Category Archives: Moab

Kokopelli Trail Expediton with Cruise Moab

Matt M’s 5th gen is lined up and ready to go on the Kokopelli Run

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.  

Night 2 campsite on the trail.

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.  

Matt Wagner knocked one off his bucket list. Top of the World, Moab UT.

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.  

potluck in the middle of nowhere!

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.

Heading down Rose Garden Hill.

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!  

Our intrepid tour guide… Stan Wright.

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!  

Rose Garden Hill Breakdown – Part II – The Recovery


Continued from Rose Garden Hill Breakdown Post.

We were happy to get back to camp after the “trail repair” on Rose Garden Hill.  It had been a long hot day and we were looking forward to grabbing showers before hitting the campground. The word “campground” would paint a mental picture of campers, tents, and facilities for dining and showering.  Our campground was not so luxurious…  It was a few gravel slots backed up the Colorado river, about 5 miles out of Moab.  This camping is super cheap (5 bucks a day), but it’s also super thin on amenities.  Bathrooms (Fancy holes in the ground) are included…  Showers are not a feature that come with this price.  

Our original plan was to stop at the KOA and pay five bucks for a shower.  But they closed before we got back to town.  Showers were out.

We got back to our sparse campsite.  I washed off as much bearing grease as I could from my 5 gallon portable water tank…  Took a camp shower from there (Don’t know what a camp shower is?  Just ask sometime, I’d rather not describe it here).

End of the day… This hit the spot

Jake and I talked it over a very refreshing and cold beer.  Obviously, we were not going to be doing any more wheeling the next day with his FJ in its current state.  Our priority as a vacation was to get Jake’s truck up and repaired so we could finish out the trip.  

The nearest Toyota Dealer from Moab is Western Slope Toyota in Grand Junction.  Now, you might be saying “Why go to a Toyota Dealer?”.  First off…  I’m partial to my profession.  I trust our techs more than anyone on a newer FJ like this.  Secondly, Jake’s FJ is a 2014 with roughly 25,000 miles.  Our first hope was that this upper ball joint failure would be warrantable.  In order to make this a clean process…  Going to the dealer first was our best bet.  Was this warrantable?  In my opinion… Yes.  We were off road… No question.  Were we baja blasting and damaging the truck by being reckless?  No.  When the ball joint came loose…  We were crawling and and creeping up the hill and that joint should not have popped out.  

Rigged ball joint.

The drive from Moab to Grand Junction is about 120 miles.  I can tell you with complete certainty that it feels 5 times that long when you are watching the road for bumps and stopping to adjust ratchet straps.  The straps did loosen over the drive.  Those extra straps and frequent stops were completely necessary!

We rolled into Western Slope Toyota in Grand Junction about 10AM.  The Service Advisors were super friendly and said that we were gonna be OK on the warranty repair and they would move it up to the front of the line.  There were a couple problems with our repair though…  Grand Junction Colorado gets their parts from a Toyota parts depot in Dallas Texas.  It would be a few days before that Upper Control Arm (UCA) would be ready and installed.  Then…  Their alignment shop would need to be scheduled.  Holy smokes…  We were days out for a warranty repair!  

Western Slope Waiting room… Buckets in the service drive.

There was an alternative…  Order UCA’s on Amazon Prime using overnight shipping.  The guys at Western Slope were open to this.  This would remove Toyota from paying for a warranty repair, but we would be on the trail in another day.  Western Slope said they could do the work the next afternoon, but were not sure if there was enough time to do the alignment that same day.  We ordered Total Chaos UCA’s from Amazon with the expectation of having the fine guys at Western Slope do the work.  

Social Media is a wonderful thing.  Jake had put out a message on the FJ Summit forums on Facebook about his breakdown and wanting to know if anyone had UCA’s handy.  That didn’t pan out… But we did get a message from Keith and “Keiths Garage” in Grand Junction. Keith offered to get the FJ done as soon at the UCA’s arrived and to get it to his alignment guys ASAP when he was done.  Keith had a long history of working on Toyota 4×4’s in this part of Colorado and was well spoken about of by the locals.  This was a no-brainer.  

Keith’s Garage to the rescue.


This night…  We found a nice Best Western on the Northeast side of Grand Junction.  We had one criteria… An outdoor pool.  This hotel had one indoor and one outdoor.  It was a perfect situation for this dusty crew!  

After a dip in the pool…  Everyone got cleaned up and we headed to downtown Grand Junction.  If you have not been there…  Its worth stopping by.  Lots of cool shops and a nice brewpub kept us entertained and well fed for the night.

The next day…  The UCA’s showed up at Toyota at 10AM.  The guys at Western Slope Toyota were cool with our change of plans. They were completely backed up with work and they were really shoehorning us in to get the FJ fixed that quickly.  It was a relief to not force our truck into their schedule.  We ran to Keith’s shop where he was waiting with open arms…  By 4PM the truck was aligned and back on the road.  Keith and all the kind folks in Grand Junction saved the trip!  

The “magic” photo spot!

Now it was off to FJ Summit X.

After we were all in Ouray…  We had dinner at Buen Tiempo.  “Buen” seems to be our annual dinner stop when we are at Summit.  We had our dollar bill planted on their towering two story roof (If you don’t know how they do it…  Give the waiter a buck and watch).  When we were heading out, we ran into Woody and Heather Swearengen.  The owner of Ih8mud.com chatted with us about his imported Landcruiser.  I was schooled on the different models numbers for RHD, LHD, Petrol and Diesel models.  (because, someday I will have one!)  Woody and his wife are great folks and I always recommend signing up for Ih8mud for Toyota 4×4 fans of any skill level.  

Thursday morning we had a plan to hit the top most pass at FJ Summit.  Imogene pass is a rough trail road that runs 17 miles between Ouray and Telluride.  At its topmost peak, it tops out at 13,100 ft.  This is not like Pikes Peak or Mt Evans… You are crossing streams, climbing steep inclines, pinstriping your truck and grinding up your off-road tires on sharp rocks.  

The climb through the mountains was a striking contrast to camping in Moab just days before.  The weather was slightly cool with an air of dampness.  Everything was green!  Even the upper elevations above the treeline the small amounts of green were a glowing vision of life versus the overwhelming brown tones of eastern Utah.  When we reached the top of Imogene pass, it was crowded with Toyota trucks that were trailing with groups from FJ Summit.   We waited for about 30 minutes before we could pull off this picture of our trucks at with the sign.  It was cold at the top… But again…  After sweating and being wrung out in Moab…  It was a welcome change of season.  I told everyone to suck it up.  The temps back in Illinois were around 100 and these 50 degree winds would be forgotten as soon as we hit Kansas on the way home.

Top of Imogene

After hitting Telluride we had to call it over for the Stahl’s.  My family had to get back to Illinois to get my daughter to camp on Saturday.  Our layover in Grand Junction had cost us a day on the trails in Colorado and this was last hurrah.

Jacob and family spent another few days in the area before heading back.  His exploration led him to Bangs Canyon in Grand Junction.  Which, judging by the pictures and his reviews… Is a great place to run around in for a day.

 

Field Dispatch – Moab and FJ Summit X

Jacob & Family

This year Fort’s Trail Team had the honor of escorting a customer out to the 10th annual FJ Summit in Ouray Colorado.
One of our Trail Team regulars, Jacob Irish and his Wife and Daughter made the trip with our Service Manager Eric Stahl and his family. The trip began in Moab Utah. Our first base camp was set along the Colorado River.  It was an amazingly scenic area to say the least!  We were blessed with a full moon and it illuminated the cliffs and mesas around our campsite at night.  While in Moab, we visited Arches National Park and spent a day off the beaten path on Kokopelli Trail.

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After Moab, the expedition moved down to Ouray Colorado to join in with the FJ Summit 10 festivities. FJ Summit is filled with tons of like-minded Toyota lovers and vendors specific to Toyota trucks.
We can tell you from experience that FJ Summit is one of the best organized Toyota events in the country. Well run events like this can take the stress off first timers who might feel intimidated. Do not let the rough roads and high altitudes scare you. The best part about FJ Summit is its accommodation to “stock” trucks. You can take a truck off of our lot today and hit the trails tomorrow. Again, we know this for a fact because we have done it with stock trucks.

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In Colorado, our mini expedition climbed to the top of Imogene Pass at a height of over 13,000 feet. Its an amazing spectacle to be at the top of the rockies looking over miles of mountains with snow covered peaks. The air was cold, but the sun was hot. It was a welcome break from the heat and humidity of July in Central Illinois.
We were thrilled to hear from Jacob when everyone got back home. His family declared it to be their favorite family vacation ever!

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Our next trip to an official Toyota off-road event is in Mid October. A crew of about 4 trucks from Fort’s will be headed out to Southern Cruiser Crawl in Hot Springs Arkansas. Contact Eric or Matt in service for details.

 

Rose Garden Break Down

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Jakes FJ coming up Rose Garden Hill, Moab UT.

“Dad, I think something’s wrong with Jake’s wheels”

That came out of my daughters mouth while helping me spot for my friends FJ going up Rose Garden Hill in Moab.  At first, I dismissed it as the inexperienced eyes of 15 year old…  Then I looked more closely at what she was seeing from the front of the truck.

Jake was trying to get his 2014 FJ into position to help winch my 2010 4Runner off giant boulder that had left me high centered.  (In hindsight, I should have had him spotting me on the way up, it might have saved us this whole situation! )  The road halfway up the hill had been a smattering of loose boulders and a few rock shelves.   Rose Garden is rated a 4 on the trail map… Which is an aggressive number.  The people I know that have been there thought I should have no problem tackling it with an end goal of getting to “Top of the world” for the iconic photo opportunity.

Gawkers everywhere... But they were no help!
Gawkers everywhere… But they were no help!

The route to Rose Garden Hill takes some serious time.  We started travelling the Kokopelli Trail from Sand Flats about 9AM and went all the way around the south/east side of Moab to get to this point.  It’s actually an amazing change of terrain and conditions in the short span of a few hours.  Orange Desert to green mountainside in the span of an hour. At about 11 we ran across another group of pre-FJ Summit FJ’s on the trail… The other FJ crew was bottled behind a herd of cattle and we could see them turn around to avoid the traffic jam. With the exception of one truck later in the day… That group of trucks were last vehicles we saw for the rest of the day!

Jakes truck was in a ditch of big rocks. I noticed the camber looking a little off on the drivers front wheel while Jake was turning the steering wheel.  The bottom side of the tire was pushing out and the top was really angled underneath the wheel well.  I held up my hand and told Jake to stop…  Something was wrong!  My kid was right!

When we ducked down to take a look…  It was pretty grim.  The upper control arm was popped over the tire and grease was smeared everywhere.  The lower control arm looked OK as did the axle and tie rod end.  My mind started thinking about every option for recovery.  One of my friends had a Jeep roll into a culvert near a cornfield a few months ago at the cost of nearly $4,000.00 for recovery.  I was pretty sure neither of us wanted to get into that expense.  Insurance companies probably would not fully help out either.  It flashed through my head that we could get the kids out of here and come back later, but it was already 3:30 in the afternoon.  It would take hours to come back.

“We have to fix this”…  “We can do this”…  That was my verbal declaration to Jake, the wives and the kids who tagged along with us.

First step…  Lift this truck up and see what is left of the ball joint.  The FJ factory jack is accordian style.  It is pretty worthless in an uneven pavement situation.  The 2010 4Runner had a bottle jack… Even fully extended it was not tall enough for the lift we were trying to get.  We then stacked rocks and started cranking on the little guy.  It took a few times before we found a rock/jack combination that seemed secure.

Once we were up, it was easy to see an intact ball joint separated from upper control arm.   Somewhere in the caverns of my mind I started to recall a similar situation and repair.

“We can fix this”.

Again… Declaring to everyone that we were not screwed.  This was affirmation for me and I hoped it would be a relief to the families as they patiently waited in the 100 degree temps.  I had NO idea if I could in fact fix this… But I sure was going to try.

We grabbed every ratchet strap that wasn’t tied down and started to draw the ball joint closer to the socket.  Using a combination of ratchet adjustments and Jake behind the wheel, we lined it up. At that point… It was ratchet strap fever…  I locked down 4 straps on varying positions to pull down on the UCA.  It would appear that we were in business!

The hillside repair...
The hillside repair…

All we had to do now get back down the hill. In reverse, down a class 4 trail, with a broken ball joint! Then, drive 2 hours or so to get back to our campsite on the Colorado river. We also still had the little issue of my 4Runner being stuck. The first test on the straps was backing up and pulling my truck free via Jakes winch.  That worked…  So far, so good.

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Checking the repair.

Backing down, I spotted Jake and we tried to be as delicate as possible.  When we finally got to the bottom, an overwhelming shot of adrenaline came over me.  Seriously.  My heart started racing and I got tensed up.  I asked my wife how long we had been on the hill, expecting her to say 45 minutes…  She said it had been 3 hours.   I really do believe my mind and body went into some kind of “ass-kicking” mode when we were in trouble.  Time and fatigue were not going to be issues until we solved this.

After we were down… I reevaluated the straps… I figured out that the front torsion bar was the best location to mount a strap.  I had placed a large strap at the bottom of the shock to the UCA, but its movement was loosening the tension. I used two super strong straps on the front of the UCA down to the torsion bar. Those straps held tight for the rest of the trip. We backtracked a ways down Kokopelli and caught another trail toward Moab.  I got out every 15 to 20 minutes and checked the straps…  They were doing great!  We got the FJ back to our campsite without any more incidents.  It was 9PM by the time we got back…  And we were dead tired!  Showers?  Nah!  Beer?  Hell yes!

After the wives and kids were in bed Jake and I talked about it over a cold one.  We both agreed that it could have been far worse!  All the doubts that we harbored about making that “save” today came out.  Its one thing to be lucky, but we probably should not have been there in the first place.   Lesson learned…  Save the hardcore wheeling stuff for the local off road park… Not the family vacation!

The next day we headed to Grand Junction in hopes of a miracle to get this truck fully up and running for a trip down to Ouray and FJ Summit 10.  But, that is another story in itself!

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Your author… Back at camp… Hands still dirty!