The bike shop that was keeping my boxes and packing materials for my bike wasn't going to be open on New Year's Eve, which meant that I wanted to get there somewhat early in the day on December 30. Figuring a solid two days of riding, plus a built-in cushion for bad weather or mechanical issues, I decided to start rolling out of Death Valley on December 27. From Furnace Creek on Hwy 190, there are a number of attractions, including Zabriskie Point:
I played with a panorama app on my phone (click it):
After Zabriskie, I found the turn for 20 Mule Team Canyon Road. This sinewy, dusty gravel road twists through some badlands-like terrain. It was a fairly popular one-way drive, and I pulled over several times to allow cars to pass.
Here, I stopped where a flat-topped embankment seemed like a good spot to make breakfast.
While I was cooking and eating, two different cars stopped. The first contained a couple with a little girl. The mom and the little girl got out to hike and climb and explore the hills (they are on top of the butte in the photo). Meanwhile, the dad, who seemed like the neurotic type, shouted cautions to them from the safety of the car. He explained his concerns about safety to me in painstaking detail. Then he started questioning me about the apparent foolhardiness of riding my bicycle in Death Valley, not to mention the apparently questionable health-value of the bacon I was cooking. After that family drove off, a pickup truck pulled up. Two dads and a bunch of boys got out. While one of the dads and the boys were running around exploring, the other dad chatted with me about mountain biking and integrating backpacking with bicycling. He was a neat guy, and reminded me of a friend/customer from the shop to such a large extent that I caught myself waiting for him to recognize me. He made sure I was well-stocked with water and food, and then I had the place to myself again.
After I finished the 20 Mule Team Canyon Road loop, and returned the Hwy 190, riding was pleasant but uneventful until I reached Death Valley Junction and the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House (unfortunately I didn't take any photos). I decided to try the cafe for a late lunch at around 2 pm. I was expecting overpriced, crummy food. What I got was a delicious patty melt and fries for a very reasonable price. I highly recommend the Amargosa Cafe.
Now I was about 30 miles from Pahrump, where I stayed in a hotel on night 2 of my trip. Since it was already past 3 pm, I had little hope of making Pahrump before dark unless it was all downhill. It was not downhill, of course, so I continually scanned for a place to camp. The countryside was desolate enough, but most of the land along the road was fenced off. Some parts of the fence were broken down, but I wasn't quite ready to exploit those weaknesses yet. I pressed on, resigning myself to rolling into Pahrump after dark and getting another hotel room. I really didn't want another hotel room. Finally, not far from town, I saw my opportunity in the form of a quiet dirt road. The mapping app on my phone confirmed that the dirt road was actually an alternate route to Pahrump, and connected with the road I used when leaving that town almost a week prior. Familiar territory.
After several miles, I rolled off the road into the wild desert. Numerous 4x4 tracks criss-crossed the area, and I envisioned being harassed in my tent by toothless desert outlaws. Reason prevailed, however, and I continued riding through the desert over stuff like this:
I had quite a few spiny plant parts and/or thorns get into my socks and shoes, causing discomfort. I found a spot in the shelter of some brushy, shrub-like trees, and set up my tent. Since I'd eaten recently, I snacked on my trail mix and didn't bother to cook.
The night was very cold. Not Minnesota cold, but as I was equipped with only warm-weather gear, I wasn't terribly comfortable through the night. By morning, my tent had a fairly thick layer of ice on it from the freezing condensation of my breath. It occurred to me that I was nearly 3000 feet higher than I was when camping at Furnace Creek. Snow was visible on nearby peaks. The first view out my tent that morning was spectacular.
Normally, I would have stayed in the tent until the sun warmed things up, but I was lusting after a real breakfast in Pahrump.