Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Caliente Camp Part 8: Getting Out of Pennsylvania Canyon

While driving through Pennsylvania Canyon last summer, I was keen to find some really good examples of the soft, loose sand we had gotten stuck in 30+ years ago. Well, guess what? The 2005 flooding of the area, along with whatever else had happened to the wash in 30+ years, had firmed up the roadbed. The worst places were loose but not too loose: though the sand pushed me around some, especially in turns, it would have been difficult to get stuck in 2WD, not that I really tried.

The wide, sandy area that snagged our truck in 1978 looked a lot like the picture below, a picture taken more than 1.5 miles downstream from our getting-stuck site. Back then, the central driving area of the wash was all sand, the soft, sandy area was much wider than our truck tracks, and the sand was free of any stabilizing plants. It was the kind of sand that makes walking uphill difficult, and difficulty in walking- whether uphill or down, whether through mud, snow, or sand - is a good sign that one might need 4WD, not that we stopped and checked.

Pennsylvania Canyon still contains considerable sand, but most of it is peripheral to the active channel (AKA main roadbed) and elevated above it - as in this photo where sand piles can be seen on the right, and sand ledges or partially eroded banks can be seen way to the left (click to enlarge). It looks like flash flooding over the years has removed a lot of sand and caused about two to five feet of downcutting.

*** *** *** *** ***

What would Pete and I do, now that one of our two trucks was stuck in the sand? Well, first off, notice that I said, "one of two." We were lucky enough to have two trucks, and one wasn't stuck! Whew!

Floyd was still in sampling mode and making his way slowly down the wash, so Pete and I set about seeing if we could figure out how to get the two-wheel drive truck upstream through the sand. Pete had a great idea: we would go to the prospect area we had checked out earlier and see if we could find some rope. For some unknown reason, our trucks were not equipped with gear for getting unstuck. Maybe we could scrounge something.

We drove up the side drainage in our good, 4WD truck. All we found around the old mining camp was the spool of copper wire we had already noted, no rope. We debated the options. I felt uncomfortable taking what surely must be someone’s wire. We were, after all, not in any kind of dire straits: we had one perfectly good truck. We could drive it back to camp, get towing gear, and come back for the truck. But we were a little worried about wasting too much time or getting in trouble for getting stuck. We took the wire to use in lieu of a tow rope.

Our first couple attempts at towing the 2WD truck with the 4WD truck using the thick copper wire were pretty unsuccessful - we made a few feet each time before the wire stretched thin and broke. So we backed the good, 4WD truck down the wash until its back bumper was right against the front bumper of the bad, 2WD truck, then wrapped the copper wire tight around both bumpers, around and around several times. With the wire wrapped this way, it held as we made it slowly through the sand, until we were finally on solid ground. We still didn’t know if the crippled truck would make it up that last hill below the distant saddle, but we would have to give it a shot. With me driving one truck and Pete driving the other - the bad truck in the rear in case we had to ditch it - we continued up the main canyon, keeping our eyes open for the still sampling Floyd.

After meeting up with Floyd and helping him finish the sampling of his part of Pennsylvania Canyon, we drove both trucks up and over the saddle, down into the northern drainage, past Tepee Rocks, through Caliente, and back to camp. Stuart had walked into camp by the time we got there. We now had a truck that would not go into four-wheel drive, and the nearest Ford dealer was in Ely, a good two to three hours away. That truck sat in the Ely shop for several weeks before the right part arrived - they kept getting the wrong part from Salt Lake City. And it turned out that Stuart had not been at fault that one day in Kane Springs Valley - one hub had been put together backward at the factory, so repair was covered by warrantee.
A northerly view from below Ella Mountain Lookout, looking toward the next camp area near the Nevada-Utah border.

Related Posts listed at The Caliente and Caliente Camp Series.


Anonymous said...

Your adventure with the truck stuck in the sand reminds me of the time I got a (2WD) pickup stuck in sand in a gravel pit in northern Alberta, while trying to get to an outcrop. Lucky for me (I was alone) someone had left some 2x4 planks nearby, so I was able to jack up the rear wheels, then slide planks under them, drive ahead 8 feet, then repeat the process 3 or 4 times until I reached solid ground--tedious and time-consuming, but it saved my butt!


Silver Fox said...

Yes, there are a lot of ways to get unstuck (and probably more ways to get stuck) - having good gear helps, and I used to carry boards and other stuff like carpet strips in the desert. It's usually easier when not alone...