Words and Photos by Mark Williams for PickupTrucks.com
Mark Williams is road tripping 1,500 miles through the heart of the American Southwest in a custom Suzuki Equator. Follow Mark's driving adventure as he blogs from the highway.
Not quite sure how it happened, but after getting unstuck from a riverbed back in New Mexico (Broad Canyon) and on my drive through Arizona, I realized that I was really behind schedule. Pretty sure I didn’t plan on being in Texas for three days, but somewhere along the way, I lost an entire day. No matter; all that meant was my itinerary needed to be modified. With one night left, I’d rather not spend it in a generic hotel, especially since I’ve got a tent with me.
Unfortunately, that meant sweeping through Phoenix, cutting across the desert to Kingman. (My hope was to visit the old cowboy town of Oatman and explore a few mining roads.) However, if I pushed through the night, I could make it to the backside of the Salton Sea, where I know there are some interesting 4x4 trails. After a long afternoon and night of driving, my only question was exactly where I’d end up sleeping.
The next morning, at sunrise, was a bit of a surprise. Navigating at night turned out to be a good thing, since I probably would have been a little nervous with how close to the edge of the trail I parked the Suzuki. But the morning view was spectacular. I’m sure the sunrise was gorgeous, but my exhaustion after the caffeine ran out and the fact the tent is pretty dark inside meant I didn’t wake up well after sunup. Again, what a view.
This area is an odd expanse of open-use land where many off-road clubs have been coming for decades. The desert landscape sits at the base of the Chocolate Mountains with the Salton Sea (elevation is 227 feet below sea level) covering about 370 square miles right out the front doorstep. The area offers amazing 4x4 trails and tons of open canyons and hilltops to explore. To the north is Joshua Tree National Park; to the east is the Salton Sea and Colorado Desert; to the south is Mexico; and to the west is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Ocotillo State Vehicular Recreation Area. Unfortunately, my trip was near the end.
After a leisurely walk around the hilltops, I packed up the tent (took me just 17 minutes this time) and set out toward the Salton Sea. Fifteen minutes later, I was at the water’s edge where things can look a little odd. It obviously takes a special type of person to live here. This area is cozy and humble in its own way; there are an awful lot of mobile homes. And I can’t think of any lakes in California where you can follow the signs to the marina and pull up onto the beach. A warning note: The ground that looks like compacted sand is really tons and tons of dead barnacles and ancient sea life, and it’s quite loose to drive on, especially near the water’s edge. Also, we’re told that if you go for a swim, you’ll float like a bobbing cork.
Certainly this is an amazing way to finish a 1,500-mile-plus trip. In two hours we’d be pulling into our driveway and topping off our ninth tank of fuel. Astute readers will calculate that right around 14 mpg. Not amazing by any stretch, but considering all the extra weight we’re hauling around, the aggressive tires and my penchant toward “enthusiastic” driving, maybe it’s not so bad after all. I’ll have more details in a future road test of the Equator down the road. For now, thanks for following us on our travels — thankfully, no disasters.
We started out these updates-from-the-road saying there’s nothing like a road trip, and that’s probably because, if done right, a road trip will always leave you different by the end of the adventure. I know I’ve seen things I’ve never seen before and driven in places I’ll never forget. If that means I’m changed, so be it. Now it’s time for you to start planning your next road trip.