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Way Off Road - Three Men A Jeep and A Desert By Steve Purdy


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THREE MEN AND A DESERT
A Travel and Off-Road Story
By Steve Purdy
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

April 2016


Allow me to introduce the players:

Phillip T. and I have been friends since 10th grade when he and his large family moved to the rural area of south central Michigan where I grew up. We’ve been close friends through college and through each of our moves over these many years. Phillip spent a good share of his adult life in the floral trade with emphasis on the creative end including work with premier venues in Las Vegas. As an artist and a desert guide his deep knowledge of the flora, fauna, geology and geography of his now-native area of the Mojave is enriched by his appreciation of the cultures. We often call him “Mojave Moses, our desert guide,” and we have written about and photographed many of his “Mojave Mystical Tours.”


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My son Phil is a career Navy guy with a relatively new assignment as a deck crew manager on the destroyer USS Pinckney out of San Diego. This is his first sea assignment after being in the Navy for about 14 years first in an air squadron, then doing avionics repair followed by a few years riding a desk at Great Lakes Naval Base near Chicago. He’s due to go out to sea for a few weeks of training next week but took some time off so we could all play. Phil is one of those guys who creates fun where ever he finds himself, often in unusual ways.


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I am an automotive journalist and occasional travel writer. It is always my job to write the travel narratives that go with our many adventures that usually include special vehicles of some sort, locations of interest and interesting people we meet along the way. This project will check all those boxes plus perhaps a few more.


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Our ride is young Phil’s 2008 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (Phillip T. has a Wrangler at home as well) with offset wheels, aggressive tires, detachable sway bars, wheel well extensions, CB radio and whatever you might need for serious off-roading. In fact, since he bought this Jeep upon getting settled in San Diego less than a year ago he hooked up with a bunch of off-road groups who challenge themselves and their vehicles regularly. I’ll bet Phil’s Jeep has more off-road miles than many get in a lifetime.


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Phillip and Phil became reacquainted last year as the latter crossed the country from Chicago to SoCal with all his stuff in a big old Ford van to take on his new Navy assignment. The younger Phil stopped to visit Phillip at his quiet home and studio in Blue Diamond, a quaint desert town within the Red Rock Park near Las Vegas. The last time they met young Phil was probably about age 5. The two Phils hit it off immediately and we began thinking about when the three of us could all get together for some serious recreational time.

And, what better way to play in the desert than to take one of the many Southern California Jeep roads across some wild lands – particularly this modestly tricked-out Jeep. Phil, as you might surmise, knows many of the best off-road venues in the area and he chose for us Bee Canyon Truck Trail that becomes San Jacinto Truck Trail. That rocky, rough route begins near Hemet and winds around and through a scenic route into the tourist town of Idyllwild, not far from Palm Springs, crossing part of the San Jacinto Mountains. It take us about 3 hours to make 15 miles including a few stops to explore and soak up the natural beauty of the area.

Pulling off the paved road onto the dirt at the trailhead we stopped so Phil could disconnect the front sway bar from its moorings allowing more travel and ground clearance for the front suspension. That becomes important on the more gnarly segments of the trail. Beginning at around 2,000-feet of elevation and ending at nearly 6,000 feet we transit through a variety of eco zones characterized by different flora. We stop often to examine and photograph these oddities. Something sweet was blooming up there and we kept getting wonderful wafts of spring-like aromas mixed with the dust.

Within the first few miles we met two other Jeep Wranglers driven by two guys who had three little girls between them riding along. One was a Navy guy so he and young Phil had a lively conversation while we all admired the amazing vistas spread out before us. The little girls had a great time playing together in and out of the Jeeps and among the rocks paying little attention to the adults or the breath-taking scenery around them.


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Only one significant riparian feature greets us along this trail where a shallow mountain stream crosses a rocky part of the road with a lovely little pond behind it. We found there an audience to watch as young Phil charged through the deepest part of the pond plowing water nearly over his wheels. A mixed bunch of bikers, including a Hispanic family riding for an anti-cancer project (the disease took their mother/grandmother) were taking a break at that particularly relaxing spot and we struck up conversations with them all as well. Both the Jeepers and the bikers repeatedly splashed their rides through the water before we moved on grinning like little kids splashing in a mud puddle with their rubber boots.


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All along the way Phillip the botanical artist is visualizing and crating poetical descriptions of the vistas and views of stately granite, majestic Ponderosa pines, yucca stems just beginning to bloom and even ferns around the misty crevice of a little brook. We flatlanders find endless entertainment in this unfamiliar dry land that offers flora and geology so exotic to our provincial eyes.


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Arriving in the rustic little touristy town of Idlewild, famous for its huge tree sculpture, by mid-afternoon we indulged in an exceptional pizza washed down with local craft beers. Then we just hung around town for a couple hours while a remarkably talented blues singer entertained from a lean-to in the park. As the day waned we headed back to civilization by way of the twisty two-lane Highway 74 leading to the not-so-scenic freeways leading back to Encinitas.


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Our plan for day two is to explore the beaches between Encinitas and San Diego as we draft our story. We arrived in Imperial Beach just in time for a hearty breakfast at the VFW hall. Young Phil described that area as a laid-back, less crowded spot separated from the Mexican boarder only by a large wetland, essentially the Tijuana River delta. As we headed in to the VFW with camera and computer bag a young couple vaping outside on the bench wanted to know what we were up to. That engendered a lively chat about our short adventure, the production of this story and ultimately an intense, in-depth discussion of Tesla for whom the guy worked. His optimism for that electric car company was not tempered a bit by my skepticism and journalistic challenges.

Across the street and overlooking the beach sits a bar with which young Phil is intimately familiar featuring an enclosed patio protected from the wind but open to the sunshine and gentle breezes. A Captain Morgan statue watches over the front door from his perch on the roof. Our waitress, Flamin’ Phyllis, wanted to know our story as well and we offered it in pieces as she tended to small groups of patrons.

But our most disconcerting, and intriguing, connection of the day was a shapely and pretty blonde who seemed to be a leftover at the bar. She was hanging out at a table across the patio with her beautiful little spaniel and a guy with whom she was trading tongues. After the guy left with another woman she was there alone and finally came to join us. First she wanted us to watch her dog while she went inside. Then when she came back she seemed to want to fight. She shared that she is a 41-year-old Polish stripper insisting venomously that we did not respect her because of her profession. Then she became conciliatory and chatted nicely. Then she went back to challenging us tenaciously. Back and forth she went manically from sweetness to venom, over and over again. What a character!


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These three men on this desert and beach bar trip shared much: an appreciation of the capabilities of this modified Jeep, the overwhelming beauty of the natural environments and the fascinating people we encountered along the way. We three all have outgoing personalities so the chatty connections happen easily. From Phillip the Elder came philosophical and aesthetic enlightenment. From Phil the Younger emerged a sense of connection to the fun and adventure of life.

And, from this reporter with connections to both these guys, comes a dedication to learn from and record those insights so that we can share them with y’all.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved