COOPER DISCOVERER - The Wild West with My 8 Year Old and Friends

#1
Some call it manipulation, I call it proper parenting. My eight year old, Davis is quick to tell you that my 80 series Land Cruiser is his and that he lets me drive it until his legs get long enough. He is my adventure buddy and I couldn't be more proud. He was two years old when he spent his first night in a tent. That night it was 25 degrees in the north Georgia mountains. He didn't complain once. He loved it and had no problems sleeping. He has logged close to a hundred nights in a tent since that first trip. The most recent adventure added four nights in the tent and created memories that we will both cherish forever. More on his time out West later as I should probably start from the beginning.

Many years ago I heard a Native American say “the desert changes your soul”. I found this very true as I started immersing myself in the Wild West back in 2012. In September of 2015, I left Atlanta in the 80 Series Cruiser and made my way out to Moab to meet up with "Team Moab" of the CruiserFest event. I brought a buddy, Robert, from my office with me for the journey. Robert had recently purchased a new 4Runner Trail. I wanted to give him a taste of what his new 4Runner wanted out of life. From Moab, Kurt Williams of Cruiser Outfitters led a four day backcountry traverse into Tooele, UT. CruiserFest is a first class event that I look forward to attending each year. There are various locations for attendees to rendezvous with other attendees and then you spend multiple nights “overlanding” into the event. Team Moab is clearly the best team ;) The first day was a quick drive through the Dubinky Well area and into White Sands Sand Dunes where we setup camp for the night. We actually met up with the group that started in Denver and camped as a large group that night. The following morning, we said our goodbyes to the second best group, Denver, and started our trek towards the San Rafael Swell, specifically the Black Dragon Canyon Trail. This was a highly anticipated day for me as I had been trying to make it to the San Rafael Swell for years and it was finally going to happen. It did not disappoint as we were treated to spectacular view of Pictographs and Petroglyphs. I am still fascinated by the art and history of this area.

Following the swell, we began our backcountry trek toward Skyline Drive. This was yet another area that I had heard about over the years and it also did not disappoint. The views here were simply stunning. As we climbed the trail and took in the views, we were rewarded with a great campsite near Pete's Hole Reservoir. I broke out the Hennessy Hammock for this night as I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunities the alpine setting provided. The following morning we began our decent down the mountain and we had a FJ55 in the group lose a rear tire and shear all of the wheels studs in the process. The team came together and with a parts run through a few towns, some patience and teamwork, we took care of the issue and worked our way toward Desert Mountain and ultimately made camp that night in the Jericho Area. The following morning we picked up the Ericson Pass en route to the Pony Express Road. We stopped and enjoyed our lunch at one of the Pony Express Outposts and I enjoyed my time travel back 150 years as I tried to envision its operation in real time. From there it was a quick jaunt north to the Miller Motorsports Park for the CruiserFest event.

Following the event, I drove down to Las Vegas to leave the 80 at a friend's house and catch a flight home to Atlanta. Leaving the Cruiser out West was a decision that I knew would be well rewarded.

PICS:
The first two are from our campsite in thw White Sands Sand Dunes.
The third is a picture of our group while stopped to check out the Petroglyphs on the Black Canyon Trail in the swell.
The final two are of the Petroglyphs that we saw. TEAM MOAB 4.jpg TEAM MOAB 3.jpg
 

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#2
The next month, I flew back out to Vegas to get the truck and join three other cruisers for and five day journey that started with the Hole in the Rock Trail and ended with another overnight visit to my favorite place on the North Rim, Toroweap Overlook. My good friend from Atlanta, Steen, also joined me on this trip. Steen has a very nicely built 200 series as well as a built 40 series. To this date, the Hole in the Rock Trail has been my favorite trail that I have ever done. We did make a HUGE mistake on this trail. We did it way too fast. Two of the Cruisers had about a five hour head start from the last two (me and one other 80 series). At first we planned to just meet up with the earlier group on the second day but somehow we decided to make it a challenge to get to them the first night. This meant that we did “the Chute” and following obstacles in the dark. Once we saw their light off in the distance, we knew we were going to make it. It took a while and a few nice climbs, but we finally rolled into camp and met up with the rest of the group. They thought that we were absolutely nuts for doing those sections in the dark. We really didn’t appreciate the terrain that we had tamed until the next day when we went back through it in day light. We agreed that it was not wise once we saw how bad things could have gone. We ended up covering about 30 miles (of the 35 mile trail) on the first day. It was way too fast. On the second day, we broke down camp and finished the trail in. At the end, we did hike down to Lake Powell to get a better view of the “Hole in the Rock”. In ended up being a pretty intense hike with some sections composed of deep sand and steep ascents/descents. It was interesting seeing the terrain that the Mormon settlers had tried to conquer in their wagons 140 years ago. Once we completed our hike, we began the trail back out as it is an in & out trail. At this point, we were still going way to fast. One of the 80s fell victim to this pace and decided to shear the axle studs off his passenger rear axle. Thankfully these have full floaters in the rear so we just pulled the rear axle, threw a towel in the housing to hold in the gear oil and continued the trail in 3WD. We camped that night about 10 miles from the end of the trail and decided that when we did this trail again, we would take four days to run it, not the 40 hours that we were doing it in this time. The next day we finished the trail and made our way toward Toroweap Overlook on the north rim to spend the night. This was my fifth trip to Toroweap (I love this place) but it was going to be the first time camping there. We made it about an hour before sunset and enjoyed grabbing some photos during golden hour. The next morning we had a quick hike around the area and then it was off to Vegas to leave the 80 and get on a flight back to Atlanta.

In December I had some business meetings in Salt Lake City. I was missing the cruiser so I flew into Vegas, picked it up and headed north. Another benefit of this route was that I got to spend a night with some great friends in Toquerville, UT. The cruiser was rewarded with some fresh powder in Salt Lake City and Park City. I decided that this would be a perfect starting point for my trip back in February with Davis. I found a storage unit near the airport and tucked the cruiser safely inside a "locker". Of all the great memories that I had made since driving the cruiser out from Atlanta, I was most excited about the next trip with my boy.

PICS:

-Descending a ledge on Hole In the Rock Trail (Photo Credit Brian Swearingen)
-1st night campsite on HITR Trail (Photo Credit Brian Swearingen)
-Me enjoying my morning coffee at the Toroweap Overlook (Photo Credit Brian Swearingen)
-A photo of a photo of me enjoying my coffee (Photo Credit Steen Henninger)
-A photo of Steen capturing images at Toroweap Overlook
 

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#3
Davis couldn’t get enough of his window seat as we were 35,000 feet above snow-capped mountains. This was not his first time flying, but it was his first time seeing a blanket of white stuff from above. He was truly giddy, as was I. We landed in Salt Lake City in the late morning of February 16th. Even though we had to leave the house at 4am that day, Davis was full of energy and excitement. He was very excited about visiting the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum in Salt Lake that afternoon. Davis and I had watched all of the Expedition 7 videos together during the previous year. Scott Brady and Greg Miller are heroes to him and he couldn't wait to touch the only vehicle in the world that had driven on all seven continents. While sitting in that special VDJ78 Land Cruiser, Davis flashes one of many enormous smiles on this trip. These smiles were special to me as I could see the sheer joy behind them.

My friend Jonathan, who I met as part of Team Moab the previous September, met us at the museum with his 80 series packed and ready to go. Jonathan and his dog Kuma made the perfect travel companions. Jonathan had planned a route that would take us to a spectacular campsite on the Wedge Overlook in the San Rafael Swell. There was still some snow on the ground and Davis loved racing his Traxxas RC truck around while I set up camp. Jonathan cooked up some delicious fajitas and we enjoyed some time around the fire. I even found some time to install my new Lifetime Phantom Sun 20” LED bar that I had brought out with me. This bar was fantastic in the ensuing days in the desert. Thank you to Steve Springs and his team at Southeast Overland for helping me get the right bar for my needs. It was down in low thirties that night and we slept great on the ground.

The next morning we woke up to a great view and some great coffee. We lazily hung out and packed up camp without feeling any pressure to meet any schedules...that is a rare, but great feeling. Jonathan had planned a great route through the swell with a goal of ending up in Moab for the night. The route through the swell was stunning. It was highlighted by the stop at the site of petroglyphs and pictographs. We spent a half hour or so immersing ourselves in history that covers thousands of years. I captured a lot of images as I am thinking this will be a great topic for a school project in the future.

We arrived in Moab in time for lunch and Jonathan took us to, Hal's burger. Although I had been to Moab a half dozen times in the past, I had never heard of this place. I highly recommend a meal there if you find yourself hungry in Moab. After lunch, we spent a little time in the BLM area. Davis had a ton of fun wheeling Baby Lion’s Back. We then decided that we needed to head out in we were going to try and find a spot to camp up on La Sal mountain. Unfortunately, there was just too much snow on the mountain to find a suitable camping spot. We did have to stop and let Davis and Kuma play in the snow. Being from the South, snow is still a very exciting novelty to Davis and he had never seen this much snow before. This time with Kuma and the white stuff provided many more smiles and joy. While they were playing, Jonathan and I were discussing camping options. We settled on heading back down the mountain and trying to find a spot at the Fisher Towers Campground. It was a great decision as there was room for us and this is a stunning place to camp.

PICS:

- Proof that Davis was thrilled on the plane ride into SLC.
- Sitting in the same seat that Greg Miller did while driving this Cruiser on all seven continents...another HUGE smile!
- Photos of him in his dream museum (lots of smiles and JOY)
 

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#4
The following morning was a little more rushed as Jonathan and Kuma needed to head north back to SLC and Davis and I needed to get on the road South to meet my friend Scott in Sedona for lunch. We woke up before sunrise, packed up quietly, said our goodbyes and headed off in opposite directions. We had a little more highway time on this leg than we had been used to, but Sedona certainly didn’t disappoint. We met up with Scott and his glorious G-wagen. After lunch, Scott guided us through the Broken Arrow Trail. We had to share the trail with a dozen or Pink Jeeps that we giving tours. This didn’t bother us one bit as the trail is entertaining and rewarding with great views and a lot or red rock…and I love red rock!

Once we finished the Broken Arrow Trail, Scott led us to very quiet and rewarding campsite. We had a great time unwinding and enjoying the peaceful serenity of the desert. Scott was kind enough to spend some time with Davis teaching him about shutter speed and capturing some fun photos. Davis really appreciated this new knowledge and he held the DSLR the entire ride the next day. It was great seeing him embrace the art of photography and I truly thank Scott for that exposure (pun fully intended). When we broke camp that Friday morning, we went our separate ways. Davis had one more special experience in store. Davis has been obsessed with Saguaro Cacti since he was a few years old. Being a Georgia boy (although he was born in California and spend a solid four months there), I have no idea where this affinity originated. When he was four, he said he wanted to be a saguaro cactus for Halloween. My wife made an incredible costume from green upholstery foam and it is his favorite costume of all. Now that you have learned that about him, it will make sense that I asked Scott where we could find some saguaros, since Davis had never seen one in person. Scott gave us a great spot to stop along the way. Sure enough, Davis was able to see thousands of saguaros as we drove towards Scottsdale. We got out and explored, and of course, took a few photos. More enormous smiles!

We left the 80 in Scottsdale at a friend’s house, and caught a flight home to Atlanta. I already had another trip planned for the next month. This would be the final leg as the 80 was coming home to Atlanta after this adventure.

Pics:

- I loved watching Scott's G on the trail...I even got a pic of it flexing on Broken Arrow trail
- Proof of Davis' love for Cacti. He was thrilled to be one for Halloween and even more thrilled to see one in person (more giant smiles)
-All of the campsite pics and "fun with shutter speed" pics were taken by Scott Brady. Thanks again Scott as Davis seems to have really taken an interest in photography after the time that you spent with him.
 

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#5
Pics:
-Davis and Kuma loved playing in the deep snow of La Sal.
-Jonathan's 80 fording the water at the bottom of Baby Lion's Back
-Davis in his early morning walk at the Wedge Overlook in the San Rafael Swell
-Light Bar installed at camp on the Wedge.
-Tent with snow at the campsite of the Wedge Overlook
 

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#6
One of my best friend’s since high school went to dental school in Phoenix. His name is Damian and he also loves the outdoors. He was a perfect person to invite along for this final adventure. I was invited to join a group in Prescott, AZ for three day Arizona traverse. Damian and I flew out from Atlanta, picked up the cruiser in Scottsdale and made our way north to Prescott. We met the group for lunch on Friday afternoon and then headed out towards our first night’s camp on Mount Union in the Prescott National Forest. I really enjoyed getting to know everyone in this group over dinner/campfire that night and the coming days. We got a prime camping spot by a mere 30 seconds since as soon as we pulled in, another group was on our heels.

The next morning we leisurely broke down camp and started our trek towards that night’s goal: camping on the Verde River at Sheep’s Bridge. This day’s drive was very scenic and included a pass through Crown King (a very eclectic town in the middle of nowhere), high switchbacks, changes between pines and desert terrain, and a fun little bar called Cleator Bar and Yacht Club that is in the middle of nowhere and serves very tasty hot dogs and cold beverages. We raced down Bloody Basin Road to get to the Verde River and hopefully grab the prime camping spot. As we approached the area on a switchback from above, we could immediately see that the prime spot was taken by a group of vehicles. It turned out to be a very busy Saturday for the area and we were having a hard time finding a spot. We decided to head back near the original spot and tuck ourselves away somewhere in that area. As we got closer, I noticed that there were about 10 Land Cruisers occupying that spot. Without hesitation, I jumped out and introduced myself. It turns out that the Copper State Cruisers were on their monthly run and the welcomed our four Toyotas and lone Jeep to join their party. Over beverages and a fire that night we realized that we knew a lot of the same people. It really is a small world.

After a great night of camping, it was time to pack up the truck and head home…to Atlanta. Damian was a worthy partner in this journey and I very much appreciate him helping drive as we drove across country. We left camp at the Verde River around 8:30am PST. After a few hours on dirt, we hit pavement and made out way back into Scottsdale. We fueled up, threw some groceries in the fridge and were on our way East. We drove straight through to Atlanta. We only stopped for fuel and would grab food during these stops. Our longest stop was in Memphis on Monday afternoon for some BBQ. That 45 minute stop was the longest break the 80 got. The cruiser hit 220,000 miles on this trip back and she never complained once about being driven for pretty much 33 hours straight. Scanguage never even show a water temp above 198*. We made it home to Atlanta just before 9PM EST on Monday night

PICS:

-Photos from our campsite at Sheeps Bridge with the Prescott group. I didn't show these to Davis as I didn't want him jealous about the cacti.
-Damian starting the 33 hour drive out from camp to Atlanta.
 

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#7
8,872 miles were covered in this journey, over a thousand were off road.

I want to give a big THANK YOU to my wife for pushing me out to these adventures and handling everything at home while I am out in the middle of nowhere. She wants to come on the next adventure and I can't wait to share the desert with her. I also want to thank everyone that was a part of these journeys. I made very special memories with old friends and new friends. A very big part of these trips for me was having people in the cruiser with me. I was very rarely by myself and that is by design. Getting out and enjoying the world is good for the soul and very infectious. My goal is to infect as many people as possible with the desire as I feel my life has been impacted in exponential ways through the overlanding community. Since the trip to CruiserFest, Robert has accepted his fate as an Overlander. He has added new tires (Cooper Discoverer ST Maxx :clapping:), rock sliders and front bumper to his previously stock Trail 4Runner.

As father, I will always cherish these memories with my boy. I am thrilled that he shares this interest and look forward to adventuring with him for our entire lives.

Off to plan the next one…


Smitty
 
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#10
Thank you for the kind words. So far, I think 8 years old has been a perfect age...old enough to be independent to a degree but young enough to still think that their Dad is awesome.

Best,

Smitty
 
#12
Great write up and such a creative way to get out there and experience the west! Your enthusiasm for traveling with your son is awesome! Cannot wait till mine is old enough to actually participate in trips!