Death Valley Daze XIV – The Final Fourteen???
I think Fulton Martin, the DV Daze Button Man, hit it right when he called it The Final Fourteen. Quite a few people were there, just not the old DV Daze crowd that has filled the walk-in tent area in years past. Now it’s lots of Adv Riders filling the RV sites with their trailers and assortment of off road vehicles. A new group has filled the gap.
The few die hard DV Dazers who made the ride did gather for a group photo. It was taken right in front of the picnic table where past DV Daze door prizes overflowed onto the ground. This year 16 folks met at the Visitors’ Center to be part of the gathering. A total of four door prizes were given away, all brought by yours truly - SEAT. All but four of the gathers were SEAT members. Kewl!
Laughlin Thursday night was a hoot as always. The Brewery in the Colorado Belle is just too much fun when you have 18 other SEAT members to hang out with. The dinner was upstairs in the Captain’s Buffet where you can really get your fill, maybe too full if you’re not careful.
The Hobo stew dinner Saturday night in Death Valley had 17 SEAT members and 2 guests chowing down on some of the best stew known to man. Don Cameron brought the kitchen sink along with enough bread, snacks, eggs, toast, you name it, to feed a herd of riders. Super thanks to Don for sitting behind the wheel for all those hours so we could feast.
DV Daze XIV will be the last of the full blown SEAT dinner gatherings at Death Valley. We had some really great ones. Butch and Bev were the first to feed the SEAT masses. They brought all the supplies more than once. Dave and Jerry Fredenburgh and Phillip Orth helped haul in a ton of stuff over the years. Bert and Susi Fox brought in a load one year from their home in Elko, Nevada. And remember the year George and Shirley Dezso brought all the fixings? Each and every one was just too good. Thanks to all of you for making it the great times they were.
Now it’s time to go back to the old “ride in, hang out, and ride out” plan – KISS. Those were some pretty good times, too. The stop in Laughlin might be the ride with Death Valley an option depending on the weather. Who knows. Stay tuned…
Members present: Richard Bartasek, Ed Birch, Gary & Deb Blomstrom, Don Cameron, Dave & Carole Delie, Art Jacobson, Harb Lill, Craig Littlefield, Deryle & Wanda Mehrten, Carl Mueller, Phillip Orth, Ron Ridge, Don Schweiger, Stan & Patti Thibaut, John Willmann.
Death Valley Daze XIV – Final Fourteen?
Part 1 – The first Day Out
The ride out to Furnace Creek in Death Valley, California for Death Valley Daze is one of the scariest rides Wanda and I do. Call me a wimp if you will, but winter weather can get really out of hand. Looking back on the eight DVDs we’ve done, we’ve hit just about everything but a complete white out. Rain, hail, fog, snow, wind…we rode through some pretty nasty weather for a chance at a door prize and a coveted DVD button. Had me asking myself more than once what the hell were we doing out in such weather.
The South East Arizona Touring Riders (SEAT) have been part of DVD from the beginning. Rob Lentini out of Tucson, a SEAT member for several years (rest his bones), was one of the original DVD’ers. SEAT members Mick McKinnon, Craig Littlefield and Roger Austin have been to all the early DVDs. With the long tradition of SEAT members riding out to Death Valley, DVD XIV wasn’t to be missed.
This year our plan was to leave early and hopefully beat the blanket of rain that was expected to cover most of Arizona on Thursday. We opted for a Wednesday departure with an overnight stay in the Bluewater Casino and Resort just north of Parker, AZ. This would be an easy 350 mile day on our new ’08 K1200GT. We later found out that folks leaving Tucson on Thursday had quite a rain storm to ride through. Glad we missed it.
From our house in Sierra Vista to Gila Bend is right at 200 miles running straight up to I-10 then turning left at I-8. I figured with the new GT’s larger fuel tank, 200 miles would be possible if we got 40 miles per gallon. At a bit over 100 miles on the odometer when we went by Marana, our older K12RS’s gas stop, the gas gauge was still above half full, so we decided to make the next gas stop Gila Bend.
To get a good feel for the new bike’s range, we ran down the interstate at our normal 10 mph over the limit. Wind wasn’t much of a factor either on I-10 or I-8. Pulling into the Texaco Station in Gila Bend, the dash indicator said we had 16 more miles left in the tank. When I filled it up though, it only held a bit over 5 gallons. The Rider’s Manual says 6 plus gallons. The last gallon must be the reserve the manual alludes to. Based on my calculations the bike got a bit over 40 mpg and I would use that for all my mileage calculations for the rest of the trip.
Old Highway 80 north out of Gila Bend is still in good shape and rarely has any traffic. We like to stop at the Gillespie Dam at the old iron bridge for a cup of coffee. Nice quiet spot. The old spillway is full of water and there is usually a fisherman or two trying their luck. I seem to remember seeing a sign that said don’t eat the fish, too much mercury. Obviously, the fun is in the catching.
To get over to Parker, we enjoy taking the Buckeye/Salome Road, picking it up at Hassayumpa, then looping over to Parker via Hwy 72 and AZ 95. Unfortunately the Salome Road turns to dirt just a mile or two after 411th Ave. In the past we have always turned here and gassed up in Tonopah, occasionally lunching at Tonopah Joe’s. This year with the new bike’s longer range we could easily make Parker, so we decided to stay off the freeway and check out Courthouse Road over to Harquahala Valley Road. Turns out they’re both good roads, no problems, puts you right at the I-10 overpass where you pick up the Buckeye/Salome Road again…nice, we didn’t have to do the 12 mile freeway rip we normally do.
The stretch of the Buckeye/Salome Road from the Interstate to Salome runs pretty straight with a few zig, zags and a whoop-t-do or two thrown in for sport. Heed the signs that warn of cattle on the road. We have seen as many as six or seven dead animals along this road in the past. Still, it’s a good road with little to no traffic.
Christina’s Café/Cactus Bar in Salome is a good place to stop and eat. A basic American menu with large, filling portions. We spent the night in the Sheffler’s Motel across the street last year and enjoyed some of the best Margaritas in the Cactus Bar we’ve ever had. Generous portions that made getting back across the street later that night an adventure in its own right.
A few miles of Hwy 60 west gets you to Hope, Arizona. Be sure to read the back of the city’s welcome sign on the way in or out of town. One day we’ll stop in Hope and try out the corner Café. This year we wanted to stop in Bouse, the next small town on Hwy 72, and check out the Café and Ocotillo Lodge and Motel. We were planning on overnighting in Bouse on the way back and wanted to check out the motel. It was a bit shabby looking from the road. The Café was ok and the room was clean. We confirmed our Sunday night reservations.
Hwy 95 over to Parker can be a train of RVs. This year not so many. Didn’t take us long to come into town and gas up. Parker is one of the places where you can cross the Colorado River into California. If you are in a hurry, crossing the Colorado here and picking up US 95 north is quite a bit faster than taking AZ 95 north. Our plans were to ride up the east side of the river, the Arizona side, and stay at the Bluewater Casino and Resort. First time we’ve stayed at the Casino.
The Bluewater is an Indian Casino with all the gaming and gambling you’d want. The Resort sits right on the river with boat docks allowing access to the Colorado. What was really unique was the swimming pool area. It’s indoors and is about a quarter of the Casino. There was even a short tube ride that dropped three levels into one of the three pools. The attendant told us that in the summer months the place is packed. In January we had it to ourselves. The hot tub/spa was right on time.
Part 2 – Our Thursday Ride About
Thursday we rode up the Arizona side of the Colorado River through Lake Havasu. Several years back we stopped and lunched at one of the restaurants beside the London Bridge, pricey but good. This year our plan was to lunch in Oatman, Arizona. Oatman is on a portion of old Route 66 that runs from Kingman to Needles. The road has a few rough spots but is quite a ride. The section north of Oatman to Kingman can get real exciting if ridden spirited. Hard to imagine that was The Road not so many years back. Note that the Oatman Hotel can no longer have guests, the upstairs of the building has been condemned. Too bad, we stayed there about four years back, it was a hoot.
After lunch in Oatman we came back south and took Boundary Cone/Oatman Road down to AZ 95. In an email conversation I had with Fred Rau I found out that there is a bridge that crosses the Colorado River at Fort Mohave. If you continue west on Boundary Cone/Oatman Road across AZ 95, then turn right at the Parkway a few miles west, you will come to Aztec Road which crosses the river into Nevada. The Avi Casino is just on the Nevada side. We followed the Avi Parkway past the resort to the Needles Highway. Laughlin is only a few miles up the road.
We had a bit more riding planned though before we would park for the night in Laughlin. One of the SEAT Challenge Rides is the Dam Seat Ride. Just north of Laughlin and Bullhead City is Davis Dam, one of the dams in the challenge. We rode out to the dam on the Nevada side and found out it was closed to through traffic. I found a pull off where we could get a good picture of us and the bike with the dam in the background. Another dam picture in the photo bag.
Another SEAT tradition is an overnight stop in Laughlin, Nevada on the way to DVD. We do a group dinner at the Colorado Belle. The Belle is meant to look like an old paddle wheeled boat. They have the only micro brewery in town with really cheap pitchers on Thursday nights. For the last few years we have met at the brewery and gathered for dinner at The Captain’s Buffet upstairs. On Thursday nights the rooms in Laughlin are cheap; our room at the Belle this year was $16.30 with tax…not bad.
There were 18 SEAT members at the dinner in the Belle. The food was good, the company was better. Our room was one of the Boat Rooms and had a view of the river. Thanks to the lady who checked us in, we knew the secret door that got us up to our room without walking an extra five miles. I really did appreciate it.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the weather but once since the beginning of this tale. The reason… so far it was great. The mornings were cool with temps in the 40s; the afternoons got into the high 60s and 70s. Just about perfect riding weather with the help of a set of Gerbing heated jacket liners and gloves. The new bike has heated seats, too. We stayed toasty warm.
Part 3 – Into the Valley
Then came Friday. This is the day of the ride that can be a bear. One year Don’s GPS said it was 28 degrees along the Joshua Tree Highway between Searchlight and I-15. It got colder after that. This year we had sprinkles and a bitter, cold wind. It was so cold when we came to the little town of Nipton, about half way to I-15, another “we’ve got to stop here one of these days” places, we decided not to stop…it’s warmer on the bike with the electrics on. Wimps…
Up on I-15 it got a bit more rainy and a bit more windy. There are a couple of passes on I-15 on the way to Baker, California where we would gas up the last time before Furnace Creek. The new bike’s temperature gauge on the dash showed we would lose 6 to 7 degrees each time we got to the top of one of the passes. The electric gear was turned up and the seats were turned on…again toasty warm. The high, comfort wind screen did an excellent job of keeping the rain off of us; we didn’t use our Frogg Toggs it worked so well.
The last leg from Baker to Furnace Creek is why we do this. Once out of Baker, there is plenty of room and visibility to let the horses out a bit, and the new GT has a few horses, whew. I know a couple of fellow SEAT members who found out what the top end is on their Beemers along this stretch. Be warned though, the Park Rangers can issue tickets.
Before descending into the valley we lunched at the Crowbar Café in Shoshone. Good food and the museum next door is worth a look-see. Hwy 178, just past Shoshone, is our preferred entrance to the park. The road is motorcycle friendly and the scenery gets about as majestic as it can get as you drop down into the valley. This year there were no major wash-outs or wash-overs. One year the flooding was pretty bad and every other turn had two feet of water or two feet of mud across the road.
Badwater is a mandatory photo stop. You are close to 300 feet below sea level. There is a sign up on the side of the mountain that is hard to read it’s so far away. It says “Sea Level”. Not much water there this year, the path out to the valley was dry and clear. You could see a few people walking waaaay out there. They looked so small in the vastness of the valley.
From Badwater to Furnace Creek the traffic can pick up. There are several “sites” to see between the two and the tourists can be distracted looking for their turn. At the junction of 178 and 190 is “The Resort”, very pricy. One year the group photo was taken in the resort parking lot with Furnace Creek in the distant background. Rob Lentini did a couple of seminars that year. So did Joe Denton, if I remember correctly.
This is also the junction that got washed out several years back. A massive flash flood took out the road and several vehicles, killing two I believe. For almost two years Hwy 178 was the only access from the south. I heard that it was thanks to Governor Arnie for putting up the needed funds to repave Hwy 190’s washed out sections.
First thing you should do after coming into Furnace Creek is to pay the park fee. You can pay at the Visitor’s Center or at the kiosk at the entrance to the campground. I think it’s easier to pay at the Visitor’s Center…and there’s a bathroom there. The Ranger taking our $20 fee asked me if I was with the Adventure Riders. I stammered something about maybe or maybe not. He said, “Wrong answer! Second try, are you here for DVD?” My response, “Never heard of it.” His response, “Right answer.” Off we went.
Next stop was the gas station. As usual the price per gallon was right up there. Still, considering the location it wasn’t that bad. A quick calculation after the fill up showed we were still getting around 40 mpg.
The Rangers at the Campground kiosk know us and seem truly happy we come back each year. By the time Wanda and I got to the kiosk, the three sites SEAT was hosting were already occupied. SEAT HQ was at site 72 with sites 83 and 84 as tent sites. There were seven folks on the three sites, we had lots of room. Don Cameron was the mule this year, driving his truck and trailer with all the stuff for two dinners, a lunch, and two breakfasts. He brought the kitchen sink. By the time we pitched our tent, Don was getting the hot dogs ready for the Friday night dog feast. It sprinkled a bit right after dinner, good timing.
Saturday was a beautiful day with temps in the mid to high 70s. The Adventure Riders were coming and going in all directions. I remember when the walk-in tent area was packed and the RV section only had a few trucks and buses. Now the tent area is a ghost town and the RV section is packed with Adventure riders trailering in their dirt bikes. There were quite a few Urals there as well.
All DVD’ers know that at 4 pm it’s group photo and door prize time at the Visitor’s Center. The SEAT group formed up about 5 minutes before 4 and headed over to the photo site. Last year it was a pretty small crowd. This year there was no crowd. SEAT brought 4 door prizes, that’s all there were. Of the 16 folks there, 12 were SEAT members. Fulton Martin was there with the traditional DVD Buttons. I believe he hit the nail on the head: “DVD XIV - Final Fourteen?” The DVD crowd that I remember just wasn’t there, it was a bit sad.
Saturday night SEAT hosted a Hobo Stew dinner thanks to Don Cameron. We had 17 SEAT members and 2 guests around the picnic tables. The bread and butter with the stew was sooooo good. The fire was kept stoked and the beer and wine flowed. The night sky was pinpointed with a bazillion stars. The tent was warm and cozy. Good times.
Part 4 – The Ride Home
Early Sunday, before sunrise, the wind really picked up. The trees swayed and groaned. Anything that wasn’t tied down was moved around. Thankfully by sunrise the wind was gone and the day dawned bright and brisk. Don was up at the crack of dawn and had the first round of coffee hot and ready to drink. Before we started packing everything away, we had eggs, bacon and bagels for breakfast. By 9 am Arizona time, we had everything put away and ready to ride out.
Pulling out of the campground I made a special effort to say thanks and goodbye to the Rangers at the kiosk. The line on Fulton’s buttons began to hit home, this was probably the last of the Death Valley Daze gatherings as I remember them. They have been a blast, lots of good memories.
As we gained altitude leaving the valley, the temps dropped. The lowest I saw was 38 before we hit Death Valley Junction. We turned south and headed to Baker with our electrics on full blast. We gassed in Baker and took I-15 north, retracing our Friday route past Nipton on the Joshua Tree Highway to Searchlight and US 95 south. The construction on US 95 didn’t slow us down much. Sunday traffic seemed light and we made good time to I-40.
The plan was to head down the east side of the Colorado River on AZ 95 past Lake Havasu again. Another dam on our SEAT Challenge list is the Parker Dam a few miles south of Lake Havasu. We crossed over Parker Dam, getting a couple of excellent pictures at the dam, then south along the scenic route on the west side of the Colorado River. At Earp we turned east and crossed back into Arizona. The weather, by the way, was just about perfect.
The planned stop in Bouse was a good one. The motel room was clean enough and the water was hot and plentiful in the shower. We got in around 3 pm giving us plenty of time to shower and get ready for dinner at the adjacent café. We were the only out of towners in the café that night. We gorged on fish and chips, washing everything down with a couple of Margaritas. These weren’t the full bodied, mind benders we had in Salome the year before, but were still good. We headed back to the room ready for a good night’s sleep on a soft mattress.
Monday was to be an easy day. We would eat breakfast at a café just up the road in Bouse, take Old Highway 80 south, lunch in Gila Bend and home before dinner. The breakfast went as planned. About 5 miles down the road after breakfast Wanda asked if I had picked up our thermos. Nope…we headed back. Seeing as our schedule was already out of whack, we decided to check out the city park with the old WWII tanks. Turns out the US Army trained their tankers in this area. Across the street and up a side road is a museum. We took a couple of pictures then headed east again.
Leaving Gila Bend after lunch we began to pick up some wind. By the time we hit I-10 the wind was beginning to pick us up. As we turned south on AZ 83 towards Sonoita, the wind got really strong. Our traditional stop at the roadside table north of Sonoita for a cup of coffee to celebrate our return was tough. We considered standing beside the bike with our heated gear on and the engine running to stay warm. The wind was blowing in the 30s to 40s and was cold.
At just past 3 pm we pulled into our driveway. We did 1,448 miles in five days of riding, averaging 40.3 miles per gallon. It was good to get home. Another great Death Valley Daze…sad to say, probably the last.