Day 3: Stovepipe Wells to Ubehebe Crater & Return - Death (Valley) Wish - CycleBlaze

March 27, 2019

Day 3: Stovepipe Wells to Ubehebe Crater & Return

Blow Wind, Blow

Today was a foreboding ride. With our overnight locations having to be rejiggered because of the campground closure, it meant the trip to the Ubehebe Crater and back would be a whopping 93 miles. The trip outbound would be mainly up, up, up ... climbing 2500 feet, the last 20 a steady grind. The return was just the opposite of course, with the same terrain giving us a great bit of downhill on the way back.

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The big wildcard was today's wind speed and direction. The wind was euphemistically forecast to be "strong," and from the south. This meant we'd have a nice tailwind for the trip up, up, up and a wicked headwind on the return. Some folks opted to take the van and shuttle to the crater, then ride back home from there (turns out ACA does have a streak of kindness when it comes to shuttling after all) while many of us made the rash decision to bite off the whole thing and try to swallow it whole.

On the road to the Ubehebe Crater
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The trip out was not so bad with our steady tailwind. But today's ride cemented a truism about Death Valley .... every road is a 4% grade. The uphills are always at least 4%. The level sections are 4% uphills. The downhills ... I swear to god ... are also 4% grades ... up. For a place that appears on a map to be a pan flat desert landscape, it is phenomenal how many 4% uphills exist. Remember that. We shall make reference to it later. Multiple times.

So off we trundled to the Ubehebe Crater, a gigantic hole in the ground made not from a "traditional" volcanic eruption, but from magma that migrated close enough to the surface to superheat ground water into a flash steam explosion to create the huge crater. Fortunately, this happened a very, very long time ago.

Along the 30 miles or so of road approaching the crater there was evidence of the rains from this spring, in the form of gravel and rocky over-wash on the roads. It is hard to imagine how a place as dry as DV, and where so little rain falls on average, could have what amounts to a small flash flood that washes rocks over the road. There were about 6-7 spots where we bikers had to slow down considerably to navigate the sand/gravel/rock sections. We should have taken a picture or two but we were focused on getting the miles in.

The final bit of road approaching the observation area at Ubehebe is a wicked little 1/4 mile of climbing that brought tears to this old man's eyes. Suffice to say, it was steep. Sue was waiting at the top with the van and we thought we'd have a mellow little hang-around to sightsee, chat, and have lunch. Well, not exactly. The winds were howling up there! Like, you could lean into it and be held up at a 10 degree angle kind of wind. So our hearty band huddled in the lee of a small wall and ate lunch, then bugged out as soon as we could. The initial road down from the crater was quite steep and exposed to a strong cross wind, so some of the lighter riders had to walk their bikes down to avoid the risk of literally being blown off the road.

Our Entrepid Crew (Altana, Marg, Steve) Sheltering from the Howling Winds
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Volney and the Crater
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Once secure from the crosswind we started home, and found the breeze had gotten seriously angry. Much of that return trip, even though downhill, was a real test. The last 10-12 miles were flat and exposed into the teeth of that wind, and I will declare it was soul sucking. As we trickled into the campsite we were all greatly relieved to be home. Everyone was whacked, but there was a proud sense of accomplishment for that day's ride.

Let's get out of here!
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The extra added attraction was the dust storm in the later afternoon and evening. The wind continued to blow steadily and gust powerfully. Leader Dan, who hails from Arizona, told us such windstorms were called "Haboobs." We pulled the van and trailer into a position so we could be in their lee. Dust, dirt and sand were flying everywhere, and when we went to bed that night we were all greeted with tents filled with a fine layer of dirt and dust. The stuff was the consistency of flour and was able to infiltrate right through the tent material even though the zippers were tightly closed. It was impressive. Once we relented and decided staying clean was a fool's errand, we had a great night's sleep. We did the shower thing, towels were ample, and we closed the book on a pretty epic day.

Everyone recovering from the day's exertions.
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Today's ride: 93 miles (150 km)
Total: 206 miles (332 km)

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