This trip was not about wind and dust, but somebody forgot to tell the wind and dust. This trip was not about wildfires, but the fire was there anyway. Dinosaurs. They were there too. Whether it was fresh pavement, talc like dust (think Baja 1000 silt beds), gravity fed diesel from an old overhead tank, sipping cokes from tall Mexican bottles, or the crack of shattering window glass, this trip was about adventure.
CruiserFest. Toyota Land Cruiser enthusiasts gathering in Tooele (say: Too-Willa) Utah, at the Miller Motorsports Park, for a weekend of camping, sharing stories from the road, old friends, new friends, the latest in overlanding gear, checking out well equipped trucks, drooling over collections of rare and exotic Land Cruisers, 800hp trophy trucks fly through the air around the dirt track, and all against the stunning vista of mountains and the Great Salt Lake. Who could ask for more.
But how do you get there? It's a straight shot from Denver to SLC on I-80, passing plenty of beautiful countryside. But we didn't want to pass it – we want to be in it. So did a few other adventurous folks.
The Cruiser Expedition from Moab to Tooele reflects growing interest in domestic expedition travel. Despite exploring remote Colorado for 19 years, Eastern and Central Utah for 12, and trips into Wyoming and Montana, this trip would cover new frontiers and step back in time. Way back.
Led by Kurt Williams of Cruiser Outfitters, with Paul May of Equipt Expedition Outfitters tailgunning, the expedition left Moab for green River Wednesday morning.The first stop was Crystal Geyser, a cold water CO2 geyser created by an exploration well drilled in 1935 in attempt to locate oil. Just one of many examples of the old West story of boom and bust we'd see along the way.
Perry Loughridge and I, left Denver Tuesday, later than planned, planning to join the expedition at its second stop Wednesday morning, Green River, Utah. Though behind schedule, as it seems to take just as long to prepare for a expedition as the time spent on the road, the preparation is also part of the fun. You prepare, you plan and then you adapt when the plan falls apart. All part of the fun.
With Perry sharing the driving, and Zan and Jayna doing what dogs do in the back of the truck, we loaded up my 1993 FZJ80 Toyota Land Cruiser. It has an Old Man Emu lift, ARB front bumper, Slee sliders, Slee undercarriage protection, Safari snorkel and a prototype Gobi Stealth full length roof rack. On the Gobi rack we had extra fuel and firewood (that we never used). Inside, the ARB fridge was humming away, supplied with power by a Deka Intimidator Group 31 deep cycle battery under the hood. Gear was neatly organized and secured in plastic totes and a homemade cargo drawer system. For communication we have HAM and CB, and iPhone. Under the hood my newly rebuilt 1FZFE engine ran smooth and strong.
After an easy drive from Denver, we set up cots in Rabbit Valley Tuesday night and slept under the stars. Camp has evolved from tents, to sleeping out on the ground, to cots out in the open. The first time I slept outside on my cot I felt like Max in Where the Wild Things are as the bedroom "walls, floor and ceiling fall away, leaving Max to navigate a landscape far more exotic and dangerous than the one he's left behind."
The next morning, gathering the group in Green River was an impressive sight. Nine well prepared, well built Toyotas, rolled into the truck stop. Smiles all around. Hellos to old friends and new. This was going to be a good trip.
First to join us was Neil Quigley, a fellow Rising Sun Four Wheel Drive Club member from Denver along with his buddy Greg. Soon the whole group arrived at the rally point, announced well in advance over the two-meter radios.
We left I-70 after a breathtaking drive up and through the San Rafael Reef and onto the vast area known as the San Rafael Swell. Once on the dirt we let the dust fly to lunch at the San Rafael River by the old Swinging Bridge. The last suspension bridge in Utah, it was built as a CCC project and dedicated in 1937. A good place to eat, explore and let the dogs go for a swim.
Next stop was the Buckhorn Pictograph Panel, followed by Matt Warner's signature. Warner spent some time as part of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch. There is a lot of Outlaw history in this area. Perry, acting as trip historian, shared his wealth of knowledge as we drove along.
We made a spur of the moment amazing side trip to the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur quarry. This little known site is one of the most famous in paleontology circles containing "the densest concentration of Jurassic-aged dinosaur bones ever found. Over 12,000 bones (belonging to at least 74 individual dinosaurs) have been excavated at the quarry. We were all impressed by the density of the bone deposits and the enthusiasm of the graduate student guides. We were the only guests that day, and I suspect that is true of most days. Just getting to the quarry would qualify as an expedition to most people. Led by Kurt we got there and managed to take some neat old half-forgotten tracks. The density of the bone deposits remains one of science's greatest mystery, baffling the to the smarty-pants paleontologists channeling Shaggy, but our group quickly determined that prehistoric Grabloids were to blame. Mystery solved, we moved on.
Soon after we made the Wedge Overlook, often called the Little Grand Canyon, and camp. We were treated to a fantastic sunset and instead of a campfire shared road stories while bugs rained on Paul's Snow Peak Hozuki LED Candle Lantern. Paul always brings the coolest gear. That night a laptop also served up a great slideshow of a recent four wheeling trip in the Middle Eastern nation of Jordan and plans for another. Like I said, this crew gets around.
None too soon our route next took us to cooler elevations, evergreen forest and past Joes Valley Reservoir on our way to Utah's Skyline Drive. With the tinderbox dry conditions, it was a dusty day. But we did find a little water for the dogs.
We all got a break from the dust as the group hopped onto a paved section of Skyline Drive. Running a ridgetop along the Wasatch spine for over 80 miles, despite the low snow year, portions were still blocked by drifts and impassable to us. The tall poles along the road aid the winter road crews.
After a very relaxing lunch and milkshake stop on Fairview and conversations with friendly locals, it was back to the dusty hills, but at least it was hot. Perfect for our next camp at the Jericho primitive area adjacent to Little Sahara dunes, an aptly named place to be for 100 degree weather. While many folks set up camp and then got to exploring the nearby hillclimbs, the heat had finally gotten to me and a rest on the cot in the shade was in order. Even there, it was Sahara hot.
A nap, food (thanks Neil for the Buffalo burgers) and Gatorade made just before sunset a perfect time for Sarah, Dan, Ben and I to do some reconnaissance to the edge of the dunes. Being a fee area and requiring safety flags (though Sara did her best with some old tie-dyes) we did not venture onto the sand, instead just taking some poseur shots at the edge. The place was all but deserted, a far cry from the old days when Sarah used to come out here and race dune buggies. Apparently on weekends it fills up fast, featuring the 700 foot tall Sand Mountain for all sorts of hill climbing adventure.
By morning light Perry and I ventured back to the sands edge for a few parting shots. Even just at the edge I got the 80 stuck very quickly. Alone and with the group likely ready to break camp, we first tried to reach out, with no success on the HAM radio. Ever since hitting a tree with the antenna that radio had not been working right, or maybe no one was listening. Plan C involved the Maxtrax Ben had lent me and that were still on the roof. However, plan B proved successful. We had been running 33 PSI for the dirt and gravel roads mixed with pavement, but quickly went down to my Moab standard 17, locked the Toyota OEM electric locking differentials center, rear and front and drove right out. Just then we got the radio call, "where are you guys." We just smiled and said "on our way."
We then cruised onto the West Desert and along the historic route of the Pony Express.
We scoured the horizon for aliens and grabloids at the edge of the Dugway Proving grounds, but finding none, headed out on our last leg of the journey to Cruiserfest. Our final stop for fuel treated Mitch Massey from Alberta, Canada, and his diesel 1990 HZJ73 to gravity flow fuel from an above ground tank. Here while relaxing with long necked imported Mexican Cokes (made with real sugar), we were jolted awake by the sound of shattering glass. At first we thought someone in a passing truck had thrown rock at our parked trucks, and maybe they did, as the aim was perfect. But most likely a passing semi had just kicked one up. A scary reminder to pull well off the road when you come to a stop. The rock narrowly missed parts Shaman C-Dan and his son as it shattered the window of his open passenger door. However, being the Parts Shaman, he had a new window installed before I could even set up camp at the Miller Motorsports park.
We made a grand entry and to camp in a field at the track in the heart of the action. At the track we were treated to fine dinners and breakfast and close up rockcrawling, vendors, a Land Cruiser auction, raffle, and dedication of the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum. The Saturday Show-N-Shine and museum dedication featured a Land Cruiser display like no other. There was no bonfire at the fire pit due to constant 30-40 MPH winds, (and respect for the nearby Saratoga Springs wild-land fire) but a good time was had by all, bringing our folding chairs into a circle in the relative protection behind Kurt's Tacoma with its ARB roof top tent and ARB awning deployed.
Saturday night was very mellow, many people having to already head home, but the die-hards who camped another night were treated to good camaraderie and a cool nights sleep.
When Sunday dawned it was time to pack and head back home to Denver. While it was all pavement, we still managed to take the road less traveled and see more of the beautiful West.
Denver to Tooele: Three days, about 600 miles
Tooele to Denver: 12.5 hours, 596 miles, plenty of time to plan the next adventure.