Although our recent run up the Anza Borrego Coyote Canyon Trail was supposed to be a basic ‘newbie run’ designed to get people new to Jeeps and the sport of off-roading out on the trail, I think it’s safe to say that this trip was anything but. At least, with 14 Jeep JK Wranglers in our group, 12 of which were modified to some degree and only three of the drivers new to Jeeps and/or off roading, pretty much the only thing really new about this run was some of the faces that joined us for the ride. But hey, whatever it takes to get people out it’s all good by me.
Now, I should point out that this run was planned out to be an over-nighter for those who wanted to stick around and camp and when we found ourselves driving out to the trail in steady rain, I have to say there were some doubts as to whether or not this was gonna happen. Of course, the weather report assured us that there was no precipitation forcast in the Anza Borrego Desert area, but that became increasingly difficult to believe when we still found ourselves in the wet well after leaving IHOP back in Temecula where we had breakfast. But, by the time we got to Ranchita and began our descent into Borrego Springs, the skies had cleared up as was forcasted, the sun was shining bright and the air temps were beginning to climb. In fact, as we would later find out from Matt (doojer) who had already camped in Anza Borrego the night before, our bigger problem was going to be high winds that were expected to come in that night.
Even though most of our group met up for breakfast in Temecula, we still made a scheduled stop over at the Anza Borrego Visitors Center in Borrego Springs for a last chance pit stop with running water and to meet up with anyone else that might be running late or might have come into Borrego Springs from a different direction. And, as you probably guessed by now, this is where we met up with Matt and Heather but much to our suprise, it’s also where we met up with a couple new faces, Mike (1sickrubicon) and his girlfriend. With everyone who was going to be joining us present, we headed into town, gas up one last time and then made our way to the Coyote Canyon trail head where we aired down our tires, disconnected our swaybar links, went over some basic off-roading techniques for the few newbies in our group and then covered what everyone could expect to see on the trail ahead.
The first real obsticals that you encounter on this trail are a series of water crossings, the last of which is about a 100 yards in length, that has a soft bottom with a couple of boulders to crawl over and passes through a thick forest of water reeds, brush and trees that gives you a feel closer to riding on the River Boat Cruise in Disneyland than crossing a small creek in the Anza Borrego Desert - basically, a ton of fun!! Now, on some years, this last water crossing can be just a shallow 12″ in depth but most years, it can easily be twice that. Need I say, this time around was no exception and if I could guess, the water was at least 24″ in depth and a place you wouldn’t want to sit at a stand still for long. Fortunately for us, we were all in Jeep JK Wranglers and everyone in our group made this crossing with ease. In fact, the only casualties on this obstical was Cindy (wayoflifette) and my son Andrew getting soaked by crashing waves of water as they tried to get shots of everyone coming through.
A short distance from the water crossing is Coyote Canyon’s only real technical section of the trail. Essentially, it’s a rocky climb up a quater mile length of trail that can easily be done in a stock JK and for those looking for more of a challenge, plenty of opportunities to take on harder lines. Needless to say, nobody in our group had any problems making the climb… well, except maybe for Allison, Tim’s (JeepCacher) daughter, who decided that this might be a good time to LEARN how to drive a 6-speed!! But, in all fairness, she actually did really well and when things got really tough, Tim took over the wheel to finish things up. Once at the top, we all decided to stop for some lunch, enjoy the view of valley ahead, fly a kit and take some time out to do a little geocaching.
With all the technical sections of the trail behind us, the rest of the trail should have been smooth sailing all the way to where we would be setting up for the night at Sheep Camp. Of course, ’should have’ are the key words here as stupid me was looking in my rear view mirror to check on the group when I should have been keeping my eyes on the trail ahead of me and as luck would have it, smacked into a large rock with my passenger side front tire so hard that I though for sure I blew out the tire. But, after a quick examination of things, everything appeared to be fine and so we just continued on our way. That is, at least until I realized that I couldn’t turn left at all. And, after another long and closer look at things, Dave (RockRash) just happened to notice that my steering gear shaft was bent at the pitman arm. Fortunately, I was able to crank in my drag link enough to get my Jeep turning somewhat left again and hobbled into camp.
Located at the edge of an annual creek and two popular foot trails, Sheep Camp typically fills up quickly as it only has a couple of official camp sites and only one with a concrete and steel fire pit. And, much to our pleasant surprise, we had the fortune of having it all to ourselves. Now, for those of you reading this who would otherwise be turned off by by the lack of toilets back country camping has to offer, I think you should know that several gals in our group including Lori (OffTopic), Jennifer (toad) and Jana all came equipped with port-a-potties complete with tent enclosures. Need I say, you have no excuse for not joining us on future runs. Unfortuantely, after we all got done setting up camp, several in our group including Clint (CLACKEY(_!_)), Mike and notmysonsjk (FunN4Lo’s dad - I apologize for not remembering your name) needed to leave us so they said their goodbye’s and headed for home. It really is too bad too because I think the general concensus among everyone who came for this run will tell you that by far, the best part of the trip was the camping.
I think Matt said it best when he remarked “I feel as though I’m at some kind of luau” because once the sun went down, things really started to get fun. Certainly there was plenty of beer and Patron in hand for the grown-ups and soda pop for the kids and tons of food for everyone including Jana’s kickin Jambalaya and my Korean BBQ short ribs. For entertainment, we set up a white sheet across a wooden enclosure that we had in our camp and watched Project-JK videos using a TV projector that Doug (Trail Bud) brought with him. Later on in the evening, we all sat around a warm fire, watched Mark (Rubimon) and Lori give a demonstration of how to use their homemade beer can alcohol burners, enjoyed some of Heathers awesome key lime pie and enjoyed each others company until finally turning in at about midnight.
In the morning, Doug and John (jkjeep) brewed up some hot coffee for everyone while I made some bacon and fried eggs, Heather made potatos, Jana made potatos and toasted english muffins and Lori made these awesome omlettes in ziploc baggies dunked into boiling water. And, as if that weren’t enough food, Jennifer brought out some tasty fresh fruit and somebody opened up several boxes of doughnuts. One thing is for sure, you will never go hungry if you go camping with us. Filled up for the day, we broke down camp, did a final walk through to make sure no trash was left behind, made plans to hit the Calcite Mine Trail later on in the day and then headed back down the trail and I should note, ahead of schedule.
Because we didn’t make as many stops to take pictures on the way back out, we were making great time and everyone was looking forward to hitting the next trail. Everyone made it back down the rocky descent with ease and even though the big water crossing had gotten considerably deeper since the day before (most likely due to the rain that fell in the mountains above), nobody got stuck and only the stock or slightly lower JK’s in our group took in some water. After a short debate as to whether or not we should go through it again, we all decided to press on to the next trail. And, with the terrain ahead being little more than a sandy wash, we would be able to buzz out of there at significantly higher speeds. At least, I intended to have some fun and a quick look in my rear view mirror told me that Jason and Doug were going to as well.
About 5 minutes south from water crossing, I took a look back in my rear view mirror and noticed that Doug was no longer with us. Coming to a stop, I radioed back to him to find out if everything was okay and quickly turned around and headed back when I heard that Doug had broken his axle. A broken axle was certainly a bummer but no big deal… or so I thought. As I pulled up, the look on everyones faces wasn’t exactly what I was expecting and when I got down and took a look under his Jeep, I soon found out why. Apparently, Doug didn’t break an axle shaft as I had thought but rather broke his axle housing and in a really bad way. As you can see in the photo to the right, his axle broke clean from the base of the lower control arm mount and around to the track bar mount above. Believe me, in all my years of wheeling, I have never seen a break like this before and getting him off the trail wasn’t going to be easy.
After some discussion, we decided that the best course of action would be to head into Borrego Springs to find a welder willing to come out, a tow truck that could bring us to a welder or even to a dealership in Temecula. So, with that, Jason, Doug, Cindy and I headed into town, Mark and John took off for home and the rest of our group stayed with Doug’s Jeep on the trail. Unfortunately, it being a Sunday, finding anybody that was open and willing to help us out was just about impossible. In fact, the nearest tow truck that we were able to find and was willing to come out was located about an hour away in Jullian. Of course, once he realized that we were still up on the trail, he became reluctant to come up in fear of getting stuck and so we had to figure out a way to bring Doug’s Jeep to a point he was willing to go to.
Leaving Jason and Doug to lead the tow truck, I ran on ahead with Cindy to figure out a way to keep Doug’s front axle together long enough to tow him out to the tow truck. And, after giving it some thought, I decided that I might be able to hold the two halves of the axle togther with a heavy duty ratchet strap. Fortunately for us, Dave just happend to have one that he was borrowing from Clint and with his help, a scissor jack and a little effort, we were able to get the axle together again. With Doug’s JK somewhat moveable again, we strapped him up to the back of my Jeep, sent a few Jeeps ahead of us to let the tow truck know what was going on and then began the slow journey out to him.
As if things were’t intersting enough, when we finally got to the tow truck, we found it in a situation where it had gotten stuck trying to get turned around and in the presence of my favorite Anza Borrego park ranger, Nancy. Now, the specific problem wasn’t so much that the tow truck was stuck but that in order to get out on his own, he would have to trample brush and tear up the side of the trail and nobody wanted that to happen. But, as luck would have it, Matt was situated in front of the tow truck and just so happend to have a T-Max 9500 winch as well. And, if you can believe it, that is exactly what we used to to get the tow truck free. With everything good again, the tow truck pulled Doug’s JK up on to its flat bed, Jennifer helped cover the cost of having it towed to Doug’s house using her AAA card and Matt offered to take both Doug and his son Ryan home.
With the tow truck on its way, the rest of us stopped under the cool shade of a citrus grove, aired up our tires and reconnected our sway bars. When we were done, Matt, Heather, their son Nicholas, Doug and his son Ryan all decided they needed to get home, said their goodbyes and left. As for the rest of us, we decided that a good meal was in order and so we stopped off at the Red Ocotillo for some fantastic burgers, quesadillas and pasta. After dinner, Jason and I worked on getting Lori’s steering wheel straight with the hope that it would help fix the chronic ESP problems she was having. We also took some time to do the same on Dave’s JK and from what I would later find out, our efforts did in fact help out a lot even on the long and twisty 79. After gasing up one last time in Temecula, Jennifer, Jeff and Dave split off and headed north while the last of us made our way back to the South OC.
One of the things that Jennifer always likes to say is that going on a run with us is “always an adventure.” And, if there ever was any doubt of that, I think this run up Coyote Canyon was certainly proof of it. But in all honesty, I think that’s what makes them so addictively fun and not just because of the wheeling that we do. In fact, I’d have to say that for me personally, the best parts of going on these runs is all the great people I get to meet and hang out with. In so many ways, Jeeps and wheeling are nothing more than a catalyst to bring wonderful people together and perhaps that’s why I love both so much. With all sincerety, thanks goes to everyone who joined us on this trip and for truly making it an experience to remember.
If you would like to see all 571 photos that my son Andrew and I took from this trip, simply click on the banner above or on the link below:
Until the next time,
JUST ADDED: Click on the link below to see a YouTube video preview of things you can expect to see in the near future: