake

This part of the ride went by quickly as we wound up at the base of highway 395.  We pulled into the motel and lucked out getting the last remaining room at Murphey’s Motel.  It’s a bit older, but was very comfy considering the alternative of riding back to Bridgeport or Carson City.

We grabbed dinner Bodie Mike’s.  The weather was good and they had a nice outside dining area.  The pulled pork was good and the Corona’s were cold.  The next morning we grabbed some breakfast at Nicely’s and then headed back to Reno where we met up with another part of the group who had arrived the night before. We hit the Silver Legacy pool and mapped out our destination for the return trip home.

The next morning we were up early for breakfast with members of the posse and laid out plans for our route to Susanville.  We planned to take CA-44 through Lassen National Forest and then head up toward Old Station and then take CA-89 toward the town of Mount Shasta.

Mt. Shasta

I like riding this route. The road is good and traffic is always moving briskly for a two-lane road.   It has a varied and interesting scenery.  About 60 miles south of Mount Shasta there was a forest fire back in 2009 that left the area looking like a moonscape.  It was the Hat Creek Complex.  More photos HERE.  We rolled into Mount Shasta, got some fuel and then headed to Weed, CA., where we spent the night.  Across the street from the Quality Inn was a little BBQ joint that had some excellent brisket.

Klamath Lake

The next morning we took U.S. Route 97 north to Klamath Falls.  Weed, CA., has an elevation over 3000’, but there are sections in California that is above 5,000 feet in elevation with a couple significant summits. We passed over Grass Lake Summit and about 30 miles into the trip we passed over Mount Hebron Summit which sits about 5,200 feet.  The entire part of the California portion of U.S. Route 97 is part of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway which is an awesome road to ride.  We continued past Klamath Falls and Crater Lake Park.  We headed west on Hwy 58 which is sometimes called Willamette Highway No. 18.  As we headed further into the mountains we climbed up and over the summit of Willamette Pass and stopped in Oakridge.  There are two scenic byways—the West Cascades Scenic Byway and the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway which intersect with OR 58 and are great roads to ride.

Hwy 58 - Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

We arrived home a week later and given the easy number of miles we felt rested having the experience of traveling on a motorcycle through the Sierra Nevada high-desert and the elevated Yosemite park setting.  Of the bike trips that I have been on, and there have been many, the Highway 395 and Yosemite/Tioga Pass ride has to be one of the more incredible stretches of road with incredible scenery to travel.

Photos taken by author on the trip.

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Cold Creek Inn - Mt. Shasta (Background)

Day 1: (PDX – Mt. Shasta City)
The posse departure date for Laughlin was April 25th. Unfortunately, that morning rain came down in sheets and the wind blew like a hurricane. It is spring in the northwest after all and with the instability…showers produced a mix of rain and small hail with an occasional snow flurry back to rain.  So, rather than enjoy t-shirt riding, we enjoyed getting to know our rain gear and re-learning how to use heated gloves!  Scattered showers continued through the valley off and on, but it got warmer (maybe we were just getting use to it?) as we made our way south.

We rode straight down I-5 and it was an uneventful trip until we hit the Siskiyou pass where snow flurries started.  Fortunately nothing was sticking to the road and we continued on to Mt. Shasta City where we overnighted at the Cold Creek Inn.

Hwy 207 from South Lake Tahoe

We grabbed some dinner at Strings Italian Café and spent the evening re-packing rain gear and warming up.

Day 2: (Mt. Shasta City – Minden, NV)
Temperatures continued to be cold (sub-freezing) when we woke, but the sun was shining which helped thaw out the heavy frost on the bikes.

We plugged in and headed south down I-5 to Red Bluff.  In the first hour we crossed over Lake Shasta.  Bright blue sky with deep blue water made for some awesome photos unfortunately I never stopped to take any pictures.   I’ll add that to my bucket list.  The lake for all practical purposes look full.  And there is still a lot of construction on the I-5 roadway in and around the bridge.  After arriving in Red Bluff we took Hwy 99 South to Los Molinos and Chico.  We proceed south on Hwy 99/162 past the Oroville Wildlife Area to Yuba City then toward Lake of the Woods State Wildlife to Sacramento.  We did a bit of looping in the area and finally made our way east to Folsom on Hwy 50 or the El Dorado Fwy.

Minden, NV - Looking at South Lake Tahoe

We rolled thru Pollock Pines then the Eldorado National Forest via Hwy 50 then Hwy 89/50 thru South Lake Tahoe.  The temperatures remained cool through the 4500-5000 foot level of the national forest and while the road was dry there remained large amounts of snow in the ditches.  We fueled up in South Lake Tahoe and proceeded onto Hwy 207 which runs up and over the mountain after plenty of switchbacks to Minden, NV where we overnighted at the Holiday Inn Express.

Minden is located near the center of Carson Valley and about 15 miles south of Carson City.  We grab dinner at the Carson Valley Inn (Katie’s Country Kitchen) after learning that the CV Steak house closed shop on Tuesdays.

After dinner we were still chilled to the bone with a couple days of electric gloves so we hit the hot tub in the hotel and that seemed to permanently correct the “chilled” situation for the rest of the trip.

Mono Lake

Day 3: (Minden – Las Vegas)
The next morning continued on a bit of a warming trend as we picked up Hwy 395 and headed south.  We meandered along the valley floor and crossed back over the state line into CA., near Topaz Lake.  It was early but fishing boats dotted the lake I suppose to take a shot at capturing another trophy trout.

Bridgeport was the first fuel stop of the morning and where we paid about $25 to fill a 5-gallon motorcycle tank!   Not well know, but Bridgeport hosts the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MCMWTC).  It’s one of the most remote and isolated military posts and conducts training exercises for military personnel headed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  The base is located about 21 miles from the city center on Hwy 108 at Pickle Meadow, but we chatted up some guys in a non-descript white standard issue military van.

Sierra Mountain Range - Hwy 395

As we rode on it wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse of Mono Lake.  “Mono” means “beautiful” in Piute and besides being an oasis in the great basin it is an awesome sight.  As we continued around Mono Lake we quickly climbed to another 8100-foot ridge where aspen forest dotted the landscape and then we started back down the to the valley floor.  We continued south and near Crestview is a turnoff on Hwy 203.  For many in southern CA., this is the road to Mammoth Lakes and a ski resort.

We ate lunch at a local Denny’s in Bishop, the unofficial capital of Owens Valley and the biggest town on Hwy 395 south of Reno.  The town sits at about 4000 feet, but just a few minutes prior to arriving we were nearly at 9000 feet.  On the way into Bishop I remember looking off east and seeing a large radar array.  I didn’t recall seeing any information and always on the lookout for something new I researched it on my return.  It’s the CARMA Deep Space Satellite Dish Array Complex and turns out to be one of the largest university operated radio observatories in the world known as the Owens Valley Radio Observatory.  Who knew?!

Death Valley

We continued on and arrived in Lone Pine which is between the highway and the Sierra range and was popular for filming western movies.  In fact we passed the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film history and enjoyed a spectacular view of Mt. Whitney (14,494 ft) which is the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states.  We took Hwy 190 east which runs though Death Valley National Park.

We entered Death Valley from the west entrance on Hwy 190 and traveled east.  The 3.3 million acres of spectacular scenery with sculpted hills and shifting sand dunes.  We went from high level vistas to the below sea level and enjoyed the hottest place in N.A.  About 20 miles into the park we stopped at Father Crowley Point and ran into a group of riders from Germany.  It seems to me that we end up chatting with folks from Germany about every year in the desert because they ride rented H-D’s with Florida plates.  Last year we met a group riding in the Grand Canyon with snow.  We made another stop at Stovepipe Wells village and another photo opportunity of Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes then headed east on Daylight Pass Road to Beatty, NV., as we needed to make some miles after meandering around in the park.

Below Sea Level

At Beatty we headed south on Hwy 95.  About an hour outside Las Vegas near Indian Springs I saw a big shadow roll over me from the sky and at first I was thinking it was a bird.  I looked back over my left shoulder and it turned out to be a Predator drone making circles in a landing pattern at Creech AFB.  The base use to be called Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, but was changed a few years ago and it’s now home to the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle and the 432d Wing “Hunters.”

We arrived in Las Vegas and bedded down in the “Hangover Suite” at the MGM.  I kid you not the hotel gave us a mid-week deal on the suite that cost the same as a normal room. We were living life large… at least for one night.

Laughlin Aquarius Hotel/Casino

Day 4: Laughlin
We hit it a bit hard the night before… some a lot more than others… and as a result we made a leisurely mid-day departure out of Vegas and headed toward Laughlin on Hwy 95.  At the Boulder City/Laughlin junction we did an inventory of fuel thinking we could make Searchlight without any issues.  We hadn’t planned on the fierce headwind and as a result my bike ran out of fuel about 7 miles to soon.  We leveraged a tube from one of the tool kits and used a water bottle to transfer some gas from one of the newer bikes which have 6+ gallon fuel tanks.  According to H-D the “check-engine” light which was triggered by the lack of firing due to fuel issue will re-set after about 50 starts and work normal.  I may need to go in and just have them reset it… assuming the cost is minimal to free?

After approximately 1200 miles we finally arrived at the Laughlin River Run and Aquarius Hotel/Casino in time to park our bikes, grab a refreshment and take in a few vendor booths.

The BBQ Crew

Our original plan was to crash at a buddies place in Needles on sleeping bags, but on a whim we decided to check room availability at the Aquarius.  They had rooms, be it 5X the standard budget rate on any other week, but our age group isn’t fond of sleeping bags and hard floors so we opted for plusher surroundings and paid the elevated rates.  Yeah, we’re lame, but showers are nice every couple days!

Summary
Over the next couple days we meandered around the local area, hit the pool once and chatted up the new motorcycle products with vendors and attended a couple of BBQ’s put on by one of our buddies friends from L.A.  First came Big Ed’s BBQ in Bull Head City with authentic Mexican dishes, Fajitas, Spanish rice and other seasoned food that melted in your mouth.  Then there was Big Dave’s in Needles on the Colorado River…   there were dry rubs, spicy pastes and marinated flavor that permeated the meats and provided a wonderful taste.  The shrimp was a killer with the wide range of heat from differing chilies.  Major shout out to the L.A. posse for the awesome hospitality!!

The "Van Down By The River"

Due to work constraints I had to have my bike shipped back to Oregon and caught a flight home late Sunday (May 1), but other members of the posse did a two day return.  Back-to-back nearly 600 mile days means they get the tired butt award!

I would be remiss if I didn’t make a comment about attendance or the Mongol MC.  The Aquarius seemed to be ‘home base’ for many of the members and the valet area had a number of tables with a mini-bar set up to refresh patrons.  The Aquarius had implemented a “no colors” policy that prohibited members of any biker club from displaying their membership patches while in the casino. And some “guests” apparently weren’t aware of the policy and wore colors but, they agreed to comply once they were informed by casino staff.  Indeed there was a large and very visible Metro Police contingent at the hotel as well.

Full On Shrimp...

I’m pleased to report that while motorcycle clubs of all dispositions turned out for the River Run, none caused any major problems for either the casinos or the police this year.  Sure the Aquarius management made the call to restrict casino access to registered guests only from about 6 pm- to-midnight Saturday, but rumors were overblown or simply untrue that motorcycle clubs were the issue.  The hotel made the decision earlier in the afternoon after observing that guests were having difficulty accessing parking lots, games and restaurants due to the sheer volume of visitors and put up the restriction.  As a guest I can tell you it help moved people in and out of the property and performed much better than previous years I’ve stayed at Harrah’s where arm badges and motorcycle passes wasted a lot of time getting off property.

Looking Back At A Great Road Trip

It’s true that attendance was observably down.  Yet, it felt plenty busy vs. jammed up or crowded.  I’m not sure if it was the weather (cooler/windy than normal) or economic as fuel prices approached $5/gallon at many locations.   In my viewpoint the cooler weather helped keep people in the vendor booths — buying — as you weren’t looking for shade or AC to avoid the heat.  If you attended and have some ideas on why attendance was down let me know.

The official stats from this report indicate that arrests were down (31 arrests vs. 34 in 2010).  Six were arrested and charged with felonies including drug possession and grand larceny.  Police issued 199 traffic citations vs. 229 in 2010.

All in all it was a really successful rally/weekend.

Photos taken by author.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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