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Palm Springs is a sleepy town in the morning. I like that. The Club Room at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Las Brisas Hotel is bustling, however. Breakfast is served, and it's included in the price of the room. A chef is on duty to prepare omelets to order. She’s an artist with a pan. I linger over my ham and cheese creation, and study my maps. I want to make sure that I don’t hit any snow today. I check the weather and elevations on my route until I’m confident that I’ll be safe. No problems manifest themselves on the maps or on the Internet.
I pack up the bike and check out of the hotel. In a town full of hotels, the BEST WESTERN PLUS Las Brisas Hotel is a discovery, with a very intimate, friendly feel. I wish I could stay longer. It’s a great place to relax.
On the road out of Palm Springs, I stop to get a close up look at a wind farm. I’ve always seen them from a distance, but I get a chance to discover the scale of the enormous rotors from just a few yards away. If there’s one thing the desert has to spare, it’s wind. I know that there are potential ecological impacts to wind farms, including danger to migrating birds. But I hope that the good outweighs the bad, because these things are so incredibly cool to look at, and it seems like free energy to me.
I manage to escape Palm Springs without stopping for a date shake, one of the local delicacies. Palm Springs gets its name from the date palms that are planted all around the area. They’re not native plantings. Date palms are actually one of the world’s oldest cultivated plants – they don’t even exist in the wild anymore, even in the Middle East. The only wild dates are the result of accidental seeding by man. During World War I, an enterprising businessman tried to sell dates to the Army as a super food. Dates are packed with concentrated calories and nutrition, and they are easily preserved and last a long time, perfect for carrying in a soldier’s pack. He bought up land in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, and planted a number of varieties of date palms. World War I was settled before the plan came to fruition, but the date palm industry in the Coachella Valley was firmly established, and continues to flourish today. If you buy American dates at the store, they’re probably from the Palm Springs area. Fresh dates in the Coachella Valley are a hundred times better than the dates you can find most anywhere else, and the varieties are delightfully distinctive and unique from each other. Hadley Date Gardens in nearby Thermal is the Mecca of Dates. Not only do they have dozens of varieties available, they also have a café where they make fresh date shakes. My mouth is watering just thinking about them, but I ride on, drooling in my helmet.
I ride up the Twentynine Palms Highway until I reach the town of Yucca Valley, where I pick up CA-247. This takes me directly through Rimrock, one of the oddest-looking little towns I’ve ever seen. The houses and buildings in town are built on top of hills of rock, and the town looks for all the world like the Flintstones’ hometown of Bedrock. Very cool and goofy.
Just to the east of here is Joshua Tree National Park, an amazing place to visit. I’m heading in the other direction today, to the north, so I haven’t got time to stop by. The park is a trip in itself. The landscape I’m crossing is dotted with the Park’s namesake plaintive trees, so expressive and grotesque in their beauty. I stop at a roadside grove of Joshua Trees to take a few photos, and to admire their tortured features.
Stopping a motorcycle by the side of a desert road almost always gets a reaction, especially from other bikers. While I’m getting my camera gear out of the TourPak, a pickup truck with a Harley-Davidson sticker stops, and its driver leans out of the window to make sure I’m okay. I give him the thumbs-up, and he flashes me the V-Twin Sign – looks just like the Peace Sign, but we know what it means. It means that he’s a fellow biker, and he knows the rules of the road. Never leave a fellow biker stranded if you can help. There really is a brotherhood of motorcyclists, and I’m not talking about clubs or gangs, or anything like that. It’s about people who share an interest, and appreciate the challenges of life on the road. It’s about looking out for one another, and lending a hand when someone’s in need. It’s a good thing to be a part of, in my opinion. I make a mental note to pay it forward when I get a chance.
Back on the bike, Joshua Trees digitally documented for posterity, I ride on.
I stop for gas in Barstow. It’s lunchtime and I’m hungry, but all I see around is fast food. I’m not that hungry. I look around the well-stocked gas station minimart, and put together my favorite road meal – some beef jerky, a sugar-free Red Bull and a bottle of water. I munch down in the parking lot while I watch the locals come in for their fuel. Suddenly, a big boom hits, and I watch as the windows of the gas station literally buckle and bend. It looks like they turn to liquid for a second, then return to normal form. Then, a second boom. I’m confused, and I look around, expecting to see fire and brimstone. Then, I notice the contrails overhead. Two Navy jets have just passed by, traveling faster than sound, and I’ve just experienced a pair of sonic booms. A man in the parking lot confirms it. He says that it’s a normal occurrence around here, and that the store windows are specially mounted to withstand the force from planes on maneuvers at the nearby Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake. Wow! I’m not sure I’d be happy in Barstow. I know that my dog Truman would hate it. He hides in the bathroom during thunderstorms.
Back on the bike, I pick up CA-58 for a few miles until I reach US 395. I take that north, into the Mojave Desert toward Death Valley. US 395 runs through the Mojave and up along the eastern border of the Sierra Mountains. The road is also known as The Three Flags Highway, because it originally ran from the Mexican Border all the way to Canada. Much of the road is still in use today.
The views along the way are spectacular, as the mountain ranges grow ever more impressive on the west side of the road, and the desert gets drier and more barren on the east side of the road. Much of 395 is straight and flat in this area, and I have to restrain my throttle hand from seeking triple digit speeds. There’s something about an empty flat road through the desert that makes a motorcycle want to go fast.
The Road Glide is doing great, by the way. I’ve become completely comfortable with the frame-mounted fairing, and I’m actually starting to prefer it to the fork-mounted batwing. The bike feels stable at all speeds, and wind doesn’t affect it at all. The windshield is at the perfect height for me, so that I’m looking over it and not through it. I feel like I’m sitting in a pocket of calm air, even though the windshield is much further away than it would be on an Electra Glide. I’m even growing to like the bright red paint job my Road Glide wears.
Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,494 feet, sprouts in the near distance as I approach the town of Lone Pine. I pull in to the BEST WESTERN PLUS Frontier Motel and park in front of the office. I can’t get over what a great view this place has, with the mountains looming in the near distance.
I check in, and get a few restaurant recommendations from Emily at the front desk. I realize that I’m quite hungry, despite my delicious gas station smorgasbord lunch. I toss my gear into my room, and ride into Lone Pine, just a mile up the road.
I decide on Totem Café, because I notice that a sign outside that invites me to “See Our Famous Walls.” That’s just too intriguing to pass up. Turns out that the Totem Café has been in operation for many years, and they used to invite movie stars to carve their names into the walls. Plenty of them did it, too. I found Gary Cooper’s autograph carved above a door. Richard Boone, Ida Lupino, Edgar G. Robinson and dozens of other signatures (mostly names I didn’t recognize) lined the wood panels. The food is good, the history better. I have the grilled pork chops, and they’re big and juicy with a nice spicy flavor.
Back in my room, I relax and think about my ride tomorrow. It’s a long one.
NEXT: DAY FOUR: LONE PINE TO CAMBRIA