Monday, June 11, 2018

~ In Pursuit of Wildness: Death Valley National Park ~

The article "In Pursuit of Wildness: Death Valley National Park" by Robert Griego was originally published on the "RoadRUNNER Touring & Travel" magazine website on 05/28/2018.

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt." 


Death Valley National Park is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in America.

It’s a summer day and I’m filling up my motorcycle gas tank in Baker, CA, when I asked the gas station attendant how hot it is. I’m a bit surprised when he points upwards and says, “The thermometer reads 112 degrees. It’s 134 feet high, the tallest thermometer in the world.” After a dramatic pause, he added, “Death Valley National Park is just that way, and it’s likely to be hotter there, but so worthwhile.”
With a full tank, I bade him farewell and decided to ride into Death Valley National Park on my way back to Three Rivers, CA. I’d never been there before, and Highway 127 led me to Renoville, Shoshone, Badwater, and Furnace Creek. The attendant was right, it was hotter. I crossed the entire park that day but promised myself to return in the spring for a more immersive trip, in order to really appreciate this immense wild landscape.

Spring and that time have come. I am traveling on Highway 395, or the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway, to Lone Pine where I’ll camp on my way back to Death Valley National Park. The heavy winter rains have produced an abundance of wildflowers.
At the Lone Pine Campground, I claim campsite #23, which faces the 7,700-foot Nelson Range in Death Valley National Park. The night is quiet, the skies are bright. My fire burns clearly into the night and the stars seem to rest on top of Mount Whitney. A shooting star crosses the entire sky. I wait for another one.
It’s cool at 6 a.m., with little traffic, and I pass dots on the map called Alico, Swansea, and Keeler on the ride toward Panamint Springs. There are just a few gas stations in the park and it’s a good idea to top off your tank. If you have a motorcycle built for dirt, head up toward Wild Rose Campground, about 16 miles from the paved road. It sits at an elevation of 4,100 feet, and there are 23 isolated camp sites (free) with incredible views.
Tonight I’ll camp at sea level at the Texas Spring Campground, near Furnace Creek. All amenities are here, and a campsite is almost guaranteed when arriving before 2 p.m. As I look around, there are other bikers setting up their camps. Be sure to go up to Dante’s View, which sits at 5,478 feet. Up there, you are almost directly above Bad Water, which is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level.
The wildflowers, after years of drought, are showing their love for the recent rains, and the display is amazing. Death Valley is best seen in the winter months or early spring. Any other time, it will be hot, very hot. I’ve done both, and I much prefer the spring. I always carry two liters of water, two Gatorades, and some food just in case. This is a wild area and you must be prepared. I always carry a lightweight tarp for use as a lean-to shade cover from my bike.
I am surprised by how many motorcycle riders I see. A group from Australia, riding Indian motorcycles they rented in Los Angeles, tell me they’re “heading across Death Valley to Las Vegas for a bit of fun. We just had to see this amazing park for ourselves.”
It is spring in Death Valley National Park, and yesterday it was a cool 70 degrees. Today, the temperature has shot up to 95 degrees in no time. That gas station attendant in Baker was right, it’s normally hotter in Death Valley—but so worthwhile.
Planning a Visit
Death Valley National Park is a land of extremes. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms induce vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and offer refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Vally. This is an enormous national park encompassing over three million acres of designated wilderness and hundreds of miles of backcountry roads. And that spells adventure on a motorcycle.
It is very rare for all campgrounds to fill up in Death Valley: Furnace Creek $20 (136 sites), Sunset $14 (270 sites), Texas Springs $16 (92 sites), Stovepipe Wells $14 (190 sites), and Wildrose is free (23 sites).
GPS devices sometimes give inaccurate directions in this area, so keep a park map handy and pay attention to signs. Some roads are inaccessible in winter. Always carry water.
Sightseeing, hiking, ranger-led activities, visitor centers and museums, backcountry roads, biking, stargazing, picnicking, camping, birding, and wildflower viewing. Scotty’s Castle is closed until 2019 due to flood damage. Visit the nearby Manzanar National Historic Site.
Death Valley National Park is open year-round and may be visited day or night. Autumn arrives in late October, with warm but pleasant temperatures and clear skies. Winter has cool days, chilly nights. Springtime is the most popular, with warm, sunny days and the possibility of grand displays of wildflowers. Summer begins early and by May the valley is too hot for most visitors.
Twenty dollars per motorcycle: $12 individual/$25 vehicle. All passes are valid for up to seven days. Annual park pass $50.

For more information, or to purchase a pass, visit

Text and Photography: Robert Griego

Friday, June 1, 2018

~ The Badlands of Texas ~

"I'd rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than any city on earth" - Steve McQueen

"Honestly man, you're riding an Indian where?"

This eleven day trip and 3,434 miles is to a place called 'nowhere,' somewhere near the badlands of Texas.

An adventure for sure.

Thank you RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring and Travel for sponsoring this ride along some lonely roads from California, into Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.  And a big thank you to Indian Motorcycle for use of their 2018 Indian Chieftain Limited motorcycle on this epic adventure into the wild west.

I picked up the motorcycle at Herwaldt Motorsports in Fresno, California; a top-notch dealer for BMW, Ducati, Triumph, and Indian Motorcycle.  A family-owned business that speaks "friendly."

And to my readers, thanks for following me and putting me into the Top 100 Motorcycle Blogs on the planet.  I was the last one chosen, but then again, I have only one way to go, and that's up!

The scenery along Route 66 from California into Arizona and New Mexico stopped me every few miles to capture this iconic highway across America.

My ultimate goal is Big Bend National Park in west Texas.

My full story will appear later in my series, In Pursuit of Wildness at RoadRUNNER Magazine but I wanted to share a few pictures with new friends that I met along the trail.  After all, it is the personal encounters that for me make the journey meaningful.  The article will be out in the months ahead, so in the meantime grab the current issue RoadRUNNER Magazine, their 100th Anniversary edition, online or at the newsstands and read about some amazing rides by some very talented writers/riders.

The 2018 Indian Chieftain Limited has the new Thunder Stroke 111 engine.  It was absolutely a joy to ride and performed admirably on this long distance ride out to west Texas.  I'm spoiled.

Smooth, powerful, graceful - this machine turned eyes at every stop.

There are many ways to cross into Texas but my path is along the backroads.  I'll camp whenever I can and sleep under those wide open Texas stars near and at Big Bend National Park.  The night sky is brilliant.  My finger crosses the entire universe in one easy motion.  The stark night darkness is something I've not experienced since wide open places in Montana.  It is dark. Quiet. Peaceful. Wild. I feel alive. An honor to be here.

Matt, of Herwaldt Motorsports, hands me the key to this 2018 Indian Chieftain Limited and gives me a cool t-shirt and hat

Thumbs up.  This Indian with the Thunder Stroke 111 engine is awesome

Pure Indian to the last detail - love it!

Chris, of Herwaldt Motorsports, fits me with this awesome Indian helmet.  Steve appears a bit jealous that he's not going.

Denise drove me to Herwaldt Motorsports in Fresno to pick up this 2018 Indian Chieftain Limited

Along Route 66 in Barstow, California.  I love this Muriel.

Robert and Myles Griego at the Route 66 Barstow Mother Road Museum.  Myles is an adventure biker.

My first day was a long one, 585 miles.  This Indian is photogenic and an awesome ride.  
I sensed it too loved the adventure.

Met this biker who had 722,000 on his machine in Seligman, Arizona.

Scott Master owns Scott's Fly Shoppe in Spanish Fork, Utah.  Scott was on a 1,900 bike ride 
where we both needed gas in Springerville, Arizona.  Nice Triumph Scott!

My new friend Scott, and Robert.  I don't know who the guy is in the background, but he's now famous.

A personal invite to fly fish with Scott in Spanish Fork, Utah.

The photo below requires a few words about this special lady that I met at Sofia's Kitchen in Socorro, New Mexico.  It seems that she married a man who was working on the Panama Canal years ago.  Her husband had a ranch near Silver City, New Mexico and rode an Indian motorcycle in the 1930's.

She was friendly and told me that she was 103 years old, adding "I'll be 104 in two months."  I gave her my business card which she read carefully.  Impressive lady.  In Spanish, she says, "I see you are a Griego.  There are many Griegos' here in Socorro."  I nod.  She then wishes me well on my journey "Que se vaya bien."

The icing on the cake was when she said simply, "I like your Indian."  And words from a lady who is 103 years old!  I leave Socorro for the badlands of Texas with a smile on my face.

Calty Roos and her son Omar

My good friend Fred Dokie of 50 years puts me up for the night in El Paso, Texas.  
I think it's fair to say that he's an avid hunter, fisherman, and Raider's fan.

Jamie who rides a Harley Davison welcomes me at Chios Basin Campground in Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Shirley Joiner who I met at Panther Junction in Big Bend National Park provided me with the picture of her dad below,
Charles Louis Kirby

Charles Louis Kirby (1914-2005)

With the help of RoadRUNNER Magazine, they determined that he rode an Indian Scout, mid to late 1920's.  
Shirley later says "Thanks RoadRUNNER!"

These awesome guys at Indian Motorcycle of El Paso, Texas changed my oil and gave me one gallon of free gas 
adding: "Man, you arrived on fumes."  Thanks, Indian guys for watching my six.

New friends Sarah and Doug Greer in Lordsburg, New Mexico.  They are riding their bikes from Glasgow, Kentucky to California visiting National Parks along the way. 

Doug rides a Honda CB 500X and Sarah rides a Ducati Scrambler; real adventures in my book.

Doug and Robert in front of his bike.  Sarah has her own bike

Doug, Sarah, and Robert.  Bikers ready to hit the road west.

Retired "sign man" in Ash Fork, Arizona who spotted my Indian from above and came down for a closer look.

Highwire worker who sees everything below

My new friend Danny Kamphaus and Robert at Davis Mountain State Park campground in Texas.  
Danny is traveling from Kansas City out to California and many more miles in between.  Likely well over 5,000 miles.

Me, my Indian, and Williams, Arizona the "Gateway to the Grand Canyon."

Sarah, Denise, and Doug in Three Rivers, California.  They went to Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks on their journey from Kentucky.  And now, they are heading into Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  

They will go home with well over 6,200 miles.  Impressive!

Danny Kamphaus, from Kansas City, joins me for lunch in Three Rivers, California.  
He travels light and extensively on his Harley Davidson.

I loved this adventure out to a place called 'Nowhere.'  Steve McQueen would be proud.  

There will be more to come from this story for RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel magazine.  

Big Bend National Park in west Texas is wild, scenic, and a destination worth pursuing.  

This trip into Texas on this Indian motorcycle was an awesome adventure.  When I returned home, I was asked: "What was your favorite moment on that trip?"

Thinking.  I responded.

"It was taking this picture above without another person in sight for miles and feeling like I found that place called "nowhere."

~ In Pursuit of Wildness: The Carrizo Plain National Monument ~

The article "In Pursuit of Wildness: The Carrizo Plain National Monument" by Robert Griego was originally published on the "RoadRUNNER Touring & Travel" magazine website on 04/09/2018.

A sleeping giant lies on the valley floor between the Temblor Range and the Caliente Range. That is where this story begins. In 1857, the strongest earthquake in California’s recorded history ripped through the San Andreas Fault, wrenching the western side of the Carrizo Plain National Monument 31 feet northward. But today the giant quietly sleeps.
Carrizo Plain National Monument is readily accessed from the north on Highway 58, from the south on Highway 166 or, for the more adventurous, via the route from the east on Highway 33, up to the Temblor Range where “dispersed camping” is permitted. A campfire permit, which is required and free, can be obtained from the US Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL Fire), or at
Once I leave Highway 33 near Taft, I’m confronted by three forks along a dirt road—one pointing south, one west, and one north. The route south looks good, but after five miles, I hit a dead end. A huge mountain covered in wildflowers stands before me. When lost, I try to stay calm and focused, and today the wildflowers along this canyon are my reward as I begin to capture the colors. Then, around the next bend, I am rewarded again by the appearance of an oblivious badger hunting for a meal. Back at the junction, I feel certain the road pointing west and up a steep hill has to be the right one. The wildflowers stop me every few hundred yards, and the sweeping views from the top of the Temblor Range have me looking down onto the valley floor. From this vantage, I can see the Sierra Range, which is in my backyard at Three Rivers. Tule elk and pronghorn antelope share the open plain below.
The summit of Caliente Mountain, the highest peak in San Luis Obispo County, is 5,106 feet, and the Temblors reach 4,332 feet at McKittrick Summit. There are two established campgrounds on the valley floor: Selby Campground and KCL Campground. I like them both. KCL Campground is quiet and peaceful, and a great spot for day hikes.
The Temblor Range is rough and a few four-wheel drive trucks pass me as I move slowly on the dirt roads. It’s quiet here and flowers sway gently in the breeze. It’s an uplifting sight that makes me glad I took this route. Nothing beats reconnecting with nature. My camp tonight is simple and my fire is my companion. The night sky is absolutely brilliant and perfect. The sound of an owl lingers well into the night. Quiet, peaceful, and a satisfying end to my first day at Carrizo Plain National Monument.
My pocket rocket stove quickly heats water for my morning coffee and oatmeal mixed with raisins. Grabbing a granola bar from my food stash, I’m ready to continue exploring. On the warm valley floor the giant sleeps under a blanket of wildflower blooms. The colors are breathtaking, and Soda Lake serves up amazing pictures with the Temblor Range in the background. The largest natural alkali lake in California, it attracts migrating sandhill cranes, especially so during wet winters. Leaving my motorcycle behind, I climb awhile amid the wildflowers. Baby blue eyes cover the hillside, and from the higher vantage point, I can see to Painted Rock, standing 55 feet above the Carrizo Plain. A sacred landmark to the Chumash, Yokuts, and other native peoples who lived, hunted, and traded in this area, Painted Rock is recognized as one of the most important rock painting (pictograph) sites in the United States.
My motorcycle is parked on a bluff and I begin walking across the prairie, imagining this landscape in ancient times and the native tribes moving across it in harmony with nature. There is no one else around and the quiet consumes me. The screech of a red-tailed hawk brings me back to reality. The Caliente Range is where I’m now heading, but I stop almost as soon as I begin. Two San Joaquin kit fox (among the most endangered animals in California) appear to be playing tag on the hillside. Darting this way and that, one speeds up, touches the other, and scampers away. Wildlife having fun.
The dirt road up the Caliente Range is fairly good, and looking back on Soda Lake’s surroundings, I am captivated once more by the massive display of wildflowers. The first spot that I come to along the dirt road looks perfect for my dispersed campsite. There’s one car there but the driver tells me she’s leaving in a few minutes and that the night views are “amazing!” She also says there is cell phone reception. It’s settled then. This is home for the night.

Planning a Visit
The largest remaining tract of the San Joaquin Valley biogeographic province with limited evidence of human alteration, The Carrizo Plain National Monument is bordered by the Temblor Range to the northeast and the Caliente Range to the southwest. Covering almost 250,000 acres, it is managed jointly by the Bureau of Land Management, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Nature Conservancy.
To Do
The Carrizo Plain National Monument is open year-round, and it can be one of California’s most beautiful wildflower viewing areas in the spring. Cool weather makes April a prime time to explore and see the flowers. Activities include birding, hiking and bicycling, horseback riding, guided tours of Painted Rock, camping, stargazing, picnicking, and exploring the Goodwin Education Center. Incredible views appear at every turn here, so bring your camera, binoculars, extra water, campfire permit, your imagination, and time.
Painted Rock is closed to public access from March 1 through July 15 to protect biological and cultural resources. Guided tours are offered March through May and self-guided tours extend from July 16 through the end of February (all tours by permit only).
Goodwin Education Center (Visitor Center) opens December through May, Thursday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 
4 p.m. Closed on holidays.
The Carrizo Plain is a fee-free area, including KCL and Selby Campgrounds.
Visit for more information.