Climb Dance: Pikes Peak 2016

Last May I happened upon a video of Sebastian Loeb’s record setting run up Pikes Peak in 2013. Now, ever since I was a kid, video’s of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb had tantalized me. The Indy cars that used to drive it in the 60’s, Ari Vatanen’s runs in the Peugeot 205 T16 and 405 T16 during the 80’s, and Monster Tajima’s string of records during the 90’s. So I’d always had it on my bucket list of motorsporting events that must be attended at some point in my life. After watching Loeb crush the record, I decided that this needed to be the year.

Thus, on June 24th-27th of 2016 my Dad, my buddy Chris and I went to the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. We left Salt Lake at five in the morning on Friday and drove straight through with only a stop in Fort Collins for lunch. We got to Colorado Springs around three in the afternoon, checked into our hotel and then drove up to the entrance of Pikes Peak. We didn’t feel the need to pay to get in, since we’d be up there most of the day on Saturday, but we wanted to get an idea of how to get there. After that brief excursion, we headed into Colorado Springs to check out Fan Fest, basically a big vendor show spanning several blocks in the heart of the city. As with most vendor shows, there was a lot of crap, but it was entertaining enough. Most of the cars competing were lined up there and it was interesting to see many of them up close. The coolest of them all being a 1983 Audi Quattro. Such and iconic car, and amazing to be able to see up close and talk to the owner about.


Heading across I-80 in Wyoming.


Scenic US-287 in norther Colorado.


The fully restored Broadmoor Special, which ran in the inaugural 1916 Hill Climb. They ran it in 2016 up to the halfway point to commemorate the centenary.


Interesting custom hill climb car.


Mazda rotary powered LMP2 style car.


Garage built franken-E30. This really was just a hackjob of a car, but pretty cool to see!


Rod Millen’s record setting 1994 all-wheel drive Toyota Celica.


One of the most epic production vehicles in history, the Audi Quattro. This vehicle changed rallying, road racing, and passenger cars forever; and ranks as one of my all time favorites!

After a few hours of wandering Fan Fest we’d seen pretty much everything there was to see. As with all vendor shows, about 10% of what’s there is interesting and the rest is just garbage. Around the time the Red Bull motorcycle stunt show was getting underway, we decided to mosey on outta there and grab some dinner. We found a nice place called the Odyssey Gastropub which satisfied Chris and mine’s thirst for some quality Colorado microbrews. Then we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep before the real events of the weekend came upon us.

Saturday morning dawned early for us, but after a decent breakfast and a bit of walking we were ready to embark on the adventure that is Pikes Peak! The mountain was to open for campers at noon, so we packed up the hotel and headed up towards the entrance at about 9:30, and boy was that a good idea! The closer it got to noon, the more people started lining up. By the time they let us head up, several hundred vehicles were packed into the parking lot for the North Pole Amusement Park (which is the creepiest amusement part I’ve ever seen!).


Not exactly an inviting sign…


Sure looks fun!


…until you glimpse the terrifying Santa atop the candy cane slide.

Once the gates opened, we raced up the mountain to our designated camping spot at 9-Mile, which, as the name suggests, is nine miles up the mountain. We quickly set up camp and took off for the summit. The road is truly epic! From a spectator’s view, it is sad that it is now paved all the way to the top. No more Group B rally cars blasting along the gravel with giant clouds of dust billowing behind them. But from a tourist driving a sedan’s perspective, it makes it much more enjoyable!

Due to traffic, there were few sections that I was really able to really open it up. But when I could, it was great and my Kizashi Sport was a pleasure to drive as we carved the through the corners and ate up the tarmac on the straight sections. Truly an amazing road to drive!

We reached the summit at over 14,000 feet and were greeted by spectacular views. Sadly, it was packed with tourists, many of which had taken the iconic cog railroad up to visit the gift shop and restaurant at the summit. Tourist always annoy me, even when I’m one of them. I suppose it might be because I generally try to inform myself about the places that I’m visiting. So, when a group of Easterners are walking around wondering why there are no trees, or are surprised that there is still snow in late June, or make comments about how the railroad is ‘hundreds of years old’ I just wonder how they can been so stupid, frankly.

We wandered around the summit taking in the views for a bit before we descended back down the 14.7 miles to the pits. At the halfway point on the mountain they stop all traffic and rangers check the temperature of your breaks using laser thermometers. If you’re breaks are over 300 degrees, they require you to pull off for a while and let them cool down. A smart safety move, to say the least. When they checked mine, the ranger said, “Oh, wow! Um, your breaks are almost 600 degrees! You need to pull off and wait for like half an hour for them to cool down!” My slotted, cross drilled rotors were probably fine as I felt no fade, but it’s a smart service to provide for the average driver and gave us an excuse to stop for lunch and enjoy some car watching.

When we finally made it to the pits, there was nothing going on. With qualifying having happened on Friday, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but having been to a number of other motorsporting events in the past, I figured that there would have been some action for us to wander around and inspect, but that wasn’t the case. There were a few teams working on things, but for the most part it was pretty empty down there. So, nine miles back up the road to our camp we went!

We rolled into camp to find many, many more people stuffed into our little area than had been there at noon. We wandered around a bit to see if there was anything interesting going on, but it was mostly groups getting the pre-race partying going early. Our plan was to get to be pretty early and then wake up at 1:30 in the morning to make our way up to Devils Playground to get a good spot at one of the most iconic corners on the mountain.


Where it all begins!


Spectacular view to the northwest!


The iconic cog railway from Manitou to the summit.


An abrupt end to the railway…


Plaque commemorating Zebulon Montgomery Pike, the man who discovered Pikes Peak.


View back down towards Colorado Springs.

And that’s just what we did. We groggily rolled out of bed at 1:30, packed up our camp and got on the road at 2:15. The benefit of camping on the mountain is that the road is closed to spectators until three in the morning; but if you’re camping you’re already up there so you can get a head start! So, when we rolled into Devils Playground, there were only a few other people there and we were able to stake out probably some of the best seats along the entire course! As we tried to stay warm in 20 degree temperatures at 13,000 feet, Chris and I scouted out spots to take pictures of the race and got some beautiful shots of all the spectators winding their way up the mountain.

As the sun came up, you could feel the warmth. You could also see the hundreds of people who had swarmed Devil’s Playground. It was quite a sight to behold, everyone clustered around us in an attempted to the get best view that they could. Made me happy that we’d sacrificed sleep in order to get the spot that we did!


Hundreds of spectator vehicles making their way up the mountain in the early morning.


Dawn breaking at Devils Playground


A look down at the course.

The race got underway at eight in the morning. First up were the bikes, which quite frankly were pretty boring. I’ve never really had an interest in motorcycles, so even watching them blast up the hill at incredible speeds did little to excite me. If that’s your gig, then I’m sure it’s pretty cool, and the sidecar bikes were odd and kinda neat to see with the second guy climbing all over the vehicle as it weaved its way up the track. But at the end of the day I was there for the cars, so the bikes were basically the tasteless breadsticks you munch on while waiting for the main course.


First bike up the mountain.


About to head into the turn.


Letting it all hang out on the sidecar!


Quad. Which was just odd.


Exhibition truck “clearing” the road after the bikes were done.

Finally, at around 10am the cars started this year’s attack on the mountain. The record run up Pikes Peak was set in 2013 by nine time WRC champion Sebastian Loeb at 8:13.878 in a Peugeot 208 T16. The goal of every driver is to beat that record, which is a tall order. From our spot, we could see all the way down to the halfway point on the mountain and watch the cars wind their way the mountain to the hairpin corner right in front of us at Devils Playground. First up was Romain Dumas, who had won the 24 Hours of Le Man just the prior Sunday. His gas powered, turbocharged Unlimited class car blazed up the mountain in 8:51.445. Absolutely incredible to watch! Dumas was followed by one of the legends of the mountain, Rhys Millen. Between he and his father Rod they have set the record six times over the years. Now they are trying to set the record in a new way, with an all-electric vehicle. His time was 8:57.118. The fastest ever by an electric vehicle. It was very cool to see how quick it was, but without the engine noise, it lacked a bit of the “wow” factor as it made its way up the mountain. But this is the future, and it’s incredible to see the technology that they are employing here.


Romain Dumas


Rhys Millen with a slight overcorrection.


Acura NSX exhibition vehicle.


Monster Tajima


The ubiquitous Porsche 911. Undoubtable the most common vehicle competing.


They do more than just left turns!


Very racy looking Ford Focus!


Behind the 911, WRX’s were probably the most common vehicle.


The awesome hackjob E30!


At some point in its life, I think this was a Porsche 914.


Hoping it turns!


And it did!

They run fastest to slowest, allowing the cars attempting to break the record to have the clearest, freshest track possible. But as you go down order, the cars got more interesting. Older cars like the ’83 Audi Quattro, a ’79 Toyota Starlet, garage built hackjobs like an E30 BMW frakencar. So, while the Unlimited class was insane to watch rocketing up the mountain, the later stuff was intriguing to watch.


A very mean looking GTR.


An unfortunate end to this guys day.


Another NSX, these were pretty cool to see.


911 Attack


Beautiful 911 in classic Martini livery.


That had a bad day.


And had to turn around.


Beautiful afternoon view!


An old school looking kit car.

Chris and I hopped around on the hillside trying to find the best shots we could get, eventually making it down to the road itself. I can’t think of another event where that would be possible. I literally was able to lay on the shoulder taking pictures of cars going flat out headed straight for me before turning into the corner. Which is why, inevitably, we were chased off by a track steward.


One of the coolest car on the mountain, a 1979 Toyota Starling.


The crowd at Devils Playground.


The rotary powered LMP style car. Very slick looking.


The Quattro making it’s run. Sadly, that smoke proved terminal farther up the track.


Hyundai Tiburon lifting a wheel.


Classic Plymouth making its run.


Another LMP style car. These just look fun to drive.


Last car on track


Only to be followed by this beast!

The race continued until about four in the afternoon, and as it was drawing to a close there were more and more red flags due to vehicle issues. Of the 97 cars that entered, 20 failed to finish either due to breakage or crashing. This extended the race by an hour or so. On top of that, the beautiful weather that we’d been having took a turn for the worse, started raining and dropped the temperature by about 20 degrees. As the rain got worse, we packed up all our gear and headed for the car.


The gathering storm.

As we waited in the car, the rain turned to hail. And we’re not talking light hail, but big, painful hail! It was hard enough that I was nervous that it might actually damage my car! Fortunately, it didn’t, though it seemed touch and go for a minute. Once the hail stopped, the competitors came down from the summit in what is called the “Parade of Champions”. We all stood on the edge of the road and watched them come down, which was pretty cool.


Waiting for the Parade of Champions.

The race program had said that once the parade had passed and all the support vehicles from the summit had come down, they would release all the spectator vehicles from Devil’s Playground. Apparently, no one had communicated this to the police on site, as they seemed confused as to when they should allow us to go. We were held up for a good half an hour before finally being allowed to start heading down. I had anticipated getting off the mountain around 5pm, then driving through the night back home. But, due to the delays on track, being released from the parking lot late, and just the massive traffic jam on the mountain, we didn’t end up hitting the highway until 7pm.


Traffic.

We decided that we’d find a place to stay that night and make it the rest of the way home on Monday instead. Watching all the traffic heading back towards Colorado Springs, we opted to head northwest and avoid the Denver area altogether. We made our way along beautiful, winding rural roads to Frisco. It had been a very long day, so we booked the closest hotel and crashed.


Beautiful western Colorado.

The next morning, we were on the road again early heading west along I-70. Despite being freeway driving, it was beautiful country (aside from Vail, which is quite ugly and overbuilt). I was particularly impressed with Glenwood Canyon. The canyon itself was beautiful, but the roadwork built to complete I-70 through there is spectacular. Truly and engineering marvel!

We powered through, only pausing in Green River for the obligatory stop at Ray’s for lunch. When we finally rolled into Salt Lake, we were tired, but fulfilled. It’s not every day that you get to check something off your bucket list, but when you do it is a great feeling!

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If you have never seen it before, here is the classic short film “Climb Dance” featuring Ari Vatanen’s 1988 record setting run in a Peugeot 405 T16:

And for contrast, Sebastian Loeb’s blistering 2013 run in a Puegeot 206 T16:

Islands in the Desert

It all started in December. Guiding the few people who decided that after shivering all night during Freeze Your Tail Off 8, braving more cold to drive around the Silver Island Mountains was a good idea. As we skated about on the ice, snow, and mud I thought, “Why don’t I ever come out here when it’s warm?”

Mid-May, when it is supposed to be warm (though this year has disagreed with that standard) and the Silver Island Mountains Exploration trip got underway. We met at the Speedway Gas Station to top off tanks and grab our last provisions before venturing off into what was, for all intensive purposes, the unknown for many of us. The Silver Island’s, while close to home, are generally not regarded as a destination. To the casual observer, they are surrounded in salt, have no trees, and generally look like a miserable place to visit. After years of touring the loop road post FYTO, I finally did some digging and found that it is crisscrossed with dozens of old roads, mine sites, caves, and all sorts of other points of interest.

Our first destination on Friday was to find a suitable camp. We wound our way along a barely discernable two-track road up to a saddle between two ridges and were greeted with a fantastic camp spot.

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Not only was it a great place to pitch a tent and have a campfire, it also had magnificent views to the south of the Salt Flats and Wendover Airfield.

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And to the north of the stunning Rishel Peak.

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One thing that I noticed right away that was different about other trips around the Silver Island Mountains (aside from the lack of snow), and all the pictures that you find of them, is just how green everything was. It was almost surreal to stand there looking north at Rishel Peak and this lush, green valley spread out in front of it. It almost seemed like it would be fertile land if you didn’t know it’s true nature. But with all the water we’ve had this year, it’s made the desert bloom in spectacular fashion!

As the light faded we were greeted with beautiful cloud formations floating over us.

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After an enjoyable night around the campfire, I drug myself out of my warm comfortable sleeping bag at 5:15 in the morning (much to Kit’s chagrin I’m sure) to catch the sunrise, which was beautiful!

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Once the day began for the late risers, we packed up camp and headed out. A short drive and hike later we were at a small cave looking out over the expansive Salt Flats.

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The centuries old soot marking the roof of the cave bare evidence to the ancient inhabitants.

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One can’t help that they chose the cave for the view. Even back then, real estate was all about location, location, location!

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Another short drive later and we were at another cave. This one a bit larger and with a small amount of water dripping in the back.

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From the second cave we made our way up a faded spur road in the next canyon over which eventually found us at the base of a network of small mines.

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One of the more interesting aspects of these mines was a road that was built up to them. It looked like it was done by hand. Not my idea of a good time in the summer heat, but impressive.

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After exploring these mines for a bit we meandered our way to another set of mines at the base of Tetzlaff Peak and enjoyed a relaxing lunch in the cool breeze.

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After lunch we started making our way towards the Floating Island Mountain to the south-east. Along the way we came upon a building foundation just off the main loop road. Not sure what it was for. Perhaps an observation point for the Army Air Force out of Wendover during the war? A store house of some sort? Not sure, but in 1970 the USGS thought it was a good spot to place a survey marker.

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We found our way to the causeway that leads to the Floating Island Mountain and cruised along as it got larger and larger on the horizon. It’s an odd looking mountain with a large rock jutting out of it like a diving platform.

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We continued on along the east side of the mountain, skirting the edge of the salt flats until the ring road just seemed to vanish! To the south the road continued along an arrow straight causeway that ultimately ended at I-80, but the route to the west that showed on our maps was gone from what appeared to be the quarrying efforts to construct the causeway!

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But with the map saying it was there and that it ultimately led us back to where we began, we embarked upon some cross country travel. Picking our way through the brush and loose rocks. Unfortunately for Brian in his Colorado, this meant a puncture to the sidewall of one of his tires. But with a quick patch and some air, he was back on his way shortly.

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Eventually we made our way to the west side of the mountain and were confronted with the vast expanse of mud flats near the end of the Bonneville Speedway. Hard and flat, we did our best to imitate the racers and sped our way back to the causeway that led us in.

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We reconnected with the Silver Island Mountain loop road and hurriedly made our way to our next point of interested, the Crater Island Mountains. Here we were greeted by an oncoming storm front which gave us beautiful vistas, strong wind and some welcome rain to keep the dust down.

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As we worked our way east we were met with our first bit of mine ruins. What looked like some sort of loading dock. And below that, the overturned cab of a truck.

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Onward we went in search to more mine ruins and we soon greeted with a small canyon full of relics. A test kiln with fired bricks labeled “golden”, what looked to be the foundation of a generator plant, and a shaft that led to a rather deep hole!

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It was fast approaching o’beer-thirty at this point and we’d yet to come across an acceptable campsite. So the search was on as we made our way farther east along the Crater Island Mountain road. After inspecting a few potential spots, we finally found one high up on the crest of a hill that offered some spectacular views. As we were going through the motions of setting up camp, we were treated with some light rain and wind and beautiful clouds marching across the sky.

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After a bit the storm moved on and we were able to get a nice fire going and started making dinner. But then the wind kicked up again. And boy, was it blustery! I’d set my trust Coleman stove up behind the Trooper and was boiling some brats and sauerkraut for dinner when a huge gust whipped over the hill. And that was the end of the planned dinner! The brats were salvageable (eating a bit of dirt never hurt anyone), but the sauerkraut was gone, and sadly my 1980 425E is going to have to go through a bit of a rebuild after it came crashing down.

The wind passed again for a few hours and we enjoyed sitting at a nice campfire, but eventually it came back with vengeance; forcing many of us to retreat to our tents. Kit and I had made the calculated decision to leave the rainfly off of ours, surmising that any rain that we might have would quickly move on. By about 11:30 that night, we’d found that was a pretty poor decision and I was sent out into the storm to batten down the hatches. With the wind ripping by at 40mph and the rain lashing at my face I struggle mightily to get the fly into place. But doing my best Horatio Hornblower impression, I got everything into place and dove back into the tent. And, as always seems to be the case, just as I got back into the sleeping bag; everything died down.

I awoke the next morning less than rested and in some ways just looking to get the day done with because I was so damn tired from the night. Breakfast was a solemn affair until I got a cup of coffee brewed. As I finally started to wake up with the aid of our friend caffeine, I looked to the north and wanted to see how far we could get on the road that stretched out from our camp. A few other decided to make the trek with me, while others opted to stay at camp. Our first stop was the beginnings of what looked to be designs for a mighty mining operation. The entrance tunnel was impressive, but quickly bottomed out.

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From the mine it was a short jaunt down to the mud flats where the road more or less end. Theoretically you could hop on the flats and make your way along the north edge of Crater Island and connect back to the Silver Island Mountains loop road. But with the rain we’d had the night before, I felt that risking getting stuck wasn’t worth the adventure. So after enjoying the sights for a minute, we headed back up to camp to join the others.

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Once everyone was saddled up and ready to go, we started heading back towards the Silver Island Mountain loop road. We took a quick detour to inspect another abandoned mine site. It was nothing more than a small hole in the ground, but judging from the amount of tailings, it went down a ways!

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We stopped again near the first abandoned mine site on Crater Island and headed up to see is we could find the actual shaft. At the mouth of the small canyon there was clear evidence of heavy use, so we surmised that there much be something up there of note.

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As we clambered around, there wasn’t any evidence that we could find of a mine shaft. Just interesting geology and beautiful vistas.

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But on our way back down we stumbled upon the reason for all the equipment further down. A spring that looked to have been dug out for better access. With fresh water so rare out here, clearly a valuable find!

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From here our party split. A hand full decided to head back to Floating Island and take the causeway from the south end of that to I-80, and a few more decided to complete the Silver Island Mountain loop road to the north. The rest of us headed into Silver Canyon, and I have to say; the other missed out!

Not long after entering the canyon it was clear that is was the most beautiful area of our trip. There is clearly more water in the canyon that the rest of the area as the juniper grew large and it just had a much more lush and cool feeling.

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We wound our way up the two track stopping a few times at the scars of several aborted mining attempts.

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As we got higher up the canyon we were greeted by the imposing tower of Graham Peak.

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Eventually we took a spur that promised to deliver us to another former mine site. The road got narrower and narrower and more technical, which made the journey worth it in itself!

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But it didn’t disappoint in the mine either. There we several horizontal shafts and one deep vertical shaft with a precarious looking ladder heading down into it.

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We contemplated heading down into it, but without rappelling gear, we opted to stay topside.

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From here we headed back out to the loop road and split up again. With a few wanting to go and complete the loop to the north and the rest of us heading back along the south side. All told it was a very interesting trip into one of the less traveled areas of the state. Certainly whetted the appetite for further exploring!

Daniels Summit Exploring

My family homesteaded Daniels at the southern edge of Heber Valley in the late 1880’s and while I’ve been going up to visit my Grandmother and Aunt, who still live on the original plot, my whole life I have actually done very little exploring in the hills and canyons south of Daniels. I remember sometime in the early 90’s, shortly after my Dad got his Suzuki Samurai that we went up into the hills behind my Grandmother’s house and ended up in Wallsburg. But in the 17 years that I’ve had a driver’s license, I’ve never managed to go explore the area.

Last July I decided to finally get up and see some of the area. A group of us decided to head up Daniels Canyon to FR143 and poke around for a day.

Initially I was quite pleased with the loneliness of the road. With American Fork Canyon getting more and more crowded, and ultimately Snowbird planning on turning it into another Little Cottonwood Canyon melee, the search is on for another area relatively close that I can get away from the bustle of city life.

Sadly, not long after I took that lovely picture we came upon a clearing packed with RV’rs and the associated cadre of ATV’s, UTV’s, dirt bikes, dogs and screaming children. And then there was another clearing, and another all the same. Clearly the area, due to its proximity to the Wasatch Front, was easily accessible by this sort of rabble. But soon the road got rough. Well, rough enough that there was little chance that an RV, Honda Civic or bro-lifted Chevy Silverado would try to keep going. Once at the top we were greeted with quiet and wonderful views.


From here we meandered, wandering down the main road and spur’s just seeing what was out there. Occasionally getting out to admire the views and see what was around.


Eventually we made our way to the VAT Diversion Tunnel, which is part of the Central Utah Projects system of collecting water for Strawberry Reservoir. The dam and tunnel were constructed between 1975 and 1983 with the initial diversion flowing down the 7.3-mile tunnel in 1986. For most people, including my traveling companions, this kind of stuff is pretty dull. But I have a very odd fascination with water infrastructure projects (I really should work for the Bureau of Reclamation), so for me it was very interesting to actually see.


From the tunnel is just a short jaunt to Highway 32 and then down to Kamas. Being as it was nearly three in the afternoon and none of us had thought to pack a lunch, we decided to call it a day and head into town for a meal and then home. All told though, heading up into the hills south of Heber for the first time in decades only whetted my appetite to go more!

Retro Ramble: Part I

Retro Ramble was born of a desire to have an event specific to the awesome vehicles of the 1980’s. Relic Run caters to those who have a fondness for 1970’s and earlier vehicles, but the 80’s and their particular strain of uniqueness were intentionally left out of that.

So finally, after five years of Relic Running, the vehicles of the ‘80’s roared to life on a early June afternoon. It was a small, but relatively eclectic group for the first outing. Kurt with his rare in the US ’86 BJ74 Toyota Land Cruiser, Mike in his supped up ’84 FJ60 Cruiser, Spencer and his two kids in his ’83 Mitsubishi Turbo Diesel Pickup, and me in my beloved ’86 Samurai.

So a little background here is necessary I feel. The vehicle you see above is in many ways a lifelong labor of love. For automotive enthusiasts, they’ll get it, for others perhaps not. It’s square, slow, rusty, loud, bouncy, antiquated… the antitheses of what many feel exemplifies beauty. But to me, it’s everything I love. You see, my dad came home with a Samurai in the spring of 1990 and though I was still mourning the loss of his 1976 Renault 5, I was immediately smitten with the Samurai. And then came the 4-wheeling. From the first trip to the dunes, to the picnics in the mountains, and then conquering trials in Moab. My dad’s Samurai was unstoppable. Mix all that in with long nights in the driveway putting on a lift, swapping in transfer case gears and lockers, and you quickly have a recipe to make a young boy obsessed.

By the time I turned 16 I was determined to own a Samurai of my own. So when I found an ’86 hardtop in the classifieds, it was game on. That was June of 1999. Fast forward 15 years and I still have it. It’s been through several iterations, different lifts, two motors, a new front clip; but it’s still my Samurai.

After several years of chasing down gremlins associated with an EFI swap, I finally got it running solidly in time to participate in the inaugural Retro Ramble. And I couldn’t have been happier. My Isuzu Trooper has become the primary vehicle for backcountry exploration. And compared to the Samurai, it’s luxurious; but to get the Samurai back out on a trip just made me giddy.

So our little band met up in Delle along I-80 before venturing along the dusty, silty, Dead Cow Point Road (yes, that’s really it’s name) squeezed between the Lakeside Mountains and the Great Salt Lake. Our ultimate destination, the Lakeside Cave and the 1980’s.

The soft sand of Dead Cow Point Road eventually dumps you off on the main road between the Union Pacific quarry at Lakeside and I-80. This road also happens to pierce the United States Air Force’s Utah Test and Training Range for a dozen miles or so. As you enter the range, and every few miles there are large, imposing signs warning you not to stop for any reason. Not to leave the road for fear for unexploded ordnance. We abided diligently, with the Samurai happily zooming along the smooth dirt road until we came over the final rise and dipped into the dark, almost dystopian scene that is the Lakeside quarry. The mountainside stripped of all vegetation, industrial equipment in various stages of repair strewn about. And empty. I’ve been through Lakeside a dozen times, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone actually working there. It’s eerie, but that can be said about much of the area west of the Great Salt Lake.

We eventually found our way through the quarry and to the cave west of it. As the sun slowly dipped into the warm spring night, we settled in for an evening of chatting around the fire, delicious burnt end’s provided by Spence and a reading of the inaugural Retro Ramble newspaper!

The early morning sun roused us all excitedly to get the day underway. Our plan was simple, a quick breakfast and then blast down the Transcontinental Railroad grade to the Hogup Pumping Station and then north to the City of Rocks in southern Idaho.

I led the group out along the railroad grade, cruising along enjoying the stark vistas across the salt flats and reveling in how well the Samurai was running. And then… I lost all power. I quickly pulled over at a wide spot on the grade and hopped out.

I immediately suspected my EFI gremlins had returned, but after pulling the air box out and seeing the milky residue inside, I knew it was something more sinister. By this time Kurt, Mike and Spence had caught up. Kurt’s cool head and mechanical expertise immediately suspected a blown head gasket, which would explain the mixing of oil and coolant along with the sudden loss of power. Mike and Spence volunteered to make the drive all the way back into Tooele for a new gasket while Kurt and I tore the head off.

We managed to get the head torn down in about an hour, which gave us plenty of time to relax.

At least we can clam this; few people have probably spent several hours on the side of the Union Pacific railroad grade who didn’t work on it. Not sure if I would recommend it for your next romantic vacation destination, but certainly unique.

After about two hours, Mike and Spence returned with a brand new head gasket and we set about buttoning the whole thing back up. I was in a chipper mood as we tightened the last bolts on the valve cover and started to refill the motor with oil and coolant. Right up to the point that we realized that the coolant just kept on going in and eventually finding its way back out the oil check tube. What we were faced with was a cracked block, and the Samurai, which had performed so admirably just a few hours earlier, was out for the count.

Dejected, I threw a strap to the back of Kurt’s Cruiser and we proceeded to tow the Samurai back to Delle while Mike and Spence continued along the railroad grade to Lucin.

Once Kurt and I arrived at Delle I managed to get ahold of our friend Bryson to utilize his trailer and get me the rest of the way to Salt Lake. As we sat there in Delle waiting, Kurt, who was less than 24 hours away from hopping on a plane to enjoy the adventure of a lifetime driving around Terra de Fuego, was in his typical high spirits. “Its all part of the fun.” He said. I can’t tell you how many times in my life Kurt has lifted me out of the doldrums with his damnable positive attitude. He’s truly one of the happiest guys I know, and I feel fortunate to have found myself, once again, in a shitty situation with him telling me to buck up and look on the bright side.

Bryson got to Delle with his truck and trailer around 5pm and we loaded the Samurai up, wished Kurt luck in the southern hemisphere and headed back on the highway to Salt Lake. Bryson, also one of those damn happy people, encouraged me to look on the bright side and roll with the punches. So by the time we got to my parents house (the default storage location for my non-running Samurai) I was feeling pretty good about myself.

After thanking Bryson for the tow, my dad hurried me back to my place so I could swap vehicles for my 1994 Isuzu Trooper and begin the third phase of this adventure. In the space of an hour I was back on I-80 heading west again, fast. I’ve been told I’m a fast driver. I blame being raised on healthy doses of Formula 1, Le Mans, and WRC. All of which came in handy as I blasted along I-80, stopping at the Speedway gas station just long enough to top off my tank before heading north along TL Bar Ranch Road to Lucin.

I flew along the miserable washboardy road, drifting around corners in a way that would have made Stig Blomqvist proud; and generally rallying as fast as I could along the 50 miles between I-80 and Lucin. Finally, I reached my destination around 11pm, much to Mike’s surprise. Apparently, both he and Spence figured that I wouldn’t show up until the morning. I proved them wrong as I pulled into the Lucin “parking lot” to find Mike cheering my arrival.

After standing around chatting about Mike’s much more leisurely day for a few minutes, my allergies from the towering cottonwood trees got the best of me and I climbed into the passenger seat, threw a sheet over my head and drifted pleasantly to sleep.

Aside from the train roaring by several times through the night, I slept quite well and awoke in the morning refreshed from the previous days travails. The wind had kicked up and was fortunately blowing the pollen from the cottonwood trees away from our camp, which afforded Mike an I a chance to go wander around the old ghost town of Lucin for a bit. An interesting place, for sure. Built to serve as a watering point for train heading to and just finishing making the journey over the Great Salt Lake causeway, it was eventually made redundant as locomotives switched from steam power to diesel. Mostly abandoned by the mid-1930’s, it was finally cleaned out in the 1950’s. All that’s left are a few foundations and an impressive artificial lake fed by a spring.

After wandering for a bit, we returned to camp to find Spence and his kids out of their tent and enjoying a light breakfast. We consulted our maps and planned out our journey for the day, which would eventually find us at the City of Rocks in southern Idaho. After packing our gear, which for Spence in his tiny Mitsubishi was quite the game of Tetris, I led our group north to the small town of Grouse Creek.

Grouse Creek is an anomaly. A small farming community that is not only not a ghost town in the making, but actually growing! After bombing along the arrow straight gravel road all the way from Lucin we hit pavement at the outskirts of town and found our way to the general store at the heart of the town. The chipper proprietor of the shop talked enthusiastically about her little corner of Utah as we looked over the well-stocked shelves.

We availed ourselves to a few items and a couple tanks of gas before we decided to head to the north edge of town to check out the cemetery.

I’ve always found that the best way to get an understanding of a town’s history is to make a stop to the cemetery. Grouse Creek was settled by polygamous Mormons (surprise, I know!) so lots of graves of large families with one patriarch. Lots of Pioneers that had made the trek across the pains were there, with the oldest dates of birth being from the late 18th century! Quite amazing.

In the peace and quite of the cemetery we pulled out the trusty Benchmark and plotted out a few roads to explore east of town. There was one big loop that looked most appealing, so we headed out past several well-appointed farmhouses and through big fields until we found our road and began to slowly climb up from the valley floor.

As we ascended you could start to see smoke off in the distance. As we continued on the road, we kept getting closer and closer to the smoke.

Eventually we found a Chevy pickup parked in a field, but no one around. The smoke was getting thicker and we cautiously continued along the road until we saw the actual flames in the brush close by, at which point we wisely decided to turn around and head back down to the main road. Judging from the fact that there were no news reports about a fire around Grouse Creek, I assume that this was a prescribed burn of sorts.

Back on the main road we continued north into the Goose Creek Mountains. Having never been into this part of the state before, I was stunned by the vast beauty of the mountains. Rolling green hills accented by patches of brown and red all reaching for the fluffy clouds and bright blue sky. We stood atop one of the passes for a while and just took it all in.

As hard as it may be for us in the 21st century to believe, for most of its history the United States was still what we would now consider a “developing country”. Mostly rural with a few urban centers. The vast majority of the population lived in small towns like Grouse Creek. That all started to change around 100 years ago and there was a dramatic migration to urban centers. But there is an interesting period right around the turn of the 20th century where the population was still largely dispersed, but transportation was allowing for people to travel great distances in relatively short periods of time. In order to accommodate this, local and state governments built impressive road networks to connect everyone. As the migration to urban centers accelerated these roads began to see less use, then the national highway system was established in the late 1920’s, bypassing many of these towns, and finally the Interstate highways being built starting in the 50’s sealed the fate for many of the small towns and roads that connected them. Sad, yes, but for us backcountry explorers, this has left us with tens of thousands of roads to traverse and all sorts of “modern” ruins to find, such as this bridge over the Raft River:

Which stands as a testament to how much traffic this seemingly lonely dirt road once saw.

Several hours of winding our way through the Goose and Grouse Creek Mountains eventually found us in the town of Almo, Idaho, the gateway to City of Rocks National Reserve. We stopped into the old farmhouse in town that serves as the Ranger Station to find out about camping in the Reserve. We had been advised by a reliable source that we could just show up and get a spot without much issue. That turned out to be far from the truth! The Rangers informed us that all campsites within the Reserve were booked solid every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day. But we were told in the National Forest just outside of the Reserve we could camp without the need for a permit wherever we wanted. Being the hearty, self-sufficient explorers that we where, that worked out just fine for us. We hopped back into our vehicles and made our way through to the Reserves western edge and the up the forest access road. And up. And up. All the way to 10,000 feet when we finally crossed into the Sawtooth National Forest. We took the first spur road and immediately found a clearing that surpassed any and all of the prepared campsites within the Reserve. We quickly went about setting up for the most radical night of Retro Ramble. What made it so rad, you ask? Megaplex Sawtooth, that’s what!

Since we were “back” in the 1980’s, it was only appropriate to have a movie night. So we set up our screen, backed up Mike’s Cruiser and connected a VCR to his power inverter and got set up to watch one of the towering classics of the era, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Mix that with an absolutely amazing potluck of ribs and steak, and it was basically a perfect night in the mountains.

We woke the next day, packed up for the last time and made our way back down into the Reserve to do a little hiking. Now, I have heard people talk about City of Rocks in the past, but I had never really known what it was all about. Maybe a small grouping of rocks, an interesting outcropping, a place where people trekking west in the 19th century had stopped and given it a peculiar name. How about all of the above and more? It is truly a spectacular natural wonder of rock formations packed into a very small area. It is well worth the journey.

We hiked around at a couple of the upper sites for a while before we made our way to a rock that pioneers had written their names on.

At this point, Spencer and his kids decided it was time to take off and get back home at a reasonable hour. Mike and I bid them adieu before we too said goodbye to the City of Rocks and headed back into the town of Almo for a quick lunch.

One of my favorite things about exploring is finding diners and other quirky eating establishments in small towns. Almo did not disappoint with Rock City, a restaurant/gift shop/beer store that serves up a mean pizza. As Mike and I sat on the patio enjoying the afternoon sun we waxed poetical about the adventures of the past few days, both good and bad, and discussed our plans for Retro Ramble: Part II. If you think Part one sounded fun, Part II totally tubular!

2014: A Retrospective

This past year was a very busy, very fun year. Not sure if it surpassed 2013, but only because there was no big international trip. Hopefully that will be rectified in 2015!

February:

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The Annual Wasatch Cruisers Dunes Run was a great time as always.

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Later in the month Katy and I made quick trip to Florida to visit some friends. Something great about taking an ocean swim while Utah was still in a deep freeze!

March:

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A Quick-n-Dirty trip wandering the West Desert with friends.

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Followed by another trip out west wandering the vastness of the desert.

April:

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A long overdue Return to the Easter Jeep Safari.

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The very next weekend, I was back to explore the area around Moab.

June:

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The inaugural Retro Ramble kicked off with radical rigs and some back to the future action. Save Ferris!

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My good friend Kate and her Australian fiancé Matt came to Utah for their wedding. Leading to an legendary two weeks of Aussie on parade.

August:

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The sixth Relic Run found us exploring the Henry Mountains in fantastic vintage rigs.

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Four relaxing days on a houseboat at Lake Powell. No complaints about that!

September:

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A cold night up AFC for the Mini-Quarterly Training Day followed by National Public Lands Day and a great night in the Howell Cabin at Brighton.

October:

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Met up with my friend Spencer to explore the middle ground between SLC and St. George.

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The Next 27 Hours at the UBAD JL Rockies Invitational in the Maze, Poison Spring Canyon, and Black Dragon Canyon.

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A surprising 1st anniversary pub crawl in downtown SLC for my sister and her husband. Only included here for posterity due to it’s epicness. (i.e. I don’t remember this picture being taken…)

November:

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A random post Thanksgiving trip to the San Rafael Swell.

December:

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A warm, muddy, but thoroughly entertaining sixth annual Freeze Your Tail Off.

See you all next year!

A Maze, Poisoned Spring, and a Black Dragon

National Parks are generally marked by boring roads, bland views, closed roads, prepared campsites not allowing fires, signs telling you what not to do, and east coast tourists on an “adventure”. So in other words, places to be avoided at all costs. So when my good friend Joseph said that he was returning to Utah briefly from his exile in Florida to go to the Maze district of Canyonlands, I initially was non-committal leaning towards a firm no.

My Dad on the other hand, wanted to go. You see, the Maze district is probably the most remote area in the National Park system, you need a permit to stay there, and it is actually supposed to be a challenging drive to get to the bottom called The Dollhouse. My Dad had always wanted to drive this road, and with Joseph having the permit, here was his chance. But he wanted me to go, because, you know, who wouldn’t want me along?

While it’s remoteness appealed to me because that meant no east coast tourists (aside from Joseph), all the other detracting factors still existed. But, it’s my Dad, so I begrudgingly agreed to go along.

The plans for the main group was to head down on Wednesday night and camp outside of the park, then head in Thursday morning, camp along the supposedly challenging Flint Trail and then finally reach The Dollhouse Friday. My dad was going to join them Thursday morning, and because I’d used the last of my vacation time at work the weekend before in the Pavant Range, I was going to blast down Friday night and meet them at The Dollhouse.

The main groups plan went off without a hitch, and they moseyed on down to The Dollhouse at a leisurely pace. My Dad decided the week before that he’d rather accompany me down on Friday night. I had a very reliable person tell me, “Oh yeah, you can make it from Salt Lake to The Dollhouse in six hours. No problem!” So I figured I’d be able to leave work at 2:30pm and I’d be at The Dollhouse by 8:30-9:00pm no problem.

My Dad and I took off promptly at 2:30 Friday afternoon and cruised the familiar highways to Green River where we topped off out tanks and grabbed some Subway sandwiches for dinner. We left Green River about 5:00pm and found our way to the turn off for the Hans Flat road along UT 24. This is the 40 some odd mile road that takes us to the Hans Flat Ranger Station at the edge of the Maze District of Canyonlands. All reports said it was a well-maintained, high speed dirt road. Everyone was wrong.

Aside from Maybe the TL Bar Ranch Road north of Wendover, this was the most washboardy road I’ve ever encountered. Just miserable. In addition, frequent washouts and ruts from the recent storms slowed our pace considerably. But we still made decent time and arrived at the Ranger Station just after dusk around 7:15. As we aired down our tires, I concluded that reaching The Dollhouse by 8:30 or 9:00 was a bit optimistic at this point, but we’d probably still make it by 10:00.

We took off from the Ranger Station and found the notoriously challenging Flint Trail in much better condition than Hans Flat road. There was an occasional dip to worry about, but aside from that, easy 2-wheel drive cruising at 40 miles per hour. At this rate, we’d cover the 40 miles in no time!

We then hit the first “challenging” section. A series of tight, rocky, steep switchbacks. With only our headlights to guide us, we dropped into 4-low and slowly descended. Nothing seriously hard, but not knowing what was ahead of you, or off the edge of the trail, made it a bit interesting.

After a few miles of maybe moving at 10-15 MPH tops, the road straightened and flattened out enough again to take it out of 4WD and start cruising again. If that was the roughest we were to expect, we’d still make it to The Dollhouse in short order.

The next eight miles or so were uneventful. Marked by a few small rocky parts, but otherwise much like the road before the switchbacks, fast and smooth. We were rapidly approaching what the Park Service called the hardest section, a twelve-mile stretch of road between Teapot Rock and Standing Rock. We figured that if the road were like the switchbacks before, it wouldn’t be any bother.

And then we hit the first ledge. From Teapot rock to The Dollhouse took us nearly four hours. That’s how bad it was. Not that anything was terribly difficult, simply that it was rocky, technical driving made all the worse by being pitch black everywhere except in our headlights.

For twelve miles we lumbered, mostly in 4-low. At one point, I heard a tingling noise from my left rear. I hopped out, and there hanging down was my sway bar. A bolt didn’t break, the link didn’t snap. No, the sway bar itself had sheared off inside it’s bushing on the frame mount. This was ¾ inch steel that had just sheared. We quickly pulled the offending part of the sway bar off and continued, slowly, on our way.

At one point we saw headlights high up in the distance. We knew that was the rest of our group! But alas, due to the winding nature of the trail, it was still hours before we reached The Dollhouse.

When we did, it was 12:05am. Nine and a half hours after we left Salt Lake, in case you’re counting. It was, in 21 years of being involved with 4-wheeling, undoubtedly the most arduous trip I’ve had yet. But we had made it! The Dollhouse was ahead of us, and it was time to meet up with our friends… who were all asleep. We roared into campsites one and two to find all the lights out and all the available tent spots taken. So we turned around and made for the third campsite, which was a ways away and up a little rocky climb. Clearly a place where only Isuzu’s dare as there were no Jeeps or Toyota’s around.

Finally out of our vehicles, my Dad and I quickly pitched our tents and set up camp. We sat around our Coleman lantern (no fires allowed in National Parks) for a few minutes eating the remaining halves of our Subway sandwiches and sipping some cola to unwind for our long journey. Finally, though, sleep overpowered us and we turned in.

Saturday morning dawned at some point. Again, the thick canvas of my Skydome allowed me an extra hour or so.

Fortunately for me, my Dad is an early riser and his clomping around taking pictures awoke me. Or is that fortunate? I don’t know. Regardless, I finally struggled out of my sleeping bag and unzipped the Skydome to be greeted by this spectacular sight:

It’s these moments that remind me why I do this. Why I drive nine and a half hours, break stuff on my rig at 10pm and keep going. Why I love this state, and why I’m so happy that 24 years ago my Dad brought home a Suzuki Samurai and started me down this journey.

Despite the view, I was still groggy and stumbled about desperate to get the kettle on the boil so I could have some much-needed coffee. As I stood there watching the kettle, I could hear the sound of a motor coming closer and closer. Eventually, a KJ Liberty appeared from around the bend and struggled up the ledges to getting to our campsite. Once it arrived, Joseph hopped out of the passenger seat and proclaimed, “It’s a little sketch getting up here!”

“Only for Jeeps!” was my reply.

Joseph, the organizer of this grand adventure as well as the only east coast tourist of the bunch, and the KJ driver, Gary, chatted with us for a bit while my Dad and I ate breakfast. Joseph was surprised that we made it all the way in Friday night. He figured that we’d either head down on Saturday or camp somewhere along the way. Apparently another member of the party, Derek, corrected Joseph by saying something like, “No way, Stephen’s the fastest guy I’ve ever seen on a dirt road. He’s hardcore.” He was right, obviously.

Apparently the plan for the day was to hang out in camp, maybe do a little hiking, but that was about it. Joseph and Gary mounted the KJ again and scampered back to their camp. As my Dad and I finished up breaky, we discussed the day. Initially we had planned to drive more of the roads in the Maze district, but after last night’s harrowing experience, we figured that it might be more prudent to not to do that. Sitting in camp didn’t really sound all that exciting. And hiking is, on the whole, boring to us. We drive roads, that’s our form of entertainment. So we decided that we would hang out in camp with everyone for a bit and then head out via Poison Springs Road and camp somewhere along the way that night.

We finished breakfast, packed up and headed into Camp 1. We got there to find everyone gathered around also discussing the plans for the day. Derek and his co-pilot Brian were already planning on heading out as well. Everyone else was in a “whatever” kind of mood. So with a fancy sales pitch (Adventure! Excitement!), I managed to convince the whole crew to roll out with Derek, my Dad and I rather than sit around camp with the mice (apparently the mice were quite bad the night before).

Everyone quickly gathered their gear up and we headed out.

In the daylight, places that we only knew we were at because of mileage on the map or signs came into view.

We were able to make much better time along the Flint Trail in the day. Its amazing how when you don’t think you’re on the edge of a cliff and can see more than just a couple dozen yards ahead of you how much more confident you become.

We managed to traverse the section of the trail from the Dollhouse to the turn off to Poison Springs Road in two and a half hours as opposed to the nearly six hours of the night before!

We made the turn onto Poison Springs Road and quickly left Park Service land. The road was a fun, high-speed trail surrounded by beautiful vistas.

One of the more interesting things we came across was an old, abandoned trailer. Not the strangest thing to find out in the desert, but this one was definitely unique.

Apparently an enterprising individual had decided to turn the old family Hudson into what looks like a sheep trailer. Points for ingenuity! And apparently they had an early ARB fridge inside, as that was also abandoned nearby. Quite the luxurious setup!

After a poking around the old Hudson for a few minutes, we mounted up again. The clouds were looking ever more ominous and we wanted to make it to the fording point on the Dirty Devil before any rain might come.

From the river bed where the Hudson rested, the road climbed out of the canyon until we were finally hugging the walls high up and presented with spectacular views. I’ve been to New England, Chicago, Florida, all over the West. I traveled to the other side of the planet. I’ve seen beautiful works of art, exotic wildlife, amazing architecture, but this.

This is home. The grandeur. The vastness. I once had a man in New York City ask me if I agreed that it was the center of the known Universe. I laughed and said, “Go west, young man.”

Eventually the road, and its expansive views dropped back down to the Dirty Devil River where we were faced with fording its muddy waters. We piled out of the vehicles and started inspecting the banks.

Even though the water looked low and relatively slow, we still wanted to be cautious and make sure there were no surprises waiting for us. So Derek “volunteered” (he was the only one in shorts and sandals) to check the riverbed for us.

After confirming that it was solid, I eased the front wheels of my Trooper into the brown water and powered myself across. One by one the rest of our little band followed to the far shore.

Our goal for the day had been to get across the Dirty Devil so that we wouldn’t have to face it in the rain that was threatening for Sunday. And now that we had succeeded in that goal, our task was now to find a suitable campsite before sunset. This proved to be more of an imposing task that we had initially thought. All around us was beautiful redrock cliffs, sloping, rocky escarpment, and creek beds. There was nary a flat spot that wasn’t associated with some sort of drainage, and with rain possible that wasn’t terribly appealing.

Finally, as the last gasps of sunlight filtered down the canyon walls, we found a high part of the riverbed that likely only ever saw water during the most torrent parts of spring runoff.

After pitching tents and gathering some firewood, we congregated around the crackling fire pit to swap barbs and stories. I sincerely believe that sitting around a fire pit out in the desert could solve all the worlds’ ills.

The next morning I was again awoken not by the sun, but rather the sounds of others rustling about. I had fully expected it to rain the night before and to be greeted with a wet, gloomy Sunday morning. Rather, it was dry and warm with blue skies.

We prepared breakfast and packed our lovely campsite before heading out on the road again.

In our quest to find a suitable spot the night before; we had made it much further along Poison Springs Road than we had initially anticipated. So it was a fairly quick 10 mile jaunt to Highway 95 and pavement.

At this point, we bid adieu Mark in his JK who was returning home to New Mexico via Hite. The rest of us turned north and made for Hanksville for gas and to determine what the rest of our day was going to shape up like.

After topping off our tanks in Hanksville, Derek, Brian, my Dad, and I decided that we were going to head home via Black Dragon Canyon and the northern part of the San Rafael Swell. Mike and Joseph, unfortunately, decided that Hanksville was the end of their off road adventures. We said our good byes, wished Joseph luck in the flat, boring, humid land of Florida and the took off along Highway 24.

A little ways before reaching the I-70 onramp we turned onto old Utah Highway 24. Abandoned decades ago, this road leads to a pheasant farm, a dead end gate and eventually, the road to Black Dragon Canyon. But not long off the new road, was an old bridge crossing the San Rafael River.

The bridge, a mostly wooden structure that had been topped long ago with asphalt and a few steel plates, was in reasonable shape if you discounted the fire damage on the eastern approach.

Next to this bridge, were the remains of its predecessor, the pylons from a cable-stay bridge.

We wandered the bridge and the river beneath for a bit before heading out along the road again. Taking a wrong turn and continuing down old Highway 24 past the large afore mentioned pheasant farm before finding ourselves at the locked gate. After consulting our maps for a minute, we found our way back to a turnoff shrouded by brush and made our way along a very dusty road skirted by an old landing strip before we finally swept north into The Squeeze.

Aptly named as the canyon walls slowly squeeze in to a narrow point with I-70 on the horizon ahead. We sprinted along this road and under I-70 until we made it to the entrance to Black Dragon Canyon. Here we found a gaggle of road cars and mini vans. People who had braved the “rough” road up to that point before deciding to hike the remaining quarter mile or so to the iconic pictograph panel. We, being of sound mind and in far more capable vehicles, drove straight to the panel. Much to the visible ire of many of the hikers.

We arrived at the panel to gaze upon the ancient markings and contemplate it’s meaning. Personally, I think it’s graffiti, nothing more.

I know that’s sacrilege to say for many people, but I think that while it’s interesting to wonder what the people who created it were thinking, I don’t think it has any greater meaning than saying, “Hey, bro! I killed a horned beast. Check it! Ungh!” It’s like trying to find deep meaning in someone’s tag of an overpass sign. It’s just not there. I find the markings made by Pioneers far more interesting, but I’m in the minority, I know. Regardless of how I feel, Derek was fascinated.

After undoubtedly annoying the tourist at the panel with my inane ramblings about ancient graffiti for a while, Derek led us into the dark maw of Black Dragon Canyon.

Along the riverbed we found the remains of travelers less fortunate than us.

Eventually along the soft sandy river we reached a formidable obstacle that had to be conquered. Derek, in his mighty Toyota, decided that he would mount it with ease. Now, apparently on Thursday on the way to The Dollhouse it was discovered that the Tacoma was not engaging 4-Wheel Drive. That can be a problem when one tries to surmount obstacles. Derek felt that this was an issue easily overcome with the liberal application the throttle. With a loud bang of the right front hitting on a rock, the Toyota stopped. The silty sand. Not allowing any further progress.

Fortunately, unbeknownst to Derek and Brian, there was a bypass just to the left. So they backed up and slinked around.

My Dad, perhaps with some encouragement from me, decided to take on this little climb. Unfortunately, because of the Troopers wheelbase, he became high centered. I quickly scampered around the bypass, threw a strap to him and yanked him over. There is no visually documentation of this, so we can easily deny that it happened and say that his Trooper was the only vehicle to actually make it over!

We mounted back up and continued winding our way through the canyon until we finally ascended and found ourselves along the Jackass Benches.

As I was enjoying the view and hanging back to stay our of Derek’s dust, I came around a corner to find:

Yeah… So remember that loud bang on the Tacoma’s right front? Well apparently that caused some serious damage. Like, sheering several bolts ouf of the lower ball joint.

So we found that two bolts had completely sheered off, one had sheered off about halfway into the bolt hole and one bolt was just missing. This was probably an issue before the damaged caused by the hit on the ledge, but that likely finished the issue off. Fortunately, Toyotas and Isuzu’s share many AISIN components and I just happen to have eight bolts from when I replaced my lower ball joints in my toolbox that were an exact match for the Tacoma.

So we got to work.

Derek was super excited to use his Bushwacker exhaust jack.

In fact, Derek was just super chill about the whole thing. If it where me, I would have hopped out of my rig, swore up a storm, and then been in a bad mood. Derek let loose some choice words, but generally was just upbeat. He’s kinda the embodiment of, ‘A day on the trail, no matter how bad, is better than a day in the office!’

Since we had the requisite bolts, the trail repair was actually pretty quick and painless.

Within an hour of the breakage, we were putting the tire back on and getting ready to roll.

Now, the repair was just a bandage as we could only get one bolt fully in and another about halfway. Regardless, Derek was super excited that he’d be able to drive out.

The stricken Tacoma put a damper on our plans to head home through the Swell. While we were making repairs, Brian was on the phone and got his brother to start heading down from Salt Lake to meet us at the next I-70 exit we could reach with a truck and trailer to get Derek’s vehicle all the way home. Also, because of the weakness of the repair, we limited our progress to ten or fifteen miles per hour along Jackass Flats. So rather than being able to make it to exit 131 in 30 minutes, it took around two hours.

No matter. We made it without any further damage and in high spirits. We pulled into the trailer parking area off the exit and Derek and Brian pulled out their camp chairs to wait in the warm sun for their rescuers to arrive. Meanwhile, my dad and I aired up our tires, said our good byes and took off for home.

As I accelerated up the onramp to the freeway, my Trooper was vibrating like crazy. Initially I thought that it was just mud stuck in the wheels and it would eventually even itself out. But, even as we reached 75mph, it persisted. We quickly pulled off at the next truck pullout and I dove underneath to find that my rear u-joint was shot. Not falling apart, but clearly in duress.

We made the decision to risk it and power on to Price and hopefully find a replacement there. I found that it was happiest at about 70mph, so we cruised along I-70 and US 6. Along the way I managed to get ahold of AutoZone and have them place a u-joint on hold. When we got into town about 7pm I hopped out again and took a look at the joint again. No change, which was encouraging. I still bought the replacement, but decided that doing a parking lot replacement in the failing light was not what I wanted to do. So we decided to risk it again for the drive home.

After a stopping in at Groggs for some dinner, we embarked again along US 6 through Spanish Fork Canyon. The whole while the Trooper would start vibrating heavily every time it dropped below 70mph, which was frequent. I had visions of the driveline coming apart and just destroying the underside of the vehicle. I wondered if perhaps I had made the wrong choice.

But it didn’t. It held all the way home. And when I checked after pulling up to my garage, the u-joint looked exactly the same as it did there on the side of I-70. Lucky me. And when I replaced it later in the week, I can tell you, I was sure glad I didn’t try and do it in the parking lot! Holy hell, was it a rusted POS!

The weekend on a whole was a fantastic trip. Arduous and frustrating at times, but without a doubt, one for the books! It was great to see Joseph and fantastic to finally get into The Maze, explore Poison Springs Canyon and wander through Black Dragon Canyon, all places I’ve been meaning to get to for years.