We prefer the rigidity of traditional body-on-frame construction to unibody rollers. We were reminded of this in the Touareg, whose groaning doors sounded like the timbers of a tall ship in a gale as it negotiated the 20-foot-high canyon walls. Two-footing through a gulley proved a challenge, as the technique confused the brake-by-wire system, alternately cutting power when we wanted to climb errant rocks in our path. That wasn't an issue in the LR3, though we found Terrain Response's grass/gravel/snow mode worked better than rockcrawl mode under the varied conditions. Slip was minimal, though the locking differential kicked too slowly for our liking.

The Jeep and Toyota were pros on the shale, the Jeep's invisible lockers and Toyota's center lock tossing traction when and where needed. Stuck with a less-than-average departure angle through the dips, dragging the tail of the Toyo eventually caused the trailer light receptacle to part ways with the chassis. Filing out of the canyon, we made our way to the shores of the Salton Sea for a sunset photo shoot, followed by a banzai run to our hotel in Anza-Borrego, making it with minutes to spare before the kitchen closed.

Scrapes and Bruises
Day three greeted us with clear skies and 92-degree temperatures at 6:30 a.m. Slathering on the SPF45, we headed to Ocotillo Wells for testing, reaching the back side of Devil's Slide, a 200-foot-high granite and sand island, where nature has carved a rock wall of sand and decomposed granite. We set out a cone course to test approach and departure angles, ground clearance, and traction on a slippery surface.

First out of the gate was the Grand Cherokee, and we were amazed at the level of grip the Goodyear Wrangler tires afforded on the degraded surface. But the GC certainly could've used another inch of ground clearance as it scraped its way over the rocks, leaving no skidplate unscathed. Similarly, the Land Cruiser was in need of a lift and was the only vehicle in the test to high-center. Trying to cut the Toyota loose was a chore, as after chocking one of the rear tires with rocks, the diff refused to lock up. A few more stones and some strategically applied muscle got us over the hump.