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New Year 2007 - 2008 trip on the Mojave Trail

3 Land Rover Dormobiles camping

Left to Right: Kelly & James Howard 1967 Land Rover Dormobile, TeriAnn's 1960 Land Rover Dormobile,
Ian Kelly's 1962 Land Rover Dormobile


A faded tradition of the mendo recc Land Rover mail list is the annual New Year's Mojave trail trip. New Year's on the Mojave road was a popular Mendo recc Land Rover event during the back half of the 1990's and has slowly faded since then.  The New Year 2007 - 2008 annual trip  drew only members of the Dormobile list with no takers from the mendo recc list.

I have been plagued with a problem in my recent EFI conversion that I have been unable to pin point. Just prior to the trip I replaced the high pressure fuel pump (The one on the vehicle was purchased used). During my drive to Needles, it became apparent that the high pressure fuel pump was not the source of my problem.  The engine kept cutting out over the Tahachipi mountains.  My plan was to camp near the Needles highway on the Mojave trail the night before the trip start.  Just as I was finalizing my parking spot at the head of the Mojave trail the engine died. I quickly noticed that the fuel pumps were not working. A bit of quick troubleshooting told me that the low pressure fuel pump (one I purchased new last year) had shorted taking out the fuel pump relay and the fuse. I used my spare relay & fuse but didn't have a spare pump (It is less than a year old right?). So I took it out of the circuit. The low pressure pump is supposed to suck fuel out of the tank. The high pressure pump pushes but sucks very poorly.  I gave it a try with the low pressure pump out of the circuit.

The engine started & seemed to run OK. When Ian, James & Kelly showed up next morning I told them I'm a pump short and asked their permission to come along with them knowing that my Dormie may not be trail worthy. They said OK & that someone would run for a pump if I needed one. The engine ran the trail flawlessly, running better than it ever has. I think I found my problem area. The computer can not diagnose fuel flow problems.


Three Land Rover Dormobiles started the 2007 - 2008 annual New year trip

3 Dormobiles side by side
Ian standing at the back of his Dormobile

We met at the Mojave trail head at 9:30ish.  There was a little trouble finding the trail head because the Needles highway was widened and the last road sign mentioned in the trail guide has been removed.  


ast minute trip planning
When we got together we talked for an hour or so catching up and such.
Left to right: TeriAnn, James Howard, Kelly Howard


3 Land Rover Dormobiles ready to roll
Out on the trail during the first day on the Mojave trail

Not far into the trail my engine bay erupted with clouds of steam.  A quick check showed that I had forgotten to turn the electric radiator fan on.  Last year I replaced the mechanical fan with an electrical fan off a Mercedes V8.  I have it wired with a thermostatic control and a switch by the driver so I can turn off the fan for water crossings.  The engine was warm enough to turn the fan on when I was troubleshooting the fuel pumps the night before.  I used the manual switch to turn off the fan so I could listen for the sound of the electric fuel pumps.  I forgot to turn that switch back on at the end of the day and was too busy enjoying the start of the trip to check my gauge.  Not wanting to damage my engine we sat for another hour while my engine block cooled down.  Ian had spare anti freeze so I used some plus some of my drinking water to refill my radiator.  Then we were off again, now running about 2 hours behind our original plans. 


Dormobiles on the Mojave trail
Photo by Ian Kelly. Check the rear view mirror. This is the trail branch heading up to Fort Piute. 

This section of trail has become smoother over the years but it was still rocky enough to cause horses problems. Visible above my Land Rover is a woman with 2 horses.  The horses were having problems with the rocks but the woman's husband wanted to see the fort.  He walked the additional couple miles up to the fort & back leaving her there to hold the horses.  The National park people eliminated the old parking area and created a new one farther from the fort & creek bed. They appeared to be in the process of putting up signage as well.  We had lunch at the parking lot by the Fort.


Land Rover Dormobiles on the Mojave road
When trail branches or cross trails are encountered the Mojave trail is marked by either a rock pile or post on the right side of the trail just past the junction or branch.
Photo by Ian Kelly


2 Land Rover Dormobiles on the Mojave Trail

The Mojave trail is always good at pointing out weaknesses in a rig.  By late afternoon on the first day Ian was hearing noises caused by the exhaust rubbing against his left rear spring on bumps. We stopped to investigate the noise expecting a broken tail pipe hanger. It turns out that the the frame broke along the edge of the front spring hanger on Ian's left rear spring. The spring hanger was recessed up into the frame and the left rear of the vehicle was sitting low causing the exhaust to hit the spring.  After the trip, Ian emailed to let us know the break was at a poorly done rusty frame repair and that he was going to replace the entire outrigger.   Since it was late in the day, and we were right next to a decent campsite, we decided to set up camp.  With the rear of his Land Rover Dormobile sitting low Ian's fuel tank got damaged and developed a slow leak.  He decided it best not to cook in the Dormobile that night.  Rather than let him eat a cold dinner I fixed him a pasta dish with a lobster based sauce for dinner.  My drinking water pump stopped working as I was preparing dinner. The switch on the pump went bad after almost 11 years. The motor works fine & West Marine sells replacement switches last time I looked. Something new for my to-do list. Since Ian had decided to limp out on the smooth cable road next morning he left me with a 5 gallon plastic water can. Ian's fuel tank stopped leaking before morning and he still had enough fuel left to make it home to LA.


3 Land Rover Romobiles camped
Camp set up for the first night on the Mojave trail. That's Kelley & James Howard admiring the row of Land Rover Dormobiles.

The first night on the trail was cold with strong wind gusts. Some tents could have easily flown that night but our Dormobiles stayed put.  After breakfast Kelly, James and I said our goodbyes to Ian.  Ian had Jame's cell phone in case he needed help on the way out.  He went to the paved road slowly using a power lime maintenance road.  He arrived home OK without additional problems.


Second day on the trail, And now we were two

2 Land Rover Dormobiles in Joshawa trees
During the second day the two remaining Land Rover Dormobiles drove through a thick Joshua tree forest


2 Land Rovers and a Joshawa tree


Land Rover Dormobile climbing a hill
On the second day, climbing a small range of hills.  This section of the road was narrow, rocky and eroded.  A decade earlier it was a two lane wide maintained grade.  The National park service seems to have stopped maintenance wherever it can along the trail. They have removed lots of fences and cattle guards, many of which were landmarks in the Mojave road trail guide.


 Dusk saw us in the Lava flow area.  James had heard that strong winds were expected throughout the Mojave area while we were running the trail.  Not wanting  a repeat of the previous night's strong gusts we took note of the wind direction and pushed on looking for a site that would be protected from the prevailing wind. It was dark when we made it to the sand dunes which provided us with as much wind protection as we were likely to find.  Of course by then the wind died down and was no longer an issue. We set up camp and had a companionable dinner by the camp fire. We celebrated the New Year on Eastern Standard time with a little champagne and watching the Quadrantid Meteor Shower.


2 Land Rover Dormobiles camped
The Second night was spent camped at the base of sand dunes just North of the Kelso dunes.  As we welcomed in the new year we were treated to a meteor shower.
My built in propane tank ran dry so I switched to my backup tank that travels on the roof rack  


Here's a view of the second camp site that provides a better sense of location:
2 Dormobiles camped at the sand dunes


It is the nature of sand dunes to move with the winds and over the years these dunes had indeed moved. We camped at the edge of a much different sand dune than previously.   The places where we had camped at the base of the dunes a decade earlier were hundreds of yards away and deep within a dune.  The steep slopes we slid down in the past are now gentle mounds with the steep slope ff to one side.   The trail is the same but it is different each year.


Third day on the trail, Soda Lake and Afton canyon

Land Rover Dormobile in Soda Lake
Traveling through Soda Lake approaching the rock pile around the historical event marker

Dormobiles at the Soda Lake rock pile
Our traditional truck pose at the rock pile. It is traditional that each vehicle bring a rock and leave it on the pile. Apparently since sometime in 2006 some people have started putting their names and date on their rocks.  The plaque  is visible in the middle of the pile only if you climb up to look inside.



Land Rover Dormobile in dry wash
Between Soda Lake and Afton canyon the Mojave trail travels along a wide dry wash which includes lots of deep sand.

Afton Canyon wall
The Mojave trail finishes up with a drive along the Mojave river through Afton canyon.  This area is in the Manix fault zone .   The canyon walls are a combination of conglomerate and alluvium show many types of soils in several colours, including brown, blue-gray, red, black-gray, pink and light gray.

After the canyon there is a river crossing, a BLM camp ground and a dirt road going out to the freeway.  We stopped to talk a little at the BLM camp ground realizing that our trip along the trail was over.  We stopped again at the edge of the freeway to say our goodbyes and head off in opposite directions.  I always feel sad at the end of a trail.  Reluctant to see it end and to say good by.  This was no exception.  A word from Kelly or James and I would have been up for doing the trail in the other direction.


After 140 miles on the Mojave trail it was time to say good by and head for home

The Mojave trip is not hard to drive but it is hard on vehicles and points out weaknesses and problem areas. When I got back I found few more scrapes on my oil pan. I think that is because Mercury metals installed the frame engine mounts lower than Timm had them. Moving the replacement frame mounts was already on my to-do list. James & Kelly were experiencing a thud on front downward articulation that they think is the axle hitting the extended rubber bumpers. I should remind them to check the prop shafts for contact scratches. It was their first trip on parabolics.

After the trip, I learned why there were 2 pumps. Back on the highway with the low pressure pump out of the circuit, the engine keep cutting out on me every couple minutes most all the way home. Bummer considering how well it performed on the trail at low RPMs.   Oh well, at least the Mojave trip exposed the problem area. I have a generic auto parts store relay I'm using for the fuel pumps. It is the type that caused problems when the low pressure pump shorted at the beginning of the rip. I think I will swap in an F150 fuel pump relay since I'm using a F150 high pressure pump.   The late 1980's F150's used 2 pumps like my system does. Hopefully that will make the pump electrics more reliable and cure this nagging problem.

Also a little past Bakersfield the 8 year old exhaust system developed a very loud leak. It may be time for a new muffler or maybe just a new exhaust pipe gasket. The Mojave trail is good at vibrating screws. nuts and bolts off.

Something more to check over when the rain stops and the ground drys. It looks like I'm not going anywhere until the fuel delivery system and exhaust gets fixed. Plus I need to replace the drinking water pump switch and I want to disassemble the propane filler connectors & reassemble with new sealant.  Maintenance is never over in a Rover.



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