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Olancha to Beatty

My First Sponsored Trail Ride thru Death Valley


Living in Las Vegas, I have always enjoyed the beauty that the desert offers. There is just something about being able to see forever.
         After months of being unable to make any of the posted trail rides I finally found a ride I could make.  The best part was I would have 4 days to enjoy it.  The Death Valley 350.  The name alone made me feel like a macho-man, my longtime hero Malcolm Smith would have been proud of me for just signing up.  After three long and anticipated months and many nights of just thinking of riding with other dualsport riders...well, I felt like a kid waiting for Christmas.  The wife had to have asked me 1,000 times, “You’re really going riding by yourself?”  My answer being that I asked two others and they said no was, “Yes I’m really going by myself.” 
         My plans of leaving at 11:00 am were soon pushed back to 17:00.  The 200+ mile drive didn’t even faze me.  I arrived in Olancha, CA checked in to my $48.00 room and was really looking forward to a good nights sleep.  I caught up with Jerry and checked in for Saturday’s ride and even won the last Dunlop tire.  After returning to my room I had the good fortune of meeting Bill (Death Valley’s best tour guide) and Smiley Dave.  I had to break the bad news to Bill that I snagged the last tire, which made him 0 for 15.  They got a real kick out of me parking my DRZ in the room.  Later Kevin “The Wheelie King” & “GPS” Mark showed up. They sure were a happy bunch and I was soon included in their group.  As far as a good night’s sleep...well that dream was long gone.  The large bed also had a large dip in the center and the paper thin walls gave me a good opportunity of hearing the guy next to me vomiting at 2:00, 2:30 & 4:00 am.
         Morning came quickly and we were soon riding.  The parts of Death Valley and surrounding areas we covered were just great.  The pace was much faster than I wanted to ride but we had 170 miles to cover on day one.  As I passed by Dirty Sox Hot Springs I made a mental note of the location. This has been a place I once heard of as a teenager and had searched for without luck.

         I found out that as soon as we left the comfort of the pavement and hit the first of many sandy washes...well I’m just glad they waited for me.  It was not the bike but the rider.  I learned quickly that these four riders were not only fast but well seasoned riders with many trail rides behind them.  My concern for one of the riders being a diabetic was soon relieved when I gladly noted him monitoring his blood sugar level at almost every stop.  Being a paramedic, I knew what un-monitored sugar levels could cause and that was one thing I really didn’t want to have to deal with.

We rode many old jeep trails and washes before making Hunter Pass.  The road was well graded with several spots of snow and mud.  Bill told me this was where Charles Manson made the mistake of shooting a poor defenseless road grader.  No not the person but the machine.  It seems the road was being cut and graded.  The workers left the grader in the road at quitting time and Charles was unable to get by it. Even if he did get by the grader the road was not passable.  So he shot the grader and set fire to it (that was anger management back then).  Soon after sending the smoke signal up he was captured by law enforcement.  Hunter Pass gave us many views to take in and Jerry’s roll chart gave a couple of ways to ride. We passed the Lee Mine, Quackenbush Mine, and Keeler Mine as well as a couple others I didn’t get the names of on our way into the Saline Valley.  Riding into these areas was interesting.  Some of the old rusted barrels of cyanide and other mine equipment were still on site.  Soon we were riding down grade toward Teakettle, and off to the left, Racetrack dry lake could be seen.  Bill and I reached Teakettle Junction and waited for the Dave, Kevin and Mark.  A wrong turn on their part gave Bill and me a chance to rest and talk. Looking around at the vastness of the desert, I thought it must have been torture crossing this area in a wagon.  The long graded road to Ubhebe Crater gave us the opportunity for some higher speeds until we started meeting up with two way traffic.  We stopped at the crater for water and a Kodak moment.  This was a good spot to see the different colors of sediment surrounding the crater.  We made our way into Scotty’s Castle for more of a rest and lunch. We met up with the Harley riders at lunch as well.  One of them told us that after a crash he had to replace his front fender at the cost of $400.00. I think Kevin made the point but might have brought a tear to the guy’s eye when he said he could replace his for $20.00.  After lunch we headed into the great state of Nevada. A 19 mile ride on the pavement gave us a chance for our lunch to settle before hitting an old section of the SCORE course.  Twelve miles of whoops, sand and rock mixed together was not fun at all.  The wind had a good little kick so our dust was soon gone leaving nothing but a clear trail and clean desert.  The course road finally finished and we were then following a cattle trail.  We passed thru canyons, sand washes and over more rock.  I was really glad I installed a shark fin on the DRZ.  We reached Beatty, Nevada and met up with the Harley riders.  Reaching the motel I made sure I rode straight through their little gantlet showing off the battle ridden DRZ and rider.  After showering we met up and walked through Beatty to dinner and then onto a good sleep.  No crashes made day one a great day.

          Day two gave us a cool start with a good little breeze. The morning sun shining gave the town a red and golden glow.  We headed into Rhyolite for some more views, Bill made sure we detoured to see the Glass Bottle House.  The old Rail Road Station was on the stop list too.  After crossing the highway, we headed for Chloride on an old jeep trail.  This was a good ride once we got into some hills and canyons.  The colors of the sediment showed well.  The jeep trail we followed was full of quick turns along the canyon.  One quick turn and a panic stop put me down with my front tire sliding out from under me.  There was no time for making up a good lie… the skid mark told it all. 

         This area was full of mining history as Bill filled us in.  Once reaching the pavement we back tracked so we could ride through Titus Canyon.  One way traffic made this a pleasant ride. Once we reached Titus Canyon the sights were beautiful. There was so much color to this canyon area that it was really amazing.  The road narrowed as it winded through the steep canyon walls of the Grapevine Mountain Range.  The old mining town of Leadfield provided another history lesson and a quick break.  Upon exiting Titus we were hit with an increased temperature and light two-way traffic.  We made our way into Stovepipe Wells for a fuel and a 10-100 (bathroom) stop.

         We started our mountain climb on Emigrant Canyon Road making a detour to Skidoo.  The Skidoo mine sat high on the hillside and offered a view that let you see the entire desert below. Though the mine site was under renovation, it made a good stop for a side trip.  Back on the canyon road, we headed for Wildrose.  Over the chilly Emigrant Pass we started a descent into Panamint Valley.  My trip meter was out of calibration which gave me the opportunity of getting lost.  I got lost in Death Valley of all places.  Visions of someone finding my body next to a dried up watering hole with a poison sign and the skeletal remains of a cow skull crossed my simple mind.  I was standing at the intersection of Panamint Valley Road and Wildrose Canyon Road with my map out turning it every which way trying to figure out how Bill and the guys missed that turn.  A passing car informed me my lost friends were about 4 miles up the road.  I was accused of missing the turn on purpose and riding the bail out (easy) section of the course.  After meeting up with them, we rode on into lunch at Panamint Springs via the foothills of the Argus Range.  Fuel in Panamint was a $3.259 a gallon which I was going to pass on.  Kevin warned me “never pass gas” something my mom kinda told me.  Needing a gallon and half of fuel the cost didn’t hurt as much as the cars filling up.  Lunch was soon over and we headed for Darwin Falls and the town of Darwin.

        The canyon we rode through was like the others full of color. As we climbed the canyon, I enjoyed the tight turns and elevation changes.  Passing by China Garden Spring we continued up and into Slot Canyon.  This was a rough ride going up the narrow canyon I guess that’s why someone named it Slot Canyon.  Sometime in the past it was paved, or someone had thrown a lot of asphalt in the narrow canyon. The remaining road was washed out.  The large scattered chunks of asphalt along with sand and rocks made it a challenge for me.  Hitting a piece of asphalt, my DRZ came to a sudden stop with me being thrown off to the left. My second fall… least I landed on soft sand.  Dave passed by with the look of “why’d you stop here?”  After we met at the top (on level ground) we headed into and through Darwin.

        We then headed into the foothills of the Coso Range.  We then proceeded west toward the Centennial Flats and descended the foothills.  The jeep trail we followed was again sandy with rocks. The Joshua trees we rode pass faded out and the trail then crossed many washes from the Lakeview and Sugar Loaf Peak area. The final challenge for Bill and me was the eight foot drop off. Bill was leading the way; I saw a cloud of dust as he reappeared so I kept going.  I quickly looked down at my dusty speedometer and it read 55 mph.  I was launched into the air, getting the feeling of flight. The flight was short and sweet; the wash gave me a soft landing as we continued on through the deep sand dunes of Olancha.

Once we reached the parking lot of the motel we congratulated each other for a good ride and fun trip.  We loaded up our motorcycles.  We all prepared for the long task of driving home and one more Kodak moment. This was my first trail ride and how Kevin and Mark managed to operate their roll chart as well as a GSP while going up a sandy wash and passing me up like I was standing still I’ll never know.   With the back tracking we did so we would be able to see more we rode over 400 miles.  I plan to return to Death Valley both in truck and DRZ.  Being less than 150 miles away, I had no idea of all the trails and dirt roads the park has to offer. It’s a shame that the old mines have been looted or torn up by low lives.

         The work Jerry put into his roll chart had returned us to the starting point.
         Bill, Dave, Mark and Kevin made this trail ride a great experience for me. Thanks again guys and I’ll work on putting something together for you here in Nevada.

John DeLucchi

Las Vegas, Nevada


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