February 16, 2016
The first time I rode my bike in Death Valley, I stopped in the middle of a butter-smooth paved road and there sat a tarantula, sunning itself. I’ve always had the usual “huge poisonous spider” concerns in my head, until I actually encountered this little guy. He was magnificent! Seeing one for the first time was a different experience than I ever expected.
And that sums up the magic of Death Valley: never what I expected.
I had no great desire to go to Death Valley, having always imagined a stark, mauve/dirt color, boring, hot desert with the lowest point in the United States being it’s only claim to fame.
I was wrong. When I looked out at the seemingly endless feast for the senses and near perfect cycling conditions, I knew I had found something very special. For one thing, the lowest point in the United States is not cheesy. Badwater Basin is a must see, especially when looking across the valley at the almost 12,000 foot Telescope Peak for perspective.
From the seat of a bicycle, not only do tarantulas come into view, if you’re lucky, but also incredible sand dunes, desert flowers at the right time of year, and a giant palette of colors and shapes in the geology.
I’ve seen rain storms there that covered the roads with silt and carved out pits and ravines quickly in the sand, but usually in spring or fall the weather is gentle and moderate and the traffic is light.
The roads range from smooth, mostly flat and straight, to long climbs out of the valley, to big steep fun roller coasters on the nine-mile, one-way Artist’s Drive, giving one a variety of riding to choose from and another palette of stunning scenery.
There are plenty of good day rides to places like the ghost town of Rhyolyte, the Ubehebe Crater, the historical and fun Scotty’s Castle, and the old Harmony Borax Works operation. Scotty’s Castle took a bad hit from a storm in late 2015 so check for re-opening with the National Park Service.
Nights are great for star viewing, the best I’ve even seen, although you can see the distinct glow of the lights of Las Vegas to the southeast about 100 miles away!
Seeing Death Valley on a bike really uncovered this vast and amazing landscape, humbling me once again to the danger of assuming, and then possibly missing, what could be a great biking experience.
All photos by Linda Baldwin.
ON THE ROAD is written by the tours team—Whitney, Mandy, Linda, Emma and Arlen—tours specialists and intrepid bicyclists, helping you bring your cycling dreams to fruition. Check out our 2016 Guided Tours today!