Touring the Mojave National Preserve by Bicycle
Food, Water, Sleep
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8

Day 3: Day trip from Nipton to Primm, Nevada via Nipton-Desert Road

Day 3 Map DISTANCE: 26.0 miles
ELEVATION: 3000 feet to 2800 feet round trip

Overall, I slept well last night, but I did wake up because of passing trains. The rail line is just a few hundred feet from my tent, so the noise was very real! Another time, I woke up to hear a barking dog. In a half-awake state, I could clearly hear him sniffing something on the other side of my tent walls as if it were me he were sniffing...

I've decided to spend another night at Nipton, partly to avoid packing up, partly to benefit from the hospitality of the folks working there, and also to see a little more of the local area. It will be nice to leave my tent and gear at Nipton and do a local ride without carrying so much weight. Also, a shorter ride today will let me to recuperate a little and build up energy for a longer, hillier trip tomorrow.

I'm almost ready to leave when I meet a guy who lives in nearby Ivanpah and comes here to take his showers (he doesn't have running water). We have a hearty, philosophical chat that lasts at least an hour and he invites me to drop in at his place if I should be passing by that way.

The weather is gorgeous again—blue skies, temperatures in the 70s and a cool breeze once in a while (it is autumn, after all). This is my chance to try riding one of those sandy dirt roads that seems so forboding with a fully loaded bike.

"Paved" segment on Nipton-Desert Road
View heading north toward Primm, Nevada

I choose Nipton-Desert Road, which starts just across from my Hotel Nipton camp site. It follows the train tracks all the way to Primm, Nevada, 12 miles away, and then beyond. It crosses the kind of landscape that a lot of people think of when they think "desert": flat, dry, dusty, brown and dotted with short, scrubby bushes.

The first few miles of Nipton-Desert Road turns out to be old pavement, quite rutted in some spots, and bumpy most everywhere else. The bike rattles beneath me. Although not obvious at first, the road is veering slowly away from the tracks. A couple of miles later, it bends sharply and approaches the tracks, then crosses under them. From there, the road turns sharply again and closely parallels the train tracks the rest of the way to Primm.

After going under the tracks, the shoddy pavement ends for good. Before me is an accumulation of sand that I am unable to ride through. I continue anyway, wondering if this is already the end of my ride today. I persevere and I am soon able to start pedaling again. Now I'm hoping that my luck will last and that I won't be forced to turn back before reachng Primm.

The road quite is rough and rhtymically washboarded, with variety provided by rocky and sandy patches. Next to the road, sporadic drainage washes pass through culverts under the raised railway track and they cross the road, each carving a dry sand-filled dip in the road (that is probably muddy in the wet season). I'm not sure how to ride through these soggy spots, so I keep experimenting. Sometimes I can build up enough speed before the dip to ride right through all the sand. At other times, however, my tires fishtail immediately and I'm forced to get off the saddle and walk one hundred feet or so until the road becomes a little more hospitable again.

Sandy Conditions on Nipton-Desert Road
View heading north toward Primm, Nevada

After a while, I find my bones are feeling shaken up from all the vibration. Serious mountain bikers are probably used to this, but I'm more of a road rider myself. In terms of texture, this ride reminds me of bumpy San Jose-area trails like Monument Peak Trail in Ed Levin Park or the Manzanita Trail at Saint Joseph's Hill in Los Gatos. Neither of these two trails is as long as Nipton-Desert Road though.

It starts to feel like nothing in the landscape will ever change when, finally, Primm, Nevada becomes visible in the distance. Once I get close, I realize that it's not apparent how to get off the Nipton-Desert Road and into Primm. The first Primm facilities I come across are surrounded by concrete walls or chain-link fencing, so I continue riding past these boundaries until I finally locate an opening that leads me to Primm 's handful of paved streets.

Primm, Nevada become visible in the distance
Looks like a metropolis over there!

Unlike the slightly gritty and imperfect, but human-scaled, highway town of Baker, Primm is a corporate theme park with multiple casinos as its principal attraction. No family-operated Mexican restuarant here. Mostly just a couple of high-rise motels, a fashion-outlet mall, fast-food outlets the same as anywhere else, and numerous parking lots sit clustered in the middle of the desert with a freeway exit off I-15 just for them. A small piece of Primm resides on each side of the freeway. Brown, rocky mountains just to the west form a dramatic backdrop. This "town" (does anyone even live here?) is too new to feel anything but artificial, but one day we'll probably lust over this capitalist outcrop and enjoy it for some historic, kitschy character that we cannot today appreciate.

Being in Primm is like being in a television commercial with no surprises. The actors here don't look quite as good though. Everything is normal and you become a good, obedient citizen just by being here and buying something. Something about "being in Rome and doing as the Romans do" makes me want to eat at the McDonald's I see. I almost never eat at McDonald's, so this is a special occasion for me. I sit near a family with several raucous children and realize how peaceful and pleasant my little existence is as a solo bicycle camper.

I quickly devour my two Big Macs garnished with lettuce and onions only (and the obligatory large order of fries). I'm hungrier than I thought, but don't want to eat more and risk getting too full before finishing my ride.

I've decided not to explore anything else in Primm. I look for a way out of these parking lots and locate an unsigned pair of tire tracks leading out into the desert and toward some powerlines. This should connect me back to the Nipton-Desert Road. I follow it apprehensively, hoping it doesn't become so sandy that I am forced to backtrack or walk. Luck holds out, and soon I do connect with the Nipton-Desert Road again. After 12 more flat, bumpy, sandy miles, I arrive back in Nipton just as sunset fades into night. I reflect on the fact that I passed no traffic or people on this road.

Unmarked road connecting Primm with Nipton-Desert Road
View heading south toward Nipton

Spending time in Nipton is not a wilderness experience, but there is a certain charm to such a tiny desert outpost with little around for miles. It's comfortable, not mysterious, like camping out in someone's backyard. It would be easy to use this as home base during a trip. There's a general store, water, showers and a hot tub under the stars. Also, it's the only place in the Mojave National Preserve that I know of where there's a public laundry, though I'm sure there are facilities in Baker somewhere amidst the motels.

I could easily stay here for a few more days and slack off happily, but there are other landscapes in the Mojave Desert that I want to experience too. Tomorrow will be time to move on.

Mojave Desert Bike Tour Home          Next: Day 4

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