National Park

Two Monteros and a Land Cruiser explore the mines of Joshua Tree National Park

Chevrolet recently invited four waves of journalists to Joshua Tree National Park for days of off-road fun in the new Silverado ZR2 pickup truck. My friend Lawson Mollica also picked the same dates for a family vacation in Palm Springs, so we decided to jump at the chance and head out the next day for a trail run in our old off-road rigs. Mollica drives an 80-built Toyota Land Cruiser and I picked up my 1998 Mitsubishi Montero in hopes of giving him a good solid shakedown before any tougher adventures later in the season. And then, at the last minute, my dad decided to join his own ’94 Montero SR, which sports just about every modification possible from the catalogs of Adventure Driven Design, Toasty Fab, and more.


Since Chevy planned to keep me fully occupied with the ZR2, I let Mollica map out a route. Oddly enough, he chose a track that covered much of the same ground as our merry group of reporters the day before, which gave me the opportunity to conduct a controlled experiment comparing the four-wheel performance of the new ZR2 with the capacity of three legendary 1990s all-terrain vehicles.

Lock hubs and air out


Joshua Tree Mines Off Road 4
by Michael Van Runkle/HotCars

We left the sidewalk where Pinto Basin Road, Old Dale Road and Black Eagle Mine Road meet, almost in the center of the park. We all got out and locked the front hubs, then Mollica and I aired our tires because he’s wearing a supercharger. The day before, Chevy released the ZR2’s 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Mud Terrain tires from 38 PSI to 25, so when I found out my Montero’s tires were also up to 38 PSI, I decided science dictated. to drop them to 25, too. Mollica used an amazing tool to aerate that nobody seems to sell anymore, but I went the old-fashioned way, pushing the Schrader valve stem with the tip of my gauge and counting in my head.


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High speeds on washboards


Joshua Tree Off Road Mines 2
by Michael Van Runkle/HotCars

I warned Mollica in advance that Dad and I were generally off-roading at much lower speeds than I had seen and that Truck Trend host Sean Holman was driving on our previous outing around Grass Valley Wilderness Area – no TRX accelerator here please. But even so, with seven people in the Land Cruiser, he immediately took off on the washboards of Old Dale Road. But not to my huge surprise, I held up much better on this trip thanks to the airflow. The Montero’s interior continued to shake and thump quite a bit, but the torsion-bar front suspension, along with new rear coils and Bilsteins all around, worked pretty well.


However, larger bumps still caused thuds and my mind began to wander to a refresh of the bushings and ball joints suspension. And compared to the ZR2’s long wheelbase, front coilovers, rear leaf springs and impressive Multimatic DSSV shocks, the Montero needed about 20 to 30 miles per hour less to feel comfortable.

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Through the toughest terrain


Joshua Tree Mines Off Road 10
by Michael Van Runkle/HotCars

The highlight of Chevy’s ZR2 driving program came towards the end of the day, when we found more challenging terrain above an abandoned mine north of Old Dale Road that JTNP’s maps fail to capture. identify. Where the ZR2 climbed slowly and steadily, thanks to the front and rear lockers, my Montero rode happily in 4-Low with the center and rear differentials locked – Mollica and Dad both felt confident with their front lockers, well that they only fully locked one a couple of times throughout our trip.


On hard rock, where articulation and a tight turning radius came in handy, the Montero showed why the ZR2’s long wheelbase might worry overlanders. Believe it or not, the Silverado’s wheelbase is longer than a Ram TRX! Looking at Dad’s rear suspension articulation, with the stabilizer bar removed, also got me thinking a bit more…

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Choose the right line


Joshua Tree Mines Off Road 5
by Michael Van Runkle/HotCars

Mollica even let three of her children practice riding a bit on easier portions of the trail, teaching them how to choose the right line, place tires and, most importantly, modulate the throttle regularly when climbing. and descent. Up front, using the OnX Offroad app as a guide, its platform definitely rode a bit lower and leaned a bit more thanks to the weight of so many passengers, though.


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OnX Offroad Review


Joshua Tree Mines Off Road 6
by Michael Van Runkle/HotCars

The extent of Joshua Tree National Park provided an excellent test of OnX, which I also downloaded before the trip. With no cellular reception, the app’s offline maps feature gave us a clear trail to follow, although my iPhone 13 Pro’s screen seemed a bit small and kept shutting off – an issue I have solved later, at home. I also fiddled around with different viewing angles, ultimately deciding to keep North on the phone screen when the directional functionality seemed to struggle (perhaps from all the bumping and jostling). I definitely plan to learn more about using OnX for the next trip. For one, the app works with Apple CarPlay, which my Cayenne’s aftermarket head unit allows. And second, the vertically oriented maps seem less than ideal for a route that travels mostly east to west (or vice versa) like much of the Mojave road.

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Lunch at the Mines


Joshua Tree Mines Off Road 9
by Michael Van Runkle/HotCars

My Montero only provided one scare throughout the day, which seemed silly in hindsight. Throughout the ZR2 ride, I noticed that of all the reporters, only I left our truck running at every Chevy team stop, break, and demo. The practice probably seemed silly to everyone in their brand new trucks, but I attribute that to my time in older rigs that can use the weather to cool down or, ultimately…

Of course, during our first stop the next day to check out an abandoned structure, I cut the Montero’s ignition, then it didn’t start again for about 20 minutes. With the key in ACC, all of the truck’s electronics came on fine, but the starter never even attempted to click when starting. Finally, after trying jumper cables and looking for the starter hidden behind my skid plates, we resigned ourselves to towing. But when I changed the transfer case to two-wheel drive in anticipation of the long pavement walk, I thought why not try kicking it one more time. So ! The rest of the day I left the truck running and since being unable to start in 4×4 (and once in 2×4) back home I spent about five minutes removing the column covers from steering and fiddling with the ignition switch, which seems to have solved the problem.


After one of the longest, gnarliest, rockiest descents of my brief off-road career, which pushed the Montero’s suspension and drivetrain to the limit, we stopped for lunch at the Brooklyn Ruins Mine. A brief respite from the trail lifted my spirits – as did a good snack – while the wobbly cabin and steep hills also provided protection from the howling winds.

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The long climb home


Joshua Tree Mines Off Road 8
by Michael Van Runkle/HotCars

Going back out of the mining area, by the road we just came down, seemed uncertain to me. But the only other route involved traversing a long stretch of trail that the OnX map left blank (and looked likely to zigzag across the top of a steep ridge), so we ducked in and made the tough decision. In 4-low and locked up, we climbed the hill. Later Dad told me that I had spent most of an hour on two and three wheels, although I had spent most of that hour thinking about ball joints and tie rods, which I had forgot to bring my spares. Again, I started planning a setup of gear and tools that I can just throw in the back for every trip. But in the meantime, I counted my blessings for deciding to air out my narrow 31-inch Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx tires.


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Relief broadcast


Joshua Tree Mining Off Road
by Michael Van Runkle/HotCars

We found Old Dale again and continued north on flatter, sandier sections until we reached Twentynine Palms Highway. Mollica was planning on heading back to the park and grabbing some more wheels through Berdoo Canyon on the way back to the hotel in Palm Springs, but I briefly borrowed her Viair to inflate my tires for the drive back to the park. west of Los Angeles. Aeration made such a difference in ride quality, both grip and smoothness, that ordering a supercharger ended up right at the top of my to-do list when I got home. me. Expect a Viair 400P review any day.

With the airy tires, my Montero was more fun than the ZR2. Similar to a Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, Chevy’s new off-roader does the job so well that the fun factor drops a bit. I like to challenge my abilities, forcing myself to pick good lines and feel every rock, branch and rut in the way. And the Montero never fails to impress, still capable of tackling such a tricky trail in little more than stock form. And thanks to the highlights of OnX, we now know that many more adventures await us, not too far from the city, in the deserts of Joshua Tree National Park.

Sources: nps.gov, adventuredrivendesign.com, goodyear.com, explorationoutfitters.com, onxmaps.com and viaaircorp.com.


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