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1995 Mendo recce not-a-trip
A weekend in the Southern California desert

Recently (Jan 2010), a couple trip reports resurfaced covering a 1995 Mendo group not a trip into the Southern California desert.  The trip reports were from Ben Smith and myself.  I thought I would share them with you to give you a flavour of a 1995 weekend desert trip.


From: (Benjamin Smith)
Subject: Long Range Desert Group Trip Report
Date: 10 Oct 1995

What a weekend! Thrills, chills, gunshots, good people, great beer, excellent trails, and a diverse group of Rovers.

The Long Range Desert Group I involved:
Randy Rose, 1957 Series I 107" Station Wagon
TeriAnn Wakeman, 1960 SII 109" 2 Door Hardtop
Eric and Brigid Cope, "Tipper" (1967 SIIA NADA 109" Station Wagon)
Ben Smith, "Dora" (1972 SIII 88" Hardtop)
Kelly Minnick, 1973 SIII 88" Hardtop
Frank Yap, 1993 NAS Defender 110
Bruce Bonar and Stephanie Changaris, "Spot" (1994 NAS Defender 90)
Rick Larson, 1994 NAS Defender 90
Brian and Stacy Foster, 1995 Discovery
Tom Walsh and Sara Swanson, 1995 Discovery

I spent Friday trying to get things in order. The grand signs that I planned to paint ended up being "Mendo Recce Land Rovers" stenciled on white poster board. (And yes I did make that spelling error as almost everyone pointed out.) Somehow the day passed incredibly quickly so I decided to ignore packing the Rover and to get the signs up (where we were camping looked like any other chunk of desert and so I figured that it would be best of I got there first.

So off I went and started putting up signs. Just as I finished putting up the 3rd of 4 signs I looked to the North and saw an approaching dust cloud. I managed to get the 4th sign up before Bruce, Stephanie and Spot showed up. Not too long after that Tom and Sara showed up. Then I headed home to load the Rover (a sleeping bag and some beer would be nice...) On the way towards home I encountered Randy and his 107" on the way in (those pre SIII/late SIIA headlights are really distinctive). As the night drew on more people came in. We drank beer, looked at the almost full moon, pondered if those that hadn't shown up were really coming and talked into the wee hours of the morn. OK, well, Stephanie and I talked into the the wee hours while everyone else went to sleep.

Saturday dawned and plans were made. After a quick regrouping at the local Walmart parking lot (so that some could get gas and other supplies) we were on the road (about 11am). I was tailend-charlie and had a great view of 9 Rovers in front of me on the road. We drove over towards Trona and Sears Dry Lake Bed (where we paused for a few moments so that Randy could attend to a leaking radiator). Off again for some more pavement miles (making more people kinda stir crazy for the dirt). Eventually, we passed over into Panamint Valley and turned off onto a dirt road headed for the ghost town of Ballarat. (Ballarat isn't really a ghost town anymore, due to the construction of various structures and a general store.)

From there we headed up into Pleasant Canyon. The trail wound around. Soon we pushed through what seemed to be a jungle like setting. The small green trees pressed in from both sides and a shallow stream of water used the gravelly road as a stream bed. It looked like anything but what you would expect from a desert. This part of the road went on for a few hundred feet, scraping the sizes of the Rovers and being pushed aside by the top of my roof rack.

Soon we broke for lunch at an abandoned mine about halfway up the canyon. Lots of abandoned buildings. People explored the buildings and machinery (most had sadly been shot up). We ate lunch on the concrete floor of one of the larger buildings. After lunch we continued on. The road continued to be rocky and rough. Then Eric called over the radio, "TeriaNn, stop. Your rear spring looks funny." We all stopped and called the convoy leaders to come back while we surveyed the damage.

The U-bolts and mounting plate for the right rear spring were completely missing. The right corner hung down, resting on the bump stops while brake fluid dripped off the break drum. Everyone started spouting ideas of how to fix the problem. Eric and someone else walked down the trail to find the missing pieces. A high lift jack appears and the wheel was removed. Eric came back with the missing parts. The U-bolts were both missing a nut and were more or less straight. Well, at least we had the mounting plate. My spares box yielded two used U-bolts (one long and one short). Various people contributed nuts and tools. In fact whenever TeriaNn needed something it appeared. It was an interesting sight to see. Everyone broke out chairs and watched (if TeriaNn had asked, she would have gotten lots of help). Eric smoked a cigar and drank wine. One of the U-bolts fit. TeriaNn re bent one of the straightened ones and re filed the threads. A few turns on the brake line screw resealed the brake lines. Then were were on our way back up the trail.

We continued up and encountered a steep loose rocky uphill section that required 1st gear low and the Rovers seemed to be clawing their way up. The top was a the saddle of a ridge line with a view into Death Valley. Here were stopped and talked.

Kelley mentioned that if we continued on the trail would require driving on some trails with steep drop offs. TeriaNn decided that she wanted to go back the way we came. Frank volunteered to escort her back with his D110. The rest of us continued up along the ridge line More first gear low crawling over loose rocks. The Rovers clawing their way to the top with a most spectacular view of Death Valley on our left. The trail continued on and then turned down via a steep, packed dirt, track with a gully in the middle. I think either the Randy in the 107" or Eric and Brigid in Tipper managed to raise a wheel or two. Since my Rover was kicking out of low range while engine braking I went down using one hand to steer and one to hold the high-low lever (and ended up in the center gully at least once). The downhill track down a hillside covered with low alpine pines and opened up into a flat grassy valley. The road consisted of a fine, talc-like dust which made large dust clouds as we drove by. The trail crossed this flat valley, crossed a low saddle and entered the next valley. Here the trail turned back to the west (the direction that we wanted) and the setting sun. We crossed this grassy, dusty valley and dropped into (I think) South Park Canyon.

The canyon walls grew around us and thick vegetation appeared. In one place we were hard against the right wall of the canyon with the road leaning to the left and an unknown drop off into the small trees. Spot went first. Then Bruce came up to give advice to Eric. Tipper raised a wheel but made it successfully. Then it was my turn. Bruce said no matter what I did, not to stop because you will slide. Off I went in first gear low holding the high-low lever in low. I was going much faster than I liked so I started pumping the brakes lightly like an ABS. The steering got out of control and I chose to stop. True to Bruce's word, I slid sideways a bit. I didn't think it was all that bad. Bruce said that at least one of my wheels came off the ground. He, unbeknownst to me jumped on back and added weight. I continued on without further events. Brian Foster came down right behind me with no problems. I assume that the others had no problems, but I don't know because I pressed on with the front of the convoy.

The trail then descended though pollen laden bushes with lots of yellow flowers. The Rovers had to push the edges of the bushes out of the way as we passed. It was an impressive sight in the late afternoon sun. Then the hard part started. By now the trail was on the left side of the canyon. The canyon floor dropped steeply away on our right. Stephanie had stopped Spot at a turn and waited for the group to catch up. The turn was a nasty one. A left turn with a tilt away from the canyon wall. The inside of the turn was bedrock. The outside had a top layer of chain link fence holding in some smaller rocks. It was about a foot or two wider than a Rover and the drop off was about 100 feet straight down. Just to add a little excitement we knew that a few hundred yards ahead was a bridge that had been build because some drug runners had tried to blow the road. And in the valley below us, some yahoo was shooting at something with what sounded to be a large caliber revolver. None of the rounds came in our direction, but it did add a little uncertainness to the atmosphere.

First up was Spot with Bruce directing and Stephanie driving. There was a little bit of jerking (which made us all the more nervous) from the slop in Spots drive line but Stephanie negotiated the obstacle successfully. (If that doesn't graduate Stephanie to gonzo driver status, I don't know what does). Next up was Eric in Tipper (Brigid chose to watch, in fact I think all of the passengers chose to watch). The turn was tight enough that Eric had to back up once to get a better line. But he got through successfully. Then it was my turn.

Now just to paint a little bit of the picture, I have weak rear springs that cause me to lean more than I should, no axle straps, breaks that require 2 pumps for good breaking (my front shoes won't adjust properly and new brake shoes lock the drum) and I had a bunch of firewood and steel sand mats in the roof rack. So I probably had the greatest odds of going over into the canyon. Now I won't kid anyone who wasn't there. I personally don't think that any occupant of any Rover had much chance of surviving that fall. So I had this huge pit of anxiety in my stomach and a bloodstream full of adrenaline when I started out. I pulled up and looked at Bruce's hands for direction. I eased up on the inner side rock and went for the breaks and clutch so that I could ease my way down the bedrock as I went around the turn. My left foot slid off the clutch and ended up with only my heel holding the clutch down. After a moments pause to make sure that my heart was still beating, I repositioned my foot and finished the problem. I then drove down the trail and over the bridge to where the lead vehicles were waiting. I didn't see up close the others going around that bend but all made it safely under Bruce's guidance. On the part just after the bridge I did get to suck in my breath as Tom Walsh took a turn in his green Disco and I saw the right tyre come within 6 inches to a foot of the edge.

We continued on with no other problems. When we got down the switch backs of this part of the canyon where the person who was shooting was, he was kind enough to stop while we passed him. The sun set, light left us and we exited the canyon. The decent of the canyon's alluvial fan was down many switchbacks in the dark with headlights on. We rejoined TeriaNn and Frank at Ballerat.

After deciding not to drive 45 more minutes in the dark just to get the the hot springs, we followed Rick's lead a few miles to a nearby campsite. Here Frank decided that it was time to head back to civilization. After the goodbyes we settled down for the night. Much talking, eating and beer drinking ensued until the wee hours of the night. (Ok I talked until the wee hours but you all know me by now). The next morning dawned and we set about making a plan.

The consensus was to drive up Surprise Canyon until the first waterfall (which must be winched up). TeriaNn left her 109 in Ballerat (logically not wanting to stress those U-bolts) and rode with Rick in his D90. I ended leading the convoy up away. But I was having so much fun driving the graded dirt road that I missed the turn off into the canyon floor, so Randy took the lead in his 107".

Two of the obstacles on this trail stand out in my mind. The first was a short section where the stream cut a narrow 1+ foot deep channel in the trail so that you had to place one wheel in the stream bed and one on top. I think Tipper was a little light on the upper side so some human ballast was added. We all successfully negotiated the problem but it was a fun one. The next one was about a quarter mile before the first waterfall. It was two foot or so chunk of bedrock that had to be climbed.

Rick went first with his ABR lockers and got up without too much trouble. Then Randy made his attempts with his 107". Bruce was guiding and a lot of us were spotting his undercarriage. When he began to scrap his fuel tank we stopped him. Rick positioned his D90 and we winched Randy and the 107" up. I volunteered to go next.

My first attempt was kinda unnerving. Despite going slow, the front end leaped in the air (some say I lifted the whole front axle) and banged my left front bumper again. I made a couple more attempts (it was hard to see Bruce's hands despite them being above his head). Eventually, I too was winched, but I stopped the whole process when I heard the frame drag. A few back and forths and I then drove out with some light scraping.

Next up was Bruce and Spot. Bruce made a couple attempts all with his lower (right front) wheel spinning as his left side was lifted. So I added ballast on the lower side (in hind sight not the most brilliant of ideas) and Spot climbed his way up.

So the D90s made it up under their own power and the the Series needed to get winched. The Discos, Kelly and Eric chose not to attempt the problem. I guess seeing me smack my bumper was a bit much for the Discos.

It was only about a 1/4 mile to the waterfalls (which would be a long nasty winching session). While some walked up the falls some started down the Canyon (being that it was near 2pm on Sunday and they had a long drive ahead of them). Those of us that had climbed up the rocks had no problem going down and soon all were on their way down.

Back in Panamint Valley most said their goodbyes and took off. Kelly, Bruce, Stephanie and I headed back towards Ridgecrest and had lunch near Trona. On Monday Bruce, Stephanie, and I explored the area near the Cerro Gordo Mine. Some challenging trails, but that's another story.



Date: Wed, 11 Oct 95 16:15:46 -0700
From: "TeriAnn Wakeman" <>
Subject: desert rats - One view

I made it home from the desert run Tues afternoon. Immediately ordered a complete set of new 'U' bolts for the 109.

I hope someone with a better memory than mine does a complete write up on the trip.

If memory serves we had

1 - 107 station wagon
2 - 88s
2 - 109s (1 two door, 1 station wagon)
2 - D90s
1- 110 station wagon
2- Discoverys

Friday evening I was driving South on 395 and past the town of Independence I pulled out the directions I packed "instructions for those going South on 395"

I knew I was getting into trouble when the turn off from 395 was go South East South (oops its dark, the road had curved a few times and I didn't pack my compass) The instructions DID include an alternate exit with left eight directions for those who missed the first exit. OK I'll take that one to make sure I'm going the correct direction. next...refer to previous directions for the final section? Oops, I only took the page with the 395 South instructions. The previous directions were sitting on my desk at work!

I decided i had gone too far to turn around & decided to make one search for a sign of some sorts then part near the front of the last road on the assumption that someone was behind me with the missing instructions.

There was some confusion with the last road. It had one name on the sign post at the entrance we were instructed to take and another at the one Ben normally took. After some confusion & map searching at the gas station, I left word at the gas station for any who might be following and confused and took a run down the road looking for a hint of where the turnoff might be.

Luckily, Ben had anticipated people like me and placed a series of signs along the dirt road starting at the turn off the pavement. Thanks Ben. I followed them in and picked up someone on the radio just before headlights came on up the hill showing the camp's location.

Saturday morning we packed up and headed out. i never knew there was that much water on the edge of Death Valley or that I would find myself driving up a stream in lush vegetation in the desert. Mud for my new Mud Terrains!

As we crawled up the canyon we passed several mines and stopped at one that looked like it was used for target practice by a jillion people with guns who loved nothing better than shooting up the stuff left behind.

Nearing the pass I got a call from Eric who was driving behind me saying my right rear seemed a trifle low. I stopped the car & took a look. The right rear body rubber bumper was sitting on the axle housing. The leaf spring was dangling below the axle housing, still attached at each end. The 'U' bolts were not on the car. Eric remembered seeing a piece of mining junk on the road not far behind and went back to find it. He came back with my straightened 'U' bolts and the bottom plate. Ben had a pair of used 'U' bolts in his spares pile (amazing what he carries). One was too short & the other would do. So I set to work jacking up the body then jacking up the axle to meet the leaf spring. The mod I made to my rear frame to allow me use a hi-lift at the rear corner came in VERY handy.

Meanwhile... After making sure I had all the tools i needed and all the Relafen available from the group, everyone got out chairs and brews and took a break to watch my repairs. With only one replacement 'U' bolt, I took the best of the bent ones and re bent it into the proper shape and re filed the threads so a nut would go on.

The 'U' bolts that came apart were evidently aftermarket. They were about 25% smaller in diameter than the bolts on the other side, had SAE fine threads and seemed to be of soft steel. The threads were worn away by a nut being forced down over the threads without turning. I made the repairs got the car off the jacks, and just as I was getting ready to take a root beer out of the cooler & sit back with the others for a rest, everyone was packing up to continue on. grumble.

Thanks to everyone who contributed tools, parts and support to my repair effort. it was appreciated. I didn't mind everyone hanging out while I fixed the Green Rover since there was only enough space for one person to work on her, but I sure could have appreciated. 5 or 6 minutes to rest before going on.

We went up another mile or so and stopped at the pass overlooking Death Valley. There we got a farther description of the trail ahead. Not dealing well with drop offs and having a weak repair I opted to turn the Green Rover around and head back down the canyon we came up, only this time at a slower pace. Frank in his 110 came along just in case my field repair didn't hold.

The trip down was delightful. Seeing the same trail from the other direction and under afternoon lighting was almost like going a different way but still knowing what was ahead. Since we turned around at the half way point, went slower and stopped a few times for pictures we expected to reach the general store at the bottom of the canyon behind the main group. We got down about 15 minutes after the sun dropped behind the mountains and didn't see a sign of the main group. In the hour and a half or so that we waited for the main group, we drank the store out of ale (they had one left but it sounds better to say we drank them out) and I started on the root beer. Then I started hearing Kelley &Bruce on the radio.

The locals at the store said the rest of the trail was un passable without bending panels on a granite outcropping. Well no panels were bent but there were a lot of very tense people who kept telling me that I made the right decision to turn around. It seemed that just before the makeshift bridge out over nowhere that people had to be spotted over, there was a bend on the face of a cliff that had a granite outcropping that they had to drive over. The outcropping evidently tilted the cars enough to make people very concerned about the Rovers tipping over & going down the cliff. Bridget said that she got out and walked that area because they thought the kids should have at least one living parent. Well, I'm sure its an event that will stick in people's minds, but I'm very glad I missed that one. We'd still be up there. Or at least the cars behind me.

Sunday, I opted out of driving the Green Rover up the next canyon because of the weak repair & hitched a ride in the Black D90. It was my first ride in one. Exciting puppies those. And I was very impressed by those ARB lockers. Watching Bruce try to take Spot over a rock without it then doing it with the lockers in, sure made a difference. The last obstacle was taken by the two locker equipped D90s. The 107 and Ben's 88 all needed to be winched up after unsuccessfully trying it on their own. Ben tried unsuccessfully to make an easier path by pushing a granite cliff out of the way, but just managed to move some steel and aluminum. The other cars opted out. Probably because of the time it was taking to get each car up and the time of day.

I've decided that those Discoverys are amazing off road cars. If they just had taller tyres & more ground clearance they would be unstoppable.

The group broke apart after the run with people heading home individually. Sunday night I stopped at a motel in Lone Pine go get a bath and wash my hair. Saw a show on dinosaur hunting in Africa that featured four 110 station wagons in full expedition regalia. Next morning before starting out, I caught an Australian cartoon that featured a 109 pickup. Well you know I don't have a television at home connected to a cable or antenna and tend to get a little crazy when I get around one.

In Lee Vining Monday, I ran across a guy in a brown 88 who was all excited about all the Land Rovers he had been seeing. Why he recently had a chance to chat with a couple in a dark green 109 station wagon names Eric & Bridget.

Since Nick was going to bring home brew & didn't take any beer. A mistake since Nick couldn't make it because his chick was sick. Don't remember seeing chickens in the yard when I visited though. That lazy bugger Jimmy was too lazy to drive down to the Southern desert and pass out Desert rat patrol event placards to the participants. I'm sure he had valid reasons, but I do like his artwork. Kelley made the mistake of having me hold his camera while he was spotting cars on Sunday. He'll have a few surprises on the roll when he gets it developed. I don't care how good his 107 or driving skills are, there is something basically wrong about  someone coming on a desert trip with only pop tarts and an thawed out frozen boretos to eat!

It was amazingly brave for anyone to bring a new discovery still without plates on this run. It was interesting to seeing 107, 109, and 110 station wagons and Discovery four door all side by side. Evolution.

So are there any canyons bordering the west side of Death Valley that do no have a creek flowing down the middle? Just curious. I thought it was supposed to be a desert.   Anyone know if Range Rovers ever go off road? Amazing trip Ben & Kelley! My thanks!


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