Billy Lyle

5 Star Route / Published December 2021

This is a 5 Star Route, meaning that it is a highly curated, premier riding route.

“He says his name is William
           But I’m sure he’s Bill or Billy or Mac or Buddy…..
           I just want to have some fun and I got the feeling I’m not the only one.”
           ~ Sheryl Crow 

This route is a blast! It takes you through the Joshua Tree Forest in an intimate visit with those crazy looking Joshua trees. Then up through a batch of juniper trees and to an impressive overlook of the Panamint Valley. And then through rocks mixed with scrub pine, continuing on through a forest that if you hit it right will have enough fall foliage to impress the average leaf peeper. And finally up to Hunter Cabin that is on the side of Hunter Mountain, built by William Lyle Hunter in the 1860s as a place to make gobs of money from raising mules to sell to the nearby mining operations. 

All in all, it’s a quality ride, with the ruggedness and adventure you can expect from a place named Death Valley. And stop at the Hunter Cabin and pay your respects to Billy Lyle. Or maybe he goes by Bill or Mac or Buddy.  Either way, we’re sure you are gonna have fun.

Adventure / Gravel Route

Out & Back: 27 miles / 3300 ft gain
Technical Difficulty / Risk: Moderate
– Surface: 100% gravel
Tire Size (recommended minimum): 45mm
eBike Friendly: Yes
– Location: Death Valley National Park, CA

Legend

Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road

For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.

When we like to ride this …

October to April, when the temperatures are reasonable. Note, the route starts at 5300 feet and climbs to 7200 feet. Be aware that temps could be 15 to 35 degrees cooler than Furnace Creek. Temperatures drop 3 to 5°F (2 to 3°C) with every thousand vertical feet gained(approx. 300m).

The Start

Dirt pull-out at the intersection of Saline Valley Road and White Mountain Tack Road. Approximately a 12-mile drive north from Highway 190 on a dirt / broken pavement road.
Lat / Long: 36.464798, -117.626723


Terrain and Riding. What to expect …

Hilly and undulating riding through 3 distinct zones ecological zones. The first is the Joshua Tree forest, then a transition zone with scrub pines and Juniper, and then a higher elevation alpine zone in the Cottonwood Mountains with bigger trees, rocky boulders, and a more green landscape.

The riding is mostly open and exposed, through foothills and mountainous terrain, with some fabulous distant views of mountain ranges and the Panamint Valley. The grades are mostly moderate at 4 to 6%, but there are several shorter steeper pitches at 10 to 15%.

The roads are a mix of wide gravel roads (in the start) and single-lane dirt roads (the majority of the ride) that challenge you with embedded rock, baby heads, and some wash sand, more like a cheap box wine than champagne gravel. The rough feel is not that noticeable on the climb out, but it is more evident on the return. And … don’t expect the return to be all downhill, it is not!

Highlights & Anchor Points

Lee Flat Joshua Tree Forest / Start to Mile 4

The finest stands of tree-sized yuccas in the park grow in this mountain-rimmed valley. The Joshua tree is a species of the yucca, one representative of the lilly family, which includes onions, asparagus, tulips, and the common lilly.

Mormon pioneers, seeing the outstretched limbs of these bizarre plants, thought of the prophet Joshua pointing the way to the Promised Land. [National Park kiosk]

Joshua Tree Forest near start
Panamint Valley Viewpoint / ~ Mile 7.7

The Panamint Valley is a north-south, 65 mile-long and 10 mile-wide, basin formed between the Argus and Slate ranges along the west, and the Panamint Range on the eastern side.

“The Valley is part of the traditional homelands of the Newe (Western Shoshone) and Northern Paiute Tribes.  Local tribes, such as the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe of Death Valley, continue to value the area and engage in traditional uses there. 

The Valley is home to many species, including the iconic desert bighorn sheep, western snowy plover (a California Department of Fish and Wildlife Species of Special Concern) and rare plants such as the polished blazing star and Death Valley sandpaper-plant. The area contains unique desert wetland communities including mesquite bosques and freshwater and saltwater marshes.  Endemic fairy shrimp occur in Panamint Lake, which is the remains of a Pleistocene lake that was originally 700 feet deep.  The Lake encompasses two major springs, Warm Sulphur Springs and Post Office Springs.” [California Wilderness Coalition]

From Panamint Viewpoint
Hunter’s Cabin / ~ Mile 13.5

“The ranch area as far as can be ascertained was primarily used for grazing of the mules and horses that Hunter used in his pack trains or supplied to the army. [10] It is doubtful that it was ever occupied for any extended period of time, but was instead used mostly as a line camp.” For more on Willaim Lyle Hunter, give a read to this Historical Resource Study.

Hunter’s Cabin
Picnic Rock / Mile 17

This is a cool stopping point on the return, looking towards the Palisades in the Northwest. “The peaks in the group are particularly steep, rugged peaks and contain the finest alpine climbing in California.”[Wikipedia]

Picnic Rock Viewpoint

Technical Difficulty[what this means]

Riding Difficulty: Moderate
Overall, the riding is manageable and enjoyable on a wider tire. Expect some chunky road with loose and embedded, some rutted sections with deep tire tracks at the higher elevations, a bit of washboard, and one steep pitch in excess of 10%. This pitch is not long, maybe a couple of hundred yards.

Navigation Challenge: Low
Two turns, both unsigned, but evident.

Locale Risk: Moderate
National Park backcountry roads. We saw several jeeps/trucks on a November weekend.

Food & Water

None

Other Notes

  • Death Valley is classic Southwest desert riding with more of a jeep road feel than a classic gravel road; it can vary from hard-pack with embedded rock to loose and course to soft wash sand and washboard. The surfaces are ever changing based on based on maintenance, rains, and time of year. Thus, error on the side of too much tire, rather than not enough. We Recommend 50 mm (2.1”) tires or larger and an adventure gravel bike versus a more traditional all road gravel bike.
  • We rode this on a Salsa Cutthroat adventure bike with Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge 2.2″ tires with CushCore inserts.
  • After mile 17 we dropped air pressure by 3 to 5 psi for comfort.

Ride Option

Start at the intersection of Highway 190 and Saline Valley Road and ride in.
Lat / Long: 36.364246, -117.626135

Legend

Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road

Ridden and Reviewed by …

Gravel Girl / Team Dirty Freehub

She loves a good day of gravel, like most people like a good book. She’s always amused by the outdoors and the wild adventures. Gravel Girl is a Co-Founder of Dirty Freehub.

Captain O / Team Dirty Freehub

He should have “Never Stop Exploring” tattooed on his chest! He loves adventures on bikes and is a Co-Founder of Dirty Freehub.

Comments

Revision History

Take Action!

“The Joshua tree, has and will continue to feel the stress of hotter temperatures and drought conditions. By 2099 under the highest emissions scenario forecasted, the average annual temperature inside the park could increase by 8℉ (5℃). Research suggests that under these conditions, it could eliminate nearly all suitable habitats for Joshua trees in the park and reduce habitat in the Southwest by 90 percent. Even with lower emission scenarios, nearly 80 percent of suitable habitat in Joshua Tree could be lost.

Joshua Tree

The good news is there is still time to make a difference. We can prevent the most catastrophic consequences if we choose to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It will require bold changes to how humans live on planet earth. This can be accomplished in many ways:

  • Convert to renewable energy sources (wind and solar) to power our homes and industries
  • Use more fuel-efficient transportation and electric vehicles
  • Utilize more energy-efficient appliances and heating/cooling systems
  • Reduce consumption, reuse goods, and recycle
  • Buy locally sourced food, reduce meat consumption, and cut down on food waste
  • Unite the global community in the effort to combat climate change

Will you help be part of the change?”[National Park Service]


The Ride!


Podcasts

Coming soon …

  • Joshua Trees
  • Hunter’s Cabin

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