Road 23S16
The Road with No Name
Exploring the Southern Sierra Nevada

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Lost. Ever been out riding and had no idea where you were? Where the road goes, or even how long it'll go for?

The ride went something like that. It was one of those "Wonder where this goes sort of days." Or rather the road is paved, so far... don't want to go back. I've got a full tank of gas, I have a general idea of where I am and haven't lost my sense of direction. At least not yet. All that and a motorcycle.

After coming up Round Mountain Rd out of Bakersfield, and enjoying the smooth chocolatey slice of Granite Springs Rd, I rolled into the tiny ranching town of Posey. A wrong turn later, and I found myself in Sugarloaf Mountain Park, California staring at the map and somewhat unsure. After all, here I was riding out into the wilds of the Sierra Nevada Mtns with only a vague idea of where here even was. Originally looking for Mtn Road 109, there was a wrong turn somewhere. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Old Stage Rd should have been the magic winner that day. Another time.

Our ride begins in Sugarloaf Mountain Park. Which wasn't really marked on my map, but there was a little hall-type building. The kind you'd find in a 1950's Fred Astaire movie where the vacationing townfolk migrated up into the mountains for a spell.

It offered a place to stop for a moment, to stare at the map as if it might talk back to me, and wondering about the road I'd ridden up on Sugarloaf Dr. It was then the realization surfaced that I've ridden right to the very edge of the paper map and was about to head off that edge. Hmm, go back? Or ride on? Wherever that might lead. It's this insatiable sense of curiousity that's lent itself well to many an adventure over the years of Pashnit exploration. You might even say life's greatest adventures are the result of wrong turns.

So I left Fred Astaire behind, eased the motorcycle back onto this narrow long-forgotten road and motored on. As for civilization, the small lodge was about it, a couple homesteads, a couple mountain-man type homes clinging to the 1970's as if time had stood still, the roofs adorned in a carpet of pine needles. Sugarloaf disappeared from the mirrors.

Since I'd gone off the map by now, I simply continued riding, following the imperceptable urging of the road ahead. My missed turn that led me into Sugarloaf reminded me of the pivotal moment in the movie, where the hero guy inadvertantly drives himself off into the wilderness & is never heard from again.

But... the road ahead, whatever road this was... paved.

The elevation was climbing with an occasional hint of a view, and the surrounding trees were slowly closing in on the road ahead. My kind of adventure. That is if you like one-lane goat trails. Pavement was so far bumpy and old, but manageable.

Looking west across the Central Valley nearing the crest of Portugeuse Pass

Capable of sustaining any motorcycle so far, there wasn't much in the sense of landmarks or mile indicators- just riding, taking my time and gaining rapidly in elevation. The Central Valley, still visible through the trees, was beginning to fall away below me.

It seemed as though the road cut straight up, forget that foothill stuff, this was no holds bar climbing in elevation. In looking at a 3-D topographical map later on, I realized the road was just straight up the mountain side. This range was steep, and the ride steadily went higher gaining a good 1500 feet in that 5 mile climb.

The fruits of all my climbing were quickly evident. The above photo is looking west across the Central Valley. The challenge is to make it up here on a day without haze. (Day after major rain storm always does the trick btw). On the clearest of days, you can see 70-80 miles across the California's Central Valley (which is a valley over 400 miles long).


Five miles out of Sugarloaf, I crested the mountain top leveling out at an elevation of over 7000 feet. There I was faced with the sign pictured above. Staring at that sign as my only landmark, now what? Which way? No map. No GPS. Just intuition and that full tank of gas.

This 'top of the hill' was Portuguese Pass, el 7280. Sugarloaf was from where I'd come. Glennville was to the south, couldn't go that way.

The ride south, which the map claims is not paved connects to Highway 155 at Greenhorn Summit & Alta Sierra (only 6 miles away). Hmm, Johnsonville sounds as good a direction as any. Where ever that is. It's the biggest number on the sign. I sat there on the motorcycle mulling over these option letting the bike burble beneath me. North it is then. A nudge of the boot coaxing it into gear and off we went.

So I started off north, and with each passing mile wondering if my pavement would soon run out. I fully expected it too, but sometimes you just have to go check out the road for yourself. On this particular day, the majority of the ride would stay above the 7000 ft mark. And to my surprise stayed paved for the length of Forest Rd 23S16. Granted this was little more than a fire road along the crest of this mountain range, but I soon realized this must be one of the very few paved fire roads in all the state this high in elevation. The majority are still dirt or gravel.

As for the road, it was one lane. In a sense, there was no reason for a second one.

It was dirty, bumpy, and at times covered with a fine mist of sand in the middle and at the sides. The photo lead photo above was shot just north of the Portuguese Pass Summit & quickly told the story of what lay ahead. This road was carved into the hillside often times just below the crest of the range. And just to make the ride a little more interesting, the roadcut itself was often simply sliding right back down onto the road due to the sandy soil

The wheel tracks of past vehicles proved to be the best traction, but a heightened sense of awareness of the ever changing road conditions were required. Bear in mind at 7000 ft elevations, conditions will change with the seasons after the snows melt. And yes, for those not familiar, this entire region will be under snow the winter over.

Despite the poor road conditions, the magazine-cover view quickly provided the satisfaction to make this trek well worth it. My first glimpse eastward of the Sierra Nevada Mountains across the Kern River Valley made my eyes grow wide. Ah, success. Now I know why I came! Now I know why I come up to places like this An occasional break in the treeline would repeatedly reveal jaw-dropping views.

Atop this mountainous finger, these picturesque views became common place. Lake Isabella sits at an elevation of around 2500 feet and could be seen on occasion to the southeast. Here I stood 1 mile higher into the sky looking down on it. The Kern River Valley below seemed close enough to touch. The mountainside so steep, it felt as though you could jump off this mountainous ridgeline and parachute, base jump even, all the way to the bottom. Or in winter, toboggan!

Motoring north, I came to an intersection. With a Yurt placed in the middle. Now this surprised me, have to admit this is the first time I have come across anything quite like that. The label on the Yurt simply read 'Warming Shelter'.

At the Yurt, I was faced with this fork in the road. I turned east, following the pavement. Later in looking at Satellite photography (below) of the range, I could have taken either road, the other labeled FR 24S25 by maps isn't paved. You can actually see the the change in road surface to gravel/sand on the satellite imagery of this intersection. Both roads end up on the other side of the meadow pictured below. If you look closely in the below photograph, you can see the road cut of FR24S25 at top left.

Overall, while maps & GPS will often show a criss-cross maze of fire roads that filter over and around these mountain tops, when actually riding it there was only one paved road. While there was no question as to where to go, I still had no idea what road I was on (still no road signs yet), so it made sense to follow the most used path.

See more Pashnit Photography of Rd 23S16 here...

Back to Top

Flowing downhill, I rode into the meadow pictured above and marveled once more at this road, how it bent and folded around the landscape. I believe this is Vincent Meadow or Dunlap Meadow pictured at an elevation of 6500 ft. These high Sierra meadows are common to the region, often just being a depression surrounded by mountian tops. Think of a region where there are no rivers. It's these meadows that collect the water for the streams, than creeks, than rivers and even in the dryness of autumn in California, are often glowing in a brillance of rollicking blades of grass.

A recent forest fire had burnt off much of the surrounding hilltops although sporadic trees remained. While the road surface was surprisingly good with few potholes, the continued danger of the sandy soil alongside the road remained for the duration of this ride and kept speeds low. I motored along at times in 1st or 2nd gear ever mindful to watch out for any washing of the front wheel, not to mention sudden heaves or potholes. Depending on your motorcycle and confidence on goaty roads, this will determine your pace. When Suziki designed the world's fastest motorcycle, this sort of road probably isn't what they had in mind.

While elevations dipped down to about 6500 feet in the meadow, the nearby Tobias Peak above me didn't seem all that much higher with a crest of of 8264 ft. In this high sierra meadow I came upon one other vehicle, a pickup truck with some ranchers presumably tending to their cattle. I waved and motored on by. A mile later while rounding a hairpin to circumvent a deep cut in the mountain side, I emerged out of the trees. There was a sense of dumbfoundedness. Always been a sucker for a picture perfect view. Now this is the Sierra Nevada. That view stretched off for miles!

Rolling to a stop, it was moment to listen to the sound of silence.

It's the sense of space that always grabs me. The Kern River Valley below and the Sierra Nevada Range on the other side. It felt as though there were two final southern fingers of the Sierra range that makes up much of the eastern border of California. There was so much to look at, one might simply sit a spell and take in one small square, as if looking through a series of windows. On that opposing mountain range is Sherman Pass Rd (top left in below pic) which leads up to Kennedy Meadows, a small mountain community in the southern Sierras. It's paved all the way up and over the range to Nine Mile Canyon Rd, which emerges at Hwy 395.

Sherman Pass Rd was clearly visible starting at the very base of the Kern River Valley and switchbacking up the range in front of me all the way to the top. While the camera didn't like zooming in that far, I'd come down that road a day before and what a change in perspective to be on the opposing range now.

The view, the road, the sand- it kept reminding me of all my fellow riders on the BMW GS, how they would love this road. And how it reminded me of the Buell Ulysses XB12X I had recently road tested. This was the perfect sort of road for those sorts of motorcycle, they'd feel right at home up here.

Soldiering on past a large landslide that looked recently repaired. It would seem that this road could at any time just slip off the mountain side.While the slide was pretty good size, it's large enough to be seen from space, and makes a good landmark for the satellite photography of the road. Compare the pic at left with the ones below. All fixed, all repaved, much the fault of that sandy soil likely. And maybe the recent forest fire that had denuded this entire hillside.

Traversing this steep hillside, the road curled around and suddenly I was looking back on where I had stopped earlier. In the pic below, you can just make out the slide behind the tree branch at center right.

It was getting late, and still no idea how long this road would last. It was time to motor after being so caught up in the majesty of the view from these heights. The recent forest fire while ugly and tragic, had in turn created a sense of space that I'd not felt for years. If my bike had room for a lawn chair, probably would have just set up camp and watched the world go by. The northern portion of Rd 23S16 was much of the same, still paved, still one lane, still a nailbiter of concentration with a big bike like this. And for the duration, it was just me up here.

There was a final crest at 6915 ft that was hard to notice, but indeed I was headed back down finally. The burnt regions that allowed wide open views for miles at a time suddenly ended, and it was back into the depths of a thick forest of pines. Very little in the way of landmarks, just that same paved road in front of me. Finally, 3 miles from the crest, an intersection arrived requiring a pause for a moment to figure out which way to go. There was a sign much like the Portuguese Pass one pictured above. Downside was none of the forks in the road were actually labeled. Johnsondale 5 Miles hinted the large sign (via Rd 23S10). Don't want to go that way. Though you might if you were headed for Sherman Pass Rd or back to Kernville. Didn't ride it, so can't tell you if it's paved or not.

Portuguese Pass 23 Miles & Greenhorn Summit (Hwy 155) 29 Miles were the remaining clues to the puzzle offered by the sign. Just came from that direction. Only one other way to go with my three options. Only mildly blind intuition.

As it turns out for northbound riders, left (or west) was the proper choice, and after dropping down to Hwy 190, it was only 2 miles away. Later checking an actual map, it labeled this short leg as Rd23S02 but the actual sign pictured below (with appropriate bullet holes) labeled it as Rd23S16- which was the very first sign that actually labeled the road for the entire time I was on it.

There was a sense of satisfaction when this road ended & I'd reached the main highway- back on the map so to speak. Not lost anymore. Most of all that I'd gotten through unscathed. Granted my choice of motorcycle is probably something you won't see at this extreme level of backroad but the bike did just fine as yours likely would also.

Rides like this aren't suited for most motorcyclists and the difficulty level would be placed at 'very high' if asked. Plus it bore a striking similarity to the much-vaunted Forest Road 1 (South Fork Mtn Rd / Titlow Hill Rd) in Northwestern California which also rides atop a mountainous ridgeline with views that extend in either direction for 30 some miles. Much like Forest Rd 1, this connects two major highways of Hwy 190 & Hwy 155 to the south. The range it traverses is clearly visible in the satellite photos below.

Road 23S16 was unique in the many fire road choices that criss-cross all the Sierra Nevada, for one, it was paved. That alone was unique in a world of endless forest roads in this region. It was passable by any size motorcycle, although some bikes will have to ride very gingerly. You'll need a sense of adventure, and don't leave home without a good zoom lens too, maybe even a set of binoculars as you can often see all the way to the bottom of the canyon 3000 feet below. Maps are optional.

One important caveat to note is on my ST1100, it would have motored leisurely right along due to its bolt-upright seating position, well-balanced nature, and just the overwhelming weight of the bike so each motorcycle may react differently on old bumpy/sandy roads like this.

Sometimes in my years of travel I find something that impresses an indelible mark. A ride you're still thinking about a year later. Would I go back? You bet, possibly because of an appreciation of all types of roads and rides, not just the ones dripping in adrenaline who-can-get-there-first-race-ya-to-the-bottom-of-my-kneeslider sort of road.

Over the years, as your curiousity grows and the need to discover new places continues to drive your pursuit of far-flung places, you may just find yourself on a road so out of the way, it hasn't even been named yet.

Tulare & Kern County - More Info

Tulare | Kern

Wikipedia Tulare County |

Fire Lookouts in the Southern Sierra

Pashnit Motorcycle Tours on Rd23S16 - pics


Trail of 100 Giants

Sequoia National Forest

Pashnit Riders on Rd23S16 - Pics, pics, pics

Nearby Motorcycle Roads
Where to next?!!

Northbound: Continue of the frivolity with Hwy 190 - Western Divde Hwy. Be sure to stop at the summit to see the Giant Sequoias, than get read for the twistiest ride of your life around Cedar Slope!

Southbound: If you happen to find yourself headed southbound on Rd 23S16, you can ride all the way through to Hwy 155. And then down into the Central Valley, or towards Lake Isabella.

Eastbound: Long for more adventure? Backroad getaways? Than ride this & then head through Johnsondale and assail Sherman Pass to Kennedy Meadows. Not much up there, but a whole lot of nothing. Just what the doctor ordered.

Westbound: Rd 23S16 overlooks the entire Central Valley, but one of the funnest roads I've ever ridden is Old Stage Rd at Posey, aka at Mtn Rd 109.. Find it on the map, and ride it! Bit goaty, but great fun!

Also note that if you are traveling northbound to Hwy 190, at the summit headed southeast is Parker Pass Rd headed back down into the Central Valley. Also one of this regions great motorcycle roads!

Pashnit Maps of FR 23S16
Street Map - 3-D Imaging - 3-D Satellite - USGS Map


3-D Imaging of Forest Road 23S16

Overhead View - Large Format

USGS View - Large Format

Southern End- Large Format

Northern End- Large Format

Pashnit Interactive Map
Click Map to explore more California Motorcycle Roads! - Full Screen

3-D Satellite Mapping of Road 23S16

Southeast View: The climb up to Porteguese Pass from Sugarloaf

Satellite Mapping of Forest Road 23S16
Greenhorn Summit / Portuguese Summit to Hwy 190, Western Divide Highway

Additional Photography of Road 23S16

Looking east across the Kern River Valley at Sherman Pass Rd

Sequoia National Forest - Trail of 100 Giants
Located on the summit of Mtn Rd 50 & Hwy 190, north end of FR23S16
More photos from Pashnit Motorcycle Tours - The Grand Tour of Pashnit California