Friday, February 25, 2022 – “Riding through the desert on a horse with no name”

The night was cold. While eating our dinner and watching the stars, the thermometer on Greg’s bike dropped to 22. Surely, it dropped even further through the night. We bundled up in jackets, long underwear, thick socks, and gloves. The cold still found its way in.

I had found a leftover log in our fire ring. I searched adjacent empty campsites for additional logs to make a decent fire, but all I found was kindling. I made do with what I had. I split the leftover log into four pieces and used the kindling to get it going. It wasn’t much, but it got our hands warm.

We retired early to get warm in our sleeping bags. I was actually a little worried about dealing with the cold through the night. I kept my sweatpants, long underwear, and sweatshirt on when I climbed into my sleeping bag. Surprisingly, I was quite toasty through the night.

I had some trouble sleeping; I just couldn’t get comfortable. I woke up with a sore shoulder and back. But the good news was the sun was up and it was relatively warmer than the previous night. Greg and I had our camp coffee and packed up for the day ahead.

We headed north on Black Canyon Road and then Cedar Canyon Road, heading for the town of Cima to top off our gas tanks. The two roads are “graded” for low-clearance vehicles, but graded is a very generous term for the condition of the roads. We rode through about 20 miles of bone-shaking washboards to get to the pavement. Every so often, we’d pass through a patch of thick sand left by recent rains. The sand was loose enough to get your wheels loose, surprising you when the bike turns sideways.

We dropped into the Round Valley, situated between the Providence and New York Mountains. The north slopes of the mountains were covered in snow, and small patches sat along the edge of the road.

We made it to Kelso-Cima Road and managed to have all our bolts and screws still intact. We stopped at the controversial Mojave Cross, a memorial to American war dead. The cross became famous for the long court fight over its presence in a National Preserve and possible First Amendment violations. Eventually, the government transferred the land where the cross was located to a veterans’ group and removed it from the National Preserve.

We stopped at a gas station in Cima, along Interstate 15, to top off our gas. The gas station also had a unique urinal in the restroom. Our original plan for the day was to head toward Anza-Borrego State Park for the night. By the time we got to Cima, it was nearly 1 p.m. and we found the distance to Anza-Borrego was not in our favor. Given that it was a Friday afternoon, and the popularity of Anza-Borrego, we would likely not be able to find a spot to camp due to crowds. We decided to stop for lunch in Baker then start south to see how we do on time.

Interstate 15 is the main route between the Greater Los Angeles area and Las Vegas. It’s known for a high amount of traffic and people driving at high speeds. Today, we got both and a strong wind blowing from the north. We dodged cars going 90+ and trucks that would change lanes while going too slow. You had to prepare for the sudden blast of wind when passing trucks – not only the wind coming off the front of the truck, but also the wind blowing across the valley. A few times, I found myself pushed into the next lane!

After lunch we headed south on Kelbaker Road, passing through more of that magnificent desolation. On the left we had ancient cinder cones and lava fields, on the right, the vast plain of the dry Soda Lake.

We made a stop at the Kelso Depot, a former railway station repurposed as the Mojave National Preserve visitor center. The town of Kelso, a former mining town, had long since died, and the visitor center was closed, but that didn’t stop busses full of tourists from stopping to walk around the grounds.

After a short break, we continued south, passing the enormous Kelso Dunes – the tallest being about 650 feet tall. Though they were miles away from the road, they appeared almost like a mountain range of sand. The dunes are made of sand from sediments deposited by Lake Manix which once covered a large area of the Mojave Desert. About 25,000 years ago, Lake Manix drained, creating nearby Afton Canyon. About 9,000 years ago, winds started causing these sediments to collect into the dunes we see today.

We hopped back on old Route 66 and passed through Amboy, stopping at Amboy Crater. The crater is a 944-foot-tall cinder cone volcano surrounded by a 27 square mile lava field. The crater was formed around 79,000 years ago and is considered dormant, last erupting about 10,000 years ago. The crater was a tourist attraction on Route 66, as it was one of the few volcanoes along the route. A trail to the top of the cone allowed many a traveller to brag they had climbed a real volcano.

It was starting to get later in the day and camping options were slim between Amboy and home. We decided to finish up the trip and head back to my place. It wasn’t exactly what we planned, but it worked out for the best. Greg needed to get a tire swapped out before continuing on his trip, and my family was coming back from a trip of their own. Returning on Saturday would have caused a mad dash to get everything done in a short amount of time.

Ending early didn’t matter to me. Often the times together are more important than the journey. I was happy to have another adventure with my friend.

Daily Mileage: 266
Total Mileage: 502

Back on the Road

A lot has changed since my last trip report. I’ve been on a couple trips that I slacked off on writing the reports. I’ve been busy with exciting changes.

In June, just to test the waters, I applied for a new job at a few different agencies in Southern California. I wasn’t sure what would happen, or if I would want to move, but it didn’t hurt to apply. I heard back from one agency, a university, and got an interview. I took the interview and didn’t think I did that great, but I was given a second interview and then offered the job. It was a huge decision; I had lived in Humboldt County, California, for more than 20 years after graduating from high school. I had put down roots, made friends, and had almost 14 years of seniority at work.

Ultimately, I took the job and we made the crazy decision to pull up our stakes and move across the state. In doing so, I said goodbye to all the friends I had made in my time in Humboldt. Goodbye did not mean forever though. Through the magic of modern communications, I’ve been able to keep in touch with my Humboldt connections.

One of those connections is someone who’s been somewhat of a motorcycle travel mentor to me: my riding partner, Greg. You may remember him from previous trips.

Greg was planning a trip through the southwest with passage through Southern California. Of course, he always has a place to stay with us!

Greg arrived on a Sunday. I was working on stuff in the garage and heard the familiar sound of his Tiger’s triple. It was so exciting to see my friend again! We set about planning our next adventure.

There’s so much to see in Southern California, but we weren’t going to see it all. We’ll save that for future trips. We decided to head for Mojave National Preserve.

Follow along …

Thursday, February 24, 2022 – “We’re getting the band back together.”

Due to my work schedule, Greg spent a few days living out of my guest room. We spent the days catching up and making plans.

We headed out a little before 10 a.m. It wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t too cold. It had rained the previous couple days, and some snow had fallen in the local mountains, so we prepared for the possibility of a cold ride.

Our first leg would see us slabbing it on Interstate 10. The highway would take us through the San Gorgonio Pass, one of three main mountain passes leading to the Los Angeles area. San Gorgonio pass is famous for the large wind farm situated between the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Jacinto Mountains. Snowcapped Mount San Jacinto stood above the south side, with its 10,834-foot peak blanketed in fresh snow.

Interstate 10 is a major trucking route between the west coast and the southern US. When we left, there wasn’t as much truck traffic as there typically seems to be. Normally, drivers would be dodging trucks that take up two of the highway’s three lanes. We had ourselves a clear path as the highway dropped into the Coachella Valley.

Suddenly, my right side mirror decided it was going to become a wind vane and turned itself parallel to my direction of travel. It wouldn’t be one my trips if something didn’t come loose. I guess I only torqued the bolt to [REDACTED] miles per hour. Who needs to see any way?

Just west of Chiriaco Summit, we exited I-10 and headed north into Joshua Tree National Park. The park was created as a National Monument in 1936 and made a National Park in 1994. The park straddles the boundary between the lower Colorado Desert and the higher elevation Mojave Desert.

The park showcases the beauty of the California deserts with forests of the eponymous Joshua Trees, desert cholla, and fields of desert scrub. We rode through the narrow Cottonwood Canyon as we entered the park where the road is laid upon a dried stream bed surrounded by red and orange rocks. Much of the rock was created by volcanic forces and later exposed through uplift and erosion.

The ride through the park was spirited, with curves and straightaways mixed equally. The park is a pretty popular destination in Southern California, so there’s always a good amount of traffic; however, much of the other vehicles slowed down or moved over to let us pass.

We exited the north entrance of the park and searched for a place to have lunch in nearby Twentynine Palms. Greg found a place on his GPS, which ended up being closed when we got there. So he found another nearby place, which ended up being so hidden that we couldn’t find it. Hangry Greg pulled into the parking lot at McDonald’s, only to find that they were only serving through the drive-thru. The whole town could probably hear the loud “FUCK” he shouted out when he saw the dining room was closed. I know I heard it through my helmet and earbuds. I managed to find a diner close by, the Cactus Trails Café. And it was open! Hangry Greg was satiated with a bacon cheeseburger.

We headed out of Twentynine Palms on Amboy Road and rode through Sheephole Pass between the Sheephole Mountains and Bullion Mountains to fully cross into the Mojave Desert. As we crested the pass, we were greeted with an expansive view of the Cadiz Valley and Bristol Dry Lake.

Soon we found ourselves on National Trails Highway, formerly known as US Route 66. Yes, that Route 66. We stopped in the town of Amboy at Roy’s Motel and Café, a Route 66 icon famous for its arrowhead shaped sign. Amboy is one of the many towns that Route 66 passed through before it was decommissioned and bypassed by Interstate 40 in the 1960s. Many of these towns, along with the highway were the inspiration for Radiator Springs in Disney’s “Cars.” The motel had long since closed, and the café was now a souvenir shop/convenience store, but the spirit of the Mother Road lived on. We grabbed a couple keepsakes, took some pictures, and picked up a couple supplies before making our last leg for camp.

We hopped onto Interstate 40, and headed east further into the desert. We made our way into the Mojave National Preserve to make camp. We stopped at Hole in the Wall Campground, situated in a small valley at the base of the Providence Mountains, red-orange in color with pockets of snow on the north-facing walls. Around the valley was a plethora of desert life, yucca trees, differing types of desert scrub, and barrel cactuses with bright red spines.

Greg and I set up camp and then took a walk around the campground to explore the valley’s beauty. The walls of the valley were made of ancient volcanic rock and were covered in holes small and large that had been carved by the winds that often whip through the Mojave. Walking around, one really gets a feel for how deserts are lands of contrasts … often remembered as hot, dry places in the summer, deserts can get very cold during the winter months; and seemingly harsh to life, deserts are teeming with hardy flora and fauna that have adapted to extreme conditions. This area in particular probably sees temperature swings of up to 100 degrees between summer and winter.

Back at camp, it was like old times. The ride was something familiar. It was good to see my friend ahead of me on the road, while Greg commented on how there was something soothing about seeing my headlights in his rear view mirrors just like on all our prior trips.

We sat around camp watching the light fade from sunset, the appearance of the Belt of Venus, and the rising of the stars. The dark skies showed thousands of stars you wouldn’t normally see in town. I snapped some pictures of familiar constellations. The camera picks up much more than the eye sees. The shapes of the constellations become drowned out by the other stars in the background that are often too dim for the naked eye. To the north, we saw a white glow on the horizon. It turned out the glow was the lights of Las Vegas, 80 miles away! We even caught a glimpse of a few meteors streaking across the sky.

Daily mileage: 236