Hi, I'm HammerheadFistpunch and I own a Land Cruiser but you probably already know that because...well...i wont shut up about it. You also probably know that I think its pretty great, but you may not know that I gave up a very jalop turbo manual awd wagon (2005 forester xt) to get it. That's right, 3400 lbs of high speed save the manuals for a 5000 lb 4 speed automatic land crusher. Why? Without going into too much detail I feel like there is just too much variety in the world to lock myself into one car, or one driving mentality and, in addition, I felt a strong urge with the passing of my father to explore and find out what the under traveled parts of my own backyard, and beyond, had to offer me.
Don't think that I don't miss the canyon carver, or that i don't still love the joy of a real fun car but at this point in my life the thing that called to me most in the Jalopnoverse...was overlanding.
Because overlanding is about people not places and, well, because taking a 2 year old into a place 30 miles from anywhere without a backup plan is a stupid idea I asked a friend along in his 2012 Tacoma quad cab TRD; I knew he would be down.
Can I say what a treat it is having a friend that's always up for adventure? Seriously. It doesn't hurt that he, after our last trip to Moab, totally caught the overlanding bug and was excited to take his boy back into the wild.Bonus; His wife, a photographer, was coming along for the ride.
The plan was to bomb down to Moab, get a couple of inexpensive room ($32...are you serious?!) and then spend the next day on the trail. The trail in question isn't a trail as much as it is a series of possibly interconnecting trails. You can see for yourself in Google earth here if you like.
One day, when google earthing (thats a thing people do, right?) I noticed that a trail, one that had been on my to-do list for a while, showed near the top a small unmarked road that connected to a popular well maintained national park trail and that...holy crap! It totally connects to another cool trail I've wanted to try and what's that? It sure looks like there might be a way to connect that trail to a road called "4 wheel drive road" (this bodes well) that, wouldn't you know it, takes me back to the highway via another marked dirt trail, or via Arches National Park. Having connected the dots on the map it began to call to me in a big way but there was a problem; I knew the Klondike bluff trail well, as I had ridden parts of it on my bike several times, and I knew the other trails were likely sure things (weather dependent) but the connector was a mystery.
This is the culprit. Was it really there? Was it gated off? What was it going to be like? Would it even be passable if open? We went for it knowing that we could always turn back and it a fall back second trail nearby, plus whats adventure without a little of the unknown.
Klondike bluffs was exactly what I hoped it would be, a nice warm up. The kids got to get out and play with dinosaur footprints (It wasn't US!), which my daughter calls nature tracks, before we started the climb up petrified sand dune.
If you haven't driven on slickrock, you need to try as it really is something else all together. Essentially petrified sand dunes, its solid smooth and, despite the name, literally like driving on 100 grit sandpaper.
My daughter is taking it the whole "'venture" really well so far, her and her buddy sitting in the back of the cruiser swapping fruit snacks and making up words or trying to draw on a magnadoodle while swaying around like a paint mixer in slow motion. Truth is, kids love off-road driving, its exciting and I keep the windows rolled down despite the 55 degree weather because of requests from the back seat.
We encounter very few obstacles that we couldn't roll right over, but my mate in his Tacoma was pretty glad he worked late into the night Saturday to get his rock sliders installed as he had used them half a dozen times by now. We are also both glad that we had Toyota's excellent factory installed electric lockers in the rear in one place that had the Tacoma tripoding
and the cruiser flexing out just enough that it can't find the traction to make it.
We could have easily bumped it through this point, but lockers are just so much easier and in overlanding, unlike pure rock crawling, its generally considered best practice to do it the easy way and not look for that extra challenge. Lock up, move on through, unlock. Easy peasy.
So far it had been a great drive and I was cherishing the time in the open fresh air, my enormous windows and my slightly leaky sunroof open to allow the healing ether wash away the subconscious urges to check my phone or the memory of changing lights on a screen for hours in a drab building in exchange for money. It may sound granola, but being in places like this actually make me feel better; physically and the rest.
Once we got off the slickrock I knew our junction would be coming up; turn right and follow the trail to a beautiful overlook into the park, or strait to the mysterious path on my map that I'm hoping takes me where I want to be and not strand me. The climb was immediate, rocky and poorly maintained and not at all confidence inspiring, but we make it to the summit and looked down and, though it looks rough, it appeared passable.
Descending down the trail raised my heart rate a little because its quite steep, tight turns and rocky, but its wide and there are lots of bail out points so I pressed on. Then we got here.
This shot was taken on my scouting trip to the bottom. Intimidating? Is the space pope reptilian? (Yup, Futurama...deal with it.)
Here is a better view taken after I had passed through
I don't think I would have been as worried had I been off road (really off road) more than once in the cruiser, or wasn't carrying 2 small children. After surveying the hill I felt confident enough that I wasn't likely to hurt myself and, most importantly, the kids and decided to take the rest of my misgivings about my abilities, and the vehicle and stuff them into that strange place we put such things when we are driven to push ourselves a little.
The first 50 yards was the most frightening, and a slip off a rock towards a huge boulder gave me cause to stop and think for a minute....did I really want to do this? What was my out?
Then I just...did it. You know that tingle you get in your hands right after you've been in an accident or narrowly missed that car in that handbrake turn that went a little wider than you thought, yeah I got that. Alive? ALIVE! Yes, I know its not like this feat of "courage" was all that great, but it got my heart going all the same.
At the bottom, we let the kids out again to stretch their legs and explore as we air high fived for half an hour or so. Seriously, what a cool day so far, as we were only 9 miles in, out of 36.
It was getting close to nap time and lunch time which, if you don't have kids, is basically like an high water temp gauge...not so much trouble right now as it will be soon...so we decided to get a move on and try and get to our lunch destination as quickly as we could and hope they could hold out. There is a small joining track that leads from the mystery switchbacks of death to the well traveled and established Salt Valley Road, once there we opened it up, reaching speeds as high as 35 which feels like warp 7 after those last 9 miles.
This feels right.
Tower Arch trail is a trail listed in my guide book as being moderately difficult (along with Klondike bluff) suitable for stock Suv's and trucks, with caution. The book also has lots of pictures of late 90's Jimmy's and Izuzu rodeos so I was a little surprised at the first climb that was the hardest up hill obstacle we had faced yet. Big ruts, tall rocks, LOTS of sand and steep. Hooray lockers! Locked the rear in the cruiser and up we went with only one hard rock on metal moment. The Tacoma, rear locked and A-Trac on stormed right up with a little spotting. Say what you want about traction control systems, but a real locker in the back and the excellent A-Trac up front is a formidable combo.
The trail to Tower Arch parking lot is a mix if rock steps and sandy washes and is dispatched without too much trouble which put us into the parking lot about 40 minutes after we had set off from the rocky switchbacks of death.
If there is something to be said here its:
a. tailgates are awesome
b. overlanding means not packing light...we ate well. Again...awesome.
It was also nice to let the kids really play in the find sand of the area and to hike out the one of the prettier and less visited arches in the arches area, tower arch, which I think looks more like a connecting rod than anything else...thoughts?
We met a couple who had taken the footpath from the bottom of the bluff we climbed and they told us they had been at it a few hours. They were amazed to see to little kids, until we told them we were parked 5 minutes away.
THIS is why I bought a land cruiser, to introduce my daughter to "castles" that she normally wouldn't get to see. I was loving life.
The next section of trail we are headed for, called "4 wheel drive road" is 9.8 miles from a junction in the trail a few miles back and supposedly sandy, interesting and...well...that's all we knew. I aired down the tires from a previously aired down 25 (normally 35) to 20, stuffed more concerns into that place mentioned previously and drove off into solitude, mystery and a tangible sensation of adventure.
What. A. Drive. I loved it. It was 9.8 miles of slickrock, mixed with sandy river washes, mixed with stunning views of the near 14,000 foot La Sal Mountain range, covered in mid season snow.
This would be a good time to mention again that kids and off roading go well together, provided you are prepared.
The gently rocking of this trail, combined with nap time put our two kids down faster than Flintstones chewable morphine. The gentle rocking and swaying, combined with the angle of the sun also requires that you have a way to shade and stabilize their heads so they can enjoy their sleep. She stayed asleep for 2 hours like this, despite it looking like a head wound. You may also notice that my child is in the front seat and before you freak out...relax, the seat is moved as far back as it can go, is tilted back and we never went faster than 20. It was necessary for her to be up with me so I could adjust her head and make sure she stayed asleep and comfy, when we got back to pavement she was moved to the back seat.
My only regret about this trail, as we drove past, was not taking the shorter but slower 4 mile willow springs road back to the highway and instead going the easy route of getting into the park, airing up with a portable compressor and driving back to the highway on paved 40+ mph roads. It was nearly 5 pm and we had to get back to the highway, drive 225 miles and get dinner still on the menu today so it was decided to re-join civilization early and get on the way.
At the time, we were exhausted, dirty and ready to be home...I guess that's all part of the experience too. There are lots of parts to overlanding:
Long hours behind the wheel (3 hours driving, 4 hours stopped for 36 total miles)
A sense of the unknown
Bonding with friends and family
Frankly, I loved it and doing this small excursion has only fanned the overland flames for me. The thing I think I loved about it most was the complete lack of anything else; no phones just good conversation, no errands or choirs, just tasks and goals. Despite the enormous complexity of it all, its the simplicity of it that charms me and I will be back.
Because I rely heavily on people who generously supply their experience in great detail, I have a basically uncut version of the trail from the start of Klondike bluff to the lunch break at tower arch here if you want.
Key events links are in the description on YouTube or here
1st obstacle 4:10
2nd obstacle 7:50
Dino tracks 14:15
The gap 22:35
Level up 32:05
connector junction 45:40
start connector 47:10
Tough hill down 57:10
Tough hill taco 1:01:15
Tower arch trail start 1:03:16
Tower arch 1st climb 1:05:30
TA climb taco 1:07:10
sandy run up to TA 1:25:10
I am planning on a edited version eventually, but there isn't much to edit. Overland travel isn't much of a spectator sport.
Photo credit is half me and Half Brianna Siddoway, the good stuff is probably her.