San Diego to Prescott by Motorcycle — Part I
…spot cactus blooming in the desert…
This was an awesome road trip! The geography changed radically from Encinitas, to Prescott. We passed through mountains, sand dunes and desert — with temperature fluctuations from chilly to sweltering — all in one day!
Franz and I recently took a dirt bike class and were wondering where we could take the bikes off road. We ride Kawasaki KLR650’s and they are a little heavy for trail riding, but they handle well on dirt roads if there isn’t too much sand. I used to live in Prescott and thought some of the fire roads in the national forest might be perfect. We are going to find out!
We have done a few trips together by motorcycle, but this is the longest one so far. We took the same route out and back so I’m going to describe the trip one way and include all stops in both directions. We started in Encinitas, CA and then spent four full days riding around Prescott, AZ before heading back.
Hodophile (A Lover of Roads)
We had some concerns about the heat in the desert because temps were about 10° F higher than usual the weeks before we went. But we lucked out with a cooling trend the day before we left. We have mesh pants and jackets and were very happy with how they worked out. They made a huge difference on the days that were hot!
Pink line on map shows the whole two day route from San Diego to Prescott. Highlights of the trip are shown with the orange arrows.
Our bikes are loaded and we are ready to go — we packed light and were surprised how much stuff we had!
We started in Encintas, CA and rode through Ramona and Julian. This is our usual riding area, so no stops on this portion of the trip. As you head toward Ramona the land gets more hilly and mountainous. The views are pretty cool out here. We took Wynola Road to go around Julian. It is a beautiful curving road that avoids the center of town and meets up with 78 (head east). On the way back we drove through town to take advantage of a rest stop and grab some dinner at Soups and Such Cafe. It was a really wonderful meal!
Julian is at about 4,226 feet. We followed 78 out of town, following the curvy road through the trees, down into Anza-Borrego State Park at around 597 feet! The temperature in Julian was in the high 50’s and rose to the mid 90’s in Borrego.
We followed 78 to the Salton Sea. The geography changes completely down here as it opens to the desert. You can see for miles and it is very dry. This is a stark contrast to the last few miles through the mountains and forest. The road straightens out and goes past the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area. Normally there are people out on quads and dirt bikes covering the sand dunes and hills. It’s a little late in the season and getting a bit hot for that now.
78 merges with 86 and you follow that until you reach Forrester Road. It bears right and turns into O Brien Lateral Road for one block. Then turn left and the road becomes Gentry Road. Follow straight to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.
This stretch is pretty flat, and straight surrounded by big patches of farm land. Between 78/86 and the refuge, slow down and look for poles along the drainage ditches. They mark holes that are home to the burrowing owl. You can spot the owls standing guard outside of their burrows, or on the poles themselves looking around. If you roll up slow you can even get a photo. The owls are quick to hide if they are startled.
Sonny Bono Salton Sea Refuge offers shade and picnic tables
We picked the Refuge as a longer stop because it really is the first place where you can stop with shade after you leave Julian. We made short stops to shake out our hands, snack and stretch, but there was no shelter from the sun. At the refuge there are picnic tables in a breezeway, bathrooms, water fountain and birds singing all around. After all that desert it feels like you are riding toward a mirage. If you are a bird watcher this place is a bonus stop!
Our original plan was to also go to Salvation Mountain, but because of timing we hit it on the way back. It is about 12-15 miles from the Refuge in Niland, CA.
You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the amazing piece of folk art that Leonard Knight has created here. Salvation Mountain is Leonard’s tribute to God and marks the entrance to Slab City (a snowbird/squatters area). You can easily spend 30-45 minutes looking around here.
Above, Panorama of Imperial Sand Dunes — you can see the road going through the middle of the dunes
The sand dunes are a beautiful peach color
We returned to 78 and headed towards the Imperial Sand Dunes. On the way out we encountered some strong wind, so we took it slow and didn’t stop. But on the way back we drove up to the lookout for the view and a rest in the shade. There are also bathrooms here.
In season these dunes are full of quads and dirt bikes. From this location you see pink sand dunes in every direction — it is quite impressive. There were only two quads out the day we were there. Watch for sand on the road and some grooves cut in the pavement. In the wind the grooves were a challenge. The return ride was much better!
Continue to follow 78 through Glamis, Palo Verde and Ripley. This is farm country, so the roads are long straight stretches through here. Once you leave the dunes the road flattens out as well. We start to spot cactus blooming in the desert here. The pop of color is really beautiful.
We planned on spending the night in Blythe, CA. We had to ride a few exits on the 10 to reach our hotel. On the way back we found you can avoid the 10 in Blythe altogether and take Hobsonway on the north side of the freeway. We had a celebratory toast to the successful start to a great adventure (don’t you love the hotel cups)!
We picked the Hampton Inn & Suites because it has a pool and a hot tub. The hot tub was awesome after a day of riding! We also walked to dinner and found a great Indian restaurant a mile from the hotel. It was nice to get some exercise after riding all day. The Taj was new and family owned. The food was really great and we brought back a flyer for the hotel to add to their list of food places that deliver. We liked the hotel enough that we stayed here on the way back too!
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