Trip to Coyote Canyon on Jan.16, 1999

See also the detailed descriprtion at  Pete Griffith's Coyote Canyon page
This was our first San Diego full-size Jeep gathering, though quite small - Peter Griffith with his kids, and us. None of us took on some serious four-wheeling trail lately (well, maybe never), we had very similar rigs - Pete Griffith's is an '82 4-door Cherokee, and mine - '79 2-door wide track Cherokee, so that made for a perfect setup.
We met at 11 in the morning, having very little idea of where we were going to go. After a short study of a map of Anza-Borrego Desert, we decided to go to Coyote Canyon. The trail was supposed to be 36 miles long, so with kids and a puppy I wasn't actually going to make it all through.

These are two our rigs - Pete Griffith's '82 Model 18 four-
door Cherokee (red) , and mine - '79 Model 17 2-door 
wide track Cherokee (yellow). 
The Lindsays' book "Anza Borrego Desert Region" mentiones this place using the following words:
"Only highly skilled and experienced drivers..."
"There may be more brutal jeep traverses in that great desert, but the authors know of none."
How's that? Too good I didn't read that particular part of the book before going up. The trail begins a few miles from Borrego Springs' Christmas Circle, and a park ranger checks your permit (yes, gotta shell out $5 for the fun - or, rather, $50 for a yearly permit). It is highly advisable to air down to 15-20 psi. The washboard will shake your teeth out; guess there are some die-hards in brand-new trucks who skip that part. Oh well, let's assume their trucks are leased or rented.
 So we aired down, turned on CBs, and went on. In a couple of miles there is the first Coyote Creek crossing, barely to make your tires wet. The Lindsays' book advises to leave campers there. There's two more crossings, the second being ~2-3 feet deep. Those greenies that we are, we stopped to check it out first. Nobody ventured to cross it afoot, though, since Pete Griffith reckoned that we'd pull him out should something happen. There was also a big Bronco, gentlemanly allowing us to go first. At this point we decided to lock whatever we could (central diff & hubs), engage low-range, and brave the terrain with all our might.

Here's Pete's Chero going through the only year-
round stream in Anza-Borrego desert. 
Pete dove first, made a nice wake, bounced a couple of times on the rocks, and made it through no problem. I figured that there was nothing in his 3" lift that could give him any advantage (at this point), and seconded the motion. The shame is that nobody really bothered to take any pictures, so our photo archive on that trip is very scarce. The Bronco followed. Here, we were at the point I wasn't considering going past, and stopped for a quick tailgate lunch to make kids and puppy happy. Some time later, a very nice gentleman asked us to pull our rigs somewhat apart so he could drive is Pathfinder out. He admitted being quite thrilled by the creek crossing. Polite as we are, we said a couple compliments on how good Nissan four-bys are.
It turned out that this guy made it in 2WD, without any fancy-shmancy hubs, low gears, transfer cases and such. I quite like Pete's comment on deflated egos (see his script); obviously his writing skills are ways ahead of mine....
The trail ahead started looking - well, not exactly scary, rather exciting. The Bronco's driver waited us to finish our lunch, but his patience expired and he went up. We watched the Bronco bouncing on the rocks, and, of course, that full-size jeep pride made us follow.
Very shortly, the nice scene turned up. Picture this - several 'utes, tightly parked right after that short climb, including that Bronco, big Blazer, a 4Runner, an M38, and some others. There was a trail going up - no, at the first glance of inexperienced off-roader, there was no special direction. A few rocks constituted the pavement, being in size comparable with the width of the trail. Bigger rocks made up for the walls, with turns clearly marked with somebody's paint. Rocks were rather black in color, indicating some rubber left on them. Between the "pavement" rocks, there were football-sized rocks, which we soon began referring as to "loose gravel". But, the top of the moment was a little crowd of spectators sitting on the rocks well above the trail and looking down in anticipation!
Well, I have to admit that we watched a nicely built Toyota pickup storming the trail before we rushed in, without much further damage to the egos.

That's me behind the steer - see?
I went up first. It wasn't really that "brutal" in that traverse; but some skill or at least reasonable action were a plus. Some of the rocks were indeed of a size of a 31" tire, and some nicely placed by Mother Nature where the pumpkins were to follow. Obviously, the same trail would take much more mojo and clutch wear if we had manual. Most of the time I stayed on brakes heavier than on gas, and that - going up. A couple of times I slammed the gas tank skidplate against the rocks, causing gas to squirt out and the audience to yell. Once I even ventured out of the truck to see if no rocks are sticking through the skid plate, but - good 'ole jeep was built for that kind of abuse. 
My family members joined the grandstand crowd at some place, giving me a tiny bit of extra ground clearance (and finally using a chance to take that picture!). Anyway, to wrap it up, we made it through without any damage. Pete's got a scratch on his front bumper and grille, that's it.There wasn't much difficulty climbing up to Sheep Canyon; the trail continues across Sheep Canyon all the way to the San Diego-Riverside county line.
 We didn't know that the Upper Willows portion of the trail is closed on 1/1/96, a while ago, and it wasn't marked in any of the maps or books we had. So, it is advisable to check the trail conditions and closures with park rangers. Oh well. Sheep Canyon is a beautiful terrain, with plenty of trees - desert willows neighboring with palm trees and all kind of brush you find in that desert. There's Coyote Creek running year-round, and probably plenty of wildlife. It makes a very good camping place; a campground is located in west side of the Sheep Canyon. Many hiking trails originate there, and go up Salvador Canyon and others.
Unfortunately for us, we discovered the trail closure (~13 miles from the ranger booth) at 4:30 p.m., so we had to storm back to descend the steep portion of the trail not in complete darkness. This  time the resonance issue (body shake at the washboard) was resolved differently - move faster than the speed of the worst body rattle. Still don't know how my folks and a puppy took that race, but we made it at least twice faster than on the way in.
Still, came to the squeeze at 5:10, not very dark, but requiring headlights. Here fog lights came handy - unlike the headlights, they lit the area right next to your front overhang, making choosing the line a lot easier. The descent was no drama at all, requiring mostly little different approaches. Here I found that our rigs are different - Pete Griffith has 6" narrower track AND differentials on the drivers' side. Didn't hit any rocks any hard, though, only made scary bangs with that hitch receiver. Now my spare tire can only be reclaimed using the hacksaw - the 5/8" bolt holding it on place is bent flush with the hitch :-)
Another discovery during that trip - digital cameras are junk. I had a nice Kodak DC 200 camer that we often use at work for documenting purposes, with 1152x864 pixel resolution, and plenty of features. However, it blacks out in the dark, relying totally on the flash. Apparently, CCDs are "linear" devices, unlike the photo film having a exponential-like "tail" in the sensitivity curve. All the pictures shown here are obtained using the usual photo camera and scanned afterwards. Sort of out-of-date technology, that is. Guess I have to keep on with it for a while.

 Journey Through Coyote Canyon, by Joanie Stadtherr Cahill