Thursday, April 7, 2016

Three days through the Mojave and Colorado deserts

What do you do when a bee flies up your motorcycle jacket sleeve and stings your upper arm when you are riding about 80 mph on Interstate 10 in southern California?

Luckily we were heading onto the off-ramp in Indio, CA as I hit Mike on the shoulder, took off my jacket, and started shaking it to get rid of the bee. Mike pulled over to the side of the road, the bee flew away, and we finished up the first day of our 3-day trip.

The day started on a much better note:  clear skies, 60 degrees, and we were off on our first overnight trip on the BMW in over a year.

We wound our way south through the twisties on 89S passing through Skull Valley, Yarnell, and into Congress where the temperature climbed into the high 70's as we descended from 5500' elevation in Prescott to 3000' in Congress. We continued southwest on Arizona 71, turning onto Arizona 60 where we stopped for lunch in Salome.

The highway passes through valleys with craggy, rocky mountains on either side. This time of year the dessert seems to come to life, with bright green leaves on the shrubby bushes, orange-red flowers blooming on the tips of the tall ocotillo, and bunches of yellow flowers periodically lining the

Eventually we had no choice but to turn onto the 4-lane Interstate 10; there simply aren't any other paved roads that head west. We saw narrow 4-wheeler tracks to the side of the interstate that threaded their way through the mountains or at times paralleled the highway, but otherwise there is nothing but wide-open desert.

We crossed the Colorado River into California, and the landscape changed abruptly from dessert into irrigated green fields. As we continued west away from the river, the desert took over once again, now with stands of palm tree trunks with their tops cut off, a barren and disturbing sight.

In Chiriaco Summit we pulled off the Interstate to visit the General Patton Memorial Museum, located within the WWII Desert Training Center where over 1 million soldiers trained to be prepared for warfare in northern Africa. We wandered through the indoor exhibits and then outside among the tanks and a small chapel.

A little further west we reached our destination for the night: Indio in the Coachella Valley in the southern California section of the Colorado Desert. According to our Garmin, the elevation was 12' above sea level - no wonder it was in the mid-90's! Even though it's in the desert, due to irrigation there are bright green fields of watermelon, cantaloupe, peppers and eggplant.

The next day we rode into the Joshua Tree National Park, where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet. Joshua trees, which are actually a type of yucca and not a tree, only grow in the Mojave desert between 2000' and 6000' elevation.

Nearly 558,000 acres of the national park are designated as a wilderness, and we could look for miles across the desert to the mountains without seeing any roads or buildings.

We rode through the park to Keys View where we looked over the Coachella Valley and the San Andreas Fault where the North American and Pacific tectonic plates meet.

Keys View is at 5185' elevation, and as we wound our way north and down through the park, ending up in the town of Twentynine Palms at 2000' the temperature rose from the high 60's to the mid 90's. According to the legends, gold miners in the 1850's named this area after 29 palm trees that grew around the oasis.

From Twentynine Palms we followed Route 62 east, passing a sign at the edge of town that stated "no services for 100 miles" as we rode through the Mojave desert, passing a few abandoned houses scattered along the side of the road.

100 hot and dusty miles later, we crossed the Colorado River into Arizona at the town of Parker, and headed north on Route 95 into Lake Havasu City, our final destination for the day. Lake Havasu was formed by the Parker Dam on the Colorado River in the 1930's to supply water to southern California.

We had about 45 minutes once we checked into the hotel before we left on a 3 hour sunset cruise on the lake, motoring into secluded coves, spotting a coyote along the rocks that line the lake, and watching the sunset.

The last day of our trip we followed Route 95 north to a short ride on Interstate 40 east, then south on Route 93 through the Big Sandy Valley. We passed by the tiny town of Wikieup, a Mojave word for shelter or home. Just south of Wikieup we turned east on Route 97, a 2-lane blacktop road that winds and twists for a few miles through numerous washes and hills, making the road seem like a gentle roller coaster.

We're getting close to home when we reach Hillside and retrace our route from two days ago back to Prescott. Most of this trip was spent in the Colorado and Mojave deserts with a constantly changing landscape depending on elevation and water sources both natural and man-made. At some points the sand along the road reminded me of roads along Lake Michigan in northwest Indiana; we saw several types of cactus and yucca with some blooming in vivid pink, red or yellow flowers; rocky granite boulders pushed up out of the earth by volcanic activity centuries ago; and always the mountains all around us.

 As we unpacked the BMW, we started talking about our next motorcycle trip. We won't let another year go by before we head out again.