Our schedules finally worked out to where we could attend Overland Expo West in Flagstaff, AZ. As numerous other sites have provided coverage of the event, I won’t go into much detail here. In short, it was a fantastic weekend and my truck made it into a FourWheeler.com article – see photos #4 and #5!
The adventure started when I flew into Phoenix from NJ on Wednesday night, with plans to leave by mid/late afternoon on Thursday. In this time, I had to shop and pack for the entire trip, as well as install the MetalTech OPOR rock sliders on my GX470. Some cutting and drilling was required to get them to fit with the BudBuilt skids but I managed to get it done!
We drove up to the Expo from Phoenix on Thursday evening. Registration closed at 7pm and we arrived a few minutes after the deadline. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the parking attendant told us about free camping in a park a few miles down the road. This became invaluable later in the weekend, when 50mph gusts across the plains at the site of the Expo were destroying some of the lesser tents. We decided to drive the ~8 miles in and out each day so we could camp out in the forest at night.
The weekend went well overall, with one small mishap when a Camel Trophy instructor guided me over an obstacle while teaching left foot braking. I caught a rock behind the front crossmember and effectively high-centered – couldn’t drive forwards or the front end would drop farther, and as the rock caught itself just behind the crossmember I couldn’t back up.
Fortunately, we had an excited audience of fellow students who were eager to retrieve their recovery gear and dig/lift/figure-it-out! A few minutes later, all was well.
The rest of the Expo was fairly uneventful, full of learning and a lot of wind! We gave the ARB drawer system a workout throughout the weekend – having the ability to easily organize our gear was quite beneficial.
Once our weekend was concluded, we stopped at Flagstaff for a hotel/shower and a grocery run. We left Monday morning with a loaded fridge, ready to test our first real trip in the GX!
On Monday morning, we left Flagstaff and began our roundabout journey to San Antonio, TX. Our goal was to avoid paved roads, using service roads and trails whenever possible. There is so much beautiful terrain in Arizona…it’s not all desert!
We began looking for fuel as we approached Blue, AZ – we weren’t low yet, but given how far between stations we were going, it was prudent to try to stay as full as possible. We found the Blue, AZ post office on a map so figured hey, maybe they’ll have a gas station! Well, the post office turned out to be a few boxes and posts. Then we crossed the town’s main intersection…
Needless to say, we skipped fuel that day.
On Monday night (May 23rd), we arrived in Reserve, New Mexico. Finally, a gas station! The experience was almost surreal, with the fill-up process feeling like a flashback to the 80’s. I first checked with the proprietor, who was standing outside with a broom, to make sure that they accepted credit cards. They did, so I picked up the fuel filler and slid the giant metal lever over to activate the pump. The numbers rotated over to zero and I filled the truck, then went inside and told the cashier how much I had pumped. She charged that amount to my credit card and we were on our way. I grabbed a photo of the gas station on our way out the next morning, after topping off with fuel again.
It would’ve been nice to stay at our campsite for another day, giving us a day to poke around Reserve and see what was there, but alas – we had places to be. It was a great site, though – a quietly winding road, paved but not well-traveled at night, snaked by at the bottom of the hill. We were alone on the hill for the night.
We found a trail that ended up taking us nowhere productive, but I put two wheels in the air for the first time so it was definitely worth the detour! Of course, I did it again for video. Stock height and stock bumpers leave something to be desired as far as approach and departure angles are concerned, but we managed. ATRAC worked wonderfully and the absence of lockers was not a problem, even with two wheels off the ground. For future trips, a 2″ lift and a bumper trim would be helpful. Overall for a stock vehicle, I really can’t complain.
Lots of driving happened on the 24th. Our day was split between forest service roads winding through the mountains, where we encountered the Continental Divide trail, and a huge network of dirt roads that went through countless acres of ranches.
Cows were plentiful – they did appear to be accustomed to vehicle traffic and they were generally quite eager to get out of the way.
Wednesday brought us to the City of Rocks State Park. They have free showers with park entry, which is quite an excellent find after a week on the road! Beautiful desert gardens and plenty of rock is an inadequately brief description.
We found another park later on in the day and went for a hike. I am not a huge fan of hiking, so Wendy grabbed this and said she snuck a shot of Josh outside of his natural habitat:
She loves hiking, and was quite pleased.
We stayed at a campsite that night. It was set far, far back from the highway and we had a ~20 minute drive from the entrance gate to the actual camping area. We encountered a rather dumb calf on this road, who appeared quite intent to stand in the road and stare at us. Eventually it decided to hop off the road and go someplace safe. The campsites were pretty decent – we spent the evening listening to our neighbors exuberantly singing karaoke, which was a bit entertaining.
On Thursday, May 26, we made it to White Sands. It’s a cool place and I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area. Even I enjoyed this hike!
Wendy found a brilliantly colored lizard hiding in the bushes in a valley between the dunes.
I would probably go here again, especially in the off season when it’s not crowded. We went early in the day, which helped with the crowds – seeing acres of empty parking lots made me think about how busy it would be if they were actually full. I’m glad we went when we did.
Today I saw the highest elevation to date in this truck – indicated 9550ft (so close to 10k!). We went off the main paths for a while and found that the trails did not line up with our Delorme atlas or with Google’s maps of the area, but we continued on anyway. I thought we were going to make it through to where we were trying to go, but we ended up at gates only allowing smaller offroad vehicles (maximum width 42″). So…, we turned around and made our way back. I bought a hatchet a while ago thinking that it may come in handy; today it finally did, aiding in removing a small tree that had fallen across the trail.
We camped on BLM land after finding a reasonably flat area out of sight of the main road. We successfully nestled our tent in between trees, cow pies and cacti – it fit!
Our trip wrapped up on the 27th – we spent most of the day on the interstate and arrived in San Antonio, TX. Shortly thereafter we flew to our respective homes, concluding this chapter of exploration. We are hoping to spend two weeks in Colorado next spring, so check back with us then!