Day 6: Soda Lake

I was up at first light, and looking to make time, I skipped the morning coffee, hid my cache, and hit the road before sunrise.

I expected the Mojave Road's route in Willow Wash would be deep, dry, soft sand, so I skipped it, taking the Aiken road out to the paved Kelbaker Road. I turned west on the pavement and went spinning downhill in the top gears. I had 7 miles covered in less than 20 minutes.

As you can see on the map above, the lava field comes right up to the mountains, squeezing the wash and the roads together. There I bore left, into the wash and back on the Mojave Road at Mile 86.

As expected, the wash was slow going with heavy sand, but I was able to keep riding. Around the point of the mountains, 17-Mile Point, the Road climbed out of the wash and headed southwest down toward Soda Lake. It was still sandy in places, elsewhere rocky, but it was for the most part good enough - at least, going downhill. The road goes between Cowhole Mountain on the left and Little Cowhole on the right.

I saw half a dozen desert lilies scattered along the way. In 14 years of roaming around in the desert, I've only seen one before.

Miles later, at the edge of Soda Lake, I saw that all the heavy traffic I'd been following had turned west, off the Mojave Road, to an old ore mill site at Little Cowhole. I'm guessing the stormy weather and forecast Sunday turned them away from the lake and the river canyon further west, and sent them out at Baker.

The edge of the lake was silty. I could see the tracks of two motorcycles. The lake crossing itself was as smooth and firm as good pavement, and I made up some time spinning toward Traveller's Rock. Across the blinding salt I could see Zzyzx (zye-zix) shimmering in the mirage.

I took a long break at Traveller's Rock, reading the top secret plaque, and many of the autographed stones in the pile. Then the sun hit me. I guess the cold and wind at the higher elevations had gotten me adjusted to it, and unacclimated to the low desert heat at 930 feet. I mounted up and headed for the nearest shade.

Luckily, on the west side of Soda Lake, at Road Mile 102, the trail passes under outcrops of granite boulders, with a shady mesquite growing on an alkali seep. It's a perfect place to ease into re-acclimating.

I wound up spending the rest of the day in the shade there, lazy in the heat and sucking precious water.

I was also considering the options ahead. The Mojave Road Guide warned about 6 miles of blow sand from Mile 107 to Mile 114, at Basin Road, that was bad enough at times to cause 4-wheelers serious grief. Pushing a loaded bike through that sounded like a job for a holy man, not for me. The alternatives were hard-climbing detours up into the mountains between the Mojave Road and I-15.

Past the blow sand was the canyon - an unknown that might also present problems for a loaded bike, if it was all one sloppy wash.

Getting re-acclimated to 80-degree heat means drinking a lot of water, and I did - a whole gallon, leaving me only 1.5 more. That gave me just 2 practical options.

I could bail out at Zzyzx, and take back roads to Barstow - or I could take the Zzyzx road to I-15, pick up more water at the Rasor/I-15 mini-mart, then head down Basin Road and take my chances on riding in the canyon.

No rush. I wasn't going anywhere until tomorrow. I decided to sleep on it.


Mojave Road index