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Edited by: John Stewart

Disability Day Trail Ride

By: John Stewart

Angela Cook Briefing Drivers
Angela Cook Briefing Drivers
Photo By: John Stewart

Saturday, October 13 was a memorable day. I left my home and headed up Highway 67 along a route travelled many times for desert four wheeling trips. The destination was Borrego Springs; for a trail ride to escort a group of disabled persons into the great outdoors. I have seen these sights many times. For most of the guests, this was their first trip to the desert.

This day began in February at the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs annual convention. Land use and access are frequent topics when outdoor recreation advocates gather. This time the topic touched one individual personally. Angela is confined to a wheel chair and she is passionate about her love of 4-wheeling. She undertook the effort to bring two diverse communities together. The common bond was sharing an appreciation for the beauty of our public lands. This location was special as it is the site of a route closed to travel and under varying degrees of access limitations for the past five years; Coyote Canyon in the Anza Borrego State Park. While through traffic is blocked, access has been restricted by various group size limitations and use permit requirements. This year, groups are limited to no more than 25 vehicles.

Angela prevailed and a 9am meeting was scheduled at Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs. Her months of email and telephones calls was about mature into an event that would touch the lives of each one that participated. Numerous clubs from the southern California 4 wheel community were represented. The Trail Boss and Tail gunner positions were manned by representative of Tierra del Sol Four Wheel Drive Club. The San Diego Four Wheelers provided catering services of a lunch compliments of Cal4Wheel. Members of twelve southern California clubs provided chauffeur services for the 22 guests of honor.

Desert Water Crossing
Desert Water Crossing
Photo By: John Stewart

While awaiting the arrival of our guests, Angela conducted a driver's meeting to explain the situation we were facing and facts about disabilities. Angela's arrangements stressed the need for some 4 wheel drive vehicles equipped with air conditioning. We learned that an individual suffering a spinal cord injury was left with the inability to regulate body temperature with heat stroke a possibility. Extra water was provided. The thermometer had long passed the 80 degree mark and the 90 degree mark was approaching. With blue sky and no clouds, it was going to be a warm day in the desert.

The guests began arriving and Angela offered each an opportunity for an open top jeep ride or an air conditioned ride. Each guest clamored for an open top jeep ride. Those of us with air conditioned vehicles were left with no passenger and the consolation that if anyone required cooling, we were available.

A Few Rocks Before Lunch
A Few Rocks Before Lunch
Photo By: John Stewart

Then came the awkward moment with a wheel chair sitting next to a raised jeep. Things we take for granted became apparent. With varying degrees of assistance, our guests demonstrated their ability, desire and strength and soon everyone was loaded and ready to roll. Everyone was eagerly anticipating their off pavement experience. The San Diego Four Wheelers were at the lunch stop above the second water crossing and ready to serve. We were running late.

Coyote Canyon is a wide sandy wash with a well defined water course, a typical desert wash that is dry most of the time. Unlike other desert washes, Coyote Canyon does have a few sections that have free flowing water year around. Our trail had three crossings, one dry and the others full of water. The line of 4x4's moved along the dusty road amid the vegetation that showed evidence of recent rain as the drab Ocotillo plants were showing some new green growth. Leaving the second water crossing, the road turned up the rocky hillside towards the bypass. It was time for lunch.

Lunch Being Served Valet Parking Anyone?? Well, they do have a motor and wheels!
Lunch Being Served
Photo By: John Stewart
Valet Parking Anyone??
Photo By: John Stewart
Well, they do have a
motor and wheels!
Photo By: John Stewart

Under the shade of awnings, the San Diego 4 Wheelers were busy preparing sandwiches and picnic diners soon filled the remaining empty space in the shade. San Diego County Board of Supervisor, 5th District, Bill Horn was represented by Dee Lanzillo. She praised the dedication of the volunteers that made this event possible. She relayed Supervisor Horn's commitment to private property rights and open access to public lands. Her comments stressed the importance of everyone writing letters to their elected officials to let them know the public wants and supports open access to public lands. Those comments were followed by a short speech from Ranger Nancy of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. The ranger related a little about the history, flora and fauna of the region while steering clear of the political issues of access to the closed section of Coyote Canyon. She paused during her comments about the hiking opportunities available within the park when she realized she was surrounded by people in wheel chairs that could not take advantage of those opportunities.

Sun, Shade, Food...What more do you want?
Sun, Shade, Sand, and Food...
What more do you want?
Photo By: John Stewart

Coyote Canyon is part of the historic Anza Trail first traveled by early Spanish explorers in southern California and used continuously until part of it was closed by the State Parks in 1996. Along the route are three sections where underground springs bubble to the surface and support large stands of willows, Lower Willows, Middle Willows and Upper Willows. These are the largest of about 200 springs in the state park and an important water source for the local big horn sheep population. The route is closed between Middle Willows and Upper Willows. Our lunch spot was just above Lower Willows at the foot of the Bypass. This bypass is a rock strewn route up a hill side away from the environmentally sensitive Lower Willows.

When offered the chance to return to town, only two guests accepted. The remaining guests were eager to continue up the rocky bypass to Sheep Canyon. They had a taste of rock crawling just before the lunch spot and were eager for more outdoor experience. The vehicles progressed up the Bypass to the occasional sound of metal on rock and the frequent off-camber leans. One driver took a bad line and high centered on a rock. His modified Wrangler had hand controls for gas and brake which allowed him the opportunity to stow his wheelchair in the back and maneuver his 4x4 over obstacles. He was one of the disabled guest driving his own 4x4.

Motor, Wheels, Sand...I'm Stuck
Motor, Wheels, Sand...I'm Stuck!
Photo By: John Stewart

Clearing the top of the Bypass provided a spectacular panoramic view of the desert. The broad expanse of Coyote Canyon opened to the north and Sheep Canyon lead to the west. A recent desert thunderstorm had left its mark of ground erosion and the new green growth on the desert plants. Our journey in had come to an end. After a brief stop to admire the desert landscape, we headed back to the Bypass and on to town.

The Disability Day Trail Ride on October 13, 2001 is a day to remember for 22 disabled Americans and 59 able-bodied Americans that joined in this memorable event. Thanks to the efforts of Angela Cook, this day was a success. This day showed that with imagination and effort, reasonable access to public lands is possible to provide all Americans with the opportunity for a recreation experience according to their abilities and desires. Trail closures will deny that opportunity.

It is up to the recreation community to unite behind a common goal to demand access to public lands for all forms of recreational opportunity.

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