Day 14: To Lone Pine - Death Valley 2011 - CycleBlaze

April 7, 2011

Day 14: To Lone Pine

Pleasant 55F (13C) at 6:30 AM. I ate at the breakfast buffet. $10, a much better value than last night's meal. The high calorie breakfast should fuel me over the Inyo mountains. It was already warm when I got on the road at 8:35. Highway 190 promptly starts climbing.

Beginning of the big climb over the Inyo mountains.
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The road has expansive views of the valley and Panamint mountains as it meanders its way up the Inyo mountains. All morning a fighter jet flew back and forth very low over the west slope of the Inyo mountains. The pilot seemed to intentionally fly over the Father Crowley overlook. On one pass he did a victory roll only 1000 feet (300 m) above the overlook.

I took a long stop at the Father Crowley Overlook which has a huge new paved parking area. Most people just see Rainbow canyon from the parking lot. Few people go half a mile down a rough rocky road to the real overlook which has a panoramic view of the Panamint valley. The overlook is 2300 feet (697 m) above Panamint Springs, but still 1000 feet (300 m) below the highway summit.

View looking southeast from the "real" Father Crowley overlook. Panamint mountains in the distance. The left-most snowy peak is Wildrose peak.
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View looking east from near the "real" Father Crowley overlook. Rainbow canyon on the left.
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The wind was strong but not a persistent problem during the meandering climb to the Father Crowley overlook. But the final climb to the 5260 foot (1594 m) summit went 10 miles straight west into a very strong wind. The grade is gentle but I could only go 5 mph (8 km/h). The view was no longer very good and it was cold and very loud. Not much fun.

It didn't get much better after the summit. I had to pedal hard on the first 600 feet (180 m) of the descent to Owens lake. The headwind was ferocious.

Descent from the Inyo mountains to the Owens valley.
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Final descent to the dry bed of Owens lake.
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On the north shore of Owens lake I stopped at the little mining village of Keeler to take shelter on the downwind side of an abandoned church. The temperature didn't rise when I descended to the Owens valley, and now the temperature is dropping.

Blowing sand was extremely bad west of Keeler. At least it was more of a crosswind than a headwind. Small dunes indicate that sand blows often on the north "shore" of dry Owens lake. It hasn't always been this way. Owens lake was a real lake until 1916 when most of the source streams were diverted into the Los Angeles aquaduct. Now the area is a dust bowl, the nation's largest single source of unhealthy PM10 particle pollution.

Blowing sand ahead on the north shore of dry Owens lake.
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I could see the lower peaks of the Sierra Nevada but the higher peaks were obscured by dark ominous clouds.

Blowing sand is obviously very common north of dry Owens lake.
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It was very windy all the way to Lone Pine but blowing sand was no longer a problem west of Owens lake. A few miles before Lone Pine I crossed the Owens river again, close to where the river evaporates in the dry bed of Owens lake.

Owens river near where it evaporates in the dry bed of Owens lake.
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Approaching Lone Pine. Alabama Hills in front of the shrouded Sierra Nevada mountains.
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In the last 2 hours the temperature dropped from 62F (17C) to 45F (7C). The wind was howling, it looked like it might rain, and tonight should get below freezing. I was sick and tired of battling the wind, so it was an easy decision to get a $50 motel room in Lone Pine.

Lone Pine (population 1655) is a very outdoorsy town. It's the gateway for hiking to Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the 48 contiguous states. The Whitney Portal trailhead is also the southern gateway to the immensely popular John Muir Trail which goes 211 miles (340 km) from Mt. Whitney to Yosemite Valley without crossing a single road.

My home for the night in Lone Pine.
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The huge climb and strong headwind made this a very long day. But it could be worse...today Death Valley had a sandstorm that made the surrounding mountains completely invisible.

Distance: 54.0 mi. (86.4 km)

Climbing: 4521 ft. (1370 m)

Average Speed: 8.0 mph (12.8 km/h)

Maximum Speed: 37.5 mph (60 km/h)

Today's ride: 54 miles (87 km)
Total: 517 miles (832 km)

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