Three Generations in Death Valley.

Wonderful recount of your adventure! I think you succeeded in forging memories and caught the essence with your photography. DV and surrounding areas are almost hard to believe until you've been there. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks WOODY2, it is definitely interesting with all of the different ecosystems that it offers in a geographically small area.
Day 3/4 - 26Mar18 - 27Mar18
Saline Valley / Big Pine, CA / Bishop, CA Trip Time: 6:39 (0801-1441)
Miles: 92
Average Speed: 14mph

The next morning we were all business. We tore down camp and I aired the front tires way up (and brought the rears and trailer tires up some to equal it out a bit as well) to relieve some strain from the leaking power steering gearbox. With that, we started the slow and careful crawl out of Death Valley, eating our breakfast as we went. Even though we were diverting out of Death Valley and the state of the rest of the trip was still unknown at this point, the drive was beautiful. It would have been much better had I been able to keep the tires aired down, as the washboard was rough and made for slow going.

A beautiful start to the day.

A wild burrow watches us slowly roll by.

We know we are getting close to pavement when we saw the Sierra Nevada mountains creep into view.

We eventually make it to Big Pine where we grab some lunch and some cell signal. It was here that I contacted my friend about the parts situation, and the situation was not good. It did not matter if the gearbox was cracked or just had a busted seal, the whole unit would have to be replaced. He had searched online and called the local parts stores in Bishop. The prices varied from $650-$850 and no one could get it quicker than 5 days. In fact, none of the Jeep dealerships in NV (the closest dealership to us was in NV) had any in stock. Finally I had him call our go to shop, R&R Offroad, back in Colorado Springs to see if he had any ideas. While he did this, we got back on the road and headed up to Bishop to have access to specialty tools I'd need to rent and a good campground. Once in Bishop I got word that R&R actually had a refurbished one in stock and only wanted $500 for. A flurry of phone calls and the wife was on her way to pick it up and overnight it to us... to the tune of $345 in shipping charges!

While in Bishop we stayed in Brown's Town campgrounds. It was a nice little campground and it was nice to get out of the dirt for a bit. The hot shower was even nicer and I went ahead and did a load of laundry since the option was there and we had time. I also took advantage of a small "frontier town" facade they had setup out front to get some photos of the little guy and dad.

The warm days and cool evenings made it feel more like fall than spring.

This photo shoot will score me extra points with the wife when I get back!

The part arrived the next morning around 0830 and we broke camp to go get the tools we would need.

Since the campground we were staying in did not allow work to be done on vehicles, the friendly lady at O-Riley Auto Parts suggested we use the dirt lot right next door to them. It turned out to be a decent, if dirty, place to work since the parts store was just 40 feet away. I bought some jack stands and a few other smaller items that we would need and rented the pitman arm puller. Than we set to work. Replacing the steering gearbox on a Jeep JK is not super complicated. We'd have to jack the Jeep up, get the axle up on stands, pull the track bar off the pitman arm, disconnect two hydraulic lines, undo the four bolts holding the gearbox to the frame and the bolt connecting it to the steering yoke.

I love my older JCR Offroad front bumper, but the one thing it lacks is slots cut into it for lifting with a Hi-Lift. So, the fog lights had to be removed so those cutouts could be used to lift the Jeep. As anyone with a lifted Jeep knows, if you lift from the body, you have to go a long ways up before you max out your suspension droop and start lifting the axle. I learned long ago to use a ratchet strap to secure the axle to the frame so you don't have to jack it up as high. With the axel up on jack stands, it was time to get the track bar lose from the pitman arm. These are just pressed together, but with some 400+ pounds of force. The pitman arm puller works by using blunt force to "pop" them apart. This means you need to be able to give it a very hard whack with a hammer. Try as we might, and try for several hours we did, we could not get the pitman arm to pop off. We finally decided that we were making no headway on getting it off and it was already around 1330, so I made the decision that we'd have to take it to a shop. After about 15 minutes of calling around, A&L Tires said they could move some jobs around in the shop and get us in that afternoon if we could be there in 15-20 minutes. I hurriedly return the parts and we put the Jeep back together.

Dad said he was a shade tree mechanic, not a sand lot mechanic.

True to their word, A&L Tires had the Jeep up on a lift not long after we arrived. The shop foreman told us we should walk down the road and grab a bite to eat while we waited. It was a great suggestion since we had not stopped for lunch and the kid had just been eating cookies while we worked. Just down the road was a small Mexican restaurant called Petite Pantry (odd name for a Mexican joint). It turns out that the PP is one of those hidden gems you stumble upon during unplanned travels. The food was decently priced, the portions were huge and the food was delicious. Jay, the owner of the PP, was quite the character. He was immediately treating us like old friends and swapping jokes and riddles. At one point, he sat down at the table next to my son and held up a one dollar bill. He told my son he could win the dollar if he could answer the next riddle correctly. When my son answered correctly, Jay gave him the dollar as promised. After we finished eating we sat around a bit and chatted with Jay. When he found out we were traveling and that the Jeep was in the shop getting fixed, he offered to loan us his classic Cadillac Eldorado that was parked out front. I honestly believe he was sincere in his offer to.

The Petite Pantry, one of those hidden gems you find by mistake.

That's a 12" chicken quesadilla and my son has a "kid's" size plate of biscuits and gravy.

About 2.5 hours after we dropped the Jeep off, they were done with it and we headed back to the campgrounds for one final night.
Dang, that’s a lot of food
Really great trip report, and great photos. Way to soldier through the technical difficulties and make the most of it. Great to model that never-say-die attitude for the next generation! Your son is guaranteed to remember this trip for the rest of his days, and that experience is truly priceless.
Dang, that’s a lot of food
Yes it was!

Great write up! Thank you for taking the time to post this!
Thank you, glad you enjoyed it.

What a great trip! It looks like you all had fun!
I have fond memories of a few 4x4 camping trips I did with my Grandpa and Dad.
We did have a lot of fun. Those pics of yours are priceless.

That was awesome. What specifically did you learn when it comes to jeep mods?
My Jeep was built for rock crawling here in CO, so most of my mod thoughts on this trip were for how I could make it better at overlanding. Adding hydro assist steering would have avoided the issue we had, but that was something I already knew about and had looked at... just never had the funds to address it.

My thoughts on overlanding keep jumping back and forth a little bit. I can either "de-build" the Jeep to be a better overlander or I could start fresh with a Tacoma.

De-building the Jeep
The biggest benefits here are that the Jeep is paid off and I have the roof rack already. I'd drop back down in tire size to 35s, so the money I have in axles and gears would be somewhat a loss. The front and rear bumpers I'd really want to swap out for aluminum since they are really heavy. I'd also want to replace the suspension with something better suited to the extra weight and washboard roads. I'd probably drop the under armor (or replace it with aluminum) as well. With all of this, I'd almost be starting over again anyway but with a little money from selling everything.

Starting fresh with a Tacoma
I could sell the Jeep or de-mod it and trade it in to off set the newer truck costs. And this past fall we bought some land and the wife wants to get some horses. Having a truck, even a small one, would be helpful. but I'd be starting all over with the mods at a point when I don't have the extra funds like I did when I built the Jeep.

In either case, I think my eventual overland goal would be to have an off road trailer.... so not sure how that impacts either one of my options completely! lol

If you would like to know specifically what mods I would or would not do to a Jeep to set it up for overlanding, I'd be happy to go into that in more detail as well.
Really great trip report, and great photos. Way to soldier through the technical difficulties and make the most of it. Great to model that never-say-die attitude for the next generation! Your son is guaranteed to remember this trip for the rest of his days, and that experience is truly priceless.
Thanks Neil. The little guy did ask me if we could go on another trip like this the day after we got back. That's a huge plus.