Friday, April 30, 2010

High Road / Low Road

Now that I've been to Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park, I believe I've ridden the highest paved road in North America and the lowest.


The highest paved road goes to the summit of Mount Evans in Colorado, at 14,240 feet.

For comparison purposes, the highest mountain in the "lower 48," Mount Whitney in California, is 14,505 feet. Mount Rainier is 14,411 feet. Mount Elbert, the highest in Colorado, is 14,443 feet. So Mount Evans is right up there!

Obviously the road is open only part of the year. And I'm sure you could experience snow year-round. My visit was on a hot (down below) August day, and it was cool and breezy at the top.

The pavement gets dicey toward the top, due to frost heaves, cracks, potholes, etc. - that's some harsh environment for Asphalt! And I had to slow for both bighorn sheep and mountain goats - lots of 'em. They charge a modest fee to take the road to the top.


The lowest paved road passes through Furnace Creek, in Death Valley, at 190 feet below sea level.

The lowest point in North America is in Death Valley, at -282 feet. So I'm confident the road passin' thru there is the lowest pavement.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Death Valley / Southwest Spring Flower Ride

2010 Death Valley Motorcycle Adventure

As a child, I viewed the Disney documentary, “The Living Desert.” It sunk deep into my soul. Sure, the antics of the kangaroo rats were amusing. And the death-battle between the tarantula and the wasp was dramatic. But what really got to me was the thunderstorm, followed by the flash flooding, followed by… wildflowers blooming across the parched desert.

Seeing those wildflowers with my own eyes has been on my “bucket list” for many, many years.

The "challenge" for a northerner like me is... under the best circumstances, the bloom lasts for a month, roughly from mid-March to mid-April. And the roads in northern Nevada and Utah are still frequently covered with snow, that time of year. I can do “cold” on the motorcycle. And even “cold/wet” if compelled to. But “slippery” I’d rather not deal with!

Also, the amount of precipitation over the previous winter has a huge impact on whether the wildflowers are sparse or abundant in the springtime.

This last winter produced at-least average precipitation in the area. So I penciled in some dates – the week of April 12-16, 2010, along with the “weekend bookends.” (A person can go someplace in 9 days, even if only traveling 250 or 300 miles per day.)

Weather forecasting is far from a perfect science, particularly in early spring. Too many variables. But the night before my intended departure they were forecasting a wet Monday, but the rest dry. And high temperatures near 50, at least. So I decided to take the leap of faith and head out.

My faith was rewarded. I dealt with some cold, and with some wind – but in the entire nine days, I didn’t have one drop of precipitation fall on me! (Pretty sweet, for mid-April!)

Here's how it played out:

Day 1 - Boise to Ely, NV via Duck Valley and Elko (417 miles). The coldest part of the entire trip was from Boise to Mountain Home. My extra-cold-weather gear was packed instead of on me, which was a mistake. Once I was appropriately attired, much better! Lots of snow right up to the edge of the road, and frozen lakes, etc. Stayed at a cheap motel in Ely.


Day 2 - Ely to Great Basin National Park, then across Nevada on US50, "America's Loneliest Highway" (404 miles). Great Basin NP was nice, but frankly I didn't see anything to particularly distinguish it from many places where the scenery is barren and rugged. (As compared with Grand Canyon or Glacier or Death Valley.) US50 was pretty darn lonely! (But every road in Nevada is, except for the 2 Interstates... no?) A side-wind from the south blew fiercely all day - I was leaning sideways as I rode. I had planned on camping, but they were predicting precipitation overnight and the next day. I didn't want to pack up wet gear in the rain, so I opted for a cheap motel instead.


Day 3 - Fallon, NV to Lone Pine, CA (292 miles). As it turns out, it wasn't snowy or rainy the next morning. (But pretty cold, and the clouds were hanging low.) As I headed south, the weather improved and by the time I was riding along the east side of the Sierra Nevada, I could mostly see all the way to the tops of those mighty peaks. Bridgeport, CA is a gas rip-off! Almost $4 per gallon! I camped in a little county campground in Lone Pine, at the base of Mt. Whitney. Me and some hobos. 10 bucks - sweeet!



Day 4 - Death Valley (239 miles). WOW! I'd never been there before. There are some wide open spaces in Death Valley! On Day 4 the weather was perfect - blue skies and high temp. around 80. But I could imagine how it would feel to be trudging across a valley that's 25 miles wide and 100 miles long on a 130-degree day, with nary a tree in sight. The vegetation is probably as green right now as it ever gets, and the wildflowers added some nice color. I camped at Stovepipe Wells, on the valley floor. (Which was a pleasant surprise... I had expected the campgrounds to be full, and had anticipated needing to ride out of the park to find accommodations.)



Day 5 - Death Valley to Las Vegas (208 miles). I spent the morning seeing additional sights in the valley. Then headed to Las Vegas via Shoshone CA and Pahrump NV. In Pahrump I detoured to see the broadcasting facility formerly used by Art Bell. (If you're not familiar, Art was a legendary late night radio talker who covered topics like UFOs, Bigfoot, alien abductions, Area 51, etc. I used to listen to him when I should've been sleeping. He broadcasted out of Pahrump; mostly retired a number of years ago and lives in the Phillipines now.) I stayed with the brother and sister-in-law and their lovely kids in Vegas.



Day 6 - Vegas to Zion Nat'l Park (285 miles). Michelle, my sister-in-law, recommended a side trip to see the new bridge just downstream from Hoover Dam. AWESOME! That thing is as much a marvel of engineering as the dam is! (Of course the dam was built 80 or 90 years ago!) It only lacked one span to complete the deck all the way across... but I didn't hang around to see if they'd lay it in place. Took a side trip through Valley of Fire State Park... well worth it! (I'd never been there before, either.) Of course, as you get closer to Zion, everything gets pretty red, except for that beautiful white temple in St. George. Camped in Zion - again, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that camping space was readily available.



Day 7 - Zion and Bryce Canyon (150 miles). I was up in time to catch the first (6:30am) shuttle-bus up through the (Zion's) canyon. (Back when I was last there, private vehicles could drive up the canyon, but now it's all shuttle-bus, which makes sense since there are only a couple hundred parking spaces total.) I rode the bus up to the end of the line, then partly hiked, partly rode the bus back to the starting point. The morning sun was nice for photo-taking. Then it was on up the highway to Bryce. Where I was surprised to find - LOTS OF SNOW! Who knew? (I guess I should've - after all, it's 8000 feet.) The roads were bone-dry and the temperatures were pleasant, but my camping plans were foiled. I got lucky and found a reasonable ($49) motel room. Took a photo-run through the park by late-afternoon sunlight. Bryce has always been one of my favorite places. (My dad spent some of his formative years in nearby Panguitch.)



Day 8 - Bryce to Orem via Torrey / Manti (310 miles). I've always heard that Utah Highway 12 is a good one, so I took that route back to civilization. VERY nice - a quality motorcycling experience in every way. Good pavement, great scenery. Stayed with the mother-in-law in Orem. (Unlike most of you, I have an AWESOME mother-in-law!)



Day 9 - Orem to Boise (372 miles). If you're not familiar with the "Lone and Dreary World," you can find it up around the Utah/Idaho border on the Interstate! Plus - it's already a little bittersweet on that last day when the ol' GPS unit asks "Where to?" and I have to punch in "Go Home." But, I've grown accustomed to that family-and-paycheck lifestyle. I had to get back to the job so I can afford to straddle that Iron Pony and leave town again someday.


9 days, 5 states, 4 national parks, 2679 miles. Nary a drop of precipitation. I'd say a lifetime of memories, but I can't remember stuff any more. That's why I take photos. Click HERE to view my favorite 100 or so; you can selectively look at them by clicking on the thumbnails, or watch the slide show.