Wanted: Cruise Moab registrants with an extra taste for adventure for this years Overnight run on the Kokopelli Trail. Trucks must be lifted, modified and protected from the extreme trails that will be between you and Moab. Additionally, be prepared to cook and camp for yourself as we will be on the trail for three days and two nights. Also, if you can bring those pudding cups with the gummy worms for the camp potluck, that would be great.
While that might seem like a bit of a stretch for the official Kokopelli Overnight registration, it’s not too far removed from what Stan Wright was asking of the intrepid adventurers who signed up for his guided tour to Cruise Moab 20.
This overnight run is not a new thing for Cruise Moab. For the past few years they have run a multi-night “overlanding” style trek from Grand Junction to Moab via the Kokopelli Trail. The 142 mile trail has a little of everything including the route that sends you over Rose Garden Hill and and a sidetrack up the Top of the World trail. That mileage may not seem like a long distance on paper, but believe it or not, it takes a constant pace to finish in under three days. This outing is a draw for anyone not familiar with the area or wanting a taste of overlanding. The registration filled up quick and they couldn’t take everyone who applied.
I will admit to being a “noobie” on this type of overland trip. I had read the trail notes on “MUD” from years past…. It sounded amazing and equally stressful. I had even sold the trip to a few friends and co-workers after selling myself on it. Registration goes fast. Four trucks in my local group tried to get on the run…. Three of us made it. Fortunately, I was one of those three. A lesser man, and a true friend would have bailed when the fourth truck was left behind…. I am not that good of a friend.
We had months to prepare. That was good and bad. It gave me a lot of time to think about my truck equipment…. And then start over-thinking personal gear. Fortunately, this run was being guided by Stan Wright (same one at the beginning of this magazine!) and Chris… Any questions we had about what to expect would be laid to rest by the experienced guides. We received an email from Stan with expectations of our trucks and a special area in “mud” to start sharing information about the planned trip. Also, we were encouraged to add some background on the rest of the adventurers. Of course, it turned into a drool session when we saw the modifications some of the guys/gals had done to their rigs in anticipation of this trip.
There were folks registered from New Hampshire, Illinois, Texas, Atlanta, Seattle and San Diego and all points in between. We just about hit the four corners of the US of A with this crew. Drivers and passengers were all ages and we even had a celebrity dog along for the trip! It was a diverse vehicle lineup. A newer GX body, Tacoma, FJ Cruiser, a diesel swapped 62, a few 80’s, four 4Runners and a couple 100 series. You have to stay disciplined to stop watching all the cool trucks around you or you might do something dumb on the trail!
The night before the event start, several of us decided to camp out at the trailhead in Rabbit Valley. (Never saw a rabbit BTW). About 8 trucks had set up to get a bonus night of camping before we hit the trails at 10AM the next day. It was a nice head start to meet a few of our merry band of adventurers. April in the high desert is beautiful camping weather. Cool and dry with clear skies.
Stan showed up the next morning for the drivers meeting with a big pile of local burritos…. Now this could be a test…. Do you throw down burritos before an eight hour trip on a rough and tumble trail? I risked it. They were delicious. Local flavors win again! We had the group pow wow…. Rules, inspections and expectations were taken care of. We would have a long drive to get to our first campsite. Buckle up, let’s move now and prepare for some amazing views.
It was just that. The first day’s drive was a long winding trip to the Mesa, that had us scrambling to beat bad weather. Heavy clouds loomed overhead that morning and we were getting some drops on the windshield. Stan explained over the CB that we would be in bad shape if a downpour arrived, leaving us on slick orange surface mud (I remember a similar feeling at Mardi Krawl…. No thanks!). We moved along quickly for the first few hours. After we reached the top of the Mesa we had our chance to take a breath and take a look. Amazing views that you can only dream about from the interstate. No doubt, you sucking it all in while driving, but a stop once and awhile lets you really admire the huge vistas that no camera can ever capture.
Part of our preplanning had us pack a shareable meal for a potluck on night one. We got the camp area with lots of time to set up and start cooking before dark. This was my first chance to see all the possible overlanding combinations. Rooftop tents of a few different varieties. Awnings galore. And a few folks setting up traditional tents. Supper was anything but freeze dried camp food. Brats, Chicken Tacos, homemade Soup (kept frozen for the trip in a portable freezer).. So much food that we couldn’t kill it all! Thank God there are not bears in this area…. We would have been surrounded! We spend the night hearing some great yarns from TLCA President, Ross Woody. Most of us had no clue that a minor celebrity had tagged along for our trip! (I didn’t get his autograph!)
Day two on the trail had us running all day to get to top of the world. We started off at 9AM…. And arrived at the trail entrance at about 5PM. It was a tremendous day with winding trails that kept us seeing sights of the snow covered San Juan’s in the distance. So far, nothing had held us up. No cows, gastric distressed drivers or broke-down trucks. According to Stan, this was unusual. They normally were dealing with some sort of breakdown every time they start this adventure. Could we beat the odds?
We headed up “Top of the World” trail for some great “light” at the end of the day. The sky was blue and the clouds were minimal. Remember what I said about breakdowns? It happened. It sounds like it’s bound to happen on a trip like this. And in reality…. You should be mentally prepared for your personal truck being the problem that holds everyone up. Recovery gear is highly recommended from the start for this reason. Our group had some old trucks, and we ran at a reasonable pace to make sure everyone was safe. Surprisingly, it was the newest truck in our group that had the first failure. The Tacoma had succumbed to poorly modified front diff carrier that had given way at the body mount. There was a scramble to assist, but it didn’t appear that we could solve this halfway up “Top”. It was decided that the taco was drivable enough to head back down to our second night’s campsite in the valley. The rest of the crew were able to get to the most scenic photo shoot in Moab. Really, the best photo spot in the United States until somebody proves otherwise.
The trail damage had held us back about an hour…. We were coming down from “Top” in nearly full darkness. It was a scramble with lots of auxiliary LED’s in all directions and a huge dust cloud. When we got back, we still had to time to cook some dinner at the campsite and set up a campfire with all our remaining firewood. It was a big BS session with lots of laughs and stories that any Toyota lover would appreciate. That night, our youngest trail runner declared that she had adopted 10 new Dad’s on this trip.
The next morning was rough. We found out that the damaged Tacoma was out of the run. They would have to head back to Moab after finding the differential mount had been completely sheared off. Adding to this…. Our 4Runner from New Hampshire was now getting a very loud whine from the rear carrier. They did not feel safe enough to make the journey to Rose Garden Hill. The two injured trucks limped back to Moab. (What happened in Moab is a great story of folks helping each other out if you want to hear about it sometime. The kind of stuff that restores your faith in humanity.)
I personally have a history with Rose Garden Hill and it didn’t end pretty last time I was there. Google: UCA repair with ratchet straps for an idea. To be honest… I was happy to sign up for this tour and have guides at the ready to lead us down. I had met the criteria to make this trip, but Stan and everyone else in the group were weary that I would have some extreme trail damage with my light setup. I had my heart racing as we approached the obstacle laden hill. It is no understatement to say that our spotters, Stan, Ross and Chris were brilliant. I did end up with a scratch on the side of my truck…. But nothing that I could not have done at the local off-road park. We were feeling the advantage of having experienced wheelers with us. This kind of leadership can make all the difference between a great day of off-roading and the worst day of your life. There is a giant fence that separates the two, and you can fall onto either side very easily.
A completed Rose Garden Hill is nearly the end of the trip… And that is a heavy feeling. We did wander for an hour through a canyon on the way to our finish in Moab. It was as chance to rip through 20+ water crossings… It was a serious refresher after days on a dusty trail. I made it my goal to cover the 4Runner every chance I got. We had some chatter on the CB’s and spent a seriously long time glad handing and wishing well to all of our fellow travelers. We had survived, for the most part, and were enjoying each other’s company. We were all slow to break up the party at the beginning of the pavement. If given the chance, we probably could have gotten half the group to head back to the start and do it again!
Stan and Chris have been leading this trail run for a few years…. And have been threatening to hand it off to other volunteers. Any of you folks who go to these events know that it takes a lot of manpower and personal commitments to make anything like this happen. Please. Help out when you can, and be sure to thank those that do. Thanks to our trail leaders, Cruise Moab and TLCA for putting on a great event!