2021 Salton Sea Rendezvous Ride Report
Here we are in mid November and it was time for the 2021 version of the Salton Sea Rendezvous held near the mainly agricultural town of Mecca, California. Riding buddy Will came down from his new home in Oregon a few days early to catch a good weather window and give me a hand with a project or two. Wednesday we hit the road, or at least tried to. When I went to start the bike, I found the fuel tank bone dry. First time I've ever run out of gas in my own driveway! I always keep a few gallons on hand, so we were on our way with only a short delay. But the morning fog was thick, which meant lots of shield wiping and slowing down for the poor visibility. A little more than an hour later we rolled into the parking lot in Marysville at El Rey, a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant. Not much in the way of atmosphere, but the meals were delicious and promised to keep us going all day.
Back on the road we slabbed it down to Sacramento, then hit a couple back roads to get us on CA49, the Golden Chain Highway that follows the Sierra Nevada foothills through the California Gold Rush towns like Jackson, Angels Camp, and Sonora. Being the off season, traffic was very light and we made pretty good time. The past couple of years have seen wildfire hit hard north of Mariposa, and a lot of new and perfect pavement has been put down to repair the damage. Quite a few trees had been removed as well, which improves the sight lines on the twisty road, but didn't do much to improve the scenery. South of Coulterville the road drops into a canyon or two, ending up at a new scenic overlook. I noticed four hexhead RTs parked footpeg to footpeg as I neared, and smiled as four moto officers from the Modesto Police Department waved to me. I kidded them about getting paid to ride motorcycles, and we traded war stories for a bit before they had to be on their way.
CA49 ends in Oakhurst, so it was the more or less wide open CA41 from there south to more slab at CA99. Just a bit south of Fresno we jumped on a back road again to our night's destination at Reedly, California. We checked into our rooms and walked over to a Mediterranean for another gut stuffing feast. A great way to end a 375+ mile day.
More fog, heavier than yesterday, greeted us for the ride south the next morning, but by the time we were back on CA99 we were able to stop wiping our face shields. We zoomed through Bakersfield on the newly completed CA58 freeway, a far cry from the old days when we'd spend most of an hour going stoplight to stoplight through the downtown. The mountain crossing over Tehachapi was surprisingly wind free, a relief after having the windshield on the RT broken by those winds the year before. We made good time to Barstow, California, where we picked up CA247 and resumed a more southerly route. CA247 makes a bend east at Lucerne, running through Johnson Valley before swinging south again. It's open desert land, dotted with little plywood homesteader shacks and junk cars, a place that makes me grateful I didn't end up as a retiree.
We had a choice to make at Yucca Valley. We could keep heading east to Joshua Tree National Park, coming down out of the mountains near the General Patton Memorial Museum on I10, then back to Mecca through the Box Canyon road. But the day was getting on and we had our minds on a hot spring dip, so we elected to ride CA62 to I10 at North Palm Springs, then southeast from there on CA86. I10 was something of a madhouse, the most traffic we'd seen yet. A bit surprising for a mid afternoon, but by the time we hit CA86 at Indio, traffic was way more manageable.
We stopped at the little gas station/grocery store in Mecca long enough to fuel up and get provisions for dinner, then it was a warm, even hot, ride down along the Salton Sea coast through the date palm groves to Bashford's Hot Mineral Spa. Sherry gave us the grand tour in her side-by-side, and soon had us fixed up with a wind sheltered and somewhat shady site among the palms, not too far away from the pool and tubs. In spite of the rock hard ground, we soon had tents set up and bags unpacked, and with our riding gear traded for trunks and flip flops, we were off for a soak.
The next morning we headed a little farther south to breakfast in Niland, the town closest to Slab City and Salvation Mountain. Both were Been There Done That destinations for us, so we picked up more provisions after eating and headed north to the Salton Sea Recreation Area campsite where the Rendezvous was being held. A few dozen Airheads had come out on Thursday night, but the place is so big that there were still plentiful spots left to pitch a tent. And it being Friday, more were arriving by the minute, either leaving a bit early from work or slabbing in from the not so far away Los Angeles and San Diego areas. By then, temps were again into the low 90s, so shorts and tennis shoes paired with a cold beer were the order of the afternoon. Gary Jackson, AKA The Host With The Most, already had his kitchen set and was dishing out what seemed like a steady parade of comfort snacks and hours devours. A good thing, too, since the American Legion gang in Bombay Beach wasn't hosting their usual steak feed that weekend. Another beautiful sunset over the Salton Sea finished off the day, made even more marvelous by the growing numbers of airhead motorcycles parked beneath.
This wasn't my first time at Salton Sea, but so far I'd managed to somehow miss the art sculptures in Bombay Beach. A little fiddling with my phone and GPS and I had some wapoints for guidance, so Ernie and Joe and I headed south to see what we could see. We ended up on a dirt road riding along the bluff above the beach, stopping at a giant concrete star sticking up out of the sand. Not far away was a swing set out in the water, then the Nothing sign, and a few more oddities as well. I was reminded once again that a GS is no dirt bike, at least not when it comes to sand. We found our way back into town, landing under the bent Loadstar airplane sculpture, then finding the Roger Dean like flying weather vain airship on our way out of town. Another afternoon of bench racing followed after lunch in Mecca, where Ernie and I enjoyed another Mexican meal neither of us probably needed.
As evening approached me and my best kitchen knife and cutting board headed over to Gary's kitchen to start prepping for his street taco meal. I chopped an almost endless supply of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and other things I wasn't quite sure of. The result was a giant, and I mean giant, bowl of salsa, some right potent salsa if you ask me. The kind that warms you all the way through, even into the next day if you know what I mean. Soon Gary had his grill fired up and the carne asada was a sizzlin' and the tortillas were browning and the air was filled with that wonderful BBQ smell. There was plenty to eat for all, and we all did our best to make sure that there were no left overs. With plenty of miles on tap for the next day, I said good night just a bit early.
We retraced much of our route Sunday, back up 10/62/247/58, this time staying on 58 all the way to the cutoff for Paso Robles. Midway across the Carrizo Plains we stopped at a ridgetop overlook for a break, a place both of us had visited many times over the years. We were in the coastal mountains from there to Paso, with some great riding, but going right into the lowering sun. Not a perfect ride, but pretty close none the less. Will felt like splurging, so we snagged a couple rooms at the Paso Robles Inn, then proceeded to enjoy a delicious meal at their steakhouse. You only live once, and you can't take it with you.
The sun greeted us the next morning with brisk temps in the low 40s but there was no fog, except maybe a little between my ears from the previous evening's libations. That's maybe why I missed the turnoff for Indian Valley Road after breakfast in San Miguel, yet another u-turn in a long string of many. That road isn't in the best shape, so we took it easy so as not to wreck Will's RT fairing and keep our kidney's properly located about our anatomy. The smooth pavement of Peach Tree was a welcome relief, followed by even more fun on CA25. We stopped for a short conversation on the route from there, the idea being to take Panoche road east from CA25 until it got us to I5 north. But Panoche is another goat trail, so I wanted to make sure Will was OK with it. He'd never been that way, so agreed with some hesitation to proceed. It turned out to be a bit rougher than I remembered, and Will was quite crestfallen when he learned that we were still 27 miles short of the freeway when we stopped for another short brake. Fortunately not too far after that we made the turn onto Little Panoche Road, which had been recently upgraded and repaved as part of a massive solar power project in the area. I could see Will's grin right through his helmet. A short stint on I5 got us to CA165, which we took north to CA99, all the way through Sacramento to CA70 and home. North of Sacramento the fog started closing in again, and by the time we started climbing out of Oroville on CA70 we were back in the soup. At my driveway we could see maybe 10 feet. But a warm fire in the wood stove soon had us thawed out, and with another dose of barley therapy and a good meal, things were once again right with the world. Will's last leg north started in the fog again the next day, but he dropped out of it before he hit Chico and arrived home none the worse for wear. The Salton Sea Rendezvous, 2021 version was in the bag, and we were both super happy we were able to attend. Thank you Gary, and all your helpers, for once again putting on a great event, one we're both looking forward to next year.