Sea To SEMA: A Trip Through The California-Nevada Desert To Sin City

The SEMA Show is comprised of the best parts, vehicles, and services the industry has to offer for anything automotive related. Every year the Las Vegas Convention Center is filled with powder coat, chrome, race fuel, supermodels, and tire shine to grab the attention of potential customers or business partners. Thousands of enthusiasts converge on this single location to see the cutting edge of aftermarket support for every vehicle.

The guys at RSO Performance do things a little different. Instead of loading their rig into a high budget car hauler and taking the I-15 up from their shop in San Jacinto, California they opted for a more scenic route through the deserts of California. With about 500 miles of as much off-road as they could from the border of Mexico all the way up to Vegas. Best thing is, they would park the rig dirty and fresh off the trails at the show.

Late nights in the shop helped get the Toyota prepped for the trip.

Last year Tyler Francis attempted this solo and almost made it to Las Vegas if it wasn’t for a dirty fuel tank. It put strain on his fuel system and ultimately left him stranded in the middle of Mojave for six hours.

This year, Tyler and his team at RSO have made a lot of changes to his 1986 Toyota Land Cruiser to make the trip a lot smoother through the punishing deserts including more transmission cooling, a fresh fuel tank, Aeromotive fuel filter, a new T-Rax Roof Rack by RSO, EXP 12,000 pound winch from Superwinch, and a better light set up from Vision-X to help with the dust at night.

Plenty of hours went into preparing the Land Cruiser for Sea to SEMA.

The suspension was upgraded as well from the stock leaf packs to a dual rate expedition pack from Atlas Springs. “These springs made a massive difference in ride quality from last year,” Tyler said. “Last year I was on the bump stops almost the entire way since I was loaded up with all my gear.”

When outfitting for a long adventure, Tyler recommended good food, tools, spare parts, and twice as much water as you think you need. The RSO FJ60 is no exception to these rules and it’s set up with a Rincon CT from HITents, Dobinsons 4×4 fridge, and USB ports everywhere to charge his equipment off a dual Odyssey Xtreme batteries.

For an adventure like this being prepared is one thing, but as with anything off-road there is always something else that pops up.

Day 1: Ocotillo

Tyler met up with his friend Alex Bustamente down off the Highway 8 at the southern end of Ocotillo Wells around 9 am on Day 1. From there they aired down their Falken tires and headed north through the desert. They passed military testing sites and got to play in the riverbeds as they worked towards their first campsite by Truck Haven.

One wash proved to not be like the rest, as it was damp clay about three feet deep. “It was dry on top, but as soon as I came down into it, the whole passenger side of the wagon sunk up to the axles and slider,” Tyler explained. “I tried letting the Falkens eat, but the rig was so heavy I just kept digging myself deeper into the thick clay.”

Luckily, Tyler had Alex there to hook his Superwinch EXP to and get out of the sticky situation with no problem. “The winch was so strong,” Tyler continued. “Alex had to stay on the throttle to keep from getting pulled back.”

Not the situation you want to be stuck in, but being prepared will make things a lot easier.

As the made their way to the campsite, Tyler could smell transmission fluid and had to get out to take a look. Sure enough one of the lines on the transmission cooler was on too tight and had torn. Luckily, there was enough extra line to chop the bad end off and keep going.

Camp that night was atop a beautiful plateau overlooking an empty and vast Ocotillo desert. They grubbed on hamburgers cooked on his Tembo Tusk skottle and relaxed hoping the next day would be nearly as fun and eventful.

Day 2: Mountains And Lights

The next morning they woke up and headed to Berdoo Canyon, a nice run up the backside of Joshua Tree National Park. It’s a fun canyon route through the mountains off I-10 to get into the beautiful national park.

It may not be a five-star hotel, but on the trail, a rooftop tent makes life a lot easier.

“Berdoo Canyon has become a popular trail over the last couple years because it’s such a scenic way to get into Joshua Tree,” Tyler explained. “The trail can be easy or hard, depending on what lines you take.”

Berdoo Canyon is home to an old ghost town named Berdoo Camp. Berdoo camp was founded by the water district when California built the Colorado River Aqueduct that still provides water to Southern California. The camp was built in the early 1930s for the workers and their families to live at while the aqueduct was being constructed under the mountain range.

Lunch in the shade can be hard to find in the middle of the desert. Tyler Francis uses his awning to enjoy lunch.

After stopping at a NAPA in Joshua Tree the boys headed into Johnson Valley, home of King of the Hammers. By this time it was dark and the Vision-X CG2 Light Cannons got put to work cutting through the dust of the lake beds and dirt roads on the way to Barstow.

From Barstow, a quick trip down I-15 got them to the Afton Canyon Campground where they’d stay the night.

Day 3: Start Of Mojave

Early the next morning the team loaded up and started their journey through the most scenic part of the trip, Afton Canyon. It started off with a small water crossing straight out of camp and then winding riverbeds through the canyon where they came across an actual train wreck.

As soon as they exited the canyon there was an issue with the FJ60. “I heard a bad metallic banging coming from the front end” Tyler recalls. “When we were on this off camber sand hill I got out to take a look and found that I was missing a bolt in my shackle.”

The terrain changed multiple times over the course of the journey, but the Land Cruiser had no issue conquering it.

They used the winch to pull the Landcruiser up to more flat ground for safety and where they could get to work. The boys started looking over bolts on the vehicle to see if there was something that could be used as a replacement.

Two giant zip ties and two hose clamps later the rig was fixed enough to go search for a bolt. Luckily, Alex ran up to Baker, California to get a bolt that could get them back on the trail and their adventure.

Sure enough, they made it through the Mojave Desert and all the way to Las Vegas that night. They got back on the road at the California-Nevada state line and b-lined towards the big city lights to enjoy the next week at the SEMA show.

Despite the small hiccups along the way a trip like this is worth taking. An off-road adventure like this allows you to take the roads less traveled and live life a little simpler for a short time. What do you think of their adventure? Tell us in the comments below!

About the author

Justin Merrill

Justin started filming and creating about 10 years ago when he started in the outdoor world filming and writing for TV shows. He enjoys the outdoors and capturing wildlife with photography and cinematography. It's become his passion. He loves being able to share with people his love for the outdoors.
Read My Articles

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