Altar 2003 Day 2: 05-12-2003

Day 3       Back       Home

From Camp Prime Rib to Camp Pork Loin

The night was pretty cold.  Cold enough to make us cover our heads with our coats. The good news is that the wind was minimal.  I had a special Cabela's cold weather bag, so I was OK, but most of the team commented on the temperature overnight during breakfast.

Only with a group of Unimogs could you haul so much camp equipment for a couple of days.  Here the group sits around the fire ring and enjoys breakfast and warms up in the rising sun.  One treat of the morning beverage ritual was a dip into Mark Mitchell's "first aid kit" which consisted of vodka, rum and Bailey's.  Nothing like Bailey's and coffee to set the tone for the day.

The Altar is an ocean of sand.  The dunes run for several hundred miles with high razor back dunes interspersed with open tundra with vegetation.  Below is the view from the ridge above Camp Prime Rib toward the border.

Below, you can see the classic graceful razor back dunes that result from bi-directional winds.  This is a big dune.

As we were preparing to break camp, I found this little critter on a "nature walk".  Not sure what it is, but it clearly is a carnivore.  Note the fangs.  It might be a Kit Fox or other desert canine.  I would have brought the skull home except US Customs would have confiscated it at the border and most importantly, it still had decomposing flesh on it and therefore smelled rank.  Some things are better left alone.  What do the granola guys say?  "Take only photos, leave only footprints".

The rolling stock for this trip.  Left to right: Kai, Dan, Mark, Bill.

The quads ready for the day's action.  Kathleen is in the center, Mike Bennett (riding Dan's quad) on the right.

The view below is looking to the west.  The mountains in the distance are on the "spine" of the Baja peninsula. 

As repeatedly stated, these dunes are huge.  Despite the sand tires and very low air pressure, not all paths can be negotiated with the mogs.  Below, Kai attempts to head over this pass, but later has to retreat due to a combination of flotation, power and steepness.

Later in the morning, in a huge bowl, we discovered this Jeep.  Apparently, there was some mechanical failure that prevented the vehicle from getting out of the bowl.  I can assure you that we descended into the bowl with great trepidation upon seeing the Jeep.  Like many vehicles left abandoned, it had been stripped.  Given the caved in roof, it may have been rolled as well.  We checked it out and uttered many anti-Jeep epithets before moving on to exit the bowl.  It was there when we realized that the mogs may end up in the same situation.

Here Sean inspects the remains of the jeep.

The exit from the bowl with the Jeep proved most challenging.  As you can see Dan and Kai barely made it over,  but in the process churned up the narrow path so much that it was impossible for Mark and I to do the same.  We tried many times, and all we did was churn up the trail more.  You could not go to the left or right due to the side hill, and were therefore committed to the centerline.  Finally, Mark gives up and uses his Werner hydraulic winch for the first time.  Below, Sean is adjusting the cable in preparation for the winching.


I could not make it either and took the tow.  Note the side hill action and the huge ruts carved in the main track to the left of my front wheel.  My working gears served me well as I was able to match the line speed of Mark's winch, easing the strain on the cable.

We all got to the pass and then had to execute a steep descent to the next valley.  Shot from the cab of the 1300, you can get a feel for the height of the dune and the steepness of the descent after the choke point.  This was a huge face; a sphincter tightening descent as the truck will slip to the side.  Additionally, the remedy for that side slip is to point it downhill and hit the accelerator.  Speeding the descent was not what I wanted.  Also, in the steep sand, the front tires will submarine when you hit the brakes, thereby causing you to lose all steering capability.  I shot this before the actual descent due to the need to have both hands available for vehicle control.

Bill and Sean enjoying the vast views from the top of one of the dunes.

Many of the valleys are "hard pan" that is wind-scrubbed dirt.  Once the tires break through the crust, large amounts of dust are raised.  Below, you can see the team in the distance after having traversed the valley.  Note the size of the dune on the right.

Mike Bennett and Bill Caid enjoying the sights.

Lunch service in the middle of nowhere.

There is not a lot of obvious wildlife in the Altar, but we did come across this rabbit and Kathleen managed to get a shot of it.

Late in the day, we decided to make camp.  We were mostly out of the dunes at that point and into the tundra.  There was absolutely no chance of being able to make it to El Gulfo that night, so we setup camp and prepared for dinner.  Mike cooked an excellent pork loin with pears and dried cherries, orzo pasta with spinach and a home made, "from scratch" dessert.  Dessert in the desert.  Below, the guys chill out after a pretty rigorous day of 'wheeling.  From left to right: Kathleen, Kai, Dan, Sean and Matt.  As you can see, Matt is plotting our progress across the dunes on our extensive collection of maps.  Thanks to Matt for sending his list of way points for this trip that are on the first page of this trip report.

A nice sunset was brewing, so I got out my tripod.  Once setup, I got a reasonable shot of the almost-full moon through the clear desert air.  This was taken at 300mm, F6.3, 1/80 sec setting of the lens for my new D100 digital SLR.

I took a bunch of shots of the sunset, the one below is probably the best.  The Altar does good sunsets.

After dinner, we settled down for some serious relaxing with plenty of Kai's special Cubre Libre cocktails, beer and red wine.

Kai is fading after the second cocktail and a big dinner of pork loin.  Both he and Matt volunteered to insure that there were no leftovers.

Kathleen fades as she gazes at the fire.

Most of us just threw our sleeping pads out on the sand, the more ambitious disgorged cargo from the mogs and slept in the back.

Day 3       Back       Home