With a successful SEMA showing we finally get to use the truck for some adventures! The break-in test was a drive through two of the great Deserts of the Southwest - off-road from Las Vegas to Palm Springs. The combination of rutted washboard, rough volcanic rocks, and power sucking sand pushed the weaknesses of the 30-year old truck to the surface; revealing only a two areas needing attention. The power steering pump stopped pumping while we were chasing the fading light somewhere inside the steep confines of Berdoo Canyon on the southwestern corner of the Joshua Tree preserves. The recent flooding had smoothed the main track in the wash running down the narrow canyon floor, but the erosive water flow had also undercut the banks making crossings into and out of the wash steep climbs up short walls. Despite the low power of the naturally aspirated diesel engine, the Defender was wholly in its element on these trails and roads.
Hundreds of miles of dirt-roads earlier in the day, the truck was working at its limit to keep freeway pace with the weekly mass exodus that is the return migration from Las Vegas back to the various cities filling the Los Angeles basin. Once out of the city and onto the criss-cross of high desert trails leading southwest, the Defender settled into a comfortable pace, the throttle at roughly two-thirds as it would stay for most of the next ten hours. The miles rolled underneath the tires, the sun climbed high and the temperatures followed. Shedding morning layers, we rolled up the load-bay canvas and opened the vents. Late fall in the desert is a purely magical time, warm days and cool nights with lingering moisture from a recent storm filling the air with the scent of creosote and sage.
Crossing the ridges of low mountains in low range the Defender walked up and down rocky steps, each pass revealing a sandy, dust filled basin below. Crossing the lowlands was mixture of piloting the truck through soft sand avoiding rocks and cacti; or negotiating rutted dirt roads carved into rollover-angle testing gully and steps. The varied surfaces of the long low dry-lakes read like a chemistry set - Cl17, NaCl, NaHCO3 - some being mined by evaporation leave the air heavy with the smell of bleach.
Crossing the Mojave Desert is best done in days, not hours, to explore and enjoy all that the venerable Mojave Trail has to offer; but our torture test kept us rolling past all the roadside adventures that make this area a favorite of ours. Once out of the Mojave we continued south in to the Joshua Tree NP. Despite the enormous amount of visitors from around the world who travel a few hours from Los Angeles to visit the famous rock outcroppings and Yucca Brevifolia tree for which the park is named, there are two scantly used 4x4 trails that provide a much less tourist oriented entrance and exit from the park. Cresting the ridge leading into Berdoo Canyon the low sun lights the Salton Sea off to the southeast, and we descent for the last time down the narrow canyon trail. It is on these roads that we cross the desert nearly unnoticed, and emerge a few miles from the lights and leisure atmosphere of Palm Springs.