From Death Valley to Las Vegas… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

A coyote ran along beside me for a short while as I rode out of Death Valley. Here's a shot of a Death Valley coyote saying , "Feed me!"

A coyote ran along beside me for a short while as I rode out of Death Valley. Here’s a shot of a Death Valley coyote saying , “Feed me!” (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I struggled with what to title this blog; Death Valley to Las Vegas seemed so ordinary.  I played with titles like ‘from wild to whacky’ and “from the sublime to the stupendous” but gave up. How do you compare Death Valley with Las Vegas? Is it even possible?

I wasn’t thinking about Las Vegas when I cycled out of Furnace Creek. There was another hill to climb. Not bad, just long— maybe 20 miles, and low gear the whole way. I cycled past Zabriskie Point and Twenty Mule Canyon, slowly. There was plenty of time to appreciate the scenery.

A view of Twenty Mule Canyon as seen from Highway 190.

A view of Twenty Mule Canyon as seen from Highway 190.

Another view of the Canyon.

Another view of the Canyon.

At one point, a curious coyote trotted along beside me in the bushes. A few minutes persuaded him I wasn’t going to slip him a snack. Coyotes are animals of opportunity when it comes to meals. The National Park has a strict rule on not feeding them. One time, Peggy and I were coming into Death Valley from Beatty, Nevada and a coyote was sitting beside the road just outside of the boundary, looking hungry. We laughed and stopped to snap its photo. Did the wily fellow (remember Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner) know that tourists were fair game before entering the park?

Eventually I crested the hill I had been climbing and cycled down to Death Valley Junction. Twenty or so people live in the area. The town population sign announces less. Beside it’s minimal population, the Junction’s claim to fame is an opera house. I didn’t hear any arias, not even ghostly ones, but I was able to refill my water bottles.  I made my own music by blowing into the bottles. Leaving town, out where no one but the jackrabbits could hear me, I belted out O sole meo.

From Death Valley Junction, it was a straight, very flat 20-mile ride into Amargosa Valley and Highway 95. Along the way, I passed into Nevada. My adventure had truly begun. No one was around to help me celebrate except a far-distant free range cow. Or maybe it was a burro. Whatever, I mooed at it.

Highway 373 leading into Amargosa Valley was straight and flat. See any cattle or burros?

Highway 373 leading into Amargosa Valley was straight and flat. See any cattle or burros?

Peggy and I found this large one along the highway as we retraced my bike route. It wasn't there when I biked through the area. I think I would have spotted it.

Peggy and I found this large cow along the highway as we retraced my bike route. It wasn’t there when I biked through the area. I think I would have spotted it.

Highway 95 is Nevada’s main (only) road connecting Reno, Carson City, and Las Vegas. I stopped at the junction and decided to call it a day. A small restaurant/casino promised food and entertainment. A rest stop provided bathroom facilities. A bar across the road pointed out I was in ET country. Area 51 was near by. What more could a lone cyclist ask for? I biked over to the restaurant, downed a chiliburger, and was entertained by a seasoned waitress. “Where you headed, Honey?” Afterwards, a friendly video poker machine paid for my dinner. As dusk approached, I found a hidden area behind the rest stop and took out my ground cloth, sleeping pad and sleeping bag. I went to sleep looking for flying saucers zipping across the sky.

ETs and Area 51 have become tourist attractions. This establishment is in Amigos Valley on Nevada Highway 95.

ETs and Area 51 have become tourist attractions in Southern Nevada. This establishment is in Amargosa Valley on Nevada Highway 95. The more you drink, the more aliens you see.

Area 51 in the Nevada Desert.

The actual Area 51 is a hundred or so miles across the desert. Peggy and I visited the area on one of our trips. I don’t think the government wants you on the site.

I was up early the next morning and on my way to the neon jungle— sin city. There really wasn’t much reason to hang out in the bushes behind the bathrooms, as I am sure you will agree. I did stop for a quick breakfast and chat with my favorite 70-plus waitress. “I see you are on your way dear. Can I ride along on the back?” “Only if you pedal, honey.” “Oh, I have something to peddle, alright. Is that what you have in mind?” I laughed and left a generous tip.

My video poker machine beckoned as I went out the door. It wanted its money back. “Not today,” I told it and patted it fondly.

Twenty-five miles or so down the road, I came on a bizarre sight for the middle of the desert: protesters. I thought maybe my lonely hours on the road were beginning to take their toll and I was seeing a mirage. But the protesters were real and they had a serious mission; they carried “Ban the Bomb” signs. Nevada’s nuclear test site was just off to the east and protests over America’s nuclear bomb testing program had been going on in the area for years. Seventy-five people had been arrested there the week before on Palm Sunday. Government records later revealed that over 37,000 people had participated in the test site protests with some 15,740 arrests made, including the likes of Carl Sagan, Kris Kristofferson, Martin Sheen, and Robert Blake.

As a child growing up in the 50s, I remember witnessing one of the first atom bomb tests in Nevada— from our home in the Sierra foothills! My brother, sister and I got up with our parents at some time in the wee hours in the morning and held a countdown. The whole southeastern sky lit up. Guests staying at hotels in Las Vegas actually got to see the tale-tale mushroom clouds from this and later tests. Strange entertainment indeed. I am sure the casinos protested; it took time away from gambling.

Peggy and I revisited the site a year ago. We took the exit off the road toward Mercury. Nothing was marked on the exit sign except “No Services.” A couple of hundred yards in, not visible from the freeway, a large sign demanded that we stop. Military property existed on the other side and all sorts of bad things would happen to us if we trespassed. No photographs were allowed. Suddenly a black SUV was parked next to us. We had no idea where it came from. A man in dark glasses and a suit, looking suspiciously like a character out of Men in Black, was demanding to know what we were doing and insisting that we turn around and get out of there. “We’re on our way,” I announced. As he drove off, I got out and took a photo of the sign, an admittedly small contribution to the protests of yore.

The sign at the Nevada Nuclear Bomb Test Sight.

The sign at the Nevada Nuclear Bomb Test Sight.

I didn’t make it to Las Vegas that night on my bike trip. It was well over 100 miles. My conditioning was coming along fine, but not that fine. The next day I cycled in, dodged insane traffic, found a KOA that wasn’t afraid of someone carrying a tent, and settled in for a layover day. My bike wanted a tune up and I wanted a day on the Strip.

While Las Vegas has changed extensively over they years, it has retained its purpose of separating you from your money. Early casinos, like the nugget, suggested you would be taking gold home.

While Las Vegas has changed extensively over they years, it has retained its purpose of separating you from your money. Early casinos, like the Nugget, suggested you would be taking gold home.

Another example. What's more symbolic of obtaining untold, unearned wealth than the Golden Goose.

Another example. What’s more symbolic of obtaining untold, unearned wealth than the Golden Goose?

Today's emphasis is more on Las Vegas being a resort destination, somewhere you might take the family. Like to Paris for example...

Today’s emphasis is more on Las Vegas being a resort destination, somewhere you might take the family. The strip now features such places as Paris…

Or Venice...

Venice…

And fantasy land.

And fantasy land.

Show girls have always been popular. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Show girls have always been popular. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The city has always had a whacky side...

The city has always had a whacky side…

As demonstrated by this and the last photo.

As demonstrated by this and the last photo.

Note: All of the above photos were all taken during our present trip or on previous trips through the region. You may recognize some photos from earlier blogs I have posted.

NEXT BLOG: Join me as I make my way into Arizona and onto Historic Route 66.

19 comments on “From Death Valley to Las Vegas… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

    • Sorry, should have spelled out KOA, Yvonne. As for Las Vegas, it is a fantasy world. If you want it, and can afford it, you can probably find it. The Venice is amusing, but it isn’t Venice. (grin) –Curt

  1. Another entertaining post Curt. I like the sound of Twenty Mule Canyon! I am always intrigued by stories of the Nevada Test Site. I went to Las Vegas in 1995, I didn’t like it and I got food poisoning from a hotel buffet meal!

    • Las Vegas is a world unto itself, Andrew. There are a couple of interesting museums there, one on the rise of the mafia in America. We can thank prohibition. It is kind of like the drug cartels of today. Glad you are enjoying my adventures. –Curt

  2. Curt I am smiling at the photo of you and the show girls. Oh Vegas is quite the town. Good for a few days of fun. I have climbed at nearby Red Rocks canyon which is gorgeous.

    • I try to work in Red Rocks Canyon every time I am in the neighborhood, Sue. It is such a treasure and so close to the City. If you haven’t been to the Valley of Fire state park east of Vegas it is also a treasure… which includes some great petroglyphs. It’s a bit farther away but definitely worth the effort. –Curt

  3. Well that was fun. I want to g to Vegas just to see the absurd surreal wonderful tackiness of it all. And the urinal picture brought a chuckle. And you mooing at a cow 🙂 Were you getting lonely? I somehow doubt it.
    Alison

    • Thanks, Alison. I have to confess, I mooed at cows all the way across the US and Canada. 🙂 “Surreal, wonderful tackiness:” What a great description of Las Vegas. –Curt

    • Never been worried by a coyote. Actually they can be quite personable. One time I was paling hide and seek with one. He’d pop up and then I would pop up. Then we would each disappear. After about 15 minutes of that the coyote sat down in the trail and started howling. So did I. 🙂 We had quite the conversation. I’ve certainly seen and been in my share of protests. But thankfully most of them have been peaceful. –Curt

  4. Curt, this is a wonderfully surreal post! The first photos resembling an alien landscape, then the giant cow, a ‘town’ of 20, area 51 – Oh, I’m jealous!. I can’t believe that watching a nuclear bomb test was ‘entertainment’ – still getting my head round that one. Then before the glitter of Las Vegas being seen off the secure site. Blimey – there’s a book in this post alone. I loved reading this!

    • Thanks, Annika. It is a fascinating area. I have another one coming up soon that includes Smokey Bear, Billy the Kid, and Roswell, and the site of the first atomic bomb test… all of which was included in one day of bike riding. As for atom bombs as entertainment, you are absolutely right. I don’t think surreal can begin to cover it. –Curt

  5. Well, I have a post title for you. How about, “From Death Valley to Death By Excess”?
    I know all the arguments for Vegas — good shows, once-in-a-lifetime experience, idiosyncracy on steriods — but I just can’t make myself want to go there. I’m glad to look at your photos, and i’m happy to see you grinning between those babes, but… well… Haven’t been there, don’t want to do that! Now, onward!

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