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Our Paths Finally Cross | Hiking #5

As I mentioned in the first post, I have organized this trip report a bit differently than most. Some of the hiking locations have little or no reporting on the internet and I feel they should remain that way; as such, locations will be redacted and/or not mentioned, and the order of the trip will be randomized.

The first and last posts will cover some of the driving, in order to separate it - and location information - from the hikes. Please, if you know the locations of the hikes, I encourage you to enjoy them as much as I did - and follow my lead to keep them a little less well-known.

I was up bright and early the next morning - this time to embark on the long drive home after three tremendous hikes around Saline Valley. I was still the only Tacoma in sight, but I knew - because I'd awoken as he'd driven past at an early-morning-hour - that Mike @mk5 was somewhere further up the road, and I intended to find him in the daylight, before exiting to the north.

Good morning, Saline Valley.

Good morning, ▮▮▮▮  Mountains.

It didn't take long to get packed up and out of camp, as I decided to leave breakfast for "a bit later," not knowing exactly when that would be, but hoping that I could coordinate it with the same time I was transferring gas from my Scepter jerry cans in order to make it to Hawthorne, NV, where I planned to refuel.

By the time the sun hit the valley floor, I was already past the Saline Valley Warm Springs, and on my way up the road to Steel Pass. It was a fun run, the recently revalved ADS suspension soaking up the bumps as I twisted my way up the gravelly road at nearly 30mph.

The road to Steel Pass is not a short one, but on this cool morning I enjoyed it more than most. Fog lights helped to highlight hidden bumps in the road surface as I sped along.

It must have been 45 minutes - or more - of relatively high-speed travel, before I spotted Mike's truck in a wash off to the side of the road. Not seeing a tent around - and knowing that he had a long day of hiking planned - I figured he was already up, and might already be gone, as I backed my Tacoma next to his for a quick photo before continuing on my way.

A long overdue meeting of Tacomas. Turns out Mike was asleep in his truck as I creepily snapped a photo.

I believe Mike's statement was taking this was, "I don't know why I'm using the tripod." I think the reason is obvious - his shot came out amazing!

Mike and I chatted for a while - about where we'd been, and where we wanted to go. We'd met - for a dinner of tacos, when he'd visited my hometown on business - but as it was our first time seeing each others trucks in person, there was also the requisite ogling, comparing, and describing of what was working (or not) on our rigs.

Years ago, one of the first trip reports that I read from Mike was of the Bradshaw Trail. I'd complimented him on it when I did, and he was nice enough to lend me a bit more encouragement to run it myself!

I'm not sure how long exactly we chatted there in the wash - perhaps 30 minutes or so - but out of the sun it was chilly. That, in addition to the long days we each had planned, we decided to get going, and we continued our race up the road, the sun illuminating trails of dust behind us. I'm sure I wasn't the only one wishing that it was a weekday, opening the possibility to low-level target practice from the iron eagles that roam these hills.

Golden shadow.

Infinite possibilities.

With plans to explore some areas around the pass, we soon said our farewells, and I continued on my way. Marveling at the views stretched out before me, I found it interesting how my trip had been a tale of bookends - lots of driving on either side of days spent on foot; meeting ▮▮▮▮▮  on the first day and Mike on the last - not a soul in between; my entrance and exit from the park occurring in the same place, a rare occurrence for my trips.

Starting the descent into Dedeckera Canyon, Eureka Dunes peeking out in the valley below.

Desert texture.

Dedeckera Canyon is so often thought in the context of its road - and more specifically the three 4WD obstacles - that the natural beauty of the canyon itself is overlooked. I'm as guilty as the next, and as I made why way through, I was reminded that I need to plan a trip around exploring this one small canyon between two well-known valleys - the side canyons and geology here, enough to keep me busy for a couple days, at least!

Full droop, down the first fall.

A tight squeeze, even for a narrow 1st gen Tacoma.

Down the second fall, a good time to inspect the rear undercarriage of your vehicle.

The glow of the canyon - as the sun struggled to filter down the deep channel - was a delight during my descent.

Angles matter. A good approach and departure angle can help in situations like this; no risk of catching a taillight on the rocks.

As I had on my way up - but for different reasons this time - I didn't spend long in Dedeckera Canyon, making quick work of the three narrow falls, and emerging into the broad wash that leads down into Eureka Valley. It's a view that always delights - especially when the snow-capped White Mountains rise up over golden dunes - and I can see why there are those who consider this their favorite view in the park. It's understandable then - as the eye is distracted by sights far away - that so many miss the road as it climbs out of the wash and down to the dunes.

So much to explore.

Approaching the dunes, I knew that my quick trip out of the park was going to slow down for a bit. For the entirety of my trip, I'd been contemplating a series of photos to capture the absolute insanity in which I'd met ▮▮▮▮▮  just a few days before. The only complication - as I saw it - was capturing the spirit of the powdery slurry without myself getting stuck in the mess.

A trail where dust flows like water.

Splashing out, in front of the truck.

Flowing up, over the windshield.

Sorry, camera. You aren't going to enjoy this.

I'm not sure that I did it real justice - my reticence to wade, and then sink my tripod in the worst of the fluff, keeping me to a slightly shallower section - but I hope these four photos give a sense of how disastrous this section of trail has become.

After a good amount of time cleaning the camera, I picked up my speed as I raced toward the northern end of the valley. Here, my plan was to exit out the old Piper Road to CA-168, some 3000' above my current elevation. My concern - which you'll likely know if you've read the rest of the story - was snow. I'd been foiled at my attempt to gain access to Eureka Valley through Cucomungo Canyon, and I knew that my only hope here was that the road utilized southern slopes in its climb to pavement.

Fingers crossed! It looks snow free from here, but looks can be deceiving.

Heading up the alluvial fan, Piper Road was scenic, but would have been more so on foot. In a vehicle, it was slightly monotonous.

At one point, the road curved back toward the valley. Even into the sun, the view was dramatic.

The only relic I encountered along the way.

The first sign of snow.

A little more.

A dramatic example of the north-south exposure.

I was on pins and needles the last mile or so of my journey. Skirting between northern- and southern-facing slopes, there were sections of road completely covered in snow, but nothing that was at all troublesome for the Tacoma (unlike my nerves). As I reached the apex - and the intersection with pavement at CA-168, I let out an audible sigh. I was glad for two reasons: I'd made it out unscathed, and I hadn't had to retrace my steps - consuming valuable time and fuel - on my way home.

I'd made it!

Quite the view up here, with the snow covered Sierra rising in the distance. I soaked it in as I aired up and ate my late breakfast.

And then, I headed home.


This is the part of the story where there - usually - is no more story. Like the long drive down, the great thing about a Tacoma - while they may be slow - being reliability. Of course, reliability doesn't negate neglect, and so it was - some 100 miles before I reached the refreshment of a hot shower and clean clothes - that I found myself in a rest stop, hoping that I had what I needed to fix my trusty steed.

It all started when I heard the Blue Sea ML-ACR click to the off position as I was cruising north on I-5 at sixty-some miles per hour.

This is something that should never happen. The way the ML-ACR works is that it links the two batteries in the vehicle together when they are being charged - by the alternator or some other means - and unlinks them when one is being discharged faster than the other. This ensures that one battery - usually the one connected to the starter - always remains charged if something like a fridge, camp lights, or some other power-hungry device, completely drain the secondary battery.

Given that the alternator was - theoretically - charging away, I took a quick look at the voltages of the two batteries, just to see what was going on. It was trouble. Trouble was going on. My primary battery - the one in the engine bay that provides spark and keeps the truck running - was at a lower voltage than my secondary battery.

That's the point at which I found myself wondering:

Can I make it 100 miles home on whatever juice is left?

The answer - I discovered two minutes later when my battery light came on - was no. Not even close. In those two miles, the battery - which should have been running in the 13.5v range - had dropped from 12.8v to 12.6v. I was losing juice fast. Fast enough that the windshield wipers - pushing the light rain from side-to-side - were slowing down as well. I turned them off and took the first exit I could find.

And then, I set to work. Luckily - oh, so luckily - for me, almost three years earlier to the day, I'd been on a trip to Death Valley with Zane @Speedytech7 and Ben @m3bassman, where Ben had radioed over the CB that he was having an issue with his battery and we needed to stop. After checking the usual suspects - missing grounds, loose terminals, Zane suggested pulling the alternator and checking the brushes. "They are really the only thing that wears out," he said.

Sure enough, that was the issue with Ben's truck, and while none of us had an exact spare, Zane was able to pillage the brushes from a spare he was carrying, and adapt them to work in Ben's alternator. Two hours later, we were back on the road to finish the trip.

Upon getting home, I'd immediately purchased a set of spare brushes, throwing them into my kit and thinking - several times - that I should just preemptively install them. Of course, other things - like trips - took priority, and so now here I was on the side of the road, hoping that this was the issue!

On removing the battery to access the alternator, I discovered that I have something else to repair when I reached home - the core support cracked where the battery is clamped down.

Extraction complete.

Disassembly in progress.

This is why preventative maintenance is so important. This $15 part can strand you within a mile or two of wherever it stops working, with no real solution but replacement.

After buttoning everything back up, I washed my hands and climbed into the truck to fire it up. My hopes high that I fixed the problem and could continue on my way, I was elated to see the voltage back in the 14.5v range as the alternator resumed the role it had so reliably executed for the previous 22 years and 210K miles.

And a couple hours later, I was home.



The Whole Story



  1. Gerard Horan
    Gerard Horan March 16, 2022

    Great Story as usual, great pictures, love the piece about the brushes!

    • turbodb
      turbodb March 16, 2022

      Thanks Gerard, glad you enjoyed it! Man, I was sure lucky with the brushes - to have some on hand, and to know what to do...was pretty awesome all around!

    JOHN MORAN March 16, 2022

    Thanks for more great photos and a fine adventure. Sorry to hear about the alternator problem. I guess my friends and I had always been lucky that we never had an electrical problem with any of our trucks. I remember one broken axel that was a problem and I had a broken u-joint and a plugged up radiator that had to be rodded out. Fortunately we always had 2 or 3 trucks so could get to a local town for parts.

    • turbodb
      turbodb March 16, 2022

      Glad you enjoyed the stories John, as always! The alternator was a surprise, certainly, but in the end, not all that big a deal since I already had the parts and the knowledge to address the problem. It's definitely a good reason to travel in groups however, and something I always keep in the back of my mind when I'm out by myself. In fact, I recently started using a Garmin inReach Mini satellite communicator when I'm on solo trips, which sets me (and family) at ease just a bit.

      And, not to foreshadow too much, but I just returned from another trip. Apparently, I've angered the truck gods, because I ended up cutting the trip short due to a mechanical issue that I couldn't fully address in the field. But, now I'm getting ahead of myself. ?

      • JOHN MORAN
        JOHN MORAN March 17, 2022

        Glad that you didn't get stranded. Back when I was young we thought we were invincible, maybe because we never really got into too much trouble and when we did have a breakdown it wasn't far from a highway, probably gave us a false sense of security. Even hiking we only had one real scare when we ended up in the middle of a dry waterfall with a very big drop off and no way to climb back up (longest climbing rope was too short) so we just sat down for a while, calmed down, and went lateral to a point where we could climb back up the mountain to a trail. It added about 5 hours to the hike and had us after dark several hours later than we planned. After that we were more careful and better prepared.

        I mentioned getting a high lift jack recently. The main use is that it will hook and a wheel and allow me to put a ramp or plank under the tire if we get stuck. Of course it can also be used as a winch and I do have a coffin hoist (aka "come along" or "cable winch puller") that has come in handy. I can sympathize with the alternator problem. We did have an old pickup truck on a trip to Calico Ghost Town with a generator that died one night, the battery ran down but we were able to coast down a canyon (was like a wild roller coaster) to our camp and use a friends pickup to drive into Barstow the next day and get a rebuilt generator.


  3. Anza4R
    Anza4R September 24, 2022

    The powdery dust photos out by the Eureka Dunes are EPIC. We blasted through that stuff in early March 2022, and stopped once to marvel at just what weirdness we found ourselves in. Opening the door involved pushing up a big moat of powder and stepping into thigh deep fluff. Absolutely wild, and still cleaning that fluff out of the 4R.

    • turbodb
      turbodb September 25, 2022

      Oh yeah, that stuff is crazy. There's more - and longer stretches - of it elsewhere in the park as well... if you know where to look. Not that I recommend it, even if you don't get stuck. It's not great for the air filter at the very least, and yeah, I too am still finding that dust everywhere. Bleh!

      Stepping out thigh deep is still a lot better than when I was pulling ▮▮▮▮▮  out of the fluff and he was literally down on his stomach, digging his truck out one shovel at a time - only to watch it sink lower and lower as he removed the dust.

      He was powdery tan when he surfaced from that stuff, and I can only imagine what he coughed up after the fact... What a super cool dude though; I hope to remain in touch for many many years.

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