Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Death Valley to Anza Borrego - Desert Highways Revisited

Back in the early days of Covid (March 2020) I blogged about a bike trip from Death Valley, through Joshua Tree National Park and on to the Anza Borrego desert. It was a great trip, so a few of us thought 'Why not do it again?'  So, we did .....

While most folks heading to Vegas on Super Bowl Sunday are anticipating a great party during the game, there were seven of us on a different track, heading to Death Valley.  Fred from Black Sheep Adventures met us at the airport with his big van and our bikes and we cruised out route 160, grabbed a coffee in Pahrump, then took Belle Vista and Stateline roads out to Death Valley Junction and the Amargosa Opera House for a tour and lunch. You can find more info. about Marta Beckett and her opera house in my blog from March 2020.

After lunch and a change of clothes, our cycling adventure began. We rolled past the DVJ Fine Cannabis shop and pedaled the 30 miles out Route 190 to Furnace Creek. The first 10 or so miles were relatively flat, and then we were treated to a 20 mile downhill ending at our lodging ‘The Ranch at Death Valley’.  The desert landscape was dramatic, and the road had little traffic.

We found our rooms, cleaned up and headed to dinner at the ‘Inn at Death Valley’ a four diamond resort, built in 1927 in classic California desert style. The swimming pool is fabulous as are the views. My ribeye steak terrific, but Bill ordered the halibut, and as Death Valley is a good way from the sea, the fish seemed to be a bit tired (more on this later).  

Monday morning we loaded up the van a bit before sunrise for the short drive up to Zabrinskie Point.  There is an easy trail up to the point, and as you can see from the photo below, it is worth getting up early for a short walk.

After breakfast we shuttled up to Ubehebe Crater for a hike around the rim to be followed by a bike ride back down to the sand dunes at Stove Pipe Wells.   We enjoyed the hike and managed to stay on the trail and out of the crater.

Fresh off our hike, we changed shoes and started our ‘downhill’ bike ride back toward the dunes at Stove Pipe Wells.  I did this ride in pre-covid times and it was a blast, 40 or so miles with a bit of uphill and lots of downhill.  I recall seeing 45 mph on my speedometer that day.  Well, on this day we never made it to the dunes, the wind came up and changed what was to be a high-speed romp into long grind downhill. Tom and Richard were on e-bikes and as I watched them recede into the distance ahead, I began to appreciate their wisdom in bike choice.

Tuesday, the wind that tormented us on Monday continued through the night and around 3 am it knocked out power to most of Furnace Creek.  At one point during the night I woke up, looked for the clock, and could see nothing but blackness. I had a momentary panic that I had gone blind, but contained my panic, found my headlamp and figured the power must have failed.  That meant that we had to forego breakfast at the ‘Ranch’ and head up to the very posh ‘Inn’ again for breakfast (oh, darn). 

Our plan for the day was to: ‘shuttle one hour out to Father Crowley Overlook aka “Star Wars Canyon” where fighter jet pilots sometimes race through for low altitude flight training, then we’ll shuttle 30 minutes to the top of Towne Pass to enjoy and epic descent back to Stovepipe Wells where we’ll have lunch before continuing on back to Furnace Creek.

So much for plans. The wind literally blew this plan away.  We did drive out to Father Crowley Overlook. On the way we encountered a blinding sandstorm.  For those wondering what that might look like from inside a van, see the pic below. Thankfully, our encounter with the sandstorm was brief and we continued to the Star Wars Canyon overlook.  While we anticipated that there would be no jets or Wookies, or even droids, Bill and I decided we had to take a look over the canyon wall. The wind coming up over the edge had to be hurricane force and we had a major struggle against it getting to the railing for a peek down into the canyon.

Given that our plans for the day were scuttled, the group decision (suggested by our guide, Fred) was to make a visit to the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar, one of the ten war relocation centers built during WWII (  It is a ruin now, but there is a Visitor Center with excellent displays describing the history of the camp and the lives of the people interned there.  It is a moving and educational experience to learn details of how many Japanese were treated during WWII.

Manzanar is near Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, a picturesque area that is often used in movies.  So much so that one route through the hills is named ‘Movie Road’.  This location has been used in more than 400 films including Gladiator, Djanjo Unchained, Iron Man, Wagon Train and numerous TV series: ( One of the most famous is the Mobius Arch, that frame a view of Mt. Whitney (pic courtesy of the web).

After visiting Manzanar, we made our way to the Alabama Hills CafĂ© in Lone Pine for lunch.  This was Valentine’s Day and for the occasion they featured some very yummy, oversized cinnamon rolls with pink frosting (this is a bakery blog after all).  Several of these delights were consumed as an accompaniment to our lunch.

The drive back to Furnace Creek was spectacular.  The wind had died down a bit and the air clear and fresh. We had great views of the Panamint Valley and Telescope Peak. We did forego biking the epic descent from Towne Pass.

Adventures on the culinary front continued that evening.  We once again had dinner at the ‘Inn’. On our earlier visit many of us noticed that they had ‘Airline Chicken’ on the menu. After having a bumpy flight down from Oakland to Vegas, that wasn’t appealing on our first visit, but this time I asked the waiter to describe it.  Turns out, it is a way to prepare chicken breast that also includes a portion of wing.  The description of their preparation (deep fried) sounded appealing, so I ordered it. When my order arrived it sure didn’t look like chicken, but I’d never had the ‘airline’ version, and this looked a little like chicken one might get on an airline. I gave it a taste and it sure didn’t taste like chicken. Earlier I mentioned the tired Halibut that Bill had on Sunday night.  It seems that halibut was still around, and even more tired and on my palate.  I flagged the waiter, and in an instant, the tired fish was gone, soon to be replaced with a plate of very tasty airline chicken. 

Wednesday was our last day in Death Valley and we started with a drive to Dante’s View, a peak with a view of Badwater, the lowest point in the US ( elevation -282 ft).

We returned to the Ranch for breakfast and a change of clothes and set out on a fun ride downhill and with the wind to Badwater.

Conditions were perfect for cycling, so we continued another ten miles or so, making it a 30 mile ride, before shuttling to Twenty-Nine Palms, with a stop for lunch and a date shake at the China Ranch Date Farm along the way (

Twenty Nine Palms is not known for it’s luxury accommodations, and we stayed that night at the funky and quirky Twenty-Nine Palms Inn.  Their website aptly describes the place as follows: Sprinkled with one-of-a-kind Adobe bungalows and wood-framed cabins. No two rooms are alike, each with its own character and something different to offer.

So true!  My room had a bare concrete floor, but the bed was quite comfortable.  The bathroom window had been left open and the pedestal sink had a nice coating of dust from the recent storm.  Bill’s room was actually out the gate and several steps down the road, while Mary was treated to an outside bathroom (she was moved to another unit).  However, the onsite restaurant was lively with music and patrons, and the food was great.  They definitely know how to prepare a flat-iron steak. They also have a profound understanding of time.

Thursday  was our longest ride, 65 miles with 3600 ft of ascent and 5700 ft of descent! While we were excited to get on the road, leaving the Inn we faced an existential question as pointed out by Rob, our resident philosopher.

After pedaling a few miles we arrived at the northern boundary of Joshua Tree National Park, The park is ‘high desert’ with barren landscapes and interesting rock exposures.  A lot of the rock in the park is metamorphosed granite and the USGS website for the park indicates that: Much of the large-scale erosion that shaped the Joshua Tree National Park’s rocks is no longer occurring. Instead, the weathered formations that we see today occurred long ago. The landscapes left behind by these conditions are truly something to behold. In particular, large masses of rounded granite with interesting weathering patterns can be seen throughout the park  (

One of them is the ‘Wave Rock’.  We didn’t get to see this but it is emblematic of the rocks we did see. 

One of the weathering patterns is called spherical weathering, and Bill took this pic of some spherical weathered boulders that called out to me as I rode by.

We didn’t see as many Joshua Trees in the park as one might expect (at least along the main road), but we did see several natural gardens of teddybear cholla cactus.  Some of these were in bloom, and while very pretty, Bill pointed out that on windy days sections of the cactus can break off and appear to jump onto unsuspecting passers by. I believe he was speaking from experience as he was content to stay by the bikes and relinquish the chance to venture out into the cactus gardens.

We stopped for a picnic lunch at Cottonwood Visitors Center. This was Mile 38 of the ride and was the 
beginning of a long, thrilling downhill that minimized the need for pedaling for the next 35 miles! The road to Interstate 10 is a steady downhill steep enough to allow a lot of speed, but with sufficient curves and bumps to merit a bit of caution. 

Past I-10, Box Canyon Road leads to Mecca at the North end of the Salton Sea. This road is a cyclist’s dream, smooth and scenic, with a mild, steady downhill gradient and very few vehicles.  We rolled into Mecca quite exhilarated from the day. The van arrived and we headed to our hotel, the very nice Casa Del Zorro in Borrego Springs, about an hour’s drive away, only to learn that their power had been out, but was now mostly restored.

Friday was our last day and the plan was simple enough.  Take a twenty mile ride around Borrego Springs to view desert flowers and the amazing metal sculptures that dot the landscape, hike a slot canyon, then head to the airport for a flight home.

And the day went mostly to plan.  We found acres of wildflowers.

Along the way we had coffee with Fred while he waited for a tow. Had coffee with Fred while he waited for a tow. Note: This illustrates how Mother Nature can hoodwink even the best, most experienced drivers!

After the ride and a shower, we enjoyed lunch at the Red Ocotillo restaurant (I highly recommend the fish tacos), and headed out to our final activity, a great hike through a slot canyon.


After the hike, we headed to the Palm Springs Airport to catch our flight back to Oakland.  Once in the airport we started receiving notices that the flight was delayed – several times, but finally departed two hours late.  The good news was that this allow time for Rob to give a master class in solving NYT crossword puzzles. 


Acknowledgments:  Fred Ackerman and Black Sheep Adventures provided outstanding organizational and logistical support and an ample serving of humor. Sally G. worked with Black Sheep to develop the itinerary.

A short video of the trip can be viewed at:

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Tribute to Biking Mentor and Partner - Mike Buettner

 A dear friend passed away a few months ago - below is my small tribute.

I met Mike in the mid 1980’s while we were both working at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. We crossed paths on various projects and on bike rides with the Cycletrons, the noon-time riding group.  I recall one day when he stopped to help when I had flatted out on Tesla road. Evidently, we had a good conversation during our ride back to the lab, as our friendship grew and we started riding together frequently.  We both loved biking, coffee and pastries and Mike introduced me to many of the Bay Area’s classic bike routes, including Nicasio-Tomales, Tunitas Creek, and the Two-Bridges Ride, all of which I have blogged about.

In 2006 we make a cycling trip to Northern Italy, and spent a week enjoying the Vento country side and the excellent food and coffee we found there.

After I retired in 2008, Mike and I started riding regularly, often on Tuesdays.  We spent a lot of time designing interesting routes that would take us to undiscovered coffee shops and bakeries throughout the Bay Area.  Mike encouraged me to start this blog, and of course. provided input for my critiques of the coffee and pastries we sampled. 

In 2009 Mike and I were both laid up and unable to ride for an extended period.  I had broken my wrist skiing and needed surgery. Mike had a hip replacement.  We resumed our riding habit on July 24 and his wife Jackie took this photo as we were heading out.

In 2014 we made a trip to New Zealand and spent two weeks riding the length of the South Island.  This was a fabulous trip with miles of scenic highway, glaciers to hike on, and an amazing flight to Milford Sound.

Mike and I shared our love of cycling and coffee, and never tired of anything to chat about.  I have lost a dear friend and will miss our rides, our chats and his very dry sense of humor.

R4R - Cycling for Oakland Schools

Saturday - April 23,  I rode with a small pack of VeloRaptors and helped Ride For A Reason get to 98% of its goal of $180,000. Both the fund raising and the the cycling aspects of the ride were a great success.  The weather was perfect, rest stops were appropriately spaced and well supplied, and of course the VeloRaptor riders were excellent company. The R4R organizers offered a variety of routes and most of us chose the 68 mile route from Suisan City to Sacramento. Although Paul L. (in bright yellow) started in Oakland, completing over 100 miles. 

A few of us stopped for a beer before boarding the train back to Suisan City

Monday, September 27, 2021

Not Your Normal 2 Bridges Ride

This was a fun ride with a bit of everything – The day started with 14 riders heading out of Martinez on Franklin Canyon Road.  The first few miles are a long-ish but gentle climb up through the oak woodlands of Franklin Canyon, then a bit more climbing along Cummings Skyway through the often windy grassland on the ridge. 

After the few miles of climbing we got the reward of a long, fast, fun descent through the Crockett Hills Regional Park on Crockett Blvd.  This is a fabulous descent that features a sweeping 180 degree curve.

Once down into Crockett, we regrouped at the end of Crockett Blvd. While we were stopped a lone cyclist came along and asked if we were headed over the Carquinez Bridge, and yes that was our plan.  He had just been turned back from crossing by some workers, who had ‘dropped’ some equipment on or near the bike lane and were temporarily holding traffic on the bike lane until it was safe to go. His alternate plan was to get to Martinez via the Carquinez Scenic Byway.   

We decided to try the bridge anyway, and on approach saw no signs indicating closure.  In fact, ahead of us was a group of maybe a dozen cyclists already on their way across.  Well, there was no problem riding on the bridge itself, but when we reached the far side of the bridge, just before the turnout for Vista Point, we did indeed find that the bridge bike path was closed.  So, there we were, a group of 30 or so MAMILS (and MAWILS) stuck on the bridge, trying to figure a strategy.  It may have been the expanse of lycra or the seeming gazillion flashing lights in their eyes, but something inspired the workers to pull back and let us proceed! (Note: MAMIL short for Middle Aged Man In Lycra).

So, it was on through Vallejo, via Sonoma Blvd and Lemon St. The trick here is to accelerate up the last bit of Sonoma Blvd and on around the corner on Lemon St, so as to carry speed down Lemon past the auto repair, auto parts and U-Haul businesses, until taking a right turn on Benecia Blvd.

Only one problem - the Benecia Blvd bridge over I-80 seemed to be closed! Again, no signs anywhere indicating that a detour may be in order!

Rob was quick with google maps on his iphone and found an alternate route via Georgia and Steffan streets, and we were back on course!

The next bridge on the ride was the Rose Dr. bridge over I-780.  Here we took note of the array of cones now safely delineating the very hazardous slot between the two sections of the bike lane.  This slot is filled with some sort of flimsy rubber seal that can capture a bike wheel and send the rider down in a hurry. One of our riders (PF) knows about this first hand, and her experience probably helped get the cones put out.  Happily, she negotiated the bridge this time without incident.

The next section of the route is on the bike/walking path through the wetlands of Benecia State Recreational Area.  This section of trail is also part of the San Francisco Bay Trail, and although it is not long, it is one of the highlights of the ride.  The path comes leads to a big parking lot along the shore which seemed to be the right spot for a group photo.

Our next stop was One House Bakery.  This place is high on my list of Bay Area bakeries, and it did not disappoint.  I had the scone with Devonshire Clotted Cream and house made strawberry jam and a side of sliced strawberries.  I tried this trio in both the Devonshire (scone/clotted cream/jam) and the Cornish  (scone/jam/clotted cream) ways and declare both to be fabulous.  In particular, the Devonshire clotted cream from One House is wonderfully thick and rich, but still easily spreadable! One House is take-out only in these days of COVID, so we enjoyed our goodies at the nearby St Paul’s Square in shadow of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

One of us (Paul) cycled the short distance down to Benecia Point at the end of 1st St. and snapped a couple photos of the waterfront.

We left Benecia quite repleat, and crossed the Benecia bridge back to Martinez with no additional road/bridge closures, then pedaled the short distance through Martinez back to our starting point.

Great ride, and as one of the riders summed up the day 'our fun meters were pegged on maximum!'

-Thanks to Paul L. and Robert R for sharing photos.