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Old 11-01-2016, 08:23 PM   #1
Join Date: Dec 2015
Posts: 94
Medano Pass (Great Sand Dunes)

Went out the primitive road in Great Sand Dunes National Park, intending to go over the pass and come out the other side to make my way further North. Some observations on the trip and the MB Sprinter 2500 4x4. Details of my van are available on my build thread, but it is worth repeating in the context of this trip that I am running 285/70r17 BFG KO2's; have 4x4 with low range; and 2nd alternator option (unhappily low to ground).

Did some research and was worried about water crossings (that 2nd alternator is low); sand; and flopping on trail due to high center of gravity. I am happy to report that the water crossings, while I took them very slow and watched carefully, presented no issues at all. The vehicle performed great in the sand. There had been a light rain the night before, so not really a fare test, but just keeping my speed up when I felt it bogging down worked find. For anyone wondering if 4wd is required - yes, absolutely, for that first section in the deep sand. Could have been 2wd after that, but it was an absolute requirement for that mile or so where sand got deep in spots. As for the trail, just taking it slow, there were no parts where I felt light on shocks or anything like that. There was one squeeze between some boulders on either side, but good set up with a spotter out front was fine. That was the good news. The bad news is that it was the first 50mph wind in a long time, and large trees were falling all around. It was really surreal. No trees in the way all the way up and over the pass. We stopped for lunch at the top before heading down the other side. Soon after we headed down the other side we found a tree fallen across the trail. No winch yet – just tow strap. In the process of pulling the tree out of the way, a second fell right then and there! That’s when I realized what was happening at that very moment, and how vulnerable we were to so many other trees all around us. We high-tailed it back down the way we had come up, only to find a total of 27 more full-sized trees had fallen across the trail behind us as we were driving up! We could hear them crashing in the distance as well, and at 27 on the trail, I can’t even imagine how many went down around us. At tree 18, it was too big for me to snap and wedged in between other trees on either side. Chainsaw was the tool we needed, which we did not have. We backed up trail to place with least amount of very large trees, believing that any medium ones might do some damage, but would not crush the vehicle. We waited a few hours, contemplating the hike out to go for help if need be, and whether to do it that evening, or wait until morning (since we would not be able to see trees falling in the dark). As it happened, another vehicle came upon us, having driven over the two that had turned us back in the first place. He was delighted how easy the path had been after that, not realizing we had cleared the way all afternoon.

To end the story, his maneuverability allowed him to snap the big one, and the two of us were able to clear the remaining 10 as we made our way to the sand dunes.

Some pics of the beaver lakes amidst the fall foliage on the trail; the first tree that we ran across (two trees, the first, plus the second that fell as we watched); the tree that thwarted us on the return trip (even bigger). Oh, and one of me returning to van after a morning walk only to find it surrounded by wild turkeys in Palo Duro Canyon State Park while daughter still asleep upstairs.

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Old 11-01-2016, 08:29 PM   #2
Join Date: Dec 2015
Posts: 94
more pics

Stopped for lunch at top of Medano Pass, totally chance encounter with Albuquerque balloon festival, at camp at hot springs near Gila Wilderness area, and a lake on way back from Gila.
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Old 11-01-2016, 08:43 PM   #3
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Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
Posts: 103
Right on! Glad you guys made it out alright! I always wondered at the capability of the Sprinter 4wd and other than the low alt, it seems to work just fine for moderate trails for you. Congratulations. Living the life!
Up a Mountain, Down a Beer
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Old 11-01-2016, 09:44 PM   #4
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Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: New Mexico
Posts: 123
Those Toms know it's not hunting season yet. Otherwise they'd be invisible! Should've let us know you were gonna be in ABQ, we would've loved to see your van. Is that Lake Roberts? Looks like a great trip!
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