Every once in awhile we go back through the video footage we’ve captured over the years… and there is a truck load (pun intended).
Our Baja Mexico overland adventure was one of our most difficult and rewarding trips we ever took on. Watching the footage I wanted to put something together that would give everyone a quick glimpse into that overland adventure and encourage others to get out of their comfort zone. The Baja California Peninsula is one of the last truly unspoiled places left on earth.
This little trailer video gives you a quick idea of what we saw as we traveled from Tijuana Mexico to Cabo San Lucas following the Baja 1000 race course gps tracks. If you enjoy the trailer check out the full Baja Mexico overland story.
Oh my hell the Steens mountain was hard, but it feels so good to have done it! The desert is the easy part of the adventure… or so I thought.
Coming off the mountain is a pleasure. Sunshine, blue sky, the day is beautiful. It’s taken a bit more fuel on the mountain than expected so a stop at Frenchglen to top off the tank is in order. The trails go everywhere, and I’m just going to explore.
The trails don’t have markers, I’m all turned around. I know I saw that clump of trees before. This is okay right… it’s why they call it exploring? Motoring slowly down this two track looks promising. No markers, not on the map but it is going the direction that the wild mustangs are reported to hang out.
Dammit. The two track comes to an abrupt stop in the middle of no where at a fence line. The sign is marked research area. hummm
Climbing on top of the FJ Cruiser to get a better vantage, I see what looks like horses. They’re in the distance hills but the hike might be good for me. Hopping the barbed wire fence with the camera, tripod and an desire to get up close and personal with the wild horse I start hiking. A mile later and I’m getting close enough that the mustangs are paying attention to me. Time to channel my inner horse whisper. Slowly walk 30 feet, stop, look away from the herd, stand still until they decide I’m not a concern and then move forward another 30 feet. It’s taken me an hour to go a another quarter mile and now I find myself surrounded by wild mustangs peacefully grazing.
It is an amazing feeling being this close one of the most iconic symbols of the wild west. A little excitement, a little tranquility and a whole lot of these are 1,000 pound wild animals that could take me out at anytime if they decide. Sitting quietly I’m taking in the mountains, the mustangs and the complete wildness of the area. The horses move about, occasionally looking my way but mostly paying attention to the other horses wondering all about. It is a privilege to be a part of this scene.
The sun is staring to drop low and I am heading back to the truck trying to decide what’s next. On the map there is a sort-of-marked 4×4 trail that looks like it heads in the direction I want to go so why not.
Driving trails in the dark is one of my favorite things. The night is quiet. Rabbits dart out, crossing my lit path and then disappear on the other side into the darkness. Coyote howls are carried on the breeze and every once in a while I think I see something big in the shadows. It is eerie and calming all at the same time. There is no reference to where I am. The satellite puts me in a big gray space with no roads and there hasn’t been cell service for hours, but I’m still making slow steady progress over the 4×4 trail. And based on the map… I should pop out on a road soon(ish).
It’s 11:15pm. A light from a barn is coming into view. This 4×4 trail has skirted much of a rancher’s land and is now depositing me on his door step, 20 yards from the highway. Not exactly where I thought I was headed but it has been so much fun I didn’t care.
It’s late, my last meal was breakfast and I’m getting tired. Looks like it will be best to head back to Page Springs for the night. Three days I’ve ventured out… and three nights I’ve returned to Page Springs, must be something in the water. Tarp on the ground, stars over head, I’m asleep as soon as my head goes horizontal.
The Alvord hot springs have become a bit of a tourist attraction. There is a caretaker, a parking lot, surplus MASH unit containers converted to cabins and a fridge with cold drinks. $8 buys you a day in the hot springs, access out onto the playa (the dry lake bed that once extended a 100 miles) and use of a flush toilet, all of which I plan on taking advantage of.
The caretaker smiles, she gives me the run down of the area. “Drive in any direction, stay clear of the hot springs tail out, the gate closes at 10:30pm”.
The playa is dry and cracked. It appears to go forever. Heat rising off the playa make the hills in the distance dance. Driving on the lake-bed is intoxicating. I aim the FJ Cruiser north and drive, lazily serpentine loops back and forth until I reach what feels like the middle. Nothing in all directions for a couple of miles. This is camp!
It is so quiet I can hear myself think… that is not always a good thing. Setting up the tarp, cooking dinner, and hanging out by the fire this is how camping alone is meant to be.
Some where in the very dark, very early morning, I wake to what Dorothy and Toto must have experienced on their ride to Oz. I had staked the tarp down but not for this. Scrambling to find a light, the tent stakes, and hammer I get to adding guy lines and cinching the tarp down. Each pull on the guy lines changes the harmonics from wild flaps to the taught hum of a snare drum skin. This wind storm is going to make for a long night.
Morning finds an eerie silence over the playa again. The sun is warming on my face. A quick inventory shows everything is still here in one piece. This may be a desert, but it is chilly. Breakfast by the fire and a cup of camp coffee is what I need to set the world right again.
A week has gone by in a blink of an eye. It may be time for a bath. I’m definitely getting pretty rank. The crowds at the Alvord hot springs may not provide a mind blowing existential solo experience but soaking in the still waters is so worth every bit of that $8 price tag. 105+ degree water pulls the aches and pains out from deep in my bones. Literally four hours later I’m finally forcing myself to get out and head back to camp on the playa.
Packing up I can’t help but believe the night spent on the frozen Steens Mountain, wheeling through the night, meditating with wild horses and desert solitude have changed me a little… for the better. Right now, right here, my soul is at rest. I can’t wait to get back here.
It wasn’t supposed to be that hard! Everyone said the Steens Mountain area is beautiful in November. There just hadn’t been a November this wet in decades. 600 miles to get there and my windshield wipers do not get a break from the rain. Neither do I!
I hate camping in the rain. Everything gets wet. Packing up a wet tent (or in my case a tarp), running around in damp cloths, trying to dry out socks with the truck’s defroster… it sucks. Two days into this adventure and everything in the back of the truck is damp. I it still have 150 miles to go. When is the good part?
The appeal of the Steens Mountain area is that there is not much around it, at all. Burns, Or. is the last real town I’ll see for the week, next stop is at the north end of the wilderness, a little dot on the map called Frenchglen. A historic hotel, a tiny general store and one working gas pump. Grab a couple jugs of water, fill the truck and spare Jerry cans. It may be awhile before I see Fields, the only other spot on the map with gas and supplies down at the south end.
As I set up camp at Page Springs the sun is finally braking through the clouds and this promises to be a great trip.
The Donner und Blitzen, a beautiful little trout stream, runs right through Page Springs campground. The fall colors are magnificent and a small herd of deer have made this campground their home. Everything is starting to look up as I lay my head down under the tarp, shaking off the last of the dampness.
The Steens Mountain area is made up of 170,200 acres and was designated as a wilderness area by congress in 2000. Today’s plan, follow the mountain loop, a gravel road up to the summit, find a cozy place up top to spend the night and enjoy an evening by the fire under the stars.
The sun is shining bright, the sky is cloudless and blue. I’m making good time driving the gravel loop as it works it’s way up into the hills. Continuing to gain elevation the road is showing light but increasing snow cover. Passing Jackman park, the snow on the road is around six inches deep with no tire tracks. I realize as I continue to drive, it is unlikely anyone will be coming along behind me if I get stuck. I tell myself, it will be fine, just keep it slow and steady. Around Kiger Gorge lookout, the truck is starting to fishtail back and forth every once in awhile in the sloppy snow now 10-12 inches on the road. Time to consider my options.
The easy choice, the safe choice, is to turn around and call it a day. But I’m not known for hitting the easy button. I weigh the risks, consider various ways I could die on the mountain and come to a decision. Time to chain up.
Chains and mud tires were never meant to go together, The tire lugs are making it a pain in the ass to get the chains lined up and tight. At 9,000 ft(ish) I’m getting winded with all this work, humping chains around, setting up camera shots, shoveling snow to clear the tires… Should have packed an oxygen bottle instead of that extra pound of bacon. Time to get back in the driver’s seat.
The FJ Cruiser is motoring along great but the snow drifts are quickly getting deep. The rear wheels push the truck forward but the front skid is riding up like a toboggan in the deep snow and lifting the front off the ground. Progress is limited to push forward 10 feet until the front lifts off the ground and before the rear tires lift, back up, get a running start and push forward another 10 feet. Rinse and repeat for the next 20 minutes and hope the truck doesn’t high-center in the snow that is now about two feet deep.
I’m walking sections of the road to see were the edge is before charging forward. I’m shoveling areas to clear the pile of snow my front-end pushes up. This is frustratingly slow and taking a toll on my mental state. We’re close to the top but it is getting late.
A couple more long pushes and I’m moving free again. This is it. Now hike the last bit… Cold, windy, and getting dark. So worth it!
The flat spot if found for the night has a great view but the idea of setting up the tarp with the wind hollowing is more than I can manage. I’ve napped in the truck’s front before… how bad could it be.
As night falls I sleep a few hours, wake up, try to find a less uncomfortable position that doesn’t require master yogi skills and sleep a little more. It’s a rough night.
First light lets me know I’ve survived the night. Time to get off this mountain. But first… Breakfast!
So you may have noticed some Lexus GX470 discussions from us here and out in the forums… Yes we did it, we added a Lexus GX470 to the fleet. Just not this one.
Why you ask? It’s built on the same J120 Toyota Prado Land Cruiser platform as our FJ Cruiser but with four doors, a bit more room, a whole lot more luxury and a V8 engine. Our new Lexus GX470, affectionately named (by Hula Betty) Fat Girl, will be primarily used for overland adventures and as a daily driver for Hula Betty. She wont get the massive mods we have on the Blue Bunny but she will be getting some upgrades to her suspension and armor.
While Fat Girl will remain stock for now, that doesn’t mean we haven’t started to consider options. One option is the Metal Tech 4×4 rear swing-out bumper known as the Pegasus. Mark over at Metal Tech 4×4 put all their Toyota Land Cruiser experience into creating this bumper. No cutting, no welding, this swing-out bumper fits right into the design of the Lexus GX470 and allows you to carry larger spare tire, fuel cans and your Hi-Lift jack.
And when it comes to installation… Well see for yourself. We put together an installation video to help folks install their Metal Tech 4×4 swing-out bumper on the Lexus GX470 and give us an excuse to get an up close look at the Pegasus.
If you just want the highlights about this bumper than give this introduction video a look. It walks you through some of the key features of this overland bumper.
Growing up, fly fishing was my escape into the great outdoors. In fact it was the desire to go further off the beaten path that spurred on the need for an off-road vehicle. In those days it was an old VW Baja Bug that I built to explore the abandoned forest roads in search of a hidden creek or quiet lake.
Back then the Deschutes river, was 100 miles away, had a spot down an abandon dirt road that lead to place few people bothered to go known as Mecca Flats. Mecca Flats was really just a dirt patch, a starting point from where I would follow a trail along the river, fishing riffles, runs and back eddies for the next five miles. Mecca Flats was base camp for my adventure.
For all that driving and hiking I would get to wet a fly line on one of the best blue ribbon fisheries in the west. Trout averaged 14″. Wild salmon and steelhead runs were always strong. World famous Salmon Fly hatches and year round Caddis Fly would bring the trout to the surface almost anytime of day.
Today the drive is closer to 300 miles. The long dirt road has been graveled, but just barely. The open dirt camping at Mecca Flats now has designated numbered camping spots with tables and fire rings. Day fishers have their own parking area and an outhouse. But thanks to strict regulation trout, salmon and steelhead still fill the river and there is a good chance you’ll be into one within minutes of wetting a line.
Fly fishing is still one my favorite escapes into the great outdoors.
One of my favorite times during a overland adventure is early morning. Sun rising over camp, quiet in the air, warm coffee and anything is possible. And I get to cook breakfast! I love to cook.
My all time go to favorite camp breakfast, huevos ranchero. Hearty, probably not that healthy but oh so very tasty. Let face it, really anything with chorizo and eggs is going to come out good and can’t really be screwed up… although there was the “chorizo surprise” debacle a few years back.
The secret to this breakfast delight is in the chorizo… It can’t be that farmstead, grass-fed, dry-aged, loin-based, hand-rubbed, hipster chorizo. No, this has to be the chorizo of my people, true Mexican chorizo, made from grinding up pork salivary glands, lymph nodes and fat with spices that cooks down to delicious, spicy, coagulated, crimson oily paste.
If you’re looking for an exact recipe, give Betty Crocker a call. I roll pretty loose… This is it:
Get the stove going… and keep the heat on the low side as you cook down the chorizo in a heavy skillet. Keep it moving, don’t let it burn.
After a few minutes, add a handful of chopped onions and continue to cook (and stir) until the onions take on a translucent state.
Next add a minced garlic clove, giving a few more stirs.
Toss in a bunch of chopped cilantro and mix it in.
Pull the mix to the sides of the skillet making room to cook the eggs. (fry or scramble the way you like)
When the eggs are ready, remove from the heat and sprinkle everything with grated cheese. Any good Cheddar, Jack, Queso Fresco, Queso Anejo, Cotija, Oaxaca, Panela, Asadero will do. Cheese is its own food group in my mind.
Serve on a plate, wrapped in a flower tortilla, over a corn tostada shell and drizzle a little hot sauce over everything.
This is really just the base. You can add in fried potatoes, poblano or anaheim peppers, or diced tomatoes to make the huevos rancheros your own.
We’ve gone across the Rubicon Trail in our FJ Cruiser twice without so much as a scratch… well without noticeable body damage. But it is the relatively easy Naches wagon tail that seems to always cause us problems. Sure we have followed the Naches wagon trail dozens of time to cross over Washington’s Cascade mountains but it’s this easy trail that has caused all of our body damage. And this time we captured it on video!
We all have those places we cherish and this trail remains one of our favorite ways to spend a day. You’re hard pressed to find a trail with more spectacular scenery. There is just enough hill climbs, off camber and bumps to keep it fun along with several tight squeezes that prevent you from thinking this is walk in the woods.
Maybe it’s karma, maybe it’s just bad luck, or what ever that this wagon trail we love caused us so much pain. Will it stop us??!! Absolutely not! We really do love this place.
I love taking the factory doors off to let the outside in. Metal Tech 4×4’s tube doors give great visibility and put you close to everything, but just like leaving the top of your Jeep at home, you have to accept, you’re committed to living a lifestyle.
That lifestyle includes breathing in trail dust that covers everything, and I do mean everything. Giving up the AC when the mercury screams 100+. In the case of rain… well wear a wet suit.
Adventures are not meant to be easy. If you want to be comfortable stay on the couch. Adventures get uncomfortable sometimes but it rewards those who have the desire to push past it and discover what is around the next corner.
It’s Thursday, our FJ Cruiser, the Blue Bunny, is fully packed and sitting out front of work like a beacon to the weekend’s off-road adventure. Punch the clock at noon and I’m out the door to jump start the long weekend adventure. This is going to be great.
By 12:05p.m. I’m on I5, stuck in traffic trying to get out of Seattle. The speedometer registers 10mph… when we’re moving at all that is. A cool breeze is caressing my face, uninhibited by the Meta Tech 4×4 tube doors that hang in the space once occupied by factory sheet metal and glass. Other drivers wave. Some inquire where we’re going. I smile and shout back to each probe; “Heading off the grid in central Oregon.”
2:30p.m. and the traffic snarls of Seattle, Tacoma and JBLM are a distant memory. This is going to be great.
Just south of Olympia, Washington the speed limit jumps to 70 MPH. It is at this point the clouds unload. A few drops at first. Then a bit stronger. A mile further we’re driving in a monsoon with winds pushing rain sideways through the large opening to my left and right. Every 18 wheeler that rolls by creates a mix of water, oil and road grime that washes into the cabin. An inch of water is pooling in the floor mats. I’m wiping down the inside of the windshield with a towel, everything I own is getting wet.
This adventure is not off to a great start.
By the time we reach Portland, Oregon the rain is a manageable sprinkle but commuters desperate to return home have created gridlock. All ODOT message boards read: “Congested Traffic Ahead”.
I’m wet, in need of fuel and looking at cranky in the review mirror. Wilsonville, Oregon means a stop for gas and a quick howdy to family who offer a dry towel.
You really can’t say a quick hello to family who live 300 miles away. There is the obligatory one beer. Stories of the girls soccer game. How’s work going questions and the polite chit chat that follows. The clock reads 8:00p.m. and I’m starting to fidget. We have to get on the road. It’s still another four hours to our destination.
Despite being off schedule, the time spent with John and the girls is exactly what was needed. The rain has let up. The traffic is light again and the sun is casting its late evening colors across a darkening sky. I’m dry (ish) and heading south once more. This is going to be great.
You don’t normally consider hypothermia a threat while driving down the highway. Cruising up the mountain passes the temperature is quickly falling into the low forties. Add to that the windchill factor of tube doors, combined with a general dampness that clings to every article of clothing and you can see how the gods have conspired to lower the entertainment value of this trip. I man up, one hand on the steering wheel while the other is perched over the open heater vent until it is warm enough to take its turn on the wheel.
I spent a great deal of my youth camping, fishing and exploring the headwaters of the Metollious River. In those days, I never had reason to keep going. These days, if you want to get away, you have to keep going.
Google map’s directions call for a right onto a forest road before Camp Sherman. According to Google, forest road 1400 makes a few turns and intersects with FR 1490. The problem is Google’s directions, the forest road numbers and my vague memory aren’t lining up. Drive a mile or two down the gravel road, look at the directions, check the map, turn around try the other direction… It’s 1:00a.m.! Emotional turmoil does not begin to describe this mess! It’s time to stop!
Camp ground after camp ground along the headwaters and all spots are occupied with trailers, RVs and blaze orange tents or worse, big “reserved site” signs. Since when do they take reservations here!! Oh my hell, it’s the middle of the week, don’t these people have jobs??!! The one open spot I can find in the dark is next to the outhouse, across from the garbage bins with ground that slops down hard to the left.
The night is black as ink, misty and cold. No camp niceties tonight, just get the tarp up and sleeping bag down so i can warm up and grab a few winks.
The trip may have gotten off to a rocky start but morning brings a renewed vigor. Armed with a couple maps, my sidearm, and the desire to get off the grid we orient and motor past the general store, by Wizard Falls and beyond lower bridge where the pavement ends. Twenty five miles of dirt road, not recommended for passenger cars, trailers or anyone concerned with their suspension separates us from our destination.
Crushed red lava rock gives way to exposed football sized stones and washboard as we endeavored to persevere This is going to be great.
The Metolius River’s head waters gush directly out of the mountain side. It is a site that seems to contradict conventional thought. By the time the Metolius reaches Lake Billy Chinook, the gentle spring creek has turned into a raging river. Camp Monty sits where the two waters collide. No cell coverage, no electricity, no potable water and no one else here! This is going to be great.
For the next few days we venture out exploring unnamed two tracks. A few clouds break up the blue sky. The sun’s rays warm our face and a light breeze is at our back. Song birds sing their tune. Ground squirrels dart back and forth across the trail ahead of us. Our pace is slow, we’re in no hurry. Each time we round a bend, the trees open up to valley views that stretch for miles before us. In the distance Mt Jefferson and Black Butte make their presents known. And still we haven’t seen anyone else. This is a great adventure!
It’s said a “bad day fishing is still better than a good day of work”. These days I seem to spend a lot more time in the office than out on the river, but it does make those trips that much more special.
I grew up chasing steelhead across Oregon with Kevin, one of my best friends from college. We where never all that successful but it didn’t seem to matter; we were skipping class, out on the water and enjoying each others company. Roll the calendar forward… a lot, and nothing much has changed.
We still don’t have a lot of success but we do drive better trucks that get us to more secluded fishing spots. Fiberglass poles have been replace by hand made bamboo spay rods that Kevin builds in his shop from canes he brought over from china. And we still enjoy each others company on a river casting a fly.
A bad fishing, is only bad if you can’t remember why you go out on the water in the first place. And for me… it not about the fish!
Travel & Adventure – an overlanding, off road, camping and road trip website dedicated to helping others explore the road less traveled.