14-17 March, 2018
Bob invited me to go explore the Mojave National Preserve in southern California. He wanted to visit some of the places he used to go with his family when he was young. I was able to arrange my schedule to join him, and at the last-minute, Ron also decided to come.
We were able to cram all three bikes and all of our luggage into Bob’s pickup truck, so we didn’t have to haul my trailer. We left early on Wednesday morning, for the seven-hour drive to our starting point just west of the small town of Nipton, CA. We rode for four days and returned home late Saturday evening.
We covered approximately 315 miles. Some sections were paved, some were easy dirt road, and other sections were more rugged Jeep roads – in particular, parts of the historic Mojave Road. We also crossed an almost dry lake bed and played in the sand dunes around Crucero Hill, where Bob used to ride years ago. Here is our four-day GPS track.
We arrived at our staging area at around noon and quickly loaded our luggage onto our bikes. We rode south along the Ivanpah Road, then southeast towards the New York Mountains. The mountains were much larger than I expected – this is supposed to be a desert after all.
Rather than stick to the main road all the way, we took a side road and explored Sagamore Canyon. This gave us a chance to adapt to riding our bikes with luggage, as well as make any adjustments to keep our luggage from bouncing around.
When we arrived at the OX Ranch, we decided to backtrack and head up into the New York Mountains. I read of a nice camp location up in Caruthers Canyon and wanted to check it out.
We really had no intention of camping there, but when we found the spot, all three of us wanted to camp there for the night. It was a wonderful campsite with a nice picnic table built out of rocks and concrete and it offered a fair amount of shelter from the strong wind that had been blowing all day.
It was only about 3:30 PM when we got there, so we decided to go ride a portion of the Mojave Road and then return to this campsite. The trail dropped into a sandy wash for a few hundred feet. Bob and Ron missed the exit and continued down the wash. I decided to wait at the junction and hoped they would return to find me – which they eventually did. We then worked our way back up to the campsite, rigged our tents, and cooked our dinner. We rode about 62 miles on day one.
Bob went to bed as soon as it got dark – at about 7:00 PM. Ron and I wanted to stay up longer, but the cold soon drove us into our tents as well. I spent a few hours reading, then went to bed.
I woke up at about 5:00 AM and heard the pitter-patter of light rain. I slept a few more hours and was surprised to wake up at 7:00 AM with about 2” of snow on the ground – and still coming down hard.
Bob and I stowed most of our gear under our tent vestibule, but Ron’s tent didn’t have two vestibules so he left much of his gear outside. Everything, including his boots, was covered in snow.
I left my cook stove out, and found it frozen to the table and difficult to light due to the water in the stove head.
By the time we ate breakfast and packed up our gear, the sun came out melted most of the snow in the areas sheltered from the cold wind. The soil was fairly sandy, so we didn’t have to deal with slippery mud as we rode down out of the mountains.
We were surprised by the snow because the forecast for Baker called for highs around 70° and lows around 46°. We later learned that Baker is only about 1000’ in elevation and our camp was at about 5600’.
After exiting the mountains, we took the Cedar Canyon road west to the Black Canyon road. Both of these roads were being graded, which made them somewhat muddy and slippery.
Rather than continue on the muddy Black Canyon road, we turned west to explore the more rugged Wild Horse Canyon road. We stopped to check out the Midhills campground, which was still covered in snow even though it was at about the same elevation as our camp. This campground offered almost no shelter from the wind. That would have been a very cold place to camp for the night.
We also checked out the Hole-In-The-Wall campground. This is much lower in elevation but offers even less shelter from the wind. There were numerous motorhomes in this campground since the access road from the south is paved.
Our original intent was to camp at Hole-In-The-Wall campground so we could explore the “Rings Trail”. With the cold wind, we decided to skip the hike and press on.
Our next destination was the Kelso Visitor’s Center. Rather than take the paved road all the way around, we took a shortcut over the mountain on the Vulcan Mine road. This road was fairly rocky, but not all that difficult on dirt bikes.
After eating lunch and checking out the visitor’s center, we took a quick sandy road north along an old telegraph line. The bushes and cactus hung over the trail, so our hand guards took a beating. I also found numerous cactus spines stuck into my luggage.
We then rode another section of the Mojave Road west. This was a fun section of the trail, which lots of smooth whoops formed from the local terrain drainage. We stopped to sign in at one of the Mojave Mailboxes.
From there, we rode north on the Aiken Mine road to check out the lava flow cave, and then camped at the base of an old volcano cinder cone. We put in about 92 miles on day two.
This camp was only at about 3300’ elevation, and the wind died down once the sun set, so it was the warmest night of our trip.
After breakfast, we continued west on the sandy Mojave Road, then took the paved Kelbaker Road into Baker for gas and supplies. I had to try three different gas stations before I could find one that would take my credit card. I have no idea what the problem was.
We worked our way south and picked up the Mojave Road again as it crossed the Soda Lake bed. The lake bed was mostly dry, but the middle section was still fairly wet and muddy. We were able to ride through it okay, but you had to ride carefully.
We stopped at the Traveler’s Monument rock pile and read the secret inscription on the plaque at the top.
We then worked our way over to the Crucero sand dunes. I was carrying a heavier load than Ron and Bob, and I am not very good at riding in sand. While crossing a steep side hill, my rear end spun out and down I went. My left foot and knee buried in the sand and I was wedged under my bike. I tried to wiggle free for about ten minutes before Bob and Ron came back to rescue me. I decided to take my lunch break and rest while they explored the dunes a little longer.
We hit another patch of mud on our way east to the Jackass Canyon road and ended up riding along the railroad tracks to avoid the mud. Bob hit a sharp rock and sliced his almost new rear tire. He installed a few tire plugs and was able to get the tire to hold air long enough to get to our next camp (we all have Tubliss inserts in our tires).
The road between the railroad tracks and Jackass Canyon was very sandy and fairly tricky to ride with a loaded bike. We stopped at the base of Old Dad Mountain for Bob to top off his tire again – a fitting backdrop for us three old men.
We then rode east across the fun section of the Mojave Road that we rode the day before. We found a nice place to camp at the base of some large rock outcroppings. This camp was at about 3800’ elevation, and once again we had a cold wind blowing all night. We logged about another 92 miles on day 3.
The wind blew again all night long and was quite chilly in the morning. I ended up cooking breakfast under my vestibule to get some shelter from the wind. We packed up and got an earlier start than the other days since we had a long drive home. We wanted to be back at the truck by noon but enjoy some good riding all morning.
We rode the Mojave Road east until we hit the Ivanpah Road. We took a short break to visit the Rock Spring cabin.
We had a little extra time, so decided to go check out the Indian Well petroglyphs. There is a natural well about 15’ deep with water in the bottom, so the Indians marked many of the surrounding rocks with petroglyphs.
My GPS showed a shortcut back to the Ivanpah Road, but it led to some private property, so we had to backtrack. We then buzzed back to the truck on the Ivanpah Road and arrived at about noon – right on schedule. We logged about 68 miles, loaded up the truck, and began the long drive home.
This was my first time to the Mojave Desert, and it was quite different than I expected. It was certainly more mountainous than expected, and the scenery was impressive. There were a lot of Joshua Trees and other forms of cactus. We didn’t see much wildlife other than jack rabbits. The weather was windy and colder than expected, but overall, it was a great early spring adventure.