Rid­ing the Devil’s Road



This place was a piñon and ju­niper for­est 12,000 years ago. It was as green and gor­geous as the conifer forests out­side of Flagstaff, some 300 miles from where we stand on the edge of a hous­ing de­vel­op­ment out­side of Yuma, Ari­zona.

Now there is noth­ing but scrub and cac­tus, dry washes, rocks, and su­gar sand, all of it presided over by the oc­ca­sional aban­doned mine like a gap­toothed maw in the hills. It is eas­ily one of the most re­mote and un­for­giv­ing stretches of land any­where in the United States, a vast sprawl of noth­ing with one road through the heart of it: El Camino del Di­ablo.

The Devil’s Road is one of the old­est in Amer­ica, hav­ing been in use cen­turies be­fore Europe stum­bled onto our con­ti­nent. It was the do­main of a hand­ful of na­tive peo­ple over the mil­len­nia, a string of wells and tina­jas (nat­u­ral wa­ter tanks) hang­ing on the bor­der of Quechan ter­ri­tory when the Span­ish made their way across the Sono­ran Desert in 1520. And, when the world found that Cal­i­for­nia could quench its thirst for gold, thou­sands of mi­grants walked its sands on their way north to dream for­tunes. The road earned its bleak moniker in the 1800s. His­to­ri­ans es­ti­mate as many as 2,000 peo­ple died along the route, pri­mar­ily due to thirst.

What was orig­i­nally a 250-mile track from Sonora to Yuma now cov­ers 130 miles through the Barry M. Gold­wa­ter Air Force Range, the Or­gan Pipe Cac­tus Na­tional Mon­u­ment, and the Cabeza Pri­eta Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, but it re­mains un­paved. The road wan­ders in and out of the best and worst the desert has to of­fer. It’s a Jeep trail, rut­ted and two-track most of the way. It’s no place for a ma­chine like the Tri­umph Street Scram­bler.

This bike is beau­ti­ful, its sil­ver and ma­roon tank a glit­ter­ing piece of hard candy. So vivid and man-made it’s al­most ob­scene against the muted col­ors of dust and stone. A scram­bler is the orig­i­nal multi-tool, a mo­tor­cy­cle that’s made to do all things: weather the daily com­mute, sit pretty in front of your fa­vorite cof­fee shop, and rip off to­ward the hills when work turns to hell and the cafés get crowded. But with rare ex­cep­tions, most mod­ern scram­blers lack the sus­pen­sion travel for se­ri­ous abuse. What hap­pens when we turn this Tri­umph against El Camino Del Di­ablo? Will it add its name to the long list of the road’s dead?

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