It’s Friday December 2nd, 2022. It’s Day 4 for us on the California Backcountry Discovery Route and it’s also Day 9 for me on the road. I’m not sure why I’m counting that but I am.
We’re waking up in Furnace Creek, Death Valley.
It was a little breezy in our campsite but generally a pleasant night’s sleep. I actually sleep better in adverse conditions – so go figure. When I was climbing mountains it would drive my climbing partner that while the tent was blowing sideways in 100 mph winds, there I am snoring away in my mummy bag.
I’m making coffee and packing up and I’m down to just a T-shirt. Why? Even in the dead of winter it can be warm here.
The campground had a bunch of people in it but I can’t remember hearing anyone at all. Good neighbors or it might have been the bottle of red wine – maybe a combo of both?
Oh, speaking of that. I bought a bottle of wine and a box of wood at the store. One of our neighbors came over to our campfire and talked with us for a while. He was Canadian and rides an ADV bike at home. He was here on a week or two trip with a couple of friends. They had a rental car and he was showing them the sites. I could detect a little more than a Canadian accent and guessed he was from Quebec – and I was right! He was a very cool guy and we would have been happy to talk all night with him.
Right about now I would be telling you how Section 5 starts in Furnace Creek and runs through Titus Canyon, Scotty’s Castle, Ubehebe Crater, Tea Kettle Junction and the Racetrack Playa. You know, all the coolest spots in Death Valley that take a bunch of effort to get to. I’d be telling you all that but they were ALL CLOSED.
We kind of knew it going in. I had heard from Brady in Palmdale. We had seen it on the online maps. But just in case, we checked with the Ranger in the Visitor’s Center in Furnace Creek before we left. She confirmed that they were all closed. She wouldn’t even guess at when they would be reopened.
UPDATE 12/18: I’ve been back home for a few weeks. It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and I turn on the TV and flip over to my subscribed list on YouTube. I’m not the best YouTube Subscriber as I just catch up when I have time. I’m watching something when it dawns on me, the guy who told me that Death Valley was closed was Brady. He replied to a post I had on the CA BDR Facebook Group and said…
I ran into him outside the Hotel the night before LAB2V and said “Aren’t you the guy that left a reply for me on Facebook?” He acknowledged that it probably was him. We made a little small talk and then I showed him inside and directed him to Registration. That’s when he had said that all of Death Valley was closed.
So I’m watching a video on YouTube of a guy riding a T7 and it all of a sudden dawns on me. This guy on YouTube is Brady and I’ve been a subscriber for a very long time!
Go follow Brady at https://www.youtube.com/@MeerkatADV
Section 5 stops at Racetrack Playa and then Section 6 starts from there and takes you down Lippencot Pass – also a great experience. If this was all open, I had the plan to do all of that and then after Lippencot, since you are already in Saline Valley, head up and camp at Saline Springs. That was the plan. Oh well.
So throw out Section 5.
Instead, we had to take Hwy 190 out towards Lone Pine. We could see that the Saline Valley Rd was just out of Death Valley Jurisdiction and showed as open. So the new idea was to take that and come up the backside of Cerro Gordo, and then down into Lone Pine. Kind of the same way I took Tomm a few years before.
So we did the Hwy 190 thing through Stovepipe Wells, Panamint Springs, up and over Father Crowley Lookout and the turned on Saline Valley Rd.
Actually we stopped for a few pictures at Father Crowley’s. It was a very neat place.
We were back on gravel again – heading to Saline Valley just on the outskirts of park boundaries. We took the left at the Y. I remember jamming the other way on this road on my 950 hitting 100 mph and then screeching to a halt at the Y only to find out I missed a turn. Who can hear the radio when you are doing 100?
That was then. Today we were managing our pace a bit better. Proof:
After the Y it gets progressively chunkier and chunkier. The road goes from a groomed gravel to heavier broken rocks and when you get to the bottom of Cerro Gordo Rd it’s a full river wash of rocks.
This would be the final turn onto Cerro Gordo Rd. We knew in just a mile it was going to get tougher. A lot tougher!
Amazingly, I got my GoPro to work right here.
I was leading and doing ok picking my lines through the rocks and deep gravel. I stopped at a point to check on Mike and he couldn’t hear his motor. I sat for a while and still no motor. Hmmm.
I turned the bike around and headed down the wash until I found him. His bike had dug itself in and he was trying to get it some traction to start again.
When we reached the top I took him up towards the Salt Trams to a picturesque spot my Overlander friends had shown me. We stopped here for a snack and to take a few pics.
Funny story. When I was here last with the Overlanders, we watched as a group of vehicles made there way towards Cerro Gordo. It turned out to be Land Rover taking some VIPs on a pre launch ride before they launched their new Defenders. Nothing funny about that yet…
We rode back to Cerro Gordo, then down the much much easier western side and rode into Lone Pine. We stopped for gas at the first gas station and then sat at a table they had outside. A few cars come in and out while we’re talking and one of them is a new Defender. Two women. If they weren’t Instagram influencers they had done their best to look the part. Blond hair, Uggs, Yoga Pants… They park at a pump and start pumping gas. One of them heads to the rest room and casually does a few stretches.
We’re talking and not paying attention until they go to leave and someone forgot to unhook the pump! I’d never seen anyone drive away from a pump until now and I can tell you it was glorious! The break off valve did exactly what it was supposed to do. Minimal gas spillage, no fire. The Manager comes running out but they knew what happened. Everyone’s out and looking. She says, “Can’t you just screw it back in?” I could tell it separated at the valve and there’s no screwing anything back into anything. This was confirmed when he came over and talked to us. He said it happens quite often. They bill the drivers insurance and it’s usually $1,800 or so to fix.
Incredibly, neither of us took a single picture of the debacle. Instead we went into town and got a cup of coffee at the always wonderful Alabama Hills Cafe.
After coffee, it was motel check in, shower, then a brisk walk to dinner. The rain was coming in and it was a whole lot colder than Furnace Creek was that morning. Dinner was at a Mexican Food place and our waitress was the same one we just had serving us coffee. She was working her 2nd shift for the day. Servers have it hard.
SCORECARD: We started in Furnace Creek at 7:50 AM and checked into the Lone Pine motel at 3:20 PM. There was a lot of stopping and coffee and things.