Alone in the Sandbox 
  North San Diego County, December 5, 2004 

Here we are - my friend Mike's only got two days left this side of Atlantic, and we haven't left the pavement once. The place of choice - our beloved sandbox, Los Coyotes Indian Reservation. The weather was just right - raining cats and dogs, and, given how cold it is outside half a mile from shore and 100ft above sea level, should be decent snow there.
After much deliberation, I decided that I didn't want to torture myself watching the Big Yellow Jeep's oil gauge needle bouncing off the lower limiter (and the thought of having to unload a Range Rover axle sitting in its back), and the Discovery would have to do. The jack and steel wheels wrapped with mud tires come out from the dark, and half an hour later, off we went. Left home were hi-lift jack, 2-ton chain come-along, and shovel. Over the years, I've noticed getting stuck in snow EVERY time I left shovel home - leaving it home wasn't a good sign.

Two hours later, we cross the gate to the no-no land. There's snow, all right. Cold enough for nobody to collect our $15 for entrance; I don't bother airing down, for no serious wheeling is planned - and I don't want to lose yet another tire or two.

The campground (at about 3500 ft) looks quite benign - very quiet, about 1" of fresh snow on the ground. Snow's coming down noticeably thicker, though. We head up the "Quiet" road, towards the top of the Hot Springs Mountain.

Very soon, less than 500ft up, it hit me that for every minute I drove up, I'd pay five minutes on the way back. The snow wasn't that deep - about 3"-6", wet and incredibly slippery. All roads are off-camber (Indians graded them this way, to facilitate water run-off), and there are enormous, 1-3 foot deep ruts, along the lower sides of the roads. One wrong twitch of the right foot, and your rear end is in the rut - and since there was nobody in the reservation besides us, it would mean a very long cold walk home.

It was difficult enough going up - I only made it about ~100-150 ft past the upper exit from the Left Turn Hill, and slid into one of the smaller ruts. Got outside to see how deep that rut was, and almost fell down - could not stand on that slope! Getting out of this rut was actually simple - cut the front wheels across the road, and goose the thin pedal. The gravity would turn the truck around in a couple of seconds. After letting a sigh of relief, I headed down... To realise that going down was a whole lot more fun - 2nd low was way too fast, and there was not enough traction to sustain engine braking in the 1st low. Forget about the brake pedal - a mere thought of using it would send the rear end sideways. A funny moment there - in the middle of one of those descents, my cell phone rang - my beloved wife wanted to know where the hell were we. I admit not having wrapped up the call very politely - just threw the phone on the floor. On top of all these traction issues, snow started coming down pretty hard, and the clouds came down to about 4500 ft. Visibility about 1/8 of a mile.

Ok, thoroughly defeated on a mild dirt road that your grandma's Buick would do any day, I came back to the campground and headed towards Four Corners. In our brave snow past, I once had to use 1st low in the jeep to get through the last 100 yards or so - but with no ruts and no fear of getting stuck, and another very capable vehicle behind.

Guess what, we've only made it to about 300 yards from Four Corners. Very embarrassing - but the thought of testing the limits of our vehicle wasn't very appealing. In fact, I now think I could see the limits of our vehicle - about 100 feet ahead from where it got stuck. Given the available amount of assistance - two manpower with one behind the wheel - I executed a "manually-assisted" one-point U-turn, and we headed out.

We left Los Coyotes (smart Indian kids caught up with me in a pickup truck on our way out, and claimed their $15), with an intent to hit Coyote Creek in Anza-Borrego. Got hosed again - S22 was closed off: chains required, no exceptions. S2 was still open, despite a brand new Ford pickup resting its rear end on top of the dune buggy it had apparently been towing, in the ditch. There was snow coming down in Anza Borrego as well! We turned right on CA 78 towards Julian - probably, within minutes of it being closed for through traffic - a cop went down with the lights flashing as we were taking quick shots of desert flora under snow. 78 was a bit of fun on itself - once I missed a snowplow coming down by about a foot. Hwy.79 to Cuyamaca was closed, let alone Sunrise Hwy.

Julian was near-empty - imagine being able to park right in front of Julian Café and getting seated immediately, among few other souls. By the time we were done with the pie and coffee, you could barely see the end of the block in Julian because of snow and fog. Hwy.78/79 from Santa Ysabel to Julian was already closed to the traffic into Julian. Snow only changed to rain halfway down the grade leading to Santa Ysabel.

In the retrospect - thank God we didn't take the jeep with chains; I imagine us hosed on Dangerous Rd., or in the rut somewhere between Dangerous Rd. and the top of the mountain, or, worse yet, Creek Rd... Brrrrr....
Sounds like fun to make tracks in fresh snow! Looks like we ain't going any further... Mike not happy... Now that we've already ruined the snow, let's retrace our steps back. Main road, 300 yards from the 4 Corners. So close, yet so far! Turning around took some manpower. Any way NOT to fall into the same ruts? 10 minuts later - I wish I could see my own tracks! Down on the flat ground. The forest under snow is strikingly beautiful. This is a color photo! OK, another pos[t]er photo. Oak tree of the day Anza-Borrego desert - under snow Near Banner Grade - just before the road was closed More of desert flora under snow Julian, CA - ground to a standstill. Chains required, no exceptions - on ALL roads going into Julian.