When we left off, I was making my way back to the pavement after a mini adventure from Panamint Springs to Racetrack Playa via Hunter Mountain.
Through the bottom of Death Valley
The downhill continued all the way to the pavement at Ubehebe Crater, but I had to push the bike a bit once I got to the lava/cinder area. The black sand of the roadbed was much finer and deeper than the surface of most of the descent. Getting to Ubehebe concluded what I had planned for this trip. The only thing left was to get to Las Vegas. Berdoo Canyon, Mengel Pass, and Hunter Mountain had all been hard excursions, but each took about a day less than I had (conservatively) expected. I had time to make it a pleasant, easy ride to Vegas. I hiked around Ubehebe Crater and relaxed in the wind at the parking lot. Only two cars plus a ranger came by during the ~3 hours I was there. Each car stopped, the occupants got out, took a couple photos, and were driving away less than 2 minutes later. Incredible! This place is the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t understand why anyone would drive so far and spend so little time. It turns out though that Ubehebe is only a 10 mile detour from the Scotty’s Castle road.
I didn’t make much distance this day even though it was flat and I had a tailwind after Ubehebe. I camped illegally near the paved road but was careful to avoid washes since I could tell it was going to storm. Storm it did. The wind bent my tent sideways, and rain poured down for hours. Death Valley received about a third of their annual average rainfall in this ~6 hour period. It was December 7, and it rained almost as much as it had from January 1 to December 6. The nice flat sandy spot I had chosen for my tent was just a bit lower than the surrounding area. The whole area was really quite flat, but the soil there can’t absorb water very quickly. In the middle of the night I found my tent sitting in an inch or so of water. Only my thermarest was above it. I moved the tent in the pouring rain, but it was too late. Most of my stuff was pretty wet. Both pairs of socks and the bottom of my down bag were soaked. I wrapped my feet in a wool scarf like a Ace bandage and tried to get some sleep.
I was up early in the morning. I had managed to keep my down coat fairly dry so I put that on over my damp clothes to ride away in the morning. Tons of rocks up to the size of softballs had poured across the 2-lane paved highway out of washes that were only a foot or two wide. It had snowed down to 4000′. In every direction were snow-covered peaks. I was so lucky to be down low, near pavement. The dirt roads that I had spent much of the last week on were probably impassable that morning. Ulida Flat where I had camped two nights earlier was probably covered in snow. I was able to keep warm biking in my down coat, but I was down at sea level, the warmest place around!
The sun came out. Everything warmed up. The views were phenomenal. In spite of the damp clothes it was a fantastic day to be cycling. At Furnace Creek I was directed to the sunny employee picnic area where I pulled everything out of my bags and dried everything out while enjoying lunch and wine from the grocery store. I hung out there for 2-3 hours before anyone else showed up. It was Herb, the night maintenance man. Enthralled with the bike he asked lots of questions about touring and the LHT specifically. He kept getting calls on his radio but continued to talk with me. Herb plans to live on his bike for a while and had been researching bicycles. I enthusiastically encouraged him since I know from experience that a lot of folks discourage that kind of crazy plan. Before he left to finally answer one of his calls, he asked me, “did you find the free showers?” I hadn’t. Hohoho, that shower felt wonderful.
I spent a rest day at Furnace Creek and talked to Herb to 2 or 3 more times.
I also met Mary and Paul from Rogue River, Oregon, who invited me to dinner at their campsite. I didn’t carry a stove on this trip. The hot meal that Mary put together was the best meal of the trip. She had dried tomatoes and zucchini from their garden, a hot sauce with peppers that they grew, a jalepeño artichoke dip as an appetizer, and plenty of red wine. Was I ever a happy camper!
And on to Las Vegas
Back on the bike I rode south with a tailwind past Badwater all the way to the 5 miles of paved road that I had ridden between Saratoga Springs and Warm Springs Canyon over a week earlier. Instead of heading south to Baker I climbed Jubilee Pass. The following day I climbed Salsberry Pass on the coldest day of the trip. I simply couldn’t warm up since I couldn’t get away from the wind. And then I came to Tecopa Hot Springs! That cut the chill even though the wind was so fierce that I was dry within minutes of getting out of the pool. Around the corner I stopped at a RV park to get some water and ended up spending an hour talking with the 75-year-old man who runs the place with his wife. He ran an ultra-marathon when he was 55, had biked from Las Vegas to Sedona, had run a bunch of marathons. In the summer they leave Tecopa Hot Springs and explore the country in their 35′ motorhome.
Later that afternoon I came upon Victor. Stopped at the side of the road, he handed me a Guinness and two granola bars. We chatted for a while using his car as a windbreak. He’s taking a break from his ’round the world bicycle trip on a crazy rig that he built himself.
The following morning the only indication that I entered Nevada was a sign reading “Inyo County Line”. Lower down on the same post was a smaller sign at an angle because it was falling off. That sign said “leaving”. About 3 cars passed me in an hour, and then a car stopped. It was the couple from RV park in Tecopa Hot Springs. She had baked muffins that morning, put together a package of them for me, and handed them to me! They were still warm! Oh, I was cycling with a big smile yet again! I was on a gradual climb that continued all the way to Mountain Springs Pass. To get an idea of how long the climb was, consider that the couple drove all the way to Las Vegas, went to the dentist, drove back, and passed me just one minute before I crested the pass. They honked, smiled, and waved as did I. The first 2000′ of descent was fast and cold, but I was warm and happy in my down coat.
My last excursion before Las Vegas was to ride through the scenic Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The cliffs and cemented sand dunes in that area reminded me much more of the Colorado Plateau than anything I’d seen on my journey through the Mojave Desert. In the morning I rolled into Vegas, found a bike shop, boxed my stuff, and took a taxi to the downtown Greyhound station. In Denver a day later I rebuilt my bike at the Greyhound station for the short ride to Market St. Station. I took the bus to Boulder and rode through the snow to get home.
Here’s the whole 18-day route from Palm Springs to Las Vegas:
and here’s the Death Valley portion (10 days):
I guess it’s time to go home.