Sunday 2 November:
We retraced our steps from last night for a few miles, then set off south through the middle of Joshua Tree National Park. We split up to go through at our own pace with plans to meet up at Cottonwood Visitor Centre at the far side of the park ready to leave at 1130, giving plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and take pictures.
Joshua Tree only became a National Park in 1994 – it was previously a US National Monument. It covers an area of 790,636 acres (1,235 Sq miles), the higher and cooler part being in the Mojave Desert and the eastern part being in the Colorado Desert. The park is named for the native trees, which are a type of yucca immortalised in the fifth studio album by U2, released in 1987.
The park was superb, with not only the eponymous trees, but also interesting rock formations popular with climbers looking to do some bouldering. With the GoPro taking pictures every 5 seconds for much of the journey, plus stopping to take snaps along the way, it is difficult to choose just the best few, but here’s a selection:
Once past the main area of the park we turned right toward the visitor centre, about 30 miles away via some magnificent twisty roads through stunning scenery.
The Heritage Softail is a great fun on these roads except for one thing – even the slightest corner taken at fairly modest speeds causes the running boards to scrape. It’s not so bad once you get used to it – mine are chamfering off nicely!
Finally we arrived at the visitor centre, only to find the others had been there ages. Not only that, but they had managed to see a tarantula, which we hadn’t. There are signs up in the park warning of tarantulas in the road and asking people to be careful not to run them over. My view was that I would try not to hurt them if they would return the favour.
No sooner had I complained about not seeing one than one was spotted in the car park. We also had to take evasive manoeuvers to avoid one on the road out.
Leaving the park we crossed the I10 and continued on through a stunning landscape.
Following some complex navigation through a small place called Mecca, we joined Route 111. This is a superb road despite running arrow-straight for long stretches. Henry Cole always waxes lyrical about arrow straight roads, and I never really got it: surely the best roads for motorcycling are twisty. Well, yes they are, but when the scenery is this impressive straight roads certainly have their place. It was also very windy, which is hard on the neck muscles over long periods, but at least it was a nice warm wind.
The 111 runs along the east side of the Salton Sea: a shallow saline endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault. It is huge and a beautiful deep blue colour, you could easily convince yourself you were on a coast road. The lake’s surface is 226ft (69m) below sea level.
As we travelled, making good progress, things started to become desperate on the fuel front, especially for Andy’s Fat Boy which was on reserve. For mile after mile we went with no sign of a fuel station. Finally we came upon a diner called the Buckshot, where they assured us that there was a filling station not 5 minutes away, so we were able to fuel ourselves and then our bikes.
It was still quite some miles before we finally joined the I8 running east just a stone’s throw from the Mexican border, following the Colorado River. I hadn’t been enthusiastic about the prospect of interstates, but if the I8 is anything to go by maybe they won’t be that bad: it is mostly just dual carriageway and the views are spectacular.
Somewhere along that stretch of road we came upon a checkpoint, presumably checking for illegal immigrants. Obviously they don’t ride Harleys though as we were waved straight through.
We crossed from California into Arizona just before Yuma.
I had hoped to visit Yuma. For me the town is only familiar because of the 2007 film 3:10 to Yuma with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale (yes, I know that’s the remake, but that’s the one I’ve seen). It was originally formed on a convenient crossing point for the Colorado River and was called Colorado City and then Arizona City before becoming Yuma in 1873. The original names sound much more familiar from old westerns.
Sadly the visit was not to be: time was getting on and we were still more than 120 miles from Gila Bend, where we had a room booked for the night.
The I8 continued to impress however. Not far from Yuma the road carves through the Fortuna Foothills, south of Gila River, giving yet more jaw-dropping vistas.
The I8 went on and on and he sun began to set. It provided a magnificent sunset, bathing the surrounding mountains in glorious reds and oranges. Even after the sun had set the sky remained beautifully lit for some time before, inevitably, as we were just about 15 miles from our destination, darkness fell, and with it the temperatures also dropped dramatically.
It had been a hard afternoon’s riding and my shoulders were beginning to ache, but by and large the Softail remained generally comfortable. It also delivered welcome lumps of low down grunt when required: power delivery is very different from my Honda, but give the throttle a handful and you can easily be doing 100mph before you realise it. Not that I did that, obviously officer…
We arrived safely into Gila Bend, a town named for the roughly 90 degree bend in the Gila River. Once again it appears to mainly be just a town stretched out along the main road. The population in 2012 was 1,922.
We had a room booked in the Great Western Space Age Lodge, so named because it was built by someone who previously worked for NASA. The rooms were fine, although not exactly space age.
As we signed in we discovered that we had crossed a time zone, losing the hour that we had only gained that morning. That made it 6:45pm, meaning there was time for only a very quick shower before heading off to eat. We ate in the attached restaurant which was space themed in a nicely kitsch way that only American diners can pull off.
The food was excellent, the only problem was there was no beer, and after a hard day riding several of us felt a strong need for alcohol. We therefore went looking for a bar and found what is apparently the only one in town: a friendly red-neck kind of place that served bottled beer only. That was fine by me, but not so lucky for the G&T drinkers. Apparently Gila Bend is on Indian territory and they take a dim view of alcohol.
We didn’t stay long… sleep was calling and plans are for a 0600 start tomorrow!
It was at this stage we discovered something else about the Space Age Lodge: it is built next to a railway track; and American trains are long!
Miles today: 350
Total miles: 532