Tour packet: 30 pages; 36 photos, 5 maps, covering up to 8 stages
Most people wouldn’t think of Death Valley as a cycling destination: 120° days; dusty, desiccating winds; bleached bones on a sere, salt-caked desert. But those who know better—and who know when to visit—appreciate the severe beauty of this stark, tortured wonderland.
However, this is not everyone’s cup of tea. If you like your scenery green and woodsy; if your ideal cycling environment looks like a classic English landscape painting, then this is probably not the place for you.
Death Valley is a harsh, alien landscape, comprised of rock, sand, and salt flats, with minimal vegetation and only a few green oases scattered about (fortunately within cycling distance of each other). Yet its austere beauty and unreal quiet and solitude can be wonderfully refreshing. Most of these roads are very remote and untraveled. You may only see two stop signs in an entire day, and only a handful of cars.
For such a desolate region, there are a surprising number of points of interest along every stage of the tour. Often these have to do with the rich and fascinating geology of the region, while some are significant in terms of human history. If your visit comes in a year when rain has been abundant, you may be treated to an impressive display of wildflowers on the desert floor. You may even find the salt basin at the bottom of the valley filled with water…a temporary lake.
This region and this tour are unlike anything else we offer. Not only are the physical attributes of the place dramatically different, the tour format presented here is somewhat different as well. It can be ridden as a point-to-point progression as we normally do, or it can be modified to include a series of day trips from one home base. Furnace Creek, at the heart of the valley, is the hub for most of the tour. You can journey south in a loop up and out of the valley—and back—or you can content yourself with staying in Furnace Creek and doing shorter out-&-backs from camp.
Prologue: Lone Pine out-&-backs
50 miles, 6000′ up and down
32 miles, 5000′ up and down
Weather permitting—meaning if the snow has melted in the high country—two optional rides of epic proportion: out-&-backs to Horseshoe Meadows and Whitney Portal. Wonderful adventures on the steep flank of the Eastern Sierra. Or simply enjoy a shorter exploration of the wildly contorted geological fantasyland of the Alabama Hills, right near camp.
Day 1: Lone Pine to Panamint Springs
52 miles, 1600′ up, 3200′ down
Begins in the shadow of 14,495′ Mount Whitney—highest peak in the lower 48—and the towering ramparts of the Southern Sierra Nevada. Climbs very gently into the Inyo Mountains before dropping in a wild ’n crazy descent to the tiny outpost of Panamint Springs. Camp has showers.
Day 2: Panamint Springs to Furnace Creek
56 miles, 3400′ up, 5500′ down
After rolling to the bottom of Panamint Valley, climb infamous Townes Pass, one of the most notorious cycling torture racks in California. Then descend forever: 5000′ of continuous drop to Stovepipe Wells and the bottom of Death Valley. Continue down the valley over rollers to the oasis of Furnace Creek. Several camping options. Showers and pool at Furnace Creek Ranch (free to campers from nearby national park campgrounds). Or stay at either of the two inns in Furnace Creek.
Day 3: Furnace Creek to Tecopa Hot Springs
67 miles, 3300′ up, 1750′ down
Bonus miles: 27 miles, 3500′
Climb up and out of Death Valley on a journey to sample the waters at Tecopa Hot Springs, a funny, funky spa in the middle of nowhere. The climb out (via Death Valley Junction) is long but never steep, and once over the top, the run south through the Greenwater Mountains is all downhill. Optional out-&-back to the stunning vista point at Dante’s View…one of the most panoramic views in the world. If you prefer, you can skip the trip to Tecopa and do one or two day’s worth of day trips from Furnace Creek. The options are explained in detail in the tour packet.
Day 4: Tecopa Hot Springs to Furnace Creek
85 miles, 3300′ up, 5000′ down
90 miles, 4700′ up, 6400′ down
Back into Death Valley by way of Salsberry and Jubilee Passes…long climbs and longer descents. Work your way up the length of the valley, passing through Badwater, the lowest spot in North America (282′ below sea level). Terrain (after the passes) is either level or rolling. The longer route takes a detour around Artists Drive, a steep and very twisty roller coaster ride through incredible, contorted rock formations. Return to base camp in Furnace Creek.
Day 5: Furnace Creek to Mesquite Spring
60 miles, 3500′ up, 1500′ down
Travel north to visit Scotty’s Castle, climbing very gently for most of the stage. After visiting the famous castle, retrace route a few miles to campground at Mesquite Spring. Sorry: no showers and no streams or lakes. Just faucet water for getting clean.
Day 6: Mesquite Spring to Stovepipe Wells (plus side trip to Ubehebe Crater)
56 miles, 500′ up, 3500′ down
It seems a shame to end the trip after the long climb to Scotty’s Castle, so we encourage you to ride back down that long grade: yesterday a climb; today a 30-mile downhill. Add in an out-&-back at the start to scenic Ubehebe Crater. Camp in Stovepipe Wells. Showers and swimming pool available at adjacent motel. (Or stay at the motel.)