Offroading in Black Dragon Canyon

Julie and I are intentionally doing more offroading to gain experience points with our van.

Our van inside Black Dragon Canyon Our van inside Black Dragon Canyon

We feel like the stakes are a bit higher for us than someone taking out their Toyota truck or Jeep for a day trip. This is our home, we have a lot of stuff in it that needs to function for us to live comfortably, and the van is heavy (weighing in at almost 10,000 lbs loaded) so recovery would be a challenge if got into a dicey situation.

There’s also some literal shakedown still happening with the van: on our return from Arizona to Napa two weeks ago we went out on a washboard road for some exploring and to overnight at a BLM campground. The next day we noticed the interior temperature sensor was stuck at 32 deg, a big problem as it rendered the heating system inoperable. 32 deg essentially meant “can’t get a temp reading”. Fortunately we would be out of the van for a few days to diagnose. My first thought was that the thermistor / temperature sensor was bad, so I ordered a couple replacements along with a multimeter to test. The thermistor was fine.

Next theory was that something was wrong with the A/C unit so I spent a morning dismantling the interior cover and behold there was a power wire that had broken loose, probably during our rough driving. This van is supposed to be able to handle that, so we are a bit disappointed that such a failure would happen but it was an easy fix. I redid the wiring there, and we also relocated the thermistor to move it off the spot directly above where we cook. One thing we do appreciate is that we’ve found most elements easy to find and diagnose when something seems off. So far we’ve had to fix a furnace fuel line, replace a glycol pump in the furnace and hot water system, and repair this wiring. Our biggest repair was an inverter replacement which we had done by Volta in their HQ town of Holland Michigan.

onX Offroad app onX Offroad app

Back to offroading: I re-subscribed to the onX Offroad app after a disappointing first experience to find that the app has improved quite a bit. Based on this trip we feel like we can handle moderate / “5 level” difficulty. We created a start and end checklist to use and are starting to internalize the process a bit more. Still, checklists are very useful and good to stick to for this sort of activity. The class we took last year has been a great help.

Julie airing down the tire Julie airing down the tire

We started by airing down the tires: rear to about 35 PSI, front to 25 PSI. At the same time we adjusted the suspension to the loosest / bounciest; we’ve been having high winds on the freeway so had been driving with the tightest (level 3) suspension setting. Additionally we turn off the automatic transmission traction control as it can take power away just when you need it.

Varnish rock art Varnish rock art

The road was a typical easy to ride desert trail as we made our way to the first rock art site, a 2.5 mile roundtrip walk to see an arch and some beautiful rock varnish petroglyphs.

Next up we entered the Black Dragon Canyon proper and things got more interesting, with the road wandering in and out of the canyon wash with many more rocks.

Pictograph in the canyon Pictograph in the canyon

Inside the canyon we found a variety of pictographs near a designated day parking area. There were some hikers finishing up a visit, and on our way back there was a pack of Toyota vehicles enjoying the same road. Within a quarter mile from this stop the road became much more challenging, so after a few difficult rock crawls and hill climbs we turned the van around, switched drivers, and returned to find an overnight camping spot. We love combining these offroad adventures with an overnight.