Colorado 2019 – Part 3 – Ophir Pass

Our trip to Ouray in 2019 had hit a major issue.  The Mountain passes were overwhelmed with snow over the past winter.  Even in July, we were looking at passes that traditionally had been open by now that we’re still under 20 feet of snow, trees and avalanche debris.  Regardless of this news, we were still committed to camping and enjoying the area, even if it meant limited trail rides.  

On our second day of the trip, we decided to take a run down to Silverton via the Alpine loop.  The “loop” is a series of trails meshed together that run from Ouray to Silverton, over to Lake City and back.  Silverton is probably the ultimate tourist trap in the rockies.  Short of food and souvenirs, the once thriving mining town doesn’t have much to offer outside of   the main street of town  and  a wonderful assortment of small shops  

Our plans got a jolt when we got to the Loop trail head. 

Close your eyes and picture the worst lightning storm you have ever witnessed…   Then add some green and yellow to the clouds to make it look extra eerie….  Smash that vision between two mountains and visualize a rock strewn mountain pass going right up into the storm.  That’s what we observed at the trailhead to Alpine Loop.  It was nasty.  Something out of Lord of the Rings.  Like looking into Sauron’s all-seeing eyeball. Knowing that the freshly cleared trails were still avalanche strewn and now being washed down with rain and hail did not sound  appealing to any of us.  Especially since we were with our Daughters…  This was not a time to be filled with male bravado and jump into a bad situation in the name of adventure.  

Having been to Ouray a few times over the years, we have been on about every pass in that neck of the woods.  Just a few miles south of this pass on highway 17 was another scenic pass that heads to Telluride.  Ophir Pass.  I am obviously jaded from years of travel in the San Juan’s…  Because I was having a “I’m Bummed we have to take Ophir” moment with the other Dads.  Why?  Because I have this perception the Ophir is kinda lame.  Sorry!  I said it!   

Ophir is a below average trail when it comes to technical concerns.  It’s a loose gravel road with a steady consistency for the whole drive.  At the top of the pass was a great little spot to take a break and let the girls throw snowballs… At their respective Dads!  We grabbed some pictures with the sign and headed down the hill to Telluride.  While I am jaded about this “easy” trail…  My 17 year old daughter thinks it looks pretty scary.  So I did the scariest thing I had done on the whole trip… I put her in the driver’s seat for the drive down to Telluride.  

A few of the switchbacks going down require a multi-point turn on loose gravel…  Looking over a thousand foot drop.  My daughter was stressing and handling it like a champ.  Add this experience to her quiver of life experiences that make her that more confident on the road.  Me moving over to the passenger seat was the best thing that happened that day!

Ophir Pass may have been a tame ride from my veteran perspective, but to my daughter, it was an amazing drive!  Sometimes you need to get out of the driver’s seat and share the adventure.  

Next up, Telluride and cooler disasters!  

Trail Team article

A while back I was part of an interview with Searchautoparts.com.  Its a website dedicated to industry news and opinions.  Here is a link to the article.

Eric Stahl interview on Searchautoparts.com

Should that link every die… here is the full interview copied and pasted.

Fort’s Toyota off-roaders club brings in robust parts and accessories sales while offering fun outings

Colorado 2019 – Part 2 – Bear!

In 2018, when the Trail Team came out to Ouray… We had scouted out an area for camping on the south side of town, up about halfway on the route out of town.  The spot had not been ideal for one camper in our group with an adventure trailer. (There’s a whole conversation we could have as a sidebar to this post)  The trail to the campsite had a few rough patches of rocks and some sharp elevation changes. This year, with the three 4Runner sans the adventure trailer, we again scouted the area upon arriving to Ouray.  The trail was actually kind of fun, and when we reached the camping area, we found 3 empty spots set beside each other, up against a creek in an empty mountainside valley.  

This new-to-us camp spot was ideal, as we were close to Ouray and all of the local mountain passes.  Ouray is called Little Switzerland for a reason, for a good chunk of the year, its surrounded by snow capped mountains.  In a typical late-June trip, we were going to have our pick of a half dozen mountain trails to head over to the surrounding communities of Telluride, Silverton and Lake City.  

As we setup, the three girls took a walk to large boulder that was about 150 yards away, sitting neatly in the grass near the edge of the woods.  This single rock was as big as a Large Airstream Camper. The girls climbed it and watched us setup camp from their perch. 

Two of us with tents setup on the ground while Don, found a level spot to park his truck to use his rooftop tent (RTT).  Don and I were carrying food prep supplies as well… So we unloaded his custom made “chuck box” and my cooking gear to make the trucks easier to deal with on the trails.  Lets be clear, the trucks could handle the weight of the cargo. What we could not handle being on the trail with all of our gear getting bouncing around and the endless rattles of pots, pans and cutlery!  

At our base-camp for the next three days, we started off every morning with homemade breakfast.  I don’t want to brag, but we made breakfasts that would rival anything we could cook at home. As we have done more and more of these trips, I would be lying if I didn’t say that we are getting more extravagant with our meal prep.  That’s not to say we have elaborate meals, but we are not scared to use real ingredients to get the job done. On a recent trip, two days out in the field, done fixed homemade biscuits and gravy using a dutch oven to cook the biscuits… And his skottle to cook the sausage and gravy.  

Our trip seemed to his a high note on day two when a visitor came close to camp after breakfast.  While cleaning up our breakfast, Sophie yelled “Bear”… We all looked at her with question marks over our heads…  “huh?” “Not possible” all of us Dad’s thought in unison. It wasn’t till she yelled it again that we took her word for it and started looking around.

Sure enough… Sophie had witnessed a decent sized brown bear crossing the pasture in front of our campsite.  He was actually terrifyingly close to the boulder the girls had been playing on that first night of camp setup.  The “what-ifs” start flashing through your head when you think about the vision of your kid being on that rock while a bear would have been way closer than us Dads!  No worries… This guy took a look at us and kept up scooting into the woods towards town.

Dear readers… A bear passing by camp is a bucket-list event.  We have been going out west for over 5 years now, and I have never seen a bear in the wild.  We have camped and driven all over Colorado! So, seeing one in the wild, near our campsite… Well, this is one for the folks back home… We will be telling them all the tales of the bear that visited camp!  (And we have!)

10 minutes later…  Those stories got a whole lot bigger!  Summer, was walking to the backside of the camp when she saw a big brown face looking at her from the blades of tall grass behind Jake’s tent.  It was a bear! Probably that same bear that was passing by a few minutes ago. She yelled! Several, short, shocked yells! The bear backed off and started walking away.  Summer’s yell was a whole different vibe than Sophie’s. Sophie’s had been a fun “hey looky” thing… Summer’s was more of a mortal fear blurt!

What happened next was pure Dad instinct or something…  Don, our California guy proceeded to yell in the loudest and biggest fashion I had ever witnessed.  He puffed up his chest and began a guttural yell that said I pretty sure was meant to freak the bear out.  “Go Away Bear” was the words coming out of his mouth… But it sounded as primal as a dog bark! In the meantime…  I grabbed some pans and followed Don with some banging. I know Jake was doing something as well… But I was transfixed on the location of the bear.  (Sorry Jake!) The bear proceeded to wander down to the stream and disappeared into the woods.  

When the excitement was over…  One thing was clear… The RTT was the preferred location to be when a bear shows up.  We had all three girls up in Don’s tent looking out the window at us. Nobody was taking sanctuary in a ground tent!  NOBODY!  

Was this guy hungry and ferocious…  And possibly looking to recreate a scene from the Revenant?  Not likely.  If you had to guess, this bear is probably closer to Yogi and BooBoo in his habits.  I am not denying the danger of a wild animal like a bear… But this guy was on a route.  The valley where we were staying was a series of camping spots that are probably used quite a bit during the summer season.  This bear, like a Midwestern raccoon, probably runs a route through the campsites looking for scraps that campers left in their fire rings or trash from careless campers.  It was probably no accident that he walked right up to our site. (Another opportunity for a conversation about Leave No Trace could be inserted here!)

This was day two of the trip…  We had to question whether leaving out all of cooking gear in the open was going to be a good idea today.  Again, we don’t want to drive the mountain passes with our gear… But we also don’t want items with the smell of fresh cooked breakfast laying around for the sensitive nostrils of the local wildlife.  What do you do? We cleaned up… Pulled all trash out and left our gear out in the open. If he was going to come back… He could really do whatever he wanted, regardless of how much of the campsite we pulled up.  Who’s to say he wouldn’t sniff something on a tent from a camp out years ago? (Again, more conversations about the dangers of eating in your tent, or sleeping in clothing that you have cooked in could be added.)

When we came back that night from our short day on the trail to Telluride (Part 3, coming soon-ish) the campsite was pitch black.  We turned into the campsite, looked the site over with our headlights, and found everything in order. It was doubtful that our new found friend had come back, or that any of his other friends had swung by.  A quick inspection verified the lack of wild animals frolicking in our tents or cooking  gear. That was a relief.  

I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that sleeping that night in my Cabella’s ground tent was done with a slight tinge of trepidation, knowing that a giant man eating bear with razor sharp claws could be plotting to eat my daughter and I alive during the night!  Exaggeration? Maybe. But when you hear creaks and snaps in the woods around your tent… You wonder what the intentions are of the beast that is making all that racket. Fortunately, we made it through the night with no incidents.  

Colorado 2019 – Part 1 – #3dads3daughters34runners

For the past few years we have made the trip to Ouray Colorado for FJ Summit or to be near the area to catch a bit of “Summit”.  FJ Summit is an annual event that brings in 300+ Toyota trucks to a little town in the middle of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado with some of the best mountain pass roads in the United States. 

This year… Complete madness at work had left me in a position where I was not sure I could plan a trip to the grand scale of years past.  Adding to the confusion… My kids were not cooperating either. One kid was graduating High School and the other had a social agenda that was hard pressed to spend time with “Dear ole Dad”.  

Never fear…  Other Trail Team trip members were making sure that something was going to happen this summer.  Three families were making plans with our without me being along for the ride. When the smoke cleared… Two Trail Team Dad’s, Don and Jake, had grabbed their daughters and started a trip to Ouray by way of the Rimrocker trail in Moab Utah.  If I hustled… I could meet up with them in Ouray for a long weekend of camping pre-FJ Summit.

When the time came to take flight and catch up with the others out in Colorado…  I was lucky enough to have my newly graduated Daughter along for the trip. We headed out early from Central Illinois to make the rendezvous for camping near Ouray.  Pekin to Denver is a 14 hour trip. Ouray is another 4 hours past that. We stopped in Denver after the first day of driving.  

There were a 100 different combinations of drivers, co-pilots and kids that could have shown up this year to Colorado.  Ironically… The other trucks, like me, had all come in 4Runners with their daughters. The trip could have just as well been 4 dads, 4 kids and 4 4runners…  On the 14 hour ride out to meet up with Jake and Don… It started to fall into place. Three Dads… Three Daughters…. And Three 4Runners. Serendipity? Kizmit?  Who knows. But it was a great trip vibe starting and a great tag for Instagram.

#3dads3daughters34runners

Stay tuned… More to come about this trip!

Breaking Camp – Day 3 – Mojave Road

The third and final day on the Mojave Road trail was an idyllic morning.  I had woken up around 6AM and could feel the presence of peaceful air from inside by ground tent.  Not a breath of wind was to be heard and the brightness on the outside of the tent meant that there must not have been many clouds either.  I unzipped by door shade and revealed the cloudless, crystal clear blue sky that I was hoping for.  

I unzipped the door and let the cool air flow into my tent.  It was so quiet and perfect that I curled back up into my sleeping bag and dozed off for a bit longer.  

It was brisk, 50 degrees or slightly better.  But experience told me that a few hours later we would be up to the mid 70’s.  Today being our last day on the trail meant a small breakfast, a few hour drive to the end of the road near Zzyzx.  To this point on the trail, I had been wearing jeans/pants and boots for the uncertainty of the trail. What if something went wrong?  I can’t be recovering a truck in sandals! 

This morning had all the signs that it was time to relax.  I put on the one pair of shorts I had packed and pulled out the Sanuk flip flops and pretended today was a beach day.   The morning was uneventful. I broke camp and took down my tent, sleeping pad and cot in a slow pace as to make sure everything was packed correctly for the ride home.  I then took the portable toilet setup and headed off a few hundred steps to have a relaxing view of the landscape. I parked the seat up near some black volcanic rocks that had some old coyote holes burrowed into them.  We had scouted them before, and they appeared empty.  

Everything was right with the world…  Until it walked into camp… A Tarantula

The day before when we arrived at camp, one of the other campers, Mike, had been out looking for the hairy spider lairs.  We found holes in the ground that might have been the home to giant arachnids. Don, our resident desert expert said with some authority that the Tarantulas were not going to be active during our visit.  This was enough affirmation for me… Nothing to worry about here.  

Well…  Our new friend with 8 legs wasn’t listening to Don.  This 4″ or 5” spider was gingerly walking into the middle of camp.  He appeared out of nowhere under a truck and then started heading towards our fire-ring.  We took a few pictures of the guy as he was moving along. He did seem to be at a slow pace because of the temps.  As he was halfway across camp… Orin, another of our campers, used a small stick to interfere with his route. The spider didn’t care for this one bit.  I swear that he jumped 2 feet and started hustling his pace.   

I don’t know what happened to our spider from that point forward…   I stopped caring about him and started thinking about self preservation.  Immediately, I looked down and my flip-flopped feet and bare legs and realized that I might be unprepared for more spiders.  I turned back to the open field behind the campsite in fear that I be looking upon view from the film “Kingdom of the Spiders” or “Arachnophobia”.  Wave upon wave a newly awoken Tarantulas crawling out of their beds to visit our band of squatters set up in their territory. Nothing yet… But they could be preparing a calculated raid.

I then started thinking back over the morning… I had slept with an open door to the desert…  I had been on my knees in the sand rolling up my tent and bedding materials… My open air bathroom visit earlier was also fraught with peril as I had not been looking over my shoulder at any point during the day.  There were countless opportunities for a hundred spiders to have murdered me in the Mojave.  

As it turned out… We only had one tarantula visit our camp (that we know of).  But this was enough for me to realize that jeans, boots and some form of Kevlar are your best protection out in the desert.  Also, I don’t know if we have a snake bite or spider bit kit… But it might be something to pack for future trips!

Mojave Breakdown, Our Lucky Day?

When you are driving 1000’s of miles… Even in a newer car… You have to be ready to deal with a sudden failure.   We drive Toyota’s for a reason…  More reliability on or off the road no matter where we go.  But even with the best of odds, you can have a one small problem turn into something that will ruin the best laid plans.

This last trip our west had us dealing with a fluke event.  A 2017 TRD Edition 4Runner started leaking oil while on the way to Mojave California. 

Somewhere outside of Kingman Arizona…  Libbie started smelling burning oil while driving her 4Runner.  We stopped our three car caravan to check and see what it was.   At first glance… It would have appeared to have been the oil filter housing.  The leak was all over the skid plate and the engine was soaked behind the filter.  Immediately, we were ready to blame the guy who changed the oil last.  (I can tell you as the service manager that I was seeing red!)

With the TRD Skid on, the filter is nearly impossible to reach.  I was able to touch it from the passenger side, and did not feel anything out of order.   The oil was still topped off, so the decision was made to try and get to a town with a quick lube or any service station that could get us in to check the filter.  We hit the road again.

After a few miles of being in the chase vehicle to keep an eye on the situation…  Oil spatter was covering my windshield.  I used the three wipers and it just smeared oil all over my FJ.  We pulled over again and this time found an area where we would remove the skid plate ourselves and check the filter tightness.

After getting everything pulled apart… It did not appear to be the filter.  But honestly, I am not a tech.  I was pretty sure it was something else but felt better with a second opinion.  I called our Master Tech, James, and asked for remote assistance!

With the help of pictures and videos…  James and I deduced that the leak was coming from the oil pressure sender on the side of the engine…  Right above some coolant lines that run near the filter housing.

This was a fresh leak, and it was doubtful it had been doing it for very long.

We called the local truck repair shop at our exit, they said they did not work on smaller trucks like this, but referred us to a shop called ADAN in Kingman Arizona.  We called them and explained what was going on.   They said to “come on over.”  This was already going better than expected.

As we pulled out… I saw what I can only describe as a “gypsy” sitting on the curb with a gas can.  She looked to be 100 pounds.  I thought she might be hiding from the law with the giant sunglasses and wig she was wearing.  Her kids were decked out in footy pajamas and looked like they had been sleeping on the desert floor all night.   And their van… Oh my…  It was something.  An older Chevy conversion van with handwritten messages of “love everyone” and “peace” told a story of spending lots of days and nights at gas stations!

I asked her if she needed money for gas.  (She was holding a gas can)  She said “yes”.  I said “I need all the Karma I can get” as I handed her a ten dollar bill, she said something unintelligible and took the money.  I like to think it was a Gypsy blessing.  Because luck was starting to fall into place.

As we pulled into Kingman… I was getting bigger puffs of hot oil smoke and I knew that we could not keep up a drive with this truck spitting out more and more.   While on the road, I called the local O’Rielly Auto Parts store and told them what I needed.   An oil pressure sender for a 4.0L Toyota is not a common repair item in our shop… I was praying that the store would have one, or be able to refer me to where to get it.  Even so, if I had to drive to another town… We may have been looking at three plus hours for a return trip with the part.  Nothing is close in Arizona.

O’Rielly had one!  I told the others to head to repair shop with the truck while I headed for the part.  Once in the store, I inspected the “sender” and verified it was correct.  (Believe it or not… Sometimes parts stores say they have something… And its not correct!  Shocking right? )

My Gypsy luck was holding.

ADAN had checked in the truck and was getting ready to lift if when I pulled in.  They were very firm about a $100.00 rack fee and said they would not be responsible if my diagnosis was wrong.  We were just fine with those terms.  The techs at ADAN went to work on the repair.

An oil pressure sender is something that could be done with the small amount of tools we had in convoy, but it was much easier to do on the lift in a shop.  The $100 fee was a small price to pay versus doing it ourselves on hot Arizona pavement.

We started the truck after the repair.  No leaks.

We ended up being 2 hours late to our meeting point with another truck outside Ft Mojave later that day.  But, the alternative was far worse.  2 hours is small potatoes when weighed against getting a hotel room and being stranded.

Some say you make your luck.  Traveling with tools, experienced staff and having a master tech one phone call away dampen the chances of failure on the road.  I still say a little old fashioned luck never hurts and I’ll thank the Gypsy for her help as well.