Last Update: 2/14/2017

Stuck Up Where the Tow Trucks' Lights Don't Shine

Aerial photo of Kilbourne Hole by Akanawa, CC BY-SA 3.0
Stuck in the sand. 30 miles from town. Off road in the desert. Up a sand-dune ridge where tow trucks can’t and won’t go. How the hell was I gettin’ outta this one?

This is concluding clusterfuck of “Digging Myself Into a Hole – Literally.”

Roadside Support Ain’t ‘Off Road” Support

It was mid-afternoon on Day 3 of being stuck in the sand atop the high, sand-dune ridge of remote Kilbourne Hole. I’d given up diggin’ myself out andu decided it was high time to call AAA for a tow. So I did.

When the AAA agent looked at the GPS coordinates I gave him, he advised dumbass Vanholio, “Yeah, see, your roadside support is roadside. Umm, we can’t help you offroad.”

Called Tow Company No 1, the AAA contractor. They declined to come extract me from Kilbourne Hole. Said their equipment wouldn’t get up the ridge. Referred me to a company in Las Cruces.

Called Tow Company No. 2. Nope, they couldn’t do it. Even asked me, “How the hell did you even get a front wheel drive van up there!?” Good question.

Called Tow Company No. 3. Strike three. Not lookin' good. Not many options.

Good Lord Protects Idiots

Got a call back from the tow truck driver at Tow Company No. 3. As it turned out, his friend Mike was an offroad junky who was willin’ to come pull me out after work.

After a bit, Mike and I talked. His jeep and gear was up to the job. He knows Kilbourne Hole well. We agreed on a (hefty) price. He said he’d show up about 5:30 pm.

After 3 days of stuckage, Vanholio was gonna be free at last, free at last, Lord have moicy, free at last!

Around and Around and Around

Well, Mike wasn’t gonna get there till after 8 pm, turns out. Boss made him work late. No problem. This time a year, dark is dark at 5:30 or 8. I waited.

At about 8:30, Mike calls and asks if I can see his spotlight. But I can’t see shit. He says to watch out for him, he’s gonna drive around the road at the base of the ridge. I wait a long time. I can’t see shit. He can’t find me.

We agree that I’m gonna walk down to the county road and wait. So I do.

Walkin' Alone in the Desert at Night Is Plain Dumb

Vanholio takes off down the hill toward the road. Now, in the Chihuahuan desert at night, you can’t hardly tell a jeep trail from a bare patch, even with a flashlight. I couldn’t.

So I end up wandering around trying to find the road. It’s in the 30s. I’m underdressed. The flashlight battery is dying. I can’t get a phone signal in the flats.

Thank God I at least had the stars and the lights of El Paso to steer by!

After a good while, I found the road and waited. No Mike. I wait some more. The flashlight is dim. No Mike.

Finally recalling my Boy Scout trying and realizing I’ve put myself in a dangerous position. See, in a search, one person needs to hold still. That shoulda been me, seein' as I was the stuck one. Also, I was riskin' hypothermia had I got lost or injured out there.

I head back toward the van along the jeep trail (which I’ve found again). Once atop the ridge, I get a signal and Mike on the phone. He says he’s been drivin’ around the ridge, around and around, and hasn’t seen me or the van. Well, no shit.

What the fuck is going on? How can this be? It’s nearly 10 pm by this point.

Don’t Know My Asshole From Kilbourne Hole

Well, I get back to the van and have a think. Did I give Mike correct GPS coordinates? Did I send him off just far enough to miss me in the dark at night?

Then Vanholio has a brainstorm: Can he get the GPS coordinates of his new Jitterbug flip phone by calling the 5Star Urgent Response Center?

He calls. 5Star provides. He looks on the Google Map. The coordinates are way off from the ones he gave Mike. Really off. How can this be?

Turns out that Vanholio only thought he was at Kilbourne Hole. Turns out that he was actually at Hunt’s Hole, another crater about 2-3 miles south of Kilbourne. It’s shaped about the same, only smaller.

See, Vanholio had guestimated his GPS coordinates by looking at a Google Map. But where he guestimated he was located was on Kilbourne Hole. Which he wasn’t. Look at the photo, and you’ll see.

Satellite view of Kilbourne Hole and Hunt's Hole, similar in shape and close together

Rescue Mike Almost Bails on Vanholio

“You’re gonna kill me, Mike,” I said. “I gave you the wrong coordinates. I’m on that southeastern corner, but only on Hunt’s Hole.”

Pause. Silence.

“Is this a prank!?” said Mike.

“No. I don’t know what to say to convince you.”

“This is soundin’ kina prankish to me,” said Mike.

Well, it got fuckin’ ugly for a minute there.

Finally, Mike says, “Alright, I’ll drive down to Hunt’s Hole. Be there in 10 minutes. But if this is a prank, I’m gonna seriously hurt you.”

He was not joking. Trust me.

Rescue Arrives – Finally and for Reals

After 15-20 minutes, Mike found me. After me seeing his red tail lights from the distance. He almost gave up, but I waved him in with my flashlight. Phew.

We got to work.

He tried pullin’ me out with strap and chain. First time he got his own jeep stuck in the sand. Second time the strap broke ‘cause dumbass Vanholio had the van in park.

He went afront a me and pulled from there. Van kept getting stuck in the yucca of my brilliant bridge to freedom. Fuck.

But finally, finally, finally, after a few restuckin’ occurrences in the soft sand of that high ridge – at HUNT’S HOLE – we got back down to the road. I followed him into Las Cruces.

We got to Las Cruces T&A Travel Center about 1 am. After I got some ATM cash to pay Mike, he headed out.

And Vanholio headed into a much-appreciated, hot, long, $13 truck stop shower. Then to bed and dreams of better days, right there in the parking lot.

Moral: If you want to off road, get a 4WD. Dumbass.

The End

Hey, Beer Vanholio! He works hard on this blog.

Also See ...

Digging Myself Into a Hole – Literally
Get Help ANYWHERE You Travel 2013 – Jitterbug
Wandering Around the Kilbourne Hole (The Gentle Art of Wandering)


  1. Hrmm, this has me worried as I plan for a nomadic lifestyle. Who wouldn't want the ability to reach the most remote places? But 4x4 costs $ in purchase price and gas and may not be feasible for all, especially for those who are conscious of their gas $ budget. I was considering a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid for its combo of MPG, ~real~ a/c cycling the engine to charge the battery pack, reliability, and kinda decent ground clearance. In reality the AWD system is a glorified FWD vehicle just like yours. Now I am a social person and I like to be around others so I'm not sure if I will enjoy the really remote isolation, but with FWD and 7in of ground clearance...

    A) Will I be missing out on too many grand places due to lack of 4WD and ground clearance?
    B) How much ground clearance does your vehicle have?
    C) Now that you've been stuck, what self-rescue items do you wish you had with you?

    1. A) You wouldn't miss much with a regular car.You can get through most forest roads, at least in good weather. They're well maintained and built, generally. I'd say about 80% or more are accessible by a car with FWD and average clearance.

      B) From what I've read online, my van has 5.1 inches of clearance.

      C) 1) Best all-season tires you can buy. I've gone through a crazy number of tires so far.
      2) Have a true spare and all that goes with it, but have Slime and a 12v pump as well.
      3) Get a tire patch kit and learn to use it.
      4) Have tools to shovel and cut. I do OK with a hand pick and a short machete.
      5) Always have plenty of extra water, food, and a quart or two of oil. Extra gas isn't a bad idea, either. And blankets or a sleeping bag.
      6) Tire chains.
      7) A buddy of mine recommends Smittybilt Element Ramps, and I plan to get some.
      8) A winch isn't a bad idea, but if you look on YouTube, etc., you'll see some handy alternatives using poles and ropes for leverage, spare tires as sand anchors, and more. Basically, study ahead to make basic physics your friend for getting out of spots, winch or no winch.
      9) Strong rope, cable, chains or straps for towing another car (or being towed.)
      10) GPS. Mobile phone GPS is fine.
      11) Get a Personal Locator Beacon or satellite messenger if you'll be out of cell range.
      12) First aid kit

      I guess the summary of C is be prepared for being stuck and either getting out yourself or getting help and staying well in either case.

    2. Shit, this could be an article in itself! Probably will be soon!