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ADV NewsSlowing Down To Soak In The Strange In The Anza Borrego Desert

Slowing Down To Soak In The Strange In The Anza Borrego Desert

Taking in all the sights, one POI at a time, on the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R.

Published on 03.30.2023
Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R

Something in the air, the water or perhaps the scorching heat, inspires creativity out in the off-grid parts of the Southern California desert. And not the kind of art that is easy to overlook but bold, striking statements that are bound to get your imagination bubbling or at least elicit a few chuckles from deep down in your bowels.

Taking a trip down to the ADV Rally & Camp in the Anza Borrego desert last fall was the perfect opportunity to get within striking distance of some of the most well-known weird desert art installations in the state. Plus this Rally has the unique format of being all about discovering new places off the beaten path you might normally ride past. It’s kind of like an Adventure Bike scavenger hunt where your team gets points for each unique (and often strange) POI you visit and check off your list. There’s no GPS tracks to follow, you can go wherever you want on the map, but the harder a spot is to reach, the more points it’s worth.

Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
The ADV Rally & Camp is like a scavenger hunt where your team get points for each unique POI found. There’s no GPS, just a map and guide book. The more technical the terrain, the higher the points scored, with trails rated like ski slopes.

While I’ve enjoyed partaking in the competitive aspects of this event several times in previous years, this time I wanted to take a more leisurely approach. Don’t get me wrong, the competition is a lot of fun, but the last few times I’ve participated in this event resulted in broken bikes and late-night rescue missions. We constantly hurried from spot-to-spot, grabbing as many high-value black diamonds as possible, and about the only time we ever enjoyed smelling the roses was when we were waiting for someone’s bike to be repaired. After a busy month of work, I was in the mood to enjoy some good desert riding with friends, without any time pressure or competitive urges.

Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
Chasing rocks and glory served up plenty of mishaps and mayhem the last few times at the event.

Perhaps not the first bike that comes to mind for a slow, relaxing ride but I took our 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R test unit to this party — A fire-breathing 160-horsepower juggernaut that constantly entices you to twist your wrist and jump headlong into the fray. Luckily, there was a long twisty road between Los Angeles and the desert to get out some of the adrenaline in my system. And to keep me well protected while feasting on twisties was the new Alpinestars Tech Air 3 airbag vest I was testing. Several fourth gear wheelies later, I cruised into camp on Thursday evening just in time to grab a hearty meal and throw back a few cold ones by the campfire.

Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
Perhaps not the first bike that comes to mind for a slow, relaxing ride but the fire-breathing 160 hp KTM 1290 Super Adventure R joined the party.

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We woke up the next morning somewhat early to a hot breakfast and coffee as we watched several teams sprint off to ensure they used every last bit of limited daylight to improve their point totals. Not us. We took our time and explored around vendor row for a bit before firing up our machines at around 9am for our ride. With treasure map and guide book in hand, we had nothing but a rough destination in mind and the goal of linking up a few of the unique points of interest we could see along the way. And since these were of the ‘easy’ green circle variety, which I usually bypassed in previous years, many of them were completely new to me.

Our first rendezvous with a POI was the Iron Door Bar (worth a whopping 3 points!) — an off-road-friendly watering hole you can get to without driving on asphalt. Apparently, this fine establishment has a really good spicy mustard but we didn’t get a chance to try it out because the owner hadn’t yet opened his doors, so we grabbed a quick group photo and kept moving. 

Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
The off-road friendly Iron Door bar is known for their spicy mustard. Reachable without driving on asphalt (worth a whopping 3 points!).

For our next stop we visited an entirely new country — the tiny nation of Slowjamastan. There are 12 United Territories that make up the Sovereign Nation of The People’s Republic of Slowjamastan. We visited Palmerstan and DonSam Wadi during our tour of the 11-acre desert microstate. Apparently they are currently accepting new citizens. “If you promise never to wear Crocs inside The Republic, listen to mumble rap, or drive in the passing lane while not passing – you’re our kinda citizen. Git’cher butt down here!,” states the website.

Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
If you promise never to wear Crocs, listen to mumble rap, or drive in the passing lane while not passing, you’re the kind of citizen the tiny nation of Slowjamastan is looking for.

After exploring a slot canyon and bird sanctuary, we eventually got to one of our main destinations, Salvation Mountain. Weird desert art doesn’t get much weirder than this. Salvation Mountain was the brainchild of the late Leonard Knight, a self-proclaimed sinner who wanted to spread the word of God through a colorful paper mache mountain he created. Next door, Slab City is an unincorporated, off-the-grid community of squatters, many of them artists, living together in harmony. Ready to check out of your daily grind? This is where you go. 

Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
Weird desert art doesn’t get much weirder than this. Salvation Mountain was the brainchild of the late Leonard Knight, a self-proclaimed sinner who wanted to spread the word of God through a colorful paper mache mountain he created. 

We struck up a conversation with a Slab City local who’d been a resident for about three years. She gave us the lowdown on living in the area: show up, pick a spot, do whatever you want, just don’t cause trouble and you can stay. She also recommended we visit nearby East Jesus for some additional desert art. We were glad we didn’t miss it. There are a range of different art displays by various artists who live in the community and it rivals Salvation Mountain for intrigue. There is just so much strange to soak in, we spent probably an hour walking around and could have continued on longer if our stomachs weren’t grumbling.

Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R

Moving along we headed toward the Salton Sea for our next destination, California’s largest lake which was created accidentally when an irrigation canal from the Colorado River burst in 1905 diverting a portion of the river flow into the low lying Salton Basin. The flow of water couldn’t be stopped for two years, resulting in massive devastation to landowners in the area. Today, the Salton Sea’s high salinity, contamination from agricultural runoff, and the toxic dust along its shores has made it quite inhospitable to wildlife and reduced recreation down to a trickle of what it once was in the 1950s and 60s.

Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
Bombay Beach is another famous artist enclave and a place where you can ride your motorcycle right on the sandy shore.

The view of the Salton Sea from Highway 111, with the Santa Rosa Mountain range in the background, is quite spectacular though. We took a scenic drive up the east shore to reach Bombay Beach, another famous artist enclave and a place where you can ride your motorcycle right on the sandy shore. While there weren’t as many art installations as I’ve seen here in previous years, there are few places where you can do power slides on a beach in California. Returning to camp around the North Shore, the light from the setting sun danced beautifully across the vast desert landscapes. We checked back in at camp just before the dawn. Tallying up our scorecard, we placed 32nd out of 48 teams in points for the day. As far as fun though, I’m sure we ranked in the top 5!

After a late night with friends, new and old, and a few tequila infused storytelling sessions, Day two got off to a later start. Before setting off, we decided to check out some of the entertainment around camp exploring some of the demo ride options from Kawasaki, Harley and Yamaha. While my teammates tried out the latest Kawasaki KLX300, I opted for the old faithful Yamaha XTZ1200Z Super Tenere ES. The Super Ten has been in production since 2010 with only mild changes over the last 13 years. I haven’t ridden one in years, so it was interesting to revisit this bike to see how it’s evolved.

How did it ride? It’s still the same 584-pound behemoth with a 110-horsepower 1199cc parallel twin that delivers power through a driveshaft. It comes with modern electronics like cruise control, simple fuel maps, electronically-controlled suspension, and switchable ABS. Everything feels a bit dated though, especially the clunky windscreen adjustments. Even so, the ergos were pretty good for stand-up riding and it was more capable in the dirt than I remembered. It’s a comfortable highway cruiser too but felt more like a 900cc compared to the 1290 Super Adventure R I’d been riding. Hopefully, we’ll see Yamaha give this living classic a full revamp in the near future.

Speaking of the future, I took a ride on the new Zero DSR/X too. It features a Z-Force 75-10 motor that produces 100 horsepower and an incredible 166 foot-pounds of torque, all available all the time, regardless of RPM. Range varies from 85 miles if you are just cruising highway to around 200 miles for city riding. It’s fast, smooth, quiet and quite maneuverable for its 544-pound curb weight. Silent trail riding was a unique experience I really enjoyed and it was steady through some particularly sandy sections thanks to a low center of gravity.

Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
In the cooler nighttime temps, the breathable Alpinestars Venture R enduro gear was a little chilly but proved adaptable during the day with the removable sleeves and several zippered vents, along with built-in water and abrasion resistance.

From the past to the future and back to the present, I was happy to be back on my 1290SAR for the remainder of the day. We decided to head north to grab some lunch in Borrego Springs — a town that not only has great Mexican food, but is also famous for the giant metal sculptures in its vicinity. 

While our treasure map just showed one of these unique sculptures as a POI (Scorpion vs. Cricket), there are many more spectacular examples scattered around this vast outdoor museum. In fact there are at least 130 sculptures, typically large prehistoric animals or mythical beasts, many of which are hard to find and only accessible via dirt roads. We spent the better part of the afternoon hunting down serpents, velociraptors, flying creatures, and even a flying Jeep. 

Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
There are at least 130 sculptures, typically large prehistoric animals or mythical beasts in the area, some of which are only accessible via dirt roads.

With daylight draining away, we took the dirt route back along Old Cup Valley Road and Jasper Trail. This section of the Anza Borrego desert has more than enough flowy, fun sections to keep a big bike rider entertained and it proved to be the perfect way to cap off another great day. The 1290SAR soaked up deep ruts, sand washes and rocky sections with poise thanks to revisions KTM made in 2021 to the frame/swingarm geometry that place the rider’s weight more over the front wheel, plus a redesigned fuel tank that lowers the center of gravity. The recently-updated suspension gave a supple yet controlled feel with plenty of hold up in the big bumps, while the Bridgestone AX41 dual sport knobs had plenty of bite. All of this just reinforced my opinion that the Super Adventure R is one of the best do-it-all adventure machines on the market.

Exploring Desert Art on KTM 1290 Super Adventure R

Back at camp again for the final evening we stayed up well past our bed times, swapping stories with other teams, learning about all the other unique destinations we didn’t get a chance to visit. With over 120 POIs on the map, it seems there’s still a lot more to see next time we come back to the rally. And it’s nice to discover that I could have just as much fun doing it slowly, as I did in previous years taking the hardest routes trying to score as many points as possible. Perhaps I’m just getting wiser with age?

Photos Spencer Hill and Rob Dabney

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 Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia, 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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-Nate
-Nate
March 30, 2023 2:56 pm

I too love the Anza Borrego Desert, if you only have a street bike or car no worries ~ there are myriad paved roads all around and through it plus plenty of easy dirt roads .

Even low slung Hot Rods will be okay here .

Borrego Springs is where I prefer to stay, Stanlund’s Resort just outside of Borrego Springs is an old kitschy place that used to be fancy in the 1960’s now it’s clean and quiet with nice rooms, some suites with kitchens and even a nice clean swimming pool .

Scads of parking too and they seem to like groups and don’t mind vehicle repairs as long as you clean up after your self and don’t make noise all night long .

One can spend days exploring this area and not travel the same road twice .

The touristy town on Julian is right down the highway, a little too touristy for me but I always stop to have a nice hand dip ice cream when I pass through in mid Summer .

-Nate

-Nate
-Nate
March 30, 2023 5:05 pm

The wordpress sign in link seems to be dead .

tommy carmanico
tommy carmanico
March 30, 2023 7:26 pm

you have to check out Carlee’s in Borrego Springs. Fantastic food there. I highly recommend the steak bites appitizer

Rob Dabney
Rob Dabney
March 31, 2023 10:44 am

Sounds good. Thanks for the tip!

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