Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Joshua Tree National Park

I want to run.  I want to hide.  I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside. -U2 Where the Streets Have No Name

©2014 Words by Jim Foreman Photos by Jim Foreman and Gina Cardenas.

Destination:  Joshua Tree National Park
Round-trip Mileage: 365 Miles 
Motorcycles Ridden: 2002 BMW K 1200 RS
Best time to go: Fall, Spring,
Fun Factor: 10
Passenger Fun Factor: 8 (per Gina only because she got cold toward the end)
Natural Beauty Factor 1-10: (10 is best) 10 
Cost to enter Joshua Tree National Park: $15
Cost of a National Park Annual Pass: $80.00   
Number of times U2's songs will be in your head: Constantly
Map Link: Google Maps

The year was 1987.  Sitting in high school, someone mentioned that U2 was filming a video in Downtown Los Angeles.  Several hundred students instantly disappeared for the day.
That video was none other than “Where The Streets Have No Name.” It was the leading track for “The Joshua Tree", U2’s fifth studio album. “The Joshua Tree” is considered, by many, to be among the greatest rock albums ever made.  It was also the first time hearing of “Joshua Tree National Monument.”  Curiously, The name of the album wasn't chosen until it was completely recorded and the album artwork was being photographed.  Anton Corbijn, the photographer, mentioned to Bono to look over at a joshua tree and he said, "That's It!"
Another common misconception is that the Album cover was photographed in Joshua Tree National Park.  It wasn’t.  It was shot about 200 miles away near Darwin, CA.  The tree itself, on the album, fell in 2000.  A plaque sits there with the inscription, “Have you found what you were looking for?” in reference to the iconic song, “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, also on "The Joshua Tree."  The fascinating story of the photo shoot and a great GS ride is found here.

It’s this fascination with U2’s opus that prompted a moto-journey of discovery and awe.
The trek to Joshua Tree National Park originates at Irv Seaver BMW in Orange, CA. It doesn’t matter where one starts as there are only a couple of options heading east.  Expediency reigned supreme, so Interstate 10 was the road chosen.  One can bypass most of the interstates by heading south to Ortega Highway (CA 74) and following it out past Hemet and eventually dropping into the back end of Palm Springs.  An overnight in Palm Springs is highly advisable, in that case.

As a motorcycle ride, Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP) is particularly interesting.  Butler Motorcycle Maps rates most of the roads in and around JTNP as G-2 and G-3.  While these are not the pulse-quickening G-1 roads, they remain very interesting and not a boring drone of straightness.   Joshua Tree is also quite fun in a four-wheeler, too.  Especially keen is a 4x4 as one can traverse some of the off-road paths listed in the NPS park guide.  This particular trip was made more interesting because a passenger accompanied me.  My good friend, Gina Cardenas, joined me on this excursion. Gina is an excellent passenger.  She leaned perfectly with me and was good company during the trip.

Box Canyon Road
The beginning of the fun starts in a little agriculture town of Mecca, CA.  Mecca itself is of little importance.  The 1966 film "The Wild Angels" starring Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra and Bruce Dern used the town as a primary filming location.  "The Wild Angels" is creditied with starting the outlaw biker film movement.  Now, Mecca is known for growing date palms, grapes and other seasonal fruits and vegetables.  It is also the start of a fun little run known as Box Canyon.
Box Canyon is a pleasant indulgence that is well surfaced.  It winds its way around some formations that makes for a pleasant curvy start.  It’s nothing to go bonkers about, but it does keep one off the I-10.  In this case, an overturned big rig caused miles of backup that we were completely oblivious to.
To get to Box Canyon, Veer south of I-10 at Hwy 86 in Indio.  Yes, it can be a bit gusty, but nothing too bad.  Follow 86 south until you reach 66th Ave. (Hwy 195 - It’s a big light).  At that corner is a Starbucks Coffee if you require some fresh brewed caffeinated goodness.  Follow 66th Avenue until it dead ends.  Make a left and then an immediate right.  At the roundabout take the first exit (south) and then make a left back on to 66th Ave.  Whew! All that effort to cross some Railroad tracks.  66th Avenue becomes Box Canyon Road and eventually crosses I-10 and becomes Cottonwood Springs Road.  Cottonwood Springs Road happens to be the only southern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. 

The main roads within Joshua Tree National Park make a ‘Y’ shape with one southern entrance and two northern entrances.  One in 29 Palms and the other in the town of Joshua Tree, CA.  There are several branches within the park including some 4x4 trails.  The off-road trails go a long way to satisfying some dual-sport GS urges.  Joshua Tree NP also features many excellent hiking trails and rock climbing opportunities.

Joshua Tree National Park became a National Park in 1994.  From 1936, it was a National Monument.  There is a fee to enter the park that currently stands at $15 per vehicle.  In most cases, two motorcycles are covered in one fee.  As you enter from the south, please stop into the Visitors Center and pay the admission fee.  If you think you’re too smart and blow past this, they do ask to see your receipt as you exit the northern points, to verify you paid.

There are many, clearly marked exhibits for one to stop at, along the way.  Ask a park ranger, at the Visitors Center, which ones are notable and worth exploring.  In this case, Ranger Keith Flood pointed out some ‘don’t miss’ spots that weren’t even on the radar before talking to him. Keith is also a rider (V-Star 1300) and was extra helpful to us.
Ranger Keith Flood
It’s worth noting that there is no mobile service in the park.  If you have a problem, you’ll need to rely on others for help.  The DeLorme InReach is an excellent way to summon help if there is an emergency.
There are scattered restrooms in JTNP, and a couple of them are flushing toilets at campsites, but that’s it.  Nothing else.  Even if it’s cool weather, bring water.  It’s very dry.  Many people die each year from dehydration.

The posted speed limit within JTNP is on the slower side.  Fortunately, during the off season and on light days, there are few, if any, cars on the roads and one can go a little bit faster.  Beware though, the scenery is quite beautiful. If you miss a corner, you may wind up in ocotillo, yucca or cholla as a reward.  Cholla is the worst! 
At the Visitors Center, the road name changes to Pinto Basin.  It will lead northwest until it hits Park  Blvd.  In addition to heading northwest, you will be climbing in elevation.  Wind gusts are also present.  Typically no big deal, but be mindful of high wind warnings.
Traveling northwest on Pinto Basin Road is mostly the desert one expects to find in this region.  Along the way will be the 'Cholla Garden' and several other turnouts for pictures and information about the vegetation.  Fortunately the road twists and turns in wide sweepers to make riding fun and enjoyable.
Lovely Cholla

Eventually, Pinto Basin Road will end at Park Blvd.  If you’re wise, you’re probably looking at your fuel level or mileage by now.  To get fuel, you’ll need to head to 29 Palms.  It's not a bad idea as there is also an excellent Thai Vietnamese café called “Red Lotus.”  Just head right (North) on Park Blvd and enjoy the awesome scenery until you leave JTNP.  Don’t worry, your receipt grants you in and out privileges.  Head north to Hwy 62 and make a left.  Look to the left side for a “Circle K” and Chevron gas stations.  Just a little further on the left will be Red Lotus.

Once fed and relieved, head back down the way you came and back into JTNP.  You’ll experience an interesting phenomenon.  The scenery looks quite different going the opposite direction. 
Also as you rise in elevation, you see the flora change.  It goes from ocotillo and Cholla to Joshua Trees and Yucca.  There is something very impressive about the Joshua Trees.  The Joshua Tree was named that by early Mormon settlers who felt the tree seemed to be raising it's arms in prayer to Heaven as the biblical prophet, Joshua.  They do stake out a beauty all their own!  As one returns down Park Blvd to the point of the ‘T’ Intersection from before, continue on through Park Blvd.
Skull Rock

Though there were some interesting rock formations before, it will start to get denser from here.  There will be many stops such as Skull Rock.  Initially, it appeared as a large whale jumping skyward with its tongue sticking out, but once parked, the features of the skull from a different perspective becomes evident.  There are great picture opportunities on both sides of the road.  It's also a great place to drink some water.
Continuing, one will see some formations called “Hall of Horrors.”  There’s also happens to be a restroom here.  After witnessing a parade of rock climbers going to and from the rocks, it became evident how these formations were named.  There’s a massive boulder that  was split nearly perfectly in half that makes for fun pictures, too.
Press on until you reach Keys View Road.  Make a left.  The sign was a bit faded, but look for it a few minutes past the Hall of Horrors. 
One branch off this road leads to the ruins of the Lost Horse Mine.  This is a moderate 4 mile hike, roundtrip.  The site has several foundations and a well-preserved stamp mill.  The stamp mill itself is now gated due to recent vandalism.  It’s still well-worth the journey. 
Keys View Overlook
Continuing south on Keys View Road will take you to a very nice overlook that peers upon Palm Springs and on a clear day, the Salton Sea. Once the photos and selfies are all taken, head back north on Keys View Road and back onto Park Blvd.
If you wish to see Big Horn Sheep, the best bet is Barker Dam.  A sign indicating Barker Dam and Wall Street Mill is clearly visible, and both hiking trails originate from the same place.  The trails range between 1 and 1.3 miles.  Campsites are also available here and throughout Joshua Tree NP.   Check the website for reservations and fees.
If hiking some of the trails appeals to you, consider camping or finding a hotel on Hwy 62 in 29 Palms or the town of Joshua Tree, so you can spend more time there.
Continuing northwest on Park Blvd will lead to the Western North Entrance of the park.  As you show your receipt or annual pass, to leave, the road will lead you onto 29 Palms Highway (CA 62).  Head west or left.
If it’s time for a recharge, there is a Starbucks Coffee and several fast food options.  A supermarket is also here in this area.  Once the caffeine is properly coursing through your veins again, there is one more fun little road one should experience. 

Pioneertown, CA
Pioneertown originated as a movie set in the 1940’s.  The old western structures were once real sets that doubled as homes for the actors and crew during filming. 
To get to Pioneer town and a fun little loop, continue west on Hwy 62.  There will be a major light indicating Hwy 247 (Old Woman Springs Road).  Make a right and follow it north for a couple of miles.
Look for a weathered sign indicating Pioneertown and Pipes Canyon Road.  Make a left onto Pipes Canyon Road.  A few minutes into the loop, you may imagine a banjo playing an ominous tune and begin to wonder if you’ll ever make it out alive.  Push aside those thoughts and continue until the road dead-ends.  Make a left and follow the sign to Pioneer Town.  If you have the time, do stop and explore this well-preserved movie set.  It’s fun and a little ominous, but worth the experience.  When finished, continue back to Hwy 62 and make a right. 
Chenoa and Jim Foreman at Willie Boy's Saloon
By this time, hunger will probably set in.  If you wisely avoided the fast food but still want a fun experience for dinner, do stop at Willie Boy’s Saloon.  It’s a fun western themed saloon with good food, fun decor and servers in costume.  In the evening, the mechanical bull is operating ensuring lots of fun times.  One could easily stay another night in the area, Palm Springs or simply make the long slog back to civilization.

This journey could be made in one day, but it would be a very long day.  It’s better if you plan to stay the night in the area to fully enjoy the many interesting offerings along this ride. 
Many thanks to Irv Seaver BMW Motorcycles in Orange, CA for sponsoring these ride destinations.  Do stop in to see their huge new and pre-owned selection of BMW motorcycles, apparel, and parts.
South Entrance Visitors Center

Willie Boy's Saloon on Hwy 62

Gina Cardenas playing legos with the rocks.

Gina near the Hall of Horrors.

Always Making Friends

Near Skull Rock

Amazing sunset on the way home.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Highways, Byways and Skyways of Southern Utah

Highways, Byways and Skyways.  Amazing riding through Southern Utah.

 Words and Photos ©2014 Jim Foreman

Destination:  Starting and ending in Las Vegas, Nevada
Round-trip Mileage: 843 Miles 
Motorcycles Ridden: 2002 BMW K 1200 RS and H-D Deluxe
Best time to go: Fall, Spring
Number of state lines crossed: 3 (AZ, UT, NV)  
Fun Factor: 10+ (Off the Charts) 
Passenger Fun Factor: 10+ Especially with a good camera (Estimated)
Natural Beauty Factor: 1-10 (10 is best) 11 
Cost of a National Park Annual Pass: $80.00   
Number of times one believes it can’t get better than this: 14
Map Link: Google Maps
My friend, Michael Kurthy called me up one day, out of the blue.  He said, “Hey, …Want to go for a ride?”  “Sure,” was an immediate response.  Mike continued, “Ok, We leave Friday for a week in Southern Utah!”  This proposal left me thinking to myself, “Can I do this?”  The inner voice was going; work is light, so I have the time.  I have enough money.  Everything pointed to, “YES” and the trip was on.  The route we decided would take us through Southern Utah and several national parks and monuments.  The actual route we took varied from this narrative.  It was cut down a little bit to allow the journey to happen over four days.  Most people can get a Friday and Monday off to make a trip like this possible. 

We met early in the morning at Starbucks Coffee in Pomona on Friday and began our quest.  For those who wonder, Mike was on his H-D Deluxe, and I was on the blue BMW K 1200 RS.  Neither of us had any idea what amazing and interesting sights and experiences would befall us over this trip. 
Rio All Suite Hotel Las Vegas, NV
The journey outlined truly begins in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Not only does Las Vegas have an excellent BMW Motorrad dealership, but naturally they have the H-D T-Shirt Store, which happens to sell and repair motorcycles too.  Just a funny side note… One recent year, Las Vegas H-D earned $18 Million selling motorcycles.  They made $42 million selling T-shirts that same year.  Something to think about while riding down the interstate.
Las Vegas also boasts a large Eagle Rider store.  If you’re flying into Las Vegas or don’t think your super sport or café racer is the right bike for the journey, you can always rent a bike.  Eagle Rider DOES rent BMW motorcycles and even offers group tours.
From Las Vegas, plan to leave early in the morning.  Try to save any planned debauchery for your return.  It’ll certainly be waiting for you.  If you are one who enjoys a fine drink after a good ride, it might serve you well to pick up a bottle before you head out.  Many counties and cities in Utah are dry.  This reality can be quite alarming for some after a long ride. 
From Las Vegas, head north on the 15 toward Salt Lake City.  It’s best to make this run early before the heat becomes too intense.  The time goes by quickly.  A warning for those from CA, who typically enjoy a 14MPH grace from CHP.  Nevada, Arizona and Utah will be pulling you over when going just 9MPH over the speed limit.  The speed limits are higher than CA but watch it.  Nevada Highway Patrol is especially aggressive toward speeders at their CA and AZ borders. 
Once you cross the state line into the northwest corner of Arizona, something amazing happens.  The terrain becomes more interesting.  Even though the Arizona section is short, it will be something you reflect on. 
Interstate 15 in AZ Virgin River Gorge

Interstate-15 begins to rise, fall and sway as you approach the Virgin River Gorge.  This is a great place to have a helmet mounted Go-Pro Camera.  It is beautiful, but it happens so fast.  You also need to keep your eyes up and on the road to successfully navigate this remarkably interesting stretch of highway. 
Continue North on I-15 toward St. George.  In St. George, exit at State Street and bear right.  State Street is also Hwy 9.  Follow Hwy 9 (State Street) east and then north until you must make a right turn to continue on Hwy 9.  If you are suddenly on Hwy 17, you missed the turn-off.  Go back and head east on Hwy 9.
This road will begin to reveal the sheer beauty of Southern Utah.  The rock formations become more and more interesting as you approach Zion National Park. 
The town of Rockville (Cue up R.E.M.) or Springdale are great places to enjoy lunch.  After lunch, you’ll be in your first National Park on this trip.  This one is particularly incredible.  Make sure your Go-Pro cameras are at full charged.  You won’t want to miss this.
If you don’t have a National Park Annual Pass, you should strongly consider getting one.  By the time you and your riding friend pay the fees for all the parks, you’d be saving money.  One pass is good for two motorcyclists. 
Zion National Park is among my top three in the US.  If you have an opportunity, allow time to go up Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.  One can reach it at the Visitor’s Center.  Consult the Zion National Park website’s shuttle schedule.  If the shuttle is not running, you can ride your motorcycle up this breathtaking road.  Butler Motorcycle Maps rates it a G-1.  If they are running, you’ll need to park at the Visitor’s Center and take the shuttle.  It is worth it.  In the off-season, one can typically go on their bike Monday through Friday except holidays.  Times and days do vary.
Once through Zion National Park, it may start getting a bit dark depending on the time of year.  There are several small towns nearby that one can stay overnight.  A favorite is Panguitch, UT. 
Panguitch, Utah

To get to Panguitch, continue on Hwy 9 until it dead-ends at Hwy 89.  Make a left and head north.  You’ll travel through some beautiful countryside getting there.
In Panguitch, a room can be secured for around $50/night.  The downtown section is lively with many restaurant options.  It’s difficult not to strike up a friendship with someone nearby.
From Panguitch, It’s time for a day of awesome!  Your Go Pro cameras are charged, and new MicroSD cards have been inserted.
In the morning, head back south on Hwy 89 until you come to Hwy 12.  Hwy 12 is also known as ScenicByway 12.  Head east on Byway 12 You’ll pass the turn-off to Bryce Canyon National Park.  We’ll return here later.
Continue on in a north-easterly direction on Byway 12.  On a map, this may seem boring and uninteresting, but in reality, the opposite is true.  Especially coming from the concrete jungle known as Los Angeles.  The amount of green and the fresh and delightful scents will remind you, constantly, why you ride a motorcycle.
About 20 minutes before the town of Escalante, there is a challenging canyon road.  You may scrape your pegs and certainly any floorboards you may have.
Desert Doctor - Escalante, UT
In the town of Escalante is a truly interesting person Mike introduced me to, known only as ‘Desert Doctor’.  He’s a character, to say the least, but he’s also a blessing to many motorcyclists who need a new tire, service or other help with their bikes.  He’s a remarkably competent tech and well worth stopping by and meeting him.  Desert Doctor is located at 120 S Center St.  His number is (435) 826-4951.

From Escalante, continue on through GrandStaircase-Escalante National Monument.  This ride is stunning in its beauty.  You’ll pass a sign for the Kiva Coffee House.  Stop on in for a light lunch.  It’s well worth it.  At this point, you’re probably thinking, “WOW! This is amazing!”  You're right, it is, but wait… There’s more!  Much more. 

You’re probably finding the descriptions of these places vague.  This is intentional.  To adequately describe the sights, sound, smells and sensations a motorcyclist would experience along this magical highway would take dozens of pages of text.  Mike would frequently look over at me and simply nod his head.  We both understood how special this place was and how lucky we were to be here.
We slalomed up the mountain to the 9600ft level.  As we rode, the leaves were turning to autumn colors.  It was magnificent!
Mike and I traveled through Byway 12 until it ended at Hwy 24 in Torey, Ut.  We naturally went east and through Capitol Reef National Park.  There will be many places you wish to stop and snap a photo throughout the day so, by this time, you may be running out of steam.  You may want to continue on to Hanksville and find a place to stay the night or turn around and stay in Torey.  There’s a valid argument to make for either.
Now the most amazing part!  You get to turn around and head back, more or less, the way you came.  The sights will be quite different as you approach them from the opposite direction. 
A lodging suggestion on the way back is to stay in Bryce Canyon National Park or just outside in the town of Tropic.  Do take Hwy 63 into Bryce on the return journey.  It’s also quite mesmerizing. 

For the return trip, once you cross the border back into Nevada, consider taking Hwy 169 toward Lake Mead.  It’s much more interesting than the interstate and affords opportunities to see Valley of Fire State Park and LakeMead National Recreation Area.  The Hwy changes designation several times from 169 to 167 (Northshore Road) and eventually 147 (Lake Mead Blvd), which will take you back to Interstate15 just north of the Las Vegas Strip.

Mike and I truly enjoyed this ride.  It’s a fine drive as a road trip with some friends, too.  Of course, like most things, it’s much better on a motorbike.  
Special thanks to Irv Seaver BMW Motorcycles in Orange County, CA for this ride blog.
Near Capitol Reef National Park

You'll be passing a lot of these on Scenic Byway 12

Eagle Ride Group in Zion National Park

Near Rockville, UT

Another Eagle Rider Group at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Good Lunch in Hanksville, UT

Zion National Park

The Wave!