To travel from San Francisco to Denver you have to cross several major ranges, endure blistering heat and frosty cold, and carve a path for yourselfup some steep and twisty inclines. There’s plenty of excitement to be had.
The great traveler Marco Polo would be jealous. It took him three years from Italy to reach China. In San Francisco we need only a couple minutes to cross from the Italian quarter of North Beach into Chinatown. The cosmopolitan city impresses with many different cultures in a small environment. But the steep hills and streets are not the only promise of joy. In the next two weeks, the horizon will widen. Atop my 2012 Harley-Davidson Road King I head out with my friends for one of the most interesting journeys: San Francisco to Denver.
The excitement starts right away but is rather undesired. Fires are threatening eastern California, and our intended way through Yosemite is closed. The options are scarce. The next Sierra Nevada crossing to the south is 250 miles away. Our only hope is Sonora Pass toward the north. We get lucky. Even if we can see and smell the smoke, the pass remains open. Sonora turns out to be a spectacular ride, especially the last ascent, a tight part that climbs to the 9,624-foot summit. On the other side, the view from Highway 395 onto Mono Lake is worth every mile of detour.
The Sierra Nevada is the first range we conquer. The second awaits at dawn. We sleep in the cozy town of Lone Pine, CA, the last before the deserts of Death Valley. It is a long ride up to Darwin Plateau, but we’re rewarded by the most beautiful sunrise between the Joshua trees. The altitude gained is eaten up in a dramatic way as we plunge down through colorful black, brown, and yellow rocks into Panamint Valley. This scarce basin of the earth is already down at sea level and belongs to Death Valley National Park. Ironically, we have to climb 4,958-foot-high Towne Pass to get to nearby Badwater, the lowest point in North America.