The glitter and sparkle of Point A (Las Vegas) can mask the challenges you’ll face in reaching Point B (Yosemite National Park) on this monumental 640-mile bike trip. En route, you’ll experience the furnace known as Death Valley (a particularly daunting challenge astride a motorcycle), tackle hundreds of diabolical turns on mountain passes, and rise from the lowest lows of the desert to the highest heights of California’s peaks. In the end, you’ll look back on this ride with pleasure: not only will your efforts by rewarded by great scenery, but you’ll also have proven your mettle as a rider.
Editor’s Note: This, the eighth piece in our series of motorcycle road trips by Gary McKechnie, author of Great American Motorcycle Tours, was scheduled to post in September 2013. Sadly, it was postponed due to the Rim Fire in Stanislaus National Forest, which began in August and burned approximately 255,000 acres, 77,000 of them within Yosemite. As of April 1, 2014, the areas of Yosemite previously closed because of the fire were reopened. For more information, visit the Yosemite National Park site.
On a motorcycle, the 24/7 traffic, crowds of pedestrians, and sensory overload caused by all those flashing lights can make Las Vegas feel a little overwhelming. But stick with it.
And, if you need to take a break from the saddle, don’t hesitate to park your bike. With public transportation, it’s easy enough to access the world’s worth of resorts and the world-class entertainment in a place where the circus came to town—and never left.
At the outskirts of Sin City, the glitter gives way to the vast, wide-open spaces of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Spend an hour exploring the 13-mile loop road. The return on your investment of time will be timeless views of chunky weather-worn mountains and cool, shaded canyons—and maybe even a glimpse of gray foxes, wild burros, tortoises, or bighorn sheep.
Creature Comforts at Furnace Creek
Several miles after entering Death Valley National Park, you’ll come upon one of the ride’s most unexpected sights: the Furnace Creek Resort. Opened in 1927 by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, the 66-room redbrick inn is a great place to steel yourself for the blistering blacktop ahead (albeit at a steep price). The inn has fine dining, a spring-fed swimming pool, tennis courts, muscle-melting massages, and other terrific amenities. An affordable alternative: park yourself at one of the hotels in the town of Pahrump, on Death Valley’s eastern side.
Coming and Going . . . .
If, while looking at the road ahead, you reflect on the road just traveled, you’ll be struck by the stark, sobering emptiness of Death Valley. For riders, it’s a serious challenge that ends in significant bragging rights—rights that you’ll stand a better chance of actually achieving if you head out early to beat the noonday heat, bring plenty of water, and wrap an ice-filled bandana around your neck.
All in all, tackling this 100-mile-plus leg on a motorcycle in temperatures that can reach 120-plus-degrees takes a lot of planning, a lot of hydration, and a lot of brass.
Lone Pine All Over Again
After crossing Death Valley, Lone Pine, CA, is a welcome oasis. And if you experience déjà vu when you arrive, it’s not because you’re hallucinating from the heat—you probably have seen this town before. Over the years, it’s been used for filming scenes in some 700 Westerns, including those starring Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Barbara Stanwyck, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and dozens of others. Get the whole story at the Lone Pine Film History Museum.
Home on the Mountain Range
In the morning light, the Sierra Nevada north of Lone Pine looks so real that it seems almost artificial. . . . It’s certainly an impressive photo-op backdrop and an inspiring way to begin the day and the next leg of the trip.
Las Vegas is some 230 miles behind you, and the best is yet to come!
Peaceful, Easy Feeling
Motorists tend to stick with Highway 395, bypassing the June Lake Loop. Don’t you make the same mistake.
Pick up the loop several miles south of Lee Vining (the town nearest the entrance to Yosemite National Park) for the chance to travel through one of the country’s most picturesque regions. In fact, as you ride through small lakefront villages, you might feel as if you’ve crossed the border into Switzerland. Bucolic scenes and a distinct absence of distractions make the June Lake Loop a pure pleasure.
Why is Yosemite National Park considered one of the most beautiful destinations in America? Just take a look.
There are many park tours on offer, the most popular being the one of the Valley Floor. Take as many as you have time for, since there’s a lot of ground to cover. The park is roughly equal in size to Rhode Island and home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, and plants as well as to groves of ancient sequoias.
Among the most spectacular sights are El Capitan, Tuolumne Meadows, and Bridalveil Falls. There’s also Half Dome—the mountain of choice for daring climbers from around the world.