In The Desert
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By the monsoon season of 2007 I had begun to enjoy driving the jeep during heavy rainstorms. I enjoyed helping people who broke down or needed assistance. But one night I took old Jornada Road leading past the Dona Ana Mountains. It's also called the Chihuahua Desert Nature trail. I'm told it goes deep into the heart of Southern New Mexico, and, wihtout my route planning, I decided to see how far it went. By this time the jeep had four powerful auxilliary driving lights and a police spotlight, too. Just as I passed the Dona Ana's it was 8:02 pm, and it began to rain so hard the windshield wipers couldn't keep up on high speed, just like that, in an instant. Frankly, I didn't know how many miles it was ahead to a better road, so I decided to go right back the 27 miles I had already travelled back to Hwy 70. Following is the chronology of events that began at 8:02 pm.
This true story was sent to me by a great friend and contributor to the site; Ron Mears. This could easily happen to you; so be aware and read this accounting of what can happen in the desert! Interesting reading...
8:10 pm. The last glimmer of sunlight revealed that huge swaths of the desert in front of the Dona Ana's were underwater. Water had begun creeping onto the shoulder on the road and was running rapidly downhill.
8:14 pm. The water had crept up on the road so far there was only a narrow part of it visible. From a swift moving small arroyo on the mountain side of the road, the water had already carved a little arroyo on Jornada Road and was running super fast. It was only about a foot wide, and the jeep crossed it easily. It was apparent the whole place was disappearing under the water very quickly.
8:16 pm. I turned on all of the driving lights and the spotlight to see that Jornada road was complete submerged in four inches of water when I crested a small rise in the road and looked down. It was no longer possible to see where the road ended and the desert began. Knowing this road had been straight as an arrow I keep the jeep pointed to what I was pretty sure was a high point in the road up ahead. It was pitch dark suddenly, but I could see dry ground flickering in the lightning. After driving at least 1/10 of a mile through the little lake on the road, I was relieved to see my vision had been correct. It was an unflooded portion of roadway I had seen. The thunder claps almost shook the ground, and the guy on the NOAA weather channel kept saying "Turn around! Don't drown!" Unfortunately, turning around was not an option.
8:18 pm. I came upon the second arroyo the rain had dug in Jornada Road. This one was about three feet wide, running just as swiftly, and exerted a sudden pressure against the front tires the instant they went into the rushing water. It felt like a big hand was trying to push the vehicle to the left, but, once again, the jeep made it through. With the thunder booming and the lightning flashes revealing nothing but water and a few tall yuccas the whole scene looked like Hell itself.
8:19 pm. Realized this could be a total no-win. Stay put and have the water eventually get into the jeep and perhaps wash it away, or keep going, into only God knew what. There were no more unflooded places in the road. I was saved by two facts. Jornada Road really is arrow straight on this strech of it. Keeping the spotlight trained on a barbed wire fence on one side of the road enabled me to judge approximately where the center of the road was. I still managed to drift into the ditch on the side of the road, though, and had to slowly reverse out, wondering if that fence was still running true along the side of the road.
8:22 pm. Thank God, the rain suddently stopped as quickly as it had started, but in front of me was the biggest ditch in the road the arroyos had dug to this point. Two men were standing on the other side of it with their truck running shaking their heads. Still many miles from Hwy 70, I never found out what they were doing out there in the middle of such a violent storm. This ditch was four feet wide, and I had no idea how deep it was. The water was rushing through at great speed. "You gonna try it?" asked one of the men. "I think we're going back."
I didn't see any choice. It was going rain all night off and on, and staying there was just not a good idea. If it rained again --- and I couldn't imagine it not --- there might not be any seeing anything to help stay on the road. "No choice," I told him. I got my shovel and put in the ditch sideways, and the water was almost two feet deep near the edge and trying to pull the shovel right out of my hands. With water moving that fast, even a jeep with big tires could break free. But I put it in 4-low, lowered the front tires in, and drove them to a steep bank on the other side where it halted the jeep. I thought the sides would slope as had been the case with the other two crossings. Reengaged the clutch, knowing now what I was up against, and just let the front tires dig into the bank and pull the front end of the jeep back up. Getting the rear tires through was easier, but the jeep did slip sidways a little in the middle of the crossing. In a just a few seconds I was on the other side.
All that happened between 8:02 pm and 8:22 pm.
I don't play in the rain anymore either, Don...) If Jornada Road had been the usual curvy desert road, there would have been no staying on the road. You could drive right off a hill by the side of the road and never know until it was too late, never to be heard from again. What a fate: drowned in the middle of the Chihuahua Desert. Body washed several hundred yards from vehicle and found ensnared in barbed wire from a broken fence. Any fool could see that storm coming, but I just plunged right in.
Not any more. It's chancy enough out there when you try to avoid risks. Everything's just peachy until you find yourself on a hill that's rougher and steeper than it looked from the bottom and realize it's just as dangerous to back down it as it would be to go forward. Sometimes those situations just creep into the picture and couldn't have been avoided even by an experienced driver. It's just the nature of the venture. And your vehicle can still break down even if you baby it and check every last detail on the checklist before heading out. There's enough of that kind of thing to worry about without looking for trouble like I did at first.