If you’re like me, you’re looking at your calendar right now and looking at all of the weekends between now and early March 2017. That’s because between then and now, it’s primetime for desert season, when temperatures are cooler and clouds are pluvial.
All it took for me was an invite to head out to the vast nothing of Ocotillo Wells SVRA – daytime outing, light rockcrawling, see-what-happens kind of affair – and I was in like Flint. After a trip to the gas station and breakfast stop at Starbucks, I was on my hundred-mile way to off-road heaven.
Our group was a motley one – me in my bone-stock Explorer, computer/web guru Kevin McIntosh in Project XtremeJ, Off Road Xtreme editor Steven Olsewski in Project Storm Trooper, and EngineLabs editor Trevor Anderson in his 1968 Baja Bug. We took up with a bunch of other Ocotillo-bound folks after stopping once more for gas outside of the SVRA, and made our way east on the 78 to a section I had never before visited.
As it turned out, this was a canyon section of the area that was totally different to the wide-open sections I was familiar with. It wasn’t so much prerunning as it was rockcrawling, which really put my Explorer (or Polar Bear, as I call her now) through its paces. She performed admirably despite my choice not to air down, navigating over stones and silt beds with ease thanks to the four-wheel-drive.
Then I met my would-be match – a tricky ravine chock full of exercise-ball-sized rocks, some of them jagged, some of them smooth. I watched in envy as XtremeJ made its way up and over one part featuring blade-like rocks aimed at the point of entry; the extra lift and meaty tires on the Jeep made quick work of the obstacle, where my Explorer would have to rely more on careful guidance from a spotter. Who better than Kevin to fill that role?
I made it out without so much as a scratch on the paint, thankfully. We continued along and came to a tight canyon, where we found an obstacle that looked even more forbidding – a rock formation so narrow and sharp that it seemed almost impossible to get over, lest one were driving a Jeep. Steven answered the challenge, however, and lined up his two-wheel-drive GMC Canyon prerunner to try and make it over.
The short answer is he got stuck. The long answer is he got really stuck. High-centered on the obstacle and with his front wheels locked to the left, we tried everything short of winching to get him out, before facing reality and tying him to a recovery strap. Storm Trooper fortunately was freed of his stony trap, but he was injured in the process – a bent upper control arm and a busted tie rod bolt, its threads sheared from being violently yanked out of the steering rack.
After looking all over the truck to try and find a suitable bolt to replace it, we could find none, and thus had to reuse the sheared bolt to the best of our ability. Steven torqued the bolt down as much as possible and to everyone’s surprise, made it out of the canyon without it popping out (it’s now been replaced and the truck is in working order once again).
I decided that I’d had enough adventure for one day, and I went around saying goodbye to everyone before heading home. I’d had a great time with these people, and I can’t wait to venture out again in good ol’ Polar Bear. But where to next? Give us your suggestions below.