The sun returned after a day of torrential rains. Ad Hoc “lakes” had returned to the lowest parts of the Basin. For reasons not worth detailing I had to come up with a Plan B for the day so I decided to once more head back to the west side and ride out the west entrance. As I’d driven in from that way a week ago the road captured my bikey dreams.
If you look closely at the above picture you’ll notice the road color change from dark to a much lighter gray. That is the intersection with Panamint Valley Road which heads south and from where I start and end this ride. Less than a mile down that road you actually exit the National Park. I’ll get back to this point in a bit
Hwy 190 is a spectacular, twisty climb. It’s also a designated America Scenic Byway for excellent reason. Nothing too steep, but not a walk in the park either. I wanted to get 40 miles in so I ventured a few miles out beyond the actual park boundary.
The valley floor at this point sits right about 1500 ft. The sun was all shiny, the wind was all calm (sometimes I can really be an oxy-moron) and it was about 63 degrees. Three miles up the road is Panamint Springs, one of three areas of “civilization” in the park. And by that I mean an RV park and campground, gas station, general store and place to eat. It’s pretty rustic, but next time I visit I’ll spend at least some time staying here as it is closer to more of the things I want to see and do. It was a 53 mile drive from Furnace Creek, the main park area where I stayed. It doesn’t take long, or much climbing before the beautiful and stunning views begin. The peaks of the Panamint Range, now even more dipped in snow, dominate from everywhere. Despite being a gorgeous day, the only route in or out from the west and a Friday morning, there was very little traffic on the road. And the road surface is perfect. A pleasure to ride.
Ok, so that thing about Panamint Valley not actually being part of the National Park… That means certain restrictions which apply to National Park land, and the air over them, does not apply in this valley. And the Department of Defense has taken a fabulous opportunity to place a low-level route right down this valley.
Take a look back up at the route picture above. That craggy chasm the road travels along…. awesome entry to the valley for a low-level. And so, just as I came up to Father Crowley Vista, on the edge of said chasm, I happened to catch an Air Force C-17 coming past the vista. Now it’s not every day you see a cargo plane on a low level. As one who once flew these types of training routes, this cargo plane isn’t really low, but then again it’s not like the “heavies” are used to that flight regime.
A few minutes spent at the Vista brought along the real low level experts. Three separate flights of Navy F/A-18 Superhornets and an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle came blasting
through 500 ft BELOW the overlook on the Vista, at the speed of heat! That’s a technical term for, uh……FAST. 500 knots fast, as that’s the speed limit for a US low level route. I wasn’t able to capture any photos. You get nearly no advance warning that they are coming because there is a low ridge line just prior to the canyon from behind which the route approaches. The guys flying low will be below this ridge line and you won’t hear the aircraft until they pop up over it, flip inverted and pull down to enter the canyon. Ahhh, I remember those days fondly. Great Fun!
Just beyond Father Crowley Vista, while still climbing, the grade lowers considerably, and by-the-way, so does the temperature. While it was low 60’s in the valley, albeit two hours earlier, the wind has kicked up a bit and it’s down to 50 degrees when I turned around 4 miles further up the road from the entrance. Glad I’d brought arm sleeves and an extra shirt.
By now you probably know how much I enjoy my DOWNHILL portions. So, kinda got to fly my own low level. More like 25 knots (31 mph), the wind blowing up the canyon in my face slowing me down some, but fun, fun, fun all the same.
Great way to end a fine week in one of our spectacular National Parks!
Seriously, I don’t think you will ever see this part of the US any greener than this.
Yesterday I took the scenic route out through the south entrance of the park and then east across the desert, now for two weeks in Sin City. That’s Las Vegas, Nevada for my international readers. 😁