Camp Rover West

Camp Rover West was only a small part of the trip around the country in reality.   We were only at the Camp Rover event for 4 days.   Derek and I decided to take some extra time off so we could have more time out in Moab to play, and be able to see the country on the way out, and on the way back.

We left Friday afternoon to head west to Camp Rover.   We left a week before the event started so we would have time to explore.  Traffic getting out of town was horrible.  Luckily we only had to go as far as southern CT the first night.  We met up with Chris Velardi at his place.  Chris decided that he would not be able to head out until Monday, and would follow fellow BSROA member George Santorus.   Derek and I headed out Saturday morning, a little later than originally planned, for Indiana.  Sunday night we were at the western edge of Kansas.  The weather was good so we camped out under the stars.

                Monday morning we hit Colorado, and headed to Denver.  We stopped in at the Land Rover Denver East dealership.   Derek had set up his truck for a 52.5K check-up with them.   The group there was good, they put up with the two of us wandering around asking questions while they did the work.  I watched one of the dealer mechanics install an ARB locker in the back of a new disco, disassemble a disco’s engine to clean out the carbon buildup, install a snorkel on a D-90.  Some other customers came in with their modified vehicles, all done at the dealer.  We lined up a 95 Camel Trophy Disco, my rangie, Derek’s D-90, and a heavily modified Defender 110 for a few photos in front of the dealership.  I never thought it would be possible to fit a 6.0L turbo diesel engine in a 110.  He told us that the 6.2L Cummings just would not fit.

                At this point we thought it would be a good idea to camp out at the top of Loveland Pass.  This was even before we spent 8 hours at the Wyncoop brewery meeting up with a couple of Derek’s friends.   Loveland pass wasn’t as nice as we hoped.  The temperature dropped to 14 degrees, the ski area across the street was blowing snow, and a construction crew was doing blasting work just down the road on the other side of the tunnel.   We spent some time the next day wandering around Summit County Colorado and headed towards Frutia, in western Colorado.

                In the morning we meet up with a friend of mine in his modified ’75 International Scout II.   The three of us headed out to explore Kokopellie’s trail.   We thought we would be able to follow the trail all the way in to Moab, Utah.   Kokopellie’s trail comes into the backside of Moab, by Slickrock Campground.   It is mostly a dirt road, with a few more technical spots to explore on side loops.   We spent a few hours on Kokopellie’s in Colorado before realizing that there was no way to cross the Colorado River from where we were, with out going back out to I-80.  The trail across the Colorado was only accessible by mt. bike or hiking.  We went back out to I-80.  From there we took 128 into Moab instead of Kokopellie's, to make up some time for a ride.


                We camped out at Slickrock campground, just up the hill outside of town, after a quick detour up and over the Baby Lion’s Back trail.   As this was my first trip out to this area, I was not familiar with how much traction was available.  We were able to climb up and descend down hills steeper than anything I have tried around here… with out my winch doing the work.   After the trail, the three of us set out on our Mt. Bikes on the Slickrock bike trail.  It was a good chance to stretch the legs out after a few days in the trucks.  The Slickrock bike trail is similar to a paved skateboard/terrain park.   Lots of steep ups and downs, bowls, little ledges and drops.   The traction available was impressive, we couldn’t figure out why it was called slickrock.  We had more traction with the bike tires than with our bike shoes.  It is possible to bike up things that were difficult to walk up.  I couldn’t wait to explore the trails in the area for the next week.

                On Thursday Derek headed out to explore some of the 4+ rated trails in the area with a few other Camp Rover people we met the night before.   Eric and I headed out up to the Porcupine Ridge trail on our mt. bikes.   From the Slickrock campground we headed up the hill away from town, for about 7 miles on Kokopellie’s trail.  From the trail head the path goes up hill for about 7 miles over technical riding/driving.   There were a few spots that would stop most stock vehicles but nothing to serious.  We reached the pinnacle ridge view for lunch.   We did not see any 4 wheel drive vehicles on the trail, but there were about 40 other mt. bikers that we passed.   If you make it out to drive this trail, head out early, we were told that tour groups, and shuttle vans start arriving at the trail head after 9:30am.

                The real fun starts after the canyon rim view.  This is where the trail gets the 3+ to 4 ratings.  All of the trail ratings in that area are on a 1 to 5 scale, 5 being the hardest.   On bikes it is a fast 6-mile decent with sections at 40+mph.   In a truck it will take longer, there is not generally a smooth path wide enough for a vehicle.  On bikes we were able to keep speed.   There are sections with multiple 1’ to 2’ steps, and a few sections with 3’to 4’ ft drops thrown in to keep you guessing.   We found tire tracks through most of the obstacles on the first 6 miles down.  After that, there is a turn off for the vehicles, and a separate section of continues but is much to narrow a few hundred yards down for anything wider than a bike.  A few spots it seemed like my bike was to wide for the trail.   I didn’t see where the double track turn off went.  The single track continues for about 8 more miles of tight switchbacks, narrow ledges, steep drops, and fast rolling hills.  I recommend the single track to anyone that has the experience to ride very technical trails, and gets the chance to try it.  By the bottom of the trail I had cracked my bottom bracket, and folded over the sidewalls of my back rim, and popped a couple tubes.  Eric’s bike was slightly better off, but had a few Moab tattoos.

                We thought we were having a tough day, and hoped it wasn’t a sign for the next few days, until we met back up with Derek, Chris and George had also just arrived, and a host of other camp rover folks at the Virginian hotel… which became the unofficial camp rover meeting place.  When we pulled into the hotel lot we found a group people standing around the back of John Brafford’s D-90.   Turns out when he was climbing a hill he destroyed his rear diff.  The GB 4.10 ring and pinion gears, the ARB locker survived.  Luckily Great Basin was coming to the event and found some used ones he could put in until they were able to get out a new set for him.  It was a tough, not even, first day of the event.

                Derek, Chris, and George gave us a ride the 6 miles back up the hill to the campsite.   Derek took Chris Velardi out on the Baby Lions Back rail to give him an idea of what to expect.


                Friday Derek headed out with a few others to check out a trail called Helldorado, upper and lower.  I’m told it is one of the few trails that may actually be rated at a 5.   I went out to check out Golden Spike and Poison Spider Mesa trails.  As Eric and I were riding up, George passed us on his way back down.  He said there was a group stuck on one of the obstacles a couple miles farther up the trail, but that we could get by on bikes if they were still there.  Most of the trail on the way up to the top of the Poison Spider Mesa was relatively easy.  There were a few spots that it would be nice to have a spotter if you don’t know where all four of your wheels are from the drivers seat, and a couple areas that had some deep sand that you would have to keep some speed up to make it across.   As we got to the top of the mesa the trail got tighter and steeper.   The trail turner to rolling sections of rock, that had what looked like 45 deg pitches.  One section looked like you would have to straddle a 2’ deep trench for about 20’ then make a hard left turn up a 40deg pitch with two rounded 1’ high steps… all this without losing your tire in the trench…  I think this is where the group that George had seen was stuck.  We could see his tire marks in the sand where he turned around.   There were a few other spots after this that also looked like it was all about picking the right line.  Some of the Camp Rover group was scheduled to come through this trail on Monday.   The hardest part was getting used to the fact that there was so much traction and things that would stop me back in New England were not as challenging on the “slickrock.”   Some people were saying that there was almost too much traction, and that lockers were dangerous to the drive train when used.  Whoever set these trails found plenty of ways to keep the challenge there.

                The trail along the top of Poison Spider Mesa was impressive.  It had steep ups and downs, small bowls, and “hot tubs”… deep round holes that it was supposedly possible to drive into, and then back out of… I didn’t see it.   Most of the trails on the Mesa were marked with white dots on the rock.   One the steeper sections of the trail you could see the trail by the tire marks left behind.   The landscape looked like a cross between the Grand Canyon and Arches National Park.  Large rolling rock hills with arches, and a deep canyon to the side, cut by the Colorado River.

                At the northern end of the Poison Spider Mesa trail there were a few options; Golden Spike, Golden Crack, Rusty Nail, … and a few others that I didn’t learn the names of.   We chose to descend back down to the Colorado on a tight single-track trail called the Portal Trail.   It is like biking down a rocky hiking trail in the White Mts. of New Hampshire.   We had a great time.   There are a few sections that it is illegal to ride a bike on, these sections are posted with signs for where to get off the bike and where you can get back on.  These sections are where a few riders died in the past year that it has been open.  The only thing you can see off the side of the trail is Potash Road and the Colorado River 1000’ below.  It is a more technical trail than any of the others we had found out there.  Steep down hill sections continued with ledges, tight turns, and the trail never got much wider that a couple feet.  For anyone that wants a fun hike, or a slightly crazy bike ride down (don’t try and ride up)… It is great.  I wouldn’t try it if it were raining.  This trail actually has sections of slick rock, similar to the polished granite found on some New England trails.

                This picture is from Friday afternoon were we found a spot to play on the way over to the camp rover registration at a local picnic area.  After most people had checked in for the event and had a chance to eat dinner at the BBQ and meet the others, Bill Burke had a slide show, from his Camel Trophy trip in Africa.  He had some great pictures and amazing stories.  After the BBQ everyone split up, some took off for night runs, some went off to find campsites up in the hills, and the rest went into town to the breweries.  After a quick run outside of town we met up with a few people at the Moab Brewery.


                Saturday and Sunday were spent up the hill outside of town in the Moab Community Center parking lot and meeting hall.  The classes covered a variety of topics related to 4-wheeling, and things that are good to know before going out.   Coiler Mechanics, Leaf Mechanics, field repair, welding, vehicle prep, vehicle recovery, Map & Compass (also GPS use), first aid,…  There were also several vendors around with all their newest toys.  It was nice to be able to see the stuff and talk face to face with the people selling it.   It was horrible to have a wallet on you while seeing all the toys.

                The Coiler Mech. class was good.  Rob Dassler from the Land Rover Denver East dealership went over all the basics for maintaining a coil sprung land rover.  He went through the tool list needed for everything from field repairs, to easy home repairs, to full shop work.  He covered from the basics; oil change, tune up; through custom work such as engine mods and transfer case gear swaps.  The class lasted a couple hours, but no of us seemed to notice.   He had extra parts so we could see what he was talking about, and what to look for before something went wrong.  The Leaf Mech. Class covered the same topics, just more related to the parts found on leaf sprung rovers

                The Field Repair class was done by Alan Dobbs, using his D-90 as the test subject.   He demonstrated how to clean and re-seat tires, brake calipers, brake lines, replace wheel bearings, pull half-shaft both front and rear, checking/replacing ring and pinion gears, drive shafts,...  It was a great opportunity to see exactly what had to be done, and see it done.  It’s not that often that this work has to be done on the trail while you are there to see it.   Apparently several others got “practical field experience” over the next couple of days on the more advanced trails.

                Welding was demonstrated by Primer Power Welding, with a second welder from the Snap-on truck.  Instruction was one at a time, covering the basics.   The informal class covered different types of welding, which to use when you had an option, how to weld, what to look for when doing a field repair… then being told to go practice, a lot.

                Vehicle Recovery class was given by Bill Burke.  He covered safe use of Hi-lifts, chains, ropes, straps, winches and snatch blocks.  This was probably the most practical course for this event.   Every group that went out on the trails needed to use the topics covered.

                Vehicle Prep covered how to pack the truck, ideas for things to bring along, and ways to store extra parts, and what to check before and after trips off road.

                I didn’t get to take the map and compass or the first-aid class.   I’m told they covered the basics that could help if needed, and more advanced options for people more familiar with the topics.

                Sunday night there was a big dinner at a local BBQ restaurant.   Before dinner there was a Wild West shoot out, put on by some of the staff.   It was a night of food and fun.  The raffle was done at this time, so we had the new toys to play with over the next couple days of trail rides.  It was impressive.   Winch bumpers, winches, lockers, wheels, auxiliary lights, high-lifts, tow straps, chains, rock sliders, snorkels, breather kits, trailing arms, shocks, tie rods, jackmates, winch kits, gloves, shackles, spare tire covers, skid plates, winch ropes, gift certificates, gas cans, hats, T-shirts, …  It was an impressive pile of stuff and went on for a while.  A few vendors won things from their competition, which made trading easier for the rest of us ;)


                Monday morning I met up with the Kane Creek Canyon trail group on the edge of town.  We got everyone together to go over the basic caravan rules, hand signals used by spotters, and which CB channels to use.    Ray Stapell’s and Bruce, from Overland expeditions, were the trail guides for the day.  They were using Bill Burkes well equipped D-90 as their ride.  The trail is rated a 3+, and with the rain turned into a muddy 4 by the end of the day.  It started off relatively easy, scenic drive on a dirt road.   The further we worked our way back into the canyon the more interesting the trail got.   We moved along relatively quickly at the start, for having 12 trucks in the group.  It was a good group of people willing to help out spotting and giving ideas for lines to try, and when needed everyone helped out to keep the trucks moving and on the trail.  We had a variety of vehicles in the group, a couple Series, some Range Rovers (classics and LWB's and a 4.6), Discovery's, and Defenders.


                We moved along with only a few obstacles that everyone wanted to watch.   It started to rain and the thin layer of mud on the trail was getting slippery.  At a couple tight corners and narrow sections someone would always hop out to spot the people behind them.   At one section there was a right turn with an off camber section that was muddy and slippery.   The spotters were trying to direct all the trucks to stay high on the corner so that if they slipped down the hill they would still be away from the gully to the right.   The first few made it through fine.   One of the Range Rover LWB classics started a little low on the corner, and as they came around, and the right side of the road collapsed.   The back right tire ended up hanging in the air over the gully to the side, the only thing stopping the truck from going over was the front right tire hooked on a rock and the back bumper on the ground.   When I got around the corner both left tires were in the air.  The back was only a couple of inches up, but had no traction, while the front right tire was about 3’ above the trail.

                Two trucks quickly backed up and became anchor points with tow straps.  I pulled up to the side behind them.  With my winch cable running from my front bumper to a snatch block on the trailer hitch of one of the anchor trucks, then back down to the stuck rangies’ trailer hitch.   At this point the truck was stabilized and considered safe.  Eric hopped on the front left corner to help level the truck out.  In the next couple of minutes while we tried to figure out the best way to get the truck back up on the trail with the least risk to the 6 people and four trucks now involved, the LWB started to move on it’s own.  It was actually kind of funny, the air suspension computer system was trying to level itself.   Every couple minutes for the rest of the recovery the truck would try adding and/or removing air from the four corners to level the truck.  Despite it’s regular attempts, it just couldn’t do it.

                With the truck stabilized we were able to pull the back end sideways up to the left with the winch on my truck.  Once the back end was far enough back up on the trail the white rangie was pulled forward by the D-90, with the red rangie used as a pivot point with the winch cable and tow strap, so that the back end of the rescued vehicle could not slide back down into the gully.

                With only one person directing and everyone working together we were able to get the truck back on the trail safely and quickly.   It was a good chance to practice vehicle recovery discussed the day before.   Happily the rest of the day was less eventful for this particular driver as it was their first time off road.  They had a great time the rest of the day and continued to try anything that came up on the trail.

                After we got all the trucks moving along again we continued back up into the canyon.   Eventually we came to a large opening where the Kane Creek meanders back and forth.  The trail crossed the creek 34 times I’m told, I stopped counting much sooner.

                We followed the trail up the sides of the canyon, slowly climbing up towards the top.   Along the way we drove through a variety of terrain.  Most of the trail had a steep cliff to the right, and a steep drop to the left.   Just around the corner, in the picture below, we found the wreck of an old truck.   We were told that it used to be a Suzuki that was pushed off the side of the trail… if was rather flat and charred.


                Just before it got dark we found a couple of ledges to stop and play on.   A few of us decided to stay and give it a try.   The first person to try the ledge was a fellow northeasterner; Mike from New Hampshire in his yellow D-90.  I followed him, then a Rangie and a D-90 from New York followed the two of us: all in all a good showing by the northeast.


                The rest of the trail was relatively mellow, luckily for us.   When we got to a section of woods it was difficult to see beyond the limits of the headlights.   As we reached the top of the mesa and wound our way back across the flat plateau towards the road the rain stopped and the moon came out.  A night run after all.   Everyone made it out to the road and made the run back to town.   We took over a section of one of the local breweries for some well earned food and drink.  By the end of the night the hills were already getting steeper and the rocks in the trail larger.   It was a great day, and most of us would be together again for Tuesday’s trail run on Metal Masher.


                Tuesday’s run was led by Rob Dassler from Denver East on Metal Masher turned out to be a much wetter experience.  It rained on and off for most of the day.   While it made the mud a little deeper and the rocks a little slipperier, it only made it more fun for us.  Once again we were told to watch out because the “slickrock” gets slippery when it rains.   It was like driving on wet pavement… slippery if you weren’t careful, but plenty of traction to be found.

                The trail started a couple of miles outside of town, past the entrance to Arches National Park.  The first part of it was an old mining road cut into the side of the hill.  Rolling hills with views of the surrounding area.  At times we could see over into Arches.

                We found a few places to play along the way, a ledge here and there, sticking out of the soft sand, which the trail crossed over.   After the first few miles the terrain changed very quickly.  The mud and sand disappeared and we were on rock.   Rolling slickrock in every direction.   With only a couple white marks on the rock to make sure we stayed on the trail, and the fact that it was raining, gave us the “opportunity” to try a few obstacles along the way.

                We had a few more advanced drivers, and more modified vehicle on this trail then there were on the day before.  Matt, from Rockware came out with his D-90 and made things look easy.  It was good to see what a difference driving ability can make, where he could go that others all locked up had trouble getting to.  He made Rock Chucker hill look easy enough that I was ready to give it a try… until I watched “The Barbarian” give it a try that I didn’t have the angles and a short enough wheel base, or lockers to make it through.

                The trail continued for quite a while on the rolling slickrock.   There werea few ledges, no more than a foot or two high,, some rock gullies and the rest was wide-open spaces.   At the far side of the plateau we followed the trail up through a this notch.  The trail then continued up to the mesa and turned back into the sandy red dirt of earlier.


                Shortly after the lunch stop part of the group had to head out.  They took a side trail that cut back out to the road.  About half of us decided to continue along the trail and aim for Gemini Bridges.  The trail out to Gemini bridges was a dirt road with only a few obstacles along the way.   We switched into high range and made good time, with only a quick stop to play in a big puddle along the way.

                Gemini bridges are a set of arches that were formed along the edge of a canyon wall.   One side of the arch follows the canyon wall, the other side is open to a large hole.   The arches are easily accessible from the canyon rim, it is also possible to drive across one of them.   They are about 10’-12’ feet wide and 6’ apart.  The canyon below is about 100’ down.   When you are driving across it is hard to see the rock out the side of the vehicle, all you can see is the open space below.   We all stopped and took pictures of the area, and each other driving across.   It was the first time all day that the sun came out.  We were not about to miss the chance to enjoy it.

                After we enjoyed the sun for a while we decide to head back towards town and get some food.   It was the end of another great day of trail riding.   Most of the groups were back by dark and meet up at the local brewery in town.   One group, the 4++ Pritchet Canyon trip, did not make it back until after 11pm.   They had a few problems along the way…. 4 half shafts, a CV joint, a few flats, broken winch, and the usual dents and dings to be expected on that trail.   They were all very tired, but had a great time.   Several were up and going again for an impromptu morning run.

                Chris, George, Derek, and I decided it was time to head out and start the long drive back.   We were planning that some extra time might be needed along the way incase Chris’s truck wasn’t back up to full speed yet.   He had a “slight” mishap the first day out on a double step obstacle.  Only one truck, driven by Matt from Rockware, made it up the climb.   I’m told he made it look easy enough that several others tried.  From the video I saw latter that night it was surprised how well it turned out in the end.

                From Moab we headed south and east through the La Sal Mountains on the Colorado/Utah border.  We cruised through the mountains on 550 towards Telluride, this area of road is known as the million-dollar highway.   The road is cut into the hill in a few places, like the bridge in the photo below, and some sections of road have avalanche bridges built over the road when crossing below dangerous chutes.

                The ride to Telluride was nice.  With the good weather and dry pavement we also made good time.   As we climbed up in elevation there was more snow in the mountains, and on the side of the road.  Telluride ski area was already open for the season.   We began to think that maybe Black Bear wouldn’t be possible after all.

We stopped in town to look around and get some lunch before heading up the mountain.

The road went from dirt to snow in ½ mile.   We stopped at the base of Bridal Veil Falls, and it was already starting to ice up.  Not enough to climb yet, but looks like it would be good.

                We stopped at the top of the falls to look at the trail, but it did not look like anyone had been through in a while.  There was 8” of snow, and we were still down in the valley a few thousand feet below the pass.

The view back down the valley from the back of the box canyon was good.   We already started talking about coming over the pass next year when we come back for Camp Rover West again.

On our way out of Telluride headed east towards Colorado Springs, we were stopped for road construction.   It turns out that the far side of the Wolf Mt. pass was closed for blasting.  The guy at the gate told us that we could take the road back over the pass head south and come through along the New Mexico boarder, over a different pass, than head back north farther east.   It looked like it would be a 3-hour detour.  We started asking around about other ways to go, on some of the fire roads perhaps.   We were told that there were some fire roads and summer trails that possible in good weather, but that it was all closed for the winter.   The only thing left to do was a night run J We found a summer trail map that listed some of the fire roads in the area, we took a picture of it with the digital cameras.  That combined with a GPS and a couple topo maps, and we were off.

                The snow got deeper as we headed back up in to the hills by Wolf Mt. ski area.  I think the deeper snow actually helped us out.  We tried not to wander to far off the trail where the snow got noticeably deeper.  I tried a “short cut” through an open area and quickly came to a stop with snow up by my front bumper.  Luckily I was able to back out and catch up to the others who had already made it around by that point.  The trails were relatively smooth with everything filled in by the snow.   Derek led the way, then Chris, then George, than myself.  For most of the trail, by the time I came through there was a nice packed path to follow.   It only took us a couple hours to by pass the 4 mile section of closed road, and was much more fun than the official detour route.   We surprised a few campers on the far side when we came out of the woods at midnight.

                We stopped in Colorado Springs to say hello to Mat at his shop, Rock Ware.   From there it was just a couple days of driving east on I-90.   We made it back to the area late Saturday night with a day to recover.

                It was an incredible trip.   We were all talking about going back again next year.   Next year I’ve got a few more trails I’m looking forward to exploring.