It got pretty cold overnight, down into the mid-30s. I was mostly warm, but I did not realize that my new “extra-large” sleeping bag would not fit over my shoulders. I dug out my camping quilt for a bit extra insulation. Even once I got warm, I don’t think I slept very well, tossing and turning. It might be time to look for another sleep option.
The sun was already over the hills east of camp when I got up. Though it was only still in the high-40s, the sunlight added just enough warmth to be comfortable as I made my morning coffee. I broke down camp and got on the road a little after 9 a.m.
I took off north into Yucca Valley for the short ride back home. Since just heading home on Highway 62 would be so short, I decided to take a detour to explore just a bit. I turned onto Pioneertown Road and headed into the foothills north of Yucca Valley.
The road climbed into the Sawtooths, where large granite boulders and desert scrub lined the canyon. The snowcapped 11,503-foot summit of Mount San Gorgonio occasionally made an appearance in the distance. The road emerged in a large desert valley just south of Pioneertown. The town was built in the 1940s as an old-west themed living studio. Hollywood studios could use the town as a movie set and it appeared in hundreds of movies such as The Cisco Kid and Judge Roy Bean. The Singing Cowboy Gene Autry even filmed his weekly TV show in Pioneertown. Today, the town hosts old-west gunfight reenactments, hosts a museum, and sometimes still gets used for productions that need an old-west town. Since it was Sunday, everything was closed, so I did not stop.
I continued through the valley and turned onto Pipes Road. Along the road were multiple large ranches. Off in the distance, the road disappeared between two flat-top mesas. It was like riding through a John Ford movie.
After a short while, I found myself back on Highway 247 and heading back down toward Yucca Valley, where I rejoined Highway 62.
Highway 62 rejoined Interstate 10 at the east end of San Gorgonio Pass. The many dozens of, actually more than 1,200, large wind turbines that line I-10 stood in the shadow of Mount San Jacinto to the south. The area is perfect for a windfarm. Air moving inland from the Pacific Ocean, gets squeezed as it enters the pass, which separates the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. As the air enters the narrow pass, it speeds up.
The topography of the pass makes things a bit difficult for truckers and motorcyclists. Air along the sides of the pass gets deflected back toward the center when it hits the mountains. At the same time, air that was coming straight down the center of the pass stays its course. The result was I had to ride into a headwind, which wanted to slow me down, and a crosswind, that wanted to push me into the next lane. I kept my head down, gave a bit of throttle and let the bike do what it wanted to do as much as I could.
I pulled over for a quick stop at the Cabazon dinosaurs. The two dinosaurs, a 150-foot-long brontosaurus, and a 65-foot-tall tyrannosaurus, are famous landmarks that have stood next to I-10 for nearly 60 years. Mr. Rex was still decorated for Valentine’s Day with a painted shirt that read “Be Mine.”
After avoiding an oblivious BMW driver who did not know how to navigate a roundabout, I got back onto the highway for the short trip back home.
As is typical for Sundays on I-10, traffic started to pick up near Beaumont. There were many more courteous drivers on the freeway, who kindly moved over so I could split the lanes and keep moving.
I got home just in time for lunch and to knock out a term paper that was due later that night.
It was a short trip, but a good one. Until next time.
I had myself a night free and decided to make a full day of riding and a night of camping out of it. I packed minimally the night before. I would not need much in the way of a change of clothes – just a pair of socks, underwear, and sweatpants for lounging around camp. I had room in my boxes for a few extra supplies.
I got on the road around 8:30 in the morning. Overnight it had been a bit cold, and the temperature when I left was in the high-40s. I hoped it would warm up a bit as I got going. The morning sun was a welcome sight after what felt like several straight months of rain here in Southern California.
There was some weekend traffic, it was a Saturday in March after all, so Spring Break was in full swing around the country. Add Spring Break to the first sunny day in a while, and that meant people were getting out.
I headed east on Interstate 10 and turned onto State Highway 79 and headed toward Hemet. As I came out of Lambs Canyon into the San Jacinto Valley, I could see the morning light casting a slight orange glow on the sprawling farmlands, and a bit of wispy haze hung over parts of the valley.
I made a quick stop for gas – you never can be too careful, right? – and got back on the road, turning onto Sage Road on the south side of Hemet. Sage Road winds its way through several small canyons cutting through the Magee Hills and is a shortcut between the Hemet portion of Highway 79 and its portion that goes through the Aguanga Valley after looping through Temecula. Like a good person, who shares the road, I moved over when necessary to let the giant, speeding trucks pass. Somewhere around the Lancaster Valley on the south side of the hills, I saw a quick-paced Africa Twin approaching from behind. Being one to ride my own ride, I let him pass with a friendly wave.
I caught up to the Africa Twin at the stop sign where Sage Road rejoins Highway 79. Passing traffic on the highway left little in the way of gaps for us to merge in to. After about a minute or two, we got a gap and headed east on 79. As I was riding behind this stranger on the A-Twin, I could not help but to think about the time riding with The Stig. It had been about a year since we had ridden together, and I wished he was along for this ride.
Highway 79 made a southerly turn toward the town of Warner Springs. Ahead of me was a dump truck that was handling the turns at high speed like a sports car.
The highway crested Sunshine Summit near Holcomb Village and dropped into the San Jose Valley and Warner Springs. Fog was lingering over the valley, yet to be burned away by the rising sun. The fog added a sudden chill to the air, and my grip heaters did little, even on full power, to keep my fingers warm.
I bid adieu to the Africa Twin as I made a turn onto Montezuma Valley Road and he continued south. Perhaps he was heading for a piece of apple pie and a coffee in Julian, or maybe he was making a run for the border. Who knows?
Montezuma Valley Road climbed from about 2,500-foot elevation at Warner Springs to about 4,200 feet just east of the little town of Ranchita in the San Ysidro Mountains. I had passed the fog, and it was starting to warm up prior to the drop into the Anza-Borrego Desert.
Montezuma Valley Road made the quick drop into the Anza-Borrego Desert via a windy road that drops more than 3,500 feet in 12 road miles, or 6.5 miles as the crow flies. About halfway down the drop was a vista point that gave a view of the vast desert with the Salton Sea far off on the horizon.
The road leveled off as I rolled into Borrego Springs. The town was bustling with what I imagine is typical weekend traffic of RVs, trucks towing four-wheelers and side-by-sides, and motorcyclists. Metal sculptures dot the desert floor, the work of an artist named Ricardo Breceda. The more than 100 sculptures – velociraptors, giant rats, scorpions, and even a 350-foot-long sea serpent – are made by the self-taught Breceda out of metal. The sculptures are one of the iconic features of the Anza-Borrego desert, and the sea serpent is world famous as a symbol of the area.
I stopped to view a few of the sculptures, including the sea serpent. The serpent stands more than 20 feet tall and its body appears to disappear and re-emerge from the desert sands for its length, which extends across Borrego Springs Road.
The sides of the mountains and the desert floor were covered in yellow, purple, and orange wildflowers courtesy of the recent rains. Instagrammers wandered through the fields striking various poses, all while avoiding views of the rest of the crowd, to gather likes. I found the colors of the flowers a striking contrast to the red and brown mountain backdrop.
I turned onto the Borrego-Salton Sea Way and continued east toward into the desert. The desert sands on both sides of the road were filled with dozens of off-roaders enjoying the desert. Nearly every weekend year-round all the area campgrounds are fully booked with fun seekers. One of the special things about the Anza-Borrego Desert, and the eponymous state park that covers the desert, is that camping is allowed almost anywhere and not just limited to campgrounds. Perhaps some time in the future.
As Borrego-Salton Sea Way crossed into Imperial County the quality of the pavement became terrible. There were so many bumps and broken sections that I could not tell if it was still asphalt or had turned to dirt. Imperial County needs to do something about that.
I turned onto south Highway 86, which runs along the west shore of the Salton Sea. The vast area of the sea offered little – well, absolutely nothing – to block the winds crossing the highway. I turned at the south side of the sea near the town of Westmoreland. The area was filled with large farms that grow much of the produce available in Southern California. The farms filled the air with the scents of orange blossoms, celery, and even green onions.
I headed north on Highway 111 along the east shore of the Salton Sea. I was waved through a Border Patrol checkpoint north of Niland, well north of the Mexican Border, a quirk in the laws giving the Border Patrol jurisdiction up to 100 miles from the border. Obviously, on my motorcycle, I was not harboring any illegal immigrants, so I was waved through by the agent with a smile.
The Salton Sea is a California oddity. It covers part of the floor of the Salton Sink, a large valley created by geologic stretching between the nearby San Andreas Fault and the East Pacific Rise that runs from the South Pacific off the coast of Chile into the Gulf of California. Three million years ago, the Sink was the northern end of the Gulf of California, and in that time, it has been covered by various lakes that have come and gone. The current Salton Sea covers an area of 343 square miles and was created by Colorado River flooding in 1905.
This accidental lake was once a flourishing resort area, with several communities along its shores. However, the Salton Sea no longer receives as much water as it once did due to the irrigation needs of the Imperial Valley taking much of the water that once flowed into the Sea.
I stopped at Bombay Beach, one of the former resort towns on the Sea’s shores. At 232 feet below sea level, the shore of the Salton Sea is one of the lowest places in California. Only Death Valley is farther below sea level in California. In just a few hours, I dropped nearly 4,500 feet in elevation along the ride.
Bombay Beach is an odd town. Though its glory days are behind it, the town lives on through its history and the odd artworks around the town. I rode onto the beach as far as I could. A creepy old swing set stood just offshore, its solitary swing swaying in the breeze. A metal silhouette of a sea monster poked out of the water not far from the swing. Water so salty that it is mostly inhospitable to life gave the air an odor of dead fish and rotten eggs. The sand along the water’s edge looked to be made up of ground-up fish bones and soggy bird feathers. Were it not for the area’s history, this would likely be the last place someone would want to visit.
I continued north and stopped for gas in Mecca. My gas light had started to blink, so it was time. Lessons learned, am I right?
From Mecca, I headed east into the Mecca Hills. The hills were created by movement of the nearby San Andreas fault causing the crust under the hills to buckle and fold as both sides of the fault struggled to slip past each other. Box Canyon crosses the hills and the road through the canyon is a shortcut between Mecca and Interstate 10.
As I rode through the canyon, I got a really good glimpse at the amazing geology of the area. Layers of rock, hundreds of millions of years old, rose up from the floor of the canyon at steep angles. In other areas, the layers of rocks had a wavy appearance like ripples on a pond. Wildflowers, ironwoods, and smoke trees dotted the floors of the canyon. There were many spots where campers had set up right next to the canyon walls, which towered over their tents and trailers. It seemed like it would be a peaceful area to spend a night.
Box Canyon emerges in the Shaver Valley, which separates the Mecca Hills from the Cottonwood Mountains that form the south boundary of Joshua Tree National Park. I rode north into the park a little before 3 p.m. I stopped at the Cottonwood Visitor Center to stretch my legs and have a snack. The parking lot was full, as is typical for the weekends here, so I boldly stopped in a “No Parking” zone for my quick stretch and snack.
As I rode through the park, it started to cool down. It had been around 80 degrees in Mecca, but in the park, it was in the 50s. I stopped in a few spots to take some pictures of the desert landscape. Many of the parking areas of the park’s big attractions were full of crowds. I turned onto Park Boulevard, which leads to the park’s west entrance in Yucca Valley. Off in the distance, over the far-off San Bernardino Mountains, dramatic dark clouds were hanging over the range’s eastern peaks. I continued west through a landscape of giant boulders and thousands of Joshua Trees. The landscape is like nothing else in Southern California. I can see why the park is such a popular place.
After exiting the park, I made a short stop in Yucca Valley for a late lunch at Steak ‘n’ Shake and picked up some snacks and drinks for camp.
I set up camp at Black Rock Canyon Campground, finishing the day’s highs and lows at right about 4,000 feet elevation. The campground is in JTNP but is separated from the main park. The roads in the park were torn up from the winter’s rains, and some of the sites had been washed out. I found my campsite, which I had been fortunate enough to find available for reservation two days earlier and set up my tent. Most of the site was sloped, so it took a while to find a relatively level place to pitch the tent. In the site’s parking spot, the rain had softened the sand, and my bike’s stand sunk in an inch or two.
Any clouds in the sky had cleared up by the time the sun went down. The air got chilly after dark, and I made myself a campfire. I cheated a bit due to space limitations and brought a couple Duraflame logs for my fire. To the south, the hills of the Little San Bernardino Mountains rose up from camp. To the north, I had a view of the lights of Yucca Valley and the darkness of the desert beyond.
I made myself dinner and enjoyed a beer and cigar by the campfire. As it got darker, packs of coyotes howled in the distance. Other than that, the only sound was that of the occasional airliner passing over on their approaches to Los Angeles. Venus and the waxing crescent moon dominated the western sky. Millions of stars dotted the rest of the heavens, and my fire cast a flickering orange glow over the Joshua Trees surrounding my camp. It was a peaceful end to a great day of riding.
Total Mileage: 313 miles Trees Met Not Named Joshua: 0
I slept really well overnight. Maybe it was the noise of the forest, or maybe it was because I had only slept 5 hours the previous day. Despite that I still woke up with some pains in my shoulders from side sleeping, or maybe I’m just getting old.
I got around 7 and made my morning coffee. I fought the super flies again and packed up camp.
I headed down the mountain on South Grade Road, a cornucopia of tight hairpins stair-stepping down the mountain. Alternating views of the San Luis Rey Valley and the San Diego County coast were ahead of me as I continued down the mountain. Once I reached the bottom of the hill, I could feel the humidity. It wasn’t quite hot yet, but the humidity was going to make things feel uncomfortable.
I took Highway 76 east and then went up Mesa Grande Road. The two-lane road climbed up into the hills and reminded me a lot of some of the roads in Northern California. My little detour dropped me back on to Highway 79 in the Santa Ysabel Valley.
I made a pit stop in Santa Ysabel at the Julian Pie Company. I had myself a breakfast of apple pie and coffee – the breakfast of champions.
After filling my belly, I kept going toward Julian. I had to stop a couple times for construction before getting through town.
After passing Julian, I headed south on San Diego Road S-1, also known as Sunrise Highway. The road climbed up into the Laguna Mountains. The road was empty, and once again I felt like I had the place to myself. To my right were forest groves, meadows, and valleys. To my left were glimpses of the desert to the east.
Looped back on Highway 79, back through Julian and north to Warner Springs. Off in the distance, over the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains, I could see rain clouds dumping on the mountains. The weather forecast called for thunderstorms in the afternoon. My original plan had me taking Highway 371 into the mountains, but I was starting to make contingency plans. As I went through Warner Springs, I could smell the oncoming rain.
I completed my trip, passing through Hemet again, where it was only 103 today.
I’m not speeding away from the stoplight to be a jerk, I’m just trying to cool off.
Everyone was on vacation but me – the downside of the “new” job. I took one of my off days for an overnight camping trip.
I had worked the night before, getting off at 7 a.m., so I planned for an afternoon start. I managed to beat my alarm by a few minutes.
I loaded my bike while drinking my “morning” coffee. It was looking to be a hot day here in the pass area.
I headed out I-10 toward Beaumont and hopped on Highway 79 through Lambs Canyon into the Hemet area. The temperature went up when I dropped out of the canyon; the bike’s air temperature gauge read 104 degrees (40 Celsius for you metric folks). I also got a blast of hot wind from the west. It was like riding through a hair dryer.
After negotiating the stop-and-go of Hemet, I took Sage Road out of the valley. While on Sage Road, something felt off about the bike but I couldn’t tell what it was. It felt like the back was wanting to slip or I was getting some movement. Last time I rode on Sage Road, it wasn’t as hot. Can chip seal get slippery when it’s hot? Maybe my load was moving around a bit with the turns. I took it easy and kept on my way.
Sage Road dropped my back on Highway 79 in the Aguanga Valley. The pavement on the state highway felt much better, being asphalt instead of chip. I made a quick stop to double check that my tires were OK and to check my load. The load wasn’t very loose, but the straps accepted a bit more cinching.
Hitting the road after the check and some water (hydration is important), I noticed things felt better. Highway 79 wound its way through the Dodge Valley and the Cañada Aguanga, ranches, farms, and even a winery lined the highway.
As I entered the San Jose Valley near Warner Springs, the winds picked up. I passed by Warner Springs Airport, where several signs advertised “Sailplane rides for one or two!” The airport’s four windsocks fully extended with every wind gust.
I turned onto Highway 76 and waved at a passing motor cop who was most likely on his way home. Just west of Lake Henshaw, I turned onto East Grade Road to climb Palomar Mountain. Off to my right was the lake and the San Jose Valley stretching to the east. Over the far off mountains on the east side of the valley were tall puffy thunderheads reaching to the sky. I stopped at the overlook for some pictures and I could feel the winds blowing down the mountain toward the valley below.
I felt like I had the road to myself. I only passed one other vehicle, a guy on a little red sportbike. The road went from following a ridgeline to dropping to several small valleys. Other than the red bike, I didn’t see anyone else until I stopped at the Palomar Mountain Store. I made it just a few minutes before they closed. I picked up some adult beverages and dinner supplies then headed to camp.
When I arrived at the campground, it appeared mostly empty. It was surprising considering the online reservations were all full the night before (I made my reservation a few weeks ago). I set up camp while fighting with hoardes of annoying little flies that seemed immune to the effects of DEET or enough citronella candles to look like a prayer altar.
I hadn’t had room at the store to buy a bundle of wood, and the cashier said the campgrounds usually sold wood. I rode over to the host’s trailer to pick up a bundle. The host must not have liked visitors, since he didn’t answer my several knocks. I rode over to the Fry Creek Campground across the street, but there wasn’t a host there. Not one to waste a trip, I rode up toward the Palomar Observatory to see if I could get a glimpse of the domes. Unfortunately, the observatory grounds closed at 3:30, and you can’t see the domes from the road. Back to camp it would be.
When I got back to camp, I walked around looking for firewood at empty campsites. I found a couple large fallen tree branches at one site, so I cut them up and took them back to my site.
I chopped up my wood, made my dinner, and got the fire going. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, one must have a camp fire. I sat back with my adult beverage and a cigar. I probably solved all the world’s problems with that cigar over the campfire, but I forgot to write them down. I’ll do better next time.
Across from my site, a guy was setting up a telescope. The scope looked to be almost as big as an oil drum – glad to see he brought the small scope. I’m not sure what happened, but almost as soon as he set the scope up, he took it down and packed it up. He and his family left soon after.
Once the sun went down, it was time for nature’s show. The campground has a large clearing in the center, leaving a perfect unobstructed view of the sky for stargazing. Right about this time I realized I didn’t pack my camera tripod. I managed to improvise by using my packed sleeping bag to rest my camera on. Looks like I did remember one of the problems I solved.
The sky was so clear thanks to the 5000+ foot (1500 meter) elevation. Surprisingly there was very little light pollution despite being just outside the San Diego area. Countless stars and the Milky Way were overhead. No wonder this campground is such a great place for stargazers.
The mountains are calling. It was 90+ degrees in Calimesa and a change in elevation was what I needed to beat the heat.
I headed up highway 38 towards Angelus Oaks. As I rode through the Mill Creek Canyon before making the climb into the San Bernardino Mountains, I noticed no change. The late morning sun brightened the tans and yellows of the mountain slopes.
As I climbed up Highway 38, I passed by pockets of purple and yellow wildflowers that dotted the mountain sides, contrasting with the grays and browns. Their blossoms left a fruity aroma in the air, something you might not notice in a car.
After passing Angelus Oaks proper, I turned onto Glass Road and dropped down into the Santa Ana River Canyon. The Santa Ana River starts not far away in the upper areas of the San Bernardino Mountains and flows 96 miles to its mouth near Huntington Beach. Once the river leaves the mountains, most of it is a dry wash. Up here in the mountains, the river is a small stream twisting through the Seven Oaks area.
I turned onto Seven Oaks Road, a dirt Forest Service road that follows the north bank of the Santa Ana. Several group campgrounds dotted the road and the river banks. The road was packed hard with small patches of river rock; the Strom handled it with ease.
After about 5 miles, I reached Highway 38 and headed back down toward home. I took a side road to Jenks Lake. The lake, which covers about 9 acres, is a popular spot for fishing and hiking. Even a lake as small as Jenks is not immune to the effects of the ongoing drought in California; the lake was surrounded by a 50 feet of “bathtub ring” due to its low water level.
Even next to the lake, the temperature was still up in the 90s – elevation wasn’t helping today. It was time for some of that natural air conditioning by hitting the road again.
As I left Jenks Lake, I could see patches of snow still sitting on the 10,000+ foot north face of Anderson Peak. It’s still cool somewhere … just go higher.
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.
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.
The night was cold. Any opening in the sleeping bag let in a draft of cold air. Temperatures dropped into the low 30s overnight and we woke up to a layer of frost on our bikes. Fortunately, the sun was up and it was quickly warming.
After the damp night at Salt Point and the rain the previous night, our tents had not had a chance to dry out. We laid them out in the sun to dry out while we warmed up.
As we waited for stuff to dry, we took a hike on a nearby trail. The trail climbed up a hill and there were great views of Clear Lake. Spring had sprung and flowers were starting to bloom all around. Many rocks on the trail were green with moss.
After about an hour of walking, we returned to camp to find our stuff dry. We packed up and headed out. We made a quick stop in Lakeport for brunch and got back on the road to power home.
Winds started to pick up on Highway 20 as we passed through the Cold Creek valley around the Blue Lakes. Narrow valleys act like a wind tunnel, speeding up winds as the gap narrows. We turned onto Highway 101 north of Ukiah and the winds turned biting cold.
One thing I like to do when riding is listen to music. My iPod is as much a riding companion as my helmet. Somewhere near Willits the music stopped. We stopped near Willits so Greg could put on a liner and I tried to get the iPod going again to no avail. I guess my headphones were now earplugs for the remainder of the trip.
To add to the losses this trip, near Leggett I felt something hit my right knee. I looked down and saw a piece of plastic wedged between my knee and the tank. I recognized it as a spacer from my handguard clamp. Noticeably missing was half of the handguard clamp. I guess the screws had vibrated loose. Fortunately, the remaining part of the clamp was securely wedged between the brake fittings and the handlebar.
Winds continued to pick up as we continued north. They swirled around in the Eel River valley from Garberville north. At some point, I lost sight of Greg, so it felt like riding solo. Just south of Eureka, Greg appeared out of nowhere behind me.
Winds were strong on the shores of Humboldt Bay as we entered the final stretch. I could see Greg ahead of me leaning noticeably to his left to keep the bike on a straight path.
We arrived home a little before 5 p.m. and put another adventure into the books.
Here’s the thing with camping by the ocean at spring time: everything is damp when you wake up. You would have thought it had rained overnight with how wet the tents and bikes were.
Greg and I took our time getting up and ready; extra time to hopefully have the sun peek through the trees enough to dry our stuff. We made our coffees, wiped down the outside of our tents, and slowly packed up.
We pored over the map to plan out the day’s route. We would head south for a bit and take a windy local road, the Butler map called it a “Paved Mountain Trail,” inland to Guerneville. We would then make our way northeast to Clear Lake. The weather was good and we had all day to explore.
We headed south on Highway 1 and made a left turn at Fort Ross. Fort Ross was the southernmost Russian settlement in North America. The road was narrow, windy, and rough as it wound its way through the forest and climbed into the hills and crossed the San Andreas Fault.
After a few miles, we reached a ridge overlooking the Pacific. We followed the ridge for a few more miles than turned east, dropping down into a narrow valley carved by the south fork of the Gualala River. The road continued to be narrow and twisty with pavement crumbling in many places. It reminded me a lot of the western portion of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road in Monterey County.
Fort Ross Road passed through the town of Cazadero and dropped us onto Highway 116, which follows the Russian River. We stopped for gas in Guerneville and asked for a breakfast recommendation from the clerk. We backtracked and stopped at the Northwood Golf Club outside Guerneville for a hearty breakfast.
We left Guerneville and headed for the hills. We turned onto Sweetwater Springs Road and climbed up another narrow, windy road. We passed the old Sonoma Mine on the way. The mine looked like a cartoon mine, complete with a faded wood “Keep Out” sign. I half expected Yosemite Sam to pop out and start throwing dynamite at us.
The tree-lined road climbed up onto a ridge. Soon the ridge dropped down into wine country. Green hills covered in vineyards stretched out as far as the eye could see. I found a nice hillside covered in bright green grass. A herd of dairy cows had spread out across the hill to graze on the grass. The hill reminded me a lot of the Windows XP wallpaper, “Bliss,” which oddly enough was a photo taken about 30 miles away.
We crossed over Highway 101 and headed east to Calistoga. Traffic in Calistoga was heavy with tourists walking around town and searching for places to park. Being at the north end of wine country, Calistoga has avoided the encroachment of freeways and big business, letting people see “old Wine Country.” The town is also known for its sparkling water and hot spring spas.
Greg and I turned north onto Highway 29, which climbed Calistoga Grade toward Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. The highway’s route was slow-going, with many tight hairpin turns.
Highway 29 dropped us into Middletown, which was severely damaged by fire in 2015. The town was on the rebound, but the scars of the old fire were still evident in the areas around town. From Middletown, we turned onto Highway 175 toward Kelseyville.
We arrived at Clear Lake State Park to find the campground was full. With it being late in the afternoon on the first day of spring, we called several other campgrounds and found they were either booked up or not yet open to tent camping. We had a conundrum on our hands. We asked the gate host, Bailey, if there was anything she could do for us to get us a spot in the campground – give us a no-show site, abandoned site, or even if the camp host would let us set up on his site – it wasn’t looking good. I saw the light bulb illuminate above Bailey’s head. She said the campground has “emergency” sites that are kept empty in case fire fighters or emergency personnel need them. Greg told her she was in luck, and told her what we do for a living. A Sheriff ID was good enough for her. We had ourselves a site! I handed over my pass and she didn’t even charge us for a second vehicle.
Looking at the skies, it appeared rain might have been coming. We repeatedly checked weather apps, which told us rain was imminent. We set up our tents quickly and put gear inside. As if on cue, the skies opened at the time the weather apps predicted. A light rain started to fall and temperatures dropped. A rainbow appeared over the lake. It was a beautiful site. The temperature kept dropping and soon the rain started falling harder. I sat inside my tent with a blanket on to keep warm, waiting for the rain to pass. About an hour later, the skies cleared and the rain stopped.
We tried to start a fire to warm up, but it was stubborn. A lot of the wood and kindling was just damp enough that it didn’t want to stay lit. We split our logs into smaller and smaller pieces to get to the driest wood on the inside of the logs. Eventually, the wood dried out enough to stay lit and we warmed up around the fire.
I’ve been a bad motorcycle owner. My bike has been sitting in the garage since my last trip in October. However, winter is nearly over, and spring is coming and taking colder temps and rain away with it. I sent a message to Greg and suggested a road trip. Greg is always up for some two-wheeled travel.
We looked at our maps, threw out some suggestions, and decided we’d head south and see where the roads would take us. Along the way, we would take some new roads to add to our highlighted maps.
The week before our departure date, things weren’t looking too promising. Nothing but cold temps and rain. Up to the Wednesday before we were to leave, it was still questionable whether the weather would cooperate. I was following several weather web sites and radar images like I was preparing an evening newscast. It looked like it would be a crapshoot whether it would be dry or not.
On the day of departure, we woke up to pleasant mostly sunny skies. Small, puffy clouds were scattered in the air, but there was no rain. Perhaps the weather gods were looking out for us. I dropped the kids off at school, kissed my wife goodbye, and rode over to Greg’s to plot out the day’s route over a cup of coffee. We left ourselves a few options and headed south on Highway 101 around 9:30.
No more than 15 minutes into the trip, I saw Greg raise his arm and wave at the western skies. It appeared there was an ominous wall of clouds hanging off the coast. Could this be an omen of our future? Did the weather gods trick us? I hoped the clouds would stay put and leave us alone.
Just south of Eureka, Greg suddenly put on his right turn signal and exited the highway. I wondered what was going on. Did he suddenly have an idea of a destination that he just had to share? I pulled up alongside him.
“Suit up!” he said as he opened his pannier to get his rain gear.
I dug out my rain suit and put it on over my riding gear. Sporadic drops of rain started to fall, making tapping noises on my helmet. Looks like we’re going to get wet.
I took a peek at the weather radar app on my phone. Bands of rain were descending on the Eureka area, but things looked promising to the south. Maybe this won’t be so bad.
We got back on the road and continued on. We’ve ridden through rain before, so this won’t be a problem.
As we passed the College of the Redwoods area, the rain drops turned into the tapping of hail on my helmet. Well, this will be fun. I cranked the grip heaters to max and squinted through the layer of mist on my visor.
They say, “If you don’t like the weather in Humboldt County, wait five minutes.” Actually, I think they say that about a lot of places. It rang true in this case. Five minutes later, the rain stopped and the sun started to peek out of the clouds. OK, then. As we rode on, we got the occasional light shower, but nothing crazy. By the time we got out of Humboldt County, the rain had stopped.
We made a stop in Laytonville for gas and snacks. I warmed myself up with a cup of hot chocolate and looked at the weather radar. The radar and a look at the skies seemed to show the last of the weather passing by and heading away from our path. A line of clouds was passing over the coast range to the west and nothing but blue skies appeared to be on the other side. We decided to head over to the coast and go south on Highway 1.
Greg and I rode west on Branscomb Road, the main route between Laytonville and the coast. For most of the way, Branscomb Road was in much better shape than Highway 1 between Leggett and Westport. Where Highway 1 has many steep, tight turns, Branscomb Road’s curves were much more gradual and the grades were more gradual.
We passed through the town of Branscomb, a relic of a bygone era when logging was king in this area. The abandoned Harwood Lumber Company mill sat empty, having gone bankrupt in 2008. The gates to the property were blocked by several K-rails. Along the road, adjacent to the mill sat the Branscomb Store. The red walls on the outside were fading and cracking from lack of care. The store was long since closed, but still had a single fuel pump out front with a sign that said unleaded gas was 60 cents per gallon.
West of Branscomb, we started to climb into the coast range as the road followed Packard Ridge. We passed through groves of old redwood trees as the road followed the contours of the ridge before dropping down onto Highway 1 north of Westport.
I would have had a video of the ride on Branscomb Road, but there was a little bit of a mishap with my video camera. More on that later.
We stopped at a turnout to stretch our legs and look at the waves crashing on the shore. Looking out over the ocean and to the south, it appeared there would be no more rain in our future. The sun was out and we were warming up.
We stopped in Fort Bragg to pick up supplies for the night’s camp. Since the weather had passed, we also packed away our now dry rain suits. We looked at the map to see how much farther we would go before finding a place to camp. We decided to head to Salt Point State Park, another 75 miles down the road.
At about 4 p.m. we arrived at Salt Point State Park near Jenner. Greg and I always tend to stay at state parks or federal campgrounds. I have a state park pass that allows me to camp for free, and we both have federal passes that give us heavy discounts at those federal campgrounds that charge. However, here’s a strange thing about the state park pass. Camping is free, but there’s a charge for a second vehicle. So you can show up to the campground in an SUV with seven people inside and camp for free. But if two people show up on two motorcycles, which take up less combined space than an SUV, you pay for an extra vehicle. California State Parks, if you’re reading this, it does not make a lot of sense when one thinks about the reasoning behind the extra vehicle charge.
Apparently we were just in time, as there were only two more walk-up camp sites available. The gate host gave us our choices and we went to check out which site would suit us better. We picked our site and started to set up camp.
As I walked around my bike to get my camping gear out, I noticed something strange. Where my video camera had been was only the metal clamp that held it to the bike’s crash bar. The plastic mount had been sheared off and the camera was nowhere to be found. I remembered it still being there when we stopped after getting off Branscomb Road, but had no idea where it might have fallen off. We had covered about 100 miles of road, and there was no way there was time to go back and look. It wasn’t a huge loss as it was a $40 GoPro knockoff (or “ProGo”), but still sucks to lose it.
After getting home, I went through the video footage from my helmet-mounted Contour camera to see if I could narrow down when the ProGo fell off. Through my sleuthing, I discovered the camera was still there when we stopped in Fort Bragg. Additionally viewing showed the camera was still there just north of the town of Elk. This didn’t help much, as it had been several days, and it only narrowed the area down to a 50-mile stretch of Highway 1. R.I.P. ProGo.
After setting up camp, Greg and I walked down to the cliffs above the ocean to watch the waves. Though the weather had passed, I could tell it was still affecting the surf, producing many large waves. There were many interesting rocks along the coast. The cliffs here are made of sedimentary sandstone, and their sedimentary nature was evident in many places. Several feet of soil was visible above the sandstone rocks where small creeks had found their way to the ocean. Many rocks had small round cavities in them called tafoni. There are many possible explanations for how tafoni are created, but the most likely cause is weathering caused by salt crystals. Water drives salt crystals into crevices in the sandstone. The salt reacts with the sandstone, causing some parts to harden and some to soften. The soft parts then erode away leaving the common honeycomb pattern of the tafoni.
Back at camp, we got a fire going, after Boy Scout Greg worked his magic in getting it started and getting some of the damp wood to dry out. We sat by the fire chatting, solving all the world’s problems, and smoking cigars.
I fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs in the distance.