Jeep Adventure Part V: Getting Home

Read about the first part of our adventure here

I twisted my wrist.  The key rotated about its long axis, taking the ignition tumbler with it.  Click.  The electrical systems energized.  Kept turning as the spring resisted.  The instant the circuit closed, electrons jumped between the copper atom shells racing along the cables and through the coils of the starter solenoid.  Teeth grabbed and began to turn.  The starter worked like an outmatched sumo wrestler windmilling his larger opponent over using speed and leverage.  The engine turned while the smaller motor was spinning.  This much I had expected.  I held my breath without realizing it as the cylinders played a suspenseful drumroll.  And the award for most rugged engine design goes to…  Sparks combusted the fuel and air forcing the pistons down.  Inline 6 cylinder!  It started!

Now it was merely a matter of driving without a clutch, avoiding overheating again and finding our way out of the desert.  Transfer case in 4 low.  Now to get into first gear.  I couldn’t resist the urge to depress the clutch pedal as I shifted.  I just jammed it in, as I’ve been known to do, and we were rolling.  What luck!  Things were looking up and that’s a good thing considering what we did to address the second issue in our three part problem.  I reached down to the climate console and turned the heat on high to help manage heat under the hood.

Ambling along at a few miles per hour with the heater on was still preferable to hiking out.  We made it back to the way up onto the ridge and crawled up.  We rode the ridge back to a point that it turned towards where we wanted to go or continued back the direction of where we had camped.  Back towards the camp was known but had a formidable incline immediately after the fork.  Not wanting to have to stop and start again we needed to decide quickly.  I took a chance on the trail which seemed to go where we wanted.  Eventually we found a way back down into another wash.  I took it somewhat abruptly and the grade was a bit steeper than the passengers were expecting.  Someone questioned “We’re taking this way?”  Yes, we did.  I killed the motor to take it slower and then rolling started it in gear towards the bottom of the slope.

It seemed like we were where we wanted to be but there was still some uncertainty as we rolled along.  Our hopes rose as we noticed evidence of more traffic through the sand and eventually the trucks and trailers that had hauled off highway vehicles just far enough into the wash the park and unload.  The wash opened up and we saw the exit and final cattle guard.  We had made it out of the wash and were just a few short feet from the pavement.

I thought it was a good time to switch back to two-wheel drive.  It was actually a little late for that.  I wanted to continue rolling but couldn’t make the switch soon enough before getting onto the blacktop.  We rolled into the parking lot in neutral and stopped without being able to get it back into gear.  We pushed the Cherokee a few feet to avoid obstructing traffic.  Some older guys in a newer Wrangler drove by and wished us luck.  I’m sure we looked sufficiently sorry.

After considering pushing the Jeep to get it rolling and then popping it into gear I realized I could put it in gear before starting it.  We climbed in and I gave it a shot.  Engine off.  Shift into first gear.  Start the engine.  Hey, it worked!  Lets see if I can slap into the next gear.  Success.  We motored up out of the recreation area and onto the highway to make our way home.

Every light was a challenge.  We tried hard to avoid stopping knowing that the battery would only have so many starts in it.  Every attempt was made to time our arrival at the light with it being green.  Our timing was often so close to when the light would turn green that our ability to avoid stopping was dependent on the vehicle in front of us charging the intersection soon after getting the go ahead.  Some cars didn’t really get with the program and we almost did some accidental bodywork.  Think a PT Cruiser looks lame?  Wait till you see it after my Jeep has run over it.  We came within inches of one multiple times.  They might have been trying to teach us a lesson but they would have had themselves a learning experience.

We would’ve kissed the ground by the time we got back to my house had it not been so hot and had we not been so tired.  We had to stop at every light in the last few miles.  Every time the engine cranked strong in spite of being in gear I was glad I had spent more than $200 on the Optima YellowTop gel cell battery under the hood.

After cooling off briefly in my house we set about returning the adventurers to their abodes.  Rachel was kind enough to drive Cody and Landon home with me in her car.  Those classy gents thanked me for organizing our little outing as they were each delivered.  Must have suffered some heat stroke.  In spite of it all, no one was hurt and I think we had fun.  Thanks for going and for being such great sports about it, Cody, Landon & Rachel.

Jeep Adventure Part IV: Stuff Breaks

Read about the first part of our adventure here

The Sun mocked our concept of mid-morning by pummelling us with an unrelenting vigor.  Though it was not yet 10 a.m. we were “enjoying” heat in excess of 100 degrees fahrenheit.  Tinted windows and climate control helped significantly.  The engine had it’s work cut out for it to fight the heat, convey it’s occupants including their sundry possessions, and drive four large tires all through sand.  We saw the various trails leading up onto the ridge but determined to continue through the wash as it would be a smoother ride.

Smoke seeped between the left fender and that side of the hood as we all leapt from the vehicle to survey the damage.

The wash terminated instead of connecting back to the main wash we had travelled through the night before.  Just as we made to turn around, the engine suddenly sputtered and threatened to stall.  Instinctively, I depressed the clutch pedal to lighten the load on the motor.  The pedal swung through it’s full travel without resisting my foot in the slightest just as the motor did it’s best impression of a stone skipping in reverse.  It punctuated each pat with greater intervals until it stopped altogether.  Smoke seeped between the left fender and that side of the hood as we all leapt from the vehicle to survey the damage.

Our trip had just become an adventure.  We were up a (dry) creek without a paddle.  We also had no ability to disengage the clutch and one overheated engine.  We did have some water, positive attitudes and plenty of snacks.  We set the chairs up in a small square under the shade of the hatch and waited for the engine to cool.  If we could get it to run, there was a chance we could pop it into gear with the clutch still engaged and limp home.  We kicked around a few other plans and briefly discussed what would be required to collect help if we couldn’t get rolling again.  After burning my hand and a few more minutes of trying not to move at all, we decided we could try to fire it up again.

We wanted to be sure we were ready to roll away once we got started. Didn’t want to be going in reverse at first so we pushed the Jeep backwards.  Cody, Landon and I pushed while Rachel steered.  I left the parking brake on and had given Rachel no instruction to release it.  That made the going tough at first.  We made better progress upon correcting that mistake until we rolled one of the tires against a rock.  That seemed to be far enough though so we all climbed back inside and crossed our fingers as I prepared to turn the key in the ignition.

Jeep Adventure Part III: Accidental Vista

Read about the first part of our adventure here

We woke up Saturday morning to this:

Sweeping around us to the north, east and southeast was a ravine full of a variety of healthy, happy desert plants and a small dry stream in the bottom.  A little further off were layers of rough rolling hills.  A choppy sea of rock exposing a glimpse here and there of trails.  It was both an invitation and a challenge.  Further to the east, tearing a jagged edge in the orchestral swell of light that threatened a sunrise was the outline of Four Peaks.  The thousand foot stone pillar vestige of a mesa called Weaver’s Needle stood stoically between us and the tropics.

Rachel and I woke first and went to explore nearby ruins.  We discovered holding pens, a large metal water tank decorated with various graffiti and a loading ramp whose wood walls could no longer contain the wedge of earth that would allow cattle to be driven in and out of the backs of trucks.  We took a few minutes to enjoy the coolest air we’d experience on our trip and the privacy afforded by the early hour and location.

Upon returning to camp, Rachel and I set about documenting the view.  Phone cameras only perform so well in low light but the best camera is the one you have with you.

Here's me and the Jeep
Here’s me and the Jeep

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Cody and Landon awakened to join us in appreciating how fortunate we were in selecting our spot the night before.  We had breakfast, dressed for the day and packed up our camp as the sun rose.


Weaver's Needle to our south
Weaver’s Needle to our south

We trotted down a short trail with our eyes keen for lizards and other small creatures enjoying the morning sun.  The trail terminated sooner than we’d expected so we decided it was as good a time as any to climb in the Jeep and head to the lake.  It was already sufficiently warm to appreciate the air conditioning.  We guessed the way back as it looked very different in the light and in reverse but managed to make it onto a tall ridge heading towards the lake that suggested a decent photo opportunity.

rachtheron thisjeepworkedonce hiwearestaringatthesun

We made it to a secluded cove on the lake after dropping down into a wash from off the ridge.  Landon gave us frisbee catching pointers while we tossed the disc around and enjoyed the sun.  The advice didn’t prevent the occasional planting of the frisbee in the thorniest bush on the beach though.  Stones were soon being skipped across the surface of the water.  Contests of furthest skips, most skips, largest stone skipped and shortest skips were invented.  The adjudication was lax and score keeping non-existent.  Having not more than wet our palms in the green water at that location we decided to head to a spot we could jump off cliffs into the lake.  We loaded up and made our way back through the wash.

Jeep Adventure Part II: Coughing & Coyotes

Read about the first part of our adventure here

We ate well, lounged around just talking for a bit and then proceeded to bed with no intention of sleeping any time soon.  Despite our efforts to set up far from the other vehicle at the campsite and keep quiet enough to not disturb them we seemed to have bothered our fellow camper.  Despite her efforts to suggest we should quiet down or move by developing a severe case of indirect communication coughs she ultimately fired up her ride and moved on down the road.  I felt a tinge of guilt but we all laughed it off by making random coughing fits the second running gag of our expedition.  We weren’t playing music or even being particularly loud so I’ll chalk it up to a case of “it’s a risk you run” camping just off a road.  I hope she found somewhere more quiet to get some rest.

The food was good, the air was cooling with a gentle breeze and the company was excellent.  We rolled our sleeping bags out over a tarp on the ground and gazed towards the center of our galaxy.  We had few flashlights, no lantern and only one candle with a windguard for illumination.  We nearly brought games but didn’t miss them under the canopy of stars.  Though the sun had set hours ago, the western horizon glowed faintly from the city lights in the distance.  We enjoyed a magnificent light show of thousands of twinkling stars and galaxies, perhaps a few planets, dozens of artificial satellites, airplanes, and even a cameo by humanity’s only foothold in space, the International Space Station.  We also observed some lights traveling through the hills in the distance and the yips and cries of Coyotes from afar before we drifted off to sleep, expecting to be awakened by the rising of the sun.

We woke with a start to a cacophonous proclamation by a pack of coyotes to the south of us and VERY close.  With no moon, our diurnal primate eyes couldn’t make any of them out, adding to our excitement.  As if our fears were their script, another group just to the north answered the first group’s calls.  We knew they weren’t much of a real threat but I grabbed a light and shined it towards the pack.  I was hoping to see exactly how close they were but they disappeared into the night as I stood up and they must have found something more interesting elsewhere; they didn’t return.

Jeep Adventure Part I: Making Camp

We raced down the wash, trying to maintain enough speed to keep us from sinking into the sand.  The headlights on the old Jeep could only fend the night off as far as the next wall of brush.  Every turn concealed obstacles: ruts to straddle, banks to ride and rocks to dodge.  The sand was forgiving but rocks the tires met refused to give. Each one was jarring, swinging the occupants from side to side and bouncing the various camping supplies we had entrusted to the storage area in the back of my ’92 Cherokee.  We continued to roll deeper into the canyon, away from the lake.

Eventually we crawled out of the wash and up onto a ridge. When it leveled off and we found a spot in the gravel trail sufficiently void of large rocks, I decided to do what I should’ve done before we left the Butcher Jones recreation area and entered the wash.  I climbed between the oversize tires and under the lifted unibody with a box of tools in one hand and the front driveshaft in the other.  Eight bolts would reconnect the front axle to the transfer case and give us the option of four-wheel drive.  This recess from the tumultuous bucking of the rough trail also afforded us a bathroom break.  While I finished the installation we discussed politics and other things which our discourse or opinions could not possibly affect.  It’s fun to talk about important things that largely don’t matter.  It’s also refreshing to be able to try forming and expressing ideas with people that will challenge you on them but won’t think less of you because of them.  After the driveshaft had been bolted on, I emerged from beneath the vehicle and evacuated the gravel from my garments.  I took a moment to enjoy contrast of the lights from the valley of the sun to the west and the light from billions of suns overhead.  We were back on the trail again.

After crossing a few cattle guards, we happened upon a relatively well kept gravel road. On a whim, we took a right.  We followed this road less than a mile and discovered what our headlights suggested to be a large camping area. We set up camp across the road and as far away as we could from the vehicle that was already there.  We had made it.  It was uneventful other than a brief stint of violent “death wobble”steering oscillations on the freeway after collecting everyone.  We unfolded our camp chairs, table, tarp, and bedding and enjoyed the dinner Rachel had selected. It was the end of our day and the beginning of a great adventure.