Anza Borrego Desert, October 2013


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012

There's a hilarity in seeing the SUV you at age 19 broke by driving over an eight-inch retaining wall morph in its elder years into a legitimate trail machine.


My parents' ugly gold Exploder, the car I was driving when I started dating my college girlfriend, when my close friends left on LDS missions. The car I was driving before I purchased my own first, humble vehicle: a 1997 Dodge Stratus.


The Stratus was long gone, thank goodness, by the time my eldest brother lost his beloved Ford Ranger in a wreck near his home in Tucson. After a lengthy struggle against the insurance company, he ended up with some cash and a whole mess of Ranger parts. So, in their long-suffering generosity, my parents bequeathed him their tired Explorer.

Months of fabrication work followed. The modifications necessary to fit the Ranger parts to the Explorer were substantial. But by October of 2013, the time had come to take the machine on the trail to begin ironing out the bugs.


My brother invited me along for the ride. We'd worked together off-road before, helping his buddy with an attempt to run the Baja 1000 in a race truck. So while we're separated by a decade in age and hundreds of physical miles, this vehicle gave us a bond and something to share.

He drove to California from sunny southern Arizona to picked me up from LAX on a Sunday. Together we rode the raw Explorer over bouncy Los Angeles freeways to Pomona. There, we met up with his buddy Kevin, a magazine writer and photographer. Kevin had been assigned to work the annual Off-Road Expo. We bummed around the show, talking out plans for the trip to come.

We'd hoped to ride the Bradshaw Trail out to the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge but the government shutdown was in full effect. Having already heard the horror tales of people turned away from the National Parks in Utah, I worried that we might encounter barricades at Kofa.

After talking to some less-than-helpful BLM folks, we approached the California State Parks booth. So it was that we ended up on the road for Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Here Be Dragons
by ashergrey, on Flickr

We didn't get on the road out of L.A. until late. We did, however, find some comic relief along the way.


Setting up in the dark, we collapsed for the night at Culp Valley.

San Ysidro Camp
by ashergrey, on Flickr

Monday morning we rolled down the impressive Montezuma-Borrego Highway into Borrego Springs. After visiting the park visitor center, we set out for the trail. Along the way we stopped at the Box Canyon historical marker, where the Mormon Battalion hacked the first overland wagon route into southern California.


California Patch butterflies were swarming a little dryfall near the trail.


Once on trail we ran around in washes for awhile, trying to find the right path to get on Arroyo Seco del Diablo. All of our navigational aides proved somewhat inadequate, as GPS maps were unreliable as to where they showed the 4x4 routes running in relation to the network of desert washes. After some backtracking, we did end up on course.

Arroyo Seco del Diablo
by ashergrey, on Flickr

Diablo runs as a narrow mudstone and sandstone canyon for awhile, mostly navigable in dry conditions.


We did find some interesting concretions.



Dusk came on by the time we reached the Diablo drop-off.

Vallecito Sunset
by ashergrey, on Flickr

Cloud Front
by ashergrey, on Flickr

Here the route leaves Arroyo Seco del Diablo and cuts down a steep hill, through a tight boulder-strewn canyon to join Fish Creek Wash.

Diablo Drop
by ashergrey, on Flickr

The drop-off had eroded badly. Water had gouged the best path down over the initial drop.

Kevin descended first in his 4Runner.

Dug in at Diablo
by ashergrey, on Flickr

The ground immediately collapsed beneath his driver-front wheel.


Some digging helped, but not enough.


Kevin had equipped the 4Runner with an ARB locking rear differential, but it's engaged by way of compressed air. Unfortunately, he hadn't yet hooked up a compressor. Some jury-rigging did allow him to get the rear end locked, eventually.

After clearing the top of the drop, he encountered another problem. Below, deep water channels had formed along either side of the path. They were full of sand and the dry, crumbly banks were not up to the task of supporting a vehicle.

More Trouble at Diablo Drop
by ashergrey, on Flickr

This time we were in for a lot of digging, tugging and frustration.


The light had gone by the time we managed to get him off the drop. Then, by headlamp and hope, by brother descended in the Explorer

by ashergrey, on Flickr

Thankfully, his turn went much more smoothly. Having already identified the traps, he and I were able to roll down with nothing worse than an elevated heart rate.

But the work wasn't over.


It look a lot of careful tire placement and rock-stacking to get our vehicles through the messy canyon section.

We did make a hungry little friend along the way.


Hitting the pavement came with a real sense of accomplishment. We rolled back to the official park campground and turned in for the night.

Borrego Nights
by ashergrey, on Flickr

[PARSEHTML]<iframe src="" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" width="800" height="800"></iframe><br><br>[/PARSEHTML]My sleeping arrangements were somewhat unique here. Instead of pitching a tent with the rest of the crowd, I tossed up my hammock. The ENO Reactor proved just the right size to hang under the camp site's canopy.

by ashergrey, on Flickr

On the road again before long, we headed out to see some of the infamous metal sculptures commissioned by label-making magnate Dennis Avery.

Jurassic Attack
by ashergrey, on Flickr


This toothy fellow's guarding a clutch of eggs.


And this cold-blooded relative wants to see the rise of the reptiles again.



Romping in Ocotillo Wells followed, with a late-afternoon hike to the Wind Caves to cap off the day.

Sunset over Fish Creek Wash
by ashergrey, on Flickr


Ocotillo Glow
by ashergrey, on Flickr

Elephant Knees from Wind Caves
by ashergrey, on Flickr

While walking back to our vehicles, we heard a rumbling on the southern horizon. As we watched, a pair of black helicopters came thundering low up the wash, searchlights on and sweeping the terrain.

They passed us by and the air settled. Then, so did our mood. We chatted idly on the way down the trail, somewhat inattentive to our surroundings. Thankfully, by brother remained alert enough to hear the faint sound of a rattle.

We all froze in the deepening dark, unsure as to where he was in relation to our feet. Once we finally spotted him with flashlights and headlamps, I snuggled up close as I dared for a photo.


Obviously bothered by our proximity, the venomous fellow side-winded his way under a nearby bush.

[PARSEHTML]<iframe src="" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" width="800" height="800"></iframe><br><br>[/PARSEHTML]On our way back into town, I talked my brother into swinging by one last sculpture. The highlight of the collection in my opinion is the amazing sea serpent that seems to swim from the sand.

Swimming in Sand
by ashergrey, on Flickr

The breeze picked up while I scuttled about in the dark, firing shot after shot and trying to get some useable light painting. By the time we arrived back at camp, it had strengthened into a gale. Tired, we ate dinner around a sputtering fire and then made haste toward our beds. Winds flattened tent poles and made my hammock rock. The nylon edges of it flapped loudly in my ear, keeping me awake.


Awful selfie, but it illustrates the point. With growing resentment toward the weather, I pulled out my phone and checked the NWS forecast.


I'd had enough. At 2 a.m. I unhooked the hammock and dragged it across the campground to the showers. Having used the handicap-capable stall earlier in the day, I knew I could stretch out on the ground there behind a locked door. So I did.

When morning came I snuck out of the shower and back to camp. When I confessed my sin, the rest of the group admitted they'd have done the same if they'd thought of it. None of them had slept well.

Borrego Badlands
by ashergrey, on Flickr

The wind didn't really let up much during the daylight hours. For our final day, we headed out to Ocotillo Wells again to visit the Pumpkin Patch. Along the way we made stops at Fonts Point and Vista del Malpais.

Borrego Badlands 2
by ashergrey, on Flickr

by ashergrey, on Flickr

While cruising down Palo Verde Wash, the wind swirled up the dust and sand into a cloud of white-gray malevolence. It rocked our vehicles, cutting visibility down to mere feet at times. We arrived at the Pumpkin Patch under these conditions and, as a result, didn't stay long.


Try as I might to shelter my camera from the effects of the weather it came away with grit in every crevice.

Pumpkin Patch
by ashergrey, on Flickr

At the edge of the Salton Sea we posed for a few last shots, aired up and then said goodbye to the sandy washes in favor of pavement.


[PARSEHTML]<iframe src="" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" width="800" height="800"></iframe><br><br>[/PARSEHTML]My brother came away with some ideas for improvement on the Explorer, while Kevin's story made the cover.




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Dec 11, 2013
Sounds like a fun trip. Great job on the video. How are you getting the in-car driving shots? Camera mounted to the windshield, or outside the car?
Last edited:


Aug 9, 2007
Man, it's not every day that I wake up, fire up BCP, and see a freaking dragon in the stars. Killer shots.

Soooo, just to be clear, did you sleep on a campground bathroom floor?

And x2 on the video.


Dec 11, 2013
Ah, I just saw the GoPro on the front bumper of the Explorer. Did you have to use any image stabilization in post?


Badwater Jim
Jan 30, 2012
Very cool. It's always fun seeing other people's take on my little slice of the desert. ABDSP is my home playground. And great work on the sand dragon shot! Probably the best one I've seen.


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
Soooo, just to be clear, did you sleep on a campground bathroom floor?

I did... and my only regret is that I didn't move into the shower stall sooner. :frantic:

Did you have to use any image stabilization in post?

Nope, thankfully. The heavy-duty off-road suspension on the Explorer took out a lot of the big jolts. I used a variety of mounts for the vid. The stuff off the tubular bumper and cage inside the vehicle was rock solid. I did get some shake on video shot using the suction cup mounts, but I just edited around those bits. One of the two GoPros I used took a rock to the case lens cover. The plastic cracked but the cam was fine.


Oct 1, 2012
Cool trip, love the Ocotillo Glow shot especially. Anza-Borrego is 2 hours from me so it's interesting to see someone else's take on it. I'm jealous you saw a sidewinder!


Mar 3, 2013
Ahh, reminds me of younger days living in Phoenix and lots of time spent wheelin' in the AZ desert country. :)


May 19, 2012
Beautiful pics and report.
We used to hang out in Anza-Borrego when we lived in San Diego, I miss it. When I was younger my friends mom used to rent a condo there, she would get plastered by the pool and we would ride our motorcycles all over the place, not the best thing environmentally to look back on, but it was sure fun.
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