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2008 Toyota Sequoia Review

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  • SEE ALSO: Toyota Sequoia Specs, Pics and Prices - Toyota Buyers Guide
    Another Mystical Tour
    By Steve Purdy
    Detroit Bureau

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    I’ve explored the desert around Las Vegas many times with my friend Mojave Moses but my pretty blonde has not. So, we’ve arranged a road test of Toyota’s big second-generation Sequoia SUV as an excuse to acclimate her to this unique and beautiful environment. The Toyota Sequoia is a body-on-frame design based on the new Toyota Tundra pickup featuring independent suspension all around, huge 20-inch tires and plenty of off-road capability, should we need some.

    We left bitterly cold Michigan with morning temps hovering in the single digits arriving in Las Vegas a few hours later where temps approached 60-degrees with intermittent rain clouds and sunshine. Once away from the airport a soft, sweet, flowery, aroma filled the air. The rare blessing of rain allows everything to take a deep breath in the dry lands. Here in the city the aroma is flowery but in the desert the rain releases the intense aroma of the common creosote bush.

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    Our soft gray Indiana-built Toyota Sequoia awaited us at our resort in the city so we wasted no time unpacking and heading out of town to rendezvous with our guide in little village of Blue Diamond, about 20 miles southwest of Las Vegas in the Cottonwood Valley. As we turned south onto Rainbow Boulevard a vivid, vertical rainbow presented itself to welcome us – an omen for the adventure, perhaps.

    Mojave Moses, his lovely wife Nancy, teenaged daughter Sophie, and blue-eyed cat Frankie greeted us graciously in the yard of their nature-loving home at the edge of the village with a dramatic view of the golden escarpment to the north. All were impressed, or perhaps amazed, with the size of our Sequoia, which resembles a bulbous GMC Yukon. Toyota Sequoia’s soft contours make it look even bigger than it is, I think. Sophie asked if it had its own zip code. With three rows of seating (2+2+3) it appears cavernous inside – one of the most generous three-row systems I’ve seen. The third row – where Sophie parked herself – is more easily accessible than most. That third row goes up and down, to and from its fully flat position, with just the touch of a button. A second button reclines the third seat’s back in case one wants to nap back there. With second and third rows folded we have an amazing 120.8 cubic-feet of cargo space. With just the third row down we have 79.4 cubic-feet. Behind the third row is 28.4 cubic-feet, more than the average car trunk.

    We went for burgers and salads at Bonnie Springs, a local favorite rustic resort nestled all by itself into the desert valley near Red Rock Park, just a few miles down the road from Blue Diamond. As we walked through the door into the dark bar/restaurant the smell of a wood fire reminds us it’s even winter here. In addition to the restaurant Bonnie Springs boasts a hotel and a little zoo - or perhaps we should call it a private animal collection - where I’ve had the pleasure of photographing the wildlife on previous trips.

    Back in Blue Diamond after dinner we swung by Mojave Moses’ neighbor Terry’s home where he had his 8-inch-reflector telescope in the yard watching the lunar eclipse. The sky sparkled with stars as the light from Las Vegas was reflecting into a fluffy cloud bank hovering over Blue Diamond Mountain. The moon glowed softly in the shadow of the earth with a light caramel color. Soon a small group of Blue Diamonders had gathered in Terry’s yard to admire the night. It was so quiet there that we could hear the bray of the wild burros outside of town.

    On the way back to our condo in the city my pretty blonde and I cruised the infamous Las Vegas strip. She had not seen it in about 25 years so it was very different than she remembered. The term flash and pizzazz doesn’t begin to describe the exaggerated theme-based architecture, built on an unimaginable scale. Throngs of folks plied the walkways streaming in and out of the casinos, attractions and shops like so many ants in a trance. I prefer the desert.

    Our Toyota Sequoia was one of the largest and most impressive cruisers on The Strip. With the enhanced trucky nose and flashy chrome surround of a Toyota Tundra pickup, Toyota Sequoia is large, luxurious SUV. We felt like ostentatious locals motoring those few miles up and down The Strip sitting high above most of the traffic. Huge tires encircle beautiful 20-inch, 10-spoke polished aluminum wheels, stylish running boards allow us easier ingress and egress, and soft but attractive lines certainly impress the neighbors. A modest spoiler emerges from the top of the unadorned rear gate. We pulled up next to an older Sequoia and the difference was subtle but certain. This one is bigger.

    Did I mention this Toyota Sequoia is big? It has a curb weight of three tons, towing capacity of 9,100 pounds and Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 7,300 pounds - but it does not have a brutish character. The independent rear suspension abrogates some of the potential truckiness and the plush interior appointments make it feel like a luxury cruiser.

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    Speaking of scale we also found time to visit one of the engineering wonders of the world, Hoover Dam. Built during the early days of the Great Depression it took only four years to construct this amazing structure, so massive and so important that it tamed the mighty Colorado River which drains or hydrates a quarter of the US land mass. Even though it generates massive amounts of electricity the dam was not built for that purpose. Rather its reason d’etre was to control the mighty river’s flow for irrigation, flood protection and water provision so that the entire southwest could be developed and populated. The reservoir, called Lake Mead, may be down 80 feet right now but those volumes are cyclical. The dam was overflowing 20 years ago.

    The drive to the dam gave us an opportunity to experience the Toyota Sequoia’s highway manners. Not bad at all for such a massive cruiser. Acceleration is smooth and impressive, although it seemed to groan a bit ascending the steeper slopes. I had to downshift manually a few times. We’re cooking along on 5.7-liters of V8 power. With dual overhead cams, and variable valve timing we’re making 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. The sophisticated six-speed automatic transmission can be managed manually and we had to do that regularly in the mountains since it did not want to shift by itself when I thought it should. Rated at 13-mpg in the city and 18 on the highway we managed an average of 15.1 with our tank-and-a-half of mixed use.

    Visibility is excellent with the large outside mirrors and high seating position. Pillars are relatively unobtrusive. A back up camera integrated into the navigation screen assists whenever we’re in reverse. Generous seating with an expansive front center console gives us a living room feel inside.

    We have come for the traditional Mojave Mystical Tour. Mojave Moses, who has been a part of the desert environment for more than 25 years, shares his view of this physical and spiritual ecosystem with a select few. In this case our time is limited so we’ll just have a nice drive and hike out into the Amargosa Valley which lies parallel to and just east of Death Valley. “Driving in the desert can be a meditative experience. It is a passage to a place of being – in this case the Mojave, a wonderful place to be,” said our guide. “And getting there is part of the meditation.”

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    We turn off the main road (Highway 160) to Pahrump on the road to Tecopa. A brief stop for a hike up a sharp but small wash reveals the ideal natural environment for the barrel cactus. Steep cliffs of colorful igneous and sedimentary rocks show cracks and fissures where the cactus can secure its roots and hold on for dear life. A little pile of coyote scat reminds us that desert wildlife is abundant here as well, though usually not obvious by day.

    A few miles down the road a rocky two-track winds up a small slope to an observation point where we are treated to panoramic views of both the Pahrump and Amargosa Valleys. We engage the 4-wheel drive with the push of a button on the dash, trigger the softest of our three ride options, and raise the ride height with another button. Nancy comments from the back seat what a comfortable feel this thing has even on this off-road trail. This Toyota Sequoia Platinum comes with adjustable ride height (10 inches is standard) and locking differential. Even a Buddhist monk, we think, would approve of this truck’s civilized off-road personality. And, there at Immigrant Pass even the Dali Lama might become weak-kneed at the sight of the colorful desert views with the snow-covered Telescope Peaks to the west and 12,000-foot Mt. Charleston (local desert rats call it “Charlie”) to the east.

    Toyota Sequoia, by the way, comes in three iterations beginning with the entry level SR5 with a base price of $34,150, then the mid level LTD at $45,255 and this Platinum at $52,375. The 4-wheel drive is optional on all. Our tester stickers out at $58,930 with the optional rear seat entertainment system and a few other small options.

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    Just before the tiny village of Tecopa we turn off following the signs to China Ranch, a spot just being discovered by city dwellers wanting a bit of desert culture. China Ranch is an oasis along a spring and stream bed where enterprising folks (originally a Chinese family) grow a variety of dates. In the newly opened gift shop we can choose from more than a half dozen varieties of chewy, sweet, fresh-off-the-tree dates. And, they serve an out-of-this-world date milk shake. Yummmm.

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    Out back and down the gently descending steam bed an easy hiking path leads us into an ecosystem we can’t experience anywhere else. On our right and across the stream bed to our left are massive formations of interspersed rock and caliche (ancient, solidified mud) a hundred feet high sculpted by the elements into shapes and designs suggestive of whatever aesthetic form one is inspired to see. I see faces therein. On our left the wet stream bed fans out into a grove, perhaps a hundred yards wide, of rust, brown and sage-green wetland flora in its winter glory.

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    The path leads to the washed out railroad bed paralleling the Amargosa River that once served the mines in the area. We hiked up the gravelly wash, or dry river bed, a tributary of the Amargosa River, and within a half mile entered a narrow rock crevasse taking us literally into a rock cliff. Eerie light reflects off the vertical rocks. A few hundred feet in a pile of bus-sized boulders blocked our progress so we had to turn around.

    By the time we hiked out and back to the parking lot at China Ranch we were ready for lunch. We sat on the tail of the Toyota Sequoia under the rear hatch (one that does not rise quite as high as it should, I thought) and snacked on a few fresh dates while changing our shoes.

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    Down the road in Shoshone the incongruous eatery called Café C’est Si Bon was our lunch destination. Mojave Moses, a floral designer as well as a desert guide, had brought a fistful of birds of paradise for his friend David, the owner. I say incongruous because we wouldn’t expect a six-table café in a tiny desert town, perhaps 70 miles from any population center to serve the kinds of thoughtful and natural foods we found. David Wash, proprietor, chef and pal of Mojave Moses, brought us plates of fresh fruit, unusual cheeses and homemade breads to whet our appetites. Then we had crepes with fresh buffalo mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and fresh cilantro. Out back David introduced us to his beautiful black pig named Pizza who rooted around the pen as David tossed fistfuls of grain in for him.

    Across the road from the eatery an interesting desert phenomenon demanded our attention, mostly because my pretty blonde had not experienced it before. Known locally as the Caliche Condos these odd residences are literally caves dug into the soft ancient mud cliffs wherein people actually lived right into the 1970s. One has a nicely domed roof inside. Another has a garage. Minors lived mighty close to the bone here not too many years ago.

    With the daylight waning we turned back the way we came and pulled in at Tecopa where the community’s claim to fame is relaxing mineral hot springs. We took a good long soak - good for not only the skin and body, but for the soul as well. The quiet was palpable, the heat therapeutic and the desert ambiance renewing.

    Just a few hundred yards down the road, at the edge of the settlement of Tacopa, is another gourmet eatery, also owned by David, called Pastels Bistro, known for their creative pizza. Another clump of birds of paradise became table decorations (again, only about a half dozen tables) and a bouquet for the counter, compliments of Mojave Moses. Coffee, tea and a leisurely chat with the amazingly enthusiastic culinary staff ensued before we headed back to Blue Diamond in the dark. These desert roads are especially glorious, by the way, on a warm, moonlit night in a convertible with the top down – a mystical experience to be sure.

    Our mystical experiences in the Mojave come from understanding the history, the geology, the ecology and the cultures that formed this desert environment. For that we need the guidance of one who is part of it in every sense. Thanks, Mojave Moses, for another enlightening tour. And, thanks Toyota Sequoia for a most luxurious ride.

    © Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved