Friday, January 20, 2012

Death Valley, Furnace Creek area exploration

After spending a night at Texas Spring, I chatted with another couple who were cycling in the area. They highly recommended some local attractions around Furnace Creek. This was all the encouragement I needed, and I headed southward to "Artist's Drive", a one-way scenic loop.
These rock piles are a common sight in the Death Valley. I didn't spend a lot of time using my rusty geology skills to determine how they came to exist. In any case, it's yet another of the otherworldly aspects of this place. The Surly Troll seems to fit right in around here.
After riding for a half-hour or so, I turned off the main road along the valley and started heading eastward up the side of the Amargosa range. It was the steepest climb of the trip - instead of meandering and switchbacks, this road was more or less straight up. I took a break to make a movie:

A bit further ahead, I saw a pull-off area, so I stopped for a short hike. The scenery was gorgeous in every direction. And the road started to get more twisty and dippy.

Artist's Drive was scenic along its entire length, but near the top Artist's Palette is clearly the main attraction. The variations in the colors of the rock was like nothing I'd ever seen.

One common plant, not in the valley, but in the slightly higher elevations, was Atriplex hymenelytra, aka "Desert Holly". It looks a lot like the familiar green Christmas Holly, but the leaves vary between white and pale frosty green.

After Artist's Palette, I was treated to one of the most thrilling descents of my life. Once I hit terminal velocity, I found myself negotiating the narrow road through deep, steep-walled rock gorges. I felt like Luke Skywalker flying in one of the grooves on the Death Star, pretending to blast womp rats. Then, just when I was having fun, suddenly I was working my way back uphill. Then again, more fun descending through the canyons. It was about the most fun a person can legally have on a bike. Unfortunately, I was going far too fast, and having too much fun, to make a video of the experience. You'll just have to go there and do it yourself. I'll sell you an appropriate bike.

After Artist's Drive, I headed back to Furnace Creek. I purchased a 24-hr shower and pool pass at Furnace Creek Ranch for $5. This was my first shower since Pahrump, and I got my money's worth out of it (twice). In hindsight, I wish I'd swum in the pool, too. The pool water originated from a hot spring, and even though the air temperature was never actually more than moderately warm, the pool was like bath water. I dangled my feet in it for an hour, but as it was getting late (and chilly), I headed back to buy more food at the general store and another night at Texas Spring.
Once I got situated at the campground, darkness was rapidly approaching as the sun was dipping behind the western mountains. A cyclist entered the campground pulling the most overloaded BOB trailer I've ever seen or imagined. I invited him to share my campsite, and he accepted (hey, free camping!) We chatted for awhile and swapped stories. Paul was riding down from Fairbanks, AK, and had seemingly hit all the high points of the Pacific Coast and all the most famous California State and National Parks. He even went to Mexico, where getting through customs with his bike and trailer as a pedestrian was an ordeal (apparently bikes have to go through the revolving pedestrian door, not through the car lane gates). He was an interesting young man, with a unique view of the world, and plenty of wild stories of smuggled explosives and nearly having his leg amputated from a severe infection. Incidentally, this was his first bike trip. He never even rode a bike as an adult before this trip, but here he was 7,800 miles into it, with apparently none of the usual concerns or self-doubt that plague many would-be bike adventurists. Also of note, one reason his BOB was so overloaded was that he was carrying a large number of substantial books. He said he liked to read, and he didn't trust e-readers.


Anonymous said...

Can you describe the type of bike your campmate had? Frame make and model, gruppo, tire choice, approx weight, etc? Also, did you ask what his daily average mileage was? Carrying books sure adds unnesseary weight...

Tim Smith said...

Jim, don't know if you'll get this, but did you find the Troll whippy as a touring mount? You might not even be allowed to say so on a public forum, but I'd appreciate an opinion. In a few different trips on mine I've found it on the brink of adequate as a touring mount, but no better. But I might be touretarded.
Tim Louisville

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