Sunday, October 31, 2010

A surprise, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas

It was only a short hop over the mountains into Las Vegas, Nevada this morning. However, we rode straight through there and the adjoining municipality of Henderson en route to Boulder City and the Hoover Dam.

There was a surprise in store for us when we arrived: the main road across the Colorado River no longer takes you across the Hoover Dam. An amazing new bridge takes traffic high across the Colorado River without having to wind down and up one lane switchbacks on either side of the Dam.

The Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge opened less than 3 weeks ago on 20 October. Pedestrians can walk across the bridge from a carpark on the Nevada side of the river. It was jam packed when we were there and we didn't understand why until we learned the bridge had just opened.

The view of the Hoover Dam from the bridge is quite spectacular - and vice versa.

The water level behind the dam seems very low.

Returning to Las Vegas, we checked into our hotel and rested up.

After dinner, we walked to "The Strip", the main road with all the big casinos. It was crowded with people all ogling the ostentatious glitter and glam. An amazing place.

Everything is so over the top - for example, The Venetian casino is modelled on the Doge's Palace and has a pool out the front that is so big they offer gondola rides. on it

The Paris casino has its own replica of the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower...

One of the casinos has a simulated volcano, while Bellagio's has a two hundred metre wide fountain that puts on a show every hour.

Here's some of the other casinos:

By the time we walked back to our hotel we were exhausted, but it made for a good night's sleep.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

This young man works very hard to keep this place going. Many people were attracted to the area for its remoteness. The trailbike riders we met last night, loved the area and return regularly. We heard them leave at daybreak this morning prepared with GPSs and specialised equipment.

First priority was to fill the bike - even at these prices. Isolated places seem to be more expensive as importing of goods is far more difficult. There are few luxuries except for a clean bed and the restaurant, which fortunately does a good meal.

The road west of Panamint Springs, California was a squiggly red line on the map. The barman had told us yesterday that the 12 miles to the top of the pass was a favourite with motorcyclists. Although this was in the opposite direction to our destinatiion, we rode up and back before breakfast, to build up an appetite for food and more adventures in Death Valley.

At breakfast we shared a table with two other bikers who pulled into the cafe at the same time as we did, and swapped yarns before heading our separate ways.

Our route was west on 190. The road from Panamint Springs rose steeply as it crossed Towne Pass at nearly 5,000 ft before descending into Death Valley, taking us back through Stovepipe Wells and on to Furnace Creek.

Our first stop was a few miles beyond Furnace Creek at Zabriskie Point. A short climb from the car park leads to an overlook surrounded by barren, yellow, eroded landforms. Through a gap in the hills we could see across Death Valley. An incredible formation.

Further east on 190 we turned off to Dante's View. The road initially was fast and fairly straight, but towards the higher sections became tighter and steeper, culminating in a short stretch of tight bends and 12% grade that required 1st gear. At 5475 ft above sea level we were rewarded with panoramic views of the southern parts of Death Valley. Directly below us but hidden under the cliffs was Badwater. This was amazing and a must see for anyone in the area. You begin to realise how vast this area is. (These four photos join to make one view.)

From the car park there is a trail we followed for a short distance to take in some other perspectives of the landscape. Far below we could see the road we had travelled two days earlier. Once back on 190 we were soon out of the National Park.

We have greatly enjoyed the last three days. Death Valley is so beautiful and seducive. Like a siren's song it attracts you and draws you in, but at the same time you sense it is a dangerous and unforgiving place. Both heat and rapid floods make it this way.

We continued to Death Valley Junction, a motley collection of decaying buildings. Putting up some resistance is the Amargosa Hotel with the "Amargosa Opera House" and a cafe. We stopped there for lunch. The staff were a cheery lot, all dressed in Halloween cotumes and make-up.

As we moved on there were beautiful desert scenes.

Our destination for the night was Pahrunp in Nevada, a vast, sprawling, dusty town in the middle of the desert. On a peak high above and behinfd the town the first winter snows have fallen. Careful watering make parts of this town feel like a small oasis.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Beamer us up Scotty...

We left Beatty Nevada this morning, heading north on Us 95. We soon came upon Angel's Ladies, in the middle of nowhere.

Twenty miles further down the road was Shady Lady Ranch.

When we went to fill our bike before leaving Beatty we found the service station has half a dozen poker machines lining one wall, each with a seat to encourage players to linger. Even supermarkets have areas set aside for pokies...

These activities have been legal in Nevada ever since the government realised they could tax these industries.

About 40 miles up the road we reached Scotty's Junction and turned west back into California and Death Valley on route 267.

Not far over the border in California is Scotty's Castle.

This amazing place in the middle of nowhere has a story that is so bizarre we would not believe a word of it were it not for the presence of the Castle. It would take us far too long to explain, but you can read more about it here.

We spent an hour on the guided tour which was most interesting.

From Scotty's Castle we soon reached a T Junction where we turned south east back towards Furnace Creek (where we stopped yesterday). However, a few miles short of there we took a right turn onto Route 190.

Six miles down the road we dismounted briefly at the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes. It was like being on a beach without the ocean.

A short distance away was the town of Stovepipe Wells where we stopped for a cool drink.

Continuing west on 190, the road climbed steeply out of Stovepipe Wells.

About 10 miles down the road we turned off towards Wildrose Canyon. This road continued to climb first to Emmigrant Pass then even higher to Towne Pass at 4956 ft. In the space of about 20 miles we had climbed over 5,000 ft from more than 100 ft below sea level - amazing!

The ride down the back of the passes was a motorcyclist's dream - twisting back and forth and hardly another vehicle anywhere. The weather at this time of year is great.

As the road took a sharp turn down Wildrose Canyon we had 3 miles of winding broken pavement, dirt and loose gravel to negotiate before emerging onto a smooth straight road down into the Panamint Valley. We headed north back towards Route 190 where we took a left west for a couple of miles into the resort of Panamint Springs where we stooped for the night.

There were quite a few dirt bike riders staying there, getting ready for a weekend of fun riding out in the bush.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How Low Can We Go?

Answer: In the US, about 280 ft below sea level.

Our journey for the next three days will take us through and around Death Valley. Starting this morning, we fuelled the bike and ate breakfast in Shoshone, California. Places to refuel bikes and people are few and far between out here.

Just north of Shoshone we turned left onto Route 178. Initially climbing as we travelled west, we soon crossed Salisbury Pass at 3315 ft and then Jubilee Pass at 1290 ft before heading steadily downhill to the ruins of Ashford Mill. From here the road turned north, heading steadily lower.

We have both been awed by the lonely desolation and emptiness of the desert here It is a majestic and foreboding place that can be extremely hot (134 F) and extremely cold. (10 F). It is incredibly dry, with an average rainfall of 2.5 inches a year. At one time they went 40 months with less than half an inch of rain. Salt lakes reflect the sun with a white intensity that scorches the eyes. Hardly anything grows here.

As we rode further north, we came upon dried salt lakes

By the time we reached Badwater we were 282 feet below sea level, A white sign on the cliffs above us indicated sea level. (It was so small and so far away you cant see it in the photos). A boardwalk led out onto the salt flats.

Two bikers on trail bikes rode into the car park, hoping to find mobile phone coverage. One of their party of about six had broken his leg twenty miles up in the mountains to the west, and they were on a mission to get assistance. They rode on ahead of us to Furnace Creek where they could get help.

We stopped briefly at Golden Canyon for a shortr hike.

At Furnace Creek there is a large resort overlooking Death Valley.

Below it is the Furnace Creek Ranch, with campgrounds, general store, petrol station, golf course, bar, restaurant... A real oasis in the desert. We stopped there for an iced drink and a close look at Dinah, an 1890's steam tractor once used to pull carts of Borax from the mines, replacing the 20 mule teams.

From here we continued north on 178 for about 9 miles before turning east towards Beatty in Nevada, where we are staying the night. Leaving Death Valley involved a winding climb on a virtually deserted road across Daylight Pass at 4317 ft. Heading down the other side we quickly crossed into Nevada, where the road ran as straight as a die all the way to the horizon.

Beatty is an historic town - just like every other town in Americaclaims to be. (American communities seem to have a much stronger sense of history than Australian towns.). There doesn't seem to be much here apart from a couple of Casinos and a good selection of motels.

We found a comfortable place close to shops and settled in, even though it was early afternoon. For this part of our ride Chris did not set ambitious mileages for us to cover in case it was hot. It has been pleasantly warm - great for riding, and the roads allow enough pace that we can get off the road early.

Having brought our blog up to date in the last 24 hours, we were almost at a loss for something to fill in the time til dinner.