Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sorry Dude Desert Edition

This isn't a Jeep snob story or a yuppie hate rant. It is merely a tale of astonishment and of what happens when one attempts a task without the proper tools. Or even slightly effective tools.


The trail had been quite beautiful climbing out of Fargo Canyon, winding it's way up onto a ridge, then following it down to a small expanse of open desert. There were a few spots that were a little challenging, making me grateful that I had already shifted into four wheel drive low range. I had been through part of the Little San Bernardino range before, but a little farther to the west. This area was new to me.

The Saint I Am Married To may have said a bad word or two when the left front wheel lifted off of the ground a few feet. I hope her indiscretion does not affect her canonization, as the event was truly my fault. Being off of  the preferred line by a few inches and an overzealous application of throttle  had caused the corner of my jeep to launch skyward. The profanity followed, I was just glad that she did not strike me in the process - I believe that profanity may be less of a sin than physical assault.

 It appeared that the National Park Service had abandoned the trail some time ago, as there was no markers indicating the preferred route through the canyon. There were spots where the route was barely visible, washouts and rockfall conspiring to hide the trail. We had stopped several times to admire the view, pee and enjoy a beverage or two. Conversation is always an important part of these stops, the desert vistas always inspire deep thought regarding geology, history, bullshit and speculation all of which must be expressed.

After some time, we intersected a marked trail, one which pointed toward the Pinkham Canyon trail, our means of egress. After a bit, we made it down to the Pinkham and at the intersection, we found a spot suitable for lunch. Shade was an important factor as it was a hot, dry day - quite the contrast of our trip to Darwin two weeks ago.

We had consumed our lunch and were enjoying a delicious bourbon for dessert, when another jeep pulled up. We had a polite conversation, the driver explaining that he was exploring that part of the park before the expected arrival of some camping companions. He had a nice jeep, a well equipped  four-door Rubicon. I commented that if my kids were small or that if I had grand kids, a four-door jeep would likely be in my future.

It was about then when we heard another vehicle come down Pinkham Canyon. We were astonished to see that it was a brown Porsche Cayenne. We couldn't help but stare as he drove past the newcomer's Rubicon and down the canyon.

"What the hell is that doing here" someone asked. I figured that the road that he had come down wasn't that bad, as most of the roads and trails in Joshua Tree National Park are really easy dirt roads. It's only a few trails at the edges of the park where high clearance might be required.

As the Cayenne disappeared, we returned to our dessert and our conversation. Five minutes later, it returned.

It was driven by a man in his late twenties, a female passenger sat in the front. A dog or two occupied the rear seat. "I may have bitten off more than I can chew" the man said after stopping the car.

"No shit" was the only thought I could muster, the bourbon reducing the effectiveness of my filters. Fortunately, we are all quite civil by nature and did have the well being of the Cayenne at heart. We could have sent them down the trail we had just come up. That would have guaranteed them a night or two in their car, one I doubt they were prepared for.

The driver asked us if the route down canyon would get him to the interstate. He said that a ranger had told him that the road kind of curved to the left then entered a wash and finally ended up at the highway. He then asked us if he could make it down the road.

We honestly didn't know. Three of us had never been down that road and it had been a while for the other two. We told him that we didn't know. He then asked us if that was the shortest route to the interstate - we told him that it was. He thanked us then drove back down the canyon, we continued our chat.

Twenty minutes later, we packed it up and headed down canyon. The road turned into a rocky trail in a few places, ones I felt sure the Cayenne would have trouble getting through. I knew that the Cayenne was all wheel drive and that many are equipped with a fancy auto-matic traction control that the sales brochure says enables the Cayenne to conquer the roughest of terrains. Still, there were a few spots that I could tell someone had  had to make several attempts in getting through.

After each bend in the road, I expected to find the Cayenne stopped in it's tracks either stuck, broken down or stricken with a gashed tire. To my surprise, I did not.

As I was paying attention to what I was doing, I missed the fresh scrape marks on some rocks and the fresh drops of oil left behind. My friends caught it though, as well as a few places where the sand in the bottom of the wash had been leveled by a low slung vehicle forcing it's way over it.

I was actually relieved when we reached the I-10 and the pavement of it's construction. I would have felt an obligation to assist the stranded occupants of the Cayenne, despite their poor judgement. A simple snatch out of the sand would have been easy. While a tow or a pull off of some rocks would have been easy as well, both would have likely caused further damage. That would have produced another set of issues. Those concerns became irrelevant however, as the Cayenne had obviously reached the highway with minimal trouble.  

We pulled onto the interstate and headed west toward Indio. We decided to stop at a rest stop and air up. Our tires felt a little mushy at highway speed - the lower air pressure works good in the dirt, not so much at highway speed.

Our compressors made short work of filling our tires, while the ladies took advantage of the facilities. It wasn't until we were pulling out that I spotted the Cayenne.

It was parked over by the semi-trailer parking area. It's hood was up, a blanket was draped over the filthy front fender and the driver of the Cayenne was looking under the hood. As I was committed to the exit, I couldn't stop and see what the deal was. As I later found out, another member of our group did have the opportunity to speak with him.

An hour later we were sitting at the bar at Babes, a popular BBQ place in Palm Desert.  We were waiting for a table and we were discussing the fate of the Cayenne. When one of our party had spoken with the driver of the Cayenne at the rest stop, he said that it was overheating. Engines don't just overheat - especially newer ones and ones engineered as well as the Cayanne's. Something somewhere is broke. Maybe the driver knew what the deal was and was too embarrassed to tell my friend the truth or maybe he was clueless as to what was causing the car to overheat.

 I have to believe that either the engine ran out of oil due to a punctured oil pan or other component and overheated before it seized up completely or some component of the cooling system was compromised due to an impact with a rock. The fresh oil noted in the canyon leads me to believe that the former is a more likely option, though the leak must have been small enough to allow the engine to make it to the rest stop.

If the engine is cooked, the repair will be well over five grand and it is unlikely that it will ever be "right". The driver's decision to continue down the canyon despite his own misgivings will likely turn out to be a costly error in judgement. Though turning around and going back to the top of the canyon might have cost him a lot of time, it probably would have been well worth it.

Thankfully, the Cayenne made it to the rest stop where calls can be made, tow trucks can driven to and people can be found. I'm glad that worked out. Though I would have done it, I wouldn't have relished towing that guy out of the hills.

I hope the occupants of the Cayenne learned not to believe the sales brochure when they make claims about performance cars "conquering" the toughest terrain. I also hope they learned to avoid traveling solo when exploring the back roads of the mountains and desert. Finally, if they are enamored  with the desert and are committed to exploring it (as I am), I hope they buy a Jeep or other real four wheel drive and save the Cayenne for picking up half-caff mochas at Starbucks. I'm just sayin'.

Thanks for reading,

A self righteous Schmoe

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