Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Death Valley Cruise to Santa Cruz

So here's the choice, we can either get to our overnight stop to Yosemite NP from Las Vegas by sticking to the I-95 (269 miles) or go through Death Valley NP (290 miles) contest.
How hot can it get, right? well there's only one way to find out. We left Vegas as early as possible but got delayed due to major roadworks, the GPS eventually got us back on track and by the time we got to the road into the park it was already eleven o'clock. We were used to high temperatures and for the last couple of weeks, the temperature has usually reached over 100 degrees at some point in the day and when we were in the queue driving over the Hoover Dam we actually hit the 110 mark! (the hottest ever recorded temperature in the UK was 101 degrees) in summer gear that's bearable but in bike gear it gets uncomfortable. You see plenty of riders in T shirts but we know what it's like to hit the deck wearing protective clothing, so we'll sweat it out!

The temperature here is not measured 'in the shade'. There is no shade.

Beautiful roads,

By the time we reached the viewpoint at Zabriski Point the temperature readout on the bike had been holding steady at 45 degrees Celsius (113F). For the last few days Sue had been apprehensive about driving this road and I knew that sat on the back of the bike she was thinking about what would happen if we broke down or got a flat, I on the other hand was thinking what would Ray Mears do if he was stranded in searing temperatures and no shade? For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ray Mears he's a TV survival programme type guy who can make a hammock out of snot!, he would probably use some native Indian technique for finding water and make a sunshade out of vulture feathers, I just opened the tank bag and took a swig of bottled water before patting Sue on the leg and heading for Furnace Creek. (you've got to love these names!)

Sue at Zabriski Point overlooking the Valley...She's Hot!

Things are starting to look deserty (is that a word?)

The warning to park off pavement is for a reason, it stops vehicles sticking to the road!

Death Valley is the lowest place in North America (282 feet below sea level) it also holds the record as the second hottest place on earth (recorded at 56.7 Celsius, 134F)

Without riding on the desert floor, this was the lowest place we got to on the road.

We stopped for refreshments at Furnace creek, a veritable oasis in the desert surrounded by palm trees. By this time we were suffering and the only way to cool off was to buy a couple of bottles of ice cold water and pour them over ourselves.

Should have told Sue before I started pouring!

There are only a couple of places in the National Park where food and gas are available so we figured on getting to Stovepipe Wells for lunch, by now the temperature was hovering around 47/48 Celsius and we had not reached the hottest part of the day.

Birds don't fly in the Park, well at least not during the day.

Stovepipe Wells consists of a gas station, motel, general store and campground, we had lunch and took a break in the shade, and learnt a valuable lesson when we got on the bike...make sure you park the bike in the shade as well!
We kept stopping to take photos of the temperature gauge on the bike in case we missed the highest reading but as we rode through a dip in the road out of Stovepipe Wells the temperature reached 49.5C (121F) by the time I stopped and took a picture the temperature had dropped by a degree.....Bugger!

A hot day in Hell...quite nice really.

Overlooking Badwater Basin

Just for a laugh I'll pretend to drive off

Driving out of the park looking back to Badwater Basin

Erection problems at 25? try Viagra!

BOB coped better with the heat than we did.

We stopped for the day at a town called Bishop and made sure we found somewhere with a pool, when planning the trip we had estimated a budget of £100 a day for everything and found motels reasonably inexpensive so the need to camp was less of an issue than air conditioning and Internet access.

This would have to do until we got to the pool.

It's official! Yosemite National Park is now our favourite location of the trip, we have visited some stunning places and seen sights that take your breath away but this Park is awesome. No doubt we will put our choice of favourites to the test further down the road but for now we have found our Shangrila, Everthing about the Park is perfect, the clean air, the stunning scenery, the roads and of course to drive through it in summer at this altitude the temperature could not be better for biking.

Driving into the Park up the Tioga Pass

The smile says it all.

Crystal clear lakes

Where's my fishing rod?

The view was spectacular without the tourists.

Half Dome rock in the distance

Bridalveil Falls

El Capitan is a 3,000 foot vertical rock formation and is one of the worlds favourite challenges for rock climbers

Half Dome rock taken from the valley floor.

Can we stay here longer?

This is my personal favourite photo of the trip (so far).

The view back to Yosemite valley.

If there is a downside to this kind of travel it's that there are so many places and sites you can visit that you tend not too spend enough time in any of them, we should have stayed longer here but knew we were running out of time on our visa and had to keep moving through the States.

From Yosemite we headed back South to Kings Canyon and Seqouia NP, home to some of largest living thing on the planet. After doing the National Parks in Utah we were 'canyoned out' so decided to miss Kings and just do the loop through the lower Park. When you ride through the Park there are the usual Fir and Redwood trees that you see in any forest and then you suddenly enter a Giant Redwood or Sequoia grove and you get the feeling that you have shrunk!

There's no way you can get the whole tree in shot to give an idea of scale, but this was the top half.

And here's what the other half looks like!

Sue's head is just above the fork in these two trees.

Here she is round the other 'fork inside'

Here's Sue stood next to a gnarly old stump, with the tree in the background.

We did the half mile hike to see the General Sherman, which apart from sort of fungus living in the forests of Oregon is the single largest living thing on the planet. at the bottom of the tree are the usual hordes of Japanese tourists, now the Japanese have probably no more tourists over here than any other nationality but they do stand out due to their bad dress sense. This also raises the question, "if all the Japanese are over here, who's in Japan"?

Treemendous Facts!

Height above Base 274.9 ft 83.8m
Circumference at Ground 102.6 ft 31.1m
Maximum Diameter at Base 36.5 ft 11.1m
Diameter 60' (18.3 m) above base 17.5 ft 5.3m
Diameter 180' (54.9 m) above base 14.0 ft 4.3m
Diameter of Largest Branch 6.8 ft 2.1m
Height of First Large Branch above the Base 130.0 ft 39.6m
Average Crown Spread 106.5ft 32.5m

When we left Sequoia NP we headed East to San Francisco, but whilst looking at the map I realised that the city of Oakdale California was not far off our intended route. Sue and I play golf back home at Oakdale GC in Harrogate and the club organises inter club visits with members of Oakdale Golf Club in California so we thought we'd call by and see the place for ourselves.

The course looks in excellent condition and is well laid out, it has a nice club house and pro shop. Not unlike our course back home, in fact the only real difference is the weather.

We've got a fountain as well.

And an impressive 18th hole.

Wait a minute, that looks like a proper practice ground in the distance, damn!

Oakdale Golf Club, Harrogate, UK.

We introduced ourselves and chatted to some members who were really hospitable, but when we mentioned that we play off astroturf mats in winter wearing waterproofs they laughed and started taking the mickey!....Right come on Sue it's time to go.

Their dustbins were impressive!

We rode North East up through the Nappa valley and came down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) before entering San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog hadn't lifted completely when we got there but it's still a cool ride over the bridge in mid morning traffic.

It was cold enough for a jumper (sorry sweater)

We were heading for Santa Cruz to see my eldest brother's sister in law so rode straight though San Francisco and would call back later to see the sights. Fiona, Bill and family made us feel right at home and Sue got a touch homesick chatting with someone who could make Yorkshire puddings!, we were offered the opportunity to take a few days off the bike which we gratefully accepted.

Prime Suspects!

We still had almost two weeks before we became illegal aliens so a few days R&R would still leave us a week to get to the Border........but that's for next time.

Viva Las Vegas!

We left Fort Morgan with Joe and Lynn, they were heading South to visit family in Colorado Springs, so Sue agreed to ride in the car while I was condemned to a couple of hours of helmet singing. We said farewell to Joe and Lynn on the slip road to the I-25 and hoped that we'd meet them somewhere on the road in the future. Joe, you need to get your back fixed and get your journey South underway, in the meantime we'll keep you updated on our progress.
Not long after we hit the interstate it started to rain, the clouds in the distance looked like they were there for the day so we made the decision to don the waterproofs.

Why post a photo of rain when you come from the UK? well we haven't seen rain in weeks, so it was something of a novelty.

These are called waterproofs.

We covered the next 650 miles without much trouble, or interest for that matter and rolled into Winslow, Arizona. You can't ride through Winslow without visiting the corner made famous in the Eagles song 'Take it Easy'. There's nothing to say that this was THE corner but if the town can make a buck by sticking a statue on a corner and painting a wall then we're up for it.

If you don't know the words to the song, you're too young to care.

The flat bed Ford is parked here permanently, BOB was just visiting.

By now Sue was able to hold up under interrogation

After Winslow we headed West to Flagstaff before turning North to the Grand Canyon on the way we called in to see the world's best preserved meteor crater. For a hole in the ground it's quite impressive, 570 feet deep and almost a mile in diameter, the visitor centre also contains some NASA stuff including an Apollo test capsule. Best of all for me was a pen developed by NASA to write in zero gravity, apparently they spent millions on the task, the Russians however.......used pencils.

If you put seats around the outside it would make a top class stadium.

Everything you have ever read, seen or been told about the size and beauty of the Grand Canyon is true, it's impossible to take it all in in one go and to spend just a few hours riding the South rim is like listening to a few bars of a musical masterpiece. Unfortunately we arrived the day before President Obama was due to make a family visit to the National Park so there was probably more than the usual crowds.

Isn't she Grand?

What a sight!

I convinced Sue to stand precariously close to the edge for this shot, but should she slip that sturdy branch she is holding would stop me from claiming on the life insurance!
Enjoy the Views............

Align Centre

A mile down to the Canyon floor

We finished the tour of the Canyon South Rim and stopped overnight in Seligman, a small town which now exists on it's reputation as the start of the last remaining stretch of Route 66 and the usual souvenir shops. As soon as the sun rises the tour buses hit town which was our cue to leave, but not before our own tourist snaps.

One careful owner?

If it gets you into the shop, it's worked.

Loads of old stores like this selling the usual tourist tat, but this one had some nostalgic hidden gems.

What you would have swapped for this as a kid!

Our motel hadn't been touched since the fifties (not even the sheets)

Today was a fairly easy days riding, we'd just follow the old Route 66 through the desert to Kingman before heading North West into Las Vegas via the Hoover Dam.

There are only a couple of small towns left on the last stretch of the original '66' for the rest of the way it runs through desert. For some driving the 'Mother Road' is still the ultimate road trip, for us it was just hot!

We stopped in Kingman for refreshments and got talking to Andy and Christine a couple from New Zealand who are on an eight week tour with a group of 16 riders, Andy is originally from Chesterfield but left the UK in the early 80's. As they woud be in Vegas at the same time as us we arranged to meet up for a drink when we got there.

Kiwis:- Flightless, nocturnal birds about the size of a chicken (can't be right?)

By the time we got to the Hoover Dam it was silly degrees celsius, the temperature had been hovering around the low 40's for most of the way along the 66 which is just over 100 degrees fahrenheit, on a beach it's probably manageable but in bike gear?. At one point crossing the dam the temperature readout on BOB reached 43.5C -110F! we had had enough and just wanted to get to the air conditioned comfort of our hotel room.

The Hoover Dam is impressive, but what is equally impressive is the bridge being built across the gorge.

Soon you will not be able to drive across the dam

Lake Mead showing the result of water shortage.

We went on the Internet looking for accommodation in Vegas and found that you could get a decent hotel for as little as $20 a night, the cheapest was $9 including breakfast! We opted for the famous Golden Nugget Casino on the old strip at $49 a night and booked ourselves a four night break.

The Nugget

Here's Sue in front of the 'Hand of Faith' the world's biggest nugget in existence. (reportedly bought at auction for $1,000,000 but now worth twice as much)

The old Freemont strip has now been covered with a framework containing thousands of lights which provides an impressive light show after dark.

Lights on.

Lights off

We met up again with Andy and Chris and had a look round some of the other famous casinos, they were all very fancy but a week in this town would be enough for us.

Biker chicks joined at the hip.

The glass flower ceiling in the Belaggio foyer.

The fountain lake at the Bellagio

Paris Casino, Las Vegas

The canals at the Venetian

The ceiling of the Grand Hall, Venetian

St Marks Square (with painted ceiling)

The rest of the week we spent just lazing by the pool and recharging our batteries, we managed to hang on to our money even though you have to walk through the Casino to get anywhere. The next part of our journey was through Death Valley and on to Yosemite NP but that's another entry on the blog.................