Flatlanders Go West

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Rank III

Advocate II

Galveston, IN
Member #


DISCLAIMER: First time attempting a trip report, be easy on me. This was a 5 week trip so I might be slow on the updates, going to try to do it in state by state "Chapters"

Flatlanders Go West


After a year of planning with Excel sheets, research, google maps hotlinks, research and thousands of dollars on a 2001 XJ that never seems like it was going to be ready, the time had finally come to leave our home in Indiana for a trip of a LIFETIME. The vehicle we chose was a 2001 Jeep Cherokee, former fire department k9 vehicle. Build thread can be seen here if interested, MORTY.

But the Major modifications are
  • OME 3" lift
  • 4.0L Auto
  • 4.10 regear
  • ARB front locker
  • Rear Detroit Trutrac LSD
  • Tepui RTT
  • TuffStuff Awning
  • JCR Offroad Vanguard front bumper
  • Warn VR8s
  • JCR Offroad Vanguard rear bumper W/ Adventure tire carrier
  • Obsession Offroad rock sliders
  • Cooper STT Pros

In the end by the numbers
35 Days on the road.
6,689 Miles.
465 Gallons of gas.
11 States.
18 National Parks & Forests.
7 Off road trails.
4 Mountain Passes.
1 rear hatch.
1 thumb.​

....More to come


Rank III

Advocate II

Buhl, ID
Member #


I'll waiting for the "more to come." Loved your intro photo. I have camped and explored a lot in Idaho (home state), Montana and Wyoming as well as some in Northern Nevada, Utah and Oregon.


Rank III

Advocate II

Galveston, IN
Member #


Part I
The Beginning

Clark Fork along Morrison JT by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

N 38°57'33.80"
W 95°15'55.73"

In the weeks prior to us leaving I found myself scrambling to get the rig ready for this trip, having not installed a plethora of new parts waiting in the living room and the ones not even ordered. We were lucky enough to receive a great discount/sponsorship from JCR Offroad about a month before we were scheduled to leave. This allowed me to massively upgrade the bumpers that were on the Jeep but coming at the cost of a time crunch. JCR doesn't have a huge amount of parts in stock, specifically bumpers and most are made to order. The guys at JCR helped out a lot by shipping the pieces I ordered as they were finished, saving me the trouble of installing everything at one time.
First to make it in the Rear Vanguard bumper. High quality piece and well thought out design.

Next was the front Vanguard winch bumper, great looking functional bumper with nice tie in brackets and high entry angle clearance. Just with these two installed the Cherokee really started to look the part.

Money shot by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
Added weight needs added lift by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
While waiting for the tire carrier to come in I had a local shop do up some custom rock sliders. Obsession Offroad is a small custom fabrication and offroad shop in Marion, Indiana and Brad, the owner and sole employee is a great guy and extremely knowledgeable. Having gone to him to install my locker and set my gears in the past and seeing a lot of his work, I went to him for sliders and a HD tie rod. Of course they came out great and had an easy install, nice thing about his tie rod is that is uses beefier OEM rod ends from a Dodge truck. Meaning not only can you find them in basically all autoparts stores, but you get the warranties for them too.
Not a day after I got all those things installed, my tire carrier showed up on the porch. Another great piece of kit from JCR and a smooth install. Getting the tire carrier on really made the Cherokee ready for some heavy miles offroad without the worry for a blown tire and allowing the bolt on of a few other accessories like a Hi-Lift, CB, and extra fuel.

JCR designed it to allow the use of Rotopax but I didn't think that would be enough fuel for what we were intending. I ordered to Waiven 20L fuel cans, designed up some brackets and ran to Brad's at Obession to get them bent up. With those last pieces installed we were ready to load the Jeep up with only hours to spare before we got a last night's rest, for a 3am leave time the next day.
Loaded Up by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

September 3rd..

Alarm screaming, eyes snapped open.
Today is the day.
Quick showers, double checking bags. Me, Jordan (my wife), and Domo our Blue Heeler hopped into our home for the next 35 days. We are off.
5 miles down the road I hard brake ..damn forgot the camera. At least I remembered it at that point not hours away.
First day of driving was a tough one, we had done it before two years prior. Galveston, IN to Rapid City, SD., almost 17hrs with fuel stops and just over 1,000 miles. Thought behind this was to get as far west as possible as soon as possible so we have just that much more time out of the flatland.

5 Fuel stops later, we can see Badlands NP on the horizon. We stop. Having skipped it last time we didn't want to do that again. The air was thick with smoke, visibility was poor from the wild fires raging across the border in Montana. Still an incredible site to see and glad we made a quick stop.
Jeep in the Badlands by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
Badlands NP by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

We rolled up to our friends, Ashley and Michael, around 11pm local. Ashley was on a solo trip to Colorado and Michael slowing down after a day ripping up trails on his dirt bike. Quick chats over a beer or two and we turned in for the day. Insane how much a long drive can take out of you, even with a handful of Redbulls.

The next morning wasn't quite as early and were we grateful for that. Slow to get moving we spent a good amount of time just sipping coffee for the day. Ashley was on her way back from her trip so we decided we would stay for the rest of the day, in the mean time head out to Rushmore and the black hills that afternoon. We'd make our way back to the house in time for Ashley to make it back, have some dinner and another night in a comfy bed. Knowing the nights of actual beds would be few and far between we were pretty happy with that plan.

If anyone has been to Rushmore they know dogs aren't allowed. We have had Domo for about a year and a half, he is a well behaved pup for as young as he is and we recently started training him to be a service dog for Jordan. Being fairly new to the specific training we decided to leave him in the car for our quick run up to see the monument so we wouldn't have to deal with the questioning the comes with a service animal.
Domo didn't like that.
Being super attached to us and going everywhere we do back home, he isn't use to us leaving him in the car like that. Poor guy barked the entire time and we could HEAR him from the car park. I snapped a few pictures and we left in fear of some do-good Samaritan busting out our windows to 'save' him. We drove out behind Rushmore at a suggestion from Michael to hike around and see the area. Domo could run around with us out there so we spent a few good hours wandering around the woods with George Washington's dome as a backdrop.
Rushmore by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
Black Hills by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
Boulders by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

After Jordan scavenged for all the rocks she could fit in her arm to take home and I was worn out scrambling up and down boulders with the dog, we made our way back to the Jeep and into Rapid City for the night.
Lots of beer and some good food of the grill the 4 of us caught up. Stories of the past, present and future filled the air. Always good to be with old friends.
.... continued in next post
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Rank III

Advocate II

Galveston, IN
Member #


Part I continued
September 5th..

Making our way downstairs we headed out to the Jeep. Ashley and Michael had to be at work early so we said our goodbyes the night before.

Back in the XJ we pointed west and headed for Story, WY. My grandfather lives in a small place out there and we were going to spend some time with him for the next couple days. Few hours behind the wheel felt like nothing after our previous drive from Indiana.
Road to Wyoming by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Made it to his place late afternoon. Some catching up and we made our way to a campground just down the road. We planned on setting up the rooftop in the driveway but his eagle eyed witch of a landlord was not going to have that. Gene (grandpa) made his way to the campground after we had set up, drank a few beers and ate up some burgers. He is a Korean war vet and makes sure you know it, the stories never run dry with him and he was excited to be telling us them.
Story Campsite by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

He headed home and we made our way up the RTT ladder with Domo for our first night of camping on the trip.

The Next morning we cooked up some eggs and sausage, coffee of course. Packed the Jeep and made our way back up the road to Gene's to let him show us the area.

He loaded us up in his '92 Ford Exploder and drove us up to Fort Phil Kearny, pointing out his favorite fishing holes along the way. Some time spent there and seeing the Wagon Box Battle Monument earned us a meal in nearby Sheridon, WY at grandpa's favorite Chinese buffet.
Battle on the Hill by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
Battle on the Hill Trail by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
Domo found a Stick by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Full on fried rice and Sweet & Sour we made it back to his place and hopped into the Jeep to go set up camp. Just like clockwork Gene putted his way into camp an hour later in the Maroon Monster. Beers, stories and a surprise gift. He thought it was insane for us to be doing this trip without a gun, frankly I did too but I didn't have the time to get something before we left. He passed me a older .38 special, neat looking pistol.
With the beers empty, he decided it was time to leave. Up the ladder we went. Another great night in Story.

September 7th..

8am. Eggs, Sausage, Coffee. Morrison Jeep Trail today.

Stopped into my grandpa's for a goodbye. Looked over some paper maps and showed him the area we should be in for the next couple days. He made note of it in case something were to happen. Hugs and some pictures. We leave.
Jumpers by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Making our way through the Bighorn NF out of Sheridan, WY through our first mountain pass, topping out around 8,700 feet. We finally felt like we were out west now. Coming down the other side and I am reminded how much the Cherokee is loaded up. Hot brakes driving down the steep grades, I pull off to let them cool.
Domo by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_2923 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_2887 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
Couple hours later we are looking at the Morrison Trail Sign outside of Cody, WY. The First real test of the Cherokee's setup and the biggest test of my driving skill to date.

Air down. Disconnect. Ready.

Incredible drive into a valley, crawling onto Shoshone NF land, the trail is mild but bumpy. Over a hill into an open area along Clarks Fork of Yellowstone River. Massive washout area that I imagine is close to impassable when the water is high. We jumped out to take some pictures and let Domo run in the river before the switchbacks that he wasn't going to enjoy.
Domo in Clark Fork by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
Jeep in on Morrison by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
Morrison Valley by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Getting back into the jeep, we start driving around the bend. There they are. Enormous and intimidating to even the most confident. The Switchbacks. Not three weeks prior to us being in that spot, an elderly couple rolled their side by side off one of the switchbacks. Killing both of them, a bit of info I probably shouldn't have told Jordan before we got there....


Rank III

Advocate II

Galveston, IN
Member #


Part II

Checks by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr​

N 44°48'8.18"
W 109°21'14.49"
Morrison Switchbacks, WY

September 7th

6:37PM. Staring at the switchbacks, thinking about everything I've read or watched on them. The video that stuck out to me at that moment was one that Expedition Overland put together awhile back. Took those guys hours to get up there, yes they were slowed by filming and slowed by bring up a trailer but I was worried non the less of the time it would take a novice (at best). Burning precious minutes in the shadow of the mountain whether or not to trek up or set up camp... 6:45pm we started.

Climbing up the first couple, I looked at the wife. "well this isn't that bad", "don't say that" ..... She was right. One after another they got worse. 3 point turns, 4 point turns, "hop out and spot me back", 5 point turns. Counting down the slips we stopped about half way. First time I think we looked out to the east off the edge of certain death. Stunning views. Made the stress worth it.

Breaktime by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
up, up, up by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Locker engaged on a few climbs to be safe, few cool down stops for the poor 4 liter and we made it. To my surprise we made it in what felt like a quick ascent. Time of this photo was 7:29PM, just less than 45 minutes to crawl up.
We made it faces by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

The Switchbacks of Morrison were conquered. To be honest it was easier than I thought it would be and since then for anyone that asks me for advise on the trail, I tell them all the same. Its not the switchbacks I feel like people should worry about. I personally think its Forest Road 120 people should try to prepare for. It is endless, slow moving for miles. This Forest Road is what wore me down.

This section after the slips is the first time my photography of the trip fails. Between not knowing how far ahead a good place to camp would be and the speed of which we were losing sunlight, not many pictures were taken of this beginning stretch of 120.

Start of 120 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
After crossing the cattle guard we crawled up the rest of Morrison RD. Turning right, we started 120. Steep sections but not like the switchbacks. What makes this road draining is the boulders. Weaving left and right up the trail at mostly under 5 MPH we seemed to be making zero progress. Sun almost set and we run into the first people we have seen since leaving Cody, WY. Two hunters with a side by side parked and camp setup for the night on the first flat spot we had seen in 5 hours. The Jeep roaring to a stop, I give a wave. They stand up and look the rig up and down, waving back. Hop out of the XJ in hopes for a bit of info on where we could stop for the night. But before we got to that they had some more important questions.
"Y'all come up from Morrison"
"Yes sir"
"In that?"
"Yes sir"
"Surprised y'all can fit in the little Jeep with those giant balls of yours"
"Its a tight fit but we make do"
They insisted that we could set up camp with them but it being a big forest I asked how far to the next clearing and wished them a good hunt.

Putting up the road about a mile or two and the area opened to a vast clearing for miles. Flat-ish areas galore but with that came cows galore.
Mooove by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
Cows don't care that you need to pass. Cows don't care that you are running out of sun light.
Some more weaving left and right and we made it through the herd. Came up to an area to finally setup around 10pm. Hot soup and we were off to bed.

.... Continued on next post


Rank III

Advocate II

Galveston, IN
Member #


Part II continued
September 8th..
The next morning with coffee in hand we sit and take in the views. For the first time we feel isolated. Exactly what we were searching for on this trip. Taking our time packing up to head back on to the trail, we get a late start.

Not a 1/4 mile out of camp we are back in it. Crawling.
Forest Road 120 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_3021 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_3096 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
20170908_103424 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_3170 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_3169 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Hours go by and we make it to Sawtooth mountain area. Up at the top of the mountain it was at least 15 degrees cooler with nothing to block the wind, snapped a few pictures and gave the jeep a good look over.
DSC_3146 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_3144 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
Check locker operation. PSHHHHHHHHH. Damn. Crawl underneath and find the line has a burn hole in it from the exhaust and of course I left my spare line at home in the rush to leave a week earlier. Here is to hoping the trail is mellow after this
Checks by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Drive a few more miles down the road and we pull off for lunch and to explore around a lake.
DSC_3176 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_3186 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_3204 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_3208 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Packed back up and maybe an hour later we finish. What a trail! Tested the Cherokee and us. Worth every minute.
20170908_120032 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Aired up and reconnected we hit the pavement. Beartooth highway into Yellowstone. Second national park and some frustration. Driving through the park and stopping every 5 minutes for an idiot who decided to stop in the middle of the road to take pictures of wild life. After this it set a new tone for me in regards to National Parks. Avoid them.
The amount if stupidity, traffic, rules, etc. ruin National Parks for me. They water down nature. It takes away from the wild. Our society found a way to cage and short change the wilderness. No one seems to be in these areas to SEE the park. Just want the boxes checked, selfies taken.

Scrambled to find a site and setup in Yellowstone for the night. Ended up finding a pretty good one, happily surprised.
20170908_192910 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

September 9th

Rolled out of the tent to rain. Cooked breakfast and sipped coffee under the awning, not looking forward to packing up wet gear.
Drove out of Yellowstone into the Tetons. Much of the same.
We stopped for a snack near Jenny's Lake
20170909_134028 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
20170909_122334 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Out of Teton NP and into Jackson Hole. Such a neat town, stopped into the visitor center. Got a campsite suggestion out near Granite Hot Springs. Ate at a Mexican joint in town and headed to the springs, hoping to get there before before the pool closed. That didn't happen.
But we hung out a bit at a waterfall south of the springs before heading to the site.
20170909_173414 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
Nice and free site next to a steam for the night.
20170910_113921 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

September 10th

Skipped breakfast that morning and made our way back into Jackson hole. New York City Sub Shop. Cant recommend this place enough, neat little place to eat with dog friendly outdoor seating. From here we had a choice to make. The original plan after the Tetons was to head up north to Missoula, MT to stay with a friend and go to Glacier NP. There happened to be some nasty wildfires in the area at the time, leaving the air quality dismal. So we could either brave the smoke and see what we could or skip one of my favorite areas in the country and skip over a friend we haven't seen for 2 years... Not an easy decision.

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Rank III

Advocate II

Galveston, IN
Member #


Part III

20170912_151731 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

N 43°28'47.66", W 110°45'57.93"
Jackson Hole, WY

September 10th

Subs in hand, we ponder what the trip will look like if we skip Montana and Idaho. We weren't to happy about skipping the area but the thought of having an extra week in both Colorado and Utah sounded great. Few more minutes of research and we made the decision to ax going up north.
Next was to decide if we were still going to hit up Utah first. Now being mid September the temps were already dropping in southern Colorado where we were going to be spending most of our time. Finishing up my last few crumbs, Colorado it is.

Update Family, Check.
Find our first stop, Check.
Load up and head east, Check.

With GPS set to an area just north of the Colorado state line in Medicine Bow National Forest. Google says 5 1/2 hours but google doesn't know the jeep as well as I do. 6 1/2 hours later, pitch black we pull into what I think was a campsite. Lost phone signal and GPS. Good enough for me. Still full from Mcds a few hours earlier we set up and crashed.

September 11th..

8am. Coffee. Banana pancakes. Damn this never gets old. At this point of the trip the day to day routine feels normal. Feels like home. And we are loving every moment of it.
Pack up and drive out with the goal of Denver to stay with a friend that I oddly enough have never met in person. Brandon is a forum friend from years ago back when I was huge into BMW E30s. We kept up with here and there most of the time from purchasing some of his handmade leather goods. Before the start of the trip he made contact with me saying if we happened to be in the area to stop on by. Now that Denver was in the itinerary, Brandon would be our first stop in Colorado.

Back on the highway for a few minutes we turn right onto Snake River Spur Road. Heavily washboarded dirt road that dances between WY-CO stateline 13 or so miles before turning south into Routt National Forest. Passing some massive multi million dollar ranches we made our way through Steamboat Springs, CO, making it to I70 and traveling through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel. Driving along we get about 10 miles east of Idaho Springs. Jordan yells that the tire carrier is moving, I look back and sure enough the carrier is swung out about half way, going about 60 mph I try to tap on the brakes to see if itll swing back closed but it was too late. The carrier swung out passenger side, feel the Jeep start to squat to that side and WAM! The far side of the carrier hits a guard rail. ****.

Pull off on the first exit I can find to asses the damage and figure out what failed in the first place. Walk around to the back of the Cherokee and the first thing I see is the latch pin is missing. Great. Flashback to before we left, in rushing to get ready for the trip I didn't put any locktite on it. That came back and bit me in the ass.
received_10154923273093499 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Couple ratchet straps later and the carrier is secured. Update Brandon on the delay and called JCR about getting a new latch pin, Corey my sales rep answers up and we work out a plan. New pin is getting overnight shipped to Brandon's house and i should have it to install by 10am. Perfect. $75 later, but perfect. Crisis somewhat averted with no delay.

We arrive at Brandon's soon after with some beer, ready to relax. Brandon was a great host, some great white Chili. While enjoying catching up on the new Rick & Morty season, start brainstorming ideas on a trade for some leather work and advertising. My social media page starting gaining some traction during this trip so in trade we decided he could throw together a new collar and leash for Domo and we would then do some good pictures and do a little advertising for him.

Headed down into the small shop he has put together in the basement. The smell of leather fills the room. Stamping tools, an anvil, leather scrapes laying on, great scene. We put Domo up of the table and get some neck measurements off of him and Brandon got to work. A site to see, someone working their craft. Measure, cut, punch, cooper rivets, stitch. Work of art seeing him meticulously work on a seemingly simple dog collar. The time and attention to detail though is why I like Brandon's products. Small details never overlooked and that's where I feel it counts the most. With the collar done we give it a test fit and it turns out just right. Domo is looking real snazzy now.

Lights out, yawning we head back up stairs from the basement. One more beer and we hit the hay.

....... Continued on next post



Rank III

Advocate II

Galveston, IN
Member #


PART III continued

September 12th

The next morning waking up to the smell of coffee and homemade waffles, Brandon nails it again. Just as we finish breakfast the doorbell rings. 9:23am. Latch pin is here. Break out the tools, time to get the carrier operational again. After about 30 minutes of aligning we get the pin set, with locktite this time.
Head back inside and Jordan has the laundry done, another nicety Brandon did for us.

Packed up the Jeep and say our goodbyes. Cant thank Brandon enough for all the things he did for us and with a shameless plug, anyone looking for great handcrafted leather goods like belts, wallets, watch straps, collars, or any custom work, I recommend no one but Brandon.
You can see his products on Instagram: @Bweissleather
Facebook: BWeiss
Etsy: www.etsy.com/shop/BWeissLeather
Screenshot_20171121-183516 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

We head west back up I70 towards Mt. Evans at the recommendation of Brandon. Mt. Evans is the highest paved road in North America at 14,120 feet, out doing the more famous Pikes Peak by a whopping 5 feet. From what I was told back in the day there was a competition between the governments of Denver and Colorado Springs for tourism. Colorado Springs had Pikes Peak and not to be out done, Denver decided to pave Mt. Evans.
Crossing through the park gate we start the climb of 7,000 over the course of 28 miles. As we climb the Jeep gets hot. Several pull offs to let it cool down some. We find out the highest we would be able to go is Summit lake at 12,836 feet. The park closes the road higher than that for the winter season. No problem for us though, Jordan seemed to be feeling that altitude already. Hop out of the Jeep to hike around the lake a bit and take a few glamor shots of Domo. Absolutely gorgeous, Colorado was already becoming our favorite state.
DSC_3229 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

20170912_141815 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

DSC_3253 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

DSC_3274 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

20170912_153705 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

We started the drive back down to earth, heading to Breckenridge for the night. Not the stop n shop kind of people we head up a side road out of town to start looking for a free place to camp for the night. Outside of Breckenridge is a maze of forest roads in the surrounding Arapaho National Forest. So much of a maze that I actually don't even know where we camped for the night. We putted the Jeep up, down and around the mountains for a bit. All fine and dandy until....

BAM! Oh i did it this time.

Rear glass everywhere. While backing up to return to a place we passed up to camp a mile up the trail, I reversed into one of those seldom seen moving trees. You know the ones that weren't there the first time you looked back. Found one!
Get out of the XJ to take a look at my shame. Rear glass completely shattered, AWESOME. Guess we can start cleaning this mess up. Go to open the hatch, wont open, AWESOME. Decide our best bet is to clear out the back of the jeep of all our gear and kick the door from the inside. Instructing Jordan to hold the hatch latch open, I start kicking. Little dry heaving later and the hatch is open, AWESOME. Finish cleaning out most of glass and start loading back up. Now I'm not going to play the blame game but either me OR Jordan accidently closed the hatch back up. Guess the safe bet is to blame the dog. So shifting around the gear in the back of the Jeep again we assume the hatch opening position. Kick, Kick, Kick, scream. Hatch swings open but this time Jordan had her thumb in a different position. Feel terrible as we now asses her damage, most likely broken. Felt so guilty.

Grabbing some ice from the cooler she sits out the rest of the gear upload. We make it back into the flat ground we spotted earlier. Jordan eats up the last pot cookie to take the edge off while I grill up the steak and rice for dinner. What a day of events.

September 13th

Everything seems to take twice the amount of time now that my partner is sitting the bench. We head back down the mountain to head to Colorado Springs. Googling a pick and pull looking for a new hatch. Located a place with a few Cherokees in the yard and set the GPS. Come into the parking lot I grab up the tool bag and head inside the fence. Walk row after row looking to the Jeeps, there they are. 10 minutes and $70 later I'm rolling a red hatch and a new tail light (busted in the tire carrier incident). Tight fit but the hatch is loaded into the back of the Jeep and we set the GPS to a ready med. Jordan's thumb is still extremely swollen and painful, decided our safest bet is to get it checked out. Who would of thought our first couple stops in C. Springs would be a junk yard and a medical facility.

20170913_142656 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Xray done. Broken thumb, 5 or 6 weeks til its healed. Well damn.
With the turn of events, I made the call to stay at a hotel for the night. Being in the military affords me a network of hotels at each base we can stay at for a flat rate of $60 anywhere in the world. We made our way through the gate at Peterson AFB and grab a hotel room. This works out great as a way to let Jordan relax and give me a safe place to change out the new-to-me hatch.
Make a run into town after getting Jordan situated. Needed some torx bits for the hatch job and some grub for the night. With a Chipotle burrito in my belly I headed into the parking lot to swap in my sweet red hatch.

20170913_193204 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

20170913_205759 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Changed in about an hour, I make it back inside to Jordan already sleeping. I Join her after a hectic day, nice to be in a bed.



Rank III

Advocate II

Galveston, IN
Member #


Part IV
Just a couple of tourist

by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Colorado Springs, Co

September 14th

Morning at Peterson AFB. With the new hatch and sore thumb we head to the McD's on base to grab some quick food before heading out to see a few local sites. Manitou Cliff Dwellings, Pub Dog, and Pikes Peak. A very dog friendly day in what seemed like one of the most dog friendly cities in the country. Its great to be able to travel freely with your dog, especially when we are across the country, couldn't imagine leaving the pup in a kennel.

Pull into the cliff dwellings and it was packed. Surprise. Find a parking spot and starting walking around. Too be honest I'm not the greatest at enjoying the typical touristy things. Spent about 45 minutes looking around and going through the museum/gift shop. Don't get me wrong its was cool to see, just not my favorite thing to do when on vacation.

DSC_3293 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_3294 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

After Manitou was a food break, at recommendation from a friend we were heading to a restaurant that is a dog heaven. Pub Dog is a small brewery that has a small fenced dog park attached to it. Order your food and drinks then you head into the park to let your dog run. All kinds of pups running around. Really cool spot.

Photo-Credit-Tara-Downs by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Full on burger we head out to Pikes Peak. Awesome drive up to the mountain. We were able to go up to the top, unlike Mt. Evans. Some photos in the wind and cold and we start heading right back down.

20170914_135346 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
IMG_20170916_202045_686 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Heading to a campsite called Thunder Ridge, part of the Rampart Reservoir Recreation Area. Roll up to the site look around to find a site in a somewhat full campground. See a clean water pump, figured we were here might as well fill up cause the site we ended up settling for as nowhere near one. Pull out the container and the host comes out of nowhere and starts yelling at us that we HAVE to pay for a site before we get a drop of water. Okay lady, have all intensions on paying for site #2. No, pay first. Okayyyyy, Jesus. She literally watched me drop that site money in the deposit box before leaving us alone. Wont stay here again.

September 15th

The next morning the crazy camp host lady starts making her rounds, asking if anyone is staying another night. 3 hours before the cut off time even. We packed up and left.

Goal today is to head west towards Ouray. But first, Garden of the gods. Really cool patch of land saved from the development of C. Springs around it. Me being into rock climbing, this way a cool stop. Climbers have set routes all over the place. Wouldn't mind at a later date just coming out for a week and just climbing the park.

20170915_133022 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_3325 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr
DSC_3332 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

After seeing leaving the GotG we stop at a Starbucks just down road. Sitting in the sun and soaking up our latte and pumpkin muffins I couldn't help but think about how perfect everything is. Between breaking hatches and thumbs we felt like we were back in the rhythm of things. Loving Colorado and thinking about the rest of the week or so in the San Juan mountains, it is only going to get better. Twist of the key and we are back on the road. Taking 115 south out of C. Springs we turn west onto 50, this road will take us to Gunnison, CO in the area where I figured we could stop for the night.

IMG_20170915_125322_299 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Really awesome road to travel on. Runs in a few valleys along a section of the Arkansas River and then Gunnison River. Beautiful.

20170915_163818 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Having really no idea where we were going to stop and losing daylight, I zoom out on google maps find a road heading into National Forest land. Found a road in Gunnison NF and set a drop point. I might mess up the following road names but after some searching while writing this, I finally found where we camped at on this night.
Turning north in the "town" of Parlin we headed up Co Rd 76 for about 9 miles into another small town named Ohio City. Just outside of town, which looked to have just a general store we turned left onto Co Rd 771. We drove up this bumpy gravel road for another 7.5 miles until we found a large pull of with a few fire rings in it. Works for me, especially with the sun going down in the valley. This spot was right off of Gold Creek in New Dollar Gulch. With the View of two peaks, Broncho Mountain and Fairview Peak, this was another one of my favorites spots.. and of course it was free. Disappointed in myself for not taking more pictures of the area.

September 16th

Woke up to the Moo of cows in the camp, the free range alarm clocks never get old. Quick Banana pancakes and coffee and I started packing up camp.

DSC_3380 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Heading back down the road onto US 50 we crossed a two bridges on the Gunnison river. Montrose the next city to be hit. Into Montrose we tuned south on to US 550. Ouray here we come, but first... Walmart. look at the weekly temps and seeing thast we were going to bet at altitude for the next week we need to stock up on some cold weather gear, couple fleece blankets,some button up long sleeve shirts, sock hats and we were set. Back on US 550 south we get just north of Ridgeway and spot the Ridgeway Reservoir/ Ridgeway State Park. The reservoir has a beach that you can drive on right up to the shore and having never driven on one before we figured we might as well, we have time.
Parked on the beach we run Domo to burn off some energy and I take a few pictures of the Jeep.

DSC_3385 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Again packed up, we finally make our way into Ouray. OH MY. Absolutely stunning, no wonder its such a huge tourist spot. Tiny town nestled in a bowl with walls of mountain in every direction. Quick google we find a dog friendly place to eat, Gold Belt Bar and Grill. Buy up a few Colorado brews and a pizza.
Shock number one of Ouray, EVERYTHING is expensive. Put down most of the pizza and box the rest for later I google a spot for the night. Angel Creek Campground, very primitive and a very rough road in the campground. Almost wanted to stop and disconnect the swaybar because it was that rough. Get to the back of the campground and found a good site. Someone even left us some firewood, thanks previous resident of site #8. First night in the San Juans, clear skies.

IMG_20170916_210854_929 by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

The next few days are going to be eventful, Alpine Loop, Poughkeepie Gulch, Imogene Pass and Black Bear Pass.

To be continued...


Rank III

Advocate II

Galveston, IN
Member #


Part V

by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Ouray, Co

September 17th

First Morning in Ouray. Wake up to a cloudy and chilly morning. Not wanting to cook in that weather we packed up quick and we headed into town to find a local breakfast.

Driving down main street we spot a promising place on 7th Ave called Backstreet Bistro. Outdoor seating for domo, Ouray for the win. We grab up a menu and quickly find something to order, place seemed to be getting real busy. Ordered up and headed out to sit with domo and Jordan. Maybe 6 four person tables outside, couple small tables inside among the large community table. Maybe a 30 minute wait and they call out my name. Jordan gets a Yankee boy Potato Boat and I get a Cascade Breakfast. Eggs, potatoes, meat, veggies and fruit lay in front of both of us with of course coffee to drink. Two large "Tomboy" to sip on, Café Mocha, Hazelnut and Carmel Syrup. Every bit of it was super good and super expensive. Think we were $35-40 out the door.

Full, we head back into the Jeep. Time to get to the Alpine Loop. I'd been reading about this trail for the last year and a half at least, could say I was a little hyped. We head south out of town on US 550 for a few miles until we get to Co Rd 18. This will be our entrance to the Loop. Air down, disconnect, double check locker actuation. We are good to go.

Start climbing up the Mountain in front of us. Couple Switchbacks and a good amount of traffic on the way up. Smiles on everyone's faces as we pass, might be the happiest place in the world. Couple more tight sections where we had to wait for a rental jeep to figure out if they would be able to make it down the trail or not. Funny watching some of these people on these trails who honestly have no business being behind the wheel. We make our first stop at the sign for Poughkeepsie gulch to take a Picture and let domo out, ended up being a good poop stop for us too. The Bistro's coffee is good stuff.

We hop back in feeling lighter. Weather was coming in, we are now travelling with a little bit of hast. Poughkeepsie turned out to be fairly rough, not enough for the front locker to be engaged at all. Rear Detroit Trutrac was now looking like a good decision. when searching on what to do when building the drivetrain for the Cherokee, a lot of people said go straight to selectable lockers front AND rear. My thought behind running a torsion LSD in the rear instead was for moments like this, the LSD was doing its job, keeping traction without me having to do a thing. Perfect.
Out of the Gulch we start gaining some altitude. Stopping at Lake Como we hop out and walk around the area, Domo jumps in the lake, he wasn't ready to the frigid water. Snapped some pictures and started heading up to California Pass. Our first pass at 12,960 feet and it starts spitting snow. Jordan stayed in the Jeep while I brave the weather to snap a picture of the altitude signage.

Coming down the other side of the mountain the storm follows us down. Still absolutely stunning. Down the spine and into the valley of California gulch into Animus Forks. Ground getting pretty muddy at this level, we start heading for Cinnamon Pass. Rain again turns to snow as we climb up to the Cinnamon Pass altitude of 12,640 feet. We hop out if the Jeep together this time to let Domo run around and for Jordan to walk around a bit. She was starting to really feel the altitude and the bouncing around in the Cherokee wasn't helping matters.

Back in the Jeep and heading down, we stop every once and awhile to stretch and take pictures, weather is slowly clearing up on the trail making for some really nice pictures. Another couple hours want we find camp around dusk at Mill Creek Campground. Crossing the narrow bridge over the Lake Fork River we find a really nice spot to set up and start dinner. Think this night was just soups and coffee, got pretty chilly. With clear skies I break out the camera to take a few.
Great night on the trail.

Continued on next post...


Rank III

Advocate II

Galveston, IN
Member #


.....Part V Continued

September 18th

Morning in the Alpine and we had no intentions on leaving early after a long day on the trail yesterday. Slow to move, we enjoyed breakfast and the views. Not too long after 11am we start packing up before we get kicked out.
Goal was to make it through the rest of the loop and back in Ouray today in time for dinner.

On the path we start heading east. Easy trail to the highway where I turn north. Rolling through a few towns we make our way back onto dirt. Weaving up and down through valleys we mile by mile get through the forests. Up to our final pass on the loop. Engineer Pass at 12,800 feet elevation. Another picture with the sign and we start heading down the west side of the mountain.

by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr​

Stopped at a place called Odom Point on not a mile down the other side. Made for a great picture.

Fully down the Mountain we are back in Animas Forks. We head south from there on Co Rd 2 with the goal for Silverton. Not ready to leave the area yet we turn cross the Animas River at Grouse Gulch onto an unmarked road. Didn't see any signs saying private, it was time to explore. Following the road up a steep 4Lo climb. We get to the end of the road for us, safely at least. Hop out to an area full of old mine shafts. Shot me into a nerd moment, looked just like something of Lord of the Rings. We play around a bit and completely loose track of time. The three of us climb into the Jeep and start the slow jog back down.

by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr​

Happy with the time we spent in the area we take Co Rd 2 out of the mountains and into Silverton. Hitting pavement I pull off on a side road to air up and connect the sway bar. Jordan and domo play in the Animas River while I get the XJ a good look over. Old jeep did pretty good. Very happy with it. We look around Silverton for a place to eat, a lot seemed to be closed. So we decide to head back into Ouray for dinner and another night at Angel Creek just outside of town.

Travelling on 550 north back into Ouray, we are taken in by the views, they weren't kidding with the Million Dollar Highway. In Ouray we settle on Ouray Brewery for a bit to eat and beers before bed. Sadly we leave Domo in the car but he is pretty use to staying in the car for a few minutes. We get into the busy brewery and head up to the balcony that overlooks Main Street. Really cool spot to stop and see. upstairs they have a small bar where you can get drinks and order stuff like Burgers. We both get a local beer and scarf down half a cow. Kept some leftovers for Domo as a treat for sitting in the car for a bit. We spoil him a bit sometimes.

Made our way back into Angel Creek and got lucky with the same site we had before with still some leftover fire wood we didn't burn up 2 nights ago. Tent set up, we sit by the fire as long as we can in the cold. By 10:30pm we call it a night. Another great day in Colorado

September 19th

Suns out. Imogene Pass into Telluride today. Packed up and into town for another breakfast at the Backstreet Bistro. Two bagel sandwiches and SMALL Tomboys to drink, didn't want a repeat of Poughkeepsie Gulch. Back out of town onto Camp Bird Road we make our way up to the trail to Imogene. Air down, disconnect. Turns out I'll leave my 16 inch breaker bar here too, didn't realize it til about a week later in Utah. Sorry for littering Colorado.

Up the to the 13,114 feet peak, this was my favorite trail of the San Juans. Terrain was fun, good mix of stuff. Really lots of fun. At the peak it was at felt like 25 degrees, maybe less but the 50+ MPH winds made it hard to judge. Jordan opted to say in the car for this one too. Wind made it miserable so I don't blame her. Place a Overland Bound sticker, snap some pictures and get back into the warm Cherokee

Driving the Jeep down the other side of the road we unfortunately follow a tour vehicle, looked like an old Unimog, all the way down into Telluride. Drove through telluride and found a place to stop and look for a place to camp. End up find a place called Alta Lakes about 30mins out of town, primitive and free, my favorite. Taking CO-145 east, then south out of town, we make back into the mountains. Boy does Telluride have some money in the area, some on the houses are crazy out here. Turning of the highway we get onto the cleverly named road, Alta Lakes Road. 10 or 15 minutes and we are at the campground. This place was awesome! Set up right on a lake, salmon and rice for dinner, Jordan gets the fire going. Sounding like a broken record now but Another perfect night in Colorado.

To be continued...


Rank III

Advocate II

Awesome write up! Growing up in Durango, I was lucky to play in the san juans frequently. Nice choice on the xj and jcr products as well. Looking forward to the rest of your trip


Rank III

Advocate II

Galveston, IN
Member #


Part VI
Green to Red

by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr

Alta Lakes Campground, Co

September 20th

by Emerson Bowling, on Flickr​

Excited for the last trail in the San Juan mountains we clean up fast to drive back into and through Ouray. Do to some terrible planning on my part we were doubling out back through Ouray because Black Bear pass is one way down the switchbacks. But lucky for us the scenery in the san Juans never gets old. After about an hour drive we find ourselves back on the Million Dollar Highway south of Ouray, Jeep hit 214,000 miles on the way to the trail!

Finding the trail head for black bear I pull off, air down, and disconnect.

We quickly start a start a steep accent to the peak of the pass. 12,840 feet and the last time we will be at this kind of altitude on the trip. Obligatory pictures with the signage and we start heading for the switchbacks and the part that makes people a bit leery, the off camber section on the edge of the mountain.

A decent and another climb we pull off too let domo run and cool off the Jeep. Also figured it was a stop to break and relieve myself, turns out I was wrong. Some guys in an Fj Cruiser popped over the hill, if you guys happen to read this, im sorry lol

Zipped up and back in the Jeep we head for the switchbacks. After some drop off we flex our way down the trail and happened to come upon a girl in the middle of the trail. We come to a stop to have a chat, she is in the middle of an adrenaline fix. Grabbing onto a cable left over from one of the mining outfits that spans across the valley, she runs from the far end of the trail and sprints off the ledge, swinging over a ravine with a creek some 75 feet below. She gets to the end of the swing and makes her way back to solid ground offering us a try. We both say no. Shoulda said yes.

Leaving her we head towards the off camber section, I see why people are a bit leery here. We slow crawl down and around the edge of the mountain. Brakes squealing, a rock face an inch off the passenger side mirror, terrain leaning the jeep hard to the driver side. Looking out of the driver side is a drop off, rather large drop off. A pucker moment for sure.

We make it down this section and park at a large area that makes up the first switchback. Beautiful. Another trail and our last trail in Colorado with incredible views. Cant wait to come back to this area again.

Back in the jeep we head down the rest of the switch backs that finish the trail. Easy stuff for us after driving Morrison. Good 10 or 20 minutes we are back on pavement in Telluride and a good thing because we were hungry. We find a place that has outdoor seating for Domo and find a parking spot. Walking down one of the cleanest towns I think I've ever been in we get to La Cocina De Luz, small Mexican place which of course being in Telluride is organic, bringing organic prices along with it. We suck it up and order our food and head outside. Some time later we get our $35+ street tacos and dig in. Wont deny that it was good, but worth the money I don't know.

Full, we walk back to the Jeep to head back up to Alta Lakes Campground for our last night in the San Juans.

September 21st

Quick pick up at camp in the morning and we are off to Montrose. Sad to be leaving the San Juans but excited to see what Utah has for us. We make it in time for McDs breakfast. Sausage & Egg McMuffin and googling for a GPX track of our route today. I found a trail called Rim Rocker while digging around on Expo Portal some time ago. Seemed like a newly put together route of dirt and rock that goes from Montrose to Moab. Looked very easy but we figured it would be a fun way to cross into the state instead of on the HWY. Having found a track online we got it downloaded and headed on our way.

Aired down to a conservative 23psi to help eat up some of the inevitable washboard roads. Leaving the "Staging" area we head off on a forest road going through Uncompahgre NF. Easy travels on this road all the way to the town of Nucla. Heading north from there on a rocky trail, the terrain starts to change to red. Bumpy side roads bring us to the top of the same valley that HWY 141 runs through. Great views as we turn down hill on Q12 Road to cross the highway. Little bit of back tracking on 141 and you turn R13 Road. Following this trail into a maze that comes back out of the valley on the other side. Following this road for almost two hours the surroundings green back up as you make your way into the Manti - La Sal NF.

Just off the designated RR trail is the Buckeye Reservoir and the campground surrounding it. We getting to the area about an hour before sundown. Empty, no camp host, no other campers. Odd, thinking maybe the campground was closed we take a look at the notice board and see nothing of the sort. Works for us. We pick a good spot and start to open everything up, Jordans finger feeling a bit better now so she is again a big help and we are quick making dinner for the night. Chicken fajitas, one of my favorites. Jordan starts a fire in the massive fire pits provided at each site while I finish up. Eating to full under a full moon and crackling fire. We head up the latter not long after.

Continued on next post...


Rank III

Advocate II

Galveston, IN
Member #


September 22nd

Morning at Buckeye we have our normal breakfast. Itching to get to Moab, we make quick work of the clean up and get back on the trail. As the green scenery again turns red, we find ourselves in Utah only a few minutes later. Dirt turns to rock, rock to sand and then back, we make our way on backroads all the way into Moab. Already early afternoon we decide to not hit any trails until tomorrow.

First up was to find an actual hotel to stay in, having not slept in a real bed or taken a real shower for about 2 weeks now we figured it was about time that happened. Not to mention we were really getting low on clean clothes. So we start googling the cheapest hotel that will work for us. We settled on Riverside Inn, sub $150 and a washer and dryer. Perfect, we head that way to get checked in and find some dinner after that.

Paid and room keys in hand we get unpacked and shower before we go out. That shower felt incredible, different shades of dirt colored water went down the drain for a good 10 mins. Jordan hopped in after me and I started looking up somewhere to eat dinner. Few minutes later we head out the door for Eddie Mcstiff's for the outdoor seating. Driving through Moab the town was neat, so many cool offroaders. Saw the new JL's still in camo, $50k Jk's being trailered by $80k Diesel tow setups. Insane the amount of money on the streets here.

Pull into Eddie's and squeezed the Jeep into a parking spot between a beefed up 3rd gen 4runner and a JKU. Domo on the leash we get sat at a nice table outside. Burgers and Beer ordered, we are excited for our first good meal in what seems like a week. funny how trails can really take it outta ya. Food arrives and its gone not long after. Good stuff for sure. We pay and head back to the hotel for the night.

September 23rd

Slept in a bit today after a good night in a real bed. We get out of the hotel around 11am, stopping at the Wendys in town before heading to Sand Flats RA. Hope to get down with Fins n Things and Hells Revenge. Get to the park and pay the entrance fee, we head right to the start of Fins n things. We stop and Jordan starts airing down the tires, I disconnect the sway bar and ensure the locker operation is bueno. Jump in and we are off on our first moab trail. FnT is a pretty mid trail I'd say with some steep rock ledges to climb, the most difficult being optional. I'll let the pictures do the talking from here. Apologize for how little I took of both of these trails.

And my only picture of the Jeep on Hells Revenge, again disappointed in how little I took on these two trails

But I did get a couple shots of the camo'd up Jeeps that were out on the trail. JL wrangler, current MY Cherokee and compass, and a camo'd new Cherokee

We finished hells revenge with no real struggles and had lots of fun. Starving we make our way back to the hotel to shower and head out to town and eat. This time we opted to leave Domo in the Jeep and eat at an Italian place called Pasta Jay's, pretty good and it was nice to sit inside to eat, had been awhile. Full on Noods, we get back in the Cherokee to an excited Domo and gave him the breadstick he deserved. Spotting an ice cream place on the main drag we park on the side of the street and walked into Moab Garage Co. Ordered up Strawberry in a waffle cone and Cookies n cream for Jordan. While waiting for the goodness, I was approached by a guy who saw us on the trail. He ask how the Cherokee did, talked a bit about the build and then I asked what he was driving, turned out to be one the the JL guys! Talked to him a bit, seemed to really like the new wrangler. Got our ice cream, holy cow that was some good stuff!

Made our way back to the hotel for the night. Excited for Poison Spider Mesa tomorrow.

To be continued...


Rank V

Member III

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This is tremendous. What an amazing adventure. Maybe I'll paint my hatch red and start a trend.
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