Motorcycle Trip: Vegas to Joshua Tree For NYE
I like to start every New Year with a new perspective. By that I mean literally looking at a new view, surrounded by friends and somewhere that gives space to take a moment to think about the year past and what is to come. I also am the type to plan the whole thing and so when Brendan from Explorer's Press flipped the script and asked me to come meet him and some friends in the desert, I said yes.
Vegas does a good job of making you think it doesn't get cold, but in December you probably won't be swimming. I like to pack for the worst case scenario, as the desert offers little comfort from the elements and it can be a 3 hour plus ride until the next warm up spot.
Full disclosure, I don't love Vegas. It feels like a big shopping mall to me. I don't gamble or drink, and if those are your things this itinerary is not for you. But flying into Vegas from Toronto is great. There are lots of flights, they are direct and inexpensive, and you can usually find one that leaves after work and puts you in town late enough to go to bed, and in the morning you can be out of there and in a beautiful landscape faster than most morning commutes in Toronto.
In the US I rent from Eagle Riders. It means I ride Harley Sportsters on these trips, and I really enjoy riding bikes that are so different from what I would ride at home.
I woke up early to pick up the bike. The plan was to ride to a nice breakfast, then Red Rock Canyon and down to Sandy Valley for the night. This was not a far destination, but the surrounding area around Vegas is quite nice and I wanted time to park the bike and hike in Red Rock. Unfortunately being around New Years and the fact that the government shut down was on, getting in the park was a no go. Luckily the mountains are big, and you don't have to be standing on them to appreciate their power. As the weather was a bit brisker than I would have liked, I headed toward my destination for the night, thinking it best to get most of the riding done with the sun.
I found an isolated Airbnb rental on a working ranch to spend the night. It was called Sandy Valley, but what I failed to process when planning this trip was that for it to be a valley it meant there were surrounding mountains around it. As I got closer to them I could see the dusting of snow in their tips and felt instantly grateful for packing every possible layer. Living in Toronto, we don't get vistas that span farther than your eyes can focus. I often notice daylight or nightfall but not the span of time in between. But here, on this trip I got to watch it take its time, transition through the colours and hit the mountains, and feel it as effected the temperature the more it lowered. This is where you get your rental fee out of a trip, this experience is worth more than the daily cost of the bike.
The Airbnb was really out there. It was a tiny home with everything you would want to greet you. I made a coffee and sat on the roof to take the vast space in. There was signs of life, a few homes, the distant sounds of a dog barking or a truck kicking up dust on a dirt road far away, but not a single person around. It felt eerie but not scary, alone but not lonely.
I had a few snacks on me, but not enough to make a meal, so I put on every layer I packed and headed out into the darkness to find dinner. On the way in I had not noticed the roads as I was too busy looking at the surroundings, but now that everything was pitch black and all I could see was what was illuminated by my headlight, the same road I came in on felt completely different. Parts were so steep that my headlight only hit the road below instead of the area in front. I turned up the volume on my music as loud as possible to keep from feeling like I was driving into the dark abyss. Eventually I came to a small cluster of buildings. A real Saloon, walking in felt like I had bought a ticket to a dinner theatre. It was a weird and hard to explain vibe, I ate dinner and watched the show unfold around me before gaining the courage to head back out into the dark abyss.
Sunrise was crisp and grey. Clouds had moved in and brought a blanket of fog that you could see moving along the valley's floor. The rental included a ranch style breakfast in the main dinning hall. I didn't really understand what this meant, there being no sign of anyone else around, but I picked the biggest building closest to the entrance gate of the ranch and walked in. It was a warm grand room with a wood burning stove and a single table set up for 3. I guess two other people were staying in a similar set up on the property. I introduced myself, open to hearing someone else's story and proceeded to have a really deep and meaningful conversation with two like minded people. It was one of those moments that gave you something you didn't know you needed, and restored my faith in humanity. I was alone, trying to transition one year to a new one and so far away from everything I was comfortable with and yet here were two people doing the exact same thing. It was like a little thumbs up to being on the right path.
I left the ranch wishing I had spent an extra day there. the plan was to ride through it's many acres to ride into 29 Palms from the west, but the newly snow covered mountains and grey sky meant I would opt for a more straightforward route. This was not say it wouldn't be cold, but it would be less elevated and every degree counts below 10 degrees.
It is a solid hour from tip to tip in the Mohave desert which might not seem like much, but it really translates to about 3 hours on a motorcycle if you count it from gas station to gas station and the fact that you might stop to look at something or not be riding at top speed because you're taking it all in. 3 hours is a long time to be in the wind when said wind is freezing. I can fully admit to hot hands shakable heating pads being the only reason I made it through with a smile.
The riding here is straight but that is what I love about it. You can turn your brain into a different mode. There is only a gradual change in the landscape and often I feel like that change can match whatever you may be working out in your head along the ride. It gives you enough space to fully wrap your mind around your thoughts without distraction.
When you start to wonder if you will ever see civilization again is about the time you hit the famed route 66 at the base of the park. Roy's Gas Station is the closest place to fill up. It offers no amenities other than gas, the coffee is a Kureig and if you care about social media you can get the pic with their famous sign.
From here the road to my destination was one I had done before. I once came out here to climb the Amboy crater, and it having took so long to do it, I felt a ting of sentimentality riding by knowing what it looks like from the top.
GEAR I BROUGHT ON THIS TRIP
- Rev'it! Women's Galaxy H20 Gloves
- Givi Gravel-T Roll Top Tail
- Atwyld Womens Shred Moto Pant
- Matador Daylite Hip Pack
- Sena SMH5-01 Bluetooth Communication System
- Held Windstopper Neck Warmer
- Rev'it Unisex Acid Rain Pant
- Town Moto Pullover Wheel Hoody
- Magnetic Phone & GPS Holder
- Mini Cable Lock
It is here the desert starts to get weird. the land is mined in all kinds of ways that effect its landscape, and you will pass small sand hills, and turquoise pools with no machinery to suggest how.
29 Palms is east of Palm springs and not hip in any way. It feels residential and doesn't have a lot going on even on a holiday. Brendan had hooked up one of the weirdest houses, so finding it wasn't hard. By the time I pulled in, I was happy to get off the bike and reconnect with humans. It was New Year's eve and I felt good about closing it down in the middle of nowhere with some great people.
We spent the next day off the bike, hiking Joshua Tree and hot tubbing, ending the day with stars and a fire.
I was watching the weather hoping it warm up even a few more degrees from what it had been when I arrived, but it went the other way, feeling even colder. This time I included my rain pants under my overalls as a windproof layer, opened a hot pack for my hands and started the road back. Again I had planned a longer, more desolate route into Vegas, but with not being fully convinced I would make it one hour without stopping, I didn't want to punish myself more. I rode the same way back as I had in which meant at least I knew what was coming.
My flight home didn't leave until 11pm, so I had lots of time to make the most of the city. Luckily Vegas doesnt work on a normal time schedule so most things are open late. I wanted out of the hustle and had walked around lots the last few days, so I opted for the most relaxing way to go out possible. I showed up at the Cosmopolitan Hotel's spa, put my bag and helmet in a locker, and spent the rest of the night rotating from steam rooms to hot tubs and decided from now on I would end every motorcycle vacation in this way.
This wasn't my first time renting motorcycles in Vegas, but it was the first time I felt like I figured out how to do it in a way that was fully enjoyable. I can't help but think if it wasn't for the Casinos hogging the spotlight, it would be better known as a wilderness destination. But that being said, as things are means you can explore so much of it's landscapes without having to share it with anyone else. If you need a quick relief from the city, give Vegas a try. - Marika