My wife and I spent our first week of vacation this year with a couple days of skiing in Crested Butte, CO, and then four days of wheeling at the 32nd Annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. I finally finished the trip report, and will be putting up photos as soon as I have time to scan them in. I’m a busy guy, don’t ya know.
Palm Sunday – Monday, 5-6 Apr 98
The skiing went OK. I hadn’t made it to the slopes last year, so it felt good to get back out there again. We chose Crested Butte because they have free lift tickets for the last two weeks of their season (usually the first two full weeks of April) ever year. We stayed at The Inn at Crested Butte, which I would highly recommend to everyone I know. The owners were friendly, the rooms were nice, the rates were cheap, and the complimentary breakfast and snacks were great. Unfortunately, we arrived a couple days earlier than the good skiing weather. It had been warm and dry for a few days before we arrived, so the snow at the base was kind of wet. We got hit by a blizzard on our second day. When we headed out of town on Tuesday morning, there was 3″ of fresh powder sitting on the Jeep. Oh well.
Tuesday, 7 Apr 98
We drove the 5 hours from Crested Butte to Moab on Tuesday. The weather in that part of the country was rainy all the way out, though we only actually passed through precipitation for about an hour. We had reservations at the Moab KOA campground, but when we arrived in Moab, it was raining and hailing. As we drove through town en route to the KOA, we saw numerous motels with vacancy signs. Upon arriving at the KOA, we saw that the tent sites were too small to fit our 4-man tent, when meant we’d have to set up on the rocky parking spot. We also didn’t relish the idea of packing muddy camping gear into the Jeep every morning (we weren’t sure what the forecast was), so we opted to skip the KOA and find indoor lodging. After stopping at every vacancy sign and finding that nobody had openings for Friday night, we decided to stay Tuesday – Thursday at the Redstone Inn (a block south of the City Market). When we called the office Friday morning, they said someone had cancelled and we could spend our final night there as well. I consider us quite lucky to have driven into Moab during Safari Week and found indoor lodging with no prior reservations. This certainly isn’t something I’d plan on doing in the future!
Wednesday, 8 Apr 98
On Wednesday, we awoke early to run the Steel Bender trail. While waiting in line to head out, we found that fellow Jeep-L member Gil Meacham and son Bruce were also on that run with us. Our waist gunner for the day was Suzuki nut Glen Wakefield of Tough Truck Challenge fame. The heavily-built TJ in line behind us, owned by Eric and Shannon Altom of Tulsa, OK, was on its maiden voyage that day. Aside from a little trouble with its front & rear ARBs not engaging properly, we all agreed it did pretty well.
The first half of the trail is lots of fun, but after lunch, the obstacles are few and far between. The trail begins by winding its way down into a canyon, where it follows (and crosses) a stream lined with trees. The first big obstacle is a long, rocky hill climb. It wouldn’t have been all that bad except for a trough that crossed nearly the entire trail right between two large rock steps. 33″ tires and locks appeared to be the requirement for avoiding the bypass on this one. Many people tried, and many of them got stuck with both front or rear tires dropped snugly into the trough. One S-10 Blazer with 32″ Swampers tried to power through it in 4-hi and spent several minutes with his front tires shooting huge rooster tails out of the trough. That guy had no gift for picking a good line.
Most of the early trail consisted of short, rocky inclines and lots of rock ledges. One in particular gave trouble to many who tried it instead of taking the bypass to the right (like the aforementioned Blazer). I almost made it up around the far left, but the placement of my right front tire was critical, and none of my numerous spotters had a clue. After three tries and nearly slashing the tire, I gave up and took the bypass. Of course, Eric’s TJ handled the toughest line with ease.
Another noteworthy section was a steep rock hill about one Jeep length long with a 40-degree incline and an uneven face. Ascending it wasn’t a big problem, but many rear bumpers lost paint as the rear wheels were approaching the hill. It sure felt a lot steeper from the driver’s seat than it looks from the photos.
Shortly thereafter, we stopped for lunch near the edge of a valley. The scenery was beautiful, and the opportunity to rest and stretch our legs was welcome. After the lunch stop, the trail became considerably easier, although we did lose one of our number to a faulty ignition coil. He was a native of Moab and familiar with the trail, so we left him behind after diagnosing the problem and continued on. There were only three real obstacles. The first was descending a rather tall, uneven ledge with a sudden drop off immediately to the right. Many vehicles needed a spotter to follow the right path down without running off the edge. Several mountain bikers passed us at this point, and they even had to dismount and carry their bikes down the obstacle.
The second obstacle, known as the Dragon’s Tail, takes a separate path and was only attempted by the better-built vehicles in our group. The big obstacle is a short but steep section of dirt ledges with large rocks interspersed. We got there in time to see Eric’s TJ make it over after several attempts. Functioning ARBs would have helped a lot.
The third obstacle was a steep hill, several vehicle lengths long, that had several dirt & rock ledges, with a sharp right turn and an even larger ledge at the very top. The lower ledges were no problem as long as you kept the throttle speed up, though some of the longer vehicles had some trouble due to the “Double Whammy” effect. The larger ledge at the top required a sharp right turn at just the right time. I turned a bit too sharp on my first attempt and got hung up on my skid plate at a spot where the ledge was bigger than my stock tires could climb, but the spotters backed me up a few feet to were I could straighten out a bit and take a better line. No problem. We waited quite a while on this hill for one CJ-7 whose engine kept dying and flooding on the steep incline. After several attempts and at least 15 minutes, he finally made it up.
Thursday – Good Friday, 9-10 Apr 98
We spent Thursday afternoon at Arches National Park. I’d seen the first half of the park when I was out here last year, so this year we started at the far end (by Hell’s Canyon) and worked our way forward. The Hell’s Canyon trail is well-surfaced for the first half mile or so (first 3 arches), but becomes quite primitive beyond Landscape Arch. We went as far as Double ‘O’ Arch, which is about 5 miles each way. The map shows two more arches, each a mile beyond Double ‘O’, but we opted not to see them because it was getting late and we were pooped. The nearly-full moon rose just as we were leaving the park, which, combined with the sunset on the rocks, made for some cool photos.
We didn’t do much of anything on Friday, which I now regret. We should have found an un-scheduled trail or something to pass the time. I spent the later part of the afternoon wandering around the vendor displays and talking talking to the reps about the stuff I’ll likely need for my buildup this summer. I was doing fine until I stopped at the Premier Power Welder booth. The owners, Pat and Jan Gremillion, are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I already knew how to MIG weld, but Pat offered to teach me to stick weld (using his product, of course). The $200-off sale price, my need for a welder of some-sort (not necessarily on-board), and the Gremillion’s friendliness prompted me to break down and buy one for $699. My wife was back at the motel napping at the time, of course. 🙂
Friday night, many of the Jeep-L mailing list members who were in town got together for the annual Boy Scout dinner at the Spanish Trail Arena and the raffle drawing which followed. The barbecue beef dinner was good, and I’m sure nobody went away hungry. The big raffle winner in our group was Wayne Bennett (the Flatlander, of 4X4NOW fame), who won a QuickAir compressor system. That must have been convenient, because he was just telling me hours before that he wasn’t sure what he was going to do for on-board air in his new TJ. It was fun to put faces with some of the email addresses and personalities that we’d gotten to know over the years. Probably the worst mismatch was one member (who shall remain nameless) who figured I’d be a 70-yr-old man. I’m 27. She was probably picturing Sir Alec Guinness, the actor who portrayed my namesake, Obi-Wan, in the Star Wars trilogy.
Big Saturday, 11 Apr 98
Our second trail of the Safari was Kane Creek Canyon on Big Saturday. This was my first Big Saturday experience, and the mass of 4×4’s lining the streets of Moab waiting to head out that morning is quite a site. I counted about 67 vehicles in the Kane Creek lineup. We’d checked out of our motel that morning, so my back end was fully loaded with all the gear we’d brought. The extra weight caused some minor problems with clearance, but nothing too bad. There was a high wind that day, which kept the dry dust blowing almost constantly. It’s times like this that I wish I had A/C so I could leave the windows rolled up all day.
The first big obstacle is a large gully with a very sharp angle at the bottom. Long wheelbase vehicles were strongly encouraged to take the bypass around the left, but some of them attempted it anyway, using lots of throttle and scraping both bumpers quite heavily. One such vehicle, a bone-stock, full-size Cherokee with a real a**hole of a driver (the scourge of the entire trip) tried to take it diagonally and managed to get high-centered across the gully on opposite corners of his front and rear bumpers. Even my stock YJ scraped front & rear on the rocky inclines. The Cherokee wedged some rocks into his tire bead while getting towed out, and I used my on-board York air compressor to refill him to trail pressure. We should have taken that as an omen — that was the first of at least five flat tires our group incurred that day.
Creek crossings and more creek crossings is the order of the day on this trail. On one of the earlier ones, an early Bronco tried to climb the muddy, deeply-rutted bank at an angle and slid sideways into a deep rut and unseated a tire bead trying to get out. The truck in front of him apparently tried to get him out, and also blew a bead. Flats two and three. We waited for 15 minutes, and then decided that they would be done by the time the tail gunner reached the spot.
By the time we hit the lunch stop, our group had split into three separate pieces, each with one gunner. Most of the early “obstacles” amounted to sloppy mud when trying to exit the shallow creek crossings. I got stuck half way up one of them, and had to make a second run at it using more throttle. I didn’t make that mistake again, and my YJ still has globs of mud on it a week later to prove it. 🙂 Somewhere along the way, I managed to break a bead momentarily and let most of the air out of my left front tire. The neighboring vehicles notified me of it, and we had it changed in 2 minutes, and aired the other tire back up as good as new. Flat number four.
The real obstacles came near the end of the trail when we started to climb out of the canyon. A long, rocky climb near the edge of a couple-hundred foot drop, near where one vehicle had run off the road and been totaled the day before. Rumor had it a 14-yr-old boy had to be air-lifted to the hospital. Several vehicles had to make repeated runs at short sections of this hill, and my YJ was no exception. A good spotter (the mid-gunner, I think) finally guided me through the roughest spot, but I managed to hit a rock and unseat the bead on my right rear tire. I couldn’t stop to change it on that steep incline, so I had to finish the rocky climb to a level area with one flat tire. The rocks sliced a 2″ gap in the flat. Flat number five. In retrospect, I should have only aired down to 20-25 psi rather than the 15 that I normally do for rock crawling. I think the extra weight I was carrying took its toll on the tires and suspension that day. Fortunately, there were two other vehicles in our group running a 5-on-4.5″ bolt pattern, should I have had yet another flat and needed to borrow a spare tire.
There were a few more lesser sections like that one farther on. The final significant obstacle was a wash out with a creek crossing at the bottom. This spot was really cool, and I’m quite bummed that my photos didn’t turn out well. The bottom of the crossing was all rock and posed no significant problem, but the 40-foot climb out the other side had several ledges, which made it somewhat difficult with freshly-wetted tires. The easier line hugged the right side on the lower half and then moved over to the left side for the upper half. The left side of the lower half was a much more spectacular line for those vehicles that could handle it .
The remaining mile or so of the trail encompassed a few more creek crossings and several long sections of driving down the creek. The last section requiring four wheel drive was a hill several vehicle lengths long with a few rocks near the top. Failure to run one tire over the largest rock would get you stuck, but it wasn’t a tough hill.
All in all, the trail was OK. I didn’t like the fact that we had to follow lots of full-size rigs that tore up the trail badly, and the aforementioned Cherokee driver’s constant vulgarities over the CB made us want to push him over the cliff. The combination of heat and blowing dust was annoying, but it got better later on as we reached the narrow, rocky canyon. If we had been running it with a bunch of fellow Jeepers, it could have been quite fun.
Since we were planning to leave Moab for home right after the trail ride, we went straight to the Texaco / Firestone dealer and waited in line to pick up a used tire to replace my slashed spare. There seemed to be a lot of slashed tires that day. They didn’t carry the 225/75R15 that I had, so I opted for a 235 for $15. We cleaned up, ate, and got back in the Jeep for the 14 hour drive back home.
Although I love Moab, the limitations of running trails in a stock vehicle are starting to annoy me. The next time I go out there, it should be a different story (summer finances permitting, of course).
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