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Panamint Valley to Yosemite

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Yosemite August 2003

In true Klopper spirit Sally and I decided on the spur of the moment to do a ride through the Panamint Valley to Yosemite over the Labor Day weekend. The trip was posted on all SCRS forums in the Greater LA area but no one seemed to like our "on the spur" arrangements.

Wherever you travel and no matter how much you like it, coming home is just one of those warm feelings that soothes the soul. We made it in time for a bath and rest before getting Sally to the Burbank Airport in time for the Sacto flight. A weekend well spent which generated lots of new memories.

Saturday arrived with an awesome view of hot air balloons over Palmdale from our bedroom balcony. As I woke Sally with some coffee we reminisced about our first hot air balloon flight. Our biggest concern was where we would land, the pilot dryly remarked; "We will land on our shadow!" Know what, we did land in our shadow in the middle of a cornfield!

The bike was all checked out and the saddlebags packed on Friday. By 8:30 am we "hit" highway 14 North. Yes, in my forum thread I said 8:00 am sharp - welcome to my world. Planning dictated that we be in the Panamint Valley early enough to still enjoy the scenery without getting "stoned" by the sun. Temperatures in the Valley rise quickly and by 12:00 PM it sometimes feels like the sun throw stones instead of emitting rays. If you thought "stoned" meant anything else, shame on you.

We made good time into Ridgecrest and refueled for the long haul through Panamint with the next planned gas stop in Lone Pine on the 395 +-120 miles away. Sally has never been to this part of the State and I explained as we followed the 178 through Trona, around Searles Lake to our first "Kodak" stop at the entrance to the Panamint Valley. She could not believe when I told her about the flash flood we experienced on the Sierra Criss-Cross ride when passing through Trona. Trona is all but a "ghost town" with a scarce population and buildings falling to ruin in the harsh desert environment. The chemical business which maintained the town is still going strong but I suspect it has been mostly automated and down scaled from original proportions. Burnt down homes and an empty apartment complex with boarded windows and doors emphasized demise of the town.

As we approached the crest entrance of the Panamint Valley I slowed down to a crawl. Sally had to experience full impact of the desolate vastness of the Death Valley environment. I pulled the bike onto the gravel and gave Sally a chance to internalize the view before I spoke. We spent some 15 minutes chatting and taking photos. Sally pointed out some car wrecks that were either dumped there or gone over before rails were installed.

Riding through the Valley boxed in by ancient rock formations sets the imagination in motion. In a typing error I once described my imagination as "livid" instead of vivid. Sometimes I really think I have a "livid" imagination! Images of ancient people, shallow lakes and volcanoes swamped my mind. 

We turned onto Panamint Valley road to the 190, which would take us out of the Valley into the mountains and on to 395. On my previous trips through the Valley I saw the Panamint Springs Resort and decided it was time for a cold cola. A signboard "screamed" out the price of regular gas at $2.99/gallon! Whoa!!! I guess if you have the only gas station in a 60-mile radius you can ask any price that comes to mind. The Coke was ice cold and priced way better than the gas. We really enjoyed a conversation with the Bar lady/Checkout/Waitress/Cleaner/etc, a young lady who just started working there some seven days before. She rattled on about the desert beauty and could not wait for her satellite TV to be installed before she "went bonkers".

Behind the restaurant we found really comfortable looking rooms, clean bathrooms and a RV park. Sally pointed out some desert vegetation and a beautiful cactus flower (have no idea what it is called). The RV park does not seem to have been used recently but views of the Valley from this site is absolutely beautiful.  With icy Coke cooling down the insides we mounted the "monster".

From the Inn on the Valley floor 190 takes you through a series of twist-turnies to an elevation of several thousand feet in a matter of a few miles. I pulled the bike onto a gravel road to an outlook point some 3/4mile off the highway. From this point we viewed most of the Panamint Valley as well as an area of high mineral deposits. The colors created by mixing of these minerals created an awesome palette of earthy pastels. There are the deep burgundies to olive green, orange, grays and black. We spent way too much time reveling in God's creation and all too soon we had to be back on the blacktop towards the majestic scenes awaiting us on highway 395.

I have never pushed the limits of gas consumption on the "monster" and was really getting nervous as we approached the 100-mile mark with no civilization in site. At Keeler I pointed out to Sally a home with a private collection of 1930's gas station equipment. Unfortunately these pumps are unserviceable, bone dry! As I turned onto the 395 my trip meter showed 117 miles and I have not switched to reserve yet! In Lone Pine we gassed up and filled the gnawing hollow in the stomach with some wholesome burgers at Buffalo Bills Burgers.  

After Lunch I pointed the wheel towards Mount Whitney for a quick visit to the trailhead and experience of fresh mountain air. The majesty of Whiney overpowers everything as you approach the peak. I know I'm in "excellent" physical condition but will not even attempt this trail. Now, if you believe my physical condition story, you will believe anything! Saturday night's activities consisted of an overnight in Bishop with a good meal at the Whiskey Creek Restaurant and Pub.

Sunday morning arrived with the sun struggling to penetrate the cloud cover. That darn Weatherman, always wrong! We decided to alter the planned route, stay on 395 and enjoy the towering Sierra landscape. Sally started complaining about that familiar (for her) question from the stomach; "Has the throat that feeds me been slit?" We pulled into Tom's Place, a restaurant with 50 year's history. The food and atmosphere were great, and is a "required stop" if you're riding the 395 just south of Mammoth Lakes. At Tom's Place we were informed that it rains further North and advised to dress accordingly.

We hit the rain just south of Mammoth and the going became somewhat tough. Sally was a real trouper, doing her first rain ride with a half helmet. The temperature dropped significantly with increased elevation and we ended up in (for Southern California) full winter riding gear. The rain maintained a light drizzle all the way up Tioga Pass but stopped at the Yosemite Park gate. Because of rain on the Pass and resulting effort to stay upright we missed most of the scenery, however, the clouded scene of Yosemite beauty would make up for it. I said it before and have to say it again; if you have not done Yosemite on a motorcycle, you have not done Yosemite! Sally kept on calling out in awe of the 360* view. Those granite walls just are not the same from the windows of a car. Half Dome was magnificent (see photos). The only problem on the day was congestion. Yosemite Valley looked like the 405 on a Friday afternoon! Some advices; if you want to enjoy the Valley Floor, don't go there over a holiday weekend.

We exited the park through the southern exit route towards Fresno where we had reservations to overnight. Temperatures remained very comfortable in the higher wooded areas but turned scorching hot as we descended into the San Joaquin Valley. At one spot I drenched my T-shirt to maximize the cooling effect from evaporation but my shirt was dry within five minutes. A "black and white" was driving behind me for about five miles, something I'm totally allergic to since my "totally unreasonable" speeding ticked. No reason to have been intimidated because I maintained speed limits most of the way.

In Fresno we booked into the Quality Inn, a motel on the "wrong side of town". Need I say more? Well it was close to highway 99 for the Monday leg of our ride.

Monday started with 80 degrees F temperature at 8:00 am and we decided to ride down highway 99 then turn off to the mountains at Delano. This would eliminate approximately three hours of riding through Sequoia National Park and our "would be" first experience of Kings Canyon but get us out of the heat and allow enough time to comfortably get Sally to the airport for her flight to Sacramento.

Breakfast hunger pains struck close to Delano and we searched for a Mom 'n Pop where the locals hang out. We found Paco's Place where the local hunting club frequents. I believe it was the opening day of pigeon hunting (?) and they were out in force.

Highway 155 from Delano took us through some intensive agriculture area. We rode through miles of "ready to harvest" grapes. At one spot I had to stop and sample some under the pretense of photography. The digital photo turned out to be a short video and I have no evidence of the size of that bunch of grapes. Believe me it was huge and tasted great. As we started ascend through the Foothills agriculture changed to ranching. Those rolling hills covered in khaki Savanna-like grass looks like a big Bullmastiff lying on its side ready for a belly scratch.

Cal Trans must have recently mechanically swept the road as it was strewn with loose gravely. My speed on this windy road came right down to second gear trough most of the turns. Even though excessive gravel hampered the riding conditions, this road is a MUST for serious Bikers. Soon we approached Wofford Heights and immediately landed up in heavy holiday weekend returning traffic around Lake Isabella. One of those icy colas did the job at the Mac Donald's in Lake Isabella. We decided to escape the traffic by taking the Bodfish road to Tehachapi. This proved to be a great decision, very little traffic with great scenery. If you ever ride this road watch out for Daisy the cow, not only does she leave her patties on the road, she loves to jump into the road to greet you!

Wherever you travel and no matter how much you like it, coming home is just one of those warm feelings that soothes the soul. We made it in time for a bath and rest before getting Sally to the Burbank Airport in time for the Sacto flight. A weekend well spent which generated lots of new memories. I was a little apprehensive of doing the ride alone and hoped that somebody would respond to my forum thread. In the end we had a great time with flexible schedules and no responsibilities apart from ourselves. Having said this, remember to join the Kloppers for the next "unplanned" ride and have a great time doing so.

Some funnies we came across on the road:

Senior Creed: .. Been there, done that, forgot all about it..

In a bar: Tequila has helped for many years to lower women's standards.

Back of a T-shirt: Beware - Heavy front load! (The guy wearing would be a great ad for any beer brand).

Jacques Klopper


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