Riding the Mojave Trail Off-Road


By Karel Kramer, Photography by Karel Kramer

Any time I make the boring drive on the superslab from Southern California to Las Vegas my mind tends to wander. Just a few miles on either side of the traffic-choked I-15 corridor is a world that drivers pulled, moth-like, toward the Vegas lights cannot imagine. I don’t have to imagine: Four years racing the now-defunct point-to-point AMA District 37 Barstow to Vegas desert race and another handful of trips on the L.A. - Barstow - Vegas dual-sport ride let me experience the sights, sounds and even smells of the Mojave Desert. But a call from Bruce “Bruno” Anderson of GoBajaRiding tours changed what I thought I knew about the Mojave. Anderson has many years riding in Baja, but is now adding Go Desert Riding Tours (with exclusively U.S.-based routes) to his Go Baja Riding company. He was offering me a slot on a three-day ride to Las Vegas for the Supercross finale, but without traversing any of the many routes I had previously ridden.

Certainly the traditional B to V courses have a notable past, but Anderson was planning one day’s ride from Barstow on the historic Mojave Road, following it to the Colorado River at Laughlin, then a day riding the great single-track around the Laughlin area, and a final day running from Laughlin to Vegas, rolling for miles alongside Lake Mojave. The idea was to make Vegas in time for a shower, then relax into a couple of good seats at Sam Boyd Stadium. He sweetened the offer by letting me know off-road legend Larry Roeseler was to be trail leader to and around Laughlin. Sign me up!

Whether you ride in Mexico or the U.S., Anderson and crew handle everything once you arrive at the staging point. Fly-in clients are picked up and transported to the first hotel, and GDRT handles all meals, lodging, fuel and transportation. Guests are responsible for alcohol, but the ride staff does the rest, even maintaining the bikes (except for air filter service). You could almost leave your wallet at home.

An evening Barstow loop ride allowed those who were renting GDRT Honda CRF450Xs to acclimate or make adjustments. Roeseler was the leader of this supposed 20-mile loop, but, being Larry, it was nearly 50 miles until we swung by the famous Slash-X saloon for some photos. Some of us wondered (a little fearfully) whether the mileage figures for the claimed 170-mile Mojave Road to Laughlin section would be as far off, too. While all the bikes had legal plates, none were much good for extended pavement cruising, so we loaded everything on the monster rig and headed east of Barstow to not far from the start of the B to V race. For years I had heard of the Mojave Road—or the Mojave Trail, or even the Old Government Road, since it is known by all those names. It is said that in some areas you can still see the wheel ruts of the wagon trains that used the road, and I visualized a flat, boring route that ran straight to the horizon. That was not at all the case. Unlike wagon trains seen in Western movies, the natives that made this trail and wagon masters who later enlarged it into a road didn’t care whether the trail ran straight, or even level. The main concern was that there was available water every 10 to 12 miles. What is now a 4WD road through the Mojave National Preserve has been in use for 500 years. Unlike many early trade routes, it hasn’t been paved over, closed off or faded from modern knowledge. The first recorded European traveler was Friar Francisco Garces in 1776. Famed trapper and explorer Jedediah Smith crossed the trail in 1826 with no problem from any of the tribes, but continuing friction between native tribes and travelers led much of the traffic to move North to the new Old Spanish Trail to avoid conflicts.

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