Sunday (Mother's Day) turned out to be too danged hot to do any work outside – so we decided to take the FJ Cruiser out for another shakedown ride. This time we headed out to Los Pinos, the northernmost road that's in the Corral Canyon offroading area. This is a few miles south of I-8 and a few miles east of Pine Valley, which means it's not very far from home. There's a road there that starts just below the Los Pinos fire lookout (the photo at right was taken from near the start of this road, with Corte Madera visible just above and left of the FJ), heads down to the saddle between Corte Madera and Los Pinos, and then west down the ravine just south of Corte Madera (the photo below left was taken just at the start of the section down the ravine, with Corte Madera visible above the FJ).
In past years this has been a moderately rugged ride with just one or two challenging parts. We were surprised once again – the entire section that runs down the ravine is challenging, with several very challenging parts. All this is thanks to the rains this year and the consequent erosion; in some parts the road looks like it's lost 8" to 12" of soil, with big bad rocks left exposed. So this turned out to be the best set of challenges yet for our little FJ Cruiser.
And challenge it we did! We managed to sit it down on one skid or another at least a half dozen times, and twice we smacked a rock or two hard enough to make scratches and dents in the 1/4" GR-50 skid plates. The photo at right was taken on the way back out, near the place the previous photo was taken – past all the challenging bits, just easy stuff left to go. When I crawled under the FJ afterwards to see what we hurt, I found a couple of gouges and a nice big dent on the front suspension skid, a gouge on the rear differential skid, and a nice big scrape on the forward port-side lower link skid. Any one of those, if we didn't have the skids, might have caused some very inconvenient damage. With the skids, just a bit of touch-up paint is needed. Big smiles from us for the skids!
The real test, though, was the handling. We got to exercise, for real, many of the features of our little FJ Cruiser. We stayed in low 4 wheel drive range for much of this trail, and I found the handling both uphill and downhill to be superb – secure footing, nice high clearances, easy and solid steering, totally controlled braking. The FJ is a very competent offroad vehicle; considerably more agile than the LandCruiser we've been driving for the past 15 years (though also considerably smaller and less comfortable!). At one point I needed to use the rear differential locker, and it just worked, nice and smooth. We had the A-Trac system on most of the time, and we felt the brakes kicking in fairly frequently to keep one wheel or another from spinning. All-in-all the FJ made it very easy to drive on quite a rugged road. I'm calibrating my driving to the new ride, and my confidence in it is rising rapidly. It's all good!
All the photos in this post were taken with my iPhone, including the panorama below, which I took from just below the Los Pinos fire lookout. The iPhone makes taking a panorama ridiculously easy, and its software does a bang-up job of seamlessly stitching the whole thing together. The result beats the pants off of any panorama software I've ever used. I've labeled some points of interest on this roughly 180° panorama; if you know San Diego County these will mostly be familiar places to you. As always, click to enlarge.
And of course there were flowers: