Michael And Nat's Western US travels

MichaelH

Observer
Hi! First time posting here. I thought I would share a bit from our ongoing trip around the Western part of the United States.

Some here may remember the 2013 Jeep Wrangler that Brian Grabow built for overlanding. He had it up for sale here after his his 10k mile Canada to Mexico trip. I ended up buying that Jeep in June.

I'm mostly retired (still work on a part-time on call status) and live with my girlfriend over in Thailand. Back in June we submitted paperwork for her to get a visa for one month. We were completely organized and Nat was prepared for the interview. To our surprise, they gave her a 10 year multi-entry Visa. That definitely changed plans and my mind went in to overdrive. I had always dreamed of touring the US in a sports car driving on the many great roads and that was my plan but as I got more in to it, I realized that having off-road capability would increase the adventure factor. I knew nothing about camping, overlanding, 4x4's and spent hours researching information on the internet. One evening a suggestion on one of my favorite car sites got me looking for vehicles built for overlanding and I landed on expeditionportal where I started going through the pages of overland vehicles for sale. I eventually found Brian's Jeep and it was EXACTLY what I wanted for a trip that had taken form. I talked it over with my girlfriend and contacted Brian and shortly afterwards the deal was done. My Dad flew up and picked up the Jeep in early July and we arrived in early August.

I have never done a proper road trip (I'm 51) and Nat (She is 36) has never been outside Thailand so I planned a trip that incorporated a buffet of different activities for a couple reasons. 1. We have a lot of different interests so wanted to see and do many different things. 2. Wasn't sure how we would really like being in the Jeep full time so we have broken up the "overland" part with some activities in different cities.

The first part of our trip took us from my folks home in NW Florida to Southern New Mexico and then up to Arizona visiting the typical National Parks. We spent 3 days at North Rim Grand Canyon in various camp spots, but the highlight was hanging out at Crazy Jug Point. Stunning views. We parked our chairs right on the edge and enjoyed dinner and watching the hawks glide around on the currents.

From there we made our way up to Colorado where I planned to spend most of September. On our way we camped at Gooseneck state park but not in the typical area. We went to spot of the Honaker Trailhead where we were absolutely secluded with incredible views. The hike down to and back up from the San Juan River was a blast. Luckily, it was cloudy and we had some light rain to cool us down on the hike back up. From there we stopped by and explored around Mesa Verde.

Time for the serious fun to start and time for the Jeep to do some work. I planned out most of the routes I would take during the first couple weeks in Colorado with the Alpine Loop being on the route. I found a road into Telluride that as it turns out was Black Bear Pass. After reading all of the warning, I was a bit worried, especially since I had no experience. I watched all of the youtube videos so was aware of the 3 trouble areas but I was determined to do it and Nat was up for the challenge as well.

So my plan was to do as many passes as possible. I started with Bolam Pass as my first ever pass. Very easy. I practiced putting the Jeep in areas where it would be leaned over so we could get used to that feeling and understand where the Jeeps danger point would be. Our next pass was Engineers Pass. I heard that this was a somewhat hard pass and Nat and I thought it was pretty easy. Still....good practice. We spent the night in Lake City then had a very full day that next day. We were up, had breakfast and were on the road at 7am and made our way to Cinnamon Pass, then cut over to California Pass, Hurricane Pass then Corkscrew Gulch. All fun. I think it was about 12:30pm or so by then so we made our way over Black Bear Pass. I was concerned because the weather called for rain around 2pm that day. By time we got up to the pass it was pretty cloudy, but I knew it didn't take all that long to get down past the dangerous parts so off we went.

The steps were up first and were a fun obstacle. We worked our way down to that really narrow, off-camber, exposed right hander before the switchback. THAT area will get your attention. At that point, I was glad I had watched all the videos and practiced in those other areas because although it got the adrenaline going and was definitely exciting, I never felt over my head. Once we got through that we made our way down to the "hard" switchback. Nothing hard about it although I had to back up twice. Nat is a fantastic co-pilot. She calm and really enjoys the roads. If I need to get close to the edge, she gets me there with confidence and calm.

The next day we headed over Imogene Pass on the way to a couple days in Ouray. What a fun road and to date has been my favorite pass. Great views of Black Bear on the initial climb. Ouray is a cool little town and I'd like to visit again if I get back that way. I don't usually make restaurant recommendations, but I thought Cavallo's is fantastic and is sort of a hidden gem..hiding in plain site. New Orleans style fare. Give it a try if you are there.

We also squeezed in a balloon festival in Colorado Springs, Goodguys car show in Fort Collins, and Broncos opening game (Painful to watch Peyton). Fast forwarding a bit to current status. We recently did Pearl Pass and today did Mosquito Pass (Our highest to date). We are going to spend the next 10 days in Colorado enjoying more cool roads and the trees changing color. After that we'll head over to Moab, Arches, and to Bonneville to see a day of the Speed Nationals then over to California. Our time in Colorado will be spent more in the area around Aspen, North and East so if anyone has any suggestions that would like to throw our way, I'd appreciate it.

The Jeep has been fantastic. Brian really did a great job in getting choosing the parts and designing the layout. Every bit of space has been used perfectly. The guys at Adventure Trailers did a great job on the install as the Jeep has been completely reliable and up to the task. The National Luna fridge and freezer has really come in handy. I thought it would be too small but it just keeps swallowing stuff. Nat cooked up a bunch of Thai food before leaving and we filled the freezer portion with that. We make strategic stops at Asian markets where she can pick up fresh items so she has been eating great. She eats spicy which I can't do anymore after a health issue plus her food doesn't pack enough calories for me so I eat other higher calorie foods.

Early on when it was hot/warm, we used the on-board shower system quite a bit. Now that it is cold up in the mountains, showering outside isn't too fun. We either use wipes or like tonight, stay at a campground with showers. Storage has not been a problem, in fact, we are packed for 3 different activities and warm and cold weather. My plan was to include a ski trip so we have a duffel bag with ski clothes/boots. I also will go work in Hawaii for a few weeks so we have another duffel bag with Hawaii clothes. We also had to pack for warm and cold weather on the road. Also stuffed in the Jeep is 4 backpacks, a portable toilet, a storage box that holds garbage, dirty clothes, the occasional bottle of Jack, etc. Another box holds Nat's Thai cooking paraphenalia. We have another box that holds dish/cooking items and then another for dried food. Dried camping food...wow. Some has been half-decent. Other has been probably the worst stuff I have ever put in my mouth.

The roof top tent is fantastic. It has held up in all kinds of weather. Driving rain, 40mph+ winds, etc. I bought a nice down comforter and we have a microfiber cover. Nights have been down to as low as 30 degrees and we have been warm. It takes about 30 minutes to get things warmed up, but I'm usually sticking my leg out from under the cover at some point to cool down. I'm 6'3" and Nat is just a bit under 5' and neither one of us have problems getting in or out. I know there are pro's and cons to both, but I wouldn't change a thing.

Pictures..If you have read this far and are going "Post means nothing without pictures", the best I can do right now is to provide this link of basically Jeep only pictures plus a video of Black Bear Pass (About 16min and 850+ MB). Once I get to a place with reliable Internet, I can do better. http://1drv.ms/1OVTy54

So far we have met some great people of all ages out on the trail/road.

You guys that are doing some real adventures are an inspiration. Our relatively "safe" trip has been a real blast up to this point with some more fun to be had. Comments or suggestions on cool out of the way places to visit are more than welcome.

Cheers and Sawasdee from Michael and Nat.
 

Hughbetcha

New member
That sounds like a great way to semi-retire, traveling the west and working part time in Hawaii. Living the dream. can't wait to see pix. the link didn't work for me, may just be my phone though.Thanks for posting.
 

Texas Aggie

Observer
Sounds like a great trip. Glad to hear Grabow's Jeep is still being put to good use. I remember that for sale thread generating much discussion about the asking price. Whatever the final price was, it looks like you've got your money's worth.
 

Recommended books for Overlanding

MichaelH

Observer
Ya, the Jeep has been working out great and has let us go to some pretty cool places in one self-contained vehicle. Organization is important as well has having compatibility with travel partners. So far so good :)
 

MichaelH

Observer
@Hughbetcha, It has really been pretty out West. Colorado has been great with one more week to go. We are in Glenwood Springs right now after spending a couple days out at Maroon Bells (I booked a campsite at Silver Queen so we didn't have to take a bus). We'll probably just base out of a campground here and hit some off-road trails, hiking trails, local events.

Here are some pictures from Grand Canyon. Specifically, a few from Crazy Jug Point. Our vantage point for dinner was pretty cool and the picture of the Jeep was right behind where we were sitting. Luckily, some folks that got there first did not choose that site (only 3 from my count). There was a pretty cool rock outcropping nearby that we climbed up on to watch the sunset with that very cool storm/rainbow happening about 30 minutes or so prior.

The images below don't look so great but are much better if you get the larger version

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MichaelH

Observer
Here are some photos from Gooseneck. Not super high expectations based on reviews of the area, but we found it to be really beautiful.
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Right before starting the hike down
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Nat's pretty happy. Pretty place at the bottom. Unfortunately, storm clouds were moving in so we couldn't linger very long. In fact about 1/2 way back up we had to get a move on as it started raining and some distant thunder could be heard.
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Made it back up :)


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MichaelH

Observer
Colorado! A few mountain pass pictures and Black Bear Pass video.

We have been in Colorado now for about 3 weeks and have had a blast. The scenery has been beautiful, have met some great folks and have gotten in quite a bit of back country driving.

We started our first week by driving many of the mountain passes around the Alpine Loop area. Thought I'd post a few pics and a link to my video.

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Wildflowers were in bloom on Engineer Pass.
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Quick pic before starting down Black Bear Pass

This was just a huge amount of fun. Definitely scary in places, but good scary :)

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Going up Imogene Pass the following day. Cool look at Black Bear on the other side.

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On the way up Mosquito Pass, saw these weird plants. Anyone know what they are? Didn't see them on the other passes.

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Grabow

Adventurer
Awesome! Glad to see the Jeep still adventuring as intended! There is rarely a day that passes where we don't mention how much we miss that vehicle. Looks like you guys are having an amazing trip!
 

MichaelH

Observer
Thanks Brian. It's really worked out well. I've been trying to think how we would improve on it and can't really. We have had a lot of fun meeting people with quite a few intrigued by the concept. We have used just about everything on the Jeep other than the self-extraction equipment. Guess I'm not trying hard enough although I got close yesterday :) We did Lead King Loop in Marble yesterday. Really beautiful, but... there is a blind spot in the front left that is made even bigger with the frame that extends over the front windshield. The road to Lead King veers off to the left as the road bends to the right. Unfortunately, As the road bends to the right, it continues UP to the right. The correct road is blocked by an overgrown shrub so the road appears just as that bar crosses blocking my view, by the time it would have appeared in my peripheral vision, I had already begun to focus on the road ahead. The *wrong* road was fun, heavily rutted and an off-camber section that, especially coming back was fairly precarious. We got up to the top where the road split off so I got out my All-trails map and discovered we were right in the middle of the Lead King Basin, Crystal river loop. Oops. I couldn't figure out how I messed up so bad until we got back to the bottom and discovered the blind spot. That *wrong* road isn't show on any of the maps I have, so that contributed to my tunnel vision. LOL.
 

MichaelH

Observer
Firstly, amazing looking trip and excellent photos! Secondly, any word on how your liking that James Baroud RTT?
Thanks TrailRidden. So far, we really like tent. It's been down to 30 degrees on several nights and we are toasty warm with sheets and a comforter. We sleep with a bare minimum of clothes. The first few minutes are obviously a little chilly, but after about 30 minutes, the interior space is pretty warm. The solar powered fan does a great job of keeping condensation down. I know because I forgot to turn it on during a couple evening and by the next morning there was some slight moisture on the interior. Getting in and out is not a problem at all. I'm tall and Nat is short. The thing is almost too convenient. We took off yesterday morning and I thought something didn't feel right. About a mile down the road, I realized what it was...lol. We pulled in and got it closed and secured in about 2 minutes. It has stood up to some big storms in New Mexico with really strong winds and rain when we were in New Mexico. *For us* it has been perfect but they are not for everyone.
 

MichaelH

Observer
Sunrise/Sunsets

Living in Hawaii for many years, I had seen some pretty impressive sunsets. But man...I don't know what was going on in the Colorado Springs and Royal Gorge area when we were there but they were magnificent. Our time at Lost Lake Campground was great as well. The days and evenings were crystal clear. I got my butt up early one morning and got setup for a GoPro time-lapse and a photo of the lake that was perfectly still and reflected the mountain. Maroon Bells weather just wasn't cooperating and it was pretty crowded.

I have tried quite a few times to grab a cool timelapse of the Milky Way on totally moonless nights. The GoPro doesn't have the sensor. I bought a time lapse app for my Sony RX100 M3. The app contains a starry night setup but stupidly it only holds the shutter open for only 8 seconds so it's pretty useless.

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On the way to Colorado Springs from Royal Gorge area to see the balloon festival. Around 6am I think. The sky was on fire!

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At the balloon festival during the evening for the Night Glow event. Everyone was faced towards the balloons watching them inflate...except me. I was watching the light show in the sky!

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Over at Royal View campground. Great sunset one evening. Colors were deeper in person.

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Sunrise shot at Lost Lake Campground. Beautiful little place.

timelapse of sunrise at Lost Lake Campground.
 

MichaelH

Observer
Maroon Bells

There are tons of beautiful places in Colorado during this time of the season. Lots of hidden lakes, meadows and groves of Aspen trees changing colors. Maroon Bells, even though it has quite a bit of tourist traffic (including us) is worth a visit *if* you can get in to one of the 3 campgrounds. During the fall colors, there is no car traffic allowed between 8 and 5 (I think I got those hours correct), except for those folks staying in the campgrounds. I made my reservation back in June and even then, only 1 day was available. We showed up a day early and there was a cancellation so we hung out for 2 days. I never got up early enough to take the "typical" pictures associated with MB. The scenery is stunning although I'm guessing we missed the optimal colors by a few days. We saw quite a bit of wildlife and there are a few accessible waterfalls in the area.

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Crater Lake

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Recommended books for Overlanding

MichaelH

Observer
Lead King Basin - Crystal River Loop

This is a beautiful drive South of Carbondale. Made more fun by the wrong turn I made because of a blind spot explained above.

At the end of your day, stop by Slow Groovin BBQ in Marble. What the heck is a great place like this doing there? Hands down, we have had our best meals on this trip in small towns.

I didn't do any research on this drive. It was just recommended to me by someone in Glenwood Springs. On Crystal River, you will find an historic and very photogenic Crystal Mill.

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Looking back at one of face we came down. The road switches back an forth and takes you amongst the aspens.

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Crystal Mill. Lots of photographers in the areas. I used my RX100M3 and a 6 stop ND filter to slow the shutter down a bit.

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NoDinero

Adventurer
Hey Michael and Nat; If you are still close to Dillon, Colorado, give us a shout. Lots of trails and a warm house. Send me a PM.
 
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