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 Panamint Range
The waiter plopped down two servings of Denny's best pancakes. Six buttermilk babies stared up at me, waiting for buttah and syrup. Better have some fuel for the fool. After breakfast and coffee, went back to the hotel, packed up and headed out. I kind a had an idea where I wanted to go. From Ridgecrest, we headed out on the 178 through Trona, which I've been to before. I've never gone past that. The road climbed up the Argus range from the Searles Valley floor, leaving the dry lake behind.

At the crest, we rounded a blind corner and suddenly, the whole Panamint Valley just opened up like some kind of incredible IMAX movie. There is nothing subtle about it. From the bottom of the valley floor, the Panamint Mountains just seemingly erupt straight out of the saline flats. Megashades of dark red, brown, ochre and a hundred different vibrant shades of brown, red and yellow stun the senses. A deep feeling of something primeval washed over me like a desert flash-flood.

The destination was the ghost town of Ballarat. A short while later, we turned off the paved and headed down a rough dirt road, past a large rotating radar to track the fighter jets out of China Lake. The remnants of the town glittered in the distance, as we slowly approached the base of these huge mountains. The wind was gusting pretty good and we had scattered cumulus scudding across the sky.

After getting ready, but with no idea of where we were going, except looking at the topo map , we went to the lone business in Ballarat and got directions from the salty owner of the place. Pleasant Canyon was the choice and we got rolling up the dirt road. To call it a dirt road is an understatement. I wouldn't take my Focus wagon on it for nothing. It is solid broken-up gravel the whole way up. Add a good headwind and you had the ingredients for a tough ride.

We pulled over for the occasional four wheel drive caravan leaving the canyon and they were helpful with directions. Did I mention, it was a steep beyatch too? Deb has had some stressful times as of late, so it wasn't easy for her to sustain the hard effort, but she kept at it. We climbed and climbed up the very steep four-wheel drive trail. I'd turn around and was amazed at the vista of the lower valley floor, where we started off, thousands of feet below. The view was through the steep canyon walls and made for an awesome perspective. A group of Land Rovers came up from behind and we pulled over to let them by. I angled the frame and sat on the top tube, watching and giving the occasional wave. I didn't envy their experience. I'm out there, versus being behind power windows and a windshield.

Then we ran into water. I would've never thought, that I'd be biking up a wide double-track that was also a two-three inch deep stream for at least three to four miles. Took a rest stop at a wide section of the narrow canyon and started peeling a couple of oranges. The only sound was the wind blowing through the canyon. Just sitting there eating the orange and something caught my eye on the opposite wall. I tapped Deb quietly and whispered to her 'check it out'! A whole herd of Bighorn Sheep had started dropping down the opposite side, not even two hundred feet away. We were quietly stoked. There was the large male and some playful younger bucks, butting heads. Momma Big Horn's, with babies in tow, scampered across the sheer cliff walls right in front of us. The alpha male stopped opposite us and calmly observed us. None of them sweated our presence and it was a very neat experience. A short while later, they scampered up and were soon gone.

Time to power on. We got on the bikes and continued the long flog. The climb never let up. I think in the whole ten mile climb up, there was a short fifty foot descent that was hardly angled down. It was pretty friggin' brutal and there was no let-up on the steepness or the roughness of the trail. We passed up a couple of abandoned gold mines, but expected nothing. We were trying to make the top, so we could overlook Death Valley from the west. Deb was beat, but kept pushing. A couple of times, we pondered going back, but she'd point the front wheel up the canyon again, and off we'd go. I had to admire her toughness. Not many fifty year old women, would be mountain biking alongside yours truly on such an insane ride.

The reward was unexpected. We rounded a ridge and came upon a good sized ghost town. This place was called Clair's Camp and was very much off the beaten path. Rusty vehicles were strewn about and a number of buildings (about six or so) along with the remnants of a large gold mining operation. A big rusted steel tank, with the words 'cyanide-poison' was laying on it's side. An old steel safe, long doorless, exhibited it's empty interior. The only sound was the corrugated sheet metal panels of the buildings creaking in the wind. Huge boilers and assorted machinery was everywhere. The rusted remnants of dreams in a hostile, but starkly beautiful environment. It was getting late. Time to turn around.

The downhill was non-stop and it took us thirty minutes to reach the bottom. We hauled through miles of the running stream-trail on the way down, then bombed the rough double track. I thought to myself, how amazing it was, that the bikes could take such incredible punishment. We pulled up at the car, with my hands aching from the beating they took. The bikes looked like hell, covered in dried silt and Panamint dust. The wind was starting to gust hard in the late afternoon sun. We had to watch stuff, so that it wouldn't blow away. Got to visit the locals, before we leave.

We stopped at the lone store and I brought a couple o' sodas from Rod. No giant, flourescent-lit display case here, just a small fridge with a couple of twelve packs of soda and a couple of Coors. We shot the breeze with a couple from Trona and Rod for about half an hour, sharing stories and just having a good time. Never did get to introduce ourselves, but somehow, we didn't feel the need to. Names weren't important. Drove off a short while later and hit the pavement on 178. Wanted one last look at the Panamints before we left for home. At the historical markers, we got out of the car, just as a couple pulled up in a new car. They looked longingly at the Panamints. I didn't say anything, but a good-intentioned greeting and got back in the wagon. They could only see it from miles away and I saw it from a deeply personal perspective and that made all the difference.

Posted by STP a 48 year old Racer riding a K2 Razorpiggie from P'Dale on 04/25/07

Responses: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)  

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    You know, the great thing about your stories is...no need for pictures! You paint such a vivid, beautiful picture for the imagination that pictures probably wouldn't do your description justice.

    Thanks again man...you (and your S.O.) rock!

    Posted by Crzyridr33 a 35 year old Die-hard Enthusiast riding a very light bike on 04/25/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    You just take it all down in one big gulp, dontcha, CR3?
    Posted by GhostRider a 31 year old Downhiller on 04/25/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    Thanks for the kudos Shawn! It's not that my experiences are better than anyone elses, the fact is, that I have always liked to write. I've been an avid reader of books all my life and maybe it's through that exposure to the printed word and other authors experiences, that I've picked up the ability to tell a story in a somewhat reasonable manner.

    Ya know Ghostrider, I just want to share the experience and I've even seen glimpses of that from you. It is always worthwile to contribute in a meaningful fashion. If you look at the state of our society today, it is obvious that we are seeking the lowest form of entertainment. It is easy to descend farther and farther down the path of malignant intent, as there is no bottom. The challenge is to ascend and give meaning.
    Posted by STP a 48 year old Racer riding a K2 Razorpiggie from P'Dale on 04/25/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    Amen Reg, amen..


    Keep em' comin'..
    Posted by Crzyridr33 a 35 year old Die-hard Enthusiast riding a very light bike on 04/25/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    Ya can't have the same old entree all the time....every sandwich needs some soup....I'm The Soup....just don't mix them together. Ride on, Reg.

    Posted by GhostRider a 31 year old Downhiller on 04/25/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    Thank you. Excellent report. I was wondering about that canyon. I drove back that way in early March and saw a few interesting roads climbing up the west side.
    Posted by CFIT on 04/25/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    Nice story STP.
    Makes me wanna stop all this racing and get out to some real mountain biking. Trailblazing, and not knowing where the trail will take you are some of the most enjoyable qualities of dirt bike riding.
    See ya soon.
    Posted by Papisimo a Die-hard Enthusiast riding a Gary Fisher 29er mofo from Flogsville on 04/26/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    Hey Sean (aka CFIT)

    You're desert trip and pics that you took awhile back were an inspiration to do, what I did. Your excellent description of the roads, matched what we found to a 'T'! Steep and deep gravel, but well worth the work.

    Papo, we'll see you there Saturday PM (we're prerunning the course mid-afternoon), or on Sunday!
    Posted by STP a 48 year old Racer riding a K2 Razorpiggie from P'Dale on 04/26/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    Ok, we've got pictures now and some brief captions. Enjoy!

    Cresting the Argus range. A view of the Panamints from a distance.

    We're there! At the ghost town of Ballarat, right at the base. I was excited by the prospect of pitting myself against this huge range

    Deb heading out on the rough, broken gravel jeep trail

    We are climbing up this steep beyatch! Note the width of the trail as it quickly drops away. I grannied it.

    Reverse view, with Deb getting a rest, she's bracing herself and the bike against the hill...

    Farther up, I took this shot to show how much climbing we've done on the trail. We started out on the dry lake bed in the bottom of the valley below.... The long and winding road!

    I never expected to encounter water on the trail....

    Then the stream got wider! It was like this for quite a ways up and we were forced to ride up the streambed (tho' coming down, was a total freeeking blast!)

    Steep enough to get small waterfalls even! This is yours truly

    The Bighorn sheep we saw, while peeling oranges. There are about 12 of em' there, but except for the big un' in the front, they are very well camoflaged.

    The worst part, is we ran out of film, so couldn't take pics of Claire's camp, which was the very much unmolested ghost town, we encountered deep in these mountains. Maybe next time! I wanna go back!

    Posted by STP a 48 year old Racer riding a K2 Razorpiggie from P'Dale on 05/07/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    Hey, GhostRider...would you like some salt on that hat? :P

    Nice shots, Reg! Very tantalizing. There's another ride you should try if you liked this one. Hunter Mountain, which is pretty much the geographic center of the expanded DVNP, is very steep, has no gravel, has water at a few places, and WILD HORSES!, and a very cool summit plateau with a pinyon forest and a few cabins to snoop around in. If you're interested, I can post maps and description on how to get there.
    Posted by Dr Wellington Yueh on 05/07/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    Thanks Tom!

    Hunter Mountain sounds like a nice venue. I especially enjoyed your last expedition and am thinking of a July trip up in the Sierra's, based out of Kernville (that's so I can go back to the Kern River Brewing Company and have their IPA again!). Shoot me an email sometime!
    Posted by STP a 48 year old Racer riding a K2 Razorpiggie from P'Dale on 05/08/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    My computer at work won't let me see the pics, just little red Xs in boxes. So, your deliverance is not complete, yet...until I get home and confer with the master! Don't wait up......

    Posted by GhostRider a 31 year old Downhiller on 05/08/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    Talk about spoiling everything....with these sucky pics....and just when I was coming around to enjoying the write-ups! ;-)

    Fess up, did Tommy Boy help ya?

    Posted by GhostRider a 31 year old Downhiller on 05/08/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    GR, sorry you felt that way, but it was to be expected. The camera was a Fuji disposable, 400 speed. Not digital yet. What your comment is revealing is that you're not being the 'sandwich' or the 'soup', but rather the fly at the picnic. Please be meaningful or STFU. If you've got an adventure or worthy comment to share, go for it. Otherwise, you're just participating in the usual and flagrant troll misbehavior that is so rampant in our society today. It's easy to be a snide, sarcastic d!ckhead. What takes work, is contributing something that has real substance to it.
    Posted by STP a 48 year old Racer riding a K2 Razorpiggie from P'Dale on 05/09/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    Good stuff STP. Still wasn't able to spot many other sheep hiding in that picture.
    Love the pix, and way to have the balls to put some out there.
    I hope there are more to come from the others.
    paz afuera
    Posted by Papisimo riding a Bike on 05/09/07

  •  Re: Panamint Range
    Almost time for the next trek into the deep desert. smile
    Posted by CFIT on 09/24/07

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