Three Days in Death Valley
Bicycle Adventurer: Ron Norton
Distance: 131 miles over three days.
Bonus: Easy riding, courteous drivers, and the surreal beauty of Death Valley.
Weather: Warm and sunny, 85°F, until the winds blew up on the last day.
When: February 2015
The Route: Starting at Stovepipe Wells, CA, Ron rode north to the Mesquite Spring Campground with a side trip to Scotty’s Castle. The next day, he retraced his route south and spent the night at Furnace Creek before finishing his trip back at Stovepipe Wells.
Stovepipe Wells to Mesquite Spring Campground with a side trip to Scotty's Castle. 54 miles.
I made a last minute decision to do another mini tour, a bike overnight, and headed to California’s Death Valley National Park. California may have its faults (no pun intended), but lacking beautiful places for weekend bike tours is certainly not one of them. I left my house at 4:30 a.m. and after a very nice drive via State Route 190, arrived at Stovepipe Wells at 8:00 a.m. After a little final packing, I was rolling at 8:30 a.m.
Wind can be a big problem in Death Valley and I worried as a dry front was supposed to be kicking some north winds up, but I enjoyed a tailwind instead. No complaints from me! Still, I wondered if the winds would arrive in the night and blow me out to Vegas!
Easy riding, courteous drivers, and the surreal beauty of the Valley kept me smiling and before I knew it, I had knocked out forty miles and found my home for the night, Mesquite Spring Campground. There was a pretty good half mile climb near the end of the day and I appreciated my three water bottles.
I found a site, set up camp in short order, then took a quick ride up to see Scotty’s Castle. While taking a break there, a coyote cruised through looking for some tourist handouts! Later, I fell asleep with a pack of coyotes howling and barking their evening plans amongst their pack.
Mesquite Springs to Furnace Creek. 52 miles.
The winds did come up from the north last night, but not too bad and I was only shaken awake a couple of times. Coffee'd up, fed, and rolling by 7:30 a.m., I began the uphill grind out of the campground into the wind––nice warm up. Then, turning south, I set sail for Furnace Creek. With a 20 mph tailwind and heading downhill, I averaged about 25 mph for the first 20 miles. Nice!
At my evening destination, the Furnace Creek visitor center had a great water bottle filler so the water didn't taste like borax––a big plus for a water connoisseur like me. I met some more nice people in camp and then got down to cooking up a little dinner: pasta and herbs with smoked trout. This paired nicely with a beer from the Furnace Creek Ranch General Store. Simple pleasures!
Furnace Creek back to Stovepipe Wells. 25 miles.
Well, the weather was good while it lasted. But last night, the winds came up and this time it was clear the weather was changing and not for the better. So, rather than heading south to Badwater before returning to Stovepipe Wells, I just packed up, returned north straight back to Stovepipe Wells, and finished the trip just in time for the rain to start.
I got to see how the rig and it's pilot would do in strong headwinds and crosswinds and I think we passed the test. The only uncomfortable moments were when one of those giant, flat-faced RVs got a little too close (no shoulders on the roads here) and smacked me with a bow wave of air that (like me) probably just wanted to get out of his way! But, most of the drivers were more than courteous and gave me plenty of room, which I occasionally needed with the gusty winds!
Tip for this Adventure: Wind can be a big issue in Death Valley. (How do you think all those beautiful sand dunes got out there?) But, the spring wind events are mostly predictable and associated with weather systems coming off of the Pacific. Once the system has passed, you normally have a "weather window" of three-plus days. Just monitor NOAA, and when you see a window, book out there and enjoy!
About This Adventurer: Ron Norton stays active in his fifties and blogs
Favorite Bike Shop: The Squeaky Wheel Bike Shop