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!

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!

Expedition Utah Tour of Wendover Historic Airfield

A little background on Wendover Airbase, during the Second World War this was one of the primary locations for training heavy bomber crews that served in the war. Thousands of personnel came through the base to train in B-17’s, B-24’s and finally, the B-29’s of the 509th Composite Group; who dropped the atomic bombs on Japan to ultimately end the war. Wendover is unique in that having been so far away from a major population center, after the war ended it was more or less abandoned in place. It wasn’t converted into a municipal airport, and it wasn’t seen as a logical place to maintain a large, peacetime airbase. So it sat.

Over the decades the weather has eaten away at its buildings. Its been used on and off by the military for various training exercises and experiments. Movies such as Con Air and Independence Day had parts shot here, but by in large, it was ignored and forgotten. This may sound sad, but it now provides us with a rare opportunity to see the most intact example of a WWII era airbase anywhere in the world. A group of dedicated individuals called the Historic Wendover Airfield Foundation headed by the father and son team of Jim and Tom Petersen have been working diligently at piecing together the history of the base and restoring many of the buildings that are left.

Expedition Utah’s tour of the Wendover Historic Airfield on June 2nd started with what anyone planning on spending several hours out in the desert hopes for: mild weather! The sky was mostly clear and the temperature was perfect for being outdoors. We had about 30 people show up for this very unique opportunity to tour all of this historic base.

We began with a short movie giving an overview of the bases history in the museum before we headed into the under restoration Officers Club just across the parking lot. Tom acted as our tour guide for the whole day and was quite passionate about the base and the work going on. The Officers Club is going to get a full restoration and will have a café in it and will be rented out for events. It’s quite an impressive building, and the work that is happening is top notch.

From here we loaded up into what many people said was the coolest part of the tour, a fully restored 1942 Ford GPW and a GMC CCKW, or Deuce and a Half… and a Ford tour van… but lets focus on the first two!

From the Officers Club we bounced around until we made a tailgate jump at one of the enlisted mess halls. During the height of the war there were four of these to serve the 20,000 or so enlisted personnel on the base, this is the last surviving one. It was abandoned at the end of the war, but then renovated slightly in the 1980’s to be used by the US Air Force’s Aggressor Squadron. All along the walls are the painted insignia’s of the various detachments that were based here during that period.


Updated Kitchen!

We then ventured into one of the old barrack buildings, which is now being used by the Center for Land Use Interpretation as a gallery.

We remounted our rigs and headed over to what is left of the base hospital and got to look around at what had been the surgical ward, and then wandered around looking at what is stored there now.

After the hospital we made for what was one of the more interesting buildings on the base, the bombsight storage building. During the war one of the most closely guarded secrets was the Norden bombsight. So before and after each training flight the bombsights were checked out and into this building, which had large concrete reinforced safes, air conditioning and heaters to keeps the bombsights in perfect condition. And a nifty 7up vending machine!

From here we stopped off at a hanger on the flight line to see a F-86 Super Saber that the base recently acquired and is slowly working on restoring. And you know how in most museums they tell you to not touch anything? Well here Jim and Tom encouraged us to hop on the wings for a group photo! Awesome!

After the hanger we went back to the museum for lunch and then took off for the most exciting part of the tour. The south side of the base where all the munitions were stored, and the secret components were for the 509th. To get there we had to cross the active runways and traverse several miles of dirt roads. As you approach you get the feeling of how desolate this part of the base really is now. Nothing appears to really have been touched in more than half a century. The observation tower still stands stoically over the compound, watching; making sure nothing that isn’t supposed to get in does.

Inside the barbed wire fence behind Tom is where the prototype atomic bombs were constructed. These were inert bombs designed to test the ballistics of the actual atomic weapons, but their design was so secret that the crews building them and the flight crews dropping them never interacted. After the war all the buildings associated with the 509th, including the ones here, we broken down to the foundations and shipped to Los Alamos.

Down the road from where the prototype bombs were constructed are the munitions bunkers. Large concrete vaults covered in tons of dirt. Impressive, imposing structure to say the least. And very cool inside, both temperature and otherwise.

From the bunkers we headed out to part of the bases more modern history. During the Apollo program in the 1960’s, NASA used Wendover to test the capsules for resistance to direct lightning strikes. They did this by mounting a capsule nose piece packed with electronics on a dolly and suspending a large wire grid above it. They then electrified the grid and simulated a lightning strike. Very fascinating and the dolly and one of the nose cones are still sitting out there. Ironically, this was the only part of the trip that it rained!

Not far from the Apollo test site sits what looks like an unassuming hole in the ground. In fact, this hole has significant historical value. This is a bomb pit. Since the atomic bombs of the day were so heavy, and so large, they couldn’t be loaded the way conventional bombs were. So this special pit was dug and the bombs we first loaded into the pit with a hoist, then a B-29 was backed over the pit and a hydraulic lift moved to bomb into the bomb bay. There are only two such pits uncovered in the world. This one in Wendover, and the one in Tinian that actually loaded the bombs for the attacks on Japan.

After reflecting on the importance that that hole in the ground represented, the tour found us at what is referred to as the “Enola Gay” hanger, the hanger built specifically to house the larger B-29’s, such as the famous Enola Gay. It was a impressive building. Large enough to fit two B-29’s if need be. But rather than those old warbirds, it had a beautiful T-33 done up in Blue Angel livery and a prototype de Havilland jet.

After poking around the hanger for a bit, we completed out loop back at the museum and up in the beautifully restored control tower.

It was an amazing tour. Such history to behold, and we are so lucky that so much of it is still around and that there are people like the Historic Wendover Airfield Foundation working to preserve it. Wendover Airbase truly is a national treasure.

Thanks to all who made it out! We look forward to seeing you at the next summit!

All photos courtesy of Stephen Nielson and Jason Goates