Exploring the Middle Ground

I have made the drive to and from St. George, Utah along I-15 hundreds of times. Generally, I stop in Fillmore because its pretty much half way and makes for a good place to stretch you legs and top off on fuel and food. I’ve always looked at the mountains to the east and thought, “I wonder what roads are up there?” But I’ve never taken the time to find out.

Mid October that changed. One of my oldest friends, Spencer, who is generally the reason that I make that drive to St. George, and I decided to meet in the middle and do a little exploring and camping. The middle was Fillmore and the Pavant Range to the east.

Our meeting place in Fillmore was the old Territorial State House.

It’s easily been 20 years since the last time I went to the State House (god, that sad that I can actually remember 20 years ago…), so it was interesting to stop off at the museum again. In reality, though, nothing much had changed. An interesting, if trivial, piece of Utah history and I would recommend anyone going, but mostly pretty staid exhibits.

From the State House, we decided to grab a bite to eat before hitting the trail. Like so many small towns that have been bypassed by the freeway, there isn’t much left on Main Street, which is really sad. But there was one burger joint called Cluff’s Car Hop, and it’s fantastic. In all these years blazing past Fillmore, I never came here. Totally worth it.

After enjoying a delicious cheese burger and fresh raspberry shake, it was time to leave pavement and head east into the Pavant Range. We decided to start our journey along the Chalk Creek Canyon road. A fairly major gravel and dirt trail that winds its way higher and higher into the mountains offering some stunning views of the valley below and magnificent fall colors.

As we climbed and climbed it became apparent that we were not going to be finding any flat areas to camp until we reached the summit. So we powered on until the light started to fade a bit and we reached a cattle corral at the top. It was flat, already had a fire ring, but… was next to a cattle corral and the associated material. There were spur roads heading off in either direction so we split up to find a more suitable spot.

I wandered an aspen shrouded trail called “Bear Hollow”. With leaves so thick on the road, it seemed like I was the first traveler into a forbidden land. But then, there about half a mile in was the perfect camp spot. Off the road a ways, guarded from the wind by tall aspens and low bushes, a flat spot with plenty of room for our two vehicles and a coupe of tents. Exactly the kind of spot you dream of. I radioed back up to Spence about the choice spot I had found, and he quickly headed back down.

We quickly staked our camp as the last rays of light departed and then stoked a roaring fire to sit around and enjoy for the rest of the night.

The next morning we woke with the sun. Well, Spencer did any way, the joyously thick canvas of my Skydome blocked the sun out until about 8:00, which was glorious! After a quick breaky we packed up and headed on out. We had no destination other than exploring and finding another suitable camping location for the evening. As we glided along the surprisingly smooth main road we saw a sign for “Hans Ridge” and a rocky ledge. Never one to turn down the chance to pop it into 4-Lo for some adventure, I turned off.

The trail led us along the afore mentioned ridge via a narrow two track, but not much more. When the trail finally squeezed itself down to ATV size, we stopped for a moment to enjoy the view and wax poetical about Jason Statham’s fine acting career.

After reflecting on such fine works as Safe and The Feather Men, we pulled out the trusty Benchmark Atlas and surveyed our surrounds. The next point on interest along the main road was called White Pine Point. Sounded like a logical place to head to.

As we wound our way up the mountain, I started to notice terracing leading up the peak. It reminded me of the anti-erosion terracing that you see in American Fork Canyon that was completed by the CCC. But my research thus far has not indicated that this was done at the same time.

Eventually we found our way to White Pine Peak, which is dominated by radio and cellular towers.

Which would explain why I had maximum cell signal all throughout the Pavant Range! So, while we sat there at 10,200 feet getting fried by various microwave signals, we also took in the absolutely spectacular views!

From here, Spencer and I ran into a problem. The roads were in great shape, and both of us are notoriously fast drivers. So where we reached at noon, was where we had planned to be by five. So we decided that rather than munch on ham and cheese sandwiches, we’d head into Richfield for lunch.

I’ve passed through Richfield a handful of times over the years, and I’ve always been amazed at how vibrant the little town feels. I think it’s in large part due to Snow College being there, which is good. I’m always saddened when I pass through a town that is well past its prime, like Fillmore. So finding a Main Street with life is always pleasant.

We parked in front of the post office, which proudly shows it’s cornerstone marked “1917” and began wandering. Our first stop was the Liquor Store. I had brought plenty of beer to help make the evenings by the fire go a little smoother, but Spencer has a slightly more sensitive pallet than I. So he bought himself some hard cider for the evening ahead. We then made our way up to the restaurant district. A whole two, right across the street from each other. One, the mainstay of Richfield, Little Wonder Café, is your classic Diner. In business for 70 some odd years, it’s definite stood the test of time. Our next option was the brand new Main Street Grille.

We decided to try out luck and give the Main Street Grille a try. Totally worth it. A delicious Ruben and some fish and chips were much more filling than the ham and cheese sitting in the fridge.

Our next order of business was to improve our communication set up. Spencer, not being a seasoned 4-wheeler, lacked a CB in his Dodge and we’d been relying on FRS radios. So we headed to the local Radio Shack and bought the bargain basement CB model. After setting this up and rolling out of town, we quickly learned why it was so cheap. While he could hear me fine, his transmissions sounded more like the adults from a Charley Brown cartoon. After fiddling with is a bit, Spencer decided he’d just deal with it for the time being.

It was time to head back into the mountains. We decided to tack southwest a bit on I-70 and head back into the Pavant Range just outside of Elsinore. It was about 3pm, so we wanted to find a nice camp spot and set up for some target shooting before it got to dark.

Looking at the maps, we decided to give Forest Road 496 a try.

It was a spectacular two-track road with a few fun little spurs, that were often a bit of a tight fit for the Trooper, and subsequently the big Dodge!

After a few hours of poking our noses down every spur road looking for a suitable camp spot, we found one up on FR439 just a little ways away from Joseph Peak nestled beneath a grove of bright yellow aspen trees. We set up Spencer’s dueling tree and plinked away with our .22’s for a good long while.

That night was windy. Very windy. And it boded poorly for Sunday. As morning broke, cold weather and ominous looking clouds crowding the horizon greeted us. Our initial plan was to heads south and cross I-70 and head into the Tushar Mountains. But the brewing weather and Spencer’s general dislike of all things cold prompted us to change our plans and turn west for the desert.

First, we made our way out of the Pavant Range towards Kanosh through the absolutely spectacular fall colors.

We made a quick stop in Meadow for gas and had some of the worst gas station coffee ever before we decided to make our way out to a place on the map called Clear Lake. As we passed through Flowell, we could see this long black strip on the horizon. Having never been out here before, neither of us were sure what it was. But as we got closer, we saw that it was a huge lava flow.

On the map, it’s simply referred to as “The Lava”, which was apt enough. Easily a quarter mile wide and several miles long, it was an impressive site to see with the farmland butting up against it.

After poking around on the lava for a minute, we continued towards Clear Lake, which really wasn’t much to talk about. A waterfowl management area, it reminded me of Fish Springs along the Pony Express Trail, but less grand.

Being disappointed with Clear Lake, we again consulted the map and decided to head back to Fillmore. As we drove, ahead of us stood Pahvant Butte (yes, with an “h”), atop it I could make out structures that looked very familiar to me. Something I’d read about before, but I swore it was further west. So we detoured off the main road to head up the butte and check it out.

As we neared, I was positive that this was the structure I was thinking of, but first there appeared to be only one road getting up to it. A rather steep climb on loose gravel with a rough patch in the middle. I wasn’t phased, dropping the Trooper in 4-low and hitting the gas I abled up it with nary a wheel spin.

Spencer, on the other hand, had a bit of a struggle. Getting stuck in the middle and having to back down a bit before he could get the lumbering Dodge the entire way up.

And there we were, atop Pahvant Butte and one of the oddities of Utah.

Back in the early 1920’s a gentleman by the name of A.H. Hood came to Millard County and proposed building a wind turbine power plant on the top of the butte. He managed to get some investors and construction began in 1923. It was never completed.

Supposedly the project went bankrupt and Hood was eventually convicted of mail fraud and sent to prison. As far as anyone has been able to find, there are no remaining photos, plans, or blueprints. So we can just wonder what it would have looked like.

For having sat abandoned on the top of this windy butte for 91 years, it’s in remarkable condition. Only one tower has collapsed and the main building, which I assume would have held the generator, still stands.

And surprisingly, has very little graffiti. Likely due to it’s remoteness.

Just an odd, fascinating place. The type of place that you can only hide in the vast emptiness of the desert.

We poked around the very windy butte for a bit before we decided it was time to make our way back to the interstate and home. It turned out that the steep climb we had made was not the only way up. And on the other side of the butte was a road that had been cut in no doubt for the construction of the wind turbine. We ambled down that and then blasted along the desert roads until we connected with US 50 and ultimately I-15.

Spencer and I parted ways, him south to sunny St. George and me to less sunny Salt Lake. It was a great trip to go and explore a part of the state that so many of us just fly through to other points. It definitely merits further exploration on my part and I look forward to coming back!

Around Moab – Easter Weekend 2014

After an enjoyable First Weekend at the Easter Jeep Safari I was eager to get back down to the area as soon as possible. Fortunately my good friend Kurt, of Cruiser Outfitters fame, and I were already planning to head down to Moab and the surrounding area during Easter weekend, or more commonly referred to as “Big Weekend” in the 4-wheeling world.

Big Weekend is called such because the Easter Jeep Safari runs for nine days from the Saturday the weekend before Easter until Easter Sunday. And as the week progresses, the events in Moab and the crowds get bigger until finally peaking the Saturday before Easter when the Red Rock 4-Wheelers run 35 plus trails and have a parade through town in the morning. Much like it had been six years since I had been to Moab for the Jeep Safari, it had been almost 10 since I’d been down during Big Weekend.

Thursday

I took off from work on Thursday and headed down south with the plan of meeting Kurt that night at Crystal Geyser just south of Green River to camp. I made it to the geyser not long after dusk and managed to find a nice side canyon to tuck into. After setting up my Skydome (the greatest one man tent ever made), wandering around the geyser which unfortunately never went off, I got the fire roaring and enjoyed a beer and book while I waited for Kurt to show up.

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Kurt finally came roaring into camp around midnight with his many LED lights blazing through the night like a noonday sun. We stayed up for a while longer chewing the fat around the fire and mapping out the plans for the next few days. Finally, with the embers dying out on the fire we clambered into our respective sleeping bags and dozed until morning.

Friday

We awoke Friday morning with the sun. Well, Kurt did because he slept on his roof rack. The Skydome does a great job of blocking out the light and I awoke refreshed sometime around 7. We puttered around camp for a bit and decided rather than cooking breaky ourselves, we’d head into town to the Moab Diner. So we packed up and blasted out along the service road back to I-70.

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We arrived in Moab about an hour later to find the town a buzz with people getting their days adventures started. We pulled up to a packed Moab Diner, which is the go to greasy spoon in Moab since the closing of Smitty’s Golden Steak. We were lucky, though, and with only two of us we were able score a seat quickly. The place was bustling with people, mostly 4-wheelers, grabbing a full meal before the day. There were a few groups there that had a deer in the headlight look. Clearly, they were not here for Safari or the related events. And while they probably guessed that it would be busy in Moab for the holiday, I’m guessing that they were not prepared for what the town is during Big Weekend.

Kurt and I scarfed down our breaky while people watching and then made our way to Potato Salad Hill to volunteer for the RME cleanup activity there. But when we arrived, it was already clean! Now I had not been to PSH for well over a decade, and the last time I was there during Safari, it was trashed. Since it is the gathering spot for the shall we say less cultured visitor to Moab, it used to get littered with Natty Light cans and cigarette butts of people watching vehicles slam against the rocks. In the years since the last time I was there, RME stepped in and raised money for dumpsters and brought in volunteers to clean it up each morning. Which is exactly what is needed. Since PSH is so close to Moab, and had such a bad rep, it was a focal point for groups looking to close off public land for recreational access. Showing that a few bad apples do not represent the group as a whole does a great service.

Greg, one of the owners of RME, was there to meet volunteers so Kurt and I stood around chatting and reminiscing about PSH over the years. Times we’d tried it, how much it’s changed. Finally we decided since it was clean, we may as well head into town for the Vendor show.

The Jeep Safari Vendor Show was one of the main reasons that I was excited to come down to Big Weekend. Always tons of interesting things to see and people to run into. As Kurt and I arrived at Spanish Trail to find parking a premium. Kurt got a great spot, while I had to find my way through deep, soft sand in a corner by the horse track. Probably wouldn’t have been a problem had both my hubs been locked…

Anyway, we made our way into the show and quickly ran into Greg and Shane, RME’s other proprietor. The small arena was overflowing with vendors, and we started our tour at the Teraflex booth. Always friendly guys, we chatted with Dennis for awhile while admiring their beautifully built JK’s.

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From there we meandered, stopping a various booths, always running into more people. Some of the highlights for me were the Nemesis Industries booth with their awesome old mail Jeep.

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This sweet Land Rover Series I at the Advanced Adapters booth:

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And chatting with Ben from Outback Proven. Just a super nice guy.

After touring the show for a few hours Kurt and I decided to head into town for some beer cheese soup at the ol’ Moab Brewery and then a stroll along historic Main Street. First of, and I hate saying this; Moab Brewery has really gone down hill. No more bread bowls. What the fuck? At least the beer is still good.

We walked up and down Main Street and poked into the Back of Beyond books for a minute. While Kurt sat on a bench like an old lady, I decided to wander over to the Jeep display. The display was set up in the vacant lot across from the Jailhouse Café. But I was distracted by the sight of a clean looking tin top Samurai and ended up coming at it from the back parking lot, and boy was I glad I did!

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The Mighty FC concept from last year was parked back there. The coolest concept from last year, for sure. Something that Jeep will never make, which is a shame, because it pays to be unique. And with the level that they seem to be trying to dilute the brand these days, they need something to spice things up!

Once I actually got into the display, I gravitated to the Cherokee Dakar concept. Now the new Cherokee is lame. I’m not going to debate that. But I thought the Dakar concept was basically what the Cherokee should have been out of the box. A moderately capable soft roader. So I poked around it a bit, and liked what I saw.

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And then I came home and read that the Cherokee can not be modified in any way closely resembling the Dakar. That’s a fail, Jeep. A big fail. Just rebadge them the Cherocar, which would be more appropriate.

Next to the Dakar Concept was a new Jeep Renegade Trailhawk. Personally, I really like the looks of the Renegade. And I am fully aware that it’s a FIAT car, not a Jeep. But if I were in the market for a small, AWD wagon for around town and an occasional trip out on a gravel road, I would have the Renegade on my list.

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I left the Jeep display and wandered back to where Kurt was. Our next order of business was to head out to Area BFE and meet up with some people out there for the night. When we got there we wandered around the main campground for a bit looking for Olly and Robbie’s camp. Back when I was in high school I had a friend named Sterling who had a 1987 Toyota 4-Runner that was lifted, locked, ect. We called it the “Magic School Bus” because he painted it school bus yellow one day in auto shop. So I found it quite humorous to see this down there.

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Camping at BFE was… interesting. While I enjoyed hanging out with many of the people there, some of which I hadn’t seen for ten years or more, even when I’m camping I like to get a solid night’s sleep in. And these guys had the party going into the wee hours. Needless to say, my sleep was adversely affected by loud music and Tacoma coming by shaking my tent every few hours.

Saturday

I drug myself out of bed around 6:30 the next morning and packed up so that Kurt and I could get to Potato Salad Hill to help with the clean up again. We got there to find that it was again, remarkably clean. But there was a little bit of trash around, so we spent an hour or so scouring the area picking up bottle caps and cigarette butts.

As we were cleaning up, people started showing up to watch the hill. It was 8:30 in the morning, and people were pulling up the base and setting up shade tents and lawn chairs. This amazed me. There is so much to see and do around Moab, and yet people are coming to PSH first thing in the morning and settling in for the long haul. I don’t get it. That said it was interesting to see a couple UTV’s make the climb.

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Not sure how I feel about the UTV explosion of late. It’s not for me, but I guess if it get’s people out and enjoying the land, it’s a positive.

Anyway, we collected a couple small bags of trash and then took off back to town to meet Ben from Outback Proven for breakfast at the Jail House Café. Always a great place for breaky, if you’ve never been I highly recommend it the next time you are in Moab.

After breaky, Kurt and I sailed south on US-191 to go check out the Mi Vida mine in Steen Canyon. For those of you uninitiated with the Moab area, Charlie Steen and the Mi Vida mine are perhaps the most important person and place in the area’s history. Very briefly, Charlie was a uranium prospector working in the area in the late 40’s and early 50’s. While everyone else was looking for uranium in the relatively shallow Morrison formation, Charlie was looking much deeper in the ground. People thought he was nuts, but Charlie was a geologist by training and was convinced. And it paid off. On July 6th, 1952 he found a massively rich ore deposit on one of his claims. He called it “Mi Vida”, or My Life. Charlie’s life from there is a fascinating story of ups and downs and I highly recommend finding out more about him.

What the Mi Vida did for the region was create a mining boom bigger than anything ever seen in American history. People came from all over to try their have ad finding their own Mi Vida. This turned Moab from a sleeping farming community into a boomtown; and left us with a massive network of roads. The majority of the trails that we enjoy in the Moab area are strung together from old uranium prospecting roads.

Kurt and I followed the route that thousands of trucks once did back in the 50’s and 60’s up Steen Canyon to the Mi Vida.

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Time was when you could drive straight up to the shaft entrance, but the spur is now blocked by large rocks meaning for a short hike down. No bother, it was a beautiful and quite day.

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This entrance to the Mi Vida is called the Comstock Shaft. And amazingly, it still has a fair amount of equipment outside of it. The BLM, in an attempt to make the world safer, has “reclaimed” every other mine in this area by removing all equipment, buildings and closing of the mine shafts. In reality, they are destroying history. But that’s a conversation for another day.

What is left here at the Mi Vida is the ore dump.

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Some of the railroad that took ore out of the mine.

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And some of the ore cars and the electric engine that pulled them.

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The engine and ore cars are on ceremoniously placed there on display. They are not linked together, and it appears that the track ends not far into the shaft. I suspect that the BLM, or perhaps the current owner of the claim, left them here this way because of the historical significance. It’s a nice gesture and I wish that the BLM had allowed us to enjoy the history of this region rather than plowing it under. It truly is a shame.

Kurt enjoys exploring the inside of mines, so he decided to clamber through a little man sized hole that had been dug into the back fill and get further into the Mi Vida.

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I, on the other hand, don’t go into mines. So I stayed outside and relaxed in the peace and quite of the day.

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Kurt wandered the interior of the Mi Vida for about an hour. When he finally poked his head out of the mine like a mole and scrambled back down the back fill, we hiked up to our vehicles in one of southern Utah’s typical short spring downpours. We conferred out maps and started to climb out of Steen canyon towards Lisbon Valley. After a few detours to check out spur roads, we were finally greeted with a breathtaking view of Lisbon Valley looking north towards the La Sal’s.

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We worked our way along the western rim of the valley, slowly descending towards Highway 113 that cuts the valley perfectly in half. All along both sides of the valley you could see the signs of the areas history. Old roads everywhere, the massive cut of an open pit copper mine to the east, tailing piles, faded signs. Truly an area that has a story to tell.

We reached the valley floor and connected with Highway 113 to head north into the town of La Sal. A quite ranching community that served as the jumping off point for the uranium industry, it’s reverted back mostly to its roots. Sitting majestically at the base of the La Sal’s, it looks and feels like it’s still in the late 60’s, early 70’s. The two commercial building along the main drag are simple, red brick structures with dusty parking lots.

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Pulling up to the La Sal Store, I half expected to see Steve McQueen walk out or Kowalski to blast by in his Challenger. We wandered the store for a minute and chatted with the clerk about two mines at either end of the town. The looked operational and we suspected them to be gold or silver mines. Turns out that they are uranium and that the come online and shut down every few years with the prices.

As we left the store a gentleman rancher who was curious about the snorkel on Kurts’ Cruiser stopped us. A very interesting man who’s managed ranches from California to Montana. He was eager to chat with us about the ranching history in the area and had a few choice words about the situation in Nevada, basically pay your range frees or you’re a free loader that deserves little sympathy.

As much as Kurt and I wanted to stay and chat, we needed to get moving to make camp at a decent time that night. So we bid him farewell and hit the road again. Before leaving La Sal, though, we quickly stopped at the semi-operational mine on the west side of town.

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From the looks of it, it was ready to start running again at the flick of a switch.

We kept moving until we got to the ghost town of La Sal Junction on US 191. This was little more than a couple of gas stations, a motel and a service garage. I even remember one of the gas stations being open into the mid-90’s. But now, they just make interesting photo subjects.

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We hopped back onto 191 northbound and made one last stop for gas in Moab. Being the afternoon of Big Saturday, many people were getting off the trails and starting to head out of town, just as we were. It’s always somewhat melancholy in Moab on Saturday afternoon, and I had the same feeling that I did when I was a kid. Sad that I was leaving, but glad that I had made it down; looking forward to another year. I will definitely come back to EJS next year, perhaps even Big Weekend again.

Even though we were leaving Moab, we were not done with our journeys for the weekend. After topping up our tanks we got back on the road and found our way to I-70 and then just east of 191 a bit to the sleepy town of Thompson Springs. Now Thompson Springs was a vibrant little community that has slowly withered as transportation has advanced over the last century. Originally a railway stop for cattle and the coal mines in Sego Canyon, it also become and important waypoint on Route 6 before the Interstate system passed it by in the 60’s. From there it was just a matter of time until it began to die. Eventually, the railroad depot was closed in ’97 and now the town is barely a shadow of its former self.

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Fortunately its long history has left us with some interesting buildings.

The Silver Grill, an old Café, claims to be under restoration and opening again soon.

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And one is tempted to believe it. The place looks ready to go with table setting and comfy looking booths. The only give away is that the ceiling has given way in the center of the building.

Just down the street is the old Thompson Motel. Surly once a welcome sight for travelers along Route 6.

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Now, after years of neglect and use by transients, little more than a place that will give your children nightmares…

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The railway was very important to the town, and what used to be the center is built up around the old depot.

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You can get into the place, and it appears that Union Pacific may still use it to store some equipment. And it was clearly used as a base for repair operation up until 2001 according to some papers that we found inside.

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Across from the depot was the Desert Moon Hotel.

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It looked lie it was only recently closed and was in fact for sale. An enterprising individual could easily take it over and turn it into a quaint Bed and Breakfast.

Out behind the hotel was a cool little junkyard of old Chevy trucks.

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I always am intrigued when I see vehicles abandoned like this. Obviously, they had outlived their usefulness. But I always wonder, why didn’t they try to sell them? Or did they think that they might be able to fix them up one day?

As we explored the remained of the old buildings, we were once again greeted with some of Southern Utah’s spring rain. So we headed back to our vehicles and began to make our way up to Sego Canyon and camp for the evening. As we found our way out of Thompson Springs, we stopped at the old school house, built in 1911.

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While the school didn’t look like much, the view the student’s had was certainly breathtaking.

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As we continued up towards Sego Canyon, the clouds and rain followed us. The town of Sego, which I unfortunately didn’t get any pictures of due to the rain, has little left. There are a few foundations and the shell of the old general store still standing. There used to be a two-story boarding house next to the store, but several years ago it finally collapsed. The choice camping spot in the courtyard right outside the old boarding house was unfortunately already taken, so we had to hunt around for another one. Eventually we found one under a big tree down the canyon a ways. The rain continued to pour for awhile as we lounged underneath Kurt’s very useful ARB awning.

Eventually the rain broke, giving us a chance to get a fire burning and some steaks and brats cooking. Dinner was quick, and after our limited sleep from the night before, we both decided to turn in early.

Sunday

We woke with the sun shining down Sego Canyon to gorgeous blue skies. Truly, if there were a financial way to make it work, I could live in Sego Canyon. We fashioned some delicious breakfast burritos and packed up camp to quickly get into Green River as Expedition Utah was hosting a tour of the Utah Launch Complex at 9am.

On our way down the canyon, we stopped at the mouth where there is the cemetery.

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Always solemn places, cemeteries at ghost towns, it appears that this one is still getting some attention from either relatives or other good Samaritans.

And then it was back to I-70 and Green River, where we would tour some fascinating sites of Cold War history. But that, is a whole other trip report!

A Return to Easter Jeep Safari

This year marked a return to the Moab Easter Jeep Safari after six years away for me. I cut my teeth on 4-wheeling at the age of 11 when my Dad took me down to the 1993 edition. Back then, in his stock Samurai with big 215/70/15 all season tires, we ran Gold Bar Rim and Fin’s-n-Thing’s. I was terrified and intrigued all at the same time.

Fast forward 21 years, and I’ve spent the majority of my life dedicated to 4WDing across Utah. I attended every EJS from 1993 until 2008. At which point I had decided that it had gotten too crowded and lost some of the charm I had remembered from the “Good Old Days”, so I decided to venture off and find other corners of the state to explore during the week of EJS.

This year, though, I got my Jeep Safari paper and I thought, “Well, it might be fun to go back and see if it’s changed.” So my Dad and I signed up for two trails first weekend, Hell’s Revenge and Jax Trax. In addition to it being the first time back in a number of years, this would be the first time running trials in something other than a Samurai.

Our first trail was the perennial favorite, Hell’s Revenge. Led by Bart Jacobs and gunned by Marc Bryson and Brett “I’m running late” Davis. I was very excited to run this trail with these guys and test out the Trooper on a true, slick rock crawling trail

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As you can see from the pictures, there were a bunch of Troopers and a few JK’s… I mean, a bunch of JK’s and a few Troopers. It was interesting, of the 40 vehicles on the trail, 37 were Jeeps, with the majority being JK’s or JKU’s. Which is cool and all, but one of the things I loved about EJS in the past was the variety of vehicles on the trail. But with the JK being such a great rig right out of the box, I can’t blame people.

My Dad and I got a ton of attention at the trailhead for the Troopers. Which was fun and very throwback to the first few years with the Samurai in the mid 90’s when my Dad would get questions like, “Are you sure you’re at the right place?” for trails like Pritchett Canyon.

After airing down and the driver’s meeting, off we went.

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It was great to be out on the slickrock again, and my the Trooper with it’s factory 4.56 diff gears and my new Revolution 3.07:1 t-case gears just crawls!

So we plodded along the beautiful slickrock fins until we finally got to the always stunning lunch spot with it’s overlook of the Colorado River.

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And looking south east towards the La Sal’s.

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After a rather windy lunch, the trail continued on towards Hell’s Gate. This optional obstacle is where Hell’s Revenge begins to get interesting from a technical driving perspective.

Marc Bryson in his Chevy-Jeep buggy made it looks easy.

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The loan Cherokee on the trail gave a good show.

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The best, though, was this guy in a rental Wrangler. With some expert spotting, he got through, but he put on a great show!

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After Hell’s Gate we inched our way towards the next point of interest, the Escalator to Hell. Along the way, though, Brett Davis popped a bead so the whole trail stopped for a minute, allowing me to grab a great Trooper shot.

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And my friend Eric who joined us from Phoenix snapped a nice picture of my Dad and I.

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Before we made it to Escalator, a gentleman decided to take a dip into Mickey’s Hot Tub, which as usual, led to much noise, smoke and not being able to make it out without a tug.

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He did manage to redeem himself on the Escalator, though.

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Escalator is much similar to Hell’s Gate, but much more technical. So we had a few good tire lifts.

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But, Marc made it look easy again.

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It’s pictures like this one that always remind me of how much fun EJS people. A bunch of people, socializing and having fun watching people test their rigs out. Good times.

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Though I wanted to give Hell’s Gate a try, I opted against it because I only have the factory rear LSD. So the first real obstacle on the trail that I tried was Tip Over Challenge. Now, in my Samurai, I always make short work of it. Sometimes you get a little off camber as the name suggests, but then you just scoot on up.

I was hoping with the Trooper, I’d just buzz up because of the longer wheelbase, but I just couldn’t find the right line. Even with Bart’s stellar spotting skills after a few tries, I opted to back down and give the next guy a chance.

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After everyone made it up or around Tip Over Challenge, the clouds gathered and rain started to come down a bit. Which was fine, because we were back off the slickrock, which gets its name because of how little traction it has in the wet, and on to the dirt road leading back to the highway.

It was a great trail, and I was very pleased with the Troopers performance.

Sunday started with rain. Lots and lots of rain. From the meeting point all the way to the trail head 25 miles south of town, it was nothing but heavy rain. But hey, that’s April in Moab.

Our trail for Sunday was Jax Trax, which is a new one for the Jeep Safari, and I was excited to give it a try. Located in the South Cameo area near the Hook and Ladder OHV area it skirts the edges of Dry and Lisbon Valley’s. Nothing really challenging about this trail, but a fun, dirt and slickrock road.

Again, the trail was full at 40 vehicles, 38 of them Jeeps and mostly JK’s. As we waited in the rain at the meeting point, and again as we sloshed around the mud airing down at the trailhead, many people came by to ask about the Troopers. Surprised to see them on the trail, glad we were there to offer up some diversity. This is one reason I love having a different kind of vehicle from a Jeep or Toyota. Maybe I should rebadge it as a Holden Jackaroo to really mix things up!

While we slogged through the mud of the first portion of the trail, our leader Bill Dean provided us with a significant amount of history on the region and the roads. As with most of the trails in the area, they are tied to uranium prospecting and mining. Especially down in the Lisbon Valley area, because that is where some of the largest and most profitable mines in Utah where; such as Charlie Steen’s Mi Vida mine.

As you can see from our tires and the slickrock, we had to negotiate some pretty muddy roads.

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Though it rained most of the day, we did occasionally get some clear moments that offers spectacular vista out into Dry Valley to the west.

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We puttered along with our windshield wipers on and negotiated a few ledges made a little interesting by the rain until we finally got to a spot called Top Notch for lunch. The weather, working with us for once, agreed that this was a good time for a break as well.

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As the clouds gathered again, we packed up lunch and continued on our way. Finally we made it to the only named obstacle on the trail, El Diablo Dome. A short slickrock climb with a mild bump in the middle of it. Now, as I mentioned there were 38 Jeeps on the trail, most of them JK Rubicon’s, and most of them with a mild lift and 35” tires. I was the 35th vehicle on the trail only four Jeeps ahead of me tried this climb and none after me. As you can see from the video below, it really was easy. I don’t mean to speak ill of others, but all the way down the trail people in these very capable rigs were saying, “Gee… I dunno. That looks a little sketchy to me. I think I’ll take the bypass.” No offense, but have Jeep drivers just gotten timid?

El Diablo Dome Climb

Anyway, after ol’ El Diablo we sauntered on for a bit longer with sporadic rain before we finished the loop back at the trail head. And right as the trail finished… blue skies! Oh, Moab in April.

It was a great return to EJS. My Dad said it best, “It felt vintage.” And he’s right I felt like this trip was much more like the first few years that we went down in. Quieter, more mellow. I’ll definitely be signing up again in 2015.

West Desert Wanderings

After meeting up at the Camp Floyd Cemetery and chatting for a moment about where we should head it was decided by consensus to trek out along the Pony Express Trail to Simpson Springs and camp there for the night.

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Camp Floyd Cemetery

So off we went chasing the sun west along the PET. I’ve driven this route so many time that I’ve lost count, but I never get tired of it, even the more frequently traveled eastern side leading to Simpson Springs. And it is particularly enjoyable while the sun is slowly setting along that distant horizon.

After a dusty ride we arrived at Simpson Springs not long after dark to find that the campground had been cut in half by a deep, impassable trench. So we continued down the PET a few miles until we got to the spur road to Death Canyon. A few more miles up there and we found a nice clearing, pitched tent’s, started the fire and chatted to the wee hours.

The next morning we awoke to a crisp, beautiful blue sky.

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After some fine breakfast and coffee we broke camp and decided to make our way back to the PET and then down to the Riverbed Station were we stopped for a moment to reflect upon how these intrepid riders had managed to endure along the Pony Express all those years ago.

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From here we took the spur road south that connects with the Weiss Highway. We cut through some striking and rugged country. Hard to believe that people were out there with their sheep herds, let alone to think of how hard it was a century ago.

Eventually we connected with the Weiss Highway and turned west again to get to the Topaz Mountain Geode Beds.

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After poking around the geode beds for a bit and unfortunately not finding anything, we decided to head east towards Delta and the site of the Topaz Internment Camp.

For those that are not familiar with the Topaz Internment Camp, I recommend doing some research about it. It is by far not the brightest spot in our nations history, but an interesting one none the less. What these people had to endure for no reason other than their ethnicity is tragic. But they endured, and many ended up making the ultimate sacrifice to this country. Their country. Hundreds volunteered to join the military, many ended up in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most highly decorated infantry regiment in US Army history.

We reflected upon the hardships that these innocent people had to endure for awhile before we decided it was time to re-embark upon our journey.

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Our next stop was Delle for fuel. We’d done about 150 miles from Camp Floyd at this point and some of the less efficient (Jeep) vehicle needed to top up to keep going.

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Across from the gas station was a machine shop with an interesting collection of dilapidated Farmall tractors.

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Once everyone’s tank fas full, and some quick lunches were prepped we bid Delle adieu and headed west once more along the Weiss Highway. Our ultimate destination was the Deep Creek Mountains along the Utah/Nevada border, but along the way we made a stop at the Honeycombs.

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This is a very strange rock formation. Porous, yet sharp and craggy. Almost all a milky color. Just another strange place in the West Desert!

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As we poked around the Honeycombs we could see the weather starting gather ominously to the west.

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So off we went again, but we decided to take a detour through the “town” of Trout Creek. Ok, so I hate to speak ill of anyones home, but this place is just creepy. Deliverance creepy if you know what I mean. There is just something unwelcoming and eery about this little place. From the haunted forestesq trees that line the road right out side both sides of town, to the junk yard of old busses (including one with “Into the Wild” painted on the side” and agricultural equipment) to the brand spanking new church with 50 yards of fresh pavement on the otherwise dirt road in front of it. Just weird. I wish I had pictures to post, but I feel like eyes are watching me and I might get shot every time I go through the town, so needless to say, I didn’t stop.

After out detour through the Twilight Zone, we made our way north along the foot hills of the Deep Creeks until we finally turned up Granite Creek Canyon. Recently the road up this canyon was reopened all the way over the top to the other side. Unfortunately just about a mile up the canyon, the winter gate was still closed, so we turned back and found a nice camp a little closer to the mouth.

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Skydome!

Our camp spot was perfectly nestled among the trees just above a babbling Granite Creek. We spent the night discussing the art of pie iron cooking and lighting marshmallows on fire with swapping stories. I can’t think of a more pleasant way to spend a Saturday evening. Finally we all turned in and slept with the find and weather howled to great effect above our heads.

We awoke to another crisp morning and clear evidence that a story was approaching. After breakfast we hit the road and made our way further north to the Callao Civilian Conservation Corp Camp. The CCC at this location helped build aqueducts out of the Deep Creeks for irrigation, helped improve the old Pony Express Trail and Weiss Highway for vehicle traffic and placed historical markers along the PET. All that is left is a few foundations and the rock work of along the creek they diverted through the camp. Even still, its always a nice place to stop for a minute.

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We decided to start making our way back east along the PET from here. We passed through the small town of Callao, and then blasted along until we hit the Boyd Station. This is one of the most complete remains of a station along the PET in western Utah. A crumbling stone cabin and corral, there is also a very well documented interpretive station set up there. As we looked around, we could see the storm chasing us to the west.

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Out plan from here was to make for Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge and then turn sound and explore the Black Rock Hills. But when we reached Fish Springs, the temperature had dropped 15 degrees, the wind had turned from a pleasant spring breeze to a driving gale. We decided there that it was best just to make for home. So that we did, and bombed out along the PET through every increasing wind, rain, sleet and finally hail, all the way back to Faust and pavement.

It was a great trip with a great group of people and certainly whetted my appetite for further trips to explore this very unique and remote area of Utah.

Quick -n- Dirty

Saturday evening Micah, Kurt, Jakester and I met up at the Chevron in Lehi/Saratoga Springs/Wherever Sprawlburbia with the intention to blast out along the PET for the evening. After talking Micah out of buying some Swisher Sweets, we headed out into the light rain and made our way west.

Once we reached Cedar Fort, we decided over the CB that the weather out west wasn’t looking of hot, so we made a quick turn down one of those many straight as an arrow ranch roads that shoot south. Right off of the road was the Camp Floyd Cemetery and we decided to take a minute to look around.

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The plaque at the entrance gave a little info about the cemetery and evidence about it’s use for target practice at some point. The area cordoned off for the cemetery was quite large, but some group, perhaps BYU, had taken time relatively recently to find the actual graves.

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From the looks of it, the bodies were buried rather hap hazardly. Every headstone was quite new and marked “Unknown”. At the gate there was an information sign that told who was buried there and how they died, but not which grave was who’s.

From there we continued south along the ranch road until we reached Allen’s Ranch. There Kurt wanted to head up to a place called Pink Sandstone Caves. A cave network where he had done rappelling training. The road up the the caves was steep and loose rock requiring a little 4-Low crawling.

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But it was nothing for these Expo rated rigs!

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Micah was hanging on Kurt’s every word!

After the caves we made our way into the mountains north of Eureka in the waning light to find a camp spot. Initially we were just going to find a nice wooded area and set up, but Kurt’s encyclopedic knowledge of generally useless mining and railroad history (unlike my completely useful knowledge of post war US-Soviet foreign relations) proved fortuitous in leading us to an abandoned railway tunnel that was perfect for setting up camp in.

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After allaying Jakester’s fears of ghost trains, we entered the tunnel and proceeded to build a comfortable fire for some delicious pie iron dinners and sat around enjoying some beer and stories. Just what was needed to after a stressful work week.

The next morning we rolled out of bed, made some breaky and sat around the fire for a bit longer and then ventured out into word once more.

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It was a beautiful Sunday morning as we followed the old Tintic Railroad grade towards Eureka. We made a few stops along the way, most notably at an abandoned mine shaft that Kurt decided to jump around on the rebar covering it, almost dropping his phone (which would make number 236 lost or destroyed).

Once we hit Highway 6 we worked our way towards Eureka, but decided to detour up towards the old Knightville townsite.

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Not much left but the foundation of the school and a view of the tailings. But it was fun to poke around for a bit and find shards of plates, bottles and tin can’s around.

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After taking copious amounts of photo’s of our vehicles, such as this future promo shot for Cruiser Outfitters, we voted Micah off the island and headed into Eureka to check out a little gun shop there called Brad’s Guns. It was a well stocked shop (though no .22lr) with a friendly proprietor who tolerated our windows shopping for a bit.

From there, Kurt, Jakester and I did some ghost towing looking for Sandtown and Lower Goshen. Unfortunately, all our efforts led to closed gates and No Trespassing sign’s. No mind, it was a good time anyway. In the process of this, though, we crossed through the intersection in Elberta with the oft-photographed Sinclair station. So we decided to play tourist and take some happy snaps.

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After blocking the front of the building for awhile with our impromptu photo shoot, we headed into Santaquin for some quick grub at the Family Tree, a local greasy spoon serving up some fine cuisine. Thus ended an enjoyable, quick -n- dirty trip with some good friends.

2014 Wasatch Cruisers Dunes Run

I was fortunate enough to tag along with the Wasatch Cruisers for their annual Little Sahara Dunes run today. The Wasatch Cruisers always put on a top notch event, and this was no exception. A group of us met up at the Highland/Alpine offramp on I-15 before hitting the freeway again and caravanning south to Santaquin where we hopped on US 6 and headed west to Eureka. If you’ve never done this drive before, make the time for it. It’s beautiful country and there is something particularly stunning about it in the winter.

In Eureka we stopped at the gas station/supermarket/pawnshop to top off our tanks before continuing on towards Little Sahara. In the past, WC dunes runs have usually had poor weather to Eureka, then it clears up west of there. As we continued west, that appeared to not be the case (which is why there are no pictures thus far). Once we got to the base of Sand Mountain to meet up with the rest of our group, we were greater with ominous sky and a biting wind.

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But as everyone was airing down and signing release forms, something miraculous happened…

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Sun! Could it be?!?! The wind still chilled us to the bone, but there was hope that the sun would warm us up through the day. With that hope in mind, we struck out into the dunes.

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We played around in the dunes for a while. Flying over crests, ripping around banks, and sliding through snow. One person (Micah) opined that with our flags made us look like bumper cars, which coming from him is terrifying.
During all the playing, I found time to take an obligatory poseur shot.

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Looking back towards Sand Mountain from expanse that we’d covered, I was again struck by the beauty of the state that we live in. I don’t care what anyone says, Utah is amazing.

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Among the dunes that we were playing in, we found on that proved to be of particular difficulty. Brian in his sturdy FJ80 failed to ascend it, and my trusty Troopy also struggle to find the top. The first to conquer this challenging obstacle was Chance in his awesome Hummer H3 (and it is awesome. It’s the Adventure package, which is about the most epic out of the box SUV you can buy).

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After Chance showed us how it’s done with a little American muscle, Micah… well, even with the awesome graphics, the 80’s failed him.

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Next up, Adam in his truly impressive Taco reclaimed a little honor for Japan after Micah’s sad showing.

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Finally, Roy in his clean little FJC gave it a go, but decided with all the rutting to play it safe and wait for another day (or dune) before romping to hard on the skinny pedal.

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After watching the challengers from the top for awhile, we set out again for more shenanigans amongst the dunes.

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As we made out way back towards Sand Mountain, the sun that we had been enjoying so much gave way to clouds once more.

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Not to be deterred, we continued racing about until eventually, the group slowly split up. Several left us at the base of Sand Mountain as we headed to the other side. Then, Steve, Kyle, Chance, Cody and I left to explore some roads less traveled away from the dunes.

After much wheel spinning, sliding, gate opening an closing and CB chattering we ended up at what Cody called “The Bottomless Pit”

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Which, if you have no fear of heights, falling, or the Hellmouth below, you can stand above it!

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After tempting fate at The Bottomless Pit, Steve guided us on what was promised to be a challenging adventure back to the highway. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a pretty bland plowed, graded dirt road. No matter, a day on a dirt road anywhere is better than a day at work.

And with that, we hit pavement and the end to another great day on the trail with the Wasatch Cruisers.

2013 Photo Retrospective

2013 was a big year for me. Not so much in 4-wheeling, but just in everything. Changed jobs, big international trip, friends getting married, lots of little things culminating into a busy, good, great, fun year. 2014 is going to have to go a long way to top 2013. So here is my photo retrospective of 2013:

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February: Newfoundland Mountains

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February: Tread Lightly! Master Training

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May: San Rafael Swell

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July: Camping at Lyman Lake

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July: Driving Mt. Nebo Loop Road

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August: Cruiser Outfitters BBQ

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August: Relic Run V

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September: Alpine Loop

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September: NPLD up American Fork Canyon

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October: Three weeks in Australia! I have 40GB of photo’s I’m sifting through. Hopefully soon I’ll have a full report.

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December: Freeze Your Tail Off V