This was a travel day with no major stops. Probably be the same for the rest of the trip home. I’m back in Oregon now, and I’ve been pretty much everywhere on the coast that there is to go.
Since this is going to be the “Leisurely” portion of the trip, I slept in an extra hour, and took my time getting dressed and packed to go. I left the motel right at checkout time, then hit the road.
I stopped for coffee and breakfast in Gold Beach, which is about 20 miles north of Brookings. The coffee shop was inside of a book store, but I didn’t bother looking around much. Just got a cappuccino and a bagel, found a table and got on the internet to write one of these trip reports, which took about an hour. Then back on the road again.
It was supposed to be sunny and in the 60’s today, but it there was heavy fog in Brookings that never lifted all day. Temperatures were in the mid-50’s the whole way. Nothing remarkable to report on this section of the ride. Just the standard beautiful scenery of the Southern Oregon Coast.
I was shooting for Florence and arrived there about 5:30pm, an hour before dark. I cruised up and down the “old town” strip right next to the river, and chose a motel just to the north of the bridge over the Suislaw River. It was low tide, so the river was low also. There was a great view of the dunes right across the river from my room, which lasted for an hour before it got dark.
I unloaded the Vespa, then walked up the street through “old town” Florence. Lots of touristy shops, but most were closed by the time I strolled by. No matter, since I was headed for Mo’s which was a couple of blocks away. They had a special, crab/shrimp/chedder melt sandwich on toasted garlic bread. Yummy! This is seriously the best thing that I’ve ever had at Mo’s. It’s not a regular menu item which is too bad because I would order it every single time!
Back at the motel, I flipped on the baseball game, which was rained out, then switched over the Monday Night Football and watched the rest of that game.
Tomorrow: Up the coast some more.
Once again, pretty much a travel day. The only real attraction on the agenda is Monterey, and even that is going to be a brief stopover. One thing that has become obvious to me is that I could easily have doubled the length of this trip in order to spend enough time at each of the stops. Take Monterey for example. I’ve been there before and seen the aquarium and cannery row and fisherman’s wharf. But if I hadn’t and I wanted to see that stuff, I’d need to allow at least a full day to see it all. Plus I’d want to go down to Carmel and go on the 17-mile drive (or whatever it is). Same with all these other places. I could easily have spent a week at the Grand Canyon, photographing it from all angles at all different times of the day. Oh well.
Heading out from Chowchilla more-or-less directly west towards the coast. In the Central Valley, all of the roads are pretty much straight. There are no geographical obstacles to go around. This valley is amazing when you think about it. A rich, fertile, intensively-cultivated area that’s bigger than a lot of entire countries. The midwest may be the nation’s breadbasket with all of the cereal crops, but everything else is grown here.
One thing that is surprising about California, if you’ve never been here before, is that even the “small” state highways are built to freeway standards. Highway 1, the winding coastal road, is a 6-lane freeway from Monterery up to Santa Cruz.
I took a short detour into Hollister, CA just to see what was there. I had a friend in college from Hollister, who always introduced the place as “The Earthquake Capital of the World.” Apparently, the are several major faults—including the San Andreas—which intersect right in the middle of town. You also see a lot of people walking around in “Hollister” t-shirts and sweatshirts. I didn’t see anything special about it. Just your typical medium-sized town.
There is an annual motorcycle rally that takes place here on July 4th. A “riot” that took place during the 1947 rally was the inspiration for the Marlon Brando movie The Wild One. But other than that, I can’t really see much here to make me want to come back.
I got into Monterey at about 1:30 in the afternoon. Like I said earlier, I’ve been here and done that. But I was hungry for some fresh seafood after spending a month east of the mountains, so I went to Fisherman’s Wharf. I stopped at the first stall and had a shrimp and crab sandwich. Yummy. Continuing on down the pier, there were about 4 or 5 places that were handing out samples of the clam chowder, so I had my fill of that too. I took a bunch of pictures and video which I’ll post someday.
Left Monterey at about 3pm, heading up the coast for San Francisco. As I said, Hwy 1 between Monterey and Santa Cruz is (mostly) now a 6-lane freeway. At Santa Cruz, it reverts to its 2-lane, windy coastal road. Not many people were on it as I traveled north. The weather was nice and sunny, but being on the coast, it was a little chilly.
My video camera’s battery was almost dead, so I didn’t shoot much of this leg of the trip. I only stopped once or twice to admire the view. There were a lot of roadside pullouts where surfers were congregated, but I didn’t stop at any of those. I wanted to get to SF before sundown so it would be easier to find my way around and find a motel.
Hwy 1 turns into a 12-lane (!) freeway as it enters The City and merges with I-280. Got there before sundown alright, but also right at rush hour on a Friday night. I cut across town and, mostly by accident, ended up cruising through the Castro District. Pretty colorful place. I’d never been here before and wanted to see it, so it was a happy accident.
I found a decent, fairly inexpensive motel near Civic Center, dumped off all my gear and headed to North Beach. This is an area in San Francisco where all of the Italian restaurants and shops are located. Just north of Chinatown. I parked the Vespa and wandered around taking pictures of the neon signs. Speaking of parking the Vespa, San Francisco has lots of motorcycle parking slots on the streets. Just about every block has a section of motorcycle parking slots, 8-10 in a row. And the parking meters only charge 10-cents an hour! Portland could take a lesson from this.
I had dinner at my favorite SF restaurant, The Stinking Rose. No vampires in this place. Everything is made with garlic. They say that they season their garlic with food, and they aren’t kidding. One of the standard appetizers is Bagna Carta, which is a pan of roasted garlic that you spread on bread. Yummy. I had spicy shrimp fettuccine for dinner. After eating at this place, you’ll smell like garlic for days.
Stopped at City Lights bookstore. Powell’s is better.
I also spotted a few places to have coffee tomorrow. Nothing like having a cappuccino at an Italian coffee shop.
I love San Francisco. So many cool places to eat and drink. A perfect place to ride a scooter. Other than the occasional killer earthquake, why live anywhere else?
Plan for the Rest of the Trip
I’ll start heading up the coast tomorrow. According to my GPS, its about 750 miles from here to Astoria. I could do that in about 3 days, but I think that I’m going to stretch it out into maybe 5 days and take it easy a bit. Before this trip grew into Scott’s Big Adventure, it was originally going to be just a nice, leisurely ride down the coast of Oregon, stopping for a night every 50 miles or so. It won’t be quite the same, but from here on up, I’m going to only ride for about 3 hours a day, then check into a motel and try to get caught up on these blog entries, and picture postings, and maybe a video or two, all before I get back.
If everything goes well, I should be back home sometime on Wednesday or next week. Ciao.
Out of the Mountains
I’m spending the night in Chowchilla, a medium-sized agricultural town just off of Hwy 99 in central California. The smell of organic fertilizer is in the air 🙂 I spotted a little espresso shop on the main drag, which I’m going to be checking out in the morning.
Tomorrow I should reach the coast. I’m aiming for Monterey, then up to coast on Hwy 1 to San Francisco.
Manzanar War Relocation Center
Mammoth and Mono
Yosemite from the East
So, up early today to get through Death Valley and out the other side. About 300 miles. I had stayed the night at a hotel/casino about 15 miles from The Strip on Hwy 95 so that I wouldn’t have to deal with traffic getting out of town. The basic plan is to go about 100 miles northwest on Hwy 95 to get to the eastern edge of Death Valley NP, then about a 100 miles through and around Death Valley itself, then about a 100 miles getting out of Death Valley and back to civilization.
Vegas to Death Valley Junction
The first part of the trip was pretty routine. Hwy 95 heads out of Las Vegas to the northwest and eventually ends up in Reno. As soon as you leave Vegas you’re in the desert. The only thing that really stands out that there is a state prison on the left side of the road after about 40 miles or so, and all along the right side of the road to the NE are various entrances into restricted government areas. The Nevada Test Site is one of these, the place were they used to test nuclear “devices” when that sort of thing was still allowed, and Area 51 is a couple of ridges over.
I talked to a guy at a gas station when you turn off from the main highway, who said that they see UFO’s out to the east over Area 51 all the time. But this guy isn’t a believer in little green men. Its just experimental aircraft being tested.
Death Valley Junction
To get into Death Valley from the east side, you go through an area called Armagosa Valley on a road which runs north to south, and eventually ends up in Shoshone, CA. A few miles inside California, a road running east to west from Pahrump, NV crosses the north-south road and heads west into the Park. This crossroads is called Death Valley Junction, although you won’t necessarily find that name on the map.
This “town” is almost a ghost town. There were only a few houses and most of the buildings were boarded up. The only thing that looked remotely alive was a motel/restaurant that had a few cars out in front of it. There was a shady spot across the road, and I stopped there for a break and to have some water.
There is no cell phone service in Death Valley Junction, but at some point I had passed though a 3G area on the highway, and my phone downloaded my email messages. I was checking through my messages and I noticed one from my step-mother. She said that as long as I was around Death Valley, that I should track down and check out a place called the Armagosa Opera House, which in addition to hosting music, also has some nice painted murals in the building. I looked up from reading the email, and there right across the street from me was the Armagosa Opera House. Weird, huh? Its part of the motel I mentioned earlier. I would have checked it out but it padlocked and is apparently closed for the season.
I continued on west towards Death Valley. I should mention that all around are tall mountain ranges separated by valleys; Basin and Range country. I was trying to guess which mountain range was the border of DV. The elevation of the floor of Armagosa Valley is about 3000-feet so I knew that I would need to lose some altitude pretty soon since Death Valley is at or below sea level. Sure enough, as you go west, you soon enter a canyon which slopes downwards though a gap in the mountains.
The canyon opens out onto the valley floor at a place called Furnace Creek, and because there is actually a creek there, the area is surprisingly lush. The first place you come to is the Furnace Creek Inn, which has lots of palm trees on it’s property, and is right at sea level. Further down the road and lower in elevation is the Furnace Creek Ranch, which has a golf course, campgrounds, horse riding and so on.
This is also the place where you get your first good view of Death Valley. The really dead part of Death Valley is to the south, so that’s were I headed. I was aiming for a place called Badwater, which is the spot to the lowest elevation in North America. Along the way I stopped at a place called the Devil’s Golf Course and took some pictures, and drove along a rode called Artists Drive which goes past some very pretty and colorful mineral deposits.
Pictures will be worth a thousand words, once I get them posted.
Badwater is just a pool of salt water and surrounding salt pans. When it rains here, however rare that is, the whole floor of the valley briefly turns into a very shallow lake. When the water evaporates, it leaves behind pure salt, which was all that I saw. The place got its name when a prospector back in the 1800’s stopped there and tried to get his mule to drink. The mule naturally refused to drink the salty water, so the prospector made a note on the map he was working on, that this was “bad water.” The name stuck.
Heading back north, I had lunch at the cafe at Furnace Creek Ranch. The way out of the valley to the west has you go north for a while before turning west towards a pass in the mountains. The official Death Valley continues north for quite a few miles, and includes a place called “Scottie’s Castle,” but I didn’t have time to go that way to check it out. Besides, it looked to me from the way that the mountains were laid out that it was really a different valley.
Along the way north from Furnace Creek, you pass the original borax mine which spawned the “20-Mule-Train” brand. Ironically, by the time they started to use the brand and a sketch of a mule train on their laundry products, the railroad had come to Death Valley and the company no longer used mule-trains to transport the borax out of the valley.
By the way, the place got the name Death Valley because it was (and still is) so large and lifeless. Many of the early travelers though the valley died here because of the lack of water. Hence the name Death Valley. Temperatures are normally above 100-degrees (F) during the day, and I had brought along a special water-soaked thermal vest to wear during this transit. The temperatures the week before I got there were around 115-degrees, but on the day that I rode though, it was an arctic 95-degrees. I wore the vest anyway, and I was nice and cool.
On the western edge of the valley is a tiny little town called Stovepipe Springs. After leaving here, the road starts to climb up the western mountain range heading for a pass at about the 5000-foot level. Then you’re down into another valley which looks just a deadly as Death Valley itself, Panamint Valley. Riding down into this valley from the east was quite an experience. Once the road descends from the mountains it runs straight as an arrow across the valley floor, which was shimmering in the westering sunlight. Way off to my right, at the northern end of the valley, was some kind of rippling land formation. I found out later that it was a massive sand dune.
On the western edge of Panamint Valley is another micro-town called Panamint Springs, which consists of a motel, a gas station and a campground. Here I ran into a group of off-road motorcyclists who told me that they had ridden there from Phoenix, all without touching any pavement. That would be cool to try sometime.
West from Panamint Springs is another mountain climb to get up and over the next ridge and back to civilization. The sun was nearly set by the time I got to the top of the range. All I could see of the surrounding area were scattered Joshua Trees.
The next valley over is pretty big and was a major casualty in the California Water Wars: The Wilson River Valley. Highway 395 runs though it, which is a major north/south route. The next mountain range over is a little thing called the Sierra’s and right in the middle of it is the tallest peak in the continental US called Mt. Whitney. And right at the base of Mt. Whitney is the town of Lone Pine, which is where I’m spending the night.
Tomorrow: north on Hwy 395 to Mammoth Lakes and the backside of Yosemite.