September 28, 2017.
During the night, the rain stopped, and by morning, though the ground was still wet, the sun was doing it's best to paint the landscape a brilliant orange. In combination with some straggling dark clouds, it made for cool light - perfect for adventure.
Our camp site really was amazing - as was my view out my tent door. I'd won the tent-positioning jackpot!
With motivation like that, I was out of the tent in a hurry. It's not often that you can climb up, directly above your rigs to get a view from above, which is what we had here.
And the views away from our site were nothing to scoff at either - every direction was nature on display. Snow-covered La Sal Mountains in the distance, epic red cliffs bathed in morning sun, rock piles that looked perfectly stacked for a photo, and even a pool on the ridge top, full of water and its own little ecosystem.
It turned out that in just the right spots, there was cell reception here too - so as I soaked up the sun and views, I also did a bit of surfin' on the intertubes. Email checked and campsite pic sent to a few folks wondering how the trip (in Montana/Wyoming) was going, and it was time to head back down for breakfast and tent-stowage.
And then, as we were packing camp, we heard a thump-thump-thump as a helicopter came over the far ridge and started circling. Search-and-rescue we thought, given its behavior and red color. We wondered what kind of trouble someone had gotten into, and hoped it wasn't too bad.
But then, this. As the helicopter got closer we realized it wasn't search-and-rescue at all. In fact, as we snapped pictures as quickly as possible, we noticed that yep - they were doing the same.
As it turned out, WE. WERE. THE. ENTERTAINMENT.
Some parting shots and we were back at it - we had 70 miles of dirt to finish the Kokopelli, and then find our camp site for the night. A tall order if there ever was one.
As we put the camp site in the rear-view mirror (well, side mirrors for us - our rears are useless with the tents back there), the trail unfolded before us. We hugged the canyon walls most of the morning - which especially with the morning sun, meant that we made slow progress as we were out of the trucks every few minutes for photos.
We also passed over some of the most technical terrain we'd seen on the Kokopelli so far; nothing overly difficult - especially since we were going down, but on stock tires and no lift I had to be a bit careful with my line choice. This section of the trail would be harder for me coming back up - which we'd do, unbeknownst to us at the time!
In the midst of this terrain, we continued to find places where our trucks stopped - almost involuntarily - to pause and take in the views.
And then, abruptly, we were spit out onto the highway near Dewey Bridge, built in 1916 and the only crossing of the Colorado in the area until 1986. A human-caused wildfire burned the bridge in 2008, and it was ultimately never repaired (though an alternate was built), so it now serves as a reminder of the unintended outcomes of fire.
The Dewey Bridge would end up becoming a central hub for the rest of our time - as the trails we'd chosen seemd to all pass by at one point or another. This time, the Kokopelli continued on the highway for a few miles before turning off on Onion Creek Road - an experience that Mike and Monte assured me was going to be awesome.
Of course it was, just like everything else.
So down the highway we headed, and even the highway was beautiful. Still aired down, we took this slow, which didn't bother us one bit.
And then we hit Onion Creek road, with Fisher Towers and "The Titan" seemingly guarding the canyon. It was here Mike said, "get ready for some river crossings, I think there are twenty-six." I thought he was kidding; he wasn't.
It was also here that, for the first time, Mike wasn't the last vehicle - I was. He didn't say anything when he pulled out in front, but to this point in the trip he'd always made sure that he was the last truck - there to make sure everything was OK, and that no one got in any trouble they couldn't handle.
I knew that this was a vote of confidence from him and I appreciated it. Thanks Mike.
As we made our way up Onion Creek Road there were definitely a ton of water crossings, but there was plenty more to see as well. Deep red sandstone cliffs were all around us. "I'd love to bottle this and take some home," I mentioned on the CB. "Can't do that, so you'll have to come back," was Mike's response. "OK, sold" I said.
And then, several miles up the road we came to an extramazing spot - a spot where it appeared that someone had painted the mountains in different colors - as if the red alone wasn't striking enough!
Having seen this before, Mike and Monte were already through, which gave me ample time to soak it in!
And then, we were out of the canyon and into a valley below the Mt Peale - and as if on cue, it started to rain. And for the first time on the trip as we climbed the mountain - thunder and lightning.
Because where else do you want to be, other than the top of a mountain, when there's lightning?
As we crested the top, we'd gotten ahead of the rain, and so decided it was a good time to eat lunch - a quick one since we knew the rain was coming. Chips, salsa and cookies were shared around as we all also ate our sandwiches - PB&J, egg salad, and tuna, depending on who the chef was.
And then, we were back in the trucks and heading down the mountain. Or really, across it - to the Bull Canyon dinosaur tracks.
When we arrived, the rain was really starting to come down, so we made a quick trip of seeing the tracks and then airing back up. It was the first air-up for Igor, and without the CO2 canister that's used on Frank, Monte's little compressor was a bit slow - so Mike and I aired up our tires, and then each took one of Igor's.
It worked great.
Then it was down the hill and back into town, where Mike wanted to get a replacement AC idler pulley, because his had been making noise all trip.
As we headed into town, we were stopped by some road construction on the highway, and I noticed a strange sound coming from my engine compartment as well - a whining, similar to that gearing sound that you hear in reverse. I wasn’t sure what it was, but Mike and Monte thought that perhaps I too needed the same AC idler pulley as Mike.
Could it be? Two first gens, on the same trip, and at the same time, both need the same part? It was 5:30pm and we headed to Napa.
"Sorry, don't have any of those in stock, but could get them by 8:00am tomorrow morning," the guy said. Unsure that would work, Mike asked if there was anywhere else in town that might have one - err two - of the pulleys.
"You could try O'Rielly's or AutoZone down the street, they're next to each other," he said. So off we went.
O'Rielly's did in fact have an idler pully, but only one. Mike picked it up for $34, as I headed over to AutoZone hoping that they'd have one as well.
Of course, I didn't really have any idea what I was buying, but I could parrot what I'd hear from Mike and Monte as well as the next guy and pretty soon it seemed like I knew more than the employee! Fake it till you make it :-). At any rate, he came out with mine for $26, which Mike was none too happy about (though, in all honesty, I think his is higher quality - made in Canada rather than Taiwan.
With that, we headed to the back of the parking lot to do a bit of surgery on the trucks.
Of course, I had no idea what I was doing, but eager to learn, I watched Monte help Mike, and then proceeded to replace the AC idler pulley on my truck.
The new one definitely looked better than the old ones.
Both of the repairs a success, neither Mike nor I had noise coming from our engine bays any more - we were happy campers. Monte too was excited because it wasn't his truck that had broken this time. An anomaly - at least on this trip.
With light fading, we knew it was time to find camp, and with our plan the next day being Gemini Bridges and then the Dolores Triangle, we wanted to get a place that was convenient to those.
We ended up at perhaps our worst site of the trip - not from a view perspective, we'd discover that was spectacular as always in the morning - but because it was close to (above) the highway. That meant traffic all night, which really wasn't our thing.
Still, even with the traffic, we had a great night. There was no rain, which meant that we were able to be a bit more relaxed around the camp fire - still tucked in close for heat in the nippy night air, but dry!
Second, dinner was terrific. As usual, I'd pre-prepped mine, and tonight was marinated skirt steak, mashed potatoes, and salad. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, Devin made some fabulous corn soup from scratch, which she shared with anyone who wanted some. Thank you Devin!
And last, but most certainly not least, we didn't talk about trucks at all around the camp fire. Instead, we talked about things that interest us besides trucks, which probably shocked us just as much as it's shocking you now as you read this. Those aren’t things to go into detail about here, but it was really great because it meant that both Devin and I could understand most of the conversation, as opposed to just faking it. Hahahaha.
Of course, as we learned at AutoZone - fake it till you make it!
At any rate, it was one of the most pleasant evenings of the entire trip, and we really had to tear ourselves away at the end - well after the flames had left the last log.