Continued from Part 1: http://www.tacomaworld.com/forum/tra...-part-1-a.html
Sunday morning, we were up soon after sunrise and slowly got the breakfast of oatmeal, coffee and hot chocolate cooking. It was a perfect day with a big blue sky and no wind.
Neal Johns was soon wondering over to ask what time we were going to get underway. Now I not only hate to live by the watch in Baja, but I was also not planning on being the group leader. Neal wanted some reference point so I said 9 am. As it turned out, without a watch on me, we had our tent and air mattress packed away and the truck loaded about 9 am… and Neal was impressed!
Three vehicles elected to go down to the arroyo view and on to the bulldozed grade to see the Camino Real and the petroglyphs: CG’s Dakota, HB Murphy’s Tacoma and my Tacoma. Steve & Zully (Bajatripper), Art (edm1) and is daughter Maya hiked down to the viewpoint. There is a very steep grade that lies between the mission and the viewpoint, and it would be a great test of our four wheel drive trucks.
Zoom and Paul (HB Murphy)
Paul and Zoom by a huge elephant tree
Elizabeth (Baja Angel) and David Kier
There’s the bulldozed grade, as seen in the distance from the arroyo viewpoint. It climbs up to the edge of the deep Santa Maria canyon where construction of the road to Gonzaga Bay ended. Some petroglyphs are up there and an Indian trail that served as the original Jesuit El Camino Real drops down to the canyon floor from there. The Franciscans had a better Camino Real route constructed that stayed out of the canyon and follows the north rim. It reaches the auto road at the bottom of the bulldozed grade.
Only Paul, Zoom, Elizabeth and I continued on to the bulldozed grade, the others headed back to the mission. We dropped down to the sandy arroyo of Santa Maria and soon came to some big rocks that were not there on my last trip in 2007. The heavy rains on the past winter sure made some big changes in the entire route.
The bulldozed grade hasn’t been driven on in many years! Elizabeth and I didn’t have the energy to climb all the way to the top with Paul and Zoom. Dieting and more exercise is in our future!
Here is where the Franciscan Camino Real meets the road. I made the three rock cairns in 2007. The trail switchbacks steeply up the mountainside to the top. It then follows the north side of the canyon to the desert floor, near Gonzaga Bay.
The line of rocks marks the right edge of the ‘King’s Highway’ and the ocotillo on the left has grown on the road after it was built in 1769.
We head back to our trucks.
The road up to the Camino Real is totally hidden where it leaves the arroyo. Note the pair of cardon cacti and use them as a guide.
This is the view looking down the arroyo, towards the canyon.
Back up the steep grade.
Back at the mission we see that everyone has left.
Art and Steve waited for us at the bottom of the mission grade. Paul is talking to them as we head down.
We remain at the back to make sure nobody is left behind, following Art and his remarkable 4WD motorhome. We leave the mission for Santa Ynez about 11 am and soon discover that the hard climb out will be much harder than anyone would have expected!
We follow Art’s motorhome over the ridge to the oasis that contains ‘The Bog’ where the road and the water are one.
Just before the bog begins we find Neal Johns’ camper with a serious problem, no rear wheel drive after the ring and pinion in the distributor has shattered.
Without four wheel drive, Neal will not be able to drive out on his own power. The weight of the camper compounds matters. Chris’ Dodge is powerful and he hooks up Neal to help him pull through the bog.
My Tacoma brings up the rear of our desert caravan.
The water is deep!
Steve brings the tow strap back for his 4Runner that needs a pull, as it doesn’t have a rear locker or off road tires. He did so well staying dry until the last palm tree ‘pushed him’ in!
Art’s 4WD motorhome is a beast!
Once we were all out of the bog and on level ground with room, we got to work trying to get Art’s tire reinflated. It had popped off the bead and presented quite the problem. Unfortunately, Kurt was suffering with a bad respiratory infection that orange juice alone couldn’t cure. Baja Bucko (Teddi) was also very anxious to get going, so Steve and Zully made room in their 4Runner for Kurt, Teddi and Teddi’s dog and headed on out.
Paul goes to work figured the best course of action. A volume of air is needed, but we only had air pumps and no large tank of compressed air. I suggested the method used in such emergencies in Mexico, which is to pour a small amount of gasoline into the tire and ignite it! The expanding gasses (i.e. ‘explosion’) can pop the tire back on the rim. This was one attempt I caught on film, click on image with volume up:
Neal suggested removing the valve stem and igniting there, and I volunteered to ‘light the wick’ this time… By gosh, it worked!
It is all about teamwork, and we had the greatest team on this trip! The next event was the Widowmaker climb. That alone was hard enough, but someone needed to pull Neal’s camper up it… and the rest of the way out. That someone would be Art and his monster four wheeler!
Paul took some good videos of Art climbing the Widowmaker, and then pulling Neal up. There are posted on YouTube and Baja Nomad.
Further up the mountain climb, things got more difficult because of the sharp turns and the length of the tow strap. It was getting dark and Neal was getting tired. I don’t know why, he is only 80 years old!
Paul and I followed Art and Neal. Chris was just ahead of Art. Neal’s front steering goes out and Paul quickly sees that the tie rod ends are bent, but can be adjusted so Neal’s tires both point the same direction, again.
At this point, boulder was in Art’s way as he repositioned to pull Neal up. The solution was for Paul to winch it away.
Night is upon us and there is still more mountain to climb. On the one sharp turn, Chris’ Dakota is used to get Neal around. Once that is negotiated, the motorhome is reattached. It is a long struggle as we continue on over the highpoint and beyond. Sometime after 1 am, the caravan comes to a stop. Neal’s tie rod ends are shot and steering is no longer possible. We are 8 miles from Rancho Santa Ynez, and this would be where we would ‘crash’ for the night. I have not previously slept in the front seat of my truck, so another first for my Tacoma!
The next morning (Monday) it was decided to go find the parts if the could be found in Baja, otherwise bring them from California. Neal had a satellite phone, but it wouldn’t connect. Neal stayed with his truck and was happy to do so while we headed for El Rosario. Some photos taken along the way to Santa Ynez:
Boojum fell during rain storms of January, perhaps?
Baja Angel and a boojum.
Once back in El Rosario, I called Neal’s home and two of his friends with messages for Marian as to Neal’s status. Antonio (the owner of Baja Cactus Motel) went into action for us via phone as he was in Tijuana and provided a member of his staff to go with Chris to find parts. The parts were found in San Quintin and arrived later that day. We later learned that Neal got his satellite phone to work and he spoke with Marian the next morning. Paul and Zoom had to return home and we stayed with them to make sure they found the way safely. Chris returned to Neal the next day with new tie rod ends installed and Neal was able to drive back to El Rosario.
In El Rosario Neal would have his differential repaired. Here is what it looked like:
It was replaced and Neal returned home on Saturday, a week after this adventure started. What we experienced I don’t wish upon anyone… but what we experienced was also something I will always treasure… A super group of amazing, talented, friendly, adventure seeking Baja Nomads … the kind of people that make memories and friendships last a lifetime!