March 15, 2018. Day 0.
As we pulled out of the parking lot in Idaho Falls, we were already late.
See, the plan had been to show up at @cbi offroad fab when they opened at 8:00am, and have the new bumper install done by 10:00am so we'd have our choice of routes down to Hanksville, UT where we were meeting Ben @m3bassman and Zane @Speedytech7 for a three-day adventure into The Maze District in Canyonlands National Park. My hope was that we'd choose the scenic route, down 191 through Wyoming to get to our meet-up and first nights camp spot.
But, the install had taken a little over four hours and it was noon when we pulled out. Wanting to arrive before dark, that meant that we'd need to take the more direct route - down I-15 through Salt Lake City - and even then, we'd just barely make it.
With only a quick stop for lunch, and another for fuel, we arrived at dusk, surprised to find that we were the first ones there. We knew Ben was behind us - we'd been tracking each other on APRS - but we though for sure that Zane would have beaten us to the site - after all, he'd left the earliest and had the shortest drive.
Turns out, even though we'd shared around a GPS track prior to the trip, Zane didn't have it with him and wasn't sure which road to head up to find camp. No biggie, since as soon as Ben was in range with the ham radio, he and I touched bases and he was able to find Zane on the main highway and caravan into camp. A hearty round of good-to-see-you-agains and intros of @mrs.turbodb followed - it was the first time I'd seen Ben, Kirsten and Zane since The De-Tour - and then Ben got the lantern fired up and declared that, "It feels great to sit down!" as if he hadn't been driving for the last eight hours.
We caught up a bit and generally just chatted for about an hour. But it wasn't long before there was a collective move to the tents - we were all pooped from driving, and the lantern - while it looked warm - threw off less heat than a cup of cocoa. So we all settled in for a night in the low 30's, and a promise of clear skies the next morning.
March 16, 2018. Day 1.
We'd made camp at the Eardly Canyon trailhead, just east of The San Rafael Swell - a spot well suited for sunrises. And, as has become a tradition, I was out of the tent just in time to catch the orange horizon before wandering around a bit to document the morning.
As the sun rose, the red morning light shone on the mountains behind camp, lighting them a brilliant red. Ben was up by now too - really only a few minutes after me - soaking it all in. Everyone else...well, they were still cozy and enjoying the view out the tent window.
Before long though, everyone was up, ate a bit of breakfast, and we were ready to go. Not in the trucks - no! We were to set off on foot, up the canyon - in search of petroglyphs! As we made our way up the canyon, they proved elusive - a good thing in my book - and we walked right past them (within 15 feet or so) without seeing them. This, it turned out was a good thing, because if we'd seen them, we'd probably have turned around, and we'd have missed the rest of the canyon and it's geology - which was breathtaking.
Eventually though, we turned around and headed back - we knew we needed to actually get going in the trucks - but we kept an eye out and discovered what we'd missed on the way up. The petroplyphs were cool, and were surely different than others I've seen. Not only were there the "normal" animals, but there were also some "stranger beings" - grasshopper man, for instance.
After finding what we'd come for, we high-tailed it back to camp so we could get on our way. We had quite a few miles to cover if we were to make it to our reserved camp spot that evening - Doll House 3. Back on the road, we made a quick stop in Hanksville for fuel, and then headed south to Poison Springs Canyon Road, where we aired down and took in our surroundings before starting towards The Maze.
An astute reader will notice that this was the only part of the trip, I believe, where I wasn't at the back of the pack. See, we all have three pedals in the foot well, but Ben was never taught what the two on the left do, so he doesn't use them. And Zane's spent so much time dialing in his rear leaf pack that he can't really feel bumps anymore.
So it wasn't long before I moved into the tail gunner position. You know, to make sure we had long range comms (ham radios) in front and at the rear. 😉
Even as we started into the canyon, the sights were amazing. It was @mrs.turbodb's first time in Utah (off-road), and she's a geology nut, so she was soaking it all in.
Soon, we were heading down to the bottom of the canyon, where we eventually stopped for lunch at the Dirty Devil River crossing.
We didn't pause long since we still had a long way to go, and while the water may have looked dirty, I'd say it was a great opportunity to clean off the trucks. Well, my truck anyway - Ben and Zane plodded a more reasonable pace across, pushing a bow wave - and I may have used a bit too much of the skinny pedal, and dunked the hood.
We all got a good laugh out of that one. And I got a clean hood.
We continued on, two of us making good time through the canyon, and then there was me... I was taking pictures. We even caught a big horn sheep as it crossed the road and headed up one of the buttes.
Eventually though we caught up, and I caught the wildest of all animals in my lens (and me in his) before we headed down into Glen Canyon and ultimately The Maze District, where we were warned that only the most capable of vehicles were allowed.
It was here that the trail started to get really interesting. We'd later read that the trail to The Doll House is the most technical trail in the district, and that any type of recovery often costs well into the thousands of dollars. Of course, we weren't going to need that - we were all in first gen Tacoma's, Ben having left his third gen (or was it a Ridgeline?) "at home."
The trail really was incredible. Perhaps unsurprisingly due it is proximity, parts of it reminded me of the Kokopelli Trail that I'd run a few months before - but other parts were new and exciting - thin ledges supporting the trucks, turns too tight to make without backing up a bit.
We crawled through it all - Ben and Zane picking the hardest lines they could, me picking the easiest. Of course, usually those choices were the same, and we were - for the most part - travelling as a pack at this point.
I say "for the most part" because I kept stopping to take pictures. I mean, how couldn't you when there's thousand-year-old desert crust all around? And views of pillars (Mother and Child, The Wall, and Standing Rock), signaling the entrance to Canyonlands National Park.
Before long - and before dark - we reached our destination - The Doll House. The drive in to our camp site at Doll House 3 was spectacular. If the earlier pillars had been amazing, Doll House pillars were unbelievable - multi-colored, and all different shapes. Truly a special place in the park that not many people get to experience.
Curious to take a closer look, we set out on foot towards the Doll House 1 and 2 camp sites and a couple of short trails that @mrs.turbodb had read about in one of her books. We found parts of each of the trails, but with so little traffic, they were easy to lose and we were hesitant to trample the desert crust in an attempt to regain the trail.
Instead, we took in the views, eventually getting a spectacular light display as the sun dipped under the clouds on the horizon, illuminating the pillars and casting staggering shadows on the far canyon walls.
The show continued for a good 30 minutes or more, all around us - lighting not only the landscape, but the sky as well.
And then, finally, the sun set. It was only then that we were able look down out of the clouds, put down our cameras, and set about making and eating our delicious dinners. For @mrs.turbodb and I it was beef tacos with fresh guac, meat and veggie stew for Ben and Kirsten, and for Zane...well, I have no idea what he had for dinner, but I'm sure it was both healthy and delicious. Or, at least one of the two.
Fire restrictions in place, once dinner was over, we once again sat around the camp lantern as the temperatures dropped. We talked about the sights of the day and our anticipation of the next. There was of course a bit of truck talk - but not as much as normal, likely due to the unusually high ratio of better-halves on the excursion.
Eventually though, we were tired from another long day behind the wheel, and we said our good-nights, happy to cozy up under our covers in nature's Doll House.
The bumper looked great, and we were off. A quick stop in Pocatello for lunch (sandwiches at Jimmy John's) and then off to Utah, through the traffic in Salt Lake City where they have all kinds of interesting billboards about being a good father (??!), a few stops for gas, and then over Soldier Summit and down into the desert. The scenery kept getting more sparse and unbelievable. It was beautiful. The sun was setting as we pulled into camp, and we made and ate dinner while we waited for the rest of the crew to show up. It was fun hearing the HAM light up with Ben's voice, and later the whole hillside when Ben, Zane, and Kirsten came around the corner and into camp (Ben has just a few lightbars on his truck. Just a few.) We sat around our lantern "campfire" and made introductions and caught up on the story of the bumper. For me, it was the first time meeting Dan's people and being around two other trucks that looked just like Dan's. There was a lot of truck talk, which completely made sense - these were people just as obsessed with their trucks as Dan was with his. It was clear this was going to be a fun trip.
We all seemed to be similarly early risers (even us, now on Mountain Time) so getting up and going wasn't too much of a struggle. We decided the first order of business was to explore the canyon next to our campsite, so off we went! There were tales of petroglyphs so we looked carefully at the canyon walls. Once we made it about a mile and half into the canyon, it opened up into a wide space. Feeling we'd failed, we walked back down the wash. When we were just a 1/4 of a mile from camp, Dan and Ben found them - cool designs including a huge snake, a few images of men, and a drawing of a very fat antelope. Oohs and aahs and lots of pictures. Soon enough, we were back at camp, packed up and on the road to the next adventure of the day.
After a stop in Hanksville for some gas - our last gas until the end of the trip, we continued South and then pulled off the road at Poison Springs and aired down. The road was pleasant and Ben led the way, at his usual quite fast past. It was a beautiful day and we brought up the rear, stopping as frequently as necessary to capture the scenery. We stopped for lunch by the Dirty Devil River, and then we crossed it. Fun.
Across the river and into the Orange Cliffs, and then out of the Orange cliffs and into the Maze district, and past the first three vehicles we encountered - two parked and one F150 waiting for us to pass at an intersection. It was like a traffic jam! Except we were all on dirt roads and the whole situation passed in about 30 seconds. It turned out that we'd be back to that intersection the next day on our next adventure up the Flint trail, but at this point, we were heading out to "The Dollhouse."
This road was more arduous than the last, and it seemed like every turn required careful maneuvering over rock ledges and tight corners. The scenery was pretty fantastic: unbelievable vistas that continued forever across the desert, rock walls that seemed like they were going to crumble at any moment, perfectly placed sage brushes, cacti, and junipers, not to mention spires long cut off from their adjoining cliff edges. The colors! So many reds, oranges, yellows, purples! It was a vibrant desert display and we weren't even at the Dollhouse yet! We passed The wall, Chimney rock, and Standing Rock. We passed a person who was just setting up camp from their mountain bike (likely they were from one of the two parked cars at the previous and only intersection). They scowled at us as we merrily drove past. At one point, speedy Ben and Zane were caught behind a slow moving jeep, but once we caught up, the three trucks zipped by. Our only other traffic jam. After several hours of getting bounced around and "Oh Jesus"'s from me, we arrived at our park permitted designated campsite at Dollhouse #3 (thank you Ben for arranging). It was an amazing site with a view of the dollhouse formation and the valley below. It was like some kind of perfect staging location for a Tacoma ad or maybe roof top tents, since we all had one.
Since we arrived with some time before sunset, we decided to go check out the dollhouse. I had just one guidebook about the canyonlands - the only one I could get from the library in time for our trip - and of all strange coincidences, of the two hikes it included in the Maze (yeah, lame - just two of the many hikes), one basically started at our campsite, and so we were off. The Dollhouse is a series of rock pillars the are mixture of alternating white and red sandstone. Given their proximity to one another, they look like a series of dolls all together. Our hike took us over the surrounding desert and through the crags between them and then out onto a rock ledge overlooking a small sagebrush filled valley. We never really found the trail but what we saw was pretty cool in its own right. Unfortunately though, the sun was setting fast, illuminating the sky and the rocks before everyone had their cameras at the ready. Not being a photographer, I walked back to camp at my own pace, just glad to take it all in. We were in a magical place.
This is so fun to read about - and perspectives from both of you! The photos are truly gasp-able, and particularly the Dollhouse being all lit up and lit down.