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ADV Rides10 Majestic, Iconic & Odd Spots to Explore on a Death Valley Ride

10 Majestic, Iconic & Odd Spots to Explore on a Death Valley Ride

 Check out these don't-miss destination on an ADV Ride through Death Valley.

Published on 12.19.2018

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide

Death Valley, California can be one of the most uninhabitable places on earth but also one of the most rewarding. It surprises with its beauty and gives a unique tour through history with no modern context. Geological wonders, ideal winter weather and plenty of oddities make Death Valley a dual sport paradise ripe for exploration.

The discovery of gold in California during 1848, brought a title wave of would-be prospectors and hangers-on. However, it wasn’t just a matter of packing up the station wagon and slabbing it to the golden state. This was a treacherous overland journey with no guarantees of survival. Death Valley was stumbled upon and named during one of the countless mishaps in the course of westward migration.


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In the fall of 1849, a young man claiming to know a shortcut around the treacherous Sierra Mountains had a hand-sketched map that showed an imaginary route across the desert. The Bennett-Arcan party was one of many that took the bait of this too-good-to-be-true bypass which led to them being stranded in the salt flats just east of the Panamint Range.

After nearly a year stuck battling to survive in the inhospitable valley, they managed to escape with only one man succumbing to death. As they finally made their way west over the mountains with the remainder of the party, someone is said to have proclaimed “Goodbye Death Valley,” giving the valley it’s morbid albeit somewhat dramatic name.

Over the next hundred years, Death Valley saw many booms and busts associated with mining. Populations as diverse and harsh as the surrounding landscape swelled and dozens of ghost towns now remain to offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. Today the vast majority of Death Valley remains undeveloped, making it entirely possible to have a multi-day adventure with little to no contact with the modern world. Terrain that is spectacularly diverse and challenging, along with unmatched beauty, are all reasons to explore this historically rich area on two wheels.

For this Ride Guide, we tirelessly scouted a route that visits many of the best locations in and around Death Valley National Park. We also provide all the information you need to plan your own Adventure Ride, including an interactive map, GPS tracks with top destinations, scenic camp spots and more. You’ll find these points of interest are hard earned but well worth the struggle.

1. The Racetrack Playa

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide
When conditions are right, these sailing stones can move up to 5 meters per minute.

This 2.8 mile long dry lakebed located in the northwest corner of Death Valley is known for its “sailing stones.” The streaks that these stones leave in the cracked hexagon lakebed give the appearance of a slow motion race, hence the name. The stones (dolomite and syenite) can move up to five meters per minute in fact. But this only occurs under unique conditions when sheets of ice form and then melt in conjunction with light wind.

Up until recent years, this was an unproven thesis and phenomenon that had been stumping visitors since the discovery of the lake. This geological wonder is the perfect place to take a break and explore these peculiar rocks just before descending Lippincott pass or right after conquering it. Just north of the Racetrack, you’ll also find Teakettle Junction, which is a quintessential Death Valley photo stop. There is also primitive camping to the south at Homestake Dry Camp.

2. Ubehebe Crater

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide
Ubehebe Crater is a half mile across, 770 feet deep and was formed in a hydrovolcanic explosion that is thought to have occurred as recently as 800 years ago. (Photo Courtesy deveynin)

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide

Ubehebe Crater, at the northern tip of the Cottonwood Mountains, contrasts with the nearby landscape so much so that it is almost startling. As you approach within a mile of the crater, the soil turns a fine charcoal color giving it a moonscape appearance. This volcanic crater rises abruptly from the desert floor, spanning one-half mile from rim to rim and recessing to 770 feet at its deepest point. Formed between 2,000 and 800 years ago when rising magma turned ground water into steam, pressure built up until it eventually erupted in a massive explosion. The colorful yellow, orange and red walls of the crater we see today consist of limestone, mudstone, and quartzite.

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide
Bring a pair of shoes for the 2-mile hike around the rim or to visit the adjacent Little Hebe Crater.

Bring a pair of hiking shoes or be prepared to do some trekking in your moto boots if you want to take in the full experience by hiking around the rim or visiting the adjacent Little Hebe Crater. No facilities or camping but certainly worth a visit.

3. Eureka Dunes

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide
Riding Eureka Dunes is not allowed, but you are free to hike up to the 680-foot peak. We preferred to leave the dunes undisturbed and enjoy the view from afar.

Also part of the Park’s 1994 expansion, the Eureka Dunes are a wonder to behold. They qualify as some of the tallest dunes in the country despite only occupying three square miles. Some 680 feet above the surrounding Eureka Valley floor, they appear out of nowhere as you approach and command attention. Before you get too excited, it’s worth noting that no motorized vehicles are permitted on the dunes themselves. Although, excellent primitive and dispersed camping options are available on the north end of the dunes with some facilities (No water).

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide

Steele Pass and Dedeckera Canyon lie to the south and promise spirited riding nearly the whole way to or from Saline Springs. If you are disappointed by not being able to ride these particular dunes, the track leading up to/from Steele Pass should quell your desire with plenty of deep, soft sand.

4. Saline Valley Warm Springs

Saline Valley is home to natural hot springs and a rich history of ingenuity. Mining activity occurred here from 1874 until the 1930’s. To expedite the transportation of salt over the Inyo mountains, a 14-mile aerial tramway was constructed in 1911. This tram was the steepest ever built in the United States but it proved too costly to operate and its use was discontinued in 1936. Remnants of the tram can still be found in the area.

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide
Park your bike and within minutes you can be easing your weary bones in a soothing warm mineral bath.

The valley’s natural springs became popular in the 1960s when enthusiasts constructed concrete pools, showers, and outhouses without any approval from the Bureau of Land Management that controlled the land at the time. In 1994, the site officially became part of the National Park and immediately was a thorn in the Park Service’s side. These springs are the only place in any National Park where nudity is permitted even though it is not encouraged.

The controversy surrounding the springs also includes a land dispute with the Timbisha Shoshone Native American tribe that was removed from the area in 1933. The tribe takes particular offense to the nudity associated with the springs and has pledged to close them to the public if they ever regain possession of the land.

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide
Saline Valley Warm Springs is a true oasis in the middle of a barren desert. Getting there is half the fun!

All of this turmoil is the precise reason you should visit this spectacular place right now! There’s no telling how long this little desert oasis will be accessible, especially to off-road vehicles. You can roll in on your bike, drop your kickstand mere feet from a pool, and in minutes be easing your bones in warm, soothing mineral water (nudity not required). Dispersed camping is also plentiful, and the pools are incredible after a long haul or even as a pit stop midway through your day.

5. Minietta Mine

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide
You can explore deep inside Minnieta Mine on foot. Best keep your helmet on though!

The Minietta Mine and cabin are unique in how well they have been preserved throughout the years. Located in the Argus mountain range, the mine was opened in 1876 and worked in one capacity or another all the way through the 1950s. Rust acts slowly in the arid desert leaving much of the machinery strewn about in fair condition. Equipment of all kinds can be found from engines to mining tools; there’s even a functional outhouse that probably outdates any visitor that might dare to use it today. A short distance up the canyon from the cabin, you will find open mine shafts, other foundations and slag piles ready to explore.

The cabin, initially designated for the mine’s foreman is decorated with a hundred plus years of knick-knacks, historical tidbits and of course signs of wear. From the front porch, it is possible to see all the way across Panamint Valley and beyond.

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide
The inside of Minietta cabin is like a time capsule from the old mining days.

Plenty of rough camping spots have been established in the vicinity of the cabin, and one could occupy themselves for days exploring and sifting through relics. Minietta Mine Road leading up to the site is rocky two-track that’s good fun if you and your bike are dialed but, it might not be wise to attempt the approach at the end of a long day or if you doubt your abilities.

6. The Barker Ranch (Charles Manson’s Hideout)

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide

Barker Ranch started life as a quiet, secluded mining property only accessible by primitive roads. Initially constructed in the 1940’s by the Thomason family, it was sold to the Barker’s in 1956 who used it for mining and annual vacations. The Barkers expanded the existing house and added outlying structures of which foundations are still visible today.

This previously inauspicious ranch gained notoriety when Charles Manson and his “family” members were apprehended here in October 1969. One of his followers was the granddaughter of the only nearby resident and told Manson of the Barker Ranch. It was used as a hideout while Charlie and his lackeys waited for their helter-skelter plot to unfold. Interestingly enough, they were initially taken into custody for vandalizing a National Park’s vehicle, not the mass murder they had just committed. The main house burned in 2009 but it wasn’t completely destroyed. You can still see right where Charles Manson was found hiding under the bathroom sink.

Death Valley Motorcycle Ride Guide
The Manson Family home burned down in 2009 but you can still walk in the footsteps of a mad man.

Getting to this eerie location via Goler Wash (West) or Mengel Pass (North) is just as enthralling as the ranch itself; Visualize Manson and Co. somehow getting a school bus up there! Manson claimed that the bus was flown in, but other accounts verify that it somehow made it to the ranch under its own power. Baker Ranch is only a short detour off the main track and undoubtedly worth a visit.

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Author: Spencer Hill
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9 thoughts on “10 Majestic, Iconic & Odd Spots to Explore on a Death Valley Ride

  1. Death Valley is an awesome place. I’ve been there a half-dozen times but haven’t seen all the spots on this list (but most). I rode my Tiger 800XCA in Titus about a year ago and it wasn’t as smooth as this article suggests.. maybe it’s had maintenance since then.

    I actually learned to ride sand while riding from Saline Pass Road to the Hot Springs a few years ago.. one of those “do it or go back to camp with your tail between you legs” situations… thankfully I was on a smaller bike at the time.

    Dang… now I want to go back again… 🙂

    BTW, if you prefer the base camp approach, consider the Panamint Springs Resort. “Resort” is kind of a loose term, but it’s a nice place. Camping spots, including full hookups for RVs, motel rooms, tent cabins, and a great restaurant with reasonable prices all things considered. No affiliation but I’ve been there each time and it’s always been great.

  2. Very well done! Never seen anyone on big bikes hit all these tough spots before. Don’t forget to purchase a permit for your vehicle ($30 for car; $35 for motorcycle). Lots of great history of the park one can research further such as the native peoples who’ve lived there for thousands of years, the Spanish and then the geological history and processes occurring. There’s a lot of cool stories to like the Ballarat Bandit and one of a native Shoshone boy killed by an early Saline Valley settler over water rights.

    • Probably not a good idea to go alone. Try posting a message on the Facebook SoCal Dual Sport group and you might be able to recruit some folks there. Good luck!

  3. The trip was EPIC and the scenery is to die for. These places are absolutely worth the effort to see.
    I did the trip alone but really wished I had someone along.
    Thanks Gear dude and ADV pulse for the article and GPX files.

    • I’m heading out solo next week. Of course, would rather ride with a partner. But work, family…

      Anything to watch out for in particular? Appreciate your recent beta.