Whale Hunting in The Desert & The 1000 Mile Cheeseburger

Whale Hunting in The Desert & The 1000 Mile Cheeseburger

"There’s whales in this here desert!” I proclaimed to Caleb as we swung our legs over our matching pair of Honda Gold Wings. “There’s whales, you just have to know where to look!” And that’s exactly what we intended to do.

9:07 a.m., Las Vegas, NV—Mile 0

The beginning of any Iron Butt ride is a unique blend of excitement, determination, and a touch of anticipation. What would happen in the next 1,000 miles? Would we succeed, or would we fail? Our first mile is a declaration—a commitment to a feat that demands physical and mental resilience. Were we tough enough to see the challenge through? We were about to find out.

So, we set off into the desert in search of whales. What better place to find them than one of the hottest and driest places on Earth?

Desert Lakes

As the miles through Death Valley unfurled beneath our wheels, we noticed how desolate and dry the terrain had become. This region of the Mojave Desert encompasses salt flats, colorful canyons, and towering sand dunes, creating a kaleidoscope of geological wonders.

Turning onto Badwater Rd, we inched closer to one of the most iconic locations within Death Valley National Park. Badwater Basin sits 282 feet below sea level and is the lowest point in North America. Surrounded by the Panamint Range, this vast, arid landscape sees record high temperatures during the summer—135 degrees being the highest recorded. Luckily, we were traveling in November, so it was nowhere near its usual 100-120 degrees.

The last playa lake in Death Valley formed in 2005 and this one is not expected to last more than two months. The salt bed in Badwater Basin covers nearly 200 square miles.

12:18 p.m., Death Valley, CA—Mile 148

As we rode through the valley of dust and saltbrush, we noticed a shimmer of light in the distance. “Standard desert mirages,” I transmitted to Caleb through the comms, dismissing the idea that it might actually be water reflecting through the heatwaves in the distance.

But it was—sitting in the middle of the salt-crusted Badwater Basin was a mirror-smooth lake stretching two miles wide and four miles long. This hasn’t happened in the area since 2005, and this playa lake was only expected to stick around for another couple of weeks before it evaporated into thin air.

“I know we haven’t been on the road long, but this requires a stop,” I relayed as we pulled up to the “road closed” sign. Many of the roads through the valley were still under repair after remnants of Hurricane Hilary caused damaging flash floods some three months prior. The storm dumped more than two inches of water in less than 24 hours and was the reason the lake formed in the first place. The closed roads were only a minor inconvenience, considering what we were able to witness.

Motorcycles & Gear

2023 Honda Gold Wing

Helmet: HJC RPHA 11 Pro
Jacket: Klim Sixxer, Klim Drifter
Pants: Klim Betty Tapered Denim, Klim K Forty 2 Denim
Boots: Klim Blak Jak, Danner
Gloves: Klim Marrakesh
Comm System: Cardo Packtalk Edge
Camera: Nikon Z6 II, 24-70mm F4

The lake was still. Not a single ripple danced on top of the water. Reflections of the surrounding mountains doubled the grandeur of the landscape, as if the ridgelines had found a twin in the liquid below. It felt overwhelmingly peaceful and, for just a moment, time stood still, too. We didn’t see a single whale.

Walking out to the edge of the water took longer than we had to spare, but getting a photo of the lake seemed prudent. The short trek cost us roughly 45 minutes and required about a mile of walking over the crunchy salt deposits. At least we got to stretch our legs, which would be tucked under us on our motorcycles for the next 850 miles.

Acrobatic Arachnids

Although Death Valley is known for its unforgiving conditions, it is not completely devoid of life. Various plants, animals, and microorganisms have adapted to the harsh desert environment. That said, the valley’s fauna are few and far between, but there are lizards, snakes, foxes, and birds like the roadrunner. Seeing any of these creatures while traveling at highway speeds is fairly rare, but even rarer is spotting the western desert tarantula as it crosses the highway. That’s why I didn’t see what I almost smushed into the asphalt.