After owning seven sports cars so far in my life (all but one having two doors), I have made a large paradigm shift and went for something different with vehicle eight. A couple weeks ago I picked up my brand new 2013 Nissan Xterra Pro-4x with a manual transmission. Not waiting a moment, and being given a surprise free weekend from work, I took a quick little solo trip down to Anza Borrego that weekend to get the paint dirty and make sure the suspension had its full range of travel.
I spent all week buying a variety of gear to accompany my first 4×4 rig on my first off-road trip, and even stopped at a Home Depot on the way down to Anza to grab some last essentials like a shovel, tie down straps, a fire extinguisher, and more. My intended route was the iconic Split Mountain to Fish Creek Wash in southern Anza. But with lots of storm clouds in the area, I figured it was prudent to stop by the visitor center to check conditions. The ranger said that Fish Creek Wash should be fine, but she wanted to make another recommendation on an opportunity that doesn’t happen too often. Toward the north side of the park is a road up into Coyote Canyon which has a section that is normally pretty rough, requiring a lifted and modified vehicle. A few months prior though, it had been washed out by some heavy rains requiring the park to send in a big Cat to smooth it out again. She said the section would probably get pretty rough again in a few months and that this was a rare window to be able to stock 4×4 up into that canyon without beating it up. And with the cold temps, I’d probably have the place to myself. Not one to pass on an opportunity like that, I changed my plans, grabbed lunch to go and some firewood in town, and drove north from town.
The first section is a beautiful open desert road that winds up the broad valley. There are three little river crossings with only a few inches of water, but which were a lot of fun in my brand new vehicle. After the third crossing is where the steep stuff starts. I dropped it in 4 low, and enabled the rear locker even though I probably didn’t need it. I can’t explain how enjoyable it was to slowly crawl up that slope in first gear in low. After the first little bit, and seeing that the Xterra could handle it without breaking a sweat, I plowed on ahead slow and steady. Cresting the top I was rewarded with a stunning view looking out on the valley ahead with some pretty dynamic clouds moving around. My first thought was to head up to the campground and grab the best spot not knowing how many other people would show up while I was out exploring the rest of the day. The road to the campground seemed like it wound around just about every large bush and barely had any straight sections. Every turn was slightly banked and it was quite a fun little road to maneuver through. Part of me imagined it was paved and I could drive it with a sports car, but I didn’t need that with all the fun I was having in the Xterra on dirt. The campground was empty and nicely kept with newer tables and nice fire rings.
After grabbing a good site, I figured I’d head all the way up Coyote Canyon Road as far is it would take me. The road slowly got more and more rough the further I went which gradually built up my confidence. Half way out I stopped and dropped down from the street pressures of 37psi to 20psi to see how it would effect the ride. Boy what a big difference! I should have dropped them earlier. The middle section of Coyote Canyon is closed to vehicles for wilderness conservation, so the road stops at a gate and does not let you connect to the other side of the canyon. I considered a hike further into this section, but I was out there to enjoy the Xterra so I hopped back in after some photos and turned around.
By this time the light and clouds had gotten really nice, so I crossed the canyon to a hill with a great overlook spot. Right when I parked, I noticed a beautiful but subtle rainbow off to the east and managed a few photos of it before the light changed. Then I started noticing another really cool light phenomenon that was happening. Some sections of clouds were receiving warm direct sunlight while other parts were only lit by the very cool skydome light. This created some very interesting photographs with alternating orange and blue clouds.
There really is nothing as amazing as a good campfire on a cold night, especially when you have the entire desert to yourself. That’s about all that needs to be said about that, the camp photo says it all.
While enjoying the campfire I did set up my camera to shoot about an hour’s worth of timelapse which is posted at the bottom of the page. I might have to take a second camera along on the next trip to do more timelapse. Watching clouds move is so mesmerizing.
The next morning greeted me with more blue in the sky, but still plenty of beautiful clouds. I packed up camp early and found an awesome spot for my favorite beauty shot of the Xterra from the trip. Unfortunately I left the sun visors down spoiling the look a bit. I’ll have to pay attention to the details a bit more next time. Heading back down the steep section on the way out was just as fun as going up, I even shot some video this time although the wide angle lens flattens out how steep the slope is. At the top of the slope, and climbing up it, were several footprints of people who had hiked their way in. At the bottom of the steep section I found their trucks parked. I smiled to myself as I drove past them on the way out – it is nice having such a capable vehicle.
While waiting for the tires to air up at the beginning of the pavement I had a few minutes to reflect on my first outing. The Xterra really opens up a whole new chapter in my exploration of the outdoors in ways I couldn’t on foot. Being able to drive deep into the back country with all of my gear and setting up a good base camp in the wilderness will open up whole new opportunities for me and my future family to enjoy. I am looking forward to all of my new adventures to come.