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Summary: A 1289 mile multi-day motorcycle trip from Irvine to Fresno and back, through the following parks: Cleveland National Forest, San Bernardino National Forest, Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve, Death Valley National Park, Los Padres National Forest, and a few state parks.

My Pictures

Route part I
I had intended to get out of the house by 6:30am, but it ends up that getting up in the dark is no fun, so I was late. I pulled out of the parking lot prior to 7am, and headed out to the Ortega Highway. For non locals, the Ortega Highway is a lovely canyon that just happens to also be a major commute line from the (relatively) cheap housing of Hemet (and surrounding areas) to the LA area. As a consequence, you more-or-less have to ride counter-commute, or you spend the entire ride in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Another consequence is that the counter-commute route has constant oncoming traffic, some of whom can't seem to keep within their own lane. It's great fun!

From there, I got through the nicest road of the journey, 74/243 through San Bernardino National Forest, which is lovely; it doesn't have much traffic, and there's even gas if you need it. You should go there if you get an opportunity; it's lovely, twisty and well forested.

From there, off to Joshua Tree National Park, which was probably the nicest desert park that I went through, which is convenient because it's also the most accessible. Spring time in the desert is really nice: the temperature is moderate (mid 60s-80s throughout the entire trip), the short rainy season has just recently ended (so no danger of flash floods), and everything is in full bloom. The cacti are flowering, the Joshua Trees are flowering (such as they do). It's not the "painted hills" style of wildflowers that you get in the more temperate areas of California, but it's breath taking, anyway. I arrived at the visitor center shortly after lunch and found that the ranger (who needed to be present to take my entry fee) was at lunch; the docent suggested that I wander down to an oasis and come back in a few minutes. It was lovely, and it was interesting to see the difference in the plants near the water; California palms and cottonwood took over from the Joshua trees and cactus. Sadly, by the time I returned the ranger still hadn't, so I moved on and paid the entry fee ($5) at the exit.





That park itself was wonderful! It had a variety of mountains that were striking, and (as you might expect from the name) forests of Joshua Trees that extended off to the horizon. It was very striking. You should drop by this park if you get an opportunity.

In between parks, I noticed something that became a reoccurring trend: most of my ride was in the desert, both within the parks and outside the parks. The parts that were within parks were often lovely; sometimes barren, but always lovely. The stuff between the parks was largely just crap; blasted barren and often burdened by man's heavy hand: oil, mining, "mineral extraction" which seems to be a euphemism for "run a great deal of water through the ground then allow it to evaporate on the surface and then collect what's left over". In any case, it wasn't nice riding and it wasn't nice scenery.

I did get to go through something called "Sheep Hole Pass", which was amusingly titled, but ultimately somewhat disappointing: it was less than 2400 ft so there wasn't much hot mountain pass action. Also, there was no aspect of this pass that in any way resembled a sheep hole, so far as I could tell. Very disappointing.

I was originally planning to spend the night in Baker, but after being unable to contact any of the three motels in Baker, I panicked and decided to try to stop on my last pre-Baker gas stop, which ended up being in Ludlow. The road between Ludlow after Sheep Hole Pass is largely made up by "Historic Route 66", which in this context apparently means "Route 66, which hasn't received road maintenance since the 1950s". Suffice to say, if you plan to drive on this portion of Route 66, a soft suspension is useful.

Upon hitting Ludlow I found that the Ludlow Hotel had at some point become conjoined with the Chevron there. I paid for my room in advance at the Chevron ($50), crossed the street and examined the room: it was actually much cleaner than I would have thought. The sheets were clean, and I didn't see any evidence of lice or other unfortunateness. My one complaint was that the shower had been configured to output a mist only, which made my early morning shower a lengthy and unfulfilling experience.

So, the next morning I left Ludlow at about 5:30am and headed for the Mojave park, with the intent to capture the sunrise in the park. I left too early, and entered the park in complete darkness.



I determined that if I didn't stop within the park, I'd be in Baker before I had a reasonable amount of light, so I pulled off and hiked around for a half hour waiting for the sun to come up over the mountains.







The park was impressive, but it didn't seem as well isolated as the Joshua Tree National Park; you could see interstates for most of the journey, you never really got close to any of the mountain ranges, and the plant life was very similar to the Joshua Tree National Park.

By 7am I had a handful of pictures, and I was back onto the road to my breakfast destination in Hunter S. Thompson's "stinking desert crossroads". As it turned out, two of the three Baker motels seem to still exist, but they've attached themselves to various other businesses, so they're not contactable through any obvious mechanism other than just showing up and asking for a room.

I stopped for breakfast at "Famous Pancake House" (all architectural similarity to an IHOP location was certainly a complete coincidence!) After taking a picture of the statue of the original north pole explorer (?) I moved on to Death Valley.

Death Valley was... large. Very large. I ended up cutting off my journey to the north-most part of the park in order to get to Fresno at a reasonable time, but I was still riding through the park for over 4.5 hours. It would be easy to spend a few (well-timed!) months in the park, so I felt like I was hurrying between photo opportunities. My general impression is this: plant wise, Joshua Tree National Park is more interesting; most of Death Valley was fairly barren in a really odd way: it looked like loose dirt with rocks, but if you actually wandered into it, it had the same consistency as concrete. It had no give at all, and it was fairly clear that even in the presence of water it would be quite hard for anything to actually grow. But from a geology perspective, Death Valley was amazing! The variety of geologic features, coupled with their majesty was awe inspiring.







 

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Discussion Starter #2
From Death Valley, it was a race against time. I wanted to get to Fresno as soon as possible, but there was no good direct route. I was actually northeast of Fresno for a portion of my trip through Death Valley, but all the Sierra passes (other than Carson pass, which is quite north indeed) were snowed in and impassable in any road vehicle (several are apparently nice snowmobile routes). As such, I was stuck with going though Bakersfield. This seemed safe enough until I got past Inyokern. The cross wind heading south toward 58 was intense. I've been through winds that required counter steering to stay in the lane, but never ones that required that I was 30 degrees off axis for miles of straight road!

As such, I was relieved once I turned onto the east/west running highway 58. I thought that a head / tail wind would be much easier to deal with than a crosswind. I was very wrong. This was the second worst weather I have ever ridden through (the first being a fogged in mountain pass with 50 foot visibility with heavy rain from a few trips ago). The wind wasn't quite a head wind or a tail wind, it became a cross wind that switched directions with no notice. That description sounds like it could be innocuous, but it was terrifying. It felt as if a very large person grabbed the front of my motorcycle and yanked it back and forth, causing me to weave within the bounds of my lane. This, combined with the fact the road was itself a winding mountain pass (Tehachapi) fairly full with truck traffic (who were waging their own struggle against the wind) made the entire experience terrifying.

From Bakersfield to Fresno, I was on 99, which was monotonous and boring, but had the advantage of not being terrifying.

Route part II

From Fresno, I ended up paralleling 99 (on 65) until I hit Bakersfield, and then heading to Ventura via Highway 33.

This trip on highway 33 had the distinction of being the first time that I've ridden on Highway 33 and not seen a motorcycle accident. Highway 33 was really quite nice, as it always is. (Do you ride a motorcycle or drive a sporty car? Ride/drive this chunk of road!) My main impediment was other motorcyclists on cruisers. This was vexing, as they obviously knew I was there, noted that I would love to pass, and could have waved me through in any number of safe spots, but elected not to. This would only have been vexing rather than unsafe, but they also had the tendency to brake mid turn, pick new lines mid turn that interfered with my lines, and generally made riding with them miserable. In any case, they were dispensed with eventually, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

The rest of the trip home (101 to 405 to 73 to home) was offensively boring, but not any more memorable than any other time on those freeways.

Total distance: 1289 miles.
 

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Thank you for sharing!
Really enjoyed, both photos and narrative.
Thanks!

Hi efnar, Great pictures!
Thanks! There are more pictures here (the post was running long without including all 50ish pictures that made it through the winnowing process). As a further bonus, all the photos are geotagged so you can click on the "map" link and it'll show you where each picture was taken.
 

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Sounds like a great trip. I LOVE highway 243, just amazing, as is highway 38. I've still got to try hwy 33. I've got to solve this wind problem I have on the naked. I get beat up! :boxing:
 

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Sounds like a great trip. I LOVE highway 243, just amazing, as is highway 38.
I've done a goodly bit of 243 on prior trips, but I haven't done much of 38. I'll plan on a trip through there next time I get a break. Thanks!
 

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If you go up the 38, after getting some grub in Big Bear Lake City, do yourself a favor and get to the other side of the lake. It's called Fawnskin. That is a :thumbsup: fantastic ride! If you're going up sometime soon and want some company, let me know. I'm always up for a ride out in those parts.
 

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nice pics, i need to get down that way sometime
 

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You should have gone up to the Sequoia forest there. I'm guessing thats Kings Canyon or something, I just remember its out near Kawea(near visalia) and you have to go by a lake to get to it. nice scenary though.
 

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You should have gone up to the Sequoia forest there. I'm guessing thats Kings Canyon or something, I just remember its out near Kawea(near visalia) and you have to go by a lake to get to it. nice scenary though.
It is nice, but there had been a storm a few days prior in that area so I was concerned about snow on the ground. Next time I'm in the area, I certainly expect to head through there again.
 
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