Keeping it simple for New Years.


Tim and Kelsey get lost..
Trip video:

All we had was a cooler, camping gear, fire wood and full fuel tanks...

Okay, so I also had tools, a tow strap, extra filters and fluids. I'm an optimist, not an idiot.

In the weeks before the trip *we'd replaced the pinion seals, fixed a leaking radiator hose, bled the clutch/brakes, installed new window seals to keep them from rattling and installed some new Old Man Emu springs/shocks. (*When I say we, I really do mean Kelsey and I. She is there handing me tools or turning wrenches herself at every step.)

The truck was ready to go, anything can happen in a 40+ year old truck that's a couple decades behind on maintenance so you're never really done. We just try to keep the break down gods happy by doing something to improve the mechanicals of the truck each month. Feed the beast or suffer it's wrath.

We headed out for the highway drive from Phoenix, AZ to Quartzsite, AZ about 150 miles away. If everything went to plan we'd drive double that heading home as we zigged and zagged on whatever dirt track we could find that looked least used.

The plan for this trip was to keep the plans light. We'd started out having 6 trucks coming along and little by little it had whittled down to just us, as often happens with trips. In a way, this is a relief. I would prefer to see friends, but once you know no one else is coming you can make changes on a whim, try dead end trails long past the normal persons attention span and generally make it up as you go. The original plan was to take some trails in and around KOFA that we'd yet to explore. The new plan was to take those trails and then string together some random trails all the way to the outskirts of Phoenix.

We brimmed the tanks in Quartzsite. Although the town is almost non-existent the population of a couple thousand see's visitors into the millions during the Gem and Mineral show in January and February. The town was still calm, but the storm was rolling in as thousands of RV's start to setup a makeshift town in the desert surrounding the 2 freeway exit town. Every gas station was full and had a wait. “GET ME OUT OF HERE.” Kelsey saved our spot at the pump after filling the main fuel tank so I could flip the truck around and get the auxiliary tank filled without someone snaking the spot. We happily motored out of town and with each passing dirt mile the RV'ers camped in the desert were less and less.

I waited and let Tonto (The FJ40) suffer for a while just because I didn't want to even stop in this plastic temporary desert city. Finally, we took pity on him and ourselves to pull over and air down. That's better. Now Tonto seems happy. The new suspension is still archaic, but it was 100% better than what I had before. We bounced and swayed down the track ever climbing elevation. I had a spot in mind I'd seen on Google Earth. A pile of tailings nice and high up on a nearby mountain. A good vantage point and too tight of a track to have anyone bugging us during the night or early morning.

Thankfully the trail seemed rarely used which was a nice sign, although if too rarely used you can assume there is something wrong. Eventually we pulled up to a wash where each side of the track was a 3 foot drop and then step up on the other side from water flow. “No thanks, I don't want to be the first” Tonto seemed to say. I know buddy, you have a long way to drive home for me to have you sitting on your belly half in a wash. We bailed on camp 1 and drove up another canyon to find a similarly lightly used trail that ended up at some tailings with a view of the entire valley below.

Even better!
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Tim and Kelsey get lost..

We’d packed as if we're heading on an arctic expedition, but what would you expect from a couple of Arizonans. Instead, the night was a downright pleasant 50 something degrees Fahrenheit.

Coffee, eggs and bacon for breakfast. Steering old Tonto with aired down tires and no power steering made for a good workout. First off we headed up a side canyon I’d been meaning to explore. I knew there were some good petroglyphs so I had to see them for myself.

At this point in the trip Tonto was a pig. 30 Gallons of fuel, 9 gallons of water, and too much fire wood meant that I was giving the new suspension a real test. The trail wasn’t hard, but it was tight and I had to remember that not only did I have smaller tires and therefore less ground clearance than Goose (Our newer Land Cruiser FZJ80) I also had U-bolts and mounts hanging down even further.

...After one good hit on a rock I had no trouble remembering the rest of the trip.

The petroglyphs were impressive. Many images looked familiar to what I’d seen before in the southwest and others were unique. I found myself wondering about all of the different generations of traveler to have left their mark on this spot. "Is that a man with a cowboy hat and gun? Did the Native Americans record what must have been their first sight of such a human?"

It was interesting to see the writing of different travelers from over the years. The 1800's and the early 1900's included. It was a brutal area to be sure and the tiny natural spring nearby would have been the only hope of survival during the dry months.

At the top of a nearby peak we saw what looked like a nice ledge to build a kiva and hiked up to it. There may have once been some evidence of Native Americans using it, but now only the elusive Bighorn Sheep left sign behind.

We kept moving along as we had a lot of ground to cover. We headed onto a section of trail appropriately named the hogs back which would take us further south and further from people.

Kelsey did a great job driving down it as I tried not to crash our drone. She enjoyed watching me try not to fall while carrying the controller and drone down after her.

From here we kept heading south until we were at the border of the KOFA wildlife preserve. Just before entering there is an area called Livingston Hills. It’s got a few mines and the modern day Livingstons even have a nice swath of private property with a small ranch on it nestled on all sides by the wildlife refuge. Not a bad spot to call home. Until it’s 115f in July anyway.

If you do enough research you'll find that this area is believed to have a lot of gold still left in the ground. It's enough to make you consider staking a claim.

We took a trail right into the heart of Kofa that I’d somehow overlooked on other trips. I was hoping that meant others did as well. It's this random dead end trails that most people overlook, assuming that they aren't worth the time. We got to the dead end trail and decided to hike a bit further. About a mile up the wash was a higher tank and a dam that looked to be from the late 1800's and there was a good amount of water in it.

Considering we haven’t had rain in over 100 days that’s impressive. Within the immediate area of the tank the canyon bustled with life. Many different types of birds were swooping in and out, daring to take a quick drink before rushing back to their perch. They seemed to be eyeing us and wondering what we were and whether we'd lunge at them if given the chance.

In this canyon the temperature was a good 10 to 15 degrees cooler that outside in the flat country. We decided this would make for a great campsite so we called it a day just before sunset.

We got some good coals going, set up our bbq grate on rocks and put on a big tri-tip steak.

It had been a long day of seesawing the steering wheel in low range and we were exhausted, or so I thought. Tomorrow we had a lot more ground to cover if we were going to make it back to Phoenix by Monday.

Thanks Ryan!


Tim and Kelsey get lost..
Part 3.

It was the coldest night of the trip, but that’s not a complaint. Living in the desert you need a certain quantity of cold winter nights to replenish your tolerance of the hot summer months.
Tonto started up without a hint of resistance, he was excited to explore. We plugged our phone into the battery operated speaker for music and turned on our Spot GPS locator. Thus completed our use of electronics for the day.

Sure a camera is electronic these days, but it seems to add, not take away from the days experiences. The geology around here is amazing. While driving on silt covered roads you look around to realize that every hill or mountain is volcanic. The igneous rocks shimmer in the sun and in summer throw off a heat akin to a heat lamp.

We kept putting along until suddenly interrupting our progress was a large Mule Deer buck. I think we were the ones taken aback. He just stared at us and to my surprise took a wary step or two toward us. He seemed unfazed and more annoyed that we were in his way. He had a mental line of travel directly through the truck so we pulled forward a bit and he deviated his path just a little as well and we went our separate ways.

The Mule Deer seemed fat and happy which surprised me knowing that we’re over 100 days without rainfall. Right when you think you’re in harsh and unforgiving terrain there always seems to be a sign from nature to say that no, it’s not harsh, it’s that you’re just weak.
Slow progress until we hit the gas line road. Sure it’s technically dirt, but there is no adventure here. Anywhere heavy equipment and teams of construction crews have been tends to extinguish any feeling of adventure.

So, off onto a random side trail we turned after a couple miles of the gloriously smooth dirt highway. A tinge of regret hits as you go back to 1st or 2nd gear and start bouncing around far more than the smooth dirt road. “It’s worth it you know, it’s worth it.” I have to tell myself for the first half mile.

Some maps showed this track and another said it didn’t exist. A brief set of human tracks walking along it and then nothing... That gives a strange feeling of being watched. Then, no more recent vehicle tracks. Had they broken down a week or a month ago and walked out? No signs of anyone to help so we moved on. I didn’t have a bad feeling.
We’d left the areas delineated as a Refuge, Wilderness or Preserve and to our delight this usually means the end of human visitation. I mean, if it’s not a named place with a kiosk, it must be ugly, right?

The desert looked almost landscaped. Perfectly spaced Saguaro’s and “desert pavement” rock everywhere.

Occasionally you would see a side track. Even one that had been long forgotten ,evidenced by having a tree growing between the 2 tracks, was still visible. Once the desert pavement is disturbed by a vehicle, even someone doing a one time donut, it’s there for thousands of years. This place has a long memory. So, to see so few tracks or any other evidence of humans was telling. I loved the sense of solitude. THIS is what we were looking for. This relatively small section made the entire trip worthwhile.

Later, the track seemed to be more well used, but still no recent tire marks. Kelsey glanced out the window and casually pointed “An arch.” So it is! There seemed to be small arches all over these hills. This one was more significant than the rest.

Enough progress. Time to stop for lunch. Tonto is doing great. We’re still running off of what fuel is left in the old auxiliary tank in back. With each night we burn more wood, drink more water, beer and lighten the load. The ride improved with each morning and each mile.

Speaking of lower weights. I took the lunch break as an opportunity to remove some more air from the front and rear tires. The front was fairly constant during the trip so the adjustment was small, but the rear had seen what I’d guess to be a nearly 200 pound reduction. We bumped the pressures down since the trail ahead was transitioning from the smooth desert pavement to cabbage sized rocks.

Eventually we found ourselves on well traveled dirt track. It had a small cement survey marker every mile. This must have been a major route at some point. Eventually we happened upon a county marker from 1918, just a few years after Arizona statehood.

The $250 fine for vandalism posted on the side of the marker would be like a $4,000 fine today.

To say we’re tired at this point would be an understatement. Some day I hope to have the time to properly explore and stop when we feel like it, but we needed to make progress to the East. Leather gloves helped to cover the blister I’d developed. In no way did this diminish from the fun and sense of freedom. We were in a euphoric place of quiet exhaustion and would rather be no where else on Earth.

Eventually we were on a ranch track that took us from stock tank to stock tank. This location had the original trailer (Shot up), a newer galvanized tank (Shot up) and a fairly recent plastic tank (Not shot up, yet). The color was an uncanny match for Tonto.

It’s funny how one longs for civilization and comfort when alone and in harsh terrain, but then wants for solitude and adventure when you get it. In that same sense, we wanted off of this perfectly good trail. It had too many tire tracks. We found what we were looking for and hopped onto a trail that showed to be a dead end on the maps. Sometimes these are, but more often that not, they keep going unless a mountain or river blocks the way. There weren’t a lot of either around here.

This track was one of the more random and weaving we’d taken. A trail tends to straighten out the more use it gets over the years as people take short cuts, but this one never got to that point. The power steering pump, my arms, were shot. We eventually did pop out and onto another trail and had 2 choices. Left to flat desert and towards Phoenix or right up towards a nearby mountain.

When in doubt, always go up for adventure! We climbed up to the monstrous elevation of 2,700 feet. The last half mile was an old miners track made of tailings and was the sketchiest thing we’d driven all trip. Just wide enough for Tonto I held my breath and told him not to look right. He didn’t slip thankfully. The little climb was worth it and we were rewarded with a 1 vehicle sized camp spot next to an old mine.

Nice work today old fella. It was New Years Eve. Time to party! Our party consisted of cracking open a cold one and taking some swigs of good Tequila next to the fire. We listened to Colter Wall and Townes Van Zandt all evening. Did we make it until midnight? Well, what do you think?

Great trip report, Tim! I read it on your blog too, but for some reason it's still a lot more fun to read this stuff on forum posts. I've only spent one camping trip in the Kofas but I'd like to go back.

And not to hijack the thread but I came across this old photo of DGarman the other day while reading another article..

Todd Z.



Tim and Kelsey get lost..
Is Tonto's roll bar chrome?..... If so, bonus points for the 70s vibe!.....
Good read!
It is. What I find hilarious is that they guy took the time to chrome the roll bar, side steps, tow hooks and the cover for the windshield wiper motor! HAHA! Basically, if it could be unbolted in under 10 minutes, he chromed it!

Great trip report, Tim! I read it on your blog too, but for some reason it's still a lot more fun to read this stuff on forum posts. I've only spent one camping trip in the Kofas but I'd like to go back.

And not to hijack the thread but I came across this old photo of DGarman the other day while reading another article..

Todd Z.

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Thanks Todd! I love the Kofa area and it was fun to do a bit of it and then do some random exploring on the land between there and Phx. We need to get a group of "old" trucks together for a run some time.

That is gold! Thanks for sharing that! I know Dennis will appreciate that one! I am always bugging him to turn his old Baja racing videos in a more current format before VHS turns into a completely lost medium!


What could go wrong?
Great trip report, Tim! I read it on your blog too, but for some reason it's still a lot more fun to read this stuff on forum posts. I've only spent one camping trip in the Kofas but I'd like to go back.

And not to hijack the thread but I came across this old photo of DGarman the other day while reading another article..

Todd Z.

View attachment 430786
Haha! Wow Todd...... Thanks!
That was 30 years ago..... before I became an Old Man!


Tim and Kelsey get lost..
The final morning of the trip... Not quite ready for real life, to plug back in. We wanted to delay the inevitable if only for a couple more hours.
The last day of a trip is always a bit solemn. I’m sure there are folks that are chomping at the bit to get out of the dirt and back to the real world. It’s not that a shower didn’t sound good, but we consider dirt our comfort zone.

There had to be something to see or somewhere to go before we gave in.

As we traveled along, the trails went from small and barely there to more and more used. It got a bit wider, the ruts got deeper. Eventually we were on a fully graded and maintained dirt highway 4 cars wide. Then we started seeing campers. First with small setups, but the closer we got to pavement the bigger the vehicles. Eventually we saw several groups that looked as though they’d created a city in the dirt complete with satellite TV. “Keep driving! Keep going!”

Now we were on a small pavement road hunting for one last spot to check back out and air up the tires. We saw an overlook of the Gillespie dam that took a bit of a hill climb to get to. Perfect. We aired up and enjoyed the last moments of slow pace before calling the trip “over.”

Even the empty 12 pack of bud light cans someone left at the top of this hill couldn’t get me down. We added the cans to our trash and decided to check out the old Gillespie Dam and bridge.

The fertile valley along the Gila river took on an otherworldly feel with all of the smoke and haze in the air. We stayed in the slow lane and did our best to not let the world let us feel rushed until we got home.

It was a trip of no particular amazement or importance. We didn’t find the holy grail of views or even a new remote epic spot, but we did find some peace and solitude. So, it was still logged into our minds as a “perfect” trip.
Cheers until next time,