Monday, September 14, 2015

Tour of the West: How to Fly Your Truckster

The truck deserves some credit, given that it carried us around for 17 days, covering approximately 3500 miles on a variety of surfaces and terrain.  It's a happy truck, handling all the occasional unexpected bumps.

Chad felt the need to acquire new emergency supplies and lash them to the top.  Included are gas cans (useful, given that we were spending a fair amount of time off in the backcountry), water containers (useful, given that some places we camped didn't have water), sand plates, and an absolutely enormous jack.   Just ridiculously enormous.  It was almost as long as the width of the truck. 

Why the long jack?  As insurance against bad luck on the inevitable dirt "shortcuts" we found ourselves magnetically attracted to.

We didn't actually *use* the jack because we didn't get stuck.  Chad claims we didn't get stuck because we were prepared for it.  Hmmm.  We did feel free to explore some neat roads out in the boonies, though.

Some would have been fine in a passenger car.

Some we were happy to have the 4WD.

One advantage of being on the dirt is you can pretty much stop for a snack wherever you want.

Chad found the only shade around for lunch one afternoon. (temperature about 105F)

Interesting clouds and a bit of rain blew in as we went over Soldier Pass.  Fortunately, the road we had to go back down in the wet wasn't in too bad of shape.

Heading into the three days of dirt backcountry exploration at the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, our plan was to stop at the Big Water ranger station to get a map and updated conditions.  Alas, despite it being during official open hours, we were faced with this, instead of a useful ranger with updated conditions.

Chad called a ranger at one of the other ranger stations on the other side of the monument, and they had no idea why there was no one there.  This ranger also indicated that we couldn't possibly go in where we wanted to (up Smoky Mountain Road), as the storm earlier in the week had washed out part of the road.  

Meanwhile, we found a sign posted outside the building with updated conditions that seemed to indicate that Smoky Mountain Road (down at the bottom) was passable as of two days previous.

Hmmm.  Who to believe?  We decided that the sign had the updated info and headed into the monument.

Good choice, too.  Fairly early on, there were a couple of washes that had clearly been recently resculpted by a bulldozer left parked on the side of the road; the ranger at the farther-away station just didn't yet know that they had fixed it already.  We pressed on towards Kelly Grade.  The road looks pretty benign until you realize it is going to go right up that cliff ahead of you.

As an aside, I was amused to find this road this morning on a site called dangerousroads.org.  Some good pictures there too :)

The surrounding mountains lie over a coal deposit that has burned historically, thus the names Smoky Mountain and Burning Hills.

The climb up onto the Kaiparowits Plateau on Smoky Mountain Road is absolutely spectacular with views in many directions as you switchback your way up about 1200 feet of cliff face.

The picture looking back down doesn't really do it justice.

At one point, there was a large boulder in the road, but there was just enough space to squeeze around it.

The happy truck eventually found its way to a cozy camping spot near Harris Wash along Hole-in-the-Rock Road after making a slight detour into Escalante to get a camping permit, since the first ranger station had no one in it.

The side road to Harris Wash was quite benign in spots,

so Chad had Nimue steer from the passenger seat.  "Are you sure you trust me?" she asked.

I had to read maps from the comfy seat next to the sleeping bags in the back.

When we hit small washes, Nimue amused herself by taking videos of the bumpy ride, even though it was pretty tame.
video

video

One just had to choose one's line carefully to avoid the soft sand at the edges of ruts.

Even after we left that area, we continued to find dirt for the rest of the trip.  It was surprising to see an actual road sign on the back way of the north edge of Death Valley! (Oh, no -- one must return to civilization...)





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