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ADV NewsDay Trip Adventure Ride: The Mojave’s El Paso Mountains

Day Trip Adventure Ride: The Mojave’s El Paso Mountains

Got a day free? These hidden gems in the Mojave are not to be missed.

Published on 11.16.2022

Sometimes it’s hard to get away for a full week of adventure riding, let alone a weekend. But there’s a lot of adventure to be had in just one day. Those who live in Southern California, or who happen to be traveling through, will definitely want to take note of this little gem of a day ride in the El Paso Mountains of the Mojave Desert. 

The El Paso mountains are located just south of Ridgecrest and Northeast of California City. The 18-mile long mountain range is criss-crossed by a dazzling array of off-road trails that lead to incredible desert vistas, historic mining camps and unique rock formations.

While you could spend many days exploring this area camping under the stars, this guide offers some of the top highlights you don’t want to miss if you’ve just got one day to go explore. And while the trails range from mild to wild in the area, this route (see gps tracks and map below) will take you on intermediate trails that are doable on a larger adventure bike. 

Red Rock Canyon State Park

We start our journey at the Red Rock Canyon State Park. Yes, California has its own set of incredible red rock formations, just like Arizona or Utah. They may not be quite as massive or famous, but definitely worth a trip to take a look.  As you approach the Red Rock State Park, to the west of Highway 14 is the Red Cliffs viewing area and to the east is the Ricardo Campground. Both are easy stops off the highway where you can take a break and soak in these geological masterpieces. Each cliff face is unique, with alternating white clay and red sandstone, often accentuated by pink or brown lava rocks.


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Continuing north, you’ll pass by the Dove Springs OHV area where there are a plethora of rugged desert trails to test your mettle but we’ll save that for another day so we can focus on the must-see spots and get you home before dark. 

Old Dutch Cleanser Mine

One of those must-see spots on our list is the Old Dutch Cleanser Mine. Exiting the highway to a wide somewhat sandy trail, you’ll climb into the El Paso mountains. It’s easily rideable for a novice sand rider but it does get deep in patches that can last 50 yards or so. Just slow down, paddle your way through and you’ll make it. 

Old Dutch Cleanser mine features an intricate patchwork of tunnels, some dug several hundred feet into the ground. Many thousands of tons of pumicite were pulled out of the mountain starting in the 1920s until 1947. Pumicite is a fine white powder which was used in a popular Comet-like cleaning product called ‘Old Dutch Cleanser.’

The tunnels are better explored on foot and with caution, as they travel down into the mountain approaching vertical angles. Hiking around the various corridors with bright white walls gives one the feeling of being in a Star Wars movie. Before departing, make sure to go up to the top of the hill where there are incredible vistas of the Red Rock Canyon State Park to the south.

Holy Ash Mine

Continuing east, you’ll visit the Holy Ash Mine next. Like the Old Dutch Cleanser mine, Holy Ash is another pumicite mine built by a direct competitor cleaning product company. Mining continued here until the 1950s. The passages are wider and don’t descend at such a sharp angle — some are large enough to drive a car though. Exploring the honeycomb openings is an otherworldly experience. 

Heading south now, we’ll encounter a range of vertical drops and climbs on the track. The trails do get more fun (i.e. technical) in this area, and of course sandy.

Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel

Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel is the next stop on our journey and it has an interesting story. Old William “Burro” Schmidt moved to California from Rhode Island for a drier climate (on doctor’s orders) to improve tuberculosis symptoms. Arriving in sunny Bakersfield, California in 1890 with rest in mind, it didn’t turn out that way. He heard about gold found in the El Paso mountains and decided to try his luck.

Around 1900 he started a one-man mining operation and began digging for Gold. At the time, getting the ore around the mountain to his smelter in Mojave was a treacherous undertaking, so he decided to make a tunnel ‘through’ the mountain to gain a more direct path for his two beloved burrows — Jenny and Jack. With pick and chisel (and some dynamite too), he slowly began cutting a tunnel out of the solid granite bedrock. By 1920, a road was completed that eliminated the need for the tunnel, but old Burro Schmidt continued digging undeterred for another 18 years until he finally popped out the other side of the mountain in 1938.

Keep going to the end of the 1/2-mile long shaft and you’ll discover a view that makes the creepy hike well worth the journey.

The tunnel was never used to carry ore, but you can walk through it today and enjoy the fruits of Mr. Schmidt’s labors. It’s a ½-mile  dark, spooky walk to get to the end of the tunnel but the stunning view on the other side makes it well worth it. A great spot to cool off on a hot desert day as well. Just bring a light source and watch your head. 

Randsburg

After a full day’s worth of exploring off-road trails, it’s back on the road. If you are looking for a good spot to grab a bite to eat and take in some of the history of the area, nearby Randsburg is a quirky little town you’ll not want to skip. Established in 1895 as a mining camp, Randsburg has an authentic old western ghost town feel yet it’s alive with action and boasts a population of that magic number 69. Old semi-restored buildings harken back to a simpler time in America and transport you back in time.

You can grab a bite at the General Store and take a look around. The strip is also a great place to meet other off-road travelers, on two wheels and four, ready to share notes on the variety of riding opportunities in the area. Mini adventure completed, you can head home and be back in time for supper — getting a well earned night’s rest in your own bed.

Planning Your Trip

Riding Terrain: Intermediate off-road terrain. There are some sandy spots that can get a little deep but they don’t last long. Some trails are rocky and rutted.

Weather: Avoid this trip in the middle of the summer. Spring and Fall are the best times to go. Winter is also a good time but it can snow in the mountains with the elevation reaching around 4,000 feet near the Burro Schmidt Tunnel.

Getting There: The route starts off of highway 14 in Red Rock Canyon State Park which is about 2 hours from Los Angeles and 2.5 hours from Orange County or Santa Barbara. If you are running the route in the opposite direction, you can start in Randsburg just off Highway 395.

Food, Gas, Supplies: The best places to get gas and supplies are in nearby Mojave or Johannesburg. Always bring lots of water when riding in the desert and don’t ride alone without a GPS tracking device!

Maps and GPS Tracks

Want to do this ride? Detailed GPX tracks and an interactive map are available for download free.*

* Terms of Use: Should you decide to explore a route that is published on ADV Pulse, you assume the risk of any resulting injury, loss or damage suffered as a result. The route descriptions, maps and GPS tracks provided are simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due diligence. It is your responsibility to evaluate the route accuracy as well as the current condition of trails and roads, your vehicle readiness, personal fitness and local weather when independently determining whether to use or adapt any of the information provided here.

Photography by Ely Woody

Author: Rob Dabney

Rob Dabney started a lifelong obsession with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he purchased his first bike – a 1982 Honda MB5. Through his 20’s and 30’s he competed in off-road desert races, including the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. Eventually, his proclivity for exploration led him to dual sport and adventure riding. Rob’s never-ending quest to discover what’s around the next bend has taken him on Adventures in Mexico, North Africa, Europe, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

Author: Rob Dabney
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3 thoughts on “Day Trip Adventure Ride: The Mojave’s El Paso Mountains

    • Thanks a lot Jim! That’s the new Royal Enfield Scram 411. It’s the Scrambler version of the Himalayan. Great bike for exploring trails and I must say it looks pretty sweet for $5k.

  1. Interesting and thanks for the GPS tracks. I used to ride my bicycle through the storm drains when I was a kid. Now I’m so claustrophobic its laughable. Great read!

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