Riding the California Backcountry
Discovery Route (CABDR-South)The California Backcountry Discovery Route South covers 820 miles (over 1,300 kilometers) of rugged two-track roads & otherworldly terrain. It’s one of the most challenging BDR routes to date. REV'IT! Women's Team member, Kris Fant, suited up & hit the dirt to bring you a full report of the CABDR.
The wild west, wagon trails, gold rush, missions, and ancient Native history inspire our imaginations and draw us like a moth to the flame of the California desert. Earlier this year, two fellow pioneers and I mounted our combustion engine ponies and pointed them toward the newly released California Backcountry Discovery Route, leading us through the adventure of a lifetime.
Protected from head to toe in my REV’IT! Tornado 2 Ladies suit, I mounted my trusty DR 650, Luna, and started the ride. My REV’IT! Airborne LS Ladies base layer kept me cool in the searing desert temperatures. Ready to tackle the most challenging jeep trails I’ve come across yet, I left the paved haven of Yuma, Arizona, crossing the All American Canal. It was but a few miles before we arrived at Indian Pass Road, legendary in both name and for the eight miles of deep sand that eats riders and clutches alive. We flew on through, following the Colorado River, an oasis of green in a sea of sand.
This route is a history lover’s dream. The Blythe Intaglios are a series of gigantic geoglyphs that are thought to be over 1,000 years old, but were not discovered until 1931 when a plane spotted them from overhead. Archeologists remain puzzled over these depictions of ancient humans, animals, and geometric shapes, but there’s no mistaking their power to leave visitors in awe.
Don’t miss this sight - and if you love a riding challenge, the Intaglios Loop delivers. The terrain feels like an ancient riverbed, with deep sand and giant rocks, providing an excellent warm-up for continuing your wild west experience. While we had already completed the legendary sand on Indian Pass Road, I was delighted to find that in this desert ride, there were many sections of deep sand to practice my desert racing skills.
Riding through the Mojave, we hardly noticed we were in the desert because of the stunningly gorgeous - and vast - fields of Joshua Trees. These prehistoric-looking, spike-leafed succulent evergreens grow nowhere else in the world, and are a defining characteristic of the otherworldly landscape. They sit among mountain rocks that are 80-100 million years old, which made our wild west history sound like yesterday! Definitely take a break to camp in the national preserve, as the breathtaking spires and unusual formations provide an excellent backdrop for sunrise pictures of tents and motorcycles. Just be mindful of the nature, as the Joshua Trees’ survival is under increasing threat from climate change and park vandals.
At this point in our trip, it was time for the first of the mines, the open-pit Colosseum Mine. The top perimeter of the mine gradually narrows as it spirals down toward the bottom, creating a funnel that you can ride to the base of. The rainwater that fills the basin at the bottom looked mighty refreshing after the rocky hill climb to get to the area, but we held off on filling our water bottles as we’d been forewarned there might be arsenic afloat. We were happy to spot a cloud passing overhead, as it provided a few drops of rainwater and a refreshing break from an otherwise warm day.
The pioneers may have happened upon the natural hot springs in those early days and enjoyed washing up, but if you go there now, you can stay at the Tecopa Hot Springs Resort. In this quaint motel with comfortable beds and private soaking tubs, we rejuvenated after a long day of riding and planned our next steps.
You can’t miss the “Steak Stop Beer” sign as well. I’d recommend obeying that one! Be forewarned that Tecopa has many seasonal businesses, so if you are traveling between April and October, call ahead to see what services are available. Also make time to visit China Ranch for Date Shakes and Date Bread. Scrumptious!
After rejuvenating at the hot springs, it was onward to Death Valley. We were more prepared than the 1849 band of gold seekers who cut across this land of extremes, and gave it the cursed name due to the suffering and death they’d experienced. Many towns in Death Valley were built on pay dirt and destroyed by Mother Nature's flash floods. The Ibex Sand Dunes are deep and talcum like; while the dunes are part of the route, this section is short and over before you know it. The rest of Death Valley blends together in my mind as hot and flat with minimally changing scenery. This repeats until you get to the town of Furnace Creek. Our steeds got some fuel and we enjoyed Indian fry bread tacos, shave ice, and air conditioning. This is a stop worth making.
Though Death Valley can seem like an endless desert, its Titus Canyon is a beautiful, bucket list ride. It’s 27 miles (about 42 kilometers) of breathtaking beauty, vibrant color, and glorious off-road riding. It makes you wonder how this can be part of the same desolate area as the rest of Death Valley. Follow the road to Teakettle Junction and The Racetrack, and if you like a challenge, descend into the Saline Valley via Lippincott Pass. Lippincott Road was carved out for Lippincott Mine, which produced lead, silver, and zinc. The mine closed in 1951, and the road is not maintained; rainwater has washed away much of the dirt, leaving fields of loose and embedded boulders with steep descents. Travel in groups and be prepared to offer help to each other as you ride this expert-only section.
Salt and borax were mined out of the Saline Valley and an aerial tramway carried materials over the Inyo Mountains into the Owens Valley. Our route followed a deep rock wash up to Cerro Gordo Mine, a ghost town currently being renovated. The descent into Owens Valley is absolutely magnificent on a wide gravel road. Owens Valley has a contentious history, with Los Angeles and the local residents arguing over water rights. Los Angeles has deep pockets, and kept the water rights for years, drying up the lakes and leaving the area full of dust storms.
If it’s getting late in the day, don’t skip the chance to camp in the Alabama Hills. Refresh overnight, and in the morning, any history seeker can visit Manzanar War Relocation Center. This historical monument pays tribute to the Japanese who were interned during WWII. It’s a somber start to the day, but the surrounding mountainscapes are a beautiful setting for serene reflection. Past Manzanar, the ride to Reward Mine changes from fast and frisky to a rocky hill climb, up to an opening where you can ride a half mile into the mine itself. Reward Mine was a very profitable mine for the 49ers, but nowadays, you shouldn’t stray too far. Turn around at the overalls, as the mine narrows and the boulders get quite large past that.
We were coming to the end of our ride, but still looked forward to the Fish Slough Petroglyphs and Chidago Canyon. Section eight of this route is fast and easy, so be sure to slow down for pictures. Also be sure you’ve already reserved your spot at Benton Hot Springs.
It’s a magical haven in the desert with warm water sprinklers, tent sites with hot springs soaking tubs, and there’s a small cafe nearby to pick up celebratory libations. This was a great way to end a BDR, allowing our small team of travelers to discuss our favorite memories of the last six days.
Battling the heat of the California deserts, Kris wore the Tornado 3 Ladies outfit in silver, complemented with the Dirt 3 Ladies gloves. Underneath, the Airborne Ladies base layer kept her skin dry and helped staying cool instead of overheating.
- Pants Tornado 3 Ladies$339.99
- Gloves Dirt 3 Ladies$139.99
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