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- USA trip: By motorcycle through Arizona On secondary routes through national parks and the desert
Wild West – With a BMW R 1200 GS on secondary routes through national parks and deserts.
The fascination of aviation: In the southeast of Tucson, Arizona, there are thousands of aircraft of all years and types, from airworthy to junk, on huge desert areas. An Eldorado for technology fans, but not always to be experienced as close as here on the “Yard” of Chuck Wootan, who lives off parts sales and reconditioning and takes time to talk. Thanks, Chuck!
Idyllic Arizona: Ken and Carry, married for 50 years. The couple runs the Copper Sands Motel (www.copper sandsmotel.com) on the main street of Ajo in the middle of Organ Pipe National Park in the Sonoran Desert. Guests have a family breakfast in the office, the coffee is legendary. Also on offer: vehicle insurance for Mexico and innovative mini fitness equipment (www.70andfit.com).
Into the wild: Lost in the Algodones dunes not far from the Mexican border.
Saguaro cacti in Organ Pipe National Park just before Lukeville.
The manager of the Holiday Inn Hotel in Twentynine Palms and his daughter present his pancake machine.
In the private aircraft hangar in Tucson: Chuck shows the Pratt & Whitney radial engine.
Endless straight ahead doesn’t have to be boring: Route 86 in the Tohono Oodham Nation Indian reservation.
Pub in Robles Junction.
Classical instruments on an old Boe-ing 707 in the museum in Tucson.
Road movie: sand surfing on bizarre Bombay Beach on the way to Brawley.
Motel search on the highway towards Yuma.
Motorcycle specialist shop with an unusual range of spare parts at Twentynine Palms.
Fraternization with the Afghanistan veteran Blake over exquisite Pacifico beer.
With the motorcycle through national parks and desert
USA trip: By motorcycle through Arizona
On secondary routes through national parks and the desert
On secondary routes through national parks and deserts. In the spotlight: the Mexican border, bizarre villages, bizarre types, giant cacti, big engines and insane contradictions.
The gust of wind greedily reaches for the red GS. Hurls them two meters to the right, regardless of whether a fat pick-up is driving or rocks mark the edge of the desert. The boxer enduro has barely freed itself from the hours of clutching Los Angeles when its invisible fists of rapidly moving air slam against the left cylinder. That doesn’t stop until we get washed into the roller coaster of the San Bernardino Mountains on Route 62. The fuel gauge shows low tide, but ample torque pushes the machine quickly up to 1000 meters. The first Yoshua trees are reflected in the visor.
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On secondary routes through national parks and desert
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20,000 years before our BMW rolled off the assembly line, this area was just recovering from the last ice age. Nomadic Indian tribes roamed what is now Joshua Tree National Park in search of food. With 700 plant species, there was a good chance of stopping the stomach growling with pine nuts, acorns and cactus fruits. In the 21st century, starving travelers can enjoy Pizza Hut and In-N-Out Burgers in Twentynine Palms. Yucca brevivolia, the Yoshua tree, on the other hand, provides food and protection for numerous desert animals, as it has done for ages.
Sand crunches under the Tourance tires of the 1200s, it takes us on a first lap through the bizarre world of wonder trees. Mormons who were passing through baptized them in the name of their prophet Yoshua around 1840 because they saw the saints in the position of the branches. Didn’t he tell them to walk west with outstretched arms? The trees, which are reminiscent of giant cacti, mutate into strange creatures in the light of the setting sun. Rather Claudia says they belonged to the lily family.
In the evening in Twentynine Palms: The GS crackles in the parking lot of a small hotel in the well-deserved rest, towering between Harleys and a Victory. Jack from Oregon, who organizes a moped tour down here with his buddies once a year, changes his dusty day t-shirt for a going-out shirt on the suitcase of his E-Glide. His stomach shows an impressive six-pack wrapped in bacon. No wonder when you use large amounts of Budweiser internally every day.
In the low-budget restaurant opposite, poignant scenes take place. A multigenerational family argues about the choice of songs from the jukebox, the father of the family seems to be looking for not only the brief crackling of extramarital libido with the Mexican waitress, but also support, stability and orientation in the cold world of unemployment. After several Pitcher Bud Light have flowed and pieces of music of the most varied styles have diffused with a loud clatter from the music chest, we fall into a discussion about the superiority of American society.
The next day, Jim, the hotel manager, proudly presents us with his latest achievement: a machine that coughs up a golden-brown fried pancake within a minute, which, with maple syrup, is the basis for a day’s motorcycle tour through the streets and sandy tracks of Yoshua Tree National Park. With its grandiose nature, this piece of earth will amaze even the toughest adventurers. The sunlight dances on gigantic granite monoliths, the stone figures of which appear even to the most unimaginative tourists like heads, animals or mythical creatures. In high gears, the motorcycle with its road tires swims through sandy passages, but here the good balance of the Bavarian helps just as much as endless miles later on the beach of the huge Salton Sea.
Not just any beach, but Bombay Beach: dilapidated, salt-encrusted caravan and car wrecks, rundown trailer parks, dead fish, bad smell, apocalyptic mood. At the same time, it is also a living space for artists, old hippies and the uprooted, for whom the American dream has come to an end. Who allow themselves one or two scotch for their own dreams in the mold of their rotting trailers. We cannot be to blame for the fact that the lake’s sensitive ecosystem has tipped, the salt content has risen and the tributaries have washed pollutants into the outflow-free lake. Couldn’t do anything about the fish deaths, the closure of the hotels, the migration of the ambitious. Now only the social dregs vegetate here, albeit with a certain dignity. Bombay Beach has become a morbid magnet for freaks.
Motorcycle specialist shop with an unusual range of spare parts at Twentynine Palms.
The GS digs through the salt-encrusted rubble towards the bank, a photographer takes pictures of half-naked women in front of the setting sun, which bathes all the scenery in unearthly colors, ready for film. A mood in whose absolute desolation the spark of a beginning shimmers up again. Tourists rarely stop here, and on the way south they hardly see the huge state prisons, the worn-out pubs or the crude gas stations with the Norman Bates cashiers. Few of them see El Centro either, although there is a large Air Force base here. Not just any, but the training base of the famous Blue Angels aerobatic team. The gentlemen are currently on vacation, the polite soldier at the entrance reduces our anticipation. But the test flights of a semi-secret vertical take-off can also be followed from outside the fence.
The topic of the fence plays an important role on the rest of the trip because the GS always sniffs hard at the so-called “tortilla curtain” on the way east in the barren border landscape, which separates two worlds: South America in the form of Mexico and the western world in the form of the USA. It already starts in Calexico. We are not allowed to take the BMW across the border, but we would like to visit the Mexicalis markets on foot. However, there is no place where you can get a brand new, bright red R 1200 GS let it stand and find it again in one piece in the evening. As soon as I step away from the motorcycle and Claudia, she is immediately surrounded by gloomy-looking Mexicans. The reason for the desire is not the charm of my companion, but the brawny two-wheeler, which even in individual parts represents an immense fortune for the “Braceros”.
The US agricultural companies close to the border would not be able to operate profitably if they did not have an army of destitute Mexicans at their disposal for field work, who are hired for one-day jobs in the mornings on employment markets this side of the fence and sent back across the border in the evening. Time and again our motorcycle overtakes age-old US school buses whose cylinder head gaskets are about to die. Brown faces stare out of the windows beyond the horizon. Trailers with a couple of Dixi toilets hang on the rusty wrecks, too little for a dignified reliever on the strawberry plantations and cotton fields.
Shortly before the border with Arizona: grains of sand patter against the windshield. Their origin becomes clear a little later, because huge sand landscapes stretch in front of the front wheel of the GS. The dune fields are 85 kilometers long, explains Howard, a pensioner from Wisconsin, who has set up his monster mobile home on the edge of the dune, which is a credit to every Formula 1 stable. Our first attempts to explore the desert end with the rear wheel buried, the sand is too soft, the motorcycle too heavy, the tires improperly profiled. Firmer sand and gravel roads in the area of the Algodones dunes are suitable for Tourance, and so we open up a Sahara in the middle of the American southwest. On their flanks there are dusty gravel roads leading to old gold mines or bizarre rocks made of volcanic rock that our butchers literally eat up. Glamis in the middle of the sand. A huge trailer park full of petrolheads penetrating the dunes with V8 buggies throwing up towering sand fountains.
The Colorado River forms the border with Arizona, San Luis the border town with Mexico. Behind the fence, Mexican eyes languish at the fat American cars. Border Patrol pickups race away with screeching tires, high-revving V8 engines and red-headed officials: chasing Mexicans who have managed to invade the Promised Land.
The red BMW penetrates behind Gila Bend into the vastness of the Organ Pipe National Park. The boxer surfs through endlessness on his torque wave. The first giant cacti appear on the horizon. Soon we will be driving through entire forests of these many tons of saguaro succulents. With the last drop of fuel, the GS rolls into Ajo, a sloping nest full of former miners, artists and desert fans. The gas station owner has decorated his shop with the heads of animals that have been shot, the rag dealer’s misanthropic buddy bought the houses of his neighbors in order not to have neighbors. Ken and Carry have been married for 50 years and run the small motel on Main Street.
Pub in Robles Junction.
“A challenge!” Says Carry, who hails from Washington State and got stuck in the hot Ajo. Since the Border Patrol has been reinforced by 1,700 men, it has felt more secure. You learn to live with coyotes, snakes and the Mexican drug smugglers who sometimes have to give up their trucks and planes in the middle of the desert. Aircraft in all states of preservation can be found in southeast Tucson. On the dusty miles there, border patrol checkpoints stop us again and again, warning of drunk Indians who speed through their reservations without a driver’s license and torpedo naive tourists. The Tohono Oodham Indian settlements are partly lovingly decorated, partly scrap yards soaked with waste oil, destroyed like after a nuclear attack. The existence of uprooted individuals in an unearthly dream landscape. The latter can be admired from the 2095 meter high Kitts Peak. The road winds up in wild serpentines, pure cornering pleasure. At the top, the GS gets onto a plate of ice and slides hard on the precipice. On good days you can see almost 300 kilometers from here.
We meet Chuck in Tucson. He has his own aircraft graveyard: hundreds of flying boats, attack helicopters and hunters wait under the scorching sun for further use. Chuck lives from the parts trade and restoration. After work, the elderly fire-fighting aircraft pilot rebuilds a 70-year-old T6 from individual parts for himself, revises every rivet and proudly shows us the nine-cylinder Pratt & Whitney Wasp R-1340 radial engine, already crouched under a tarpaulin. It’s crazy how complex the military technology was even back then.
Technology that, in a more modern form, almost cost our new friend Blake his life. We get to know the former army officer in a bar. Over the course of a few Pacifico beers, he tells of the fact that he has a child with a Mexican woman and how he was wounded during his mission in Afghanistan. Now Blake has shrapnel in his head and a shot leg. The Army only paid for the life support operations, but otherwise leaves the invalid with his fate. He would need time and money for further operations and rehabilitation measures. But he doesn’t have it because he has to earn money, including for his painkillers. His dislike of the government is just as great as his enthusiasm for the BMW that is parked in front of our motel, where Blake also happens to live. How much he would like to flee, just drive off. Like us. Thankfully, we sit down on the red one, who immersed us intensely in the contradicting world on the tortilla curtain. Then the desert wind grabs us again.
Travel time: 10 days. Distance covered: 3000 kilometers
Arrival / travel time:
The tour described started in Los Angeles in early December. Depending on the season, there are flights from Frankfurt for less than 600 euros, for example with Delta Airlines (with a stopover in Atlanta or Detroit). In principle, this route is to be driven all year round, but from December to March it can get very cold in the desert areas, the sun sets in December at 4:30 p.m. sharp. Rain is rather rare in the border region with Mexico.
There are rental machines in Los Angeles from a number of agencies and tour operators. Many work with America’s largest motorcycle rental company, Eagle Rider (www.eaglerider.com): At Am-Tours, for example, a Harley costs 759 euros in high season (599 euros in low season) per week (www.am-tours.com). USA-Reisen has Harley, Honda, BMW and Triumph in their fleet and charges 597 euros per week for the R 1200 GS (www.usareisen.de). At Auto Europe, the Harley Sportster costs 686 euros and the R 1200 GS 881 euros per week. Here, too, there is a large selection of Harley, Honda, BMW and Triumph models (www.autoeurope.de). A number of companies offer unlimited miles, some allow a flying visit to Mexico. Insurance and deposits are handled differently, cruisers on slopes are not recommended.
The Southwest of the USA has many providers with varying routes, dates, services and prices in their program. Some selected addresses without claim to completeness: www.bikethebest.de; www.gs-sportreisen.de; www.motorradtouren-usa.de; www.us-bike-travel.com; www.eaglerider.com; www.wildwest-bikertours.de; www.bikeworld-travel.de.
The Yoshua Tree National Park in Southern California offers 3200 square kilometers of fascinating landscapes at heights between 305 and 1772 meters. The Yoshua palm lilies reach heights of 18 meters and are 900 years old. The park can be experienced perfectly on slopes and asphalt roads (www.joshua.tree.national-park.com; www.nps.gov/jotr). This also applies to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Park and the Saguaro National Park (both in southern Arizona) with their giant cacti, which can store up to 5000 liters of water, 15 meters high and 200 years old. The Algodones dunes near Yuma are just as breathtaking as the view from Kitts Peak, the Indian reservations or the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson (www.pimaair.org). Bombay Beach (location of ingenious films such as “Into the wild” by Sean Penn or “Bombay Beach” by Alma Harel) on the east bank of the Salton Sea has a bizarre effect: after a dam breach in the Colorado in 1905, massive amounts of water left the 66 meters below sea level depression the Imperial Valley created a huge lake that became a famous holiday area. Pollutants in the tributaries toppled the ecosystem, and tourism died with the fish. Today the apocalyptic shore shivers just as much as the reports of drug and people smuggling along the Mexican border, which is guarded with maddening effort.
Maps / literature:
The best cards can be found on site. Recommended travel guides are: USA-Southwest (Dumont, 24.95 euros), USA-The West (Stefan Loose, 23.99 euros), USA-Southwest (DK, 20.95 euros).
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