Riding the Mojave Trail Off-Road

Mojave

By Karel Kramer, Photography by Karel Kramer

The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican War and added the entire Mojave to territory that would eventually become part of the United States. Naturally, U.S. ownership and gold finds first at Sutter’s Mill in California and later in Arizona morphed the Mojave Trail into the Mojave Road. Prescott, then the capital of Arizona, was supplied by the Road, and from 1866 to 1868 it was the mail route between California and Arizona. With a military presence to subdue the locals and protect the mail, the road became firmly established, but the glory years were short-lived. By 1883 a second transcontinental railroad, today’s Burlington Northern/Santa Fe, was completed to the South of the Mojave Road.

The 170-miles of inhospitable badlands between modern-day Barstow and the Colorado required days or weeks in a wagon. The crossing that was often lethal to man and animal was a mere day in the saddle for our group of experienced riders on late-model machines. Certainly it was a long day with photo stops, sight-seeing and history lessons, but it was still a day. It could have been a much shorter if we lassoed Roeseler’s $1500 Honda XR650R and let him tow us along at his pace. We started on a dirt track parallel to I-15 and spent the day between I-15 and I-40. The easy track soon turned into Manix Wash, considered the western exit point of the road. Within minutes of turning away from the freeway the terrain changed to open sand corralled between eroded bluffs on either side. Once we hit the main wash there were sand dune areas on either side, but the marked route is down the dry watercourse. The sand was deep enough to require speed and concentration. Next up was the Mojave River crossing. It is the only water crossing on the trail, and it was deep enough to require care, but has a firm bottom. Afton Canyon was our next landmark, and it was a stunner, with high cliffs on one side and more greenery than any other part of the trip. In Afton Canyon all vehicles are restricted to designated routes with the familiar brown Carsonite posts wearing “open route” stickers on them. The restriction was no handicap as the steep walls pretty much funnel you to the main wash area. At the end of the Canyon I got my first look at a Bighorn sheep when it jumped across the wash in front of me! Not close enough for adrenaline, but a seriously good look.

As we approached the Rasor OHV open area the terrain changed completely for the third time. Vegetation all but disappeared for a good stretch. The trails and roads varied from choppy, hard dirt, like a chewed-up dry lake bed, to silty sand with chunks of shale rock. Closer to Soda Dry Lake the regular desert brush reappeared along with some buildings and small dune areas. At the ridge, LR had everyone gather a rock, and we rode out to a pile of rocks known as Travelers Monument, or Government Monument. Mojave Road travelers carry a rock and add it to this incongruent pile in the middle of a largely featureless Soda Lake. There is a brass plaque on top, and it is worth climbing up to see, but the message on it is a secret for travelers of the road.

Not far from Soda Lake we enjoyed one of the nicest benefits of a ride with GDRT. As we crossed Kelbaker Road, we found the massive rig parked with chairs out, shade up, cold drinks and a spread of lunch and snacks to attack while Bruno and staff gassed up and checked over the bikes.

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