by Jake Hanner, Alabama Crew
Day 4- On day four we rose with the sun as usual and spent a little time exploring the dunes surrounding Lake Powell. We headed back south into Page and made a quick stop for food, fuel, and groceries. After some research, we thought we would check out nearby Antelope Canyon since we were so close. A quick drive down the road revealed a parking lot full of tourists, so we decided against it and headed north back in Utah. We followed Highway 89 north into the southern tip of Grand Staircase-Escalante, eventually turning west towards Kanab.
The red rock canyons and rock formations gave way to rolling hills and pasturelands. We made a quick pit stop in Kanab, which is a town I would love to return to someday, and turned north towards Zion National Park. The landscape quickly changed again as we ascended into the mountains. The large rock formations of Zion appeared in the distance as we crossed onto Highway 9. I had high hopes for Zion and found the entrance to the park to be remarkable. The tunnel descending into the canyon is an engineering marvel and worth the drive itself. The park was very crowded and the idea of leaving the truck unattended while we rode the bus into the canyon didn’t sound like a good plan, so we continued south into the town of Springdale.
We stopped on the side of the highway to make a quick lunch and watched several turkey strut along the nearby creek. The scenery did not disappoint and it was probably the best roadside lunch I’ve had in years, solely due to the view. After some quick planning, we decided to make camp by 3:00pm to avoid the fiasco of setting up in the dark. We decided to head west toward St. George, then north up I15 to the Dixie National Forest for the night. Shortly after merging onto the interstate, I began checking the forecasts for the area, to my surprise, the nightly low for Dixie National Forest was a chilling 19 degrees. Being southerners, and very well acclimated to heat and humidity, we decided to search for warmer climates. After reading the elevations and forecasts ahead, we had two options, backtrack into St. George or turn east in Cedar City towards Canyonlands. We decided to continue north to I70 East since it would put us closer to our destination of Moab. We drove through the snowcapped mountains of western Utah and across the vast expanse of the central Utah backcountry. This was by far the most beautiful interstate drive I have ever been on. From the vast mountain ranges, into the red rock canyons and rock formations, we drove with the sun to our back for over 230 miles. As we approached Crescent Junction, we had given up all hope of making camp before nightfall and decided to continue into Moab. We turned south just as the sun set and drove into the darkness toward the offroad capital of the world. Our initial intention after arriving in Moab was to find a hotel for the night to avoid finding a camp spot in the dark. After searching the web for over a half hour we discovered that all the hotels were either booked or were well over $300 per night. After this, I scoured online forums and found a BLM campground less than 5 miles from our location on Kane Creek Road. With no other viable options, we drove to our camp for the night.
The campground was very primitive with only a few other campers scattered through the area. Not knowing where we were, and considering it was nearing 10:00pm we chose one of the first spots and made partial camp. We decided since it was so late that we would both just sleep in the truck, myself in the driver’s seat and my dad in the passenger. This actually worked out well, the leather seats slept very well, until about 1:00 am. I woke with a very upset stomach. Needless to say, a dark campground in the middle of nowhere is less than ideal for a bad stomach. So, I spent the next 3 hours trekking to the only vault toilet within the campground. Saying it was a long night for me would be an understatement, my dad, however, slept like a baby, snoring and all.
Day Five- A few short hours later, well for my dad at least, we woke to find ourselves camped on the banks of the Colorado River. The area was beautiful and a nice surprise after a long night. We packed up, took in our new scenery and headed into town for sustenance. After some food and fuel, we decided to head south for the morning and check out Monument Valley and The Valley of the Gods.
Monument Valley had always been on my bucket list and since hardcore wheeling wasn’t exactly practical in the 4runner, it sounded like a solid plan. The drive south was beautiful and it was amazing to see the landscape change again from high mountains to red rock desert. We continued south and made a quick stop to take a few photos at the iconic “Forrest Gump” road. The spot was obvious to both of us as we crested a hill before the long straight road from one of my favorite films of all time. We jumped out and took a few pictures, along with several other fans of fine cinema, and then continued through Monument Valley. Monument Valley itself was pretty much exactly like I imagined it, and did not disappoint. We turned around just north of the Arizona state line and returned north for the Valley of the Gods. We only trekked a few miles into the valley, as we were determined to relax at camp the following afternoon. Even the small portion we saw was still amazing and I hope to return someday.
We returned to Moab around 2:00pm, after a quick stop at a local diner for some hot food, we headed south for Canyonlands. At a quick stop to determine our possible campsites I sent a text to Todd Taylor, the founder of trailsoffroad.com for some camping suggestions. He promptly sent a few and we decided on Brides Arch located on the Gemini Bridges trail. Even though the originally planned meetup didn’t come to fruition, it was great to have such knowledgeable people like Todd to call on for advice.
Brides Arch was only a few miles from the highway and the trail leading to it was easy but gave us a small taste of slick rock. The first portion was a steep and rocky ledge road that ascended the ridge. I thought it was awesome, I can’t, however, say the same for my Dad. He was nervous the entire way up, especially when we met two Jeeps in one of the switchbacks. The trail descended into the canyon below and quickly turned to sand. We found an awesome campsite and were the only ones in the canyon that afternoon. We spent the afternoon relaxing at camp, enjoying the scenery and each other’s company, it was the first time we felt we were able to slow down and relax since leaving home. We cooked dinner and began preparing for bed, shortly after, the first snafu of the trip occurred. As I did every night, I leaned in to crank the truck for a few minutes to let the battery charge. When I did so, I noticed the 4 low light flashing on the dash—this was a problem. My 4Runner is full-time 4wd with a high and low transfer case. I had driven into the canyon in high range, so 4-low shouldn’t be actuated. After a few minutes of troubleshooting, I was convinced that the actuator was stuck in low, which would be a major issue. With no options that night we went to bed and decided to deal with it in the morning.
Day Six- We woke before the sun on day six to a very unsettling noise on the awning and tent above; rain. I got out the truck about the same time as my dad and we had a quick conversation about the weather. We had no cell service, so no way to view the current radar. Considering our location in the canyon and the slick rock road we used to access our camp, near panic ensued. We quickly packed up the awning, tent, annex and all gear while the rain continued to intensify. We turned out of the canyon and up the ridgeline just before daybreak in what was becoming a downpour. As we descended the mountain and rejoined the gravel road, I took a few minutes to experiment with the 4wd system. To my relief, the transfer case was in 4-high. The problem was the selector on the dash was in 4-low and would alarm anytime I selected high range. After a few minutes of troubleshooting, we decided to head back to town to find a code scanner.
We drove slowly into town to prevent any damage if the actuator decided to engage. We found an auto parts store and pulled the codes from the check engine light. The only code available was a neutral safety switch which is linked to the actuator itself. I knew the safety switch was working because the truck wouldn’t crank or shift into drive if it had failed. After a few hours in a gas station parking lot researching the issue and cleaning the actuator, I decided to pull the fuse from the 4wd controller to prevent it from shifting to low range on the 2500 miles remaining. The lack of 4-low and the bad weather led us to the decision to head north a day early.
We decided to continue to one of my favorite areas in the country, Salt Lake City. While I was disappointed that we would miss a day of Moab wheeling I was excited for the day ahead. We headed north up Highway 191 passing through Green River and Price before descending out of the mountains onto I15 North near Spanish Fork. We continued up I15 into Salt Lake with a destination of Antelope Island State Park. Around 2:00pm we stopped for lunch and made a quick detour for some more iconic cinema history, the original baseball field from the movie Sandlot. While there isn’t much left of the original diamond, it was still cool to see a part of the film that was so influential on me, Dad and brother.
We rejoined I15 and headed north before turning west onto the causeway for Antelope Island. We crossed what remains of the Great Salt Lake and found our beautiful camp spot on the north side of the island overlooking the lake. After we found our spot, we spent a few hours exploring the island, photographing buffalo and reading the interesting history of the island’s pioneer settlers.
We also took care of another important task, a hot shower. This was day four with no proper shower and it was beginning to show on my Dad. He was fighting a cold, which paired with poor hygiene had him feeling less than ideal. Needless to say, the coin-operated showers were a godsend and left us both refreshed and rejuvenated. We headed back to camp and set up on the beautiful hillside. We spent the next few hours cooking, talking and enjoying the amazing sunset over the lake that seemed to last forever. Moments like that are truly irreplaceable in life and I couldn’t be happier to sit and take it all in with my Dad. It was just what we needed after the stressful morning, and will be a hard afternoon to forget.