A day in the high desert – that’s something special to someone from leafy old Kent in the UK. But having grown up on epic images of desert riding published in the mighty Dirt Bike magazine of the 70s and 80s (thanks Clipper, Rick, Mr No-It-All et al) it was a dream come true to actually ride that region (decades later). What a place!
Images: Olivier de Vaulx
1. STORMY SKIES
We went to the high desert because in June the low desert was searingly, unbearably hot. It was still a sweltering 100ºF when we got to the Hesperia Track (a two-hour drive out of downtown LA), but incredibly these huge rain clouds soon appeared and it cooled dramatically.
2. SAND & ROCK
Geology is still 99% a mystery to me, so how these rocks appear in the formations they do, even modest ones like this, I don’t know. And why is it some of these bushes have seemingly burnt while others thrive. Mysteries…
You could wonder about such things (flora, geology etc), or you can go ride. So we ride, and that’s my guide Ricardo Barbosa of 3Bros KTM letting me look like I know what I’m doing. Trails in the high desert start with these Jeep tracks, but the fun is had on the single tracks the likes Ricardo has spent years finding and memorizing – he rides this desert on knowledge alone, no GPS, no maps…
This is our photographer Olivier de Vaulx. He’s a Frenchman, came out to California a good few years back, and loved it so much he brought his family out and made it his home. He loves dirt biking and rode his CRF250X with some panache. These were also new tracks to him, so he’s got his GPS ‘laying breadcrumbs’ so he can revisit them again.
5. HILL CLIMB
Ricardo has ridden desert for most of his riding life and he loves these climbs. He had his 450XC-F wrung-out to conquer this climb, then nonchalantly rode back down again. A moto version of fine art.
Being about 10-20º cooler than the low desert there’s quite a bit of green stuff up here. Mostly bushes, like saltbush and creosote bush (named because it smells like the stuff, it’s not a source of the liquid), I’m not sure I saw any Joshua trees that are the famous Mojave palm, but the tall stems of the beargrass (not seen here) were cool to see (see Gallery in RUST #38). There’s plenty of places for the rabbits and coyotes to chill out. Glad we didn’t find any rattlesnakes though…
7. NO PAIN NO GAIN
Of course if you see a rock garden you can’t help but want to emulate Jarvis, Walker and the rest. Not that I have the skills. It looks like I’ve body-slammed that rock, but no I’m just grimacing because trying to lever the 350XC-F over these boulders is more than my puny bod can deal with.
So we copped a bit of the wet stuff, and after the heat of LA it was joyful. Riding frequently in Wales I’m used to getting saturated, but that’s usually freezing, this was warm shower stuff, cooling, not chilling…
9. BIG ROCKS
Yeah, there’s no riding over these. But again, how is it they got there, stacked like that? Write to me if you have the answer.
10. CHILLIN’ WITH RICARDO
It’s always a pleasure to find a local guru – someone who’s given a lifetime of service to his local community. Ricardo is an LA guru for sure, helping people into discovering the joys of dirt riding in the deserts of the California state. He races, he sponsors, he teaches and he guides. But overwhelmingly he’s one super-nice guy, an ambassador for the Cali lifestyle for sure!
There was water in the sky but on the desert floor as well, rain’s gotta fall and it’s gotta collect somewhere too. So you find a valley and then you find a flattish bit and then you find this. It’s the isolation of the desert surround that makes it so special.
12. MORE GEOLOGY!
Olivier takes a break. Pines, yuccas, rocks, sand, water. I should have paid more attention at school – more of this would make sense then. Yep the High Desert is a stunning place. Got to go back there again soon.