Conclusion - Joshua Tree, Anza-Borrego, Imperial Valley 2016 - CycleBlaze

November 9, 2016


The Trip

It was a good trip overall. The bike tour was 10 days but I was away from home for 15 days. I pedaled 512 miles (819 km), hiked 22 miles (35 km), and drove 1950 miles (3120 km). The drive south was boring but the drive north seemed like a 3 day extension of the bike tour.

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Overall there were very few problems. No flat tires or bike malfunctions. No injuries or soreness other than the consequences of doing a face-plant into a thorny tree branch. No sunburn. No insect bites. Nothing lost or stolen. Only one piece of equipment broke, a USB charger that cost $5 to replace at a convenience store.

The bike tour didn't go exactly as planned. I didn't expect to need a rest day but I took a much needed rest day in Borrego Springs on day 4. I aborted the planned super-steep detour to the Palm Springs tramway. In the Imperial Valley I detoured to Brawley because I couldn't obtain lodging in Holtville. Because of that I didn't detour to Holtville hot spring.

The Season

The tour was a successful late Fall replacement for a cancelled early Fall tour. It was a satisfying escape to warm sunny deserts. No regrets. But now I have a deeper appreciation for how much browner the landscape is during Fall compared to Spring.

Touring in late Fall can be frustrating because the days are so short. I carried a handlebar-mounted headlight and used it on 4 of 10 days. Fortunately in this region it's usually still warm after dark.

I think March would be the ideal time to do this route. Temperatures would be about the same but days would be an hour longer, some creeks would have water, more desert plants would be green, there would be more flowers, and the highest mountains might have snow.

This winter the southern California deserts had exceptional rainfall. March and April 2017 should have the best wildflowers in years.

The Route

One thing I like about this route is that it offers many scenic short hikes. I enjoy getting off the road to see a more natural landscape.

My least favorite part of the route was the final two days from Indio to Yucca Valley. Traffic was very heavy because the Coachella Valley has more than 500,000 people. The route would be more pleasant if I reversed the northern loop to do the heavy traffic segment in a downhill direction instead of uphill. Unfortunately that's impossible to do on a motel tour because the uphill segment through Joshua Tree would require me to camp at the Cottonwood campground.

I don't like the Mojave desert. The landscape is barren, the mountains aren't spectacular, wind can be horrendous, services and water are very scarce. But there are two big exceptions: Death Valley in the far northern Mojave, and Joshua Tree in the far southern Mojave. I have now toured both ends of the Mojave desert but have no desire to pedal through the region in between. When biking the southern tier I recommend a route farther south through the more scenic Sonoran desert like I did during my 2012 Southwest US Coast to Coast tour.

The county roads in Imperial County are extremely rough and neglected. I pedaled very long distances on those roads. They have very light traffic but I would recommend using the state highways which are smoother, have paved shoulders, and have more services.

The campgrounds in the high elevation part of Joshua Tree National Park do not have water. But those campgrounds are always crowded with people who haul enough water in their motor vehicles to share with a cyclist. Don't be afraid to camp at Joshua Tree.

I don't carry camping gear so I must stay in motels. Most of the route has more motels than tent campgrounds. Joshua Tree National Park has several campgrounds but I had to descend 1700 feet to Twentynine Palms for a motel, then retrace my path the following day.

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