Recovering from NAHBS in Death Valley on Telescope Peak

I’ve learned something over the years. Balance. Work hard, relax hard. Shoot photos of bikes, shoot photos of nature. Ride a lot, hike a lot. When your hobby, passion and love is also your job, establishing this balance is of the utmost importance. So when NAHBS rolls around each year, I try to have an exit strategy…

This year, we were going to road trip down to Death Valley and hike Telescope Peak. Our trip took us from Sacramento, through Highway 395, its many hot springs and down from Big Pine to 168 before turning onto 190 and into Death Valley. We spent the first day driving on Saline Valley Road and exploring the many 4×4 tracks in the area. Already I was feeling more and more relaxed. Balanced.


Death Valley is where I go to re-establish balance. It’s quickly become my favorite National Park (even with its completely shit campgrounds – what the hell is up with that?) Each time I open a map, or a guide book, I find more and more roads, tracks and trails to explore.


The hikes in Death Valley are awe-inspiring and one in particular has been on my list since moving to California. Telescope Peak is one of the most unique places in the Lower 48. It’s the only place where you can see the highest point in the lower 48, and the lowest. Mt. Whitney’s snow-capped summit at 14,505′ and Badwater Basin’s sub-sealevel pastel landscape of -282.2′.

There are a few ways to summit this peak. We chose to camp at Mahogany Flat, a campground at 8,000′ the night before. This allowed our bodies to acclimate to elevation and we could begin at sunrise. Which turned to 8:30am before we knew it.

Almost to the top!

Since it’s early spring in Death Valley, Telescope still has snow on it. Cramp ons and hiking poles, along with sturdy hiking boots would enable us to scramble up through the knee-deep snow (in some areas) and summit without issue.

The shrooms kicked in and we couldn't walk because we were laughing so hard!

Here’s where it got weird. It took us 3.5 hours to reach the top and that’s where we ate lunch… Which consisted of way too many mushrooms. We ended up taking two hours to make it off the peak to the first saddle because we couldn’t walk due to excessive laughter. It was insane. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life and have never been so enthralled with nature.

Bristlecone Pine Study 01

The colors were morphing, clouds cascading across the peak and the 10,000 year old Bristlecone Pine trees were telling jokes with their crippled and curved posture.


We took our time, battled the wind, ice and snow as the sunset across the valley, casting shadows of peaks across our windburnt faces.


At 5:30pm we reached our campsite, cooked tacos, drank wine and fell asleep without a moment’s hesitation…

  • Nice shots John!

  • recurrecur

    Just wild photos – can I come next time?

  • David Quinn Jr.

    Nicely done

  • simon paez

    Cool pics!! What lens do you use for landscapes? Also, is that film?

    • These are shot with my Leica M240 and either a Leica 35mm Summicron or a Leica 135mm Telyt‑M prime.

  • barry mcwilliams

    I feel like I’ve seen your compositions get better over the years. Some really nice shots in here.

    • thanks!

      • D.J. Bolles

        How much editing goes into a photo set like this, John? Is your gear to the point where you can get these exquisite shots and it’s minimal? Loving this post. Makes me want to get out and shoot.

        • The Leica is exceptional in terms of color contrast and white balance. I usually just edit the tones a bit, with some black / white balance. I edited down three days worth of photos in under an hour. Then took another 30 minutes to remove all the damn dust from the photos because of my dirty sensor.

          • D.J. Bolles

            I asked the question before I had the chance to scroll down and see you had mentioned what you were using. And I don’t know a ton but, damn Leica! They are incredible. Do you have presets saved for speedy edits? I haven’t taken the time to get a handle on Lightroom or Photoshop but, sure would like to(dad life) Have you written a post about this all before? I don’t want to you repeat yourself for the gazzilionth time.

  • Jake Hueber

    great pictures again, what’s the drop bar bike on the back?

    • Elephant NFE – Cari bought it at NAHBS.

      • Jake Hueber

        Awesome, I thought that’s what it might be. Haven’t loved that bike since the feature on here.

  • Deserts and snow capped peaks! Always up the pop factor.

  • btompkins0112

    So awesome…..nice shots and better stories, John

  • Love Death Valley photos, but Mesquite campground is one of my favorites anywhere. Usually very quiet. Just be sure to bring everything you need.

    • It was fun hauling ass up the 2″ thick of ice with my Tacoma!

  • AdamBike99

    So inspirational! Glad you have a wonderful partner in crime; sometimes those hitchhikers really work out, lol!
    You have your next 15-month calendar right there… ;-)

  • Patrick

    Bristlecone Pines is dope.

  • Matt Long


  • Bloody hell. That place is amazing.

  • kasual

    Any meal that is plated, coated in cheese, and then tossed in the salamander and melted to a perfection is a win. Especially when you’re way off from home base.

  • Damn! The work you do with that camera between 5:00PM and 8:00PM is absurd. Way cool pics.


    MMMMM, Mushrooms. I’ve had similar experiences in nature. Good times. Thanks for all the hard work at NAHBS, bummed I did’t get to meet you.

  • Richard Olive

    I am envious and inspired by your seemingly perfect lifestyle John, sadly I’m a wage slave in an planning office right now! Thanks for the great photos and I’m pleased to see you’ve found yourself a lovely partner.

  • Brian Richard Walbergh

    Beautiful, Now how about more on that NFE and those huevos? It is always great when you can convince a friend to buy a bike so you don’t have to, I am still trying to get my partner to let me build her a cycle truck…. I think I am getting close.

  • Ace Metric Cycles

    Favorite post in a minute!

  • Beautiful shots John! A Leica is good, but your eye is better.

  • Kyle Deven

    Just camped last weekend at Wildrose. We wanted to do Telescope but the road was closed! This is almost hard to look at. Missed out.

    • Most people start the hike from Wildrose. The road was newly-opened that morning when we drove up and it was still covered in like 2″ of ice. Without a legit 4×4 you couldn’t make it up.

  • Great set of photos! Would love to make it back there someday.

  • STW

    i’ve rinsed my stink off in that hot spring before. there’s a bigger one just a few hundred feet away that seems to have less algae in it!

    • Yep! This one was scrubbed clean. There are toilet brushes there now.

  • Søren Nejmann

    “bedroom” and rearview mirror pictures. Legendary. Do you need a new friend? from flat and boring Denmark.

  • alexroseinnes

    So cool – heading over to Death Valley in April after Yosemite. Can’t wait!

  • kermitonwheels

    I have to echo previous comments, you really have developed over the years and your landscape photography is spectacular. It’s sooo hard to capture the scale of a landscape and what the eye sees. This is it. Oh and the colours are amazing!

  • Ryan

    Add some Weedians and Camels to that sunset shot and you’ve got the cover of Dopesmoker. Amazing stuff John. Thanks!

  • Brad Beadles

    must great to take a break from “work” aka riding bikes to go hike in a place like this…… rethinking life atm

    • You mean shooting 30+ bikes in a convention center, staying up til the early morning editing photos and then back at it again the next day for three days straight?

      • helga thorne


      • Brad Beadles

        a lot more work than i thought but at least that shit is cool as fuck. absolutely love your work and attention to detail, keep it comin

  • Forever Aventura

    dude John I continue to love your work!! love every shot you take. hope to be as good as you one day and to go to Death Valley

  • Scott Sattler

    Cali is rad in some ways, and this is certainly one of them… great post !