USA Pacific coast highway: Recce tour trip report, part one.
First half: Southern California, Nevada and Arizona:
We started off our recce tour of SoCal, Nevada and Arizona with the world famous Ortega highway from LA. Aside from its infamy as a well known haunting spot, and site of some pretty crazy murders, this road is an utter dream to ride. Its a famous spot for a reason, and i don’t know if I have ever seen so many sports bikes riding one road. Although it has a lot of twists and turns, they’re beautifully spaced out so you can speed up and enjoy the ride (keeping an eye our for the police with radars, and ‘sticking’ to the 55 speed limit at all times of course!). The combination of shady forest, and arid desert scenery is something incredible to behold, and I couldn’t be happier to have ticked this amazing road off my bucket list!
This was a great intro and took us nicely into the smoother ride into Joshua Tree national park, which takes its name from the Joshua trees that cover the alien terrain. These trees are only found in a select few places around the world, and are most highly concentrated in this part of California. They were named as such by the region’s mormon settlers over a hundred years ago, because, reaching heights of up to 40ft, they seemed to be reaching to the heavens themselves. Although the speed limits stay low, you don’t feel like you’re missing out because you can truly kick back and enjoy the mind blowing scenery. The desert scenery seems to be straight out of a Star Trek episode, with enormous trees and spectacular rock formations that seem almost superimposed over a backdrop of bright ochre sandscapes.
Although Mojave National Preserve is usually just an overlooked sign-post on the way to Las Vegas, here at Magellan we do our research! This National Preserve is absolutely enormous, and, if you’re quiet enough when you stop to take photos, you can even spot a desert tortoise or a bighorn sheep. From ‘soda lake’ the 15 mile long dried lake on the western edge, to Shamans eye (a column of magma from an ancient volcano) the sights are overwhelming. Not only that, but the roads that connect them are a combination of dirt tracks and smooth roads- perfect for those of us with a bit of an adventurous streak!
We then rode down up Laughlin, which is an old school gambling town 90 miles south of Las Vegas, and the route was out of this world. The approach was beautifully scenic, with tight twisty roads through low hills. Laughlin is a popular biker spot, as it hosts the annual ‘Laughlin River run’ which is a motorcycle rally that hosts 70,000 in the last weekend of April each year. Thankfully, we missed the crowds and instead were treated to some amazing burgers and beers and a peaceful night watching the locals losing their cash!
The next morning we jumped on the Oatman highway, which was filled with amazing twisties through the beautiful hills. This ride was the balsam we needed after the slightly touristy vibe the previous day, Oatman was authentic and beautiful- with incredible American food and roads to match. The name comes from a young Illinois girl Iris Oatman who was kidnapped and enslaved by the Yavapai tribe in 1750. The young girl was traded to another tribe who lived where Oatman is now, they released her and an eponymous town grew up in the place she was released. It was a tiny town until gold was discovered in the hills… and the rest is history. Although its main income is now tourists, rather than gold- the area is still a goldmine. A goldmine of perfect roads and beautiful views….and wild donkeys wandering around the town!
The next stop on our incredible recce tour was old route 66, oft dubbed the ‘Main Street of America’. The first thing we noticed on this incredible road were the historic gas stations that had been restored into cafes or gift shops- they gave the place an amazing vibe and made you feel like you were in the wild west (until you looked a little closer, and then it felt a tiny bit like Disney). The real ‘route 66’ is long gone, having been re-aligned several times over the last hundred years, but the route we took sticks to the original as closely as possible. The route is littered with amazing old school diners and some incredible food. This ride was a once in a lifetime ride, not only because of the roads, but also the culture and feeling of the whole ride.
From here we went to visit the amazing Grand Canyon skywalk. Its a huge 10ft wide horseshoe shaped bridge that extends 70ft out over the canyon. Certainly not the place for you if you’re iffy about heights because the bridge has a glass floor which gives you a perfect view 4000ft (almost a mile) down to the floor of the canyon. The views were absolutely immense!
On our way to Las Vegas, our destination for the next two nights we stopped at the magnificent Hoover dam. Built in the 1930s the dam stores enough water to irrigate two million acres of land- fairly useful when the climate in Nevada is so unbelievably dry! When you’re on two wheels, one of the highlights of a visit to this dam is the Hoover dam bypass, a bridge which is is 270m tall and 579m long which joins Arizona and Nevada.
We toured the working dam before heading to Vegas for a quick wander round the casinos and a night-time helicopter flight over the extravagant bright lights of the city and then a well deserved day off the bike to explore the myriad of Casinos, restaurants, attractions and show.
It took us a couple of hours to ride from Vegas onwards to Death valley, where we visited the national park. Death valley national park, despite its name, is host to all sorts of beautiful flora and fauna. It is idyllic from the wildflowers brought by occasional rain to the snowcapped peaks despite being the hottest, driest and lowest national park in the USA.
The stretch of road we conquered this day was two lanes, dragging us up and over cragged peaks and down into the 280ft deep valley, all the while zooming round hairpin bends, twisties and sheer drops with flimsy looking guard rails. This ride was exhilarating, especially the moment we got to the lowest point and were confronted with total silence. No cars, bikes or people- just miles and miles of sand and rock. It was an incredible experience to just stop, take your helmet off and earplugs out and just listen to the utter silence.
From there we headed to the Sierra and Sequoia national forests, the latter named after the 300ft monster trees that its comprised of. The roads in these forests are curved and beautiful, and thankfully pretty well maintained as it is a popular biker spot. The shade of the trees was also pretty welcome after the burning heat of Death Valley.
We then rode on to the neighbouring Yosemite national park where the tour will have another two night stop- and despite the area’s reputation as a tourist hotspot, we managed to find some amazing backroads, much easier to do on two wheels! The Yosemite valley is one of those places that cant be described without overdoing it on the adjectives so i’m not even going to try, I’ll simply say OMG, it was breathtaking!
We continued onwards from here towards San Francisco and stopped in to visit to the amazing Castle air museum in California. This museum boasts of over 50 planes including and SR71 Blackbird and the old Airforce One, with informative guides and an indoor section with aircon for those done with the sun!
We hope you have enjoyed reading about the first half of this recce tour, and part two will be coming soon and if you fancy joining us in September there are still a few spots up for grabs :0)