Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Road trip: Motorcycling through the desert

August 14, 2013

Start from the beginning of our road trip.

Day 5: San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park (230 miles)

As we are motorcycle riders, this post is all about roads. Fun curvy roads, and scorchingly hot desert freeways.

I realize it's a cliche to go on about how amazing technology is ... but I'm going to do it anyway because whenever we plan a trip, I can't help but marvel at Google Street View. Try this: Ask Google for driving directions from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park. It will tell you to take three different interstates: 5, 15, 10. But interstates are the enemy of enjoyable motorcycling. They're straight, windy and lacking in scenery. Now drag the orange man onto Route 79 near Descanso. Trees! Hills! A lake! And that is the marvel of street view. Sitting at home before our trip, I can drag an orange man around a map to test the different routes we might want to take. And in doing so, I can totally change the tenor of our day.

Small-town America: Descanso, Calif.; population 1,423.

Unfortunately Google couldn't save us from the scorching desert heat. It somehow hadn't dawned on me that the desert would extend far beyond Joshua Tree National Park (which I knew was a desert). And riding through 100 degree desert heat is a totally different experience than riding around the San Francisco Bay area.

Happily we found shelter at a closed campground for lunch.
Unhappily the gas station in Descanso had no running water. By the time we reached Route 86 on the Salton Sea we were dead out of water. When we spotted what appeared to be a police station, we didn't hesitate to pull over; except it wasn't a police station but a U.S. border patrol checkpoint. The soldiers with machine guns seemed quite suspicious of passing motorcyclists in need of water. We were instructed to remain in a holding area while they filled our water bottles.

As we continued along the Salton Sea toward Palm Springs, I couldn't help but notice how much the landscape resembled both the Dead Sea in Israel and the desert near Cafayate in Argentina.
On the left, the Dead Sea in Israel; on the right, the Salton Sea in California.
On the left, the drive toward Cafayate in Argentina; on the right, the ride toward Palm Springs.

By this time it was balls to the wall, pedal to the metal; there was nothing to do but get through it and make it to Joshua Tree. We couldn't avoid the interstates any longer. It was 25 miles from Coachella to the park and I counted down every second of it. A sign on the road read: "Turn off AC to avoid overheating" — as if we had that option. We had stripped down every possible layer but it will still 100 degrees and I had on a leather jacket, a full-face helmet, jeans and hiking boots. We stopped at a rest stop and drenched our shirts in water. Ten minutes later they were completely dry. A nice man took pity on us and offered us two bottles of ice cold water. I tried to refuse, saying we were fine and wouldn't have anywhere to put it anyway. He shook his head at me. "Drink it now."

We drank it, we kept driving and finally we saw this sign:

We made it!

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