Day 2: To Mesquite Spring campground - Death Valley 2011 - CycleBlaze

March 26, 2011

Day 2: To Mesquite Spring campground

Today was more difficult than expected. I knew there would be 37 mostly downhill miles of gravel, but the road was extremely corrugated and the headwind was very strong. I could only go 6 to 8 mph for most of the day's descent.

It was 37F (3C) at dawn but the temperature warmed quickly after sunrise. The pedaling started with two downhill miles of pavement. When pavement ended I reduced the front tire pressure from 60 to 25 psi, and the rear from 70 to 30 psi.

Eureka valley and Inyo mountains.
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Big Pine-Death Valley road in Eureka Valley. No fences, no power lines, no traffic.
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At the Eureka Dunes turnoff is an interpretive sign that describes the 700 foot dunes 10 miles down a side road. It says in case of emergency, drive 40 torturous miles in either direction, then call 911.

After crossing the Eureka valley, pavement resumes for the first climb in the Last Chance mountains. The climb is very steep, mostly 8-10% grade, climbing 1900 feet (576 m) up to 5200 feet (1576 m) elevation.

Climbing in the Last Chance mountains.
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After the first summit is a 700 foot (212 m) gravel descent that was only mildly corrugated. It was easy to avoid the large loose rocks. Then the road changes color and climbs steeply for another 500 feet (151 m) to the second summit.

First descent in the Last Chance mountains.
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Second climb in the Last Chance mountains.
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After the second summit is an extremely rough 1000 foot (300 m) descent to northernmost Death Valley which is 3300 feet (1000 m) elevation.

Descending to northernmost Death Valley.
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Thanks to an abundance of creosote plants, this part of Death Valley is much greener than the below-sea-level parts further south.

Crankshaft Junction at the remote north entrance to Death Valley National Park.
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Continuing south in Death Valley the elevation steadily descends to 2000 feet (600 m), but I could only go 6-8 mph (9-12 km/h) because of severe corrugation and a strong headwind. It was very hard work.

Northern Death Valley.
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Looking back at the Last Chance mountains.
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Colorful rocks.
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I was very happy when Big Pine-Death Valley road dead-ended into a paved road. The trend is still downhill, but the paved road climbs 300 feet to the mouth of Grapevine canyon before a dead-end road descends 400 feet to the Mesquite Spring campground. I arrived at the campground at 6:30PM, almost sunset. I had hoped to see Ubehebe Crater today, but arrived much too late to do that.

Happy to see pavement again. Nice view of the Grapevine mountains.
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It was Saturday night and I think I got the last available campsite. It was a shock to see so many people after two days of solitude. Voices, slamming car doors, generators, loud diesel engines, barking dogs, campfire smoke, etc. The campground has water and flush toilets. I used a credit card to pay $24 for 2 nights using a new solar-powered payment machine. Modern technology has finally replaced the old "self-registration" method of slipping a cash-filled envelope into a slot.

My neighbors the McFerrin family invited me over for chili and beer. They have done several family bike tours with 3 young boys. Rick McFerrin runs a Calgary-based nonprofit that takes children on bicycle adventures.

Today was a long hard day. 10 hours on the road. The weather was warmer but the high temperature was still only in the 60's (~20C). I'm in Death Valley now, but the campground is at 1700 feet (515 m) elevation. It's not as hot as the lowest parts of Death Valley. There is a warming trend and I'm headed to lower elevations, so I know it will be hot soon.

Distance: 51.7 mi. (82.7 km)

Climbing: 3242 ft. (982 m)

Average Speed: 7.3 mph (11.7 km/h)

Maximum Speed: 31 mph (50 km/h)

Today's ride: 52 miles (84 km)
Total: 84 miles (135 km)

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