Tag desert

Baja, day 3

There’re a few things that riding with the group that’ve disturbed my carefully de-bugged daily routine. One of them is not having many pictures to download, and this is unlikely to change for another two weeks. These guys ride in a way that’s unlike the slightly touristy I’ve been doing. They don’t stop ten times a day for shots. They’ve been here before, it’s not news. Helge is a terrific photographer, so is Peter. What they do is stop when an extraordinary photo opp comes up, maybe twice a day, and get all super serious about it.  You know, the heroic journalist lie-on-the-ground-in the-dirt for the best angle type thing. Kindof the opposite of my little point and shoot random attacks. So to keep the riding style fairly in sync, I stop less, guilt?, no idea, even though I ride alone for the most part. And there just isn’t time to hang around too much. So the visuals are going to be a bit thin for a while

However I’m shooting video with a Contour+ from the helmet and sending the GoPro home. Experimenting with it for now.

Anyway, today I wake up thinking OMG last night was New Year’s Eve! No party… So free of New Year’s black-out anxiety we charge off southwest to Loreto, on the Gulf.

The cactuses are looking roasted, but we’re still cold

And into the town of San Ignatio that appears in an oasis, literally. It’s a Jesuit Mission in a sea of date palms, built in 1728

Although cool, the desert sun is intense and we take shelter in the shade

Heading back into the hills, we come across this recently and perfectly paved road. Great twisties. It seemed incongruous in the middle of the Baja but was fun

Then, a few hours later we descended to the sea

A major first. The Gulf of California.

Then towns. Lucinda gets all excited and wants to take her bags off and jump in skinny. Whoa, easy girl

Further on, our first beach

And into Loreto. A notably cold night – the laundry wouldn’t dry on the clothesline (1/2 tubular webbing – also the tow line, boat tie-down) tied between light fixtures and got bagged wet for the next day. Yuck

Baja, day 2

Up at dawn in the morning and the sun’s shining.

The routine is the same each day: get the bike ready and rigged before breakfast, eat fast  and go.

Today we’re headed inland to central Baja and then due south to Guerrero Negro. Off we go

Towards some hills

And into the cactuses. It was cold. Actually I was thinking that the best measure of the cold is how often I’ve not worn my thick winter gloves. Three days since September 30. Oh well


More and more beautiful by the mile. This is Baja as I imagined it

Baja’s big and there’s about a 400K stretch down the middle with no gas. So you buy it at the side of the road. If you’re on a KTM you’re screwed as the octane is about the same number as your heart beat. But if you’re not riding a hysterical little orange thing it works fine

Fill ‘er up says Lucinda

And the village

David, our Baja 14-bike-owning horticultural expert, tells us that this site is the only place in the world were palm and cactus grow together

The road riding was good. Twisties through cactussy hills, drops, walls, all good. The first opportunity to ride fast and we do. I’ve written *slow down * with a fat Sharpie across my tank bag window. It works in a subtle way. More on this later.

The road kill here is big. Here’s a cow. As I rode by there were big red-headed (yeh, I know, typical) vultures parked on it. We did a u-ey and they’d only moved a grudging dozen feet away

Another village. No gas

A full days riding brought us back to the coast, into Guerrero Negro

Helge got this vanity shot of us from a bridge or something coming into town

Nearly Heaven

If you were a stockbroker at the time of the market crash in October 1987, you might head here immediately. I was, and did.

Joshua Tree


A huge storm passed in the night. As we set off towards the only dirt road out towards to Twentynine Palms, we passed large scale fields and orchards

The air was crisp and clear. Pools of water on the road. What a beautiful day!

Then onto the dirt, and more pools of water. Lucinda having a bath

Gravel, haven’t seen that in 5000 miles or so

More great puddles. Hey, this is the first water we’ve seen in a month. A bit slick at times. It’ll be a while before I forget the big crash we had crossing a algae slicked stream in Texas.

The desert looked pristine

Eventually, the beginnings of the San Bernardino hills

Backcountry to CA

With only another two weeks left before joining Helge Pederson’s Globeriders, and my friend DT, from Tijuana to Guatamala City, we’re picking routes that get the most out of the short miles left in the southwest and trying to take it easy and stay safe. A two day route from Gila Bend to Twentynine Palms wound its way across flats through small villages and fit the bill of scenic, backcountry and mixed dirt and small roads perfectly.

We started out of Gila due on a dead straight road through the desert following a power line, going northwest rather than having to ride the only paved way out this far out. The road felt like clay, great, when dry, and graded flat, and followed a power line

We passed a huge canal, perhaps taking water from inland to LA. After not having seen any water for days it looked magical, running blue, clear and deep

Then it was a long fast ride cross country. Occasionally trucks would blast by at high speed, kicking up enough dust to slow us down

Up north a bit, we hooked up with a small road west road at a the truck stop of Aguila. One of the many of these small stops we’ve passed through in the extreme south that they use to film movies about out-of-luck couples who are never heard from again. They live up to the stereotype
P1020583The weather was changing

We pulled onto a side road to take a closer look at bursts of colour beside the road. Pink


And a small-flowered gorse

Unbelievably, we haven’t seen rain since Louisiana (yup I’ll catch up with the back-posts at some time) and these clouds are gonna definitely unload, so we stop dithering and pull the trigger and race west.

The Space Age

We lost a day in Tucson getting new tires. The dealers along the route have put us on the lift immediately when we’ve arrived unannounced. I gather this is standard procedure everywhere when long distance riders come through. Being treated this way is a privilege we appreciate.

Today we have to get some miles under our belt and it’s going to be a long lonely ride north of the Mexican border, with the only break being Organ Pipe National Monument, taking #86, then #85 to Gila Bend.

As we’ve mentioned before, our life surrounds gas stops. And today we’re in for a treat. The village of Why’s gas station is an epicurean paradise. All kinds of food nicely displayed, it felt like Whole Foods

Then down through Organ Pipe. It’s hard to describe how removed this is. The Tohono O’odham Nation we’ve crossed through is vast and has an uncompromising, dangerous feel to it

Down to the border town/crossing at Lukeville, maybe couple of dozen buildings all up. This may be the furthest corner from anything in the US. If not, it sure feels that way

Then we head north towards Gila and pass through the town of Ajo. The prettiest church on our route since Marja, TX

Then across 100 miles of badlands

Eventually into the town of Gila Flats, where our road crosses the major truck route I8. It’s the last stop west the whole way to Yuma. Hold onto your seats, here is the Space Age capital of southern US, partnered up with Best Western at a truck stop

We had to stay. Here’s the lobby

The rooms had planetary details outside on the posts

The pool house was a lunar base station

Kitt Peak

We needed new tires before a long dirt ride two days further on. The rear TKC was bald after only 2700 miles, mainly due to long sections of cut rock road surface. So with a day to kill we headed out west across the desert to Kitt Peak.

After a straight haul across desert that had a hostile tag to it, Kitt Peak is up an exhilarating road 6880 feet off the desert floor to a mess of impressive telescopes with an excellent interpretive centre. The beautiful telescopes go from 500′ underground (a solar telescope) to 187′ above ground in the exposed and completely isolated situation. It’s the largest observational installation in the world. The view on the way up
Twelve miles of cliff hugging bends, big drop offs and a big temperature drop
Screen shot 2012-12-10 at 7.36.01 PM
Then the finals curves
We rode another 50 miles out west before turning around, through some desperate villages, but outside of them. No-one tries to live off the land here, it’s empty and hostile. And it’s all border patrol stuff, trucks with people-cages and dogs driving around, and the most badass border police checkpoint of the five or six we’ve been through.

Canyon the of the dead

I changed my today to head south via a return trip to Chinle. I weighed the choice between Grand Canyon and a horseback tour of the Canyon de Chelly and picked the latter. I wanted to know more than I’d tried to guess from the few hour visit previously.

There are only three ways to legally access the canyon: a restricted walk on the White House trail or being guided by either a warden or Navajo Guide. The Navajo either have 4X4 or horseback tours. So really no choice but to try the riding tour.

Their are three Navajo operations, two at the mouth of the canyon. They were surprised someone called in December. My guide was a 64 year old Navajo, Justin. Here’s his camp

We talked about the options and decided to go up the north arm, Canyon del Muerto to Antelope House, about three hours away. There were two horses saddled up ready to go quickly and when we were ready to go I headed to the smaller and safer looking of the two. No such luck – he laughed and said I was on the other, worryingly named Birdy. I looked at her closer for hopeful signs that she was fat or old but she looked the picture of health.

No history blurb here. Some of the names and words are confusing anyway. For instance both the terms Anasazi (translation: ancient enemy, Justin tells me, although Google says ancient ones ) and Navajo (translation: thieves) are apparently not used as they would tell it. The Navajo are correctly the Dine’, or Dineh. They originated from northern Canada and Alaska. However, Canyon de Chelly was first inhabited 4000 years ago and extinguished finally by Kit Carson’s forces in the 1860’s.

A couple of pictographs separated by 1500 years

Ancient – BC according to Justin. Hey a Hopi flutist!

Post Spanish incursions

We saw several of the cliff dwellings, walking up to the base of the cliffs to see how hard the climbs must have been.

They were suffering from a drought and the canyon base was a sea of sand

There are a number of families living in the Canyon. We stopped at one and Justin told me about the structures and the fields surrounding them. The central structure is old, one room, has a central fire and is used for main living and cooking. The trailer is used for sleeping. The bunks to the left are where the kids sleep. They farm alfalfa in the field in the foreground and behind is a sheep field. They are about to move the household and sheep up to the cliff top for the winter.

Justin with his dogs, below a ruin

P1020317 - Version 2

Our destination, the Antelope Village. So named because of the antelope pictographs nearby. The structure is at canyon floor level, which is unusual.

This is a short post because this is one of the most covered subjects in the blogosphere.