Just got back from a hot weather run to the desert east of San Diego. Wow, was it hot! Over a 103 every day. Our goal was to make our way to the Superstition Mt. area north of Interstate 8. This place has some interesting trails that offer some challenges to old Jeeps like mine and my buds. Tasty dirt, rocks and sand, it has it all. But getting there off-road from Borrego Springs, CA. in the heat was its own challenge.
The trail for us started about 3 miles east of Borrego Springs off Palm Canyon Rd. This is where a dirt road turns south and heads for Ocotillo Wells, AKA t “Rockatillo” to those who love it. The trail is a well-traveled wash bed that is about 12 miles long and there are lots of side trails to explore and have fun on.
Our group was 5 Jeeps strong and all of them well equipped CJ7s with on-board life support or ice chests. I was carrying two 65qt chests for food and drink for two. My shot-gun seat was occupied by my 83 year old father who loves to talk about the history of the area. That right, I had my own tour guide. The other 4 Jeeps were without passengers. Probably because of the heat. I mean, would you rather go to a San Diego County beach for fun or go into the bowels of hell. At least 6 of us were thinking hell.
Part of the lure of these hot weather runs is the sheer lack of people out there. Even the locals don’t come out during the day. You can drive off road for hours and see very few people, if any. It also means that you must rely completely on yourself and your posse. We carry everything from camping gear to tools and spare Jeep parts. If you breakdown out there, you must be able to deal with it yourself. One time I had a branch pierce my radiator core. I was able to bend back the damaged tubing to stop the major coolant loss, but how to stop the slow drips? We cracked an egg into the radiator and it stopped the leaks long enough for us to drive the 27 miles to a gas station. Since then I have been told that a can of pepper will do the same thing when Bars Leak or Alum-a-Seal is not available.
Four of the five Jeeps, including mine, have the audio interrupt device, CBM-U2s, as an upgrade to their stereo and communication systems. I really enjoy mine. It allows me to crank up the Mexican radio stations that I get near the border and still hear the important trail chat. The only reason that the fifth Jeep did not have one is because it did not have a stereo. Not even an AM radio! Anyway, I like to get the CB chatter without having to turn down the stereo. Keeps the hands on the wheel and eyes on the trail. I remember wheeling years ago without a CBM-U2. I received a garbled transmission about a trail hazard and before I could turn down the stereo I dropped into a ditch. That cost me a bent axle housing and several years of embarrassing camp fire stories. But I digress.
It took 6 hours to span the 12 miles to “Rockatillo” from Borrego Springs. The numerous side trails and beverage breaks with resulting “rest calls” were the reason we averaged only 2MPH. You do not want to rush adventures like this. Besides, we got there before sun down in time to make a few passes at an interesting hill called Devil’s Side before making camp at the base of giant dune called Blow Sand.
With the temperature dipping to 96 degrees at 11pm It was too hot to sleep. So we saddled up and headed for the Iron Door a small desert bar with cold drinks and a somewhat level pool table. Just when it seemed like the 2 mile ride was never going to end we were there. I located my favorite stool at the bar. It has a seat belt, not that I ever needed one to imbibe. Two rounds of drinks and several pool games later, we didn’t have to go home but we could not stay there, it was closing time. On the way back to camp three of my buds decided to take another whack at Blow Sand before bedding down. My dad and I drove back to camp with the bud at did not want to go.
At camp we had some mariachi music pumping when the stereo cut out and the CB piped up. It was the dudes on Blow Sand, except they were not at Blow Sand. On the way there from the Iron Door they went back over to Devil’s Slide instead. One of the jeeps had dropped its muffler and we had the tools and parts to fix it at camp. I was thinking on the way to Devil’s Slide, thank goodness for CBs and the convenience of the CBM-U2. Without the CBM-U2 I might not have heard the CB over the stereo. After the repair we did not get back to camp until 5:00am and I was too hot and wound up to sleep…Well, crack another “beverage” and wait for sunrise.
In the heat of the morning cooking on an open fire seemed vulgar… and hot. Luckily there is a diner 8 miles east. My dream breakfast is always a Denver omelet and theirs is as good as it gets. The diner is also a convenience store and gas station. So we grabbed some sports drinks to round out our moisture consumption and topped off the Jeeps. Now we can hit the trail south.
The trail to Superstition from the diner is another dry wash bed. Not such a bad deal because you can pick up the pace. We found ourselves hitting speeds as high as 60MPH. A little iffy when the sunlight is wrong and you can’t see dips and bumps in the wash. A friend that skies named Bono (not the same Bono) calls this a flat light condition. At high speed a small bump can really launch a Jeep and cause all sorts of problems.
I was the point Jeep for the group this time and I had noticed that someone at the end of the column was missing. It was my job to keep the group together and I blew it. Fortunately the CBs were working and my stereo muted allowing me to hear about the broken shackle that the missing Jeep suffered. In minutes we had him located and repaired.
After a few more twists in the trail and our sprits lifted. Off in the distance, thought a pastel haze we could see our destination, Superstition Mountain, still another 5 miles away. We were amped with excitement and the anticipation of hitting unoccupied trails before the desert season starts in September. Then my radio, that was blasting some fine Corrido form south of the border, muted and a transmission came through the dash speakers.
The call was from a stranded vehicle to the east of us. Another crazy wheeler on a death-wish- run in the heat. But, this guy was alone and was too far away from help to walk. We cautiously approached the disabled truck and found the owner waiting for us in what little shade the cab could yield. The dude said he was from Yuma, on his way home when he decided to off road from highway 78 to Interstate 8 earlier that morning. The truck was running fine until it abruptly stop. He said that the carb was not getting any fuel even though the tank had plenty of gas. We looked at it and figured he was right. The fuel filter was clogged with debris from an old rubber fuel line that was replace earlier that that Spring. After blowing the filter out with a solvent spray that one of our Jeeps was carrying the truck started. Then we noticed the right rear tire was flat and ready to break the bead. It is times like this that make me wonder why people get off the road so poorly prepared. At least he had a working CB and a half gallon of water. 3 of the 5 Jeeps in our group had on-board-air systems so the tire was an easy fix. He decided to follow us to the main dirt road to the south. It would easily take him to I 8 and it is more heavily traveled that the washes.
After seeing him drive off to the southeast on the main dirt road we headed toward our intended destination. The final few miles were uneventful and passed quickly. We approached Superstition from the southwest and hit the trails at about 2pm, much later than we wanted, but we were there. The desert floor temperature was a cool 103 and my Jeep was running on the warn side. So, much to my old man’s irritation, I switched on the heater full blast in order to bring the engine temp down. It worked and we were able to continue. Working trails in the heat can really over heat a vehicle, even with a three row radiator. As for me, I grabbed a frosty beverage from one of the ice chests and took a chirp.
Now it was time to air down for the “Sand Dam”. Our jeeps are better suited for harder packed trails, but we can hold our own in the sand as long as we drop the air in the tires. 8 to 10 psi is about right for this area. When we get back to the pavement to go home we will need to air back up, but for now it is sand-running in a Jeep at its best. At the top of the “Dam” we encountered two military jets doing a low fly-by. Wow they are fast. We could not hear them until they were on top of us. I am glad they’re on our side.
Well…All good things must pass, and this day was no different. We aired-up and headed south to pick up I8 east of Ocotillo, CA. From there the drive is only about 2 hours to home. But you know how it is. As soon as the Indian casino sign was in view the point Jeep started to speed up for the buffet dinner. I wasn’t going to tell him how bad we all looked and smelled after two days of dry camping in the desert heat. That did not matter to him or the others, so I went along.
I wonder why we didn’t get home until 1:00am.
Keep the Shiny Side Up