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What is overland/expedition style travel? (sample trip report)

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What is overland/expedition style travel?

 

We often use the terms “overland” or “expedition” to describe the style of certain trips, but what exactly does this mean?

 

An “expedition” is commonly said to be an organized journey undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose, often exploratory in nature. The word “overland” literally means “over, on, or by land” - however, somewhat recently in the US (and for much longer in other parts of the world), it has come informally to refer to “vehicle-dependent overland expeditions”, but that gets a bit wordy!

 

On this site, we use the terms expedition and overland interchangeably to refer to a style of excursion with these common features:

 

  • Journeys last 3 or more days (typically 3 to 10).
  • Trips are vehicle-based (possibly including hikes and other activities, but the primary mode of travel being by vehicle).
  • Camping is the main lodging (often “dry” or “dispersed”, but may include stays in developed campgrounds or even in hotels/motels).
  • Travel is done with a group of people, and more than one vehicle (typically 3 to 20 people and 2 to 20 vehicles).
  • The purpose of the trip may be solely the enjoyment of the journey. Other times the purpose is to explore and gather information with the intention of leading more organized trips back at a later date.
  • A large portion of the trip is typically off-highway travel (requiring a high-clearance, 4x4, or other capable OHV).
  • Areas we visit are often chosen for their scenic, historic, or geologically interesting features. Less-charted remote regions offer further appeal.
  • Places that combine the above features with unique or challenging off-highway trails are the most sought-after.

People may share other journeys on our forums that extend beyond these basic attributes (even exotic world-wide adventures), but they represent the fundamentals upon which most of our “overland/expedition style trips” are based. Note that we also do many day-runs just to go "wheeling', as well as other meet-ups and technical wrenching parties. However, this article is focused on the longer trips.

 

One last point worth mentioning is that due to the difficult and/or lengthy travel required to get from many of our destinations to civilization, you must be self-reliant. Not only are your own physical and mental capabilities tested at times, but also the capabilities of your vehicle and the tools and supplies you choose to bring. Planning and preparation are of key importance as well. Though we always work as a group, and no man would ever be left behind, there are certain real-world expectations. It would not be wise to head 100 miles into the desert if you have a serious medical condition that is not well managed. Likewise, you shouldn’t embark on an off-road journey without some basics tools or with a poorly maintained vehicle.

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What is a typical overland/expedition style trip like?

 

This is a difficult question to answer as every single trip has its own unique challenges, opportunities, points-of-interest and, most of all, memories once complete. That being said, there was a recent member-led trip to the San Rafael Swell in Utah (USA) that featured all the previously mentioned attributes and could be considered as “typical” as any other.

 

In the next few posts, I have chronicled this specific adventure diary-style to give an idea of what one might encounter on a “typical” overland/expedition style trip.

 

Note: The first day of the main trip into the Swell starts at post #7 below (Trip Day 3).

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Before the trip - Planning and preparation

 

MBuckner posted up the San Rafael exploratory trip on 10/6, the same day others of us left for the Hole in the Rock Trail trip. The Swell had been on my must-do list for at least a couple years, so I began thinking about going even while on the other trip. Once back from the Hole in the Rock, I replied to the Swell trip thread in the Trips & Events forum asking to put me down as tentative. This is how we usually plan trips…

 

  • Any member can start a trip thread, or a staff member may start a thread for an official trip. We do this in the Trips & Events or Premium Trips & Events forums. The larger official events are also posted on the calendar and the Trips & Events page.
  • If you are interested in, or ready to commit to a trip, just reply to the trip thread asking to be added to the attending list. Feel free to post other replies to the thread asking questions about anything you need clarification on.
  • The person leading the event will keep up with the entire thread. They will edit the first post of the thread with an up-to-date attendees list and the most important details (when/where to meet, what to bring, etc).

I had asked Mike to list me as tentative for now as I wasn’t sure I could get enough work done in the few weeks before the trip since I had just been gone nearly a week on another trip. In addition to the Offroad Passport company, I am self-employed as a Software Engineer. Many members that do multiple big trips each year are either self-employed or retired. This certainly isn’t a requirement though - I started doing these type of trips with my family when we both were working full time. At Offroad Passport, we try to do plenty of 3 day weekend expeditions as well as the longer ones so that people can attend and only take off one day of work. We also try to announce the longer trips months in advance so that people have plenty of time to work it into their schedule.

 

After a week or so, my schedule looked good so I posted that I was confirmed and also got reservations at the campground where we would rendezvous to start the trip (after the first night, we would be primitive camping on BLM land in a new spot each night). We often do trips like this where each day is spent traveling and site-seeing and each night is a new camp site. Other times we do “hub-n-spoke” style trips where we set up a single camp for the duration of the trip and venture out to the surrounding areas from there each day. The hub-n-spoke style are easier, since you aren’t constantly setting up and tearing down camp. However, the other “true expedition” style allows us to cover a lot more ground and see more during the trip (and is required at times just to complete a long trail).

 

The week before I left for the Swell was frantic. As usual, there were sudden work emergencies that needed to be addressed before I could leave, and a couple things on the Jeep needed fixing as well. I had taken the time to complete a better mounting system and even better handles for my fridge, but procrastinated on finishing some more important matters. This left me with several must-do tasks the days before I was to leave.

 

On the evening of Thursday (28th), I went to Walmart to do my grocery and supply shopping for the trip. I like shopping there before an adventure despite its drawbacks as I can get groceries, many camping supplies, and most other things that might be needed for a trip in one place. Once home I packed the kitchen bag and the fridge. A few of us have 12V fridge/freezers and love them. This isn’t required - it’s just a luxury that is definitely worth the money if you do trips very often. Even on longer remote trips though, you can get by with a cooler, you just will probably need to use some dry-ice.

 

All day Friday (the 29th) was spent on the final loose ends. I finished running some wires for my dual battery controller remote switch, so that then I could put my belly skid plate back on. I then also got an oil change as it would have come due early on the trip. I went through my fall/winter clothes and packed my bags and then packed up the Jeep.

 

That final evening before the trip I programmed the HAM radio memory with the frequencies we’d be using, and loaded up the laptop in the Jeep. An amateur radio is another one of those not-required, but really-nice-to-have accessories (we do ask that everyone have a CB radio installed and working for basic trail communications). I didn’t have any waypoints or tracks to load into the GPS/laptop for this particular trip. Usually our trips require a lot of planning - but since I wasn’t one of the trip leaders on this one, I wasn't worried about winging it! Finally I printed out my campground confirmation and some directions/maps to side trip possibilities for my extra exploring day that I had allowed.

 

As always it was hard to get to sleep the night before a big trip.

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Trip Day 1 - Saturday, October 29th - Leaving Phoenix, AZ (Home)

 

Woke up a little after 7AM, hadn't set an alarm as I wasn't going to be caravanning with anyone so no need for a strict schedule today. (We often caravan together to the common meeting point when several members are coming from the same city.)

 

I was headed out early so that I could have an extra day to do some pre-exploring before the San Rafael Swell expedition officially started on Monday. I had talked with Gold Digger and he was coming down from Wyoming today too, so we were just planning to find each other at camp the next morning if not tonight.

 

I showered, dressed and said goodbye to the family and headed out for a planned 5 to 10 day trip. This was to be an "exploratory" trip as it was the first time in the Swell for everyone attending, so no timeline was set in stone. MBuckner had posted and was leading this trip on the heels of a different group’s excursion into the nearby Canyonlands Maze District.

 

I had everything already packed in the Grand Cherokee except for the fridge; I had it on house power as the contents came to a stable temperature (not taxing the Jeep batteries). I threw that in and hit the road around 8AM. On the way to McDonald's drive-thru for breakfast, I realized that I had forgotten both camera batteries in the chargers, so I swung back around the block to grab them. Whew, first trip disaster averted!

 

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I was nearing Flagstaff by 10:30AM, hadn't hit hardly any traffic on the way up and only made one stop at a Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spice Latte and bathroom break! Brady called me to let me know that "Tiffer, you forgot your winter hat!" Darn, always forget something on a trip like this. Sometimes it's just the Mayonnaise (which you bum from your friends), other times it's a key piece of equipment like this!

 

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So I stopped at Big 5 Sporting Goods in the edge of Flag and grabbed a super stylin' hat and some gloves. I'd be more than glad later that Brady had called to warn me. I ended up using the crap outa that hat on this trip.

 

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Headed north out of Flag on the 89, I looked over to my left and could see just a bit of snow on top of one of the San Francisco Peaks. The forecast said there just might be a chance of snow in the Swell while we where there too...

 

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Next was onto Kayenta, AZ. On the way there's a railway that parallels the highway at a level grade. This makes for a neat tunnel in one spot that I'd always wanted to go get a picture of the Jeep in. Since I was solo, I decided to take the opportunity. It turned out to be much larger than it looks from the highway.

 

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In Kayenta I ate at the McDonalds and used the free WiFi to check weather, update my status, and check some work emails. Then I hit up the Mexican restaurant for a burrito to put in my manifold oven for supper later. The place was interesting to say the least, there didn't appear to be any people of Mexican decent in the kitchen, so not sure what I was going to get for "Mexican food".

 

I hurried on North into Utah as it was getting late quickly. I hit the Moki Dugway just after 4PM and the sun was already getting pretty low. I took a few minutes to hike to a lookout that I'd never checked out before.

The dugway is a unique section of road to say the least. Suddenly a perfectly good 2 lane highway turns to gravel and you proceed along a series of extreme switchbacks at a 10% grade to go 1,100 vertical feet in 3 miles. Then the paved 2 lane highway suddenly returns and you continue on your way. I suspect it’s an unnerving experience for anyone with acrophobia!

 

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I took some pano's and wasted time messing with the camera timer trying to get a self-portrait too.

 

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I noticed some drill holes at the area I walked over to; the road must have been planned to go this direction at one time.

 

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As I neared Lake Powell the sun began its final descent, making for some great scenery, but a slower drive. Nearly all of the area I was traveling through is open range. Though I love a rare steak as much as the next guy, I didn't want one with legs coming through the windshield.

 

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I finally crossed over the Colorado River and head of Lake Powell at 5:30PM. I stopped at an overlook to grab a few pics as the last bit of light left the sky.

 

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The slow pace and keeping my eyes peeled for cattle the rest of the way to Hanksville made for a tiring drive. In Hanksville I gassed up quickly and continued on for the last 30 miles of the trip to Goblin Valley State Park campground. I actually drove past the entrance even though I had the GPS on and was looking for it. It's not particularly easy to see in the dark. When we first ran The Maze, we drove right past it's entrance as well (which is only few miles before this one), so it was fitting to keep up the tradition of having to turn around on the Utah-24!

 

Utah was an hour ahead of AZ, so I think it was bout 9PM local time when I made camp. 500 miles in 12 hours wasn’t too bad considering all the stopping I had done.

 

The Tent-Cot made for a quick setup as usual. I looked briefly for EugeneTheJeeper and Gold Digger but couldn't really make out much in the nearly pitch black campground. So, after grabbing my toasty burrito from the engine bay, I poured a rum-n-Coke and proceeded to stare up at the bright stars while I ate dinner. I was pretty beat, and despite that it was relatively early, I decided to just go ahead and crash. It had been a fairly laid back, excellent start to what would become an awesome little journey!

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Trip Day 2 - Sunday, October 30th - Extra Credit Exploring near Green River, UT

 

My body was still on AZ time I think, as it was nearly 8AM when I finally got moving. I was pleased to see my campsite in the daylight and realize it was actually tucked against a colorful cliff face.

 

 

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The temperature was almost 40 degrees if I remember correctly, not nearly as cold as I had expected. Nonetheless still a bit chilly, so I sat basking in the warmth of the morning sun while I ate my cup of grapefruit and had a bagel with cream cheese. I like to take things that are quick for breakfast on the new-camp-each-day type runs as we have to break camp each morning. On the hub-n-spoke type trips there is more time to actually cook each morning. Others always cook, but I like to sleep late and still not have anyone have to wait on me to pack up.

 

I met up with Gold Digger (I couldn’t remember which year/model of Jeep he owned, but after seeing a Rubicon in the camp area with a CB antenna, I figured that was a fair bet to be his). We talked briefly and decided we were both almost ready to head out.

 

A little background on the area: the Swell is a geologic feature in Utah about 80 miles long by 50 miles wide made mostly of sandstone, shale, and limestone that was pushed upwards from the surrounding terrain 40 to 60 million years ago. Since its formation, severe erosion (as water finds its way down from this high point) has produced a beautiful and varied landscape. The eastern edge features a jagged trail of gigantic rock fin formations jutting upwards at steep angles. This area is referred to as the Reef (one book suggested this name came from early explorers finding that getting past this spot was as difficult for land travelers as a large reef would be to sea vessels). As we made our way up the Utah-24, we got an excellent view of the Reef.

 

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We were headed to the town of Green River, UT and from there to a nearby cold water geyser that I had read about long ago when researching the Swell. I warned Gold Digger that the eruptions of this geyser were erratically timed and varied in strength so we might end up seeing very little, but he was still game to venture with me.

 

 

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Crystal Geyser is only about 15 minutes from town on an easy gravel road and located right on the banks of the Green River. Its current form is that of a large pipe sticking out of the ground surrounded by a small pool and beyond that are significant travertine deposits. The pipe came from 1935 drilling attempt to locate oil. However, a spring at the least was noted there as early as 1869 by the Powell Geographic Expedition.

 

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The flowing travertine rock formations around the geyser are impressive and reason enough to visit the area if nearby.

 

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When we first arrived, nothing more than a few fizzy bubbles were visible. So we walked about taking pictures and chatting while we waited.

 

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We met a pretty Lab cruising around and soon met her owner as well. We had a great chat with a very intelligent guy (who’s name I can no longer remember) that was a retired professor of Chemistry. He had made the town of Green River his second home and was a self-proclaimed desert rat. He told us much about the geyser as he had been visiting it for years.

 

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Apparently just a few weeks prior, someone had put large enough rocks into the pipe that the geyser was unable to push them out and would now erupt sideways through corroded sections at the pipe's base. Pretty soon we got excited as the pool around the pipe grew a bit and the water right next to the pipe’s base was bubbling quite turbulently. After a bit it died back down and this was as close to a full blown eruption as we got to see:

 

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Interestingly, just behind a dirt mound about 10 feet from the pipe is a tiny pool of water that bubbles opposite of the main geyser’s activity.

 

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Once the main geyser died down and this puddle began to bubble, I heard quite a bit of hissing coming from the ground… A tiny hole another few feet away was spewing carbon dioxide (this geyser is powered by CO2 buildup).

 

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After chatting a bit more, we decided we’d seen all we were likely to see anytime soon (the eruptions usually only happen a couple times a day), so we left.

 

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Once back in the town of Green River, we looked for a place the Professor had suggested might be the best food in town – a family friendly bar & grill called Ben’s. We soon thought we had found it but there was conflicting signage and no appearance of the kind of traffic we were told would be visiting the place.

 

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Turns out “Ben’s no more. La Veracruzana now! No more Ben!” We were the only customers of this relatively new Mexican food joint. The place was in need of quite a bit of repair and the host spoke broken English, but we decided to give it a shot anyway. I was all prepped for a burger so I ordered that from the “American Food” menu section and it turned out to be fairly good.

 

After lunch we headed for Horseshoe Canyon. The Professor had told us the petroglyphs there were some of the top in the country. He also made it out to be a quick jaunt from town and an even quicker hike once there to get to the actual petroglyphs. It turned out to be a fairly long drive (maybe 40 miles on somewhat graded roads).

 

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Once there we realized it was actually in the edge of The Canyonlands National Park, and reading the information kiosk told us it was going to be a 6.5 mile hike (round trip) down into a pretty deep canyon and then back out. We talked briefly with a very sweaty couple that had just come back out and they mentioned that we should take flashlights as we were getting a pretty late start (4:30PM)… what were we getting ourselves into here? I told Gold Digger that I was game if he still was; after all we had driven this far! We grabbed our water, flashlights and jackets and headed down the path.

 

On the way down we met a couple more people coming back toward the parking area and they were completely out of breath… again, are we sure we want to do this?

 

Somewhere within the first 100 yards of the trail, we made a complete wrong turn, following the tracks of some previous poor misguided soul. Soon we found ourselves dropping off ledges and navigating our way down a side canyon that we felt “must surely lead to the main canyon soon.”

 

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Eventually we came to a dry waterfall too tall to drop down from and with no immediate way around. We were already tired only 30 minutes in, and hopelessly off-trail. We spent the next hour trying to find our way back up. We knew which way to go, but in the Canyonlands, getting from point A to B is never as simple as a straight line. It took about an hour huffing it hard over rough terrain to get back to the parking area. I now have a much greater appreciation for the early explorers and pioneers that traveled this part of the Country. I will also now always remember that coming up will always be at least twice as hard and long as going down!

 

It being so late in the day, we decided to chalk this one up as a win for Nature and head back to camp with our tails between our legs.

 

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Once back in Green River, we parted ways as I wanted to stay in town a few minutes extra to catch up on work email using the free WiFi from the parking lot of a motel. I didn’t have very much mail waiting, so after a few minutes I went to fuel up and it turns out Gold Digger had just sat down to eat at a restaurant next to the gas station I picked. He came out to get something from his Jeep and saw me and invited me to join him. We had a nice dinner and then he headed back to camp while I finished gassing up and re-arranging the firewood on my roof rack.

 

It was after 9:30PM by the time I got back to the campground and the place was pretty quiet. I hit up the showers and then went right to bed (the next morning the entire group was to all meet up at 9AM outside the park). I fell asleep wondering what had happened to EugeneTheJeeper as my understanding was that he was also coming up a day early, yet we still hadn’t found him at the campground.

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That "poor misguided hiker" in Horseshoe Canyon was probalbly me, Sam, and Larry from the week before ....

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Trip Day 3 - Monday, October 31th - First Day in the Swell

 

I guess knowing I needed to meet up with everyone was in the back of my mind as I was up and moving by 5AM. I was about the only thing moving in the campground, so I quietly had breakfast and packed up in the dark using my trusty Petzl Zipka Plus headlamp. I decided since I was up so early, I’d drive over to the actual Goblin Valley and try to catch some good sunrise pics.

 

I hiked down into the valley in the pitch black then finally started to see a little light hitting the sky. I played with some long exposures and painting with light (using my little AA powered flashlight).

 

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Overall though, I never got any stunning pics of sunlight streaming into the valley like I had hoped. There was a high ridge on the east side that prevented the earliest rays from coming into the valley. It would be after our meeting time before sun really hit the Goblins.

 

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So I packed up and drove back through camp to say morning to Gold Digger and make sure he was up. Then I hit up the visitor center where I encountered a rather terse park ranger. But I did find an excellent book on the Swell while there.

 

Everyone rendezvoused at the second turnoff to the park at 9AM Utah time. Turns out EugeneTheJeeper had been camped in the edge of the Swell instead of the state park as he was adverse to paying for camping. We also had a surprise guest RubiRed, who decided to stick around with MBuckner and AZJeep4Me after their Canyonlands trip.

 

As we took off on a dirt road we noticed an elderly lady in a car back on the paved road grabbing countless pictures our jeeps, our fame continues to precede us ;). We soon started to wind into the narrow canyons of the Reef.

 

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The canyons were beautiful and the road became a just wash with some alternating rougher spots that required careful tire placement, but nothing beyond the capabilities of a stock 4x4 still.

 

 

 

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We soon escaped the Reef and came to the base of Temple Mountain on its eastern side. While stopped to explore an old mining shack, Gold Digger gave a surprise gift to AZJeep4Me… an antique Geiger counter, and some samples that had been stored in the box with it. Though the detector probably still works, we didn’t have a charged battery of the right size for it to test it.

 

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AZJeep4Me said that sure enough one of the samples looked like the sort of Uranium ore that would have been mined out of this very mountain not so long ago. Some steered clear of the rock, but a few of us held it. I also passed it near my midsection to help prevent future unexpected offspring ;).

 

(Note, from my reading, nearly all Uranium ore such as this is relatively safe for short exposures. It produces primarily Alpha radiation that won’t penetrate your skin. The biggest hazard in handling it would be creating dust, which if you breath could be bad for you. Old Uranium mines are extremely dangerous though both due to the dust and more importantly the possibility of Radon gas, as well as typical mine hazards.)

 

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The shack had some notarized papers on it documenting recent “upgrades” to the area. I believe there is some law stating that you have to maintain a certain level of activity to keep a mining claim from expiring. There was also a neat rusted out old car near the shack. It always amazes me the type of old vehicles you find out the middle of nowhere.

 

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After a brief wrong turn, we continued on along a bit rougher 4x4 road to circle around the north and western sides of Temple Mountain. From the western side we got some spectacular views of the mountain. We stopped once and everyone pulled out binoculars to try and see the old half-track truck that was about mid-way up the side of the mountain next to a mine entrance.

 

Temple mountain is practically half hollow from all the mining, it's completely riddled with adits. Much of the mining in the Swell apparently started here due to there being a natural cavern in the mountain.

 

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Coming around a tight turn, EugeneTheJeeper’s trailer got hung up on a rock and we had to do a little road building for it to clear.

 

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Next we stopped to view an example of an old mining stone cabin next to a dugout style shelter. Small dugout shelters were often built first when settling an area. Then as time and availability of resources permitted, nicer lodging was constructed.

 

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Soon we were back to graded road at the Temple Mountain designated campsite. Everyone made sandwiches or whatever else they had brought for lunch and we looked over several information plaques while we ate.

Continuing on a south-westerly direction, we were now on the Behind the Reef Road. This was the first time we got to see some amazing color in the leaves of the trees at the base of a valley.

 

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We had to pull out a strap as one member got hung up briefly on his belly skid while trying to go over a dirt mound. After that we started up a narrow shelf road where we used 4-Lo for the first time.

 

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While climbing we passed an intersection and stayed left - incorrectly. The road soon ended and I believe someone mentioned that it looked like a quad trail continued on. We all turned around and took the missed turn. AZJeep4Me noticed some tiny rock formations inside an alcove that looked like cave formations (these are about the size of a pencil):

 

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The road improved as we zigzagged next to a cliff face and around another mountain. I noticed some of the green loose rock formation that AZJeep4Me said would be a good indication of where you might mine for Uranium in this region. The green color comes from high levels of oxidized copper.

 

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Soon we came to Little Wild Horse Canyon. This and Bell Canyon are part of a hiking loop that goes through some slot canyons. EugeneTheJeeper had been in them before and seemed to remember the narrowest slot’s being closer to the Bell Canyon side, so we continued down the road to the Bell entrance.

 

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We all parked, grabbed water and coats and hiked down into Bell Canyon. Though we never found really narrow slots, it was a great scenic hike.

 

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Most of us stopped to take pictures of the large rock outcropping that looked like woodgrain:

 

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Once back on the trail, we soon came to another old mining cabin. This one was full of junk which made for great pictures. There were also what I imagine to be core samples drill holes in several places in the rock nearby, and lots of junk strewn in the immediate area.

 

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Not much further down the road we began to look for a campsite as sunset was soon approaching. We came across a hilltop where someone had taken the time to build a chimnea fireplace by stacking rocks. The view was also impressive from the location. Since there was no wind, this made for an epic campsite.

 

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Everyone set up camp and began to cook their dinner as the sun set. With the tent-cot being quick to deploy, and my dinner already done (was pre-cooked and then just warmed in the manifold oven all afternoon), I had little to do. So I went ahead and started a fire in the fireplace and then sat down to eat while most were still cooking.

 

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After everyone ate they meandered over to the fire and we all talked for a bit. I was tired from being up so early and was one of the first to head off to bed. I fell asleep quickly and stayed warm all night even though it was in the mid 30’s.

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Trip Day 4 - Tuesday, November 1st - More of the southeastern Swell area

 

We awoke and ate breakfast, some sharing a cooking station, while others preferred to be solo. After camp was packed and everyone declared themselves ready, we headed northeast (still within the southern half of the swell). We crossed the middle high ground where there are no canyons or rocks, only gently rolling hills and plains.

 

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We encountered a spectacular group of wild horses while crossing this area. The Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 protects these animals. Population is managed to keep about 125 horses and 70 burros in the Swell.

 

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Soon we intersected a fairly major graded gravel road and began to head towards the southeastern corner of the swell. We wanted to check out the Hidden Splendor mine area, Muddy Creek, and a remote air strip that was there. As we began to descend some, the scenery suddenly changed from mundane hills to overlooking most impressive canyons.

 

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We could see some tailings and mine adits but not much else remained of the Hidden Splendor mine. Supposedly the original owner of this mine made $1 million from the mine itself and then also sold it later for around $10 million.

 

There was a tailings pile near a BLM sign talking about the area. Someone had written in sharpie on the sign how many CPM (a radiation measurement) that “this pile is giving off, do you really want to camp here?” Interesting!

 

We drove just below the dirt air strip to view Muddy Creek up close and have lunch.

 

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After filling our bellies, we went back out on the same gravel road, but eventually taking a left (west) to view Hondu Arch. The arch was named as such apparently due to it looking much like the hondu style knot on a cowboy’s lariat.

 

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We could also view Tomsich Butte from here and saw quite a bit more evidence of heavy past mining activity. Tomisch and Hannert were 2 men that acted as mining partners, staking many claims in this area. However instead of splitting each claim, they just staked every other one for the other person. Later when none of Hannert's claims produced and Tomsich's did, Hannert is said to have committed suicide.

 

There was another BLM sign warning of the dangers of these old mines.

 

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The scenery continued to impress as we moved northward.

 

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Soon we were winding around in a wash that was recently graded. We thanked MBuckner for calling ahead to have the trails groomed! Not far down the wash we found the source of the grading and the nice operator moved aside to let us all pass.

 

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It was mid-afternoon when we came to our next point-of-interest, the Lucky Strike Mine.

 

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I ventured up a wash with the Jeep while others explored some of the old mining shacks. I hiked up to the top of one tailings pile and discovered an adit that only went in about 20 feet and another entrance that was nearly caved in.

 

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There was also another “dugout” style shelter near the old shacks.

 

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While at the mining area, we noticed that it had quickly gotten colder and even a bit windy. Leaving the mine we headed further north and could see in the distance some ominous looking weather.

 

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The last weather report I had gotten on the internet before we hit the Swell had said there was a 20% chance of snow or showers on this evening. We worried it might be more than a chance. Until now we had been in the high 30’s at night and around 60 during the day.

 

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With now completely overcast skies, we came to another destination, the Swasey Cabin sitting beneath the Broken Cross rock formation. Two Swasey brothers came to the Swell in the 1870’s and liked it so much they made it their home. Many generations of Swaseys continued on in the area and the family is interwoven into much of the Swell’s history. Sid’s Leap (a narrow point in a canyon 85 feet above the San Rafael river), the Sid & Charley rock formation, and Eagle Canyon are just a few of the features of the swell named after or by members of the Swasey family.

 

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We looked for camp and found a suitable area of short trees up against a short cliff wall (to block some of the wind). The next day we planned to cross under interstate 70 into the northern half of the Swell and some of us were in need of fuel. We discussed whether we should head into Green River that night to gas-up, or the next morning (it was about 40 miles one-way from where we were planning to camp, but the closest real civilization).

 

Some decided if they had to go into town, why not just stay at a motel and skip what looked to be a cold windy night? Finally it ended up that MBucker, EugeneTheJeeper and I were going to camp, and the others were going to go into town to fuel-up and spend the night in a warm bed.

 

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Those of us that remained set up our camps and ate dinner. Then MBuckner and I headed into town for fuel. EugeneTheJeeper was fine as he had his trailer and had brought plenty of extra jerry cans.

 

By now the skies where much clearer, and it seemed the storm was to pass us by. Nonetheless it was still windy and quite a bit colder than we had become accustomed to the previous few days.

 

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We 2 hauled butt for a while on dirt roads to get to an interstate entrance (even though we could see the interstate from right near camp, but couldn’t get on there). Once at the highway, we hurriedly aired up and re-connected our sway bars. The trip to Green River was quick, but with a ton of side-wind blowing us around. Once fueled and back to the Swell, we parked under an overpass to stay somewhat out of the wind while we aired back down and disconnected.

 

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It was well into dark again when we got back to camp and EugeneTheJeeper had already gone to bed. Mike and I said goodnight and retired to our tents. It got into the lower 20’s that night, and I use my sleeping bag liner for the first time. I still slept well and stayed warm enough all night. The next morning we would discover that Pismo’s (EugeneTheJeeper’s faithful hound) water bowl had frozen solid!

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Trip Day 5 - Wednesday, November 2nd - Into the Northern Swell

 

I awoke to find quite a bit of ice covering the inside roof of the tent-cot on this morning. I shook it off the roof and then dumped it out the door.

 

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Before bed I had made a little rock wall near the front door of the tent-cot, and placed the Mr. Heater Big Buddy Heater against that (to reflect heat towards me). Unfortunately, the fan switch had broken, so most of the heat was just going up and away into the night air. Nonetheless I ran the heater for about 30 minutes as I was reading and it did help take some of the chill away.

 

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After breakfast, the guys that spent the night in Green River showed up and we got on our way pretty quickly since it was in the low 20’s still and no-one wanted to stand around long! We headed north and crossed under the freeway through a small tunnel.

 

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Just a little north of the interstate, we visited Locomotive Point to see several petroglyphs and a few pictographs. The Dutchman Arch was nearby as well.

 

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Continuing north we ran the appropriately named Devil’s Racetrack trail. This was the hardest trail so far, and required a fair bit of spotting. We even had to do some rock stacking at one ledge to get the stock Jeep Rubicon JK over it due to the low factory break-over angle. To everyone’s panic, I also got a wheel up in the air while approaching this obstacle. Though I had one of the most modified rigs on the trip, I simply chose a poor line and had to catch a quick reverse to keep from toppling over.

 

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The views from the narrow ridge portion of this trail were amazing.

 

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As the trail mellows towards its end, you drive below the Twin Priests rock formation, and also view the Slipper Arch from a distance.

 

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The end of the Devil’s Racetrack dumps you into Coal Wash, which happened to be flowing some very stinky water.

 

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We headed up the wash which took us southeast, passing right next to the Slipper Arch we had previously seen from a distance, and on to the beginning of Fix-it pass.

 

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After trying and failing on the first attempt to spot MBuckner up the boulder strewn shelf road at the head of Fix-it Pass (probably a 3 out of 5 rated trail), it was decided that we would likely never get the stock Rubicon’s through and so we turned back down the wash.

 

(I forgot to take pics of the start of Fix-it Pass).

 

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Not long after passing back by where we had originally entered the wash, the shadows began to get long and we started looking for a campsite. We soon found a decent area with an existing fire-ring just up out of the wash amongst the shrubs and against an embankment.

 

Everyone set up camp and I started a small fire while most others cooked dinner. That night I cooked hot-dogs over the fire (then smothered them with Easy Cheese ;)). EugeneTheJeeper came over and also cooked on the fire while I sat and ate. Once done cooking, we threw on more logs and soon everyone came over for a bit.

 

No one lasted very long that night as it seemed like it was even colder than the previous night.

 

I slept very little and instead kept shivering awake wondering why it seemed so much colder tonight. I got up once to check the fire-ring as I smelled smoke and wanted to make sure the fire was still out (turns out a breeze was just blowing dead ash over towards my tent-cot). I fired up the propane heater a couple of times in the night, but without a working fan to direct the heat towards me, it did little more than unfreeze my toes when I stuck them briefly out of the sleeping bag and next to it. I soon gave up on sleep and spent most of the night just hoping the sun would rise soon.

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Trip Day 6 - Thursday, November 3nd - The Last Day Together

 

Appologies for not completing this sooner. The holidays and other end-of-year business distracted me until here i sit with many of the trip's finer details having faded from memory! I did want to at least get the rest of the pics up and do my best to provide some context for them.

 

The next morning was a hurried packing experience as it was around 12* Farenhiet, much colder than anyone had anticipated seeing on this trip. Once we got moving and popped up out of the wash, we could see the power plant at Castle Dale off in the distance.

 

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We soon came to a river crossing with a steep muddy bank. Fortunately we were headed down the steep size, and the ground was fairly frozen.

 

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The vegetation in this area was already into full winter mode.

 

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Our next stop was the stunning Wedge Overlook. It's sometimes referred to as The Mini Grand Canyon.

 

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We stumbled on one of the smaller MK tunnels, but it was gated off. I don't know if you can still go into any of the larger ones or not, but I'd like to research it for future trips.

 

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We continued on the huge Buckhorn Wash pictograph panel. The panel features many pictographs and petroglyps of all sizes, including 6 foot tall "angel-winged" figures.

 

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This is a restored version of an old swinging bridge, originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1938. It was the only driveable bridge over the San Rafael River for decades.

 

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Opposite the bridge is a nice campground.

 

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Our final trail for the day was the stunning Black Dragon Wash. This was one of my favorite trails from the trip, mixing stunning scenery with just enough challenge to keep you on your toes!

 

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Near the end of the wash (from the back-way we came) are more pictographs, including a large area of hash-marks that some people think could be an ancient calendar.

 

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Once back at I-70, we all aired up except EugeneTheJeeper who was going to camp out another night. The rest of us headed into Green River for a hotel - with most planning to leave the next morning for home.

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