Altar 2003 Day 1: 04-12-2003

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Leaving the US for Sonora

At first light, we got up and packed to leave for the border.  Unlike the previous trips, we intended to do the dune crossing on street capable tires.  Each of the team had the Michelin XM-47s on their rigs.  The 1300s had the 425/75R20s and the 416 had the 405/75R20s.  The implication was that there was no need to change tires, making the logistics of the trip substantially easier.  After a brief stop at a local McDonalds for a breakfast-like substance, we headed directly to the San Luis, AZ border crossing, south of Yuma on highway 95.  Once there, we got in line to be inspected by the Mexican officials.  Below, you can see that they took a special interest in Dan's rig due to the fact that it had a covered rear canopy.

Below, you can see the main street in San Luis del Colorado, Sonora, Mexico.

We parked once across the border, and hiked around the block to get Mexican insurance (a requirement for travel in the country).  As you can see, the 1300s tower over the local vehicles on the street.  Visible is one of the quads in the back.

Once we obtained insurance, we headed east on Mexican Highway 2 for diesel and then to the start of the trail at Cesar's truck stop.  Cesar's is about 17 miles east of the border crossing on Highway 2.  We turn about 200 meters before  the structure and then air down and unload the quads and get dressed for the trail.  

Below, Kathleen is treating us to the sights before donning the gear necessary to safely ride in the high dunes of the Altar.

Now, she is ready to ride ride my Yamaha Raptor quad.  The 660 cc Raptor is a very capable machine with tons of torque.  Note the power lines that parallel the main highway in the photo below.  Also note the flat, featureless terrain that is both north and south of the dune field which we call "tundra".

Once the group was aired down and had beers in hand, we headed down the entry road to the start of the dunes.  This road is flat, featureless, dusty and straight.  Below, Mark is ahead of me and I am holding far back to keep from eating the fine dust that is pervasive in this part of the country.  We are generally heading to the south-south east from Cesars.  Note the tire tracks that the XM-47s leave in the soft dirt of the trail.

It did not take long before the problems started.  Dan was the first stuck.  As you can see from the tracks, he side slid down the soft sand and was unable to counter steer.  I am guessing that he did not have his differential locks engaged.  Diff-locks always help on soft side hills.  While they do not insure your ability to cross a side hill, it greatly raises the chance that you will succeed.  In this case we decided to tow Dan rather than letting him continue to dig and suffer.  Note the depth of the tires in the sand.  He plowed a big furrow before he finally got stuck.

It was an easy pull with no special arrangements needed.  Below, Kai pulls Dan with Kai's winch.  He was out in only a few minutes and with minimal harassing from other team members.  

The vastness and scope of the Altar dunes is a wonder to behold.  The dunes are big and they stretch for hundreds of miles in multiple dune fields separated by both tundra and mountains.

Looking back to the USA, you can see the distant mountains of the Tinajas Altas  Range and the closer range of the Sierra El Rosario in Mexico.  And of course, in the foreground, is the classic crescent razor back dune structure so prevalent in the Altar desert.

The razor backs make for great photo opportunities as we will see later.  Below is Bill's 1300L.

The team's first major waypoint was the cross.  The local 4X4 club in San Luis, Los Cruzeros, installed the cross as a memorial to one of their members that passed away a few years ago.  We ran into some of the club members on our last day and they gave us the history of the cross.  They also installed the BBQ there so they could eat at the top of the hill and enjoy the awesome view.

The view from the top is breathtaking.  This is looking to the northwest.  Alison descends from the dune crest and Kathleen is preparing to follow the other members down the dune face.

The cross is tall and casts a long shadow in the mid-day winter sun.  Below, Mark and Bill approach the base of the cross.

Stuck again???  On that little hill??  Seems that the combo of really low air pressure and a mild side hill de-beaded BOTH downhill tires.  Note how deep the tires are dug in.

Due to the de-beading, a winching was required to get Dan to a location where we could work on the tires to get them re-seated on the rim.  Below, you can see both tires on the passenger side de-beaded.

The rear tire did not handle the winching well and came fully off the rim.

Getting the rear tire off the truck was a job and a half.  The truck shop that installed his tires used a big-ass air wrench to install the lug nuts and it took us many tries to get them off.  The torque required was at the limit of my 600 ft-lb gun and we only succeeded when the pressure in my truck was at full capacity.  Here Mike Bennett assists getting the tire off.  Note the 2 jacks under the truck.

Here, the team attacks the offending tire.  Once the tire was off the truck, there was really no problem in getting the tire to seat on the rim.  The XM's are good for that and no pyrotechnics were required in stark contrast to last time.

As we worked our way through the dunes, we came to a bowl that we were not sure we could get out of.  So, to play it safe, we parked at the rim and checked it out.  Dan went into the bowl to check it out.  Once we decided it was too soft and that egress was potentially a problem, we were preparing to move on in a different direction.  Kai mistakenly backed up at a critical point and started to slip over the edge, resulting in "a situation".  It seemed like he was going to roll into the bowl.

Below, you can see the scope of the bowl.  Kathleen took this shot from partially across the bowl, looking back toward the trucks.  The trucks are dwarfed by the size of the dunes.

Below, we set up for a tow to stabilize the truck prior to the extraction.

Here, we attempt a simple tow to get him stabilized, but it required hooking the strap onto the side of the frame to prevent further slippage.

Oops, this is insult added to injury.  The downhill tires are de-beaded due to the side-slide caused by a combination of the winching and the initial slippage.

As you can see below, the slope of the slide combined with the de-bead on the downhill tire resulted in the uphill tire being off the ground.

The extrication went off easily with minimal drama except the obvious.  And happily, the tires reseated without having to take them off the truck, saving a bunch of sweat and time.  All the tire work caused us to get to camp late.  Like the last trip, and the trip before that.  We looked for a proper site, but there were no really good ones available.  Finally, in the waning light of sunset, we settled for "acceptable" rather than perfect, and setup for our dinner of Prime Rib, potatoes, corn and cherry cobbler.  Below, Kathleen prepares one of the Dutch ovens and sets up the table service.

Below, Bill carves the finished product for serving.

Look tasty?  It was.

I did 12 pounds of prime rib and the 10 campers ate it all.  Much thanks to Matt and Kai for helping dispose of this great quantity of meat.

Serving the chow.


Camp Prime Rib was in a small depression.  While there was probably a good sunset, it was not visible to us.  And, it was cold due to the moist air settling into the bowl itself.  Several of the team members stated that it was 10 degrees warmer on the ridge near the camp.  So, we hunkered down with our fire and drank until it was time to go to bed.  Perhaps tomorrow would be a better day for tire problems.

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