Altar Dunes Day 1: 11/04/2000

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Leaving the US for Sonora

The San Diego mogs left for the rally point in Yuma, AZ on Friday evening and the group assembled in the Sans End RV park in Winterhaven, CA just north of Yuma. The photo below shows all three Unimogs in the trailer park just prior to departure for the border.  From left to right, Kai Serrano's 416, Dan Johnson's 1300L and Bill Caid's 1300L.

The first stop was at San Luis del Colorado, the border crossing into the Mexican state of Sonora.  The crossing was simple, but time consuming.  There is a requirement to get turist visas when visiting mainland Mexico (this is NOT the case for Baja, as no visa are required).  The cost for the visas was 170 pesos per person, about $20, payable at the Banco Bital, several blocks from the tourist control point.  So, you had to have the paperwork done at the border, surrender your passport, walk to the bank, pay the fee, get the correct stamp on the paper, walk back to the control point to get your passport.  Then, we had to get liability insurance for my 1300.  All the paperwork took about an hour.  Below is a view down a side street next to the bank.  Having 3 mogs right next to the border crossing generated a lot of attention.  Attention that was making me quite nervous.  Dan's truck had a closed canopy back.  This, in and of itself, generated substantial interest on the part of the customs inspector.  Once he was let inside, and saw that all we had was camping items, his interest subsided.  He did, however, ask if we were transporting gasoline into the country.  Seems that they will tax any gas that is not in the main tank.  Diesel was OK, but gas was taxed.  They never inspected my truck (open canopy) nor did they inspect Kai's.  They never saw the 20 gallons of gas that I had for my ATV.  While I would be happy to pay the tax, this would have added another hour to the time required to cross the border.

There was substantial traffic at the border crossing, as can be seen below.  The whole area was alive with pedestrian traffic and people shopping near the crossing.

 After changing some dollars into pesos and eating dangerously (that is buying tacos made of some as of yet undetermined meat-like substance), we headed off to the trail head.  In error, we passed the last Pemex station without getting diesel.  This was because the trail head was supposed to be next to a "truck stop" called Cesar's.  Since this was a "truck stop", I assumed that it would have diesel.  But, the term "truck stop" means a cafe, not a fuel stop.  We made it through 2 check points, got to the trail head, and then realized that we would have to make the 20 mile trip back to San Luis to fill up with diesel.  All told, we went through 6 checkpoints and wasted 90 minutes.  On the return from the Pemex, I was pulled over by the San Luis Police.  I was sure that this was going to be a shakedown, but was suprised when I discovered that all he wanted to do was ask about the mog.  The officer never asked for the registration, visa or anything else.  He did, however, want to look at the truck very carefully.  The most frequent comment was "muy fuerte" which, loosely translated, meant "very powerful".  Seems that the mogs had developed a fan club in San Luis.

We finally made it to the trail head around noon.  It was windy, overcast and raining lightly.

After airing down to about 13 psi, we headed south.  At first the road was a set of tracks that were in good condition.  The tracks headed to the southeast, the high dunes visible in the distance.

Note in the photo above, that the largest dunes (and in fact most of the dunes) were of the "razorback" variety.  This type of dune has steep faces on both sides, usually at the maximum angle of repose.  Razorbacks make for scary driving for once you cross the top, you have no visibility of what is below you.  This is in spite of the short hood of the mog and better than average downward visibility. And traversing the razorbacks can produce some heart-stopping excitement.  In the photo below, Dan's truck got stuck on the top of a razorback.  His difflock was not fully functional, so he became stuck at a most inopportune point.  He recovered with Kai's careful spotting, pride and Unimog intact.

As we got further from the trail head, the dunes got bigger and bigger.  The photo below shows a zoom view from the top of a dune to the vehicles below.

The photo below is the same view, but zoomed out so the expanse of the dune field becomes apparent.  The dunes were huge, they make Glamis look tame by comparison.  They go for hundreds of miles to the east.

We were using the GPS for navigation, taking a nearly direct path toward El Gulfo.  As we threaded our way through the massive dunes, we saw a particularly large dune on the horizon and set our course toward it.  As we got closer, we noticed that there was a large steel cross near the top of the dune.

The approach to the cross was very steep and required airing down to 9 psi to make the hill.  As we got to the cross itself, we discoverd that someone, in addition to moving a substantial amount of heavy steel and concrete across the sand and erecting the cross itself, had installed a Forest Service type bbq grill.  What these two have in common, if anything is as mysterious as the motivations behind the installers.

The view from the cros was breath taking.  In the photo above, we are looking toward the northeast.  The mountains in the distance are the Tinajas Altas range right on the Mexican border and are perhaps 50 miles distant.  There is constant sand between us an the Tinajas range, in the form of dunes or "tundra" (sand with small hillocks of vegitation that make for a really rough ride).  The razorback just above the cross is the highest point for many tens of miles.  The photo below shows the view to the east of the cross.

As the light faded, we made camp in the hard pan area just to the south of the cross.  This was a relatively sheltered area on the lee side a big star dune .  In the photo below, Matt is helping set up camp.  Kathleen, however, is driving the lounge chair.

Seen from the ridge above, Camp 1 and the surrounding dunes make a mockery of the works of man.  In the photo below, the view is looking to the north over the star dune.  The cross is just below the skyline near the upper right of the photo.

The weather was kind to us.  The winds died down and the dust settled.  Dinner was steak, beans, beers and cocktails.  As night fell, Matt noticed that the driver side front tire was not holding air.  This required me to fill the tire to 30 psi to survive the night.  As we will see later, this tire will cause me much grief and put our lives in jeopardy.

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