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California Sea and Desert Trip: Day Two

San Diego to Palm Springs: 186 Miles Ridden

Rain. It’s still raining when I wake up and peek through the shutters. A heavy fog sits over the bay, obscuring any view of the San Diego skyline. I get packed and dressed, and dodge the raindrops over to the Blue Wave Restaurant & Lodge off of lobby of the BEST WESTERN PLUS Island Palms Hotel & Marina. I study the weather app on my iPhone as I eat my ham and cheese omelet. It looks like most of the storm has passed, and I’m just dealing with the lingering effects. It’s time to ride.

I load up the Road Glide, and hit the road. I make an extra effort to ride smoothly, going gently with the throttle and easing on the brakes when I need to slow down. I pay special attention to the road surfaces, watching out for slick spots where the oil and grime has pooled on the pavement. Things look pretty good – a few days of rain have washed away some of the slick stuff.

San Diego always seems like a maze of freeways to me. The roadways are wide and smooth, and freeways crisscross all over town. With the rain, I have not mounted my GPS unit – I’ll have to figure out a way to weatherproof it before my next trip. I’m going old school on this leg. I’ve got a list of roads and turns written down, and I’m wearing the directions in a plastic map pocket on my left arm. I spent a while studying road maps before I left the hotel this morning, and I think I know where I’m headed. We’ll see.

After a few miles of freeway, I come to my turnoff, Scripps Poway Parkway, and I find myself riding through some suburbs that I’ve never seen before. Poway seems to be a high tech center, and the place is booming with big houses and elegant shopping centers. Soon, things clear out a bit, and I’m in the rolling hills of San Diego County. I pass through the charming town of Ramona. Just 30 miles from the highrises of San Diego and the high tech of Poway, and I’m back in the Old West. Feed stores and horses, saloons and antique stores line the road. If it weren’t raining, I’d stop and explore. But I’m eager to get further inland, and hopefully away from the rain.

Just a few minutes out of Ramona, the skies clear and I’m riding on dry pavement again. I follow CA-67 as it becomes CA-78. I’m gaining elevation, and the temperature drops into the 40s. I start to notice some snow accumulation on the sides of the road, but the road is clear. At the intersection of CA-78 and CA-79, I pull into the parking lot of the Santa Ysabel Post Office. The roofs of the buildings in the area are all snow-covered. A guy in a pickup truck works on his rear wheel. He’s removing a set of snow chains. Uh-oh. I go in to the post office with my map. I want to make sure that it is safe to keep going on my route. I figure that somebody at the post office will know a lot about the local roads.

I’m right. The postal employee behind the counter is extremely helpful, and assures me that my route should be completely safe. She points out a few landmarks for me to watch for along the way, and places I should be wary of ice. I thank her, and climb back on the bike. I fight temptation, because the Julian Pie Company is right across the street. If it weren’t still morning, I would be munching on a slice of apple pie right now. I will be back.

The road gains elevation as I head up CA-79. The snow now covers the ground on both sides of the road. I’m a little nervous, but the sun is shining and there’s no sign of ice. I watch out for shady patches that the morning sun hasn’t yet reached – ice can lurk in the shadows. Traffic is light, and the scenery is amazing. Mountain peaks have sprouted around me, and the road is delightfully curvy.

I reach the turnoff for SR2, and I follow it through to the Montezuma Pass. I see one of those signs that brings joy to a motorcyclist’s heart – a squiggly line with the legend “NEXT 14 MILES.” The twisties! The scenery just keeps getting better and better, and I crest the mountain range and start my descent into the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The park is California’s largest at 600,000 acres, and is famous for its spring wildflowers. I’m a few weeks early for wildflower season, but the recent rains have brought out some lush greenery, and the air is crisp and clean. If I was in a car, I wouldn’t have noticed the smell and feel in the air. I love riding through on a motorcycle. It’s a feast for the senses. The park is named for 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza. “Borrego” means “big horn sheep” in Spanish. I don’t see any sheep around today – or any 18th century Spanish explorers.

I stop for lunch in Borrego Springs, at a little place that catches my eye called “El Borrego.” It’s a tiny place specializing in Mexican cuisine and big statues made from scrap metal. A ten-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex welcomes me in the side yard, and other cool statues and works of folk art decorate the restaurant’s patio. It’s cool and fun, and the food is good, too. I have a shrimp burrito and a soda, and I’m ready to ride again.

From Borrego Springs, I ride to see a big curiosity that I’ve always wanted to behold firsthand. The Salton Sea is the result of Mother Nature overtaking Man’s best plans, with disastrous results for the ecology. The Salton Sea was created when the Colorado River broke through a series of manmade canals in 1905, and all of the water rushed to the lowest point in the valley. With no outlet, the Colorado created a shallow body of water 45 miles long and 20 miles wide before engineers finally diverted the river in 1907. At first, the new sea attracted a wide variety of flora and fauna, and people followed. In the century since, the water has become heavily salinized, killing most of the fish and driving away the birds. The sea is shrinking as it evaporates, leaving arid land. The town seems to be drying up at the same time. I ride down to the shore, looking over the sunbaked landscape. It’s like another planet. I have to ride carefully, because the roads that lead to the shore seem to be disintegrating as the desert reclaims this low land. It’s an eerie place.

I ride on, putting the Salton Sea behind me.

I’m now in the Coachella Valley, a sleepy agricultural area that comes alive every April for the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. The Festival runs over two weekends, and has become a major destination for indie rock and big stars. This year’s event takes place April 13 – 15 and 20 – 22, with headliners The Black Keys, Radiohead and Snoop Dogg & Dr. Dre leading the charge. Even in April, temperatures can hit the triple digits in Coachella, so it’s a real commitment for music fans. I’ll be skipping it this year (again).

Finally, I reach my destination for the evening: Palm Springs, the playground of the rich and famous. The BEST WESTERN PLUS Las Brisas Hotel is right on Indian Canyon Road, in the heart of downtown Palm Springs. My room is on the ground floor, right next to the pool, and when I arrive there are families enjoying the sun. To think, a few hours ago I was worried about hitting ice in the shade, and here are folks seeking the shade with an ice cold drink.

I unload the bike, and decide to take a walk through town instead of donning my trunks. Just one block over, Palm Springs’ famous Palm Canyon Drive is crowded with restaurants and shops, art galleries and coffee houses. It also features the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, the city’s own version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Stars who had some connection to Palm Springs, either owning a home in the area or frequently vacationing there, are eligible for the honor, which includes a star with their name permanently embedded in the sidewalk along Palm Canyon Drive. Over 300 stars are honored on the Walk, which was dedicated in 1992. New stars are added every year. I spotted several of my favorites during my walk, including Elvis Presley, Chevy Chase, Marilyn Monroe and, of course, Sony Bono, who served as Mayor of Palm Springs from 1988 to 1992. Mr. Bono, who also served in Congress representing the Palm Springs area, died in a skiing accident in 1998. A life-sized bronze sculpture of the entertainer and politician sits beside a fountain on Palm Canyon Drive, right next to his star.

Back at the hotel, I stop by the front desk to ask for a dinner recommendation. There are so many restaurants within walking distance of the hotel that I need a little help. The desk clerk asks me what kind of food I’m looking for, and based on my answers, she recommends Fisherman’s Market & Grill, right across the street from the hotel. It turns out to be a busy, informal restaurant with delicious fresh seafood. I know – seafood in the desert. But it’s really fresh, and really good!

After dinner, I’m ready to turn in. I resist the urge to join the crowd in La Cantina, the BEST WESTERN PLUS Las Brisas Hotel’s lobby bar. They look like they’re having fun, but I’ve had a big day, and I’ve got a long ride tomorrow.

Today was one of those days that remind me why I live in California. I rode from rainy coastline through snowy mountain passes and wound up in the desert, all on one tank of gas. Amazing.

More desert tomorrow.