San Francisco to Las Vegas via Yosemite & Death Valley

  • Long weekend trip, will get around to a ride report if work ever dies down. In the meantime here's a self-indulgent video (best viewed at 1080p);

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    Flying the flag at El Capitan.


    "El piloto que se levanta es aún más grande que el piloto que no ha caido"

    2019 BMW R1250GSA "timBUCK 2"
    2020 Husqvarna FE501S
    2016 Toni Elias #24 Yoshimura GSXR Superbike "you cannot be serious?"

  • Day 1 : Haywood, CA to Groveland, CA

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    A friend (and serious Baja rider) had kindly stored the BMW in his warehouse following our July trip to Laguna Seca & Northern California and we headed out to San Francisco to pick up the bike and meander our way over a 4 day weekend to my company's warehouse in Las Vegas. Despite its social issues, San Francisco is still a lovely place but the bit you don't see in the tourist guides are the surprisingly large, heavy industrial areas in an area famous for computing rather than manufacturing. Haywood is one of those places, so with due haste we headed South on the 880 and 680 ("the" before a highway number is the California way of describing a route, not sure why but it does roll off the tongue easily), before heading off onto CA-130 and into the hills.

    As is so often the case with California, crowded freeway becomes open road in a matter of minutes & pretty soon we found ourselves climbing hard up roads that would never be built today with many of the hairpins a full, 1st gear affair!

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    Needless to say, photography was 2nd on my list to keeping a fully loaded, 2-up bike from tumbling down the mountainside so apologies for not capturing the moments. As with many more challenging routes in the US, they have a simple method to control speeding, namely a lack of Armco barriers which tends to focus the mind considerably! Once we crossed the range the scenery changes from green to gold and the coastal cool rapidly becomes the heat of the Central Valley, here the road sweeps back & forth with CalTrans' pool table smooth surfacing; riding paradise in other words.


    This opens to one of the largest farming areas in the world, 450 miles long and about 60 miles wide, hot, dusty but incredible in scope. You probably enjoyed some of its produce yourselves in the last few days without even knowing. We were at an area where 80% of the world's almond crop is sourced and as we rode through Modesto (stopping for coffee & a snack) we passed miles & miles of trees, 12 to 14 feet apart lined up as far as the eye can see. Spare a thought for the underpaid migrant workers who toil these farms, bandanas wrapped around their faces to try & prevent the dust from choking them.


    From the snaking CA-130 the roads become a collection of straightways, 90 degree turns and 95 degree heat (in old money), not a curve in sight until you (with relief) hit the other side of the valley where things start to get fun again with a taste of what's to follow.

    Our night's stop was at Groveland, CA. A gold rush town originally founded in 1848, it was named "Garrote" after the hanging of Mexican bandits there, changing its name to something more respectable in the 1870s as the gold seams died out and ranching became the mainstay. Now the gateway town to Yosemite National Park it exists mostly on tourist dollars although thankfully retains much of the old world Sierras charm. By this time of year things are quieting down for the winter.

    We stayed at the privately owned & restored Charlotte Hotel which was friendly, welcoming and extremely comfortable.

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    And walked across the street for dinner at the "Oldest Saloon in California" where we enjoyed excellent hamburgers & beer...


    ...before returning to the hotel bar where we discovered the owner not only rode an SV650 herself but also had an amazing collection of local whiskeys, to which sampling in earnest began! My favorite being the aptly named Redwood Empire Lost Monarch;


    Needless to say, sleep came easy.

    "El piloto que se levanta es aún más grande que el piloto que no ha caido"

    2019 BMW R1250GSA "timBUCK 2"
    2020 Husqvarna FE501S
    2016 Toni Elias #24 Yoshimura GSXR Superbike "you cannot be serious?"

  • Day 2: Groveland to Virginia Creek

    As always once we're in riding mode, the day started easily with a hearty omelette back at the Iron Door Saloon & large quantities of coffee. Our destination for the day being the stunning Yosemite National Park. Between wildfires and COVID a number of regulations have been put in place to cut down on the number of visitors, good news for those of us who like empty roads although it did necessitate a finger-on-the-trigger button on their website to secure a coveted 3 day pass into the park.

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    Our route took in the Yosemite Valley, home to some of the greatest rock climbing walls including El Capitan and Half Dome. As we wound our way down into the basin we really started to notice the smoke from the wildfires blazing many miles away. We decided it was hard to be frustrated about views being compromised knowing people's homes are being burned to ash & we took it all in the spirit of adventure riding.


    The road in and out becomes a one-way loop which is quite smart considering the rubber-necking that's impossible to avoid when you're surrounded by such vast and awe inspiring scenery. This is El Capitan, the granddaddy of all the great walls (and possibly the background on your Mac's screen). It's hard to capture the scale of the 3,000 vertical feet in a photograph.


    We pulled off and trekked into the approaches at the infamous Campsite 4. For those who haven't seen any of the excellent documentaries like Free Solo, Dawn Wall and Dirtbags, camp 4 is home to the often rowdy climbing community that live on the fringes of society, existing solely to climb and party. Even at 10am they were in full swing practising balance on slacklines with some fine Cali herb in assistance! As we sat in the shady canopy, off in the distance we could see the tiny dots of climbers making their way up the various pitches on the walls.



    Personally, neither of us have any interest in climbing ourselves but are fascinated by the stories of the people who are. Some of the infamous Yosemite climbers, including Patagonia founder & President, Yvon Chouinard also befriended many of the Scots climbers (including Hamish McInnes) and helped pioneer some of the famous ice pitches in the Highlands so there's a nice connection here.

    Jane's Schuberth decided to pose for a picture on our way out! Our young lady photographer was keen to put the collection of pitons hanging from her belt to good use as soon as possible.


    Leaving the valley we made our way through the pines and along the winding, billiard table smooth roads heading East and barely seeing another vehicle in either direction. Those travel restrictions are certainly motorcycle friendly as we could see from some of the empty parking areas just how much in the way of cars, campers & tour buses they were prepared for. The video captures this better than pictures.

    And as they say "Now for Something Completely Different!" After leaving the park and stopping at the world's greatest Mobil station & Whoa Nellie Deli for an excellent latte...

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    We turned down a gravel road towards Mono Lake, a saline filled basin formed over 750,000 years ago. The extreme salinity is caused by the lack of an outflow and it's fed purely by underground streams, the spouts of which formed chemical flumes as they flowed into the lake bottom. Since so much of the these sub-surface sources have been diverted to water the lawns of Los Angeles (over 300 miles away) many of these are now exposed, leaving an incredible other-worldy waterscape. Although too alkaline to support fish, the lake has a huge concentration of brine shrimp and a water fly, both of which feed the millions of migratory birds that stop by each year.

    The road in was too loose and our rear Heidenau a little too worn for pictures on the way in (I have a brave & trusting pillion mate), however once you arrive it's quite an incredible place.


    And we had left the cool high Sierras for something much hotter.


    I have apparently reached the maximum number of uploads so the journey continueth below...

    "El piloto que se levanta es aún más grande que el piloto que no ha caido"

    2019 BMW R1250GSA "timBUCK 2"
    2020 Husqvarna FE501S
    2016 Toni Elias #24 Yoshimura GSXR Superbike "you cannot be serious?"

  • Day 2 Continued - A Bed for the Night

    Leaving Mono Lake, we headed North for about 24 miles stopping at the Virginia Creek Settlement (pretty much in the middle of nowhere) offering cabins, a motel, covered wagons glamping, tent camping and a restaurant. We opted for one of the cabins which was clean, cozy & very comfortable. Although it gets into the 90s during the day, with elevations at 6,500 feet it gets cold at night, something the covered wagon glampers next to us ruefully noted the next morning!


    An olde worlde forge next to a Tesla port pretty much says California all over I think?


    The restaurant offered literally some of the best, homemade Italian food we've eaten and I took advantage of a great steak (which I'd been hankering for since we left San Francisco). Of course liquid vittals were to be found too.


    Including some locals;


    With the motion of the road still flowing through our bones, full tummies and full hearts we turned in for a peaceful night.

    "El piloto que se levanta es aún más grande que el piloto que no ha caido"

    2019 BMW R1250GSA "timBUCK 2"
    2020 Husqvarna FE501S
    2016 Toni Elias #24 Yoshimura GSXR Superbike "you cannot be serious?"

  • Day 3: Virginia Creek to Death Valley

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    Today we will be covering the highs to the lows as we pass from nearly 9,000' of elevation to the lowest point in the USA at -248' below sea level. Again, a leisurely morning with breakfast at the inn where we were joined by some riders heading out to the dirty stuff.


    First stop was another trip down some gravel to Bodie Ghost Town, an historic park where you can stroll the streets of this once 10,000 inhabitant gold town sitting in a state of "arrested decay." Mr. Bodey himself perished from cold during his 1st winter at the site and although the Summer days can exceed 100 degrees, the parked Snow Cats and tire chain warnings give a clue as to how these places are in the winter.



    A kind lady with less than stellar photography skills (we had to explain to her that if she didn't want pictures of random strangers on her iPhone it was best to use our camera) managed to just capture us on the church steps. I guess we got everything we paid for.


    The church was actually quite impressive.


    The shafts themselves are closed over (although some did not look so sturdy) but much of the equipment is still lying around including these ore buckets which the 49'ers would ride up to 1,200 feet below ground to extract the Ore. Note the rudimentary fall arrest cam and spring system! Not exactly confidence inspiring?


    Leaving Bodie by the same dusty trail we headed South alongside the Eastern Sierras, normally a spectacular scenic run, but again obscured almost completely by wildfire smoke. The Harley crowd were in full force heading back towards Los Angeles complete with nods and waves even to our kraut bike!


    Next stop was the *not-as-small as we thought* town of Bishop where, after passing miles of Wal-Marts, Home Depots & other urban sprawl we encountered a rather nice old downtown area & an excellent cup of coffee at the Black Sheep Roasters therein.


    The wall of the coffee shop was lined with climber's pictures and stories as apparently this is the hangout for the community who scale the many locations nearby. In true Dirtbag style, one such example hanging on the patio gladly accepted 2 slightly burnt burritos as a handout from the barista and the local movie theater was showing a pretty good selection for the locale too.


    Time to put 10p in the meter...don't touch that dial.

    "El piloto que se levanta es aún más grande que el piloto que no ha caido"

    2019 BMW R1250GSA "timBUCK 2"
    2020 Husqvarna FE501S
    2016 Toni Elias #24 Yoshimura GSXR Superbike "you cannot be serious?"

  • Day 3 Continued; Putting the Death in the Valley

    Leaving Bishop and CA-395 we turn East again onto CA-190 and into Death Valley National Park. As noted, the lowest point in the USA and proudly boasting the hottest temperatures measured anywhere on Earth this is not a place to visit on a motorcycle in the high summer. However, on the approaches you climb back up to nearly 8,000 feet again so temperatures hovered in the 80s with a pleasantly clean desert wind.

    The video better captures the Martian landscape (and amazing roads), it really is hard to describe the stark beauty and bleak calm of the place. Or nature's complete indifference as to whether you live or die out here.

    Once you drop into the valley the temperatures start to soar & but we didn't have to far to go & by the time we saw 107 on the dashboard this mirage appeared selling both cold drinks and soft-serve ice cream. I'm not sure if oasis is a good term but it was still a pleasant break on the shady porch.


    Next to the store was a small airstrip, these guys had apparently been waiting a while to push back...


    And honesty pays the bills here...


    That 45 mins was our next destination; the hotel, cafe and store at Stovepipe Wells. You can move pretty quickly down these roads which is good as by now we were just hitting the 110 degree mark.

    Luckily the hotel (more functional than luxurious, but hey look at the location) had a cold one with my name on it.



    A burger & fries at the cafe & an early night spent thanking Mr. Carrier for his wonderful contributions to creature comforts.

    "El piloto que se levanta es aún más grande que el piloto que no ha caido"

    2019 BMW R1250GSA "timBUCK 2"
    2020 Husqvarna FE501S
    2016 Toni Elias #24 Yoshimura GSXR Superbike "you cannot be serious?"

  • Day 4: Death Valley to Las Vegas

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    We started the day fairly early with only coffee in our bellies as we wanted to beat the heat out and a good portion of the day would be spent in the desert. The wildfire smoke had returned and made the morning sunrise completely surreal, like some Sci-Fi movie scene.PXL_20210927_142303203_autoscaled.jpg

    As we headed South we came across a road paving crew. They do one lane at a time and traffic follows a pilot vehicle which drives through the construction, turns around and escorts another group back. Since we had about 10 minutes wait for the pilot to return we chatted to the flagman about laying tarmac in Death Valley on a 10 hour shift, when you say your job is hard...


    Our next destination was a brief stopover at Furnace Creek, Park HQ and famous tourist stopover for people taking pictures with the temperature sign outside. The highest registered temperature so far recorded anywhere on the planet at 130°F/54°C was recorded there last year and the place has parking for hundreds of tourist cars, RVs and tour buses. We had both the place to ourselves and just a little cooler!


    Stomachs were a rumbling so we headed out of the park to Death Valley Junction which may or may not be a ghost town with a highly rated cafe. Unfortunately ghost town it was, as the cafe, hotel & even the opera house had fallen victim to a tourist drought due to COVID and not a soul was about.


    But thanks to trusty Google we found a roadside Mexican restaurant about 20 miles up the road and made haste as a) these places are always open and b) they are generally excellent.


    We were not disappointed as Mom & Daughter (plus toddler) scurried around cooking up a less than healthy but fresh & hot breakfast of Huevos Rancheros and Huevos Mexicana.


    and the award for "Best Use of a Pizza Warmer" goes to...can I have the envelope please...


    By now we were in Nevada and passing Area-51, well populated with alien-themed tourist traps strewn along the roadside. The reality is even more sinister as our dubiously inaccurate global military drone system is also based at a huge site along Hwy-95 complete with a Terrible's gas station (yes, that is their name) which got into the theme too.


    Hold on while I dig in my pocket for another 10p for the meter & we'll finish this up...

    "El piloto que se levanta es aún más grande que el piloto que no ha caido"

    2019 BMW R1250GSA "timBUCK 2"
    2020 Husqvarna FE501S
    2016 Toni Elias #24 Yoshimura GSXR Superbike "you cannot be serious?"

  • The Conclusion;

    The run from the Nevada border to Las Vegas is long, straight, hot & entirely unattractive but with just a slight detour you can head towards Mount Charleston where the road winds up from the desert floor back into the cool mountain air with gorgeous sweeps & turns made especially for motorcycles (or so we like to think). It's a popular biking destination from Las Vegas but they tend to take the Southern loop out and back & miss the best part which is the approach from the North. They also show up, shivering in cut-off Harley pirate cos-play gear, not realizing that they'll be at over 8,000' and it may be 95° on The Strip but snowing on the summit!

    Again, the video does a better job of capturing the ride which sadly ended all too soon. And with the mountains behind us we headed into the sprawl of Las Vegas, a place which requires me to be at for work regularly and of which I'm no fan, enough said. Since there's still 3 solid days of riding between there & Dallas, Texas (plus it would be across the desert Southwest for the 2nd time in 2 months) Tim was safely tucked up at our warehouse waiting for a fall trip to perhaps Baja, Mexico and back up to LA or a return to Texas via New Mexico and Arizona & Big Bend, who knows? The planning is half the fun, just the darn jobs get in the way!

    As always, the R1250GSA is the best sport tourer ever made & performed flawlessly throughout the trip although the rear Heidenau has about ended its journey. They're great tires but 2-up, fully loaded in the heat will wear even the longest lasting rubber and I can't complain at nearly 6,000 miles. to the airport where Southwest Airlines got us back in time for a late dinner at home. I have to give a huge shout out to Jane my amazing partner who rolls with the curves, smiles at the heat, laughs at danger (lie; she prods me in the ribs to slow down), packs lightly and is always ready for the next adventure.



    Thanks for riding along with us.

    "El piloto que se levanta es aún más grande que el piloto que no ha caido"

    2019 BMW R1250GSA "timBUCK 2"
    2020 Husqvarna FE501S
    2016 Toni Elias #24 Yoshimura GSXR Superbike "you cannot be serious?"

  • Really enjoying this, keep it coming! Love Death Valley, so spectacular. Did you do any gravel there?

    BTW, if you want to avoid picture limits, get a Flikr or Smugmug account and then just drop in the links from there.

    I have a smugmug actually, should have thought of that. Although some breaks give you time to make a cuppa and take a pee at least!

    "El piloto que se levanta es aún más grande que el piloto que no ha caido"

    2019 BMW R1250GSA "timBUCK 2"
    2020 Husqvarna FE501S
    2016 Toni Elias #24 Yoshimura GSXR Superbike "you cannot be serious?"

  • I saved reading the trip write up for a suitably wet and grey day.

    Thoroughly enjoyed it; thanks for posting.

    I'm in Seattle this week for work - the USA's equivalent of wet Scottish weather! Glad you enjoyed the stories.

    "El piloto que se levanta es aún más grande que el piloto que no ha caido"

    2019 BMW R1250GSA "timBUCK 2"
    2020 Husqvarna FE501S
    2016 Toni Elias #24 Yoshimura GSXR Superbike "you cannot be serious?"

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