Rarely does a diversion or afterthought of a trip turn into the kind of ride you remember till you’re old and gray but sometimes the adventure gods smile upon thee, and epicness ensues. Recently on an impromptu trip through Death Valley, the stars aligned and a trip that seemed insignificant became one of the best I've ever experienced.
For starters, we weren’t supposed to go anywhere near Death Valley. Originally the plan was to fly into Las Vegas, collect the bikes that had been shipped ahead of us and then make our way across Southern Utah and Northern Arizona en route to Moab. We were going to spend three or four days off-road taking in epic scenery and skirting snow-capped mountains. Mother Nature had some plans of her own though; it started snowing and didn't let up. Even a few days before departure we were resolved to a cold but fun adventure until the weather report made it clear that no fun was to be had. At that point, I offhandedly said: I bet its warm in Death Valley, let's go there instead! Just like that, our plans made an about-face mere days before we were set to make our final approach on McCarran International Airport and reunite with our bikes. Little did we know that this last minute change would set in motion one of the most excellent adventures we could have imagined.
In 2018 I spent a good amount of time off the grid in Death Valley, riding the California BDR that spring and researching a ride guide for advpulse.com in the fall. The first time I set foot in this fabled National Park and surrounding areas was while attending Altrider’s Taste of Dakar event in nearby Gold Point, Nevada circa 2017. It was hot during the day, cold at night and I didn’t think much of the riding at all. Something changed on my last venture into DV though; the arid desert started getting under my skin while I was immersed in its history for a subsequent article. I was introduced to epic riding and remoteness I had only ever dreamed of, and that was enough to spark my love affair with this uninhabitable treasure trove of adventure. Long story short: I was stoked to go back and excited to show my long time moto-buddy Robbie all that I had discovered.
Even though we had detoured to Death Valley due to inclement weather, conditions were still questionable at best. Rain and snow had wreaked havoc the week prior to our departure almost bringing our endeavor to a close before it even began. The official National Parks website basically said every backcountry road in the park was closed and other first-hand accounts didn't make conditions sound much better. It was really a game-time decision when we finally decided to go regardless of the weather; what's adventure riding without a little adventure right?
Day one commenced in the wee hours of an unassuming Tuesday at SeaTac International Airport. Most passengers were either pajama-clad or dressed in business professional uniforms while we stood out with Klim backpacks and our helmets in tow. Vegas greeted us with the glitz and glamor of a tired showgirl in her twilight years as we hustled to a nearby dealership to collect our motorcycles. We split town promptly only pausing briefly to get an obligatory burger at In and Out. Greased up and full of gas we hooked up with the Nevada Backcountry Discovery Route almost immediately and followed that all the way into Pahrump. That night we met up with KTM Twins ambassador and racing legend Jimmy Lewis for Tacos and refreshments at his favorite watering hole. To aid an early start the next morning, we stayed at Jimmy's compound rather than camping out after this marathon of a day.
Day two dawned clear & crisp in the Nevada desert, and we were back on the NVBDR by 8:00 AM. Wide-open expanses led the way north towards Amargosa Dunes (AKA Big Dune) and the first challenging terrain on this trip. We parted ways with the NVBDR opting to take Echo Canyon into Furnace Creek. The highlight of this section was large rock steps and one imposing rock “waterfall” that garnished our full attention. Challenging throughout, Echo Canyon can best be described as rocky with a side of sand. Cresting over the Amargosa Range, we caught our first glimpse of Death Valley and excitedly dropped into one of the lowest points in North America. With no time budgeted in our tight schedule for tourism, we blasted right through Furnace Creek en route to Beatty. From Beatty, we knew it would be a stretch until our next fuel opportunity so I was sure to top of my Camel Tank and Robbie filled his Raid Garage fuel cell along with auxiliary bottles. We had guessed the mileage at two hundred and twenty miles, which was pretty accurate, but little did we know that literally, every last ounce of fuel would count!
Death Valley is a monument to unforgiving terrain, uninhabitable conditions, and sheer determination of those bold enough to attempt rendering goods from her bosom.
It was 5:00 PM when we reached Gold Point, Nevada and we hung around just long enough to verify that there was no fuel to be had. What we should have done was head west before reaching Gold Point on a known route (Oriental Wash) towards Eureka Dunes. Instead, we continued north in hopes that a few extra gallons of fuel could be procured. Soon enough it was fully dark and cold which wasn’t so bad until the two-track we were following altogether disappeared. So here we were in the midst of a long sand wash that had just been remodeled during recent rains, did I mention it was dark? I wrestled the Twins 1090 in and out tight sandy crevasses and through foliage while Robbie on his svelte 690 led the way. After about two hours and numerous “I guess we could camp here” moments we finally emerged at Crankshaft Junction. From there we hustled our way through the darkness and mercifully increasingly warm air as we dropped in elevation towards the dry camp at Eureka Dunes. Freeze dried meals were inhaled before retiring to our mummy bags, all told we had covered approximately two hundred & seventy-five miles that day and were thoroughly whooped.
Sunrise on the third morning was nothing short of spectacular as golden light revealed the Eureka Dunes. We had a slow start breaking camp and loading bikes owing to our stiff and achy bodies. Once we did reluctantly leave camp, we had about one-half mile to warm up before hitting deep sand. Having aired down in anticipation of sand, we aired up as the terrain transitioned to boulders in Steel Pass. This short pit stop was punctuated by a wonderful show put on by a pair of military jets surprisingly low to the ground. With the howl of jet engines off in the distance we moved on into the rocky goodness of Steel pass and then beautiful descent into Saline Valley. We paused briefly after reaching Saline Valley Warm Springs to converse with some patrons but opted not to indulge in the warm pools due to our tight schedule. From there it was a long water board strewn slog along Saline Valley Road towards the supposedly closed/impassible South Pass. Cresting the pass was relieving, but at the same time, our fuel quantities became a real concern. At that point, we became very conscious of our right hands and began coasting whenever possible. It got so bad that we elected to drain a quarter gallon out of the 1090 to put in the 690 (I guess so that we would both run out at the same time?). We ended up coasting into Panamint Springs on absolute fumes but were rewarded with famously bad Wi-Fi (no cell service) and incredibly adequate cheeseburgers.
Once again greased up and full of gas we jumped off pavement within sight of Panamint and ate up rocky miles in the fleeting afternoon light. We passed through the ghost town of Ballarat just as the sun sunk behind the Panamint Range, and I began visualizing going through Goler Wash and over Manly Pass in the dark. We were pushing hard at this point to reach Geologists Cabin as I thought it would be another epic place to camp. The reality of the situation was that we had some serious terrain between us and our destination that was only going to get more treacherous the later it got. I didn’t concern Robbie with these thoughts since he was unfamiliar with the area and his high spirits helped enable a quick transit through that stretch. By the time we entirely lost the light Cyclops Adventure Sports & Baja Designs LED's guided our way over slabs and boulder-strewn descents the last few miles to the fabled Geologists Cabin.
With a wind storm picking up just as we arrived the decision was made for us to sleep inside the cabin instead of setting up our tents. The concern, of course, being Hantavirus, but after all the miles that day, we honestly didn't care. (And we didn’t die!) We had a delightful evening spent snacking & reading by the fire, thankful for the shelter as wind gusts howled outside.
The next morning was even more glorious than the previous with front row seats for the sunrise over Butte Valley. Striped Butte had a distracting presence as we slowly drank coffee and had breakfast. When kickstands were finally up, we had Vegas in our sights and an evening return flight on our minds. We stopped at Warm Springs Camp to do some exploring and check out the empty pool. After that, the terrain got increasingly more accessible and eventually degraded into pavement.
Shoshone snapped us abruptly back to reality, and daily responsibilities as our phones began to chime, giving us pause before returning to Pahrump. The last section of dirt was the same as our first on the Nevada Backcountry Discovery route. It was a great wind down from this epic dirt tour, punctuated by helping a few fellow riders with a pinched tube. By the time we reached Vegas, there was just enough time to wash our bikes, cram them into a storage unit and catch an Uber to the airport. Before I could make sense of it, we were back in the air, and the trip was over. Seven hundred eighteen miles on a KTM aptly equipped for Death Valley, with some of the best conditions we could have hoped for. Had we not thrown caution to the wind and embraced the unknown none of this would have come to fruition. The lesson I took away from this memorable trip was not to underestimate the potential of an adventure because you never know how it will take shape until you are in it!
Look for a full breakdown of the Twins 1090 build in the coming weeks featuring a parts list and bike review.
Until then browse our KTM 1090 parts HERE.
#KTMTwins #RoadToDirt #Twins1090
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