COOPER DISCOVERER: 10 Days on the road, from NC to Utah


COOPER DISCOVERER writing contest entry.

Jeeps and adventures have been a mainstay of my entire existence. My childhood was filled with camping, fishing, and summer trips spent in the west exploring national parks. I am one of those lucky guys who found a wife which also shares a love for adventure. Our relationship has seen cold nights in a tent, rock climbing adventures, and trips to foreign countries. I have never owned a vehicle other than a Jeep and am currently on my fourth Jeep. They have always served me well and provide a means for adventure. Recently after having our first child I have been thinking and looking for a way to combine my love's for Jeep and adventure. Enter Overlanding.

I have been to Moab Utah three other times and when it came time to plan this trip I wanted it to be filled with adventure and away from mainstream. My previous trips have been spent in rental houses and this one would be different. My intention here is to chronicle my adventure so that I can share the successes and failures of my first Overland trip. The plan for this trip would include driving my 03 Jeep Grand Cherokee and my Dad's 05 Jeep Unlimited Rubicon from NC to Colorado and then on to Moab. I recently acquired a modified Fleetwood Off-Road camper which would serve as our home away from home. Once arriving in Colorado we intended on kissing the Interstate goodbye and relying on back roads as our route from destination to destination. In addition to my Dad and I, my friend from work Tyson accompanied us on this adventure. Our trip included mountain passes in Colorado, hard trails in Moab, and time in Canyonlands National Park.

Day One, busting it across the US.

We departed late on September 11th with the goal of reaching Amarillo Tx for our one and only hotel stop for the trip. I hoped to have plenty of time to catch a few Zzz's before we left but that was not to happen. I love watching Expedition Overland and every season on the season opener they are scrambling to get things together at the last minute. I didn't understand that and wondered how in the world you could be scrambling at the last minute to get a trip together which you have known for months about. Well, this time it was me! I was up finishing last minute details on the trailer, getting things mounted and adjusted for the trip. My nap was not to happen.

I met up with my buddy Tyson at his volunteer fire department and then disembarked to meet my dad about an hour away. At 2200 hours we met up, grabbed some grub at McDonalds, checked the air pressures in the tires, filled up with gas and we were on our journey. This was really my first opportunity to tow the Fleetwood since I have had some recent modifications done. It towed like a dream, the new suspension system was soaking up the highway bumps like a champ, and the WJ's 4.7 handled the extra weight without a problem. I do not have much to write about the journey from NC to TX other than it was long. We arrived in Amarillo with plenty of time to spare and quickly grabbed some dinner and hit the bed. Morning came quick, we were up and out of the hotel in no time.

Some windmills in TX.

Day 2: Finding a worthy campsite.

We made it to Bloomfield New Mexico by lunch and stopped for some food. We are always looking for something local, or different from home, so we stopped at Serious Texas BBQ. I later found out this was a chain as I saw several other restaurants in Colorado. But we didn't care because to us it was something new and different. My main reason for including this seemingly routine stop for food, other than the awesome BBQ, was the sign which was posted on the door. On the door was a sign which honored Law Enforcement Officer's, thanking them for their service, and offering free food to any LEO and their families from Sept 11 through the 13th. As an officer I really appreciated this, especially given the recent media driven climate against Officers. We didn't take them up on their offer in order to support their business.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. Tyson and I were drawn in by the huge views and big mountains but I knew that we had much more to come. Even though I live in the mountains of NC I am always jealous of the magnitude of mountains which are offered in the west.

We quickly located our trailhead for 585 which would take us past South Mineral Campground. I took some advice from some ExPo members to locate a place to drop the trailer before we hit the mountain passes as opposed to taking it over some of the passes. I wanted to locate a nice secluded site which put some distance between us and others. My goal were some dispersed camping sites located near the Bandora Mine. I couldn't find much information about these sites other than they existed. The road turns "rough" past South Mineral Campground and required us to finally switch the Jeep into 4Lo with the camper. The camper again soaked up the trail with ease and it was a blast taking the trailer down its first trail. As we continued down the trail we wondered if we would locate a site big enough for us to deploy the camper and awning. With the three of us we intended to utilize the awning room as a sleeping quarter. We located a killer campsite just below the mine, along side Mineral Creek....

585 on the way to camp...

...our home for three nights just below what remains of the Bandora Mine.

Day Three: Taming the Black Bear

For our first real day of four wheeling we decided to check out Black Bear Pass. I should side bar here and state that by "we decided to check out..." really meant that I looked over the guidebook and decided on our own that we were going to hit Black Bear and over to Imogene. We had a decent breakfast that morning, packed things up and bounced our way back out to Hwy 550. Apparently the first time that I discussed our plans with my dad that we were going to hit Black Bear Pass was when we made the left hand turn at the trailhead. Dad mentioned "I read that we really don't want to attempt this trail if its going to be raining." The weather forecast for the week was hit and miss, there would be no perfect day to attempt this trail so I felt there was no better time than the present.

The beginning of the trail was pretty mild and worked its way up to some fabulous vistas.

The WJ on her first mountain pass.

Here we are dropping down after the "summit" of the pass. Things changed a little when we were at the top of the pass. Light drizzle moved in briefly while we were taking pictures and we joked "its almost cold enough for ice". Before we got into the jeep it began to sleet. We thought that we could drop down in elevation a bit on the back side, towards Telluride, and we would be out of the ice. We jumped in the Jeeps and took off. Several vehicles caught up with us at the top and were now following behind us at a distance. The ice indeed did stop as we dropped in elevation and the drizzle was on and off.

Things became even more interesting as we worked through a twisty portion of trail, which while dropping down hill I completely flexed out the WJ. Things were going well, I could hear the passenger's side tire stuff up into some plastic and then we heard a "clunk,". Immediately I knew the ping sound was my front driver's coil bouncing down the trail. I was infuriated because I had installed upper and lower spring retainers. Tyson jumped out of the Jeep and retrieved the spring. We pulled down a few feet and level the Jeep out some. I was able to find a flat portion of ground off to the right side of the trail. I was a bit hesitant to even pull off the trail because I believe strongly in Tread Lightly, but I felt this was our only option. I knew how to fix the problem, deployed the Hi-Lift, and about an hour later we had the spring back in. I slightly adjusted the spring retainers with a BFH and hoped for the best. We made a few jokes about how we were glad this didn't happen on a tight switchback or my OME spring may have been lost forever. I flexed the Jeep to the max a few more times descending into the bad switch backs but the adjusted spring retainers seemed to be holding. We continued down the trail until we reached a point where I was wondering where the trail went as it seemed to just drive us off a cliff.

I will admit, I was a bit nervous dropping into the difficult one-way portion of Black Bear. I knew that I had the experience, I knew the Jeep was in good condition, but it is a fact that any mistake here could be fatal. Nevertheless we pushed on down this amazing trail. Our minds and conversation immediately began to dive into the topic of how in the world would anyone use this pass back in the mining days, or was this a dedicated four wheeling trail. Either way the fact which we were driving this close to such a sheer drop off was crazy!

Bridevail Falls. How-in-the-world did they build this structure here.

We made it into Telluride for a late lunch around 1:30PM. I have read mixed reviews about this town. I appreciated it for what it is, as there are similar towns near where I live. I found it interesting that there were no food or retail chains here. We ate at a pretty decent pizza joint called "High Pie Pizzeria and Tap Room".

After a short time checking out some of the stores we were back on the trail and headed up Imogene Pass. This trail would end up being one of my favorites but I would be spending the time in the passenger seat. I drove Black Bear Pass and I wanted to share the wheel time with Tyson, who has expressed interest in purchasing his own Jeep or ExPo rig. It was extremely difficult letting someone else drive my rig.

One of the best views I've ever seen, taken just above the Tom Boy Mine area.

Weather rolling in again!

We finished out the trail and rolled back into camp in the dark. Chicken and wild rice soup rounded out the evening.

Day Four: I think I missed a turn.

I should have mentioned a discussion which we had last night after returning to camp from Imogene Pass. This trip did not have a carved in stone itinerary. Loosely we had planned to spend only one full day in Colorado and then begin to work our way to Utah via Ophir Pass, then some pavement to Gateway Colorado where we would seek the dirt again via John Brown Canyon. I knew that it was between 2 and 3 hours from Silverton to Moab via main roads and as a group we were ok with making it a full day of dirt and scenery since that was the focus of this trip. On our first day in Colorado I didn't get as many trails accomplished as I wanted to and mainly we had missed doing Poughkeepsie Gulch. I didn't know anything about this trail only that it seemed to be the difficult "to do trail" in the area. After a short discussion and a lot of "it doesn't matter to me" we decided we would cut one day from Moab and spend an extra day in Colorado.

Fast forward to 0700, my alarm is going off and the rain is coming down like "cats and dogs". After sleeping in until 0800 and then cooking a soggy breakfast under the rear awning and getting everything ready with the Jeep we set off. I had the intention of going up to Animas Forks and then hitting Mineral Creek from the back side, jumping over to Poughkeepsie Gulch and then exiting on Corkscrew. We drove up to Animas Forks up an easy but ever so annoying road. It was neat driving through Silverton even though we didn't stop. It seemed like a town where I could come hang out at. There was a section of roadway just outside of the town which had mine carts suspended from a cable car running up a mountain. It seemed like they just turned off the plant one day and that is where they stopped. Animas Forks was a neat tourist attraction to check out. Tyson and I were starting to get into the whole mining thing and it was interesting to see the remains of a well preserved town. After disembarking from the remaining tourist at Animas we set out. There was a decent amount of traffic in this area with all of the vehicles taking the Alpine Loop. We were not taking said loop and set out for Mineral Creek, or so we thought.

Animas Forks

Things were going well until I missed a turn. Apparently I should have made a right just past Animas Forks across the river to continue up the road until I hit Mineral Creek. I instead continued straight at said fork and ended up on California Pass. It wasn't until a good ways later when I realized it, as we were climbing up to the pass. I checked out the book, realized my error but decided to truck on. I blame the scenery for the missed turn as this area of the mountain was displaying every color imaginable. We made it to the top of California Pass where it was chilly with some slight snow/ice. From this picture you can see California on the right, Poughkeepsie going down in the middle just to the right of lake Como, and Corkscrew going to the left.

We drove down from the top of the pass to the trail intersection with Poughkeepsie. It was chilly with the wind blowing so we decided to eat in my WJ. A lone rental JK Rubicon drove by which prompted a discussion how you shouldn't wheel alone. After eating we embarked down Poughkeepsie.

Dad dropping down into the trail.

The WJ climbing some unnamed wall before we dropped down to a hard obstacle called "The Wall". After this picture I made a hard right turn and flexed the driver's side tire up into the wheel well and ripped the washer motors out of the reservoir. Everyone freaked for a moment because the Jeep was gushing fluid but before I even got out to check it out the Jeep was dinging at me about low washer fluid. I also ripped out the wires for my rock lights which was more of a bummer to me. I intended to move the washer reservoir eventually anyways, now that just got bumped up the list. I zip tied everything out of the way and we continued. We ran into the rental Jeep guy who was wisely on his way back. After some comments about how he couldn't believe the WJ was doing so well we continued on.

Just above the obstacle "The Wall" we ran into two Jeeps and an H1 Hummer. The Jeep guys recognized us as the WJ on Black Bear with the missing spring. We talked a brief moment about my trail fix and then they started to give me warnings about getting in over my head with the WJ on this trail. I appreciated the concern, but really guys, give ole Lola a chance to prove herself. We continued down to "The Wall" despite our ominous warnings to turn back. I checked out the obstacle, formulated our planned descent lines and we got at it. It began to rain heavily which didn't help.

We continued down Poughkeepsie with the intentions of hitting Mineral Creek. With all of the trash talk that I had received about the WJ I had some internal conflict about needing to prove her worth by going back up the trail. So I convinced dad, who has a very cool attitude about trying anything, to turn around. We headed back up. I let dad lead as the guidebook warned about a "steep loose rocky area which is difficult for vehicles without lockers". Lola did fine and we made it back to the base of "The Wall". Everything was soaked from the on and off rain. I drove up to the wall, climbed the smaller bottom ledge with ease and about made it half way up before vertical momentum and climbing came to a halt. Time for the winch. I winched up with no problems, turned around and winched dad up. Apparently all of the previous vehicles had to winch also. At this point I switched driver's with Tyson and let him have some experience with difficult sections. He did well, only got us high centered once. We made it back up to California and took a right turn on Corkscrew. Corkscrew was uneventful. The trail was beautiful and we could still see the red rock mountains but Corksrew added a hint of yellow soil, and farther down bright yellow leaves from the changing trees. Oddly enough we passed an elderly couple in a Mazda SUVish vehicle. They were puttering up Corkscrew and went by us like they didn't have a care in the world. I hope they were able to turn around at the pass safely and I felt a bit guilty for not stopping and warning them they may be in over their heads. But, at the same token everyone was warning me about the WJ and I was already sick of it.

Corkscrew could be dangerous. Especially with days like today, the mud was slick.

My take away from today should have been to focus more on navigation. I think I took for granite that I was experienced and these passes should be easy to navigate and that cost me. While it all turned out ok, we will make similar mistakes in the future that shouldn't have happened. On my next trip I will be plugging in some GPS coordinates and paying attention to them. We made it back to camp after dark. Another late night meal which was thankfully prepared by my lovely wife before we disembarked on this journey.
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Day Five, Goodbye Colorado

Have I mentioned how much it rained at night in Colorado? It wasn't so bad during the day but at night it rained significantly every night. It caused a problem on the 4th night because rain ran into the camper via the slide out and dripped so conveniently right onto the charge controller for the solar panel. Luckily it didn't cause any damage and only faulted the controller, as soon as I realized it I disconnected everything, with care as the solar panels pump out some decent juice.

So on the morning of day 5 the weather didn't disappoint and it was again raining. We had to pack up a wet and soggy camp. The only thing that was really awkward was packing up the awning room. We ended up just folding it up and putting it inside of the camper. We left our sweet little camping spot and headed over to Ophir Pass which was promised to offer us an intermediate route over towards Telluride and Hwy 145 (or 141?? can't remember) We would take those roads up to Gateway where we would jump into John Brown Canyon. At the beginning of Ophir pass which stated "No Trailers Beyond This Point", we theorized they couldn't be talking about awesome trailers like ours so we pretended like we didn't see it. I didn't intend to be completely careless with the camper because I knew this pass to be narrow, my dad's Jeep would run ahead to make sure the pass was clear so we didn't cause a traffic jam. Ophir was easy and the switchbacks were not too bad making our way up to the actual pass which was perched between what seemed like the worlds two biggest gravel piles.

Rock pile to our left.

And rock pile to our right.

This is where my dad ran ahead. He radioed in that two Jeeps were headed up the pass so we sat and waited. A WK with a nice couple pulled up behind us and the lady seemed quiet perplexed about how I knew there were Jeeps coming, even as I was holding the radio in my hand. I found out they were taking the pass because 550 was closed and they were headed to Telluride. After a wait we dropped down the other side. It was tight, there was one sharp right turn where we used a spotter with the trailer but it wasn't a problem. On the way down we passed a few vehicles to include a white Toyota Tundra, who's occupants yelled out some compliments about how cool they thought the trailer was.

Ophir was a picturesque little town with a bustling post office.

I hoped to buy stamps here to send a post card to my wife but it was not meant to be.

The paved portion of our route to Gateway was uneventful with nice scenery. We stopped in Norwood at Happy Belly Deli for lunch. Norwood was a sleepy little town perched on a very windy mesa.

We arrived at Gateway and found John Brown Canyon with ease. Quick stop to air down.

We made good time on John Brown Canyon Road and only passed a hand full of vehicles and a lot of cows. It is another scenic route which takes you through the desert canyon and then up to the mesa (or plateau?) and on this date it included a 15 degree temperature drop as we made the climb. We followed the route over and intersected with Thompson Canyon. Hide-out "Campground" was our destination on Thompson Canyon. The trail was easy but it did slow us down a bit as it was rougher than John Brown Canyon Road. I hoped to make it to the campsite before dark and we rolled into the access trail for the "Campground" just before dark.

This cow gave us a stare down for a moment.

Rough section of Thompson Canyon just before we made it to Hide Out "Campground".

I keep putting quotations around "Campground" because even though that is what it was called in the book it was more of a campsite, and a rough to access one at that. The road obviously hasn't seen much use and was very eroded. It was a hard left hand turn followed by a series of off camber wash-out crossings. I was able to snake the trailer through with some good spotting. Unfortunately for dad I smashed down part of the trail which caused some three wheel action for him as he came through. There are two good camp sites on the left and several other not so good sites. Luckily the area was unoccupied and I could take up both campsites with the trailer and vehicles. I am sure it was an awesome location but we didn't enjoy it because it was already dark by the time we sat up. Our simplest meal of the trip would be had on this night, hot dogs and Bushes baked beans!

The wash out.

Of course it rained this night also but it was only brief.

Day Six: Hells Revenge

We woke up at Hideout Campground with great weather. Tearing down camp was a breeze and I believe we clocked in a time at around 40 minutes which included repairing a bent awning pole.

Here is the awning room deployed on the WJ. We made the awning removable with wing nuts so it could be placed on the trailer or kept on the WJ. Since we only stayed here one night we kept it on the WJ.

We made quick time getting out of Thompson's Canyon and onto Onion Creek Trail to Hwy 128. Nothing to report, the trail was super easy and the scenery was great but familiar to what we have already seen and will see. We bounced into Moab and made out way up to the Sand Flats Recreation area. We spent some time driving around the different campground loops in an effort to find a cool spot. We found one at the end of a loop with plenty of parking and pretty much away from everyone else.

We didn't waste much time in getting to the good stuff and after we set up camp we went to hit Hell's Revenge trail which is accessed from Sand Flats. I have done this trail once before and it is one of my favorite Moab trails. I am not sure what day of the week it was at this point but the trail wasn't very crowded at all and only met one H1 Hummer from one of the tour companies and some side by side's. The WJ has really surprised us with her capabilities. Everywhere we went we encountered people who were surprised that the WJ was out there on the trails. So far the Jeep has been exactly what I wanted it to be; overland vehicle, able to take on difficult trails, great daily driver.

As soon as you begin the trail things get spicy.

Route finding isn't very difficult.

Tyson cooking up some grub.



Day 7: More navigational woes.

For me day 7 was a learning experience and an ego buster. Our plan for this date would be to tackle Poison Spider, go across Golden Spike, and exiting on Gold Bar Rim. This would be a long day for sure and I have done this combination of three trails before with success.

We were on the trail at a decent hour but probably not as early as we should have been. Poison Spider trail is one of my favorites and has a great combination of fun technical sections without much down time or boring bumpy driving. I let Tyson begin driving this trail with the intention of switching once we got to the loop. I would then drive the loop and across Golden Spike and allow him to finish driving us out on Gold Bar Rim. Poison Spider was a good trail for him to get more technical driving time in. We ended up encountering three guys from Las Vegas driving a tricked out Sammy, beast CJ7, and a "I think it used to be a Chevy". We passed them back and forth several times and they were super impressed with the WJ's ability and were shocked that we had it out on the trails, and were even more shocked that she doesn't have lockers.

One of the many steep slick rock climbs on Poison Spider.

We made it to the intersection with Golden Spike without any problems and at this point in time I took over the driver seat and we did the loop portion of Poison Spider. This would be our first mistake, knowing that we were going to be on a very long trail I should have opted not to complete the loop portion. Completing the loop would only put us farther behind later on in the trail when a navigation and communication error would leave us making decisions.

I do not have any more pictures from the remainder of the trail, there was some error with the memory card on my camera.

We completed the loop on Poison Spider without issues, ate lunch, and found ourselves back at the intersection with Golden Spike. This trail is exciting with some great obstacles. We completed Launch Pad without any issues, while it is very steep it isn't difficult. We intersected a trail which came in from the left called "Where Eagles Soar", and I didn't remember this from previous trips but I knew to stay right. I should note here that we didn't have anyone paying attention to navigation. We continued on to the Washtub and Zuki Hill. After this we encountered a wrong turn somewhere at an unmarked trail split. I didn't really question the turn that we made because we were still following trail markers, which were white bars painted on the rock. We continued forward and came to several other trail intersections, which all seemed to bear the same trail markings. I made a huge error here and assumed that we were continuing the right direction because the topography seemed to support our location on the guide book. Wrong. We ended up getting back to the intersection with "Where Eagles Soar". Tyson and I had a "didn't we pass that sign on our left last time?" look/conversation which swiftly followed with me cursing myself and having us stop. Oh and did I mention I allowed our radio battery to die so we lost comms with my dad? Yea, I was on a roll for sure. I punched in our GPS way points, which I should have done before, and found that we indeed went in a big loop somehow. I am still confused as to how we made the circle, because up to this point we haven't back tracked on the trail at all. We ended up deciding that based on the time of day we would return to Poison Spider and exit that way. The meet up between the WJ and the Golden Crack would just have to wait.

Things were going ok at first as we were returning. We had to do some of the obstacles in reverse which was interesting, to include going down Launch Pad. Things always get complicated when you really don't want them to. While dropping down a very flexy portion of the trail Tyson and I heard the familiar noise of "bang, ping ping...". Sure enough the passengers front spring became unseated, in the dark, on an obstacle. I was able to drive down the obstacle with the spring partially seated and settled onto a flat and sandy portion of ground would have to suffice for trail fix. The three of us improved our WJ front spring reseating procedures this time and cut the time in half from when it happened on Black Bear. I was pretty mad because this was getting old and even with top and bottom retainers I was having trouble. We crept back into Moab way later than we initially planned and opted to stop in at McDonalds instead of fixing supper at camp.

Day 8: Your Jeep is a little mild for this trail.

After a long day on Poison Spider and Golden Spike we moved on to our next trail goal; Moab Rim. I have never done Moab Rim and it is always a trail which I turn to in the guide book every time I am in Moab but somehow get scared away from it. This time would be no different and I spent some time the night before at dinner thinking if Moab Rim would be appropriate for us. The trail description speaks of the many steep ledges, dangerous drop offs, and how 33" tires and lockers are highly suggested equipment. In the end we decided that we had the experience and equipment to conquer this trail and on the morning of the 8th day we set of with Moab Rim in our sights.

The trail doesn't take very long at all to get down to business and as soon as you begin you are treated to steep ledges and a pretty constant lean towards the left which begs you to make a mistake so you will roll off a cliff. This trail also included our familiar naysayer who was hiking down the trail. This gentleman approached us on the driver's side as we were making our way up. I said "hey" to him as the driver's window was rolled down. He proceeded to ask me if I have ever done this trail before and began to give me warnings about it being difficult and that our vehicles were "too mild" for this trail. I said thanks and we continued on. Our first real obstacle would be a ledge with an awkward crack down the center of it. My dad would be first up and we were able to spot him to success.

Next would be my turn in the WJ. This was an intense obstacle for me and in the end we pulled the winch cable in an effort to clear the obstacle without breaking any parts. With lockers I feel like I would have been successful. After this we proceeded up to Z-Turn with is a serious of steep ledges which first turns you to the right and then to the left. Dad's LJ again made it up this obstacle with no real problems. I brought the WJ up and was able to coax her up the lower ledges which were the steepest and largest. I made the right turn and then proceeded up the ledges to make my left turn. I had some difficulties and got off camber so we pulled the winch line. My Smittybilt XRC Winch has performed great. We continued up through many un-named ledges, tippy spots, and otherwise awesomeness. Once we made it to a portion of the trail which was easier Tyson and I switched and he drove to the end of the trail. A easy section is quickly crossed and then you access an obstacle called "the carwash". Continuing down the trail we made a right at the split and worked out way to the overlook at the end. We located a shady spot and had lunch.

Working out way down from the overlook we turned right and completed the loop on Moab Rim. The guidebook warns of an area just past "sand hill" where a giant hole may result in a quick roll over if you drop a tire into it. Dad opted to take a line to the left which I felt was pretty tippy. I was concerned with rolling over the WJ in the hole so I decided to straddle the hole and work my passenger side tires up the wall. Things were working out great until we heard the familiar "ping ping" sound of a spring unseating and popping out. ####!!!! I backed up to a conveniently flat location and we jumped to it. In less than 10 minutes we had the spring back in. I then did the line to the left which worked, but seemed sketchy.

Tyson seems nervous.

We made good time on the remaining section of the loop and then intersected back to the exit near the carwash. The last mile of the trail was nonstop ledges and climbs. Dad became high centered on one of the climbs which a quick snatch strap fixed. We adjusted the line and both the LJ and WJ popped up with the proper amount of bump. We made it back to Z-turn and the Crack. Both of these obstacles were fun and technical. Dad's Jeep enjoyed some three wheeling coming down Z-turn. We ran into a couple who were walking up the trail as we descended down past Z-turn. They were amazed by the Jeep's abilities and Tyson and I joked they would be at a Jeep dealership in the morning.

Moab Rim was an exciting trail with non-stop challenges. It was the most difficult trail I have ever attempted and I believe that it was a success even though we had to pull out the winch cable. We finished in time to hit up Moab and enjoy a fruit smoothie. Tyson and I went to "Wall Street" which is a section of Potash Road popular for rock climbing. I did "30 Seconds over Potash" in the fading sunlight. We returned to camp where my dad had prepared a great dinner.

Day Nine and Ten: Canyonlands and a return to reality.

Another one of my major goals from this trip was to check out Canyonlands National Park via the White Rim Trail. On my last trip to Moab we went to Arches NP but I have never ventured into Canyonlands which is rare in the aspect that it is relatively hard to access and remote, perfect for a Jeep trip.

We packed up that morning and headed over to Canyonlands from Moab. We stopped in at the Visitors Center and then went down to see the Mesa Arch. Mesa Arch was a pretty cool sight but very popular and very crowded. It was a hassle just trying to get a picture of the arch with all of the tourist flocking around. With the obligatory tourist box checked we set out to find remoteness. The White Rim trail is an incredibly long and scenic trail. You access the trail just inside the park, and while we did pass a few vehicles it did not take us long to lose the crowds. This trail, as the others, proved to be an adventure for us. I knew in the back of my head that we got started on this trail later than we should have and we had 77 miles to go to meet our designated camping spot in Taylor Canyon. I hoped the trail, even though it was listed intermediate, would allow us 10-15mph average speeds. With the trailer, this was not to be. We descended the Shaffer Switchbacks and dropped down into the main trail. The beginning of the trail went smoothly and we stopped at the Musselman arch to check it out and eat lunch.

Shaffer Switchbacks

Musselman Arch (much better than Mesa Arch)

Pano with Musselman on the left as we went around the next Canyon.

We continued down the trail at what felt like a snails pace. It probably actually wasn't that slow but knowing that we still had 55+ miles to go put a great deal of stress on me. We were battling with how fast we wanted to go versus how fast we needed to push the equipment. After we passed the airport campsites we ran into a NPS Park Ranger on a dirt bike. He stopped us and checked our permits. We chatted with him for a bit, commented on his apparently awesome job, and asked about trail conditions. He told us (while looking at the sun as if he was Crocodile Dundee) that we had plenty of sunlight left to make it to Taylor Canyon. This was a moral boost for us and we blasted on with Taylor Canyon in our sights.

I don't have many details about the trail to provide, as really it was an easy to intermediate level trail. It was just terrain which included bumps, ruts, and dried out creek beds, which kept us from baja speeds through the park. The scenery was amazing and exactly what I hoped it would be. My only complaint about the scenery, and trail in general, is that we were in such a rush to make it to our camp by dark that we didn't get to properly enjoy it. Several hours after meeting our Park Ranger Tyson and I discussed that he was probably laughing as he rode away. It became apparent to us that we weren't going to make it there by dark and the question now would be, just how late would it be?

Tyson and I switch drivers around mile 40 or 50, which allowed me some time to soak up the sights and take photographs from a bumpy Jeep.

Sunlight was fading away...

We made it to Candlestick campsite around dark where we stopped and spoke a group of very intoxicated mountain bikers. They were more familiar with the area and told us we had about an hour or two to make it to Taylor Canyon. We felt their estimate was probably off, but they ensured us the road smoothed out and we would be able to pick up some steam. They were mostly true and the trail did smooth out. We continued on but began to look at other options. We are rule followers. Canyonlands has a very strict permit system regarding camping and camping is only allowed in select campsites. I knew we could really camp in any flat spot but we wanted to follow the rules. We had to also consider what we would be dealing with the next day. Since we all have real jobs with real bosses we needed to be back home on Sept 22nd. My dad in particular needed to be at work on the 23rd. After this night of camping we would be getting up, finishing up the trail and heading straight back to NC and reality. It just so happened that we made it to Potato Bottom Campsite and site B was unoccupied. It was about 9:30, I didn't think anyone else would be coming in later than us. I remembered this site still being available on the internet so I felt ok with taking it. We circled the wagons and pulled in. It was probably the quickest camp setup of the entire trip. I think inside of 30 minutes we had the awning on the WJ, the camper was deployed, and dad had broke out the kitchen and we began our Salmon dinner.

I did notice that we had indeed pushed the trailer to its limits this day. A bracket near the rear entry door had broken and we had lost some of the structure which supported the trailer tub. Not perfect.

Waking up the next morning we realized how awesome of a campsite we had. Even though there are three sites here you can't see your neighbors, and high canyon walls and desert formations surround you on all sides. The river is nearby so I do believe it could be buggy at times.

I deployed a ratchet strap solution to the broken trailer which held it together and we were out of camp by 0830. The scenery on the way out would be just as awesome as the day before. We made it to the intersection with Taylor Canyon within our first 30-45 minutes on the trail and passing this was bittersweet. I knew that Taylor was to be an awesome site, with Moses and Zeus nearby. I will be back!

We made quick time on the exit. The trail conditions improved greatly and we were able to safely average 15-20 mph over loose dirt and sand. We made it back to pavement, aired up and attached the sway bars. It was an epic trip which has really given me the Overland bug. On the way home my mind would be filled with future trips, things I want to do, and things I would have done differently. I was sad to leave but also relieved that our vehicles made it through all of this without any major damage. We pointed the vehicles east and headed back to NC.

Things were going as plan until about Denver. Going through some of the interstate mountain passes just west of Denver I noticed the WJ began to overheat. Everything else seemed normal, no weird noises, power seemed normal, just running hot. I reduced my speed and ducked in behind the big rigs. I thought maybe the water pump was going bad or something. On flat and down hill the temps went back to normal and only ran hot during steep and long climbs. I wanted to limp it closer to Denver before we tried to troubleshoot what the problem would be. Turning off the interstate that became apparent, the power steering was gone. My WJ has a fan which is powered by the power steering pump which explains why it began to run hot. We made it to an Advance which had a power steering pump and pulley puller kit. The pump came off easy enough however the pulley puller ripped the lip off the pulley so I couldn't remove it from the old pump and put it on the new. Advance didn't have a pulley, and Napa was closed. Great! I located the source of the leak on the pump, the high pressure outlet was loose. I tightened it up and thought it would fix it but alas, it did not. We would spend the rest of the night stopping every two hours and adding fluid. Luckily Oklahoma is straight and flat. The next morning in Booneville Missouri we would find ourselves in a Napa parking lot, finally replacing the pump with a new one and a new pulley. I rolled back home at about 3AM on the 23rd. Poor Dad was at work that next same day.

tuff guy

Awesome trip and a great report, looks like a ton of fun. Way to take the grand out there and show what they can do


Really enjoyed your post. Hope you all get to come back soon, and when you do, see what the southwest of Utah has to offer.


Really enjoyed your post. Hope you all get to come back soon, and when you do, see what the southwest of Utah has to offer.
Thanks. I intend to, living on the east coast I am really drawn out west. I try to mix my trips up and visit different places, Utah always draws me in.