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Ride Report Trona Pinnacles, Ballarat, Death Valley, California, and Cerro Gordo Ghost Town April 2015

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The weekend of April 24th, 2015, eight riders from various parts of southern California set out to explore a few places off the beaten track. 


Seven of us started out in Irvine, California at the appropriate Starbucks and headed up Interstate 15 towards Hesperia, Ca, where we stopped at the intersection of I-15 and I-395 for breakfast and met up with our 8th rider from Los Angeles, Roger.  After breakfast we rode north along I-395 and then east on HWY 178 to Trona Pinnacles, which is about 20 miles due east of Ridgecrest, California.


Trona Pinnacles is an amazing geologic formation of spires, cones, and towers from a long dead inland sea rising straight out of the desert, formed by calcium carbonate in springs billowing out of the ancient lake, perhaps as deep as 400 ft during certain ice ages. 


More here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trona_Pinnacles


Day 1


Day 1 Owens Valley.jpg

Our route, more or less...



The approach to Trona



Roger, Jon, Mark B, Gregory, Josh, Ron, Carter, Mark S.



Me with Trona's ancient spires in the background



Carter, exploring some of shallow Trona caves



Resting and rehydration time


After Trona Pinnacles we rode north along Highway 178 through the town of Trona and arrived at Ballarat, in Death Valley.  Ballarat is a small collection of trailers, old wood buildings, and rusted out trucks, one of which is rumored to have been used by Charles Manson. 


More here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballarat,_California



Supposedly a truck used by Charles Manson...



The Ballarat Trading Post.  Cold soft drinks and nothing else.  Pee around the back.



There are a few trucks, pieces of mining equipment, and unknown objects to explore around Ballarat.  Mind the snakes!



The awesome approach to Ballarat across a well paved road bisecting salted flats.



Make sure to take time to rest and re-hydrate.  There's no need to rush things in Death Valley.  


After Ballarat we headed up 178 towards Panamint Springs, which due to its location has about the most expensive gasoline within a few hundred miles (regular unleaded only).  We fueled up the bikes and our stomachs and rode west on Highway 190 over Father Crowley Pass, where you really should stop and enjoy the vistas, which are not to be missed.  This is also a great spot for cell phone coverage so you can check in, as the Searles Valley to the west and Death Valley to the east are almost without coverage anywhere.


A word about wind - We experienced a lot of wind going up and down this pass to the west and it is worth noting that between the peaks of this road the wind can shift radically.  Committing to a lean angle in the twisties can be downright dangerous.  Take it conservatively and be safe.  We stopped at Father Crowley not for the view, but from fatigue fighting the wind up that hill.


Continuing on Highway 190 west we turned right onto Highway 136 towards Owens Lake and the cutoff up to Cerro Gordo.  The well maintained dirt road is a 9 mile switchback ascent up to 8,000 ft.  The views are awesome, of course.  Now Cerro Gordo is privately owned and you have to call ahead for permission to stay in the bunkhouse there.  The caretaker, Robert, lives there with his wife about 9 months of the year and double rooms in the haunted bunkhouse cost about $50 a night.  Bring your sleeping bag as no linens are provided.  There is no running water for showers, but jugs are available to fill your camelbaks and for washing faces and hands.  Outhouse facilities are glorious one-holers with a door and a great view of Owens Valley.  The town has an old unoccupied hotel with a saloon with period photos, furniture, and even a card table next to a wall with bullet holes.


The best thing about Cerro Gordo was the firepit (wood included with the nightly fee).  We enjoyed it both that night and again the next morning.



Arrived at Cerro Gordo.  Every building you see is abandoned.



The bunkhouse.  Bring your own sleeping bag and don't listen to the ghost stories.



Night falls on this amazing place.  Great for a drink and a cigar, but be careful, the temperature drops quickly.



Carter was the master firestarter.



On the way down - 8 miles and 8,000 ft to Owens Lake.  Spectacular views and drops.



Mark S., and the Carro Gordo caretaker, Robert, who was a gracious and entertaining host!


Day 2


Day 2 Part 1.jpg

Our route for the first part of Day 2


After coffee and passing the hat around for a tip for Robert and his hospitality, we rode back down to Owens Lake and headed up Hwy 136 towards Hwy 395 and into Big Pine, where we fueled up again, before heading west on Hwy 168 up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Visitor Center, where it started to snow on us.  These roads are paved but can be crumbly on the shoulders, with some gravel and small rocks in the turns, so again, ride conservatively and enjoy the views.




The oldest single tree in the world is somewhere up in this area but the National Park Service wisely does not identify its location.


After a few trail bars and hydration we debated the weather.  In April the weather was sketchy and it was already snowing on us.  We could go back the way we came and spend the night in Lone Pine or slug it out with the cold front to the east, for our ride through Titus Canyon, on the east side of Death Valley, starting on the Nevada side of the border.  


Let’s just say we made the wrong decision.  We fought wind and rain for the rest of the day heading east to Beatty, Nevada, only to decide that Titus could be dangerous in placed with the heavy rains. 


We were all exhausted and this was the right decision for us at that time.  I’ve been through Titus canyon a few times before, twice on my R1200GS.  Based on the weather and the fatigue we were all feeling we collectively voted no and feel good about the call.  Other riders might have made a different decision, but this was ours.


Day 2 Part 2.jpg

Heading back to Lone Pine with 60 knot gusts of exhausting riding west across Death Valley again.


So after fueling up the bikes and warming our hands in Beatty, we looped back across Death Valley again all the way to Lone Pine and the warm showers of the Dow Villa Motel.  A half dozen of the guys jumped into the hot tub to relax and I’m told that a couple ladies came buy and yelled “Man Stew!”  But I don’t believe that for a second.


So Sunday morning we pack it up for Kelso Valley, riding up above the wind farm north Hwy 14, and exiting onto Hwy 14 at Jawbone Canyon.  Then a straight shot home.  No injuries, no breakdowns, and great memories.


Day 3.jpg

Home down through Kelso Valley for some scenic rides above the wind turbine farm.


Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRy4GjR8HPk





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Credit - Note:  All images courtesy of

1.      Gregory

2.      Josh

3.      Jon

4.      Mark

5.      Mark

6.      Ron

7.      Carter, or 

8.      Roger

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jeepers, are you guys sure you didn't take a wrong turn at Albuquerque ?..that looks more like the surface of Mars,,,, cool ride,thanks for taking us along.... 

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