I Love My 80

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May 7, 2005
South Jordan, UT
"A Long and Sometimes Strange Trip through Canyonlands"

I have always loved my 80, but sometimes I am given a clear reminder of why.

Just got back from a four-day family trip in the Canyonlands area. Planned months in advance, the trip was supposed to consist of my 4-member family unit in our 1993 FZJ80 and my father and brother in dad's Rubicon. Dad backed out at the last minute, so it ended up being me, my wife, my 4-year old, 21-month old, and my brother cozied up in the 80. Add these 5 homo sapiens, 10 gallons of H2O, 10 gallons of C8H18, cooler of High Life, cooler of food, and other assorted camping crap to a fully armored, winched and spare-tooled FZJ80, and you get a hefty little pig of a Land Cruiser.

The planned route was originally a transit from Blanding, north over the Dark Canyon Plateau and into Beef Basin followed by a couple days in the Elephant Hill area of the Needles District. From there we would continue north on the Lockhart Basin Road to the banks of the Colorado River at the mouth of Lockhart Canyon, then north, up and over Hurrah Pass with a camp on upper Kane Creek. The final day would be a trip up Kane Creek to the highway, then Moab.


Needless to say I was nervous to travel the route as a solo vehicle with two small children. After learning that the Dark Canyon Plateau roads were likely muddy and slick after a recent rainstorm, we took the conservative option of amputating the lower section of the route from our plan.

Into Canyonlands from the main Needles entrance took us up and over the front side of Elephant Hill. Understanding that the Elephant Hill trail is rated a tame 3.5, and having been along the trail years ago in a stock Pathfinder, the steps on the front side of the hill still looked impressive when we pulled out of the parking lot in low range. Even though the near-seven thousand pound vehicle felt a little more sluggish than usual, it calmly lumbered up the steps without any fanfare or excitement. The ascent went so quickly we forgot to take photos :doh: .


The day's weather was dominated by high clouds and high winds, so we pretty much stayed in the 80 the whole time and Cruised down the long green lanes of the north-south grabens toward Beef Basin. The ascent to Bobby's Hole looked rough, with ample small boulders and small steps. I entertained myself and the passengers by taking the worst possible line up the track. Nothing like an 80 with a locked rear end to make you feel unstoppable.


We spent several hours exploring Beef Basin. Free-standing ruins, beautiful cliff-dwellings, and long vistas, but the howling winds kept all three adults and two kids penned-up in the Cruiser without complaint.




We opted out of camping in Beef Basin for finer-looking sites back near Bobby's Hole. The early spring moisture had left the grasses green in the long grabens, and we found a nice spot in an old cattle-camp. Despite the fine environment and improving weather, my youngest preferred to play in the Cruiser :D .



On Thursday we zipped up to Chesler Park for an outstanding hike along the Joint Trail and around Chesler Park. The weather was sunny and 60* Fahrenheit, and we only encountered a handful of other hikers. Back at the trailhead my youngest went straight for his seat in the Cruiser.



After two nights at our private Devil's Lane Estate, we headed back along the second half of the Elephant Hill loop, with a quick stop and short hike to overlook the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers. The handful of Jeeps on our way back over Elephant Hill were the only other vehicles we encountered on the entire loop.






Surprised to be at barely over a half-tank and two empty jerry cans, we opted to stop in at the Needles Outpost to resupply with high-priced gasoline and candy. Although the experience started with colorful language and a hand-slap from the "unique" proprietor, she sent us off with smiles, kind words, gasoline and home-made $5 chocolate milkshakes that would keep us for the remainder of the journey. A small group of tourists lounging under the stoop complemented the capable look of my 80 as I distributed the milkshakes to its occupants.


North along the Lockhart Basin Road.
Down into Indian Creek and past a circus of bare-headed pre-pubescents mounted on ATVs.
Across the creek and up the far side took us quickly back to a more familiar wildness.

The graded dirt road got us to Lockhart Canyon quicker than expected. We followed the canyon road down, and encountered no obstacles as it had been graded since the last major flood. There were a few vehicles parked near a pair of impressive dunes, but we never saw their occupants. Shortly past the flood gates at an unexpected Park boundary the road ended at a turn-around on the edge of a forest of tamarisk. After hopping out of the 80 and scampering up some low rocks, we saw the calm width of the Colorado gleaming in the sun beyond the green thicket. There was no obvious trail to any apparent bank, and we opted to set-up camp instead of following the wash to it's unique little confluence with the big river.



Once again we found a nice little swath of green next to a polite little cottonwood. The kids quickly fanned out to roll in the sand and watch ants. The high overcast sky and faint humidity made for a calm and comfortable evening that found us listening to old favorites on the car-stereo and drinking a little Jameson, and drinking a little more Jameson.



There were two more days on the planned schedule. Saturday would take us north along the remainder of the Lockhart Basin Road and up to Hurrah Pass. Pre-trip inquiries had revealed an obstacle at the northern end of the road in the form of a rough and rocky gully that lead down to the main route below Hurrah Pass. I was expecting a "tippy spot" that would supposedly pose no real obstacle to cautious driving and a reasonably well-equipped 80. I knew however, that conditions change with every rainstorm, and leaving camp Saturday morning I held onto a little uncertainty as to what we would encounter.


Immediately past the junction with Lockhart Canyon, the Lockhart Basin Road became much rougher than the graded dirt of the souther half. The going was slow, but entertaining. The vistas only improved as we crawled and cruised north.

Early in the day we encountered a group of mountain-bikers stopped on the road, with no apparent inclination to let us by. After some strange looks, their guide came over to inform us that there was a horrible section of trail at the northern end that we wouldn't be able to get through. After trying to humbly point out our preparedness to stay overnight and/or backtrack if necessary, I finally had to assert my intention to actually see the obstacle with my own eyes rather than turn around immediately upon her recommendation. She kindly waved us on with a palpable "you should'a listened to me" wish of "good luck."

Around mid-day we stopped to let the kids run-around and have a snack. After mopping-up the remains of bright-blue yogurt-from-a-tube, I spotted a couple Jeeps approaching from the road ahead. "Aha, these guys have come up through the rough section. Can't be that bad." As the driver of the lead Jeep got out and politely asked if he could photograph my Toyota, I noticed the FunTreks logo on his door and quickly recalled the Moab four wheel drive trails guidebook that Moody had lent me. We exchanged introductions with Charles and his companion, Ber (who is apparently an old and wizened Jedi Master of Canyon Country backroads) and set to chatting about the trail ahead. Mr. Wells calmed much of my concern about the gully, but cautioned me about the tight maneuvers and narrow tracks I'd have to negotiate. He complemented my 80 and told me to email him for a free copy if it appeared in his upcoming new edition. After a little more small-talk, Charles and Ber set off to continue their research for the the new book.


The trail roughened as it continued north. Finally, after a day's worth of mild butterflies, I was finally able to behold the current crux of the journey. It started as a shallow gully and quickly deepened into a rubble-filled canyon. Huge boulders flanked off-camber surfaces and created a serpentine obstacle course that continued down the canyon. Really though, it didn't look that bad. After walking a ways with my brother, I concluded that the only visible concern was a narrow off-camber shelf with a rounded rock edge that dropped a few feet into a pile of boulders. Other than that potential flop, slow and careful driving should get us through with nary a scratch.

After off-loading all the passengers save my 4-year old--who insisted on riding along--my brother guided me and my co-pilot down the first obstacle. The width turned out to be ample, and we were quickly and happily past what we thought was the worst spot. More careful placement got us through the next few obstacles just as quickly, and I found myself wanting to drive UP the canyon instead of down.




As I was putting aside all thought of a pointlessly risky drive back up the canyon, our privacy in the rocky gully was interrupted by the applause and verbal praise from the mountain bike guide standing on the canyon rim above us. As we ushered the group past we exchanged friendly hellos with, and received respectful praise from the bikers. I was happy to have that minor conflict resolved.




After a couple more enjoyable obstacles--one of which finally justified my sliders--we pulled aside at an open spot to let a group of five Jeeps heading up-canyon by. They seemed generally well-equipped save the brand-new stock Jeep Unlimited which struck me as too low and too long, with running boards that wouldn't survive the next 30 yards of the trail. After a woman in the lead Jeep informed me in a serious tone that the lower section of the trail was pretty rough, a young girl of 7 or 8--who had ranged ahead on foot--shook her head and privately told me that the lower section of the trail was EASY compared to what I had just passed through. My brother's discussion with another of the group informed him that they were intending to drive the entire Lockhart Basin Road as a day-trip. It was almost 3:00 in the afternoon, and as I watched them slowly creep through this relatively mellow section of the gully, I hoped they had enough sense to know when to call a truce and turn around.

The rest of the canyon was a breeze, and the "tippy spot" was nothing compared to the upper reaches of the canyon. We were soon Cruising along the rim of the canyon above the Colorado River as light rain started to wash the dust from the windshield. The sun was still breaking through the clouds with enough intensity to light up the river, creating the perfect resolution to the climax of the day's journey.


The rest of the trip did not go as planned. After ascending Hurrah Pass under continuing rainy sunshine. The mood took a quick and disorienting turn. As we descended down into Kane Creek, we were greeted by a rush of humanity and modern civilized recreation. The occasional truck and trailer turned into ATV encampments and tent villages. Behind every tamarisk was a tent, and on every trail a motorcycle. By the time we had reached the junction with the upper Kane Creek four wheel drive trail, we had abruptly entered a completely different world than the one we had spent the last four days in. The change in environment was not unexpected--we were less than an hour from Moab in one of the most popular recreation sites in the area--but I was mentally unprepared. After spending a half-hour winding through the maze of tracks and eroded gullies at the beginning of the Kane Creek four wheel drive trail, I asked my companions' permission to abort the rest of the plan and end the trip here. Everyone agreed that it just didn't seem to fit, and we turned around with only a little shame.

On the way down the Kane Creek Road we passed a guy sitting strangely in the dirt on the side of the road. As we rolled past, he looked up at us with a wild look in his eye and--to my eye--the crazed and obvious look of somebody in a truly memorable point of a long strange trip. He hollered something in tongues and threw a rock at us as we passed. The adults in the FZJ80 broke into laughter and the kids lounged comfortably in their seats as we rolled back to Moab.


Oh yeah.
My 80 kicks ass.

Fantastic! Thanks for sharing your trip. I absolutely know how you feel about the 80. I've been in Love with mine since the very first day.

Great pictures too.
thanks for sharing. Great pics. Nice 80!
awesome pics and write-up
glad all went as planned with careful planning and cautious driving

exactly what I would love to do with my family

are you locked front and rear? or was a rear locker enuf for the terrain.
Great write up and great pics. That makes me want to go on a trip.

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Good reading. Thanks for sharing. Are you running Nitto?
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Here's the tech content of this thread :D :

Aussie Locker in the rear. Open front.
I am really happy with the Aussie Locker right now. It has been very unobtrusive on the road around town, but damn what a difference a locked rear makes off road. I've never had a selectable locker--so my comments only hold so much value--but it sure is nice not to have to pause to lock/unlock my diff(s). The locker was not mandatory for the terrain.

This trip also showed me some value in wiring my CDL switch with the pin-7 modification. As heavy as I was, there were many times when the trail really didn't justify locked diffs--or even a locked center diff--but it was rough enough or inclined enough to warrant low-range. I found myself dropping into low but leaving the center diff unlocked. I was able to move calmly and slowly through some rough sections without winding up the tranny in high gear--but I was also open at the center diff and I didn't bind-up the drive train and have to fight through the tight turns.
Me like low-range with the center diff unlocked (sometimes).
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I enjoy reading it. Thanks for sharing. Are you running Nitto?

Love 'em.

Ran them at 30 psi front 34 psi rear on this trip. I was so loaded down that they actually flexed a lot on the rocks and when stressed at this pressure. The ride was just right too. This trip added some visible wear to them, though. Visibly abraded the edges and corners, some insignificant chunking (very small chunks).
You, sir, are an inspiration! Thanks for sharing a wonderful write-up and pics. Make sure you save a copy for those budding off-roaders.

"After off-loading all the passengers save my 4-year old--who insisted on riding along" :D.
I've been to all of those spots, and I'm impressed you found that really big cliff dwelling in Calf Canyon, since it isn't obvious. Did you know it was there? We camped right at the base of it.

Dark Canyon is on my list as well, I was hoping you would pre-scout it.

Anyway, great write up and pics. That canyon at the north end of Lockhart Basin does get your attention, but going up is less scary then going down.

Great trail report.
That's got to be one of my favorite areas in the country. Great place to be.


Excellent summary of your trip .... I really enjoyed the pictures too!
thanks! :)
Awesome Hayes. I want to be like you when I grow up. :)
All I have to say is jealousy!!:cool: Sweet rig, beautiful sights and a great family to tag along. Great write up too.
Love 'em.

Ran them at 30 psi front 34 psi rear on this trip. I was so loaded down that they actually flexed a lot on the rocks and when stressed at this pressure. The ride was just right too. This trip added some visible wear to them, though. Visibly abraded the edges and corners, some insignificant chunking (very small chunks).

"Bat Materson" was complaining about road noise above 60 MPH. Do you notice anything?

Awesome trip, awesome write up! I'm jealous here!

Great write up Hayes, dang you're fast at putting your trip log and pictures together!

I'm still struggling to get my summary posted from our trip in the Maze District last month and I don't even have little ones to keep me busy - yet...

Love the pictures, love the area. I just wish we were a little closer (24 hours drive each way isn't exactly a weekend trip).

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