Riding the Devil’s Road
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?