SoCal Deserts in Winter: Mojave, Sonora, CABDR, Death Valley 49's

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by fiddlefestival, Mar 4, 2019.

  1. fiddlefestival

    fiddlefestival Adventurer

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    Mojave Desert: Winter Trip #1

    Much of Southern California is desert, usually something I would try to avoid rather than seek out. But there is a stark beauty to it that can be enjoyed in the winter. At least in January 2019. In January 1850, it was very different and the groups trying to cross suffered terribly. William Manly's autobiography "Death Valley in '49" was published in 1894, but it is still a captivating read. The worst part of their journey was not Death Valley, but crossing the Mojave desert. The only thing that saved (most of) them from dying of thirst were some puddles and ice from a storm.
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    "Our thirst began to be something terrible to endure. We were so nearly worn out that we tried to eat a little meat, but the mouth would not moisten it enough so we could swallow and we had to reject it. It seemed as if we were going to die with food in our hand because we could not eat it. We talked a little and the burden of it was a fear that we could not endure the terrible thirst a while longer." William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49, Ch. 10

    I was interested in exploring the Mojave desert, but had no good information on what to do. I have traveled several other deserts on a bicycle over the years, but also had route plans for them. Nothing for the Mojave desert. Steve Walker's Coyote Trail Adventures specializes in offroad motorcycle trips in just that area.
    I rode my XT225, a small road-legal dirt bike, to Steve's house in Palmdale and loaded it in the van. Lancaster/Palmdale are now substantial cities at the edge of the desert. In 1850, the travelers were still at risk of either starving to death or dying from thirst. Their ordeal only ended after making it to the Santa Clarita valley.

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    "In those days we got no rain, see no living animals of any kind, so not a bird nor insect, see nothing green except a very stunted sage and some dwarf bushes." William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49
    We had it much easier, starting with a van ride for an hour north with breakfast on the way. In January 1850, Manly and Rogers walked that same distance without water. Then they returned with food, horses, and a mule a week later and finally walked back a third time bringing the Bennett-Arcane group to safety in February. Only the mule made it, the horses died on the route, but all people in the Bennett-Arcane group survived. I think Manly is talking about the stretch from Randsburg to Palmdale here:
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    "There was now before us a particularly bad stretch of the country as it would probably take us four or five days to get over it, and there was only one water hole in the entire distance. This one was quite salty, so much so that on our return trip the horses refused to drink it, and the little white one died the next day." William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49, Ch. 11


    There are 8 of us on this trip. Steve Walker and John Sides are leading the ride and Steve's brother Charlie drives the support van. Josip is an entertainer from Croatia, where he goes by Jozo Bozo and has carved out a niche as a child magician (Josip took some of the photos in this blogpost). The three As were a contractor from New Jersey (Andrew), a loud Australian (Adam) and a quieter Brit (Andy) from the Bay Area. The three A's seemed to be more motorheads (in the engine enthusiasts sense) than Josip or I. Andrew was also a competitive talker who could not bear silence. As I was looking out of the window imagining how to transverse that terrain without any information about it and without supplies, Andrew talked excitedly how an uncle of a friend of a cousin made his boat engine faster and how the extra speed eviscerated the manhood of a boater who only had a regular engine and was left in the wake. Or something like that.
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    I had my GPS with me and drew this map later

    Charlie dropped us off south of Randsburg and we started riding the south leg of the map. Day one went up to Trona/Searles Valley where Steve has some cabins up there that serve as a basis. We split the group up for a while, a good idea because 7 people is too big, and the three A's probably wanted to go faster anyway. Josip and I were more interested in seeing the area than in competing who can tear up the most soil and Josip wanted to take more pictures.

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    In the middle of nowhere is the Husky Memorial, a shrine to killed motorcyclists. It started about 30 years when a member of a local club committed suicide and his friends chose to honor him by taking his Husqvarna motorcycle to the desert and setting it in concrete. Over time, additional memorials began appearing and now it is quite a junk yard. While not a permitted official site, the BLM tolerates it and people seem to really care about the site. A desert oddity that is becoming a tourist attraction, maybe because there are no other nearby landmarks.

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    We are staying at some cabins north of Trona. Primitive, but very charming, and really the perfect base for touring this area. A far more luxurious backcountry trip than I do on my own.

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    Panamint Range is the tall range, Death Valley is behind it. I think the front range is called the Slate Range. Picture taken near the cabins where we stayed.
    The next morning goes across the sandy Searle's valley floor into the Slate Range via Goff Canyon (Isham Canyon is a little north of it, but Isham died in the middle of Searles Valley from dehydration and exhaustion).
    "At the bottom of the mountain we had several miles of soft and sandy road. A short way out in the sandy valley we pass again the grave of Mr. Isham where he had been buried by his friends. He was a cheerful, pleasant man, and during the forepart of the journey used his fiddle at the evening camps to increase the merriment of his jolly companions." William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49, Ch. 11

    On the eastern slope, we descend the Slate range in Fish Canyon. Most of the Death Valley 49er groups came up this way to get over the Slate Range, including the Jayhawkers, Manly/Rogers, and finally Manly/Rogers again leading the Bennett and Arcane group.

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    "Just as it was fairly light I went about 200 yards south where the dead body of Mr Fish lay, just as he died more than a month before. The body had not been disturbed and looked quite natural." William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49, Ch. 11

    At the bottom of Fish Canyon in the Panamint Valley, we turn south to go around the salt marsh/lake. This must have been really painful, being desperate for water and have to make a detour around a lake/swamp that is undrinkable. That was Mr. Fish's last day as he did not make it over the Slate Range.
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    Panamint Valley

    On the east side of Panamint Valley, we climb up Goler Road to Mengler Pass and into Death Valley. We have a rather unrepresentative cold and rainy day.
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    "Thus we traveled along for hours, never speaking, for we found it much better for our thirst to keep our mouths closed as much as possible, and prevent the evaporation. The dry air of that region took up water as a sponge does. We passed the summit of this ridge without finding water."

    The Striped Butte is a curious feature. This canyon/valley connects to the main part of Death Valley and may be the only manageable way out directly going west, so this is where Manly/Rogers crossed. The Jayhawkers went much further north, probably Emigrant Pass north of Telescope Peak while Manly/Rogers crossed the Panamint Range south of Telescope Peak. Then the routes converged as the Jayhawkers turned south in the Panamint Valley and all seemed to cross the Slate Range through Fish Canyon (Fish was traveling with the Jayhawkers).

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    Striped Butte
    We turn around at the geologist cabin near the butte and return the way we came. There is a spring known as anvil springs, named in 1867 by the Bendire expedition that found an anvil, wagon rims, and some old iron scraps. Initially, it was thought that these were tools that Bennett brought into this area, but it is pretty clear from Manly's account (which wasn't published until decades later) that Bennett would not have been in any shape to take his tools this far.

    The geologist cabin is fairly new, definitely after 1930 (because there are pictures before then that show no cabin), but it isn't entirely clear who started it. Maybe Asa Russell (Panamint Russ) who worked on a claim nearby in the 1930s or maybe some geologists who were there at the same time. Russell lived in the area again after retirement from LA Water and Power in the 1960s. Russell's own account is confusing, the National Park Service website has more on this: Butte area history
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    Asa Russell at the geologist cabin
    Back in Panamint Valley, we turn north along the salt lake and ride past Ballarat. Around 1900, Ballarat was a real town with several hotels and saloons. Now it is just a few dilapidated buildings and random pieces of junk. Pretty sorry sight even as far as ghost towns are concerned.
    Day 3:
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    Sunrise at the cabins
    Day 3 looks pretty from the cabins, but there is a dense fog in the Searle valley. This fog is really cold, really wet, and makes for a few miserable first hours before we get back on higher ground. Of course, "miserable" is relative, compared to how the Death Valley '49s felt here, probably "comfortable" is more appropriate.
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    Once above the fog, it is really fun riding. In fact, probably the most fun riding we have during the trip.

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    #1
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  2. liv2day

    liv2day Is Anyone Here a Marine Biologist! Supporter

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    Great images and so cool to include the historical perspective, thank you for taking the time to write it up and grab pictures of the area :thumb. Hope there's more to come?

    Even though I live in the PNW where it's quite wet and green, I have an affinity for the desert that started back in 2016 when I did my first real ADV ride in Death Valley. Had so much fun that I'm heading back down there in about a month for another 5-day ride.

    And welcome to the forum :ricky :ricky
    #2
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  3. fiddlefestival

    fiddlefestival Adventurer

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    And on to trip 2 at the end of February! This starts further south and east and goes up on the CA-BDR.

    Winter 2019 Desert Tour #2: Anza Borrego, Yuma, Mojave

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    The BDR (backcountry discovery routes) folks created a Southern California desert route for 2019 and I got their map as soon as it became available in January (CA - BDR). The BDR routes are the motorcycle equivalent to bikepacking routes, similar to the original Great Divide Mountain Bike Route/Tour Divide, which was scouted with a jeep. Like Tour Divide, a bit too tedious on a bicycle (lots of wide dirt roads, washboard, cars), but with an engine stronger than 2 legs can be fun.

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    Flowers are coming up near Borrego Springs
    The most southern parts of the CA-BDR, the Yuma desert, are only tolerable in the winter, even March can be too warm to be fun. Not this year. We had a surprisingly cold and wet winter so far, so cold and wet that it wasn't until the last week in February that I took off on my XT225. Last month, I was cold and wet in the Mojave and Death Valley.
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    Mal Pais Overlook, camped here in night 1.

    The hardest part is always to get going and there is an extra hurdle living in a metropolitan area. The least pleasant two stretches are the two hours getting out of and back into the LA area. The 225 is about the slowest vehicle on the freeway.

    I left around noon to avoid the worst traffic. By the afternoon things became enjoyable and at 3 pm, I was in the Anza Borrego desert. Borrego Springs is getting busy, wildflower season is starting. I camped at the Malpais Overlook.

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    Camp first night, in this direction the badlands don't look as hostile. The flowers add some friendliness and you get those only for a very short time period.

    There wasn't any need for a tent, it wasn't cold, no bugs, no dew. Maybe the only reason was that the tent hasn't been used for long time and needed airing out. Or maybe that by now I have forgotten how to do backcountry trips. The desert was very still, no sounds of any life, very different from the next night.
    #3
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  4. eaglescan

    eaglescan Borrego rocks

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    We are in Borrego and the desert bloom is happening. Out in the Ocotilla OHV area ,at the devils Slide, it is covered in flowers. I never seen that area have this much in 12 yrs down here. Thanks for doing the report, will be watching for more.
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  5. black 8

    black 8 coddiwompling motographer

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    Thanks for the update Steve... waiting for the winds and clouds to go away...
    #5
  6. liv2day

    liv2day Is Anyone Here a Marine Biologist! Supporter

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    That is a fantastic picture @fiddlefestival! For me, there's nothing like camping in the back country - especially if there's no one around. Great lighting in that shot, and the landscape you're in is spectacular.

    Looks like killer place to ride, looking forward to what you post next :D :D
    #6
  7. fiddlefestival

    fiddlefestival Adventurer

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    It is a wet year, so the wildflowers will be unusually good, up with 2017, which was the last superbloom. It is still a bit early, at least it was the last week in February. Mid to late march may be peak. I probably will go to the Carrizo Plains then.

    Back to the winter trip 2 ride report, morning of the second day:

    In Ocotillo Wells, encountering even a few flowers contrast very sharply with most of the terrain. More common is very barren landscape here.


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    As little vegetation as on Mars - near Shell Reef in Ocotillo Wells


    I putter through Anza-Borrego and Ocotillo Wells sand during the morning, having one slow speed slide out in the sand. A very dry area and sometimes without any vegetation. Most of the year will be awfully hot, but today is just perfect. Two park rangers on foot are doing a survey of flowers in Ocotillo Wells, they have little flags to mark areas, although I'm not sure what the purpose of the little flags are. I don't see anybody else for a few hours (it is Wednesday morning). Only when I get close to highway 78 do I see some RVs parked. Now back on pavement for a while towards Yuma where I am starting the CA-BDR proper.

    What surprised me on this stretch were big yellow splatters on my helmet/mirrors/jacket. Very juicy bugs and quite a few of them. I didn't realize it at that time, only after they were coming through Los Angeles 10 days later, but these were Painted Lady butterflies. The wet weather not only creates a superbloom, but also a burst of butterflies because there is more food for the caterpillars. They originate in the Colorado and Mojave deserts in the winter, migrate north to Oregon and Washington and another generation returns in the fall. They start very well supplied and the yellow splatter is the fat reserve for the journey. Their desert tanks.

    Despite the dry climate, there is a substantial agricultural industry north and south of the border, irrigated by canals that are the last straws for the Colorado River, which no longer reaches the ocean. Water canals are even along the Algodones dunes. It doesn't get more desert-like than this.
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    Algodones/Glamis dunes off highway 78

    I resupply in Yuma, Arizona, where the CA backcountry discovery route starts. The first 30 km are a wide dirt road, somewhat washboarded, and would be very tedious on a bicycle. Usually also too hot, but the temperatures were pleasant when moving on a motorcycle, although already too hot when stopping. And there is no shade.


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    20km north of Yuma, now on the CA-BDR


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    on section 1 of the CA-BDR between Yuma and Picacho State Park

    After I left the pavement past Yuma, I only saw two cars in the afternoon coming the opposite direction. It was a Wednesday, midweek, and that may account for low use. The CA-BDR goes through the Picacho State Park along the Colorado River. The main road went to the central part with boat launch, showers, camp ground, but I took an immediate left that immediately led to a much rougher road and therefore less used.
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    Colorado River
    There are some primitive campsites, largely for boaters, at the north end of the state park. I initially didn't plan to stay here, but camp away from people and that probably meant outside the park, but the river was very pretty. And there wasn't anybody around, so I decided to stay in the northernmost camp spot in the park. It doesn't have anything other than a fire pit and a picnic table and a registration box. But a spectacular location and I gladly paid the $25 (yes, it is quite expensive for a primitive camp with no facilities).
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    No mistake here with the tent this time and I only used the inner net: River front also means bugs.

    I was too hot, about 4 pm, despite being a mellow day for this place, and cooled down in the Colorado. I started to swim to the Arizona side, but the current was a bit fast and I didn't want to get carried too far downstream. About 1/3 of the way across, I found a submerged sand bank, very soft comfortable sand. When sitting on that sand bank, just my head was above the water. I sat on the sand bank happily for quite a while, just having my head out, until my hands and feet got cold.

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    The nightlife here in a different league than last night, which was still. Birds shuffling in the weeds, bats zooming around, lots of insects (including mosquitoes, but not too bad), wild donkeys/burros honking, coyotos howlings. The burros were really noisy and make really ugly sounds. A cross between ducks and foghorn, but sometimes they choke up and it sounds like a hand saw. Different from domestic donkeys in Europe, not that they make pretty sounds either. The coyotes were almost musical in comparison, there was one pack howling on the Arizona side and two packs on the CA side.

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    report to be continued next week
    #7
  8. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    I can never get enough desert. Love it. :thumb
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  9. liv2day

    liv2day Is Anyone Here a Marine Biologist! Supporter

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    Fantastic! I missed a film recap of the CA BDR that was held up here (PDX area) at the end of February. I'm going to figure out how to do this, rent a truck or something to haul to the start and then get something at the end to drive home.

    Great pics @fiddlefestival, looks like perfect weather and there's nothing like cooling off in the river after time in the saddle. And your commentary on the burros is pretty funny, I'll never forget those damn beasts making quite the racket at oh-dark-thirty when we were camped in Saline Valley. Was really hoping the coyotes would take one down and that'd make the rest of them scatter so I could get better sleep...lol.

    Looking forward to the pics/post from #3 :thumb :ricky
    #9
  10. Kingfish

    Kingfish Been here awhile

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    Awesome RR! I also just got back from Trona Pinnacles and DV, I liked the addition of the quotes from Manley. Well done sir!
    #10
  11. fiddlefestival

    fiddlefestival Adventurer

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    Thanks! Continuing my report of trip 2. I started day 3 from Picacho State Park, which is still the first section of the CA-BDR. As you leave the park, there is a fairly squirrely stretch up Indian Pass. On the map, it is marked as "deep sand", although I think it is closer to gravel. I passed another motorcyclist who was not happy about the conditions. He had an Africa Twin, more a standard "adventure" motorcycle than mine. Apparently the soft conditions caused him difficulties. Deep sand requires some speed in order to have control and at slow speed one slides around randomly. Those big motorcycles are nice on the highway, but they are really heavy and I'd be hesitant to take one into remote terrain by myself. It is very hard to pick them and also easy to get stuck underneath. So an XT225 for me these days for such trips. I wonder how far he got on the route, but didn't see him again.

    The next resupply was in Blythe, and slowly the elevation increases. In the afternoon, it is out of the Sonoran desert and into the Mojave. Section 2 ends at the Sahara Oasis gas station along I-40. There is a short stretch on the old Route 66. Goffs is a cute historic place with a museum about 10 miles after the gas station. It was getting dark and climbed into the Mojave National Preserve. I camped maybe 30 minutes past Goffs, at about 1200m. At this altitude, it was noticeably colder than the previous two nights and I actually wanted the tent.
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    Day 4 was largely at higher altitude and much cooler. Climbing up the road towards the New York Mountains got up to 1500m or so and I put on warmer clothes. The mountains themselves peak at over 2000m.

    Joshua Trees seem to like the cooler weather up there as well and seem grow much more densily than anywhere else, including Joshua Tree National Park. I very much enjoyed riding there, almost in a Joshua Tree forest.

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    Bert Smith’s Rock House was built by a WWI veteran who came back wrecked from poison gas and didn't expect to live long. The deserts of California seemed to do him good and he lived until 1954. There is a spring, an essential (and rare) feature for surviving in the desert.

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    Section 4 of the CA-BDR starts on the north side of I-15 (the Barstow to Las Vegas freeway). There is a first climb past a huge solar plant up to Coloseum mine. That was about the roughest section I encountered and more easily tackled on a small motorcyle than an intimidating 500+ pound bike. There is an easier alternative from Primm that avoids the Coloseum mine road, if I were on a fat motorcycle, I'd take this instead.
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    Large solar plant near Primm, NV
    I didn't go much further north and eventually turned around before Tecopa Hot Springs. The following week, I would be around here again on a ride from LA to Vegas, but that is for another blog entry. Also, at this point in a very wet year, the rest of the CA-BDR isn't going to work well. Several stretches are currently closed, too muddy, or have snow. Just in the next section, West Side Road and Titus Canyon Death Valley are closed this week. Next month should be ok again.
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    Tecopa Hot Springs
    #11
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  12. liv2day

    liv2day Is Anyone Here a Marine Biologist! Supporter

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    Really like the shot of the track through the Joshua trees, and your other pics are good too. I'm going to be down in Death Valley the 2nd week of April for a 6-day ride, seeing your pictures and reading your report makes me want to figure out how to do the CA BDR from the bottom up. Not sure when I'll be able to make that happen as I also want to do the CDR from the bottom up - need more time off and less time stuck in cube hell...lol.

    Please keep the updates coming, helps maintain sanity until I'm packed and have the rig pointed south with my WR in the back (and my buddy's 500) :thumb :thumb
    #12
  13. fiddlefestival

    fiddlefestival Adventurer

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    Here is the remainder of trip 2, 5 days, 30 hours of riding, 1000 miles. This is day 4, now I'm leaving the CA-BDR and start heading back to Los Angeles. Turns out that one of my plans to avoid the highway did not work out at all!

    Day 4:

    By late afternoon, I was back in the Mojave National Preserve. I had tried to find a trail that eventually lead into a canyon, somehow instead I found myself on top of a mountain at a dead end. But a great view.

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    I was too cold at this altitude, so I was going back down as low as possible and then camped in a wash. It was a nice temperature and I just slept outside. Had a very good night until at 3 am it started raining. So I had to get into the tent after all, but slept in. Around 8 am, the rain had stopped.

    I had planned to ride out the wash, cross a dry lake bed on Mojave road, but pretty soon noticed that this was not possible. Places that yesterday were hard packed were soft and slippery and had puddles on them. The lake bed is the terminus of the Mojave River (which evaporates in the desert, it does not go to the ocean) and this year has been unusually wet. One of the oddities of deserts that has taken me a while to understand is that many rivers/creeks start bigger and then get smaller until they disappear, the opposite of typical rivers that eventually go to an ocean. A bit further north, the Amargosa River does the same thing, finally giving out around Badwater in Death Valley.

    Mojave road was known already in the 1700s and became part of the Old Spanish Trail (the southern option) in the 1800s. The Death Valley 49ers, who thought they take a fast shortcut, suffered terribly in the Mojave desert (that includes Manly, Rogers, the Jayhawkers, and the Bennett/Arcane families), whereas the group that stayed with Hunt and took the "long" Old Spanish Trail made it without drama and much quicker. The first US explorer may have been Jedediah Smith in 1926 and he probably crossed on the Mojave trail right here and this is the plain he talks about:

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    "I travelled a west course fifteen days over a country of complete barrens, generally travelling from morning until night without water. I crossed a Salt plain about 20 miles long and 8 wide; on the surface was a crust of beautiful white salt, quite thin. Under this surface there is a layer of salt from a half to one and a half inches in depth; between this and the upper layer there is about four inches of yellowish sand."

    Jedediah Smith, 1826, p. 190 in: The Ashley-Smith Explorations and the Discovery of a Central Route to the Pacific 1822-1829, with the Original Journals edited by Harrison Clifford Dale, 1913

    I thought maybe I can go around the southern end (and that point I didn't realize that the Mojave River comes from the south), but quickly realized that this was not promising and tried to find my way to higher ground. The mud packed so hard in the rear tire that it stopped the engine and I had to scrape off the mud repeatedly.

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    [​IMG]An hour of mud wrestling before I backtracked to Baker and from there took I-15 home. Those freeway miles were the hardest part of the ride, though. There was a fierce headwind much of the way, sometimes pushing me below 50mph, and then a storm at Cajon Pass.

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    Out of the mud, more solid this direction

    Even with the freeway miles at the beginning and end, a great roundtrip of about 1000 miles/1600km. Total moving time was 30 hours. Two slideouts in deep sand, stalling twice on climbs and tipping over, plus additional drops during the one hour mud bath.
    #13
  14. eaglescan

    eaglescan Borrego rocks

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    you are so lucky! You may be in the top 1 % of off roaders that could have this to report. too bad you didn't have time or know the old Route 66 is doable, even if signs say closed. I would be all over that.
    #14
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  15. Zubb

    Zubb he went that-a-way...

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    Well played sir! Great report.
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  16. rauchman

    rauchman Been here awhile

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    AWESOME.....thank you!
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  17. eaglescan

    eaglescan Borrego rocks

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    Yes , 66 is different for everyone , for me I found it first in Williams. Then Newberry Springs, a bit near Barstow Goffs and then Oatman ,Kingman and Hackberry. I know where the end is in LA, and you are right, I have no interest in doing that on the motorcycle.
    #17
  18. liv2day

    liv2day Is Anyone Here a Marine Biologist! Supporter

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    Glad I checked back to see how this ended :-). It's too bad the rain messed up your original path/plan, bet you would have had a great time trekking across that dry lake bed.

    That mud is awful, reminds me of what me and a couple buddies encountered in SE Oregon a couple years ago (took 3+ hours to go a mile). Good call bailing on that crap and dealing with the slab instead.

    Really enjoyed your RR, thank you for taking the time to post :thumb :thumb.
    #18
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  19. avejoe

    avejoe Long timer

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    Nice!
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  20. fiddlefestival

    fiddlefestival Adventurer

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    And onto trip 3, from Red Rock Canyon (CA) to Red Rock Canyon (NV) via Death Valley. Or more grandiose (although a bit misleading):

    Winter Desert Trip #3: LA to Vegas


    Here is the route:

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    3 day route, about 400 miles, and 15 hours of moving time

    In my January trip report, I used quotes from Manly's own journey. This time, I use quotes here come from the Jayhawkers experience, another group of the Death Valley 49'ers. Manly took a different route out of Death Valley and overtook the Jayhawkers in the Mojave desert.
    Many of you know that view, it is the Searles Valley around Trona. Some sand to get across, but put yourself into the worn out shoes of the Jayhawkers:


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    Searles Valley and the Slate Range.
    From William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49, The Jayhawkers story, as they descended into Searles Valley from the Slate Range
    :

    "To the left a large lake could be seen and from their previous experience they concluded it to be salt and the valley they were coming to was very sandy. It must be crossed before there was any possibility of water. One of their number had already died of thirst and fatigue and all were suffering terribly.
    The valley seemed about eight miles across and before they were half way over Mr. Isham, one of their party sat down, perfectly exhausted, and said he could not take another step. No one was able to assist him or give him a drink of water and they could not tarry to see if rest would refresh him. They could only look sadly at him and pass on in silence. The thought came to everyone that perhaps it would be his turn next to sit down and see the others pass on. In fact the probability of any more of them living another day was very poor, for they all grew weaker and weaker with every hour."

    I am joining up with Steve Walker and John Sides again rather than a solo trip as my last one (or the next one). I have ridden with Steve and John before and am impressed with their knowledge of the Mojave desert (which was unknown to me) and dirt biking (not my area of expertise either). I usually do my own routes without support, but it is a different style (more of a backcountry/nature experience, not on motorcycle either).
    On my last motorcycle trips, I rode my Yamaha XT 225, which is a very mild trail bike. It can go everywhere the hardcore motorcycles can go, but much more slowly, mainly because the suspension gets overwhelmed as the pace picks up. It brays and bucks when being pushed, like the wild burros in this area. Steve gently suggested that I rent a KTM 350 for this trip, a much more aggressive motorcycle (three times the power, better suspension, 6 inches taller, but less weight). Steve is not pushy and tries to avoid hurting people's feelings. He could be more forceful, but maybe in that social circle, people's self-esteem is too closely linked to their possessions or self-assessed riding skills. I think it is a good idea to follow Steve's or John's suggestions when motorcycling is concerned. So a KTM for me this time, it makes it a lot easier to keep up with them (or at least it reduces how long they have to wait).
    I would never buy a KTM 350 for myself. They are ugly, expensive, overly tall (seat height is 97cm or about 38 inches), require lots of maintenance (oil change every 15 hours, complete engine rebuild every 130 hours!), and rattle on highways. That's why you never see one on a road, only in the back of a pickup truck.

    We start near Red Rock Canyon State Park near Cantil, although went around it on the west side. Another Red Rock Canyon, but this one in Nevada just before Las Vegas concludes our ride on day 3. Steve and John lead the ride; Nick, Albert, and m tag along.

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    Starting off on day 1
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    Descending into Searles Valley (Trona) on day 1. The Slate Range is the small front range, Panamint Valley behind it, then the Panamint Range with snow-capped Telescope Peak, and Death Valley behind it.

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    Late afternoon ride into the mountains, this formation had an almost unreal color in the late afternoon light, hard to capture on a photo.

    Day 2:
    Very surprising, there is a real waterfall in Searles Valley. It is intermittent, of course, but this year runs unusually full. The winter of 1849/1850 was also unusually wet. But first, the Jayhawkers had to get down from the Slate Range and across the valley before there was any chance that they could find water.
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    "Those who bore farthest to the right, steering toward a pile of tremendous rocks, found a little stream of good water which flowed only a short distance and then sank into the sand.... Some took two canteens of water and hurried back to Mr. Isham who they found still alive but his mouth and throat so dry and parched, and his strength so small that he was unable to swallow a single drop, and while they waited he breathed his last. With their hands and feet they dug away the sand for a shallow grave. " William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49, The Jayhawkers story

    After the waterfall, we got into some deeper sand where the riding gets a bit squirrely. Better for burying your companions than the rocks in the Slate Range the previous day(s):

    "Both parties began the ascent of a black and barren range, containing no water, but in the bed of a ravine near the summit they found some damp sand and tried to dig with their hands to find some of the precious fluid. But no water came, and in the morning one of their number Mr. Fish died and was left unburied on the barren rocks. No doubt his bones could be found there to-day".

    Sand is especially wobbly at slow speed and on a bicycle it is almost impossible to get enough speed to glide over it. More speed makes it easier and that's where an engine has a big advantage. John zoomed by and waved us on, trying to encourage us to speed up, but regardless of his gesturing, Albert or I didn't follow his prompt.

    We enter the Slate Range on Stockwell Mine Road and descend on the eastern side into Panamint Valley through Fish Canyon (the '49ers ascended the range here).
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    Day 2, we just crossed the Slate Range and are descending into Panamint Valley, Telescope Peak ahead, Death Valley on the other side.

    "Down the mountain they went, on the west side and instead of Los Angeles, which some of them expected to see, they saw only a salt lake in the midsts of a barren desert valley and their route lay directly across it. They traveled in several directions as they went across."
    The 49'ers were going the opposite direction from us, so the quote above refers to seeing the Panamint Valley from the other side. It must have been another despairing sight. Instead of the short cut that would save time over the much longer Old Spanish Trail to Los Angeles, they hit mountain range after mountain range with a dry valley. The dry mud flats or salt marshes were deceiving as from a distance they look like lakes. Next they would get into Searles Valley, no view of Los Angeles either, only of many more days of desert.


    "These dry lake beds deceived them many times. They seemed as if containing plenty of water, and off the men would go to explore. They usually found the distance to them about three times as far as they at first supposed, and when they reached them they found no water, but a dry, shining bed, smooth as glass, but just clay, hard as a rock. Most of these dry lakes showed no outlet, nor any inlet for that matter, though at some period in the past they must have been full of water. Nothing grew in shape of vegetables or plants except a small, stunted, bitter brush". William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49, The Jayhawkers story


    We go around the salt marsh on the southern side and climb into the Panamint Range via Goler Canyon (also shows as Coyote Canyon Road on some maps). It is a jeep trail that goes into Death Valley National Park past Barker Ranch, where Charles Manson and his group where arrested (almost incidentally, the arrest was for vandalism, the sheriff and National Park Service only later realized that they captured a mass murderer and his followers).


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    Ascending the Panamint Range in Goler Canyon, look for all the brown round cacti growing on the rocks
    On that stretch, the tall seat of the KTM did get me. The group took a break and I rolled up to them. But when I stopped, my foot didn't reach the ground and I tipped over. For me, the extra suspension and ground clearance isn't worth the extra effort of getting on and off the bike or comfortably stopping for taking a picture. They are very competent, great once you move in dirt, but just not very practical motorcycles. Twice the power I need, but a weak rear frame that is likely to crack with luggage, needs oil changes even in the middle of a shortish trip, and the seat height even makes a chore of anything other than keeping going. The same "race" pretensions that mar the bicycle market.

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    Geologist cabin and Striped Butte in Death Valley, on day 2


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    This is Death Valley proper, Badwater further to the left.

    At the bottom, we are very briefly on West Side Road, which is atrocious washboard, worse than I remember it from the past. Actually, this is a rough year, a lot of routes through/near Death Valley are currently (March 2019) closed due to rain/snow/storm damage.

    Before whining too much about road condition, people had bigger concerns here in the past, long before there was any road in Death Valley:

    "Five days they traveled, without finding water, and small supply they took along had been consumed. For lack of water they could not eat or sleep.... The range of mountains they had been aiming for still seemed far away and the possible show for reaching it seemed very poor indeed, and the prospect of any water hole between them and the mountains poorer yet. Hope was pretty near gone." William Lewis Manly (1894), Death Valley in '49, The Jayhawkers Story
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