Tour Test Review
I knew I’d stumbled onto someplace…different…when I pulled into the packed dirt parking lot of the Nipton Trading Post, and it wasn’t just the huge glass octopus sculpture wriggling next to the highway. I rolled to a stop next to the five-room adobe hotel, which was built in 1910, almost startled by the silence after switching off the rumbling Indian Scout.
I could smell the hot, dusty leather of my saddlebags, and was very much aware of the crunching of sand and rock beneath my boots as I stood and swung a leg, stiff from hours of slogging across the desert, over my luggage roll and backrest. My skin tingled – someone was watching me.
For a few fleeting moments I was in another time, a wandering cowgirl who just rode into an unfamiliar – and dangerously quiet – town. A tumbleweed staggered across the empty dirt street to the theme from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”…OK, maybe that last bit was just in my head. I doffed my hat – er, helmet – squinting in the harsh desert light, and turned to see that I was far from alone, and yes, I had definitely attracted some attention.
Two middle-aged guys got out of a fire engine red ’65 Mustang convertible and were walking toward me, clearly curious about my equally iconic motorcycle. Past them, clustered around the railroad tracks, was a team – posse? – of photographers and assistants, all focused on a blonde woman in a gauzy dress, prancing up and down on the tracks. Based on the tour bus parked in the shade I deduced this was an album cover photo shoot.
I stood for a moment, taking in the rest of the tiny settlement of Nipton: the aforementioned hotel, a restaurant called the Whistle Stop Café, a trading post, a historical marker and a few houses. Farther out in the scrubby desert, past the hotel, I glimpsed a scattering of white teepees, along with a brightly painted old car and what appeared to be metal sculptures. Yep, this is the place.
Nipton, California, current population somewhere between 15 and 20 souls, was founded in 1905 as a stop on the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad, which merged with the Union Pacific Railroad in 1910. It feels very much in the middle of nowhere, despite being just 12 miles southeast of the bright casinos of Primm, Nevada, but positioned as it is on a lonely two-lane state highway in the Mojave Desert, it’s definitely off the beaten path.
I was heading to Las Vegas for a karate tournament on a 2019 Indian Scout that we’d outfitted with some touring accessories, and rather than just slab it the whole way I’d booked a night in Nipton. This put me in an ideal position for a nice ride up to the Hoover Dam and then north into Valley of Fire State Park, before dropping into Sin City to get my butt kicked at the tournament.
Nipton’s location is convenient for a journey into the desert, be it the nearby Mojave National Preserve, Lake Mead or Lake Havasu, or the motorcycle destination of Laughlin. And its quirkiness appealed: accommodations include the old hotel, little “ecocabins” or, my choice, teepees. The ecocabins and teepees are solar-powered, just enough to run the interior lights and to charge your phone, but there are no TVs. The cabins are heated in the winter with woodstoves and the teepees have little propane heaters, but the weather during my visit in late April was warm enough that the provided blankets were plenty comfortable.
I was up with the sun the next morning, wanting to get to Boulder City, the gateway to Lake Mead and the awe-inspiring Hoover Dam, for breakfast. I’d already put 263 mostly freeway miles behind me the day before, and was settling into familiarity with the Scout, which we accessorized with Indian’s 19-inch Quick Release Windshield, sumptuous Desert Tan leather saddlebags and a matching rider backrest. My karate gear took up one whole saddlebag, my street clothes and toiletries the other, so I strapped a duffel across the back to hold my camera gear.
Indian’s Scout (read our full review here) is a Goldilocks weekend tourer for someone my size traveling one-up, with an easy-to-handle wet weight of 591 lbs. (as tested), plenty of cruising and passing power, adjustable ergonomics for reduced or extended reach and a smoothly loping cadence from the liquid-cooled 69ci (1,133cc) 60-degree V-twin that produced little in the way of nuisance vibration.
That is, as long as you don’t mind stopping often for fuel; I averaged 46.6 mpg from the 3.3-gallon tank, meaning 154 miles was my limit. In the lonely desert, that translates to “fill up whenever you can,” especially since the analog/LCD instrument lacks both a fuel gauge and fuel consumption data. Otherwise, the windshield causes the fat front tire to wander a bit at times, progressing from a minor annoyance to more a disconcerting experience in a stiff crosswind, but overall I was enjoying my ride on the Scout.
It’s also undeniably pretty, especially in the Indian Red/Thunder Black livery with gold pinstriping and feathered headdress Indian graphics that accentuate the Desert Tan seat, backrest and saddlebags. As I snapped roadside photos at the Hoover Dam, the new Mike O’Callaghan/Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge arcing overhead, many a passing driver’s head swiveled at the bike in appreciation. Completed in 1936, the dam still produces power for California, Nevada and Arizona, although falling water levels in Lake Mead have affected how much it can output.
From there I cruised north through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and then into Valley of Fire State Park. Valley of Fire, as its name suggests, is full of interesting and beautiful red rock formations, and there are plenty of pullouts with picnic tables and hiking trails where you can stop and stretch your legs. I turned north at the Visitor Center for a ride into the heart of the park, the road dipping, climbing and weaving through a Technicolor landscape of eroded sandstone that’s more than 150 million years old.
Tourist traffic can be heavy, especially through this section, and there are several blind, off-camber turns that can catch you off-guard, so I was happy to putt along and enjoy the scenery, my dance with the Scout a gentle sway. At 5 feet, 9 inches, I found the standard riding position to be comfortably feet-forward; shorter and taller riders may opt for the reduced or extended reach ergo kits to tailor the bike to their needs.
In fact, I was enjoying myself so much that when Scout and I returned to I-15 on the west side of the park, for a moment I wished I could turn north and continue exploring the desert’s hidden secrets, perhaps discovering more gems like Nipton. But I had made a commitment, so south to Las Vegas it was. Still, there are more roads and more secrets to uncover…where should I point my front wheel next?