deathvalley offroad

For some time I've had the idea of exploring Death Valley on dirt bikes with my brother.  The place has a draw, nothing beats grabbing a DV map after dinner and looking it over -- our youngest likes seeing the maps too, tracing roads and locations we've visited in the past...
But what kind of trip will this be?  Destinations, routes, camping, gas, supplies, weather, and a layover day with our support crew must all be figured out.  Challenging trails are a must and we'll be on a budget, no pricey rooms at Furnace Creek for us, however, we may be able to spring for a Panamint Springs Resort breakfast -- wallets permitting.  Cook permitting too.
Also, along the way we'll make time to stop, stay, and tend to some of our personal land holdings. 
(and plenty of public holdings too -- we are all in this together!)
Only so much planning can prepare one for the road ahead.

Day 1: October 13, 2009.  (Hilton Creek CA, to Fish Lake Valley orchard NV, 91 miles)
Our original intent was to begin at June Lake and make one large loop into Death Valley and ending up in Hilton Creek.  But on the day of departure it was snowing in June Lake and already there were several inches of wet slushy snow.  Traversing the Glass Mountains wouldn't work out so a change in plans was made to depart from a lower elevation.  Shame too because my brother (James) has spent most of the summer cataloging motorcycle singletrack in the Bald Mountain and Glass Mountains vicinity.
So instead of an early morning take off we are later on the road by 10 a.m.  After gassing up at the Crowley store we are out at the new Crowley Lake baseball field checking out the surrounding snow level and wondering if the Trail Canyon pass into Fish Lake Valley will be snowed out or not.

On this trip we're both trying out newly installed "Dirt Bags" (off-road saddle bags) to hold most of our camping gear and supplies.  Below a photo of what James has stashed in his bags:  Unfortunately the cracker jacks never made it.  The MSR fuel cans came in handy on the final day, but other than that it was peace of mind for the thirsty 650 to carry a few extra liters of gas.  My brother had mounted two tractor tubes on his bike, in it were the aluminum gas cans.

The XR400, being thrifty on gasoline usage, I packed lots of chili, maps, and mayo for sandwiches.

The plan for today is to stay low, under the snow and end up in Benton for lunch and gas.  Tom's Place highway 395 under-crossing.

On this old section of road James went down headfirst into the rock-pile.  Helmet worked good for him.  Loaded up his bike probably pushed the 400 pound mark.

After crossing the Crowley Lake dam, we head towards Casa Diablo and quickly have to pull out the maps.  Reading maps and relating it to actual terrain and choices is tricky.  On this trip we're using maps, gps, and luck.  We stumble upon the first of many cabins.

Thanks to the maps we find a scenic and direct dirt route around Casa Diablo and on to Benton.  Benton has a small diner and gas station, excellent burgers, chicken and fries.  Nice touch with the red onions piled high on the burger. 

Fueled up and ready to get to Queen Canyon, about 12 miles away.  Always fun to get on a road never traveled, but, will the snow turn us back?  We'll find out soon.

Climbing up further we leave Queen Canyon and the views stretch back to the Glass Mountains and even past them to the June Lake area. 

The snow level comes right down to our pass, looks like it won't be a problem after all. 

 The sun was on our side, melting off most of the snow. 

Trail Canyon pass saddle.   Looking east - down into Fish Lake Valley.

Told James I was glad we were going down and not up.  Someone had run a tractor or something over the road to smooth it out - the result was very loose bumpy ground with all sorts of boulders and brush pulled up.  If I hadn't known any better it could have been a road "rehabilitation" project that we run across from time to time.  That's where the USFS drags the roads rototilling them beyond use and planting some sticks to give the appearance of new growth.  Usually we're left with an end product that is visually lacking.
At times I admit to being critical of road closures - even served a couple years with the whole route designation process to try and make a difference.  What happened in the end was that the forest service ended up doing what it wanted, with little transparency.

And that's not all, now the USFS has farmed out most control over our front country lands to a new group called Friends of the Inyo (FOI).  FOI, a local subsidiary of the Sierra Club, now assumes control over which roads stay open and which ones don't.  Nothing creates conflict in the eastern sierra than privatizing the management of public lands.

I've written more than a few articles on another website for those interested:

Anyhow, wild horses are usually spotted every time we go to Fish Lake Valley, this time was no exception.  To our left (not shown) is Mustang Mountain according to our map. 

Headed down from the White Mountains. 

Looked like a good fishing hole, but we weren't equipped for fishing this time. 

The road ahead takes us to the middle fork of Chiatovich creek. 

We took a 10 mile detour up the middle fork of Chiatovich Creek.  The further up we went the more snow and cloud covered the mountains appeared - very scenic and fast winding road, boulder strewn at times.  We stopped at the flat chair camp and headed back down.

Riding through the Chiatovich Creek subdivision we kept getting lost.  But far in the distance we spot our leased orchard/homestead.  Nothing stands out on the skyline like a Lombardy poplar.  Plenty of lots here for sale, but prices seem to be on the high side, about $59K for 10 acres.  Saw that the Esmeralda tax collector was selling one for $3,200 cash last August but never had the time to follow up with that land sale, and don't know what happened with it.

On the homestead.  Russian thistle prevalent.  Just spotted a tarantula which is very good luck!  Can't wait to tell the rest of the family.

 There's that Lombardy, that ball of a tree to the left is a huge apricot. 

Everything is still soaking wet, must have had a recent rain shower - this part of Nevada gets rain like we usually don't see on the eastside.   The old aluminum trailer was purchased for $1 - it's a 1952 roadmaster, 30'.  The pot belly stove is aftermarket and warms up the insides.  An old apple tree provides partial shading and wind break.
A co-worker of mine does door to door religious outreach.  One day I asked him if he knew of any trailers for sale because of his always being out and about.  He told me of a very friendly lady who was quoted by the landfill that it would be $100 for dispose of this old trailer off her property.  (she needed it gone and $100 was too much)  We took a look, just seeing a plumbed pot belly was good enough for me - not to mention all the beautiful wood interior, kitchen, space.  And the tires held air!  Tent time at the orchard was officially over.

 For $1 we could afford two.  Then it just so happened she called us up a month later for another trailer - 14' 1967 Scotsman.  For another dollar and the DMV was not pleased but registered it for us without a lot of fuss.  We've been camping fools ever since.

Camping out here is easy, reminds us of an older simpler life gone by. 

Shack stew.  (with a roadmaster influence)  Pretzels, Tapatio, and Jager on the side.

Got the DV maps out, almost time to retire.  

Day one end.