Epic 5-Week Cross-Country Jeep Safari
Every few years, I get happy feet... the need to take a high-mileage trip and discover new country... going out on walkabout, as Crocodile Dundee would say.
For ages I had been doing this sort of thing on motorcycles, and originally planned on doing this trip on my beloved 955i Triumph Tiger adventure bike, but last year a negligent j@ck@$$ in a pickup truck pulled out in front of me, bringing a swift and violent end to my Tiger and my decades of motorcycling. I’m very lucky to be here.
Having no Adventure bike (while my Adventure riding spirit remains alive and well) my choice of long-distance unpaved-road touring machine seamlessly transitioned from two wheels to four. I already had the Jeep, a 2001 TJ Sahara, so I used my bike's insurance settlement to get the Yeep up to snuff. The Gecko is just as nice of a fellow in person as he seems on TV.
I had been planning this trip for nearly two years... saving money, saving vacation time at work, planning the route, and looking on the 'net for cool things to see along the way.
The main reason for the trip was a military reunion in San Diego, CA over the weekend of the 17th & 18th of September. And while I was in Cali, ride up to the Bay Area to visit my sister and her family.
And getting there is half the fun...
Atlanta GA to Tupelo, MS.
I left the Atlanta, GA area in the early afternoon of September 6, Labor Day. I camped for the night at Elvis Presley Lake campground in Tupelo, MS, after a 356 mile day.
Sept 7 - Tupelo, MS to Muskogee, OK. -
Got on the road at about 8 am and swung by Elvis’ boyhood home here in Tupelo. Elvis was born here in this house in 1935, but he and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1948 when he was 13 years old.
Me on Elvis’ front porch swing.
I continued on to Memphis. I first went to the site of the former Lorrain Hotel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. I didn’t take any photos, as I didn’t think it appropriate. I spent a few minutes paying my respects.
The website of the National Civil Rights Museum
Just a few blocks away is Beale Street, mecca of Delta and Memphis Blues music, which I passionately love. I spent an hour or so walking up and down the street checking out the music stores, clubs, and restaurants.
It was just before lunchtime, so none of the clubs were open and none of the acts were playing yet. There were a few guys hanging out in the parks and sidewalks though, playing the Blues. Beale Street made me wish (again) I had room in the Jeep to pack my Stratocaster and amp.
Crossing the Mississippi River on I-40, westbound and down.
Conway, Arkansas. I don’t know how to explain this one.
”Lemme just mask these letters and I’ll spray-paint ‘em. This is going to look good, I just know it.”
I stopped for the night in Muskogee, OK. 467 miles for the day, 823 total
Sept. 8 - Muskogee, OK to Alva, OK. - Known to many enduro and Adventure-bike riders is a network of dirt roads that runs westward from Jellico, Tennessee all the way to the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, called the Trans-America Trail (TAT). A hardcore enduro rider named Sam Corerro mapped the route over the course of several years, and then put together a set of maps and roll-charts, available for sale on his website...
I had ridden some of the eastern part of the route on my adventure bike, and was eager to do a few miles of the TAT as I headed west on this trip, as time permitted.
I swung north through Tulsa to the town of Bartlesville, OK where I picked up the TAT, heading into the Osage Indian Reservation...
The State Line, looking west... Oklahoma on the left side of the road, Kansas on the right.
The Tallgrass Prarie Preserve. Words fail me as I try to describe this area... it just feels old. Anciently old. With the exception of the road and fence, I would bet this part of the world doesn’t look much different than it did 5,000 years ago. All it needs now is buffalo...
I was starting to get low on daylight, and I hate driving at night, so I got back on the slab and high-tailed it to Alva, OK for the night. 291 miles, many on dirt, 1114 total
Sept. 9 - Alva, OK to Cimarron, NM -
Once I got settled in for the night in Alva, I realized that if I wanted a couple days to gallivant around the countryside in Utah and Arizona (and make it to my reunion on time), I had better stay on paved roads and make some time. So with regret, I left the Tras-America Trail behind (for now) and slabbed across the skinny part of the Oklahoma panhandle into New Mexico.
Sunflowers as far as the eye can see.
In the front yard of my motel in Cimarron, NM.
398 miles for the day, 1512 total
Sept. 10 - Cimarron, NM to Farmington, NM. -
I took US 64 west from Cimarron, heading west through mountains and canyons to Taos.
I love visiting the American West. Maybe part of it is my understanding of Geology and that not as much of the geologic features out west are covered with soil, grass, and trees. You can see the individual layers of sedimentary rock as it was laid down as sand and mud hundreds of millions of years ago, and the tilted angles of the strata that were uplifted to create mountains. Out here the bluffs, buttes, and volcanoes are still visible.
The Rio Grande Gorge, just west of Taos, NM...
I crossed the Continental Divide near Tierra Amarilla, NM at an elevation (according to my GPS’ altimeter) of nearly 10,500 feet. I continued on through Chama and the Jicarilla Apache Reservation to Farmington, NM. I still had plenty of daylight left and felt good at Farmington, so I figured I’d press on the 30 more miles to Shiprock, NM in the Navajo Nation.
And then I discovered that there is not a single motel to be found in Shiprock, New Mexico. None. So I backtracked the 30 miles back to Farmington and found a room there. 322 miles for the day, 1834 total
Sept. 11 - Farmington, NM to Valley Of The Gods, UT. -
I got up early and spent an hour or so tinkering on the Jeep to get the rig ready for a couple days of wheeling and pioneer camping. I hit the road and went back to Shiprock to get some photos of Ship Rock peak.
Ship Rock, which the Navajo call Tsé Bit' A'í "Rock With Wings", is sacred to them, so I did not go wheeling out into the high desert toward the peak.
Quoting the following website: http://www.lapahie.com/shiprock_peak.cfm
I’m an avid reader, and over the years I’ve read all of Tony Hillerman’s ‘Leaphorn and Chee’ novels, which are a series of mystery novels set in the present-day Navajo Nation. Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police are the two main characters in the books, solving mysteries and bridging the gaps between modern police work and ancient Navajo traditions. They’re way cool books. I recommend them.
Leaphorn always gets his man.
Once through Shiprock, I made my way into Arizona near Four Corners and took US 191 north to Bluff, UT. I didn’t go to Four Corners this trip, as I had been there before on a solo bike trip in ‘97.
I gassed up in Bluff, filled my water can (5 gallons), got some lunch, and put down the Jeep’s soft top. Off to do some wheeling. Hellz yeah.
Bluff, UT sits just a few miles north of some of the most beautiful western scenery I’ve ever laid eyes on...
Valley of the Gods...
The Seven Sailors. Imagine seven sailors wearing the old-time round sailor hats.
By this time it was getting to be about 3 o’ clock in the afternoon. I was truly enjoying the scenery and the warm dry air (about 80˚ and sunny), so I decided to stop for the night right here in Valley Of The Gods...
My camp was on the outside of the sharp, northernmost curve, just across the road from Castle Butte.
In this zoomed-in shot, you can see my camp at the base of the above butte.
This was the view from my camp, panning from left to right...
I heated up a couple cans of ravioli and plopped down in my camp chair to watch and listen. I was about ten miles from the nearest paved road, and a good thirty miles from the nearest town. When the sun went down, I didn’t see a single man-made light. Paradise...
I pulled my air mattress out of the tent, laid it down outside, and spent many, many hours just laying there watching the sky. I saw four meteors that night, but didn’t make a wish. I already have everything I could want.
159 miles for the day, 1993 total
Wow. Awesome trip. The Trans-America Trail is now on my list. Thanks for posting.
Dang wish I could do this.
Sept. 12 - Valley Of The Gods, UT to Metor Crater, AZ -
With the door of my tent facing east to greet the morning sun, Navajo-style, I got up pretty early. I had contemplated sleeping out under the stars, but at about 3 am I was glad that I did not. Right next to my head, but outside the tent, some critter suddenly found himself fighting for his life, and he was raising hell while doing it. A mouse or something screamed at the top of his lungs and then I felt and heard pebbles and sand pelting the side of the tent as it kicked a rooster-tail getting the hell out of Dodge. I never found anything come sunup, but it made me glad that I was sleeping with a layer of critter-resistant cloth between me and him (and the snake).
In the morning light.
Heading out of Valley Of The Gods, following the red trail counter-clockwise from Castle Butte (across the road from my camp...
Looking back at my camp, at the base of the butte on the left. Castle Butte is on the right.
At the western entrance of Valley of the Gods, I turned north on Hwy 261, taking me up the Moqui Dugway, a series of unpaved switchbacks that runs up the side of an 1100-feet cliff.
I just wanted to ride the Dugway. Hwy 261 didn’t go anywhere I wanted to be, so I turned around at the top and came back down.
At the southern end of Hwy 261, I turned right toward Monument Valley...
You may recognize this spot as the point where Forrest Gump stopped running...
“I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now.”
I had been to Monument Valley once before, on a solo bike trip in ‘97. But at the time I was riding a Honda 750 Super Magna, a fine cruising bike, but certainly not capable of carrying 200 pounds of me and a hundred pounds of gear over rocky Indian Reservation dirt roads. So I didn’t tour the back country of Monument Valley on that trip. But now I can.
Monument Valley Tribal Park is on Navajo land lying on both sides of the Arizona - Utah border. I came in from the north (Utah).
Navajo Parks & Recreation - Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Monument Valley Drive is an 18-mile unpaved loop that winds through the Monument Valley region of the Navajo Reservation. It took me about three hours, driven casually and stopping for lots of photos.
The Valley Drive, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona
Left Mitten, Right Mitten, and Merrick Butte.
Having grown up on TV reruns, I knew all too well the dangers of a three-hour tour, but all went well. I was pretty hungry by this time, so I stopped at the visitor’s center for lunch and a drink, and then put the Jeep’s top back up for the drive south to Flagstaff.
I headed south to Kayenta, AZ then west through Tuba City to US 89. Southbound on 89 takes one into Flagstaff, AZ where I had planned to spend the night before heading east on I-40 to Meteor Crater. Except the motels in Flagstaff appear to be on I-40 west of Hwy 89, because there were none to be found east of 89. So I drove all the way to Meteor Crater near Winslow and stopped for the night at Meteor Crater RV park. They have a nice grassy tent camping area, laundry, showers, a Tex-Mex restarant, and high-speed wireless internet. Everything a weary traveler could need.
278 miles for the day, 2271 total
Sept 13 - Meteor Crater, AZ to Yuma, AZ -
I slept pretty well in my tent, even with I-40 and a railroad droning all night only a quarter-mile away.
There’s a section of the old Route 66 nearby. I explored a bit of it (tresspassed, really)...
I had been to Meteor Crater once before, during the afore-mentioned solo bike trip in '97, but I got there at about 4:30 in the afternoon, a half-hour before they closed for the day, so I had to rush through the place, missing the films, museum, and most of the exhibits. This time I was there just after they opened, and I spent all the time I wanted there.
The low mountains seen at the end of the road are really the upturned edges of the massive crater from the 300,000-ton meteor impact here 50,000 years ago.
Photo from travelandtweet.com
Quoted from the Meteor Crater website below:
This is a small piece of the iron meteor that slammed into the Arizona desert a few yards behind the museum where this exhibit sits. The 1400-pound fragment is not secured to its pedestal. The park Ranger told me that if a fellow can walk off with it, he’s welcome to it. :D
Dr. Eugene Shoemaker, an astrogeologist with NASA, used the geology of Meteor Crater to demonstrate that astronauts would not need to drill into the surface of the moon to collect rocks from below the surface. By sampling rocks from various levels along the walls of the crater, he proved that during the gigantic explosion that creates a meteor crater, the rocks in the walls of the crater are essentially turned upside-down. The rocks within certain zones near the top of the crater are pieces of the rock from the very bottom of the crater. So as NASA astrogeologists wanted samples of rock from deep beneath the surface of the moon, all the Apollo astronauts had to do was find a big crater and pick up rocks from certain places along the rim. If not for this discovery, think of the time and money wasted on sending drilling rigs to the moon, with teams of astronauts drilling hundreds of feet to get a rock sample.
The remains of mining gear left over from attempts to mine the iron from the meteorite that made the crater. Later geologic surveys have concluded that the majority of the meteorite exploded above ground, leaving billions of small fragments all over the desert floor instead of one large chunk underground. The iron mining operations all went bust, without ever bringing up the first piece of meteorite.
I got back on the road at about noon, heading south and west to Yuma, AZ to visit my uncle Russell, my late mother’s little brother. The heat surprised me. Yeah, it was still the middle of September, but it was in the 70’s and 80’s F the past several days in the desert of New Mexico, Utah, and northern Arizona. Not southern AZ... it was still 105˚F with not a snowball in sight. I got into Yuma just before dark and holed up in a Days’ Inn for the night.
368 miles today, 2639 total
very nice keep the pics coming
Absolutely stunning. You, sir, are a lucky man to have the ability to take such a trip, and you're a great story teller as well.
Great story and pics! :2thumbsup: You are a very lucky man to be doing this.
Sept. 14 – Yuma, AZ
I was awakened at about 3:45 am by the sensation of somebody jumping up and down on my bed, and the walls and ceiling were making cracking sounds. I rolled out of bed with my Glock in one hand and flashlight in the other, looking for trouble, but I was alone. In a second or two I realized that it had been an earthquake. Being from back east, it didn't register right away, as we don't have 'quakes too often in Georgia. Everything settled down and I went back to sleep.
I spent the day with my favorite uncle, Russell, and Aunt Wanda in Yuma. Russ and I are like peas in a pod, always tinkering on stuff... bikes, hotrods, trucks, you name it. The motorhead gene runs strong in us, and I'm definitely a chip off the old block. We spent the entire day cruising around Yuma, showing me his workshop, dropping by a high-end custom dune buggy shop, http://www.offroadbuggysupply.com/home.htm., and talking and visiting. I ended up leaving their place just after 2 am, and we were still going strong. We just don't get together often enough.
Sept. 15 – Yuma, AZ to San Diego, CA -
I got up at about 7:30, got up and packed, and drove to San Diego, about three hours to the west. I wanted to drive straight to the ocean, so I just stayed on I-8 until the last exit turned into residential streets, and then I just followed the GPS map toward the blue area. I wound up in the Ocean Beach neighborhood and found a nice mom-and-pop motel near the beach to hole up for a couple days. 184 miles, 2823 total.
Sept. 16 – 18 San Diego, CA
Spent the next few days in San Diego seeing the sights, hanging out on the beach, and attending my reunion. A large time was had by all. There's nothing like visiting with old friends.
One of my very best buds from my time in the Marines, Eliot (on the right).
Sept. 19 & 20 – Sand Diego, CA to San Francisco, CA
Eliot lives near San Francisco, so he flew down for the reunion and afterward rode home with me as I headed north to San Fran to visit my sister, dropping him off at his place along the way.
I had made this drive once before in 1989, but I stayed on the freeways back then. This time, once I was clear of Los Angeles, I took California Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, one of America's most scenic drives. We stopped for the night at San Luis Obispo, and then rode along the California coast the next day...
Elephant seals playing in the surf near Cambria.
Along the California coast between San Luis Obispo and Monterey...
I have enjoyed John Steinbeck's books for many years. Among my Steinbeck favorites is "Travels With Charley In Search Of America", his narrative of a four-month road trip around the USA with his dog Charley. He starts out from his home on Long Island, NY and winds his way through America in a custom-built truck camper on a new 1960 Chevy 3/4-ton truck he dubbed "Rocinante", the name of Don Quixote's horse. He avoided the freeways. He instead traveled on backroads, meeting people and spending time in smaller towns, going to church on Sundays.
A brief synopsis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travels...rch_of_America
After having read "Travels With Charley...", I did a bit of Googling and discovered that Steinbeck's rig still exists, restored and on display at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA. Having a truck camper of my own (a '97 Coachmen on a '94 Ford F-350 4x4), getting some photos of "Rocinante" was a must...
That's his fishing pole leaning against the cabinet.
Having read most of Steinbeck's works, I also enjoyed the other exhibits at the Steinbeck Center.
We got to Eliot's place and I dropped him off at about 6 pm. I then rode on to my sister's place across San Francisco Bay, just in time for supper...
Huge Dungeoness crabs! Yyyyummaaay!
My brother-in-law Brian, on the right.
This is amazing. I went on a cross-country trip recently, but nothing like this. Illinois to California in around a week and a half with a stop in Moab. Sitting in a big rig, riding on highways does not come close to something like this. Maybe one day I will be able to do a trip such as yours.
:peaking: :PopCorn: :mod:
awesome pics, thanks for posting. My dream Jeep/motorcycle trip is to take the Pacific Coast Highway from LA to Seattle :tea:
Sept. 21 - 30. San Francisco & the Bay Area
As you can tell, it was at this point that I discovered my camera was on the lowest-possible resolution setting. I made the adjustment, kicking myself that all the previous photos will be small and grainy. Sorry, folks.
I spent the next week and a half in the Bay Area with my sister Valerie, her husband Brian, and their son Eli (2).
The island has quite a bit of history to it, besides its most famous identity as the notorious Federal Penitentiary. Before the Civil War it was the site of a lighthouse, then a military fort, manned by an artillery unit that kept an eye on the Golden Gate (the San Francisco shipping channel, not the bridge. It hadn’t been built yet).
After the civil war it became a military prison, until 1933 when the U.S. Bureau of Prisons took it over. It remained a Federal Penetentiary until 1963, when it was closed and the inmates moved to other Federal Penitentiaries.
A group of American Indians moved onto the abandoned island in 1969, demanding reparations for having been wronged by the Federal government for such a long time. They remained there until 1971, when President Nixon recognized the tribes and established a new policy of Indian self-determination.
Alcatraz Island - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Accessable only by boat...
By historical accounts, the only Alcatraz-based movie that had an element of truth to the story is “Escape From Alcatraz” starring Clint Eastwood.
“The Birdman of Alcatraz” is a load of bunk. Regardless of Burt Lancaster’s portrayal of Robert Stroud as a poor, kind, misunderstood victim, he was in fact an anger-filled psychopath that murdered two people. He was in prison where he belonged.
“Murder In The First” with Kevin Bacon is also full of fiction, conjecture, and Hollywood’s ‘artistic license’.
“The Rock” with Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage is a load of crap.
Don’t take Hollywood movies as history lessons. Rant off.
The view from the cliffs above Muir Beach, just north across the Golden Gate from San Francisco...
If you dig science and are in the Bay Area, don’t miss the Lawrence Hall of Science on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. There are lots of hands-on exhibits for kids relating to the movement of air and water, the shape of parabolic curves as they relate to roller-coaster tracks, and scads of experiments relating to light and sound.
For grown-ups, there is a real-time seismograph, a planetarium, and an exhibit displaying parts of the world’s first particle accelerator, developed right there in Berkeley. I enjoy the irony of the “Nuclear-Free Zone” signs in the City of Berkeley, erected by old hippies who don’t understand that the practical applications of quantum physics and the subsequent beginnings of the Nuclear Age started just up the hill.
The view from the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley...
Oakland, with South San Francisco and San Mateo across the bay.
Berkeley and Emeryville, the Bay Bridge, and San Francisco across the bay.
Berkeley, with Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.[/i]
Richmond, with Saucilito and Marin County across the bay.
We took a day trip up to Humboldt State Park near Eureka, CA to see the redwoods. These are the Coast Redwoods, not to be confused with the Giant Sequoia redwoods, which are thicker, but not quite as tall. These Coast Redwoods (sequoia sempervirens) can live to be over 2000 years old and can grow to a height of over 350 feet.
I spent quite some time just laying here on the forest floor, looking up at these majestic monsters of trees, soaking in the experience. Even with all their mass, they still sway gently back and forth in the breeze.
The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It's not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time. They have the mystery of ferns that disappeared a million years ago into the coal of the carboniferous era. They carry their own light and shade. The vainest most slap-happy and irreverent of men, in the presence of redwoods, goes under a spell of wonder and respect. Respect - that's the word. One feels the need to bow to unquestioned sovereigns. I have known these great ones since my earliest childhood, have lived among them, camped and slept against their warm monster bodies, and no amount of association has bred contempt in me. And the feeling is not limited to me.
A number of years ago, a newcomer, a stranger, moved to my country near Monterey. His senses must have been blunted and atrophied with money and the getting of it. He bought a grove of sempervirens in a deep valley near the coast and then, as was his right by ownership, he cut them down and sold the lumber, and left on the ground the wreckage of the slaughter. Shock and numb outrage filled the town. This was not only murder but sacrilege. We looked on that man with loathing, and he was marked to the day of his death.
- John Steinbeck
Later on, I traveled to Sequoia National Park to experience the Giant Sequoias. Pics of that trip to follow.
The TravelLog, a Recreational Vehicle built in 1914 by naturalist Charles Kellogg. The body shell of the camper is hand-hewn from a single deadfall
redwood log, lowered onto a Nash Quad truck chassis.
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