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ADV RidesFinding A Desert Rider’s Paradise In The Heart of the Mojave

Finding A Desert Rider’s Paradise In The Heart of the Mojave

This sacred site for desert riders is a pilgrimage we should all make in our life.

Published on 05.15.2020
Riding to the Husky Monument in the Mojave Desert

This is not a bike comparison, although two motorcycles from the same manufacturer are involved. One, a 2020 Husqvarna 701 Enduro, and the other, a 1978 Husqvarna 390, buried up to its axles in concrete, in the middle of the desert.

Over 20 miles from the nearest paved road, a memorial to fallen motorcyclists first sprouted in 1987 near the Cuddeback Dry Lake area of the Mojave desert. Following the passing of desert racer Jim Erickson, members of the Desert Zebras Motorcycle Club brought his Husky 390 out there, and planted it. That Swedish seed grew into a mechanical memorial garden over the years, as other fallen riders had additional remembrances built for them around the impromptu site. Wanting to visit this unique desert feature, choosing to ride a Husky to the Husky monument seemed appropriate. 

Husky Monument
Following the passing of desert racer Jim Erickson, his 1978 Husky 390 was planted at this site as a memorial. That Swedish seed grew into a mechanical memorial garden over the years, surrounded by remembrances of other fallen riders.
Desert riding paradise in the Mojave Desert.
The Mojave Desert offers endless views and hundreds of miles of open trails to explore in any direction.

Deciding on a starting point was easy, as RawHyde Adventures was hosting an ADV Rally at their “Zakar” facility in the desert outside of California City. Before throwing a leg over any motorcycles and heading out, just walking around this place is a trip in itself. Mad Max style construction involving shipping containers piled on top of one another complete with a machine-gun-equipped guard tower, quirky structures left over from when the spot was used as a movie filming location, zombie-slash-motorcycle themed murals covering entire walls, and what appears to be a bizarre misspelling of “Dakar” emblazoned in huge letters over the main entrance to the compound are all confusing elements at first, until the acronym is revealed. Z.A.K.A.R.: Zombie Apocalypse Kompound At RawHyde.

RawHyde's Zakar in California City
Mural on the wall at Zakar
RawHyde’s 100-acre Adventure Park in California City is styled as a post-apocalyptic military fortress. The dystopian theme seemed to hit home more than ever, as news of COVID-19 virus shut downs began to set in.

In the midst of all these imposing elements, a decent sized tent city sprang up, and hard-sided campers ringed the perimeter. Roughly 250 people had gathered to take part in adventure bike off-road training, perusing vendor booths, attending product seminars, and perhaps at the top of the list, camping and riding with friends. To that end, the event provided routes and suggestions for some of the many quirky desert features in the area to visit. The Husky Monument was one of several options in striking distance, including a crashed F22 fighter jet, ancient petroglyphs, the famed Burro Schmidt tunnel, and seemingly endless terrain. 


Plotting a course to cover as much of this terrain as possible, ADV Pulse senior editor Rob Dabney and myself fired up a KTM 690 Enduro R, and the aforementioned Husky 701 Enduro. Nature decided to water the desert for us, exactly on schedule, so we could better experience the landscapes. There would be no dust this ride, just endless vistas, almost blinding fields of wildflowers, fascinating points of interest, and ideal trail riding. 

Riding to the Husky Monument in the Mojave Desert.
Riding the Husqvarna 701 to the Husky Monument
Husqvarna 701 in the Mojave Desert with desert wildflowers in full bloom.
This time of year you can often see the wildflowers in full desert bloom.

Many of the areas and trails we rode were not among those suggested by the Zakar event, and for good reason. Steep, rocky ridge line options in some cases included winds strong enough to nearly blow both bike and rider over the edge. While technically possible to ride on a big adventure motorcycle, most of these trails would not have been entirely enjoyable on one. Cut to the KTM 690 and Husky 701. Plenty big for highway cruising, plenty nimble to deal with what the Mojave was throwing at us, these bikes made for a good experience in the desert. 

Fortunately, both Rob and myself had just ridden these exact same two motorcycles on an extensive rally in Death Valley a few weeks earlier. That ride brought some questionable handling characteristics to the surface, with both bikes. Trading messages with KTM’s Quinn Cody, some setup tweaks were suggested, and the difference was staggering. The sensitivity that modern motorcycles have to suspension adjustments is difficult to overstate. In Death Valley, I often felt the bikes were working against me, here in the Mojave, they became mind machines – an extension of where your imagination wanted to take you.

gnarly trails on the way to the Husky Monument.
Epic trails on the way to the Husky Monument.

Admittedly, sometimes your mind might take you to stupid places. Some of the trails around Fremont Peak started looking more appropriate for a 2-stroke than a large-bore thumper. We only got stuck on a couple climbs however, and the resulting vistas were well worth the effort of pushing through. Descending the mountains, headed roughly south-east, distracting views of vast canyons combined with often technical trail keeps one on their toes. Once the valley floor is reached, things speed up dramatically. Straight-line sand washes and roads criss-cross the desert, headed in almost any direction you might want to go. 

Riding to the Husky Monument in the Mojave Desert
Riding to the husky monument.

Continuing towards the southeast, a small collection of hardware lies on the ground next to a memorial for David P. “Cools” Cooley. It was here, on March 25th, 2009, that he and his F22 fighter came to an abrupt and exceedingly violent end in the desert. Another reminder of both the risks and rewards this landscape holds.

F22 crash site in the Mojave Desert.
David P. “Cools” Cooley was a Lockheed test pilot who died here while flying a test mission in an F22. An investigation determined that he was likely incapacitated by a g-force induced loss of consciousness.

Fast, almost straight dirt roads eventually give way to a winding sand wash at the base of a low mesa. Following this wash northward into the hills, eventually the Husky Monument is reached. Having seen virtually no one at all for the entire day so far since leaving the Zakar compound near California City earlier in the morning, it was something of a surprise to crest the rise and see nearly as many people as there were memorials gathered around the monument. By unintentionally providing a unique destination, I’m sure these fallen riders would appreciate knowing that they’re still encouraging people to ride the desert to the present day.

Husky Monument in the Mojave Desert
Husky Memorial
Riding to the Husky Memorial.
Dozens of monuments have sprung up at this site since the first dedication to desert racer Jim Erickson was made in 1987.

Where the Husky monument commemorates modern-day people who shared an affinity for this landscape, far older features evidence those who traveled here long before fossil fuels. A meandering ride around 10-12 miles to the east leads to a canyon with a wire fence across the entrance. Walking through the designated gate, an extensive collection of petroglyphs is found, particular on the north side of the canyon. Mystery remains about the meaning behind these symbols at Inscription Canyon. Theories run the gamut from structured messages about hunting conditions, to the images which result from a mind strung out on peyote. Whatever the meaning, by some estimates these rocks have been telling this story for anywhere from 8,000 – 12,000 years. How long the Husky Monument will remain a prominent desert feature is a question of both entropy, and the BLM. 

Inscription Canyon Petroglyphs
Riding adventure bikes to the Inscription Canyon Petroglyphs
The petroglyphs at Inscription Canyon are some of the most abundant and impressive we have ever seen in the Mojave Desert.

Monuments to fallen riders and military heroes are naturally understandable mementos. Ancient petroglyphs are familiar with even just a grade school level understanding of history. Why someone would spend 38 years digging a hole, that’s perhaps a bit more quirky. The desert, however, is often defined by the quirky. William “Burro” Schmidt moved from Rhode Island to California, took a pick, shovel, four-pound hammer, occasionally some dynamite, and started to dig a half-mile long tunnel through solid rock, by hand. In 1938, he popped out the far side of the mountain, later deeded the tunnel to a fellow miner, and left. Exactly why remains an open question. Differing accounts indicate this project took either 32, or 38 years to complete. Regardless, the man spent over three decades inside a mountain carrying roughly 5,800 tons of rock in burlap sacks on his back, in a wheelbarrow, and eventually using a mining car on rails.

Burro Schmidt Tunnel
Burro Schmidt Tunnel
Burro Schmidt Tunnel in the Mojave Desert.
Burro Schmidt Tunnel
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.

While many more of these interesting sites can be seen in just this area of desert alone, time remaining for this 2020 Adventure Days event at Zakar was short. Unbeknownst to all of us at the moment, time for most any event was also short. Driving home on the superhighways of Southern California to light board signs which only hours ago began displaying “Avoid gatherings,” the idea of veering off the freeway and into the safety of an empty desert gained an even greater appeal.

Photos by Jon Beck and Rob Dabney

Author: Jon Beck

Jon Beck is fulfilling a dream of never figuring out what to be when he grows up. Racing mountain bikes, competitive surfing, and touring as a musician are somehow part of what led Jon to travel through over 40 countries so far as an adventure motorcycle photographer, journalist, and guide. From precision riding for cameras in Hollywood, to refilling a fountain pen for travel stories, Jon brings a rare blend of experience to the table. While he seems happiest when lost in a desert someplace, deadlines are met most of the time.

Author: Jon Beck

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