An overnight pit stop in Joshua Tree National Park—a tent utopia as it goes—saw us once again ensconced in its ecological melting pot, lined by a jumble of stacked boulders and walls of imposing granite. The convergence of two great deserts: the Mojave and Colorado, blended together in a barbed landscape adorned in Sonoran flora and fauna. Such marvels of dry arid regions simply keep going about their business, adapting to relentless sun, little water and temperatures from below freezing to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
As a non-desert dweller, I pondered how the park’s hardy residents conserve enough moisture and beat the heat. However they seek sustenance to ensure their survival, my soul gets nourished in such faraway places. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a biological need, or a DNA flaw that compels me to seek the excitement that comes in a place unfamiliar to me. I never know if a place will pull, prickle, tickle or tease me, challenge or enlighten me. But I must say, as someone in a lifelong pursuit of natural beauty, the southern states is doing quite a job already; all of it binding me to the boundless joy and warmth in this life. Including another visit to Quartzsite—somehow having gotten under my skin as much as its rock dust.
Having hung out with the utterly great guys at Overland Journal and Expedition Portal in Prescott, where one week unsurprisingly merged into two, it was time to leave their world of gutsy adventure and make some gritty travel of our own. A fortnight is ample time to establish a comfortable routine, set our stall out while getting increasingly settled—making it a wrench to leave. And this occasion was no exception; fast friendships had forged into something else, they’d evolved into something deeper, more intimate. Had it not been for Jason putting his metaphorical foot down, I think I’d be an honorary Prescottonian by now.
Still, our farewells were fleeting as much as our departure—we’d be back—fast becoming a habit of ours. But for now, it was back to the Baja. To my mind, trudging north through the tedium of winter’s frigid cold and the debilitating snow on two wheels was beneath contempt. It seemed pointless as much as a joyless slog. Pulling a U-ey to kill some clock in sunnier climes where little beaches, fish tacos and whales awaited, didn’t take much to convince me. And hopefully, the heat wouldn’t be blisteringly white-hot, it’d be somewhere between blissful and bearable. Armed with sunscreen ‘factor formidable’ and sunglasses, a redhead renowned by some for burning at 9.30pm in Antarctica can take no chances.
Enjoying the simple things in life is one of my favourite sources of happiness. Such as wending our way on a road awash with lakes and meadows that were taking on their umpteenth spring—a Prescottonian winter will descend and retreat as much as the harriers and hawks darting in and out of the skies above.
Heck, one day we woke up to the place so alive with snow, the earth reflected radiantly below Prescott’s signature unblemished blue skies. The air bit sharply at my ears and the tip of my nose, while the next, having morphed from two-wheeled travellers to trail hunting hikers, we were crunching our way over the snowy trails at Thumb Butte Park beneath a deceiving sun, leaving my arms and nose a sun-kissed pink. Prescott’s ‘winter’ is permanently teetering on springtime, it’s wonderful and the parallel seasons will forever cast an array of appearances on the landscape. But backed by mountains covered with ponderosa pine forests, it was a granite, uncomplicated landscape—wide open, with no underlayer of menace.
Farther north—I knew—the terrain was rougher, the peaks more jagged, and if you strayed too far from the road you could be swallowed up by the sheer fathomless distance of the land and sky. Here, in the heart of Arizona, we passed only simple manifestations of broad, unterrifying beauty. There were characterful boulders, low-lying mountains and fields of cacti vying for my attention. There were risk-taking road runners that scurried at lightning speed across your path and warblers dancing to their own tune amongst the sand-coloured rocks. The landscape touched you with its kindliness, it didn’t drain you in any way. It never threatened to break your heart.
We fell into a lulled rhythm of riding, occasionally snacking on the roadside and chatting down the intercom, with the deserts of Arizona rolling by. Around 220 miles southbound led us into Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a UNESCO biosphere reserve sat in one of the state’s southernmost spots. A stunning little spot in fact, before taking leave of the states for five weeks. And the only one in the US in which the Organ Pipe cactus stands proud—makes for quite the scenic preservation shots of the American Southwest wilderness.
Clearly out of practice, it took everything I had to make the overly heat-sweetened ride before feeling utterly beaten. Both of us dumped the bikes, ungracefully peeled ourselves out of damp motorcycle gear and slumped for a moment, undressed and touched by the feeling of freedom when no longer encased in heavy black protection. Not wasting another moment, I lay down with aching limbs crying out for respite and fell into a sleepy heap pushing up zzZs for the best part of two hours.
Swinging lazily in the hammock post a reviving cup of rooibos tea, outside of our small shaded area there was nothing but burning sun, vivid sky so bright and wild cacti. Every one with arms giving it the hairy biggun, being very, very tall or about to “walk like an Egyptian“. Each with a comical little story to tell, I was enraptured by the place. Just leave me, Jase—I’m happy here. Despite the syrupy heat of the sweltering sun, a hummingbird ducked into view and paid me the shortest visit, its thrumming 2-gram beauty reminding me of Mother Nature’s most humble offerings.
By sunset, the place came into its own. A burnt orange sky at dusk silhouetted the big, old trunks of time, enhancing their undeniable presence and iconic beauty. The sun’s last smile spread from ear to ear across my face.
Uneventfully at Lukeville the following day, we raced across the border into mainland Mexico. We got neither stamped nor a temporary import permit for the motos. No need because the Baja we are headed! As border crossings go, that one was child’s play. It felt good to dust off the Spanish, resetting the pace to a gratifyingly slower one. Fields rolled by, some seeded and green, most just bare, hour after hour of blank brown earth exposed to the raw sky. An egret was standing on one leg, not moving, just standing there in the warp of heat. Now and again, doves in their droves sat perched on telephone wires above us. Gentle airy souls, aren’t they.
By dusk, we tried our hand at reaching Playa Grande, a beachy spot just off Mex 5 with a whole beach of sand to traverse in reaching it. With my frustration and anger exorcised thanks to an unbeatable pep talk by Scott Brady, backed by Jason in Prescott, I pursed my lips and prepared Pearl for some sliding-all-over-the-shop action. We had all but lost track of my skill level, far outweighed by Jason’s enthusiasm—to me, it seemed we had always been ploughing across a vast table of sand and would always continue doing so. We’d gone about a mile. My sincere apologies Jason, but that is both the horror and marvel of sand riding with someone possessing no clue but half a willingness to try.
“Okay, it’s getting thick, Lise, you’re doing r-e-a-l-l-y well. Just keep the gas on! Actually, slow down a bit…!” The conflicting words had eaten into my soul like termites into a log. ‘Oh my, I’m deliriously out of my depth here,’ I admitted aloud to myself ad nauseam—the sense of vexation returning to invade the pit of my stomach. I’d gained a beautiful momentum but lost track and control with astonishing speed. Having dropped his bike three times, Jason finally called it quits and I just breathed a sigh of relief, garnering some composure having not broken a rib.
My mind ruminated. Still fresh, still horribly alive after all my previous sand encounters. I nodded. I walked my thoughts through the too familiar, and too forgotten task ahead of me. I let my anger play out to a state of grudging acceptance. Albeit akin to a ball bearing bouncing around in a pinball machine, it was I that had chosen a road of adventure and personal growth. I may as well embrace that path and pick up where I’d left off. But no more today, thanks. My sand demons would still be there on the morrow, and the day after, waiting patiently for me. Fine!—my emotional reaction to the granular obtrusion itself.