God’s Country

Grand Canyon Death Valley Yosemite

Photos. L to R: Grand Canyon, Death Valley and Yosemite

I spent almost two weeks in Gods own country. The variation of natural beauty seen in Yosemite National Park, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon was truly astonishing. Some serene moments as I travelled over 1,500km through forests, deserts, ravines, valleys and of course canyons.

The first park visited was Yosemite which is only a four hour driven from San Francisco. In distance the two places aren’t that far apart however half the route is on slow roads, which snake up and down mountains. A good fun ride all the same where I had to balance the need to focus on the road ahead while also wanting to take in the scenery too. Fortunately there are plenty of viewing points to take photographs. On the way to the visitor centre and lodge I almost had my first accident.

While taking a left bend in the road I came within a breath of hitting a deer. As I focused on the immediate road ahead I didn’t see the deer until it was practically in front of the bike. I swerved deeply left aiming at the ass of the animal. As I passed I felt the swoosh of air push between us. I’m not sure if I instinctively aimed for this target, as I knew large animals don’t move backwards where they are only likely to remain frozen or move forward. Or if I did so simply because I was cornering left.

I don’t mind admitting the experience certainly winded me for the remainder of the journey. It felt like my life expectancy was reduced by six months and I’m sure the fucking deer felt the same. What a disaster that would have been. Initially I wanted to order a venison steak to extract some measure of revenge but in retrospect I guess I was driving through her home territory.

I stayed in a comfortable small cabin in Curry Lodge which is next to the main visitor centre. On check in I thought the receptionist was being OTT in making my sign various waviers re storage of food and avoiding bears. But the next day, a couple on the bus tour told us that their car was scratched by bear paws. The park itself is amazing. It has the highest waterfalls in the Americas, which are surrounded by sheer granite formations and luscious forestry.

After two days I headed for Death Valley, which I split over two days in order to avoid a dull motorway ride. The first day took my through Sequoia National Park. A great bike ride with lots of fast twisties. I climbed to over 2.5K metres (8,000 feet) in altitude, which provided some awesome views. While it was fun to almost reach the summit of mountains I did become somewhat concerned when the ground next to the road was covered in large swaths of snow. And it was getting dark too. Double danger. Higher risk of animals and ice. Sure enough I did come across three deers on the road but this encounter wasn’t as close a call as the Yosemite near miss.

As evening fell I pulled into a small lodge rather that finish the remaining three hours in the darkness and cold of night. A quaint little guesthouse in the bottom of a valley. No cable or wifi here so I settled into an evening were I picked two DVD’s from their fairly decent collection.

Next morning I hit the road early. The remaining journey was fantastic. As I cleared one mountain range it simply revealed another and another. Unlike parts of France and Switzerland there are no tunnel shortcuts through these ranges but rather winding s-like roads that ascend and descend the mounds. Great fun to ride through. Fortunately I was travelling mid week in November so the traffic was light which allowed me to go as fast and as slow as I liked.

The trip finished in Furnace Creek around noon. Truly an oasis in the desert. While there are no camels or Arabs present it still counts as an oasis, albeit a luxurious one. A nice resort which was built around a natural spring well. I intended to spend only Friday night at the ranch but a strong storm was forecasted for the weekend so I decided to sit it out. Turned out to be a great decision in the end as I got to meet some fantastic people and also enjoyed just chilling out.

Each morning I swam in a pool filled with hot natural mineral water. It seemed surreal to swim lengths surrounded by the rugged desert. First day I had the pool to myself for twenty minutes before brother and sister joined me: Chris and Rose. After shooting the breeze for a while they kindly invited back to their campsite later that evening as they had an extra steak. Glad I had the bottle of wine Jeroen gave me while I was in San Francisco.

This was there fifth year camping in Death Valley on the weekend prior to Thanksgiving. I can understand why the come back each year. The place is so vast you could visit for a decade and still visit new areas. The food was delicious and we even toasted marshmallows for dessert. Good stories and banter around the campfire. And even better that they were residents of LA and we agreed to meet up when I got there.

On the second evening I went to the resort bar. I sat at the bar to finish up a blog and was later joined by Heidi, a park ranger, for a pitcher of local seasonal ale. Nice stuff. Later on we were invited to join the small group sitting at the nearby table. I keen to do so as they seemed to be having a good laugh. Tim and Gary were buddies and were in the company of a German character whose name I cannot remember.

He claimed to be a porno producer. It seemed a bit far-fetched as he looked like a bit of a dork, so using my notepad he showed us all the websites where his movies where posted. Pretty graphic stuff and to his credit, his name was on the credits. Remarkable the punters you meet while travelling. As it turned out Tim and Gary are also bikers and from LA too and again another rendezvous came of our chance meeting.

On Monday morning I left the morbidly named Valley feeling anything but deathly. Next on the agenda: The Grand Canyon. As per my usual routine I’d checked the 10 day weather forecast that predicted maximum daytime temperatures of only six degrees Celsius. At the heights I would be driving and in the evening I knew it would be cooler still.

So for three days I swapped the motorbike for a hire car. A good decision from the beginning. As I arrived in Vegas to pick up the car I felt like a frozen stalagmite. It took full blast heat for while before I thawed out. Nice to be behind the wheel again even if for a short time. Due to a late start that morning and heavy traffic I finished the trip in the evening so I didn’t get to see too much on the way. However I made up for it the next day.

At the visitor centre I checked out various tours and settled for the Imperial Helicopter ride of the entire Canyon and a sunset tour. What an experience. I’ve always wanted to go on a helicopter but the opportunity never presented itself. To spend over an hour flying through this extraordinary landscape was such a rush. To ride above the precipice and then to fall to the Canyon floor was incredible. I’ve had the good fortune to travel to many great places in the past but I’ve never come across such dramatic and awe inspiring landscape. A wonderful experience.

As I left the Grand Canyon for Las Vegas I was even happier with my decision to take a car. The road from the cabin to the motorway was covered with snow and ice. A 15-mile journey I would not have wanted to make on a motorbike. Having spent two weeks marvelling at some of the world’s most gorgeous scenery it seemed a bit perverse to now go to such a shallow and vacuous place as Vegas. But surprisingly I had a great time there – Disneyland for grown ups!

Al Dempsey
11 December 2010