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March 22, 2011

Southwest 2011: To Death Valley

Filed under: MTB Travel, Southwest United States, The List, Travel, United States — anotherheader @ 3:50 am

The rig viewed in the infared at the Tehachapi Loop overlook

We’re on the road again.  In the last year we’ve driven over 10,000 miles covering the tarmac in Europe, the United States, and Canada.  We expect to add half again as much to the year’s total mileage with our current expedition through the Southwestern United States.  Along the way we will do what we usually do.  We will stop at the National Parks and bike amazing terrain.  In between who knows what we will find.

This trip is the first for our pup Gigi.  She doesn’t know it, but she’s in for a big, big adventure.  We hope she travels well.  There’s no going back now.

Gigi is ready to play in Lone Pine's Alabama Hills

From the San Francisco Bay we set out on the road to Death Valley National Park.  It seems we must have been excited to get there; we inadvertently left a day ahead of schedule.  A pattern is developing; on our last road trip we unwittingly arrived in Whistler British Columbia a day early.  We are getting ahead of ourselves.

At least the too early departure gave us a chance to check out more sights on the way.  Just off Highway 58, the Tehachapi Loop is near our route.  A railway loop or spiral, like the Tehachapi Loop, is a section of track that crosses over itself in order to minimize the railroad’s gradient.  These railway features are uncommon.  We saw the Brusio Spiral Viaduct in Switzerland last summer.  Inspired we were determined to see the less ambitious Tehachapi version.  From 58, a short detour on the back road to the town of Tehachapi takes visitors past a loop viewing point.  There’s a good chance to see a train on the tracks.  Indeed, seeing a train cross over it self on the loop is not uncommon.  The Tehachapi railway line is one of the busiest single-track mainlines in the world.

At the gateway to Death Valley National Park

Further up the road, we paused at Red Rock Canyon State Park and in then in Lone Pine.  Lone Pine is located at the base of the Owens Valley near Owens Lake.  For me, it’s an old stomping ground.  It served as a base for many hang gliding expeditions in the big air and high Sierra peaks of the valley.  Back then, twenty years ago, the Owens Lake was dry.  Now the Los Angeles Water Department allows some water to enter the lake and the lake is half salt marsh and half dry lake.  The lake looked better dry!

The Alabama Hills

For many Americans the scenery in the Owens is familiar.  Nearby, in the Alabama Hills’ rounded rocks, numerous western movies and TV shows were filmed.  It is the classic Western movie backdrop.  More recently, the area, with Mount Whitney and the snow capped Sierra Nevada peaks in the background, has served as the location for dozens of car commercials.

A break amongst Alabama Hill’s rocks gave Gigi some quality playtime.  With ease she bounded up and down the rocks taking routes that emphasized just how old our human bones have become.  It’s good to be young even if you are just a dog.

Our day ended inside Death Valley National Park at the Panamint Springs “resort” where we had made last minute arrangements to accommodate an early arrival.  This was our first visit to the park.  In fact, I must admit that I didn’t even realize that Death Valley was a National Park until we began our quest to visit all of the United State’s National Parks.  (In my hang gliding days, Death Valley was still a National Monument.  It only became a National Park in 1994.)

In the coming days we’d find out just why Death Valley is a National Park.  It took some work.  Did you know that Death Valley is the largest National Park in the lower 48?  To see the entire park it might just take a lifetime.  Just to see the highlights requires long road miles and a week or so of time.  But it is worth it.  Death Valley is simply amazing.

The Airstream in the IR

A happy dog: Gigi in the Alabama Hills

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