Just like the Colorado Plateau bicycle tour that I posted on this blog a couple months ago, I rode this route over a decade ago, specifically Nov-Dec 2007, when I was living in Boulder. I had previously published the text and (unedited) photos, but good luck finding them (not that anyone finds this blog either :)). The text I’ll post unedited. I did a little work on the photos.
I (first) biked through Death Valley in October 1996. It was 109°F (43°C) at Furnace Creek. The area is beautiful, but it was way too hot at that time of year. I knew I wanted to come back on my bicycle when it was cooler. This year (2007) it worked out to take about 3 weeks after Thanksgiving. I ended up spending 18 days to cycle from Palm Springs to Las Vegas. I spent about half of that time in Death Valley NP. In Baker I met a group of cyclists on racing bikes with a support vehicle. They were cycling from Palm Springs to Las Vegas in 2 days. I saw a lot more desert than they did.
Coachella Valley and Joshua Tree National Park
I crossed the Coachella Valley on Ramon Rd. It was over 70°F (21°C), probably the warmest day of the trip. It wasn’t ’til I turned onto Thousand Palms Rd. that I felt like I was heading out into the desert on my own. The San Andreas Fault system runs along the northern end of the Coachella Valley. The faults allow groundwater to rise to the surface resulting in a number of California fan palm oases. It’s wonderful to see oases in the desert.
It was a 1300m climb on Berdoo Canyon Rd. to the Coachella Valley-Pleasant Valley saddle in Joshua Tree NP. I didn’t see a single person or vehicle in Berdoo Canyon. Climbing out of Pleasant Valley I saw the first person, a fellow adventurer. Patrick was walking solo across Joshua Tree NP from west to east. That’s a heck of a trek. That park is huge and has only one known spring. Patrick had set up two water caches before his trip.
Amboy Road and Mojave National Preserve
I bought enough food in 29 Palms to last 4 days to Baker. Heading east on the Amboy Rd. I met the only other touring cyclist of the trip. He had come down from Bishop through Death Valley NP, Baker, Kelso, Amboy – much the same route I was planning to take. When I met him, he had run out of food. I shared some almonds with him but didn’t have much sympathy with his plight. The reason he didn’t buy food in Baker was because there wasn’t a health food store! Well, I told him there was a grocery store in 29 Palms, but it might not be up to his standard.
One of the things I was looking forward to on this trip was experiencing the transition zone between the Sonoran Desert (lower, farther south) and the Mojave Desert (higher, farther north). Creosote bushes grow in both, but most other flora is limited to one ecosystem or the other. In the transition zones you can see a mix of vegetation. What I saw ended up being less dramatic than Washington County, Utah, where the Colorado Plateau, the Basin and Range country, and the Mojave Desert all come together. Joshua Trees were the main ecosystem indicator for me. I knew I was climbing high when I started to see them.
I was surprised how much traffic there was on the Amboy Rd. It wasn’t much, but a lot of the paved roads that I was on during the trip would have one car every 10-30 minutes and perhaps none all night. The only truly busy roads were the road north out of Baker (on a Saturday morning) and the Pahrump-Las Vegas superhighway which has a wonderful bicycle lane.
I climbed Sheep Hole Pass to get into the Amboy Valley. It was in the Amboy Valley where I became accustomed to two aspects important to cyclists in the Mojave:
Distances are deceiving. You can see really far. It takes much longer to cross these valleys than it appears that it would.
The slight inclines up alluvial fans or other fill climb a lot more than they appear to. In Colorado I’m not accustomed to seeing the whole climb since there are usually canyon climbs here. Leaving Amboy, for example, I climbed over 3000 ft. on a slowly rising alluvial plane. It took hours.
I enjoyed time off the bike to walk out to and up Amboy Crater. The following day I climbed to the top of the Kelso Dunes. And one day later I climbed one of the cinder cones east of Baker. I enjoyed having a diversion each day. Each of those areas is beautiful in its own way. The creosote bushes in the Amboy Valley are particularly green because of the shallow water table. Kelso Dunes are simply fantastic, and the cinder cone area with over 30 cinder cones and not another person felt like another planet.
In Baker I bought enough food to last 10 days and ate at the Mad Greek at my brother’s recommendation. I had taken a rest day the previous day because of rain, and Baker was a bit flooded. Folks were out pushing water around with brooms. At the store the locals were telling each other how much their roofs leaked.
Up next: Death Valley! Stay tuned…