Flatlanders Go West

#1
DISCLAIMER: First time attempting a trip report, be easy on me. This was a 5 week trip so I might be slow on the updates, going to try to do it in state by state "Chapters"
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Flatlanders Go West
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PART I:The Beginning
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PART II:Society
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PART III:Lows
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PART IV:Just a Couple of Tourist
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PART V:Highs
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PART VI:Green to Red
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PART VII:Slickrock
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Overview
After a year of planning with Excel sheets, research, google maps hotlinks, research and thousands of dollars on a 2001 XJ that never seems like it was going to be ready, the time had finally come to leave our home in Indiana for a trip of a LIFETIME. The vehicle we chose was a 2001 Jeep Cherokee, former fire department k9 vehicle. Build thread can be seen here if interested, MORTY.
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Major modifications are
  • OME 3" lift
  • 4.0L Auto
  • 4.10 regear
  • ARB front locker
  • Rear Detroit Trutrac LSD
  • ARB OBA
  • Tepui RTT
  • TuffStuff Awning
  • JCR Offroad Vanguard front bumper
  • Warn VR8s
  • JCR Offroad Vanguard rear bumper W/ Adventure tire carrier
  • Obsession Offroad rock sliders
  • Cooper STT Pros
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In the end by the numbers
35 Days on the road.
6,689 Miles.
465 Gallons of gas.
11 States.
18 National Parks & Forests.
7 Off road trails.
4 Mountain Passes.
1 rear hatch.
1 thumb.​
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#3
Can't wait to follow along. I've got a 2001 Cherokee that I got in high school that we still have around. I'd love to spend a couple months building it out.
 
#4
Part I
The Beginning
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Clark Fork along Morrison JT by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr​
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N 38°57'33.80"
W 95°15'55.73"
Galveston,IN

In the weeks prior to us leaving I found myself scrambling to get the rig ready for this trip, having not installed a plethora of new parts waiting in the living room and the ones not even ordered. We were lucky enough to receive a great discount/sponsorship from JCR Offroad about a month before we were scheduled to leave. This allowed me to massively upgrade the bumpers that were on the Jeep but coming at the cost of a time crunch. JCR doesn't have a huge amount of parts in stock, specifically bumpers and most are made to order. The guys at JCR helped out a lot by shipping the pieces I ordered as they were finished, saving me the trouble of installing everything at one time.
First to make it in the Rear Vanguard bumper. High quality piece and well thought out design.
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Next was the front Vanguard winch bumper, great looking functional bumper with nice tie in brackets and high entry angle clearance. Just with these two installed the Cherokee really started to look the part.
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While waiting for the tire carrier to come in I had a local shop do up some custom rock sliders. Obsession Offroad is a small custom fabrication and offroad shop in Marion, Indiana and Brad, the owner and sole employee is a great guy and extremely knowledgeable. Having gone to him to install my locker and set my gears in the past and seeing a lot of his work, I went to him for sliders and a HD tie rod. Of course they came out great and had an easy install, nice thing about his tie rod is that is uses beefier OEM rod ends from a Dodge truck. Meaning not only can you find them in basically all autoparts stores, but you get the warranties for them too.
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Not a day after I got all those things installed, my tire carrier showed up on the porch. Another great piece of kit from JCR and a smooth install. Getting the tire carrier on really made the Cherokee ready for some heavy miles offroad without the worry for a blown tire and allowing the bolt on of a few other accessories like a Hi-Lift, CB, and extra fuel.
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JCR designed it to allow the use of Rotopax but I didn't think that would be enough fuel for what we were intending. I ordered to Waiven 20L fuel cans, designed up some brackets and ran to Brad's at Obession to get them bent up. With those last pieces installed we were ready to load the Jeep up with only hours to spare before we got a last night's rest, for a 3am leave time the next day.

Loaded Up by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr​
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September 3rd..
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Alarm screaming, eyes snapped open.
Today is the day.
Quick showers, double checking bags. Me, Jordan (my wife), and Domo our Blue Heeler hopped into our home for the next 35 days. We are off.
5 miles down the road I hard brake ..damn forgot the camera. At least I remembered it at that point not hours away.
First day of driving was a tough one, we had done it before two years prior. Galveston, IN to Rapid City, SD., almost 17hrs with fuel stops and just over 1,000 miles. Thought behind this was to get as far west as possible as soon as possible so we have just that much more time out of the flatland.
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5 Fuel stops later, we can see Badlands NP on the horizon. We stop. Having skipped it last time we didn't want to do that again. The air was thick with smoke, visibility was poor from the wild fires raging across the border in Montana. Still an incredible site to see and glad we made a quick stop.
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We rolled up to our friends, Ashley and Michael, around 11pm local. Ashley was on a solo trip to Colorado and Michael slowing down after a day ripping up trails on his dirt bike. Quick chats over a beer or two and we turned in for the day. Insane how much a long drive can take out of you, even with a handful of Redbulls.
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The next morning wasn't quite as early and were we grateful for that. Slow to get moving we spent a good amount of time just sipping coffee for the day. Ashley was on her way back from her trip so we decided we would stay for the rest of the day, in the mean time head out to Rushmore and the black hills that afternoon. We'd make our way back to the house in time for Ashley to make it back, have some dinner and another night in a comfy bed. Knowing the nights of actual beds would be few and far between we were pretty happy with that plan.
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If anyone has been to Rushmore they know dogs aren't allowed. We have had Domo for about a year and a half, he is a well behaved pup for as young as he is and we recently started training him to be a service dog for Jordan. Being fairly new to the specific training we decided to leave him in the car for our quick run up to see the monument so we wouldn't have to deal with the questioning the comes with a service animal.
Domo didn't like that.
Being super attached to us and going everywhere we do back home, he isn't use to us leaving him in the car like that. Poor guy barked the entire time and we could HEAR him from the car park. I snapped a few pictures and we left in fear of some do-good Samaritan busting out our windows to 'save' him. We drove out behind Rushmore at a suggestion from Michael to hike around and see the area. Domo could run around with us out there so we spent a few good hours wandering around the woods with George Washington's dome as a backdrop.
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After Jordan scavenged for all the rocks she could fit in her arm to take home and I was worn out scrambling up and down boulders with the dog, we made our way back to the Jeep and into Rapid City for the night.
Lots of beer and some good food of the grill the 4 of us caught up. Stories of the past, present and future filled the air. Always good to be with old friends.
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September 5th..
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Making our way downstairs we headed out to the Jeep. Ashley and Michael had to be at work early so we said our goodbyes the night before.
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Back in the XJ we pointed west and headed for Story, WY. My grandfather lives in a small place out there and we were going to spend some time with him for the next couple days. Few hours behind the wheel felt like nothing after our previous drive from Indiana.
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Made it to his place late afternoon. Some catching up and we made our way to a campground just down the road. We planned on setting up the rooftop in the driveway but his eagle eyed witch of a landlord was not going to have that. Gene (grandpa) made his way to the campground after we had set up, drank a few beers and ate up some burgers. He is a Korean war vet and makes sure you know it, the stories never run dry with him and he was excited to be telling us them.
Story Campsite by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
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He headed home and we made our way up the RTT ladder with Domo for our first night of camping on the trip.
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The Next morning we cooked up some eggs and sausage, coffee of course. Packed the Jeep and made our way back up the road to Gene's to let him show us the area.
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He loaded us up in his '92 Ford Exploder and drove us up to Fort Phil Kearny, pointing out his favorite fishing holes along the way. Some time spent there and seeing the Wagon Box Battle Monument earned us a meal in nearby Sheridon, WY at grandpa's favorite Chinese buffet.
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Full on fried rice and Sweet & Sour we made it back to his place and hopped into the Jeep to go set up camp. Just like clockwork Gene putted his way into camp an hour later in the Maroon Monster. Beers, stories and a surprise gift. He thought it was insane for us to be doing this trip without a gun, frankly I did too but I didn't have the time to get something before we left. He passed me a older .38 special, neat looking pistol.
With the beers empty, he decided it was time to leave. Up the ladder we went. Another great night in Story.
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September 7th..
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8am. Eggs, Sausage, Coffee. Morrison Jeep Trail today.
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Stopped into my grandpa's for a goodbye. Looked over some paper maps and showed him the area we should be in for the next couple days. He made note of it in case something were to happen. Hugs and some pictures. We leave.
Jumpers by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
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Making our way through the Bighorn NF out of Sheridan, WY through our first mountain pass, topping out around 8,700 feet. We finally felt like we were out west now. Coming down the other side and I am reminded how much the Cherokee is loaded up. Hot brakes driving down the steep grades, I pull off to let them cool.

Domo by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

DSC_2923 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

DSC_2887 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr​
Couple hours later we are looking at the Morrison Trail Sign outside of Cody, WY. The First real test of the Cherokee's setup and the biggest test of my driving skill to date.
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Air down. Disconnect. Ready.
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Incredible drive into a valley, crawling onto Shoshone NF land, the trail is mild but bumpy. Over a hill into an open area along Clarks Fork of Yellowstone River. Massive washout area that I imagine is close to impassable when the water is high. We jumped out to take some pictures and let Domo run in the river before the switchbacks that he wasn't going to enjoy.
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Getting back into the jeep, we start driving around the bend. There they are. Enormous and intimidating to even the most confident. The Switchbacks. Not three weeks prior to us being in that spot, an elderly couple rolled their side by side off one of the switchbacks. Killing both of them, a bit of info I probably shouldn't have told Jordan before we got there....
 
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2180miles

Endurance Adventuring
#5
Such an awesome Jeep. I'd always wanted to find a '98 or '99 in Chili Pepper Pearl red to match my TJ, and build it for overlanding.

Looking forward to reading about your trip!
 
#9
Excellent trip report, As a flat lander from Minnesota I cant wait to see / read about your trip up the Morrison Jeep Trail.
Myself and 4 other expeditionportal members where there on the Morison Trail when the older couple went off one of the switchbacks.
We where the ones that called 911.
Here is a link to one of the e-news articles about what happened:
http://www.codyenterprise.com/news/local/article_951a0fc4-7a1e-11e7-8480-eb0e459cf219.html
 
#13
Part II
Society
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Checks by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr​
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N 44°48'8.18"
W 109°21'14.49"
Morrison Switchbacks, WY

September 7th
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6:37PM. Staring at the switchbacks, thinking about everything I've read or watched on them. The video that stuck out to me at that moment was one that Expedition Overland put together awhile back. Took those guys hours to get up there, yes they were slowed by filming and slowed by bring up a trailer but I was worried, none the less, of the time it would take a novice (at best). Burning precious minutes in the shadow of the mountain whether or not to trek up or set up camp... 6:45pm we started.
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Climbing up the first couple, I looked at Jordan, my wife, "Well this isn't that bad", "Don't say that" ..... She was right. One after another they got worse. 3 point turns, 4 point turns, "hop out and spot me back", 5 point turns. Counting down the slips we stopped about half way. First time I think we looked out to the east off the edge of certain death. Stunning views. Made the stress worth it.
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Locker engaged on a few climbs to be safe, few cool down stops for the poor 4 liter and we made it. To my surprise we made it in what felt like a quick ascent. Time of this photo was 7:29PM, just less than 45 minutes to crawl up.
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The Switchbacks of Morrison were conquered. To be honest it was easier than I thought it would be and since then for anyone that asks me for advise on the trail, I tell them all the same. Its not the switchbacks I feel like people should worry about. I personally think its Forest Road 120 people should try to prepare for. It is endless, slow moving for miles. This Forest Road is what wore me down.
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This section after the slips is the first time my photography of the trip fails. Between not knowing how far ahead a good place to camp would be and the speed of which we were losing sunlight, not many pictures were taken of this beginning stretch of 120.
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After crossing the cattle guard we crawled up the rest of Morrison RD. Turning right, we started 120. Steep sections but not like the switchbacks. What makes this road draining is the boulders. Weaving left and right up the trail at mostly under 5 MPH we seemed to be making zero progress. Sun almost set and we run into the first people we have seen since leaving Cody, WY. Two hunters with a side by side parked and camp setup for the night on the first flat spot we had seen in 5 hours. The Jeep roaring to a stop, I give a wave. They stand up and look the rig up and down, waving back. Hop out of the XJ in hopes for a bit of info on where we could stop for the night. But before we got to that they had some more important questions.
"Y'all come up from Morrison"
"Yes sir"
"In that?"
"Yes sir"
"Surprised y'all can fit in the little Jeep with those giant balls of yours"
"Its a tight fit but we make do"
They insisted that we could set up camp with them but it being a big forest I asked how far to the next clearing and wished them a good hunt.
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Putting up the road about a mile or two and the area opened to a vast clearing for miles. Flat-ish areas galore but with that came cows galore.

Mooove by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr​
Cows don't care that you need to pass. Cows don't care that you are running out of sun light.
Some more weaving left and right and we made it through the herd. Came up to an area to finally setup around 10pm. Hot soup and we were off to bed.
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September 8th..
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The next morning with coffee in hand we sit and take in the views. For the first time we feel isolated. Exactly what we were searching for on this trip. Taking our time packing up to head back on to the trail, we get a late start.
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Not a 1/4 mile out of camp we are back in it. Crawling.
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Hours go by and we make it to Sawtooth mountain area. Up at the top of the mountain it was at least 15 degrees cooler with nothing to block the wind, snapped a few pictures and gave the jeep a good look over.

DSC_3146 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

DSC_3144 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr​
Check locker operation. PSHHHHHHHHH. Damn. Crawl underneath and find the line has a burn hole in it from the exhaust and of course I left my spare line at home in the rush to leave a week earlier. Here is to hoping the trail is mellow after this

Checks by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr​
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Drive a few more miles down the road and we pull off for lunch and to explore around a lake.
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Packed back up and maybe an hour later we finish. What a trail! Tested the Cherokee and us. Worth every minute.
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Aired up and reconnected we hit the pavement. Beartooth highway into Yellowstone. Second national park and some frustration. Driving through the park and stopping every 5 minutes for an idiot who decided to stop in the middle of the road to take pictures of wild life. After this it set a new tone for me in regards to National Parks. Avoid them.
The amount if stupidity, traffic, rules, etc. ruin National Parks for me. They water down nature. It takes away from the wild. Our society found a way to cage and short change the wilderness. No one seems to be in these areas to SEE the park. Just want the boxes checked, selfies taken.
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scrambled to find a site and setup in Yellowstone for the night. Ended up finding a pretty good one, happily surprised.
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September 9th
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Rolled out of the tent to rain. Cooked breakfast and sipped coffee under the awning, not looking forward to packing up wet gear.
Drove out of Yellowstone into the Tetons. Much of the same.
Traffic.
We stopped for a snack near Jenny's Lake
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Out of Teton NP and into Jackson Hole. Such a neat town, stopped into the visitor center. Got a campsite suggestion out near Granite Hot Springs. Ate at a Mexican joint in town and headed to the springs, hoping to get there before before the pool closed. That didn't happen.
But we hung out a bit at a waterfall south of the springs before heading to the site.
Nice and free site next to a steam for the night.
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September 10th
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Skipped breakfast that morning and made our way back into Jackson hole. New York City Sub Shop. Cant recommend this place enough, neat little place to eat with dog friendly outdoor seating. From here we had a choice to make. The original plan after the Tetons was to head up north to Missoula, MT to stay with a friend and go to Glacier NP. There happened to be some nasty wildfires in the area at the time, leaving the air quality dismal. So we could either brave the smoke and see what we could or skip one of my favorite areas in the country and skip over a friend we haven't seen for 2 years... Not an easy decision.
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TO BE CONTINUED....
 
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#14
Wow very jelous of your adventure! Xjs are really good little 4x4's no matter what others think. Heck take a bone stock with decent tires and away you go, let alone one set up like your. Keep us in the loop! Great report!