Photos by Ely Woody
It’s the first week of April 2018, and we are on adventure motorcycles for the next week filming a documentary about the Southern California Backcountry Discovery Route (CABDR-South). Over the last four years, BDR volunteers have been scouting public access roads and trails to stitch together this 820-mile off-road route across the south-eastern region of California. The route, which begins in Yuma, AZ and ends in Benton, CA, is comprised primarily of rugged two-track and remote dirt roads, that will test your off-road riding skills, like no other BDR.
Go to the CABDR-South page to download the free GPS tracks, explore the ride resources, view the film, or buy the Butler motorcycle map.
#1 The Colorado Desert
The route starts along the Colorado River in Yuma, AZ, at the border of Mexico, Arizona and California. Expansive views of the meandering river and the Oceans to Oceans Bridge salute the journey ahead. We meet in the Picacho State Park campground, on the banks of the Colorado river.
The first day of riding starts at the scenic overlook where the fresh cool blue Colorado River carves into a stark desert landscape, creating a dichotomy of two environments.
The 4-mile stretch of road up Garilan Wash challenges the team with seemingly bottomless sand. It takes three hours and a lot of teamwork to get the bikes through this section that seems more like a riverbed than a road. This section was much easier with firm damply packed sand earlier in the year when volunteers scouted it. (This is one of the reasons BDR doesn’t like to publish degree of difficulty ratings for the roads. Conditions can change very quickly).
#2 The Blythe Intaglios
This route is abundant with not-to-be-missed primitive camping opportunities in the Colorado Desert and the Mojave National Preserve.
We camp next to the Blythe Intaglios, the 800 year old Native American drawings on the ground, similar to Nasca lines in the Southern Coast of Peru. Blythe Intaglios were discovered by a pilot in 1931, and are an enigmatic piece of history.
#3 The Mojave National Preserve
We enter the heart of the Mojave Desert on a fast, fun, two track with occasional dips in the sand keeping us on our toes. The tracks are a joy to ride.
We end up picking up the Mother Road, Route 66, and making a pit stop at the famous Sahara Oasis gas station, in Essex, CA, which offers shade, gas and food at double the regular prices. But whose complaining?
The route then crosses the Mojave Road, an old Native American trail that found water through the desert and later became a main wagon train route. It’s now favorite with off-road enthusiasts offering 138 miles of sandy tracks.
We ride another fun section that has us ducking Joshua trees, as we enter the sprawling desert vista, 6,000 ft above sea-level. We make camp under the stars in the Caruthers Canyon of the New York mountains. Here we are surrounded by towering castellated granite rock formations that have eroded into unusual rounded shapes including spires, perched boulders, and curved cliff faces.
#4 Historic Mines of California
This route offers ample opportunities to trace and experience the mining history of the Wild West.
After popping into Primm, AZ for gas, we continue south past the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating system, the largest solar thermal power plant in the world with its massive 377 megawatt net solar complex which uses mirrors to focus the power of the sun on its solar receivers.
We climb up a steep section of road with loose rocks making a very technical challenge for the riders. Cresting the top of the climb reveals the Colosseum Mine, an open-pit mine that was active from the 1930s up to the early 1990s. The sheer scale of the mine, the aquamarine lake at the base, contrasted by the golden earth tones and blue skies above, made for an impressive sight.
Later in the trip, we visit the Reward Mine, where we ride into darkness down a narrow mine shaft a 1/2 mile into the earth. We fight back feelings of clostrophobia as we sit in total darkness before turning our bikes back on to ride back to the surface.
Another notable piece of mining history is the Cerro Gordo Ghost town, a collection of abandoned mines near Lone Pine. This Old West Mining Town has an outgoing old-timer that serves the dual role of historian and care taker, He recounts wild-west tales from the past, including Butch Cassidy staying at the American Hotel we are standing in front of. According to reports, Cerra Gordo was just purchased by new owners who plan to add accommodations and revive it to attract tourism.
#5 Healing Waters of Tecopa
On every BDR we try to build in a day of rest, and nothing signals relaxation like a creamy date milkshake enjoyed in the cool shade of a lush oasis set amidst the forbidding Mojave Desert, at the China Ranch Date Farm.
We continue on to Tecopa Hot Springs, a former mining town, now a quirky desert enclave offering healing waters, incredible landscapes, abandoned treasures and rich mining history. Also, not to be missed in this gem-of-a-town whose population was 150 at the 2010 census, is the local BBQ and Brew at the Tecopa Brewing Company, one of the two establishments in town.
#6 Death Valley
Using an alternative route to Death Valley, we enter a deep but short section of soft sand in the Ibex Dunes, then continue to the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, with a depth of 282 feet below sea level (the 8th lowest elevation on earth).
Equally amazing, just 85 miles North West of Badwater lies Mount Whitney. At 14,496 feet its the highest elevation in the Continental US.
After fueling up in Beatty, NV, we are on our way to Titus Canyon, one of the most spectacular rides on this route. Following a one-way road into the canyon we hug the side of a steep mountain to reach incredible views at the top. The rich mineral content of the earth exposes a plethora of rusty hues, and the valley below is colored in splendid shades of green. As a grand finale, the canyon narrows to no more than 20 feet wide, with vertical walls over a thousand feet high towering above us.
The route goes through one of the more bizarre places in Death Valley, the Race Track, Playa, an ancient dry lake bed with mysterious moving rocks that puzzled scientists for years, until the mystery was solved in 2015.
For expert riders, the rocky ride through Lippincott Pass offers incredible views of Saline Valley, and an equally challenging descent.
#7 The Alabama Hills
Our last night of camping is in the Alabama Hills, one of the highly photographed areas in California, and a famous Hollywood filming location. Set among rounded formations of weathered, golden granite, the Alabama Hills appear in stark contrast to the jagged snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains which make a stunning backdrop to our camp.
#8 The Fish Slough Petroglyphs
The last surprise on the route is the Fish Slough Petroglyphs, which are a some 8,000 years old. This location has hundreds of well preserved Native American rock carvings that provide a cryptic window into the daily lives of the early dwellers in the area.
We spend our final night at the historic Inn at Benton Hot Springs, cheering the end of an incredible adventure with a soothing soak in the hot tub under the stars.
Now the BDR team has turned this route to the community. A feature-length documentary film, a waterproof Butler Motorcycle map, free GPS tracks, and travel resources for CABDR-South and other BDR routes are available at www.RideBDR.com.