Author Topic: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020  (Read 487 times)

JFanaselle

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Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« on: March 01, 2020, 09:50:09 PM »
(Warning - very photo heavy!)

A little over a week ago, my wife and I, along with a few other SCCX members were fortunate enough to take part in the Rogue Overland 2020 Winter Expedition in late February.

The trip officially started on Thursday, 2/20/20 when we met with the entire group at Four Corners National Monument. I think there were 26 rigs total, including the Rogue Overland folks. My wife and I decided to take Wednesday off from work, and we drove to Flagstaff and grabbed a hotel room for the night, so the trip started a day earlier for us. As we were passing through the Coachella Valley on Wednesday morning, I was reminded that Air Force One was scheduled to land at Palm Springs at approximately 10:00 am, so we swung by the airport and grabbed some photos. Regardless of your political stance or affiliation, seeing Air Force One and the presence it draws is pretty awesome, and it was a really cool way to start our journey.

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After a good night's sleep in Flagstaff, we awoke Thursday morning and drove the remaining 4 hours to Four Corners to met up with the group. In attendance from SCCX were CAWoody (Tim) and his son, CarJeep (Danny) and his wife, and Danny Grooters (who was riding with someone else, as his truck was having issues), and my wife and I. The entire Rogue Overland crew was there, along with a few other folks that I'd wheeled with before (mostly on previous Rogue Overland expeditions), and several folks that I was just meeting for the first time. There were at least 7 Nissans in attendance, including some folks from Nevada and Arizona.

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We spent a few minutes checking out the monument, and then after a welcome/driver's meeting, we all got into our rigs and traveled north for a few miles into Colorado before crossing back into Utah. If you've never been on one of these Rogue Overland expeditions before, the group does a wonderful job of keeping things moving along. Even with 26 rigs, they broke us down into smaller groups with a leader and tail of each one, and everything just operated so smoothly. I've seen trips with 6 or 7 people operate much slower than this crew can keep 26 rigs moving. They do a solid job of prerunning trails and creating a realistic itinerary with time buffers built in, and they keep everyone on schedule in a way that does not feel pressured or rude.

Just outside of Cedar Mesa, Utah, we caught our first trail, which is known as the Comb Ridge trail. It's a relatively easy out-and-back trail that follows a stretch of the San Juan River, and leads to the ruins of both a cool Mormon settlement and a really epic Native American settlement that was built up on the side of a cliff.

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« Last Edit: March 02, 2020, 09:21:38 AM by JFanaselle »

JFanaselle

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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #1 on: March 01, 2020, 09:50:24 PM »
After checking the settlements and ruins out, we made our way back off the trail and traveled further northwest to the Valley of the Gods. The road that loops through the valley is a high speed dirt road that is very well maintained by the BLM. We completed the entire loop in less than an hour, including stopping for plenty of photos.

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From there, we made our way up a gnarly switchback road toward Muley Point, which sits atop a large mesa overlooking the entire valley. This would be our campsite for the night. It got really cold here as the evening progressed, and we had a pot luck to prepare for this evening, so I didn't take many photos of the views from camp. But let's just say they were stunning! In the 3rd photo below, you can barely see all of our trucks parked around the area that I labeled "our camp."

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« Last Edit: March 02, 2020, 09:24:51 AM by JFanaselle »

JFanaselle

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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #2 on: March 01, 2020, 09:50:30 PM »
That first night in camp ended up being the coldest night of the entire trip. Depending on who's thermometer you used, it got down to somewhere between 18 and 22 degrees that night. The winds were also blowing at about 10 mph, making it pretty tough to tolerate if you had to get out of the tent for anything. That said, we stayed nice and cozy up in the RTT, and I kept the bathroom trips to a minimum. :)

As you can see in that last photo (which I took with my drone), we were quite a bit higher in elevation than the rest of the valley, atop Cedar Mesa. In that same photo, you may also notice a dirt road on the valley floor off to the right. This was actually our first trail of the next day, which runs through an area known as John's Canyon. John's Canyon is actually part of the eastern tip of the Glen Canyon National Recreation
Area (the same one around Lake Powell and Page, AZ). The area was so scenic and the landscape was beautiful, with the trail leading to a small waterfall in the far west of the canyon. The whole area is also full of large rocks with Native American petroglyphs that are believed to be about 800 years old.

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Despite the frigid temperatures the night before, it warmed up quite nicely once the sun came out, and it was at least 55 degrees by the time we got to the end of the trail. So we were all really surprised to find that the waterfall was completely frozen over, but it made for some great photographs!

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« Last Edit: March 02, 2020, 09:33:46 AM by JFanaselle »

JFanaselle

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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #3 on: March 01, 2020, 09:50:37 PM »
After John's Canyon, we made our way back out to the highway and ran south into Mexican Hat, Utah. Mexican Hat is a (really) small town on the northern border of the Navajo Nation, which is named after the a nearby rock formation that looks like an upside down sombrero balanced atop a large rock pillar. We had lunch at the Mexican Hat Rock overlook before stopping off in town for some fuel and refreshments. The town consisted of a couple of homes, a gas station with a 7/11 convenience store, and a really cool looking old hotel. The population as of the 2010 Census was just 31 people.

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After our fuel/refreshment stop, we crossed back over the San Juan River and entered the Navajo Nation, where we proceeded south toward Monument Valley. As you leave the town of Mexican Hat and approach Monument Valley on US Highway 163, you come across a location known as Forrest Gump Hill or Forrest Gump Point, which is where Tom Hanks' character stopped running in the famous movie. It was pretty iconic, and  the views looked exactly as I remember them from the movie. We grabbed a few photos and continued on our way.

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Once we got to the Monument Valley visitor's center, we were treated to the best views of the world famous Monument Valley monoliths/buttes. I'd never been here before, and it was so surreal to finally see them in person. The most iconic structures within the valley are the trio of West Mitten Butte, East Mitten Butte, and Merrick Butte, which form a triangle and are easily viewed from the overlook at the visitor's center, I took this photo from the exact same spot as one that was taken by Ansel Adams, so I guess that kind of puts us in the same league as photographers. Right?!? Isn't that how it works?!? :P

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We spent some time checking out the visitor's center and trading post, and then we proceeded through the valley toward our campsite for the night. The views as we drove through the valley were so beautiful! There were turnoffs every so often with signs indicating the names of each butte.

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We arrived at the campsite, which was actually the property of a private Navajo Residence. The Navajo woman who lives in the residence operates a bed and breakfast on the property during the regular tourism season, and she has several traditional Navajo mud huts on the property (known as Hogans) that can be rented and stayed in for the night. The views from camp were so amazing, and the sunset here was absolutely epic! We were also treated to a traditional Navajo taco dinner, which consisted of fresh made Navajo fry bread topped with chili, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and cheese. It was very delicious, and very filling.

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« Last Edit: March 02, 2020, 09:51:47 AM by JFanaselle »

JFanaselle

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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #4 on: March 01, 2020, 09:50:43 PM »
Thankfully, it stayed in the high 30s at camp that second night (with no wind!), so we awoke Saturday morning nice and warm and well rested. Unfortunately, a rain storm was moving in, and we were worried the weather would put a damper on the activity/tour that was planned for the day. After a hearty breakfast, we broke camp and began the nearly three hour drive all the way across the Navajo Nation, which took us south through the town of Kayenta, and then west/northwest back to Page, Arizona.

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Once we got to Page, we gathered at the site of the Horseshoe Bend and Slot Canyon tour company, where they loaded our group into several open-air safari trucks. I forgot to mention that it was "onesie day," so most of the group was wearing one-piece costumes or pajamas. Jessica and I had found some extremely comfortable ones that were an American Flag print.

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The trucks took drove us to what is known as Slot Canyon, which is part of the Antelope Canyon network of erosion canyons in the area. This particular canyon is smaller and less colorful than the more famous Upper or Lower Antelope Canyons, but it is privately owned and this tour company is the only one that is permitted to bring groups there. As such, they limit the tours to single groups at a time (usually 15 or less people, but our group was larger), and they allow tons of uninterrupted time within the canyon to explore and take photos. The guides were extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and they even helped people dial in the proper settings for photographing on their phones or cameras. One of the guides was a Navajo native, and he played a really cool handmade flute as we explored parts of the cave. It made the experience that much more spiritual and surreal.

The inside of the canyon was sooooooooooo beautiful! I hung back from the main group so that I could spend a ton of time taking pictures. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. The photos, as stunning as they are, still don't really do it justice.

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« Last Edit: March 02, 2020, 09:56:55 AM by JFanaselle »

JFanaselle

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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #5 on: March 01, 2020, 09:50:50 PM »
Everyone loaded back into the safari trucks, and we were driven to a private Horseshoe Bend overlook along the Colorado River. We passed right by the (extremely crowded) public overlook, and proceeded through a gate and onto a dirt road that led a mile or so back to a spot where we unloaded. From there, it was a short walk to the edge of the rim to overlook the canyon below. At one point, I climbed up to the top of a small ridge and I could see the huge crowds at the public overlook about a quarter mile to the east of us.

I've seen a million photos of Horseshoe Bend and I wasn't really expecting it to be as impressive at it was. It's one of those things that once you see it in person, it doesn't even look real (kind of like the Grand Canyon). We spent about a half hour here taking photos and checking the place out. Some folks were even brave enough to sit on the edge of the rim with their feet dangling off toward the river, which sits 1,000 feet below.

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While here at Horseshoe Bend, we were treated to an amazing cultural experience by two Navajo brothers named Thomas and Anthony, who demonstrated a traditional Native American "grass dance," as well as a Navajo "hoop dance." It was, by far, the highlight of the trip!

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Unfortunately, as you can see in the photos, the rain moved in while we were here at Horseshoe Bend, and it started to mess up our plans for the remainder of the day. Although the tour was concluded, we were supposed to get back into our rigs and travel a couple of hours northeast to Alstrom Point, which overlooks Lake Powell and was supposed to be our camp spot for the night. When it rains, the steep dirt road gets extremely muddy, and they do not allow vehicles through as it causes major damage and leaves the road in need of repair.

So we pulled an audible, with about half of the group choosing to get hotel rooms right there in Page for the night, and the other half choosing to camp at Lone Rock Beach Campground on the shore of Lake Powell just a few miles away. Not being too hip on the idea of camping in the rain, Jessica and I chose the former option and grabbed a room at the Quality Inn. This not only prevented us from having to set up our tent and all of our camping gear in the (now pouring) rain, but it also allowed us to reboot our comfort level. We were able to enjoy nice hot showers, a well made dinner at a cool restaurant in town, and we got to sleep in a warm and cozy bed in a heated room. It ended up raining quite a bit overnight, and although we feel like we cheated by getting this room in the middle of the expedition, it really made a huge difference in the comfort level for the remainder of the trip.

Because we had some unanticipated extra time that evening, we checked out the town, as well as the Glen Canyon Dam that forms Lake Powell. Having never been here before, I thought it was all really cool. We even drove to the Wahweap Overlook just east of town, although the rain really killed the views of the lake. :(

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« Last Edit: March 02, 2020, 10:10:44 AM by JFanaselle »

JFanaselle

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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #6 on: March 01, 2020, 09:50:59 PM »
We awoke on Day 5 of our expedition extremely refreshed after our showers, hot meals, and the great sleep in our warm and comfortable bed. After the mediocre hotel breakfast, we met up with the rest of the group that had stayed in town, and we all traveled in a caravan to the campground to meet back up with the rest of the group. This morning, 3 or 4 rigs had to peel off from the group and head home due to work and family obligations, so the group got a little bit smaller.

Following our driver's meeting, we headed northwest toward the town of Kanab Utah, which was our next scheduled fuel stop. Unfortunately, about 30 minutes outside of Page, one of the Rogue Overland guys started having issues with the transmission in his first gen Xterra. The group pulled over and it was diagnosed as a transmission leak which had sprayed fluid all over the clutch, causing it to slip and make the rig unable to be driven. The group quickly formulated a plan to get the driver and his wife back to Page, where they would rent a car and travel to Farmington, NM, where they had a pickup truck and trailer that they would retrieve and bring back to Page to pickup the ailing Xterra. Two more of the Rogue vehicles stayed behind to help execute this plan while the remainder of the group continued on into Kanab to wait for them. We ended up having about 2 hours of unanticipated time to explore and patronize the local businesses in Kanab, although most of them were closed. It was Sunday after all, and that's a pretty big deal in these little towns in this part of Utah. Still, the town was pretty awesome, and we found a wonderful little bakery to grab a treat before exploring the neighborhoods and ultimately meeting back up with the rest of the group at the town's one grocery store.

Once the whole group was back together, we continued on our way toward the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, where we had climbed to a high enough elevation to now be in the snow. Here, we hooked up with the southern end of the Barracks Trail, which was our planned activity for the day. The first part of the trail consisted of some pretty fun (but very messy) snow wheeling, as we blazed new tracks in the snow that had fallen fresh just the night before. There was only about 2 inches of snow on the ground, which was perfect, but the sun was shining and the snow was melting quickly, which was turning the road into a soggy muddy mess. The further down the line of rigs you went, the worse the mud was, as the vehicles in the front of the pack were breaking up the snow and ice and leaving a muddy road for the rigs behind them. We were toward the front of the pack, and my rig still ended up getting pretty muddy, but some of the vehicles behind us ended up getting absolutely caked in it.

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Just like the previous days of this trip, the Utah landscape did not hesitate to provide beautiful visuals, and it looked even more gorgeous with the snow covering everything. We even had a clear view of Zion National Park to our north.

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« Last Edit: March 02, 2020, 10:19:06 AM by JFanaselle »

JFanaselle

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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #7 on: March 01, 2020, 09:51:10 PM »
About half way through the trail, we dropped quite a bit in altitude as we descended into a valley containing the East Fork of the Virgin River. The trail got even more awesome, as we crossed the river about 8 or 10 times in various places. None of the crossings were very technical or intense, with the deepest one bringing the water right about to my rock sliders. The most impressive of the crossings was toward the end of the trail, as you actually drive up the river for a few hundred feet before coming back out onto the trail again.

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We finished the trail near Mt. Carmel Utah, and aired up the tires before getting back onto US Highway 89. We took at left at Mt. Carmel Junction and traveled west on Utah Highway 9, toward the east entrance to Zion National Park. Just outside of the east gate, we arrived at our camp spot - the Hi-Road Campground. Despite the Rogue Overland folks having made arrangements ahead of time, there was no one to be found at the camp property (they really take that whole "Sunday is a day of rest" thing seriously in this part of Utah). The entire property was covered in snow, but there was a large building in the middle with showers and bathrooms that the camp owners had left unlocked and ready for us, so we just went ahead and set up camp. This was the first time I've ever camped in the snow.

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« Last Edit: March 02, 2020, 10:22:21 AM by JFanaselle »

JFanaselle

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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #8 on: March 01, 2020, 09:51:28 PM »
Sunday night proved to be the second coldest night of the trip, dipping down into the mid 20s. Although with the snow and frost, it felt much colder inside the tent than the first night when the temperature was actually lower. We awoke to the Xterra and the tent both covered in a thick layer of ice and frost, and it was a bit of a challenge to get the RTT packed away when it was wet and frozen.

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After breaking camp, several more members of the group had to depart for their home destinations, as work and family duties were calling. After saying our goodbyes, we got back on the road and entered Zion National Park via the east entrance. We took a short drive through the southern end of the park along Highway 9 before stopping at the visitor's center. Having never been here before, it was fascinating to see the mountain peaks and to drive through the extremely long tunnels. This is a place that my wife and I will definitely have to come back to!

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As we departed the visitor's center, a few more folks had to break way from the group and head home, while the remainder of us moved toward the trailhead for the final run of the trip. The group had now dwindled to about 15 or 16 rigs at this point, and we were now moving along at a pretty good pace. We aired up at the trailhead and got started.

This final trail took us to Toquerville Falls, which is a moderate sized waterfall a few miles from the city of Hurricane, Utah. There are two ways to get back to the falls, and the Rogue Overland group led us down the much more technical/difficult route, which was pretty fun. It was by far the most challenging and technical wheeling that we'd done on the trip, having to navigate through several miles of a pretty technical trail with large rocks, obstacles, and deep water crossings. Several rigs got stuck along the way, with two of them having to be tugged off of rocks with tow straps, and two more having to be winched across a water crossing. Once again, the views of the Utah landscape were stunning.

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« Last Edit: March 02, 2020, 10:27:35 AM by JFanaselle »

JFanaselle

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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2020, 11:58:57 PM »
We finally arrived at the waterfall after a couple of hours, and it was so amazing! The trail actually runs right across the top of the falls, which makes for a pretty epic photo. I took the time to get good shots of everyone's rigs on top of the falls, and we spent about an hour having lunch here.

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We took the easy route out, which was basically a rocky fire road. Back at the trailhead, we aired back up and said our goodbyes to the group. We'd developed quite a bond with the folks we hadn't met before, and had forged even stronger bonds with those that we already knew.

We drove through the small town of Toquerville and hooked up with I-15 where myself, Woody, and CarJeep ran in a caravan for a bit. When we hit St. George, Woody and I pulled off the highway to fuel up and CarJeep continued on. We grabbed some snacks at the gas station (including some REALLY good beef jerky!) and then we ran about 2 more hours into Vegas, where we hit the Vegas evening rush hour traffic (which I still contend is barely considered traffic by California standards). We jumped off the freeway and grabbed some outstanding dinner at a little place called Los Tacos, which some of the locals had recommended to us. If you're ever in West Las Vegas ans looking for a great hole-in-the-wall taco place, I highly recommend them!

Jessica and I had originally planned to stay the night in Vegas, as we were anticipating that we would be exhausted and very much ready for a shower and a warm room. However, having showered and slept in a cozy bed just a couple of nights prior, we decided to press on and drive straight home that night. We continued our caravan with Woody until he had to jump off for a quick stop Baker, at which point we continued along on our own. We stopped one last time for fuel in Barstow, and pulled into the driveway just before 9:30 pm.

In total, it was 6 days/5 nights, 6 states, and nearly 1600 miles from door to door. It was an epic trip that we will never be able to forget, and we are so lucky to have been a part of it!
« Last Edit: March 02, 2020, 10:33:16 AM by JFanaselle »

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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #10 on: March 02, 2020, 07:38:28 AM »
Damn buddy looks like way to much fun
so bummed I missed it
Amazing pictures as always Joe
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JeffBett

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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2020, 08:19:15 AM »
What a great trip, nice report!!!

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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2020, 01:03:45 PM »
As always Joe, just spectacular  8)

Thank you so much.
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Re: Trip report: Rogue Overland Winter Expedition 2020
« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2020, 10:02:35 PM »
Looks like it was an amazing trip Joe, and as always, great pictures to illustrate a well-written trip report.