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- Week Panamint/Death Valley & 395


Apr 7, 2022
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Napa, CA
OK, off we go with the ride report. I'll jump in and try to build the site a little bit.

Left a couple of weeks ago and headed up Hwy 50 to Tahoe to make my way over the Sierras to Hwy 395 down the eastern Sierras. Of course I had to stop along the way to enjoy myself and the scenery as I planned on only getting about half way.


There's been a series of rock slides on Echo Summit, and the repairs are ongoing.

(that's Lake Tahoe peaking around the corner there on the right)


Lots of one way traffic, lots of stops. No problem, I have time to enjoy the views.


Even towing the bike in the trailer was refreshing heading down 395, I just enjoyed the views all along the way.


Finally made it to a converted gravel pit campground just before Bishop California, that was the best $5 a night place I've been to. Excellent pit toilets, spaced out camp sites, and oh the views from my site.



Next morning after fixing coffee I packed up and made the trailer ready for more miles of sight seeing.


Bishop has this "World Famous" Bakery that always has a crowd in it, with good reason. The sourdough sheep herders bread is great. Along with pastries, pull apart loafs, and any other bakery delight you can think of.



On down to Lone Pine (which we would wind up going through multiple times that week) and then out 136 to Hwy 190 towards Death Valley.

Planning the trip and researching maps, I came across some useless trivia of sorts. One of the 80's Mega Bands was Irish rockers U2, and their most famous album was "The Joshua Tree". A photo shoot out in the Mojave desert somewhere for the album artwork created some sort of pilgrimage for fans to find this tree. Well they did, and wanting it to survive forever, they watered it. But when you water a desert tree, you drown it. So it died and fell over in the early 2000's sometimes. That doesn't stop people from still going there, and I found it's only about 150 yards off Hwy 190.

Now my cousin who passed away about six years ago was a HUGE U2 fan, and my uncle has given me all of his old CD's which included this one. So I stopped, looked through my binoculars and saw it off the road.

Took a picture, popped in the CD, and cranked up "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" :strum


Now as I pull away and start to get back on the road..............

There is a deafening sound and my truck begins to shake, I let off the throttle as a F22 Raptor buzzes over me at about 300 feet.

(not my picture, but that's what it looked like from my angle)


Let the vacation begin with an airshow! (more on that later)

Now when you get close to Panamint Valley, you have to make a huge drop in altitude down a VERY winding pass road. But I did pull off to take a picture of the infamous "Star Wars canyon" which is actually named Rainbow Canyon and there is Father Crowley Overlook along the middle of it.


This is where the fighter jets fly through and just rip around in what is unbelievable maneuvers.


Then on down to setup camp for the week. Checked in, found Darrel was my next door neighbor, and cracked open a cold Indian Wells Brewing Co "Mojave Red Rattler", and it was good.........


Unpacked the bike, got the trailer setup for my rustic cabin accommodations, and relaxed to the sound of more fighter jets blasting down & around Panamint Valley.

Next up, riding the dirt roads........................ :clap
DAY 2​

"And now on today's episode...

Fighter jets, lonely roads, great scenery... But we came here to ride.

Thursday morning arrived early and I woke up after a really good nights sleep, even after being woke up at 2:00 Am by the High School kids leaving after their 25 day education of desert survival. Pretty good group of young people, with a HUGE adventure behind them.

First things first! Coffee! :rayof And I was not walking over to the gas station for that stuff. :patch

Brought my own coffee shop with me, that would serve others and impress the camp crowd.


Then went outside at a little after 06:00 hours to enjoy welcoming the day.


Loaded up the bike with the needed items for the day with lots of water and some snacks.


And off we went to the first stop of lovely Darwin California!



Now as we ride into Darwin, I realize that it's still early (about 8:30) and we really didn't see any traffic on the road yet. No problem, made it easy for the photo ops.


We cruise around and see the old buildings and some very interesting artwork decorating some yards. Lots of the area artists live here we heard. And the old historic buildings were a kick to see, surprised more Stephen King movies aren't filmed here.


And speaking of which....... :

It started feeling like a King movie, we all noticed there were no people around but one set of curtains moved as we rode by. Then we found the morning Tai Chi lesson going on at the community rotunda area. Then it became even more of a Stephen King novel.

Let's keep moving along.

Now Jon was/is another huge U2 fan, and I gave him my cousin's collection of U2 DVD's the night before. He was honored, greatly pumped up that he had more music for his collection, and then I told him as we were leaving Darwin, "But Wait! There's More!"

Right down the road we stopped at the Joshua Tree sight and explored on our bikes finding a trail clear out to the site. A lot of sand, but we paddled on out to the tree.


Lots of mementos, odd things, sacrifices?, music related things left by people from all over.

I did take cousin Rick's CD and took some photos for his memory. He was severely handicapped and spent the last few years of his life in a wheel chair. I would pick him up and take him four wheeling, or just out cruising to break his monotony of daily life. Wish I knew about this place sooner to bring him to. Laid down his CD on the monument somebody made, and said a little prayer for the greatest human being I've ever know.


That stop left some of us in a severe rock & roll mood, so we hit the road with tunes in the helmets. Hwy 190 was attacked by air guitars and air drums with throttle locks set!

Back to the west, we found the turn off for the Cerro Gordo Mine.



It's a LONG road up to it from the south end, but a pretty decent road of gravel and shale. But the views were absolutely amazing above the Owens Valley.



Expected a little more, but it was still cool to walk around and see what life was way back when. They are trying to make it into a big tourist destination with limited budget and a staff of volunteers.



And the church/theater... well, it was a treat to see.


Now where can you go to see stained glass Bible scenes, old theater seats instead of pews, and a disco ball?



Remember that low budget? Well the picnic area is great for those budget minded riders. The couch was a little "springy" ?


We headed back down the mountain and back into Lone Pine for lunch. :DukeGirl

And lunch we had! I don't think there's a bad place to eat in Lone Pine. "The Grill" served up a Bleu Cheese burger that was awesome.

Found a tourist store and bought some great Hwy 395 stickers to adorn the side cases, then headed back to camp with tunes blasting in the helmet for some relax time and cold beer. Campground was pretty empty when we got back, so I decided to make use of the empty restroom/shower to rinse off the dust.

Warm weather, dusty trails, bug splatter on the wind screen, makes the accommodations seem wonderful.

Even if the plumbing has one setting.



Jon cooked the first night with awesome Carna' Asada on the grill. :DukeGirl

Again with this group of riders, we knew that none of us was going to go hungry this trip.

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Oh, I'm in the mood so I'll do another day.

Decision made to ride back to Lone Pine and then up to the Reward Mine.


But, as we ride into Lone Pine, we make a Again, up before the sun and watch the spectacular sunrise. :Clap

Coffee, something of a snack that was considered breakfast, and some banter on the ride plans for the day.

stop and discuss the lack of breakfast :DukeGirl

and the need for a real meal. So another chance stop at some nice looking diner turns out fantastic for the meal.

But first, Dennis asks Sal if he has any Motrin/Aspirin/Tylenol...

"Uh, yeah... right here in my....."


"Oh, that's where my fuses are!"

Then the waitress shows up! We start rethinking the pan for a long ride, and consider a nap spot along the way.


Breakfast is served.

Not a bad meal in this town.

Somehow we were able to throw our legs over the seats and head north on 395 for Manzanar. Turned right toward the hills and......


The old Manzanar Army Air Field!!! We have to have a drag race down the runway!

(but first, a photo op)


Cruised the air strip, then headed for the hills. A rocky trail soon turned into a VERY rocky trail and we came across some Jeeps that gave us directions to the hidden entrance behind the hill.


Into the abyss we go....

We get about to the end of the line, about a 1/4 mile in, and we have to take pictures. Bucket list type stuff!

"We're in a mine!" But with four thumpers in there, the sound was rather loud and the dust was something else.




We all got turned around, and headed out for another break and savor the moment.



Back down the rocks and over to the Manzanar Historic Site.



Lots of sobering moments there to see that history. But they made their own community with virtually nothing but what the ground had to offer.

Remains of the rock ponds and gardens they created.


Back on the road south, we turned off for Alabama Hills.




An amazing place, with such a history of being close to Hollywood so filming the old westerns was fairly easy for the Southern California crowd.


"Head'em off at the pass!"

Couldn't believe the Outbacks driving around out there. Didn't know if they were tourists, or they were filming another Subaru commercial.

So many of those "Hey! I've seen that place..."


Lot of movies filmed around there.

More later.
OK, I got the days out of sequence, so sue me. (no, please don't do that. I've got other issues too)

Last day and last episode of the trip.

Another morning, and another awesome sunrise to sit on the picnic table and watch in amazement.

Tents zip open, groggy desert riders wander looking for coffee, and we all look at each other with that...

"Well? Where are we riding today?" look.

One suggestion of Panamint Valley and it's decided. Top off with fuel at the gas station which also provides an edible breakfast burrito for some, and we're off to Panamint Valley Road. Head south and then turn off on gravel on Indian Ranch Road to the east side of the valley and a destination of Ballarat. We don't get very far before the roar of jet engines vibrate us worse than our over grown 650cc+ lawn mowers do riding on washboard gravel.

(not my picture, should have had the GoPro on the helmet but I forgot)


The pilot must be delivering our tax refund because it's a great air show about 200 feet over our heads. We can see their helmets as the plane rips by sideways above us.

Great start to a dirt ride for the day!!

Heading south, Sal stops us at what he called "Camp A" or whatever it's called. Start looking around and he says he heard that people stay out here "waiting", or just camp out for a while looking for "visitors".

Waiting? Visitors? And what are we waiting on?

Oh! Those types of visitors! Get on your foil hats people. WAIT! You don't need to, they have foil yurts!


Later that evening, we were told that it was a membership club for astronomers to watch the stars at night.

"Oh....... OK..... that explains the mailbox then."


I'm not sure if you get a postmark of Panamint, or Roswell NM? Or do your letters to the aliens get routed to final departure at Roswell?


Got to remember that Area 51 is not that far away from here. Anyway.... only saw one person around the yurts loading up a Subaru.



Back on the road!! Off to Ballarat we went...


Pulled in as a couple of Jeep Clubs were leaving and wandered into the store/gift shop for some STICKERS!

We all need more stickers. Especially on KLR's, adds horsepower.


But we missed the "Live Nude Burrows" show that was advertised on a sign.

Maybe next time.

Wandered around and took pictures of the various equipment left behind by the minors and some locals from 1969. Stories, legends, & folklore cloud the origins of this old Power Wagon, but it seems pretty likely that either Tex Watson, or Charles Manson drove it around Death Valley and the Panamint area before their capture at nearby Barker Ranch.

(Tex was arrested in Texas later after avoiding capture at the Ranch & hitchhiking south)




South on Wingate road out of Ballarat provided a great dirt scraped road. There's a quarry still in operation and haul trucks use it regularly so it's maintained VERY well.

HOWEVER... Once you get past the quarry, it gets sandy. Very sandy with some deep sections. Two of us (better) riders were in the lead with the pre-dertermined understanding that if the slow ones didn't want to continue, we would all meet back at camp.


SIDE NOTE---- Always set some rules or understanding when riding in groups, not everyone can keep up with others, or want to go th eroute you might want. This group was great with those guidelines, and understanding makes for better friends in the end.


One of the nicest dirt roads I've been on, and then turned really bad.


At some point the sand pegged the fun meter and Darrel stopped to turn around. When I didn't see his headlights, I turned around to check on the situation. I had enough sand myself, so we took a break.

Three out in the lead with plans for Barker Ranch exploring and then maybe over Mengel Pass to the other side. Previous ride stories without me, taught me that Mengel Pass was not high on my list of "pushing my limits". Four wheels on my Land Cruiser would be fun, but I opted not to go that route on my bike. Things hurt too much at my age now, and I'm still nursing a knee injury two years later.

Soon we heard the sound of a thumper coming back. It was Jon and he had been left in the dust near a Y in the road and wasn't sure on the direction the other two took. It was all good as his fun meter was at the limit too. All tired, we headed back to camp for a easy afternoon of relaxing in the desert. (and empty campgounds means quiet campgrounds)

Stopped for the usual photo ops...


We all headed back and just as we turned onto Hwy 190 heading uphill to Panamint Springs...


Another F/A-18 blasts right over Darrel in front of me, maybe 300' off the ground! Then I hear another as I look back and it's an F16 chasing it. Watch in the mirrors as the chase heads south into the Valley.

Another good day.

Get back and like we expected, most everyone was out doing the tourist thing and camp was empty.

Took advantage of the situation and headed for an empty shower. Simple plumbing is good when your tired, sweaty, dirty, and need a rinse cycle.


Good times, good riding, good friends, and talk of another ride soon.

Thanks to the guys, and thanks for reading along.


Until next ride report, stay safe, stay upright, and Enjoy the Ride.
Almost forgot another highlight of the trip!
Have a friend that got transferred (by choice) to Lone Pine. I texted him that we would be down there and he was welcome to ride with us if he wanted. I've ridden with him before and he has an older GS. Blah, blah, blah, he has to work, trying to save up vacation time... No problem.
But then he tells me that he might stop by the campground and see me. One evening we're sitting around camp cooking and getting dinner ready when a cool old plane circles, then lands at the "airstrip" behind the gas station. Sure was different than the fighter jets we were getting buzzed by all week.
Then I turn around and Pete is standing there. "Hey there, you're just in time for dinner... want a beer?"
"No thanks, I'm flying." Literally, he just flew in with his classic 1971 Grumman.
Exchanged stories, caught up a bit, learned about the new toy, and then walked back over to the gas station to watch him take off.
Sort of like a Miata of the airplane world. Or a KLR next to those Ducati Panigale's that blast across Death Valley.


Another good moment of the trip.
That's a cool area. I only rode to DV once and would like to go back but I don't know if that will ever happen. Thanks for the story and pics.

The jets flying overhead would really be cool!
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