Las Vegas to San Francisco

Text: Uwe Krauss • Photography: Uwe Krauss

Everybody warned me not to go through Death Valley in summer, but nobody said a word about Las Vegas! So I find myself in the stop-and-go traffic on I-15, as I try to get out of the city. The thermometer on the bike shows exactly 105 degrees. Underneath my riding suit and helmet, it feels much hotter than that. Of course I'll go through Death Valley, the lowest and supposedly hottest point of the United States. It can't be worse than Las Vegas, and there's probably no stop-and-go in the valley. Death Valley is only a short leg on my way to San Francisco, a route some prospectors took 160 years ago. They were listening to the call of the Gold Rush in California.

Of course I’ll go through Death Valley, the lowest and supposedly hottest point of the United States. It can’t be worse than Las Vegas, and there’s probably no stop-and-go in the valley. Death Valley is only a short leg on my way to San Francisco, a route some prospectors took 160 years ago. They were listening to the call of the Gold Rush in California.

I’m listening to the hard working fan of my KTM as I finally turn onto Highway 160, which brings me out of the city and over the 5,502-feet high Mountain Springs Summit. From here a four-lane highway leads through the desert to a strange town, called Pahrump. With it’s flashy casinos, it appears like a small-town copy of Las Vegas. I fill up all my petrol, food, and water resources before I finally swap civilization for solitude.

In the middle of the desert, a couple of houses in disrepair gather around a theatre. This is one of those places you only find out west where the effort of a pioneer formed something special. The city-limits sign of Death Valley Junction reports a population of 4. One of them is Marta Becket, a former Broadway dancer. On a vacation in 1967 she found this deserted colonial-style adobe building, which once was used by a mining company. By then it had been a store, a hotel, a dorm and the company’s headquarters. One part of the building was formerly used as a community center for dances, church services, movies, funerals and town meetings. In 1967 it became Marta Becket’s realization of a dream. She rented the place, renovated it, and on February, 10, 1968, she gave her first performance in front of an audience of 12 people. From then on the theatre opened three times a week for many years – as it still does, in the cooler months.

It feels a bit risky leaving this outpost and taking the road towards the treacherous valley. In 1849, the California Gold Rush lured a party of wagons seeking a shortcut. They didn’t know what lay in front of them. Only one wagon made it out. When one of the survivors turned around and said “Goodbye Death Valley,” the name stuck.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2011 back issue.