Day 23: June 25, Lone Pine CA to Panamint Springs (Death Valley)

The kickstand repair seemed to have held, so I went down to a local restaurant to have breakfast, then packed up and hit the road around 10:00 for my first day without a town (or store, or water) along the way. I would have to travel 51 miles until the Panamint Springs Resort ("not exactly a garden spot", Howard had said). This meant that (given the 100 degree temperatures) I needed to bring some extra water. I strapped on my 10L water bag, putting about 5L in it. I filled my two water bottles, and then filled the Camelback, putting another three bottles of water in it. I hoped that this would be enough.

The road quickly turned off route 395. A straight, desolate, two lane road stretched along the hills, bordered by nothing but sagebrush and mountains. As I rode mostly downhill from the 4200 foot elevation I had been at, the sun was getting stronger. I was wearing my usual long pants, a long sleeved shirt (both, unfortunately, in dark colors), my bicycling sandals, and my new pair of cotton tube socks. (The other pair had become water bottle coolers). Soon the temperature was a comfortable 95 degrees or so, with a breeze (that sometimes turned into a headwind).

There was little traffic here. From time to time, I'd see a rental car full of tourists, with the windows rolled tightly shut, and the air conditioning on. Their expressions as the passed me were interesting; I could tell that some of them thought I was nuts. I had read that the Europeans had in the last few years made up 75% of all the summer tourists to Death Valley. They're drawn by the beauty, of course, (and the size of the place: 3.5 million acres), but also by the record summer temperatures here. I guess they can go back home and say that they actually got out of their air-conditioned car for a few minutes in temperatures approaching 50 degrees C (or about 120 degrees F).

The gentle downhill continued past Owens Dry Lake, where there was a "waste salt removal project" going on that involved large piles of salt and heavy equipment. The Death Valley area had been the site of some very productive mines. Mule trains would haul in water and supplies, and haul out gold, silver, iron, lead, and tin.

The varying ores that allowed this diversity of mining operations became visible as I rode on into the mountains. I would see red pumice, orange rock (iron ore?), black basalt, and other colors, layered on top of each other. A single cut through the mountain would reveal as many as six different colored layers.

Soon my downhill had turned into gentle but steady climbing. I realized at around 20 miles that I had put a serious dent into my drinking water. I was being careful to breathe through my nose, so I didn't lose a lot of water through my mouth, but I was also sipping water regularly. I also stopped frequently to drink water and catch my breath. At around 25 miles, a car pulled off the road ahead of me and offered me some water. I filled my two water bottles, glad that these people had stopped.

At around 40 miles, I had finished climbing. Road signs warned of steep twisty roads ahead. As I started my descent, I could see that they weren't kidding. There was about 12 miles of steep downhill (perhaps 8 percent grades) to deal with.

I didn't expect these downhills to be easy to deal with. I'd found that anything steeper than 6% requires me to use my brakes to keep my speed below 35 mph, which in turn means that I have to stop periodically so as not to overheat my rims and blow my tires off. I found this to be the case here, as well. Unfortunately, twisty mountain roads are often also windy. I was being buffeted back and forth by strong (30-40 mph?) winds that threatened to blow me off the road and down the steep mountain slopes. Gritting my teeth and concentrating hard on staying on the road, I made my way down into the Panamint Valley.

The scenery along this road is spectacular. In every direction, I saw multi-colored mountains, gorges, valleys, dry lakes, and lots of different species of small plants. Some of the plants still had flowers on them (though most here flower in the spring). There were also a few yucca trees, though they weren't too big.

I stopped to take pictures, but found myself wishing again that I could take panoramas or at least had a wide-angle lens, since the scenery was so big.

Finally, I was at the Panamint Springs Resort. I can't imagine a place more "in the middle of nowhere" than here. They have camping, a motel, a bar, and a restaurant. I was starved, so I ate a large order of (very good) lasagna, and washed it down with a draft Franziskaner (nothing better than a fresh weizenbier at the end of a long day in Death Valley!).

Unfortunately, their water isn't potable, and they charge $4.63 per gallon for bottled drinking water. I guess I'll have to filter some tomorrow morning.