Saturday, April 19, 2014

Keeler - Cerro Gordo - Swansea Mountain Bike

Thursday I joined a new riding partner, Adrian, for a spectacular ride in the Inyo Mountains. We parked in Swansea, which was a town built around 1870, but is now just a residence and a few old shacks & foundations.

We rode down Highway 136 for about twenty minutes to Keeler and the beginning of the climb to Cerro Gordo. The road is graded by the county, although there's quite a bit of washboard which is usually avoidable, but not always.

About half way up we came upon this tram tower/hopper. Silver ore was mined at the top of the mountain and transported to Keeler for smelting via this tram beginning around 1906. 

Here the road leaves a wash and switchbacks up an open slope for our first big views of the Sierra.

Shortly thereafter we were greeted by this grumpy local.

And after about two hours of climbing we arrived in Cerro Gordo (more fascinating info here).

Where we were greeted by the friendly caretaker who gave us a quick tour of the museum and the hotel.

The bar/dining area inside the hotel.

The fine cook stove circa 1870.

And the beautiful "National" wood stove.

Cerro Gordo is well worth a visit. We wished we could have stayed longer to soak up the ambiance and history, but the road was calling. The caretaker kindly provided water to top us off and away we went.

Now we were on the 4x4 road to Swansea which is quite rough and/or steep in spots. It generally follows the crest of the Inyo Range, but just outside Cerro Gordo the ridge is quite rugged, so the road dives into a deep basin,  and then promptly climbs out.

Several sections were so steep we had to push.

Here's the view back down into the basin (right).

Arriving back onto the crest felt great.

Where we were rewarded with our first big views of Saline Valley roughly 8,000' below.

Riding along the ridge was an incredible experience.

A couple of happy riders!

The Owens Valley and the Sierra to the left.

Saline Valley and Death Valley National Park to the right!

Eventually we arrived at the Saline Valley Tram crossover. Especially pure salt was mined in Saline Valley and shipped up and over the Inyo Range off and on between about 1913 and the mid 1930s. More info here.

Volunteers have shored up the structure with new planks and beams. A restored beam is shown here running diagonally on the right.

There is a nearby caretaker's cabin which is also being kept up by volunteers. It would provide decent shelter in a pinch and we found a small water cache there too.

After the tramway we enjoyed several more miles of riding along the crest.

 Alas the descent route came into view. Mt Whitney is on the skyline right of center.

Before the descent we admired this view down to Keeler and the southeast corner of Owens Lake.

The descent begins. We had basically traversed the entire ridge in this pic!

After a short moderate stretch the road plunges steeply into a fine Pinyon forest where the grade eases off a bit and the riding becomes more fun.

Below the forest the road primarily descends washes with two sections of climbing & traversing to jump from one wash to the next. They were welcome respites for the hands and arms during the long plunge.

Hard to tell, but the wildflowers were very nice in the lower third or so.

All too quickly the descent was over and we were standing next to our car. I think we were both a little stunned over just how amazing the ride turned out. Unbelievable.

Thanks Adrian!

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