Sunrise came early, and day three began with a storybook sunrise. As the horizon began to glow in the distance, the lake below us shimmered and danced in the growing light. The silence of the desert was broken only by the snapping of camera shutters: everyone was up early to witness what I’d imagine we’d all agree was the most astounding sunrise we’ve ever seen. As I photographed in the dark, I took careful steps – in the most literal sense – as I neared the cliff edge, doing my best not to plummet into the canyon below.
It didn’t take long before the sun had crested the horizon, and began its rapid climb towards high noon. Light flooded the campsite, as did the scent of breakfast. I mulled over the idea of persuading everyone that we should spend another night at Alstrom Point, selfishly wanting to witness another sunset and sunrise from such a beautiful place, but I knew that Utah had plenty more to offer, and Jim Bob would undoubtedly take us to several more spectacular places. By late morning, we packed up, and hit the trail.
We descended from the plateau and and began the long drive towards Boulder, Utah, roughly seven hours away by dirt. While it wasn’t a ton of mileage to cover in normal terms, it was a day filled to the brim with trails and rocks. We of course stopped for photos with some regularity, but tried to keep our stops a bit less frequent than in the past few days; we wanted to make progress, and without a planned campsite in the itinerary, we needed to leave time to find something worthwhile at the end of the day.
Not far into the day’s trip was a particular lookout, and the first must-stop of the day. Aside from the beauty of the lookout, what made the spot special was its unique rock outcropping: a perfect perch for a daring truck. I couldn’t help but pull my truck out towards the edge for a handful of photos. My nerves got the best of me, though, and I left plenty of room between me and the chasm. Charlie followed suit, and his absent fear of heights had his tires nearly hanging over the edge. Gehn played along as well, balancing his clutch and brakes with assured footing.
The landscape changed rapidly throughout the day. From rolling hills that were vaguely similar to sand dunes, to aggressive climbs up rocky cliff sides, we experienced a lot of what Utah has to offer in just one day. We found ourselves climbing in altitude throughout the day, at some points pushing the trucks to the limits of their cooling systems, especially mine. Eventually, though, the climb through red rocks gave way to an almost Californian high-desert at around 7,000 feet.
As we made our way back down towards lower ground, Charlie’s brake booster began to give way. While his brakes still worked, it required monumental effort to bring the truck to a stop: not the kind of thing one wants to deal with on an off roading trip. Charlie made an effort towards a trailside repair, but it was clear that the booster itself had given up. In good spirits, he hopped back behind the wheel and prepared to hulk his legs up. It would be days before we could get ahold of another booster and install it.
After a number of hours on the trail, we made one final stop before Boulder. Jim Bob informed us of a site with fossilized dinosaur tracks, and without hesitation, we made the stop. While the tracks, at their best, were hardly visible, it was a wild experience to know we stood where dinosaurs did, millions of years ago. We enjoyed the site itself too, perched on a hillside. Heavy winds rolled in, along with ominous clouds. For a while, we worried about the possibility of rain, and how it might affect the remainder of the day, but luck was on our side. Cloud cover rolled in, but we remained dry.
We arrived in Boulder close to dusk. Ed Fickert and Will Larney made the trip over from Colorado to join us, arriving just an hour after we made it into town. During the wait, we treated ourselves to a hot meal and a seat inside. The dogs waited patiently, or not so, in the trucks while we dined. The sun fell behind the mountains in the distance, leaving us to find camp in the dark. It was relatively late, and the gang was tired. I put the camera away, enjoyed a drink, and sat by the fire for an hour or so before going to sleep in order to avoid a dui ticket.
Drinking and driving facts are sobering: Drunk drivers kill and injure thousands of people each year, and children are injured at a disproportionate rate compared to adults. The organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) collects and publishes current statistic on drunk driving crashes some of which end up in court with criminal lawyers on each side.
We awoke the next morning in a tree grove of sorts, with a deep orange sand beneath our trucks. Having not seen what camp looked like the night before, we were pleasantly surprised with the morning view. It was by far the coldest morning of the trip, with everyone bundled up from the brisk night before. Hot coffee was brewed, warm breakfast was cooked, and Jim Bob discussed something round, but who knows what. We planned the day ahead, routing out trips to a lower altitude as the forecast predicted cold temps. Adjusting our schedule on the fly, we planned for camp in the Valley of the Gods.
Charlie found himself understandably unhappy with his trucks brakes, or lack thereof. He disassembled his booster system in hopes of solving the issue, and while he worked, I took some time to snap some photos of camp, and of course, of Jim Bob’s incredible truck.
Charlie’s efforts were for naught: his brakes simply didn’t want to play along. As he reassembled his braking system we packed up camp. We were off on Day Four.
It wasn’t long before the tarmac of Boulder gave way to dirt roads, and then dirt roads gave way to rapidly-descending switchbacks. We dropped the trucks into 4-wheel-low and made the climb down, a climb that pictures will never do justice. At times only wide enough for a single truck, and with dropoffs that seemed to hang miles in the air, it was a somewhat hairy drive. I found myself waiting at the mountaintop, to capture everyone’s descent, and had them gather for a photo in the distance.
Eventually, the trail lead us back to the shores of Lake Powell, where we waited for a ferry to carry us across. Little did we know at the time, it was a ferry that would never come. We took the time to eat lunch, air up our tires, and talk shop, until someone decided it was worth looking up the ferry season. Despite the sign’s suggestion that a ferry would arrive at 1:30, it failed to mention it would be 1:30, a month away.
Eventually, we came upon the Moki Dugway, another set of switchback turns in the hillside that overlooked an enormous basin: home to the Valley of the Gods. It was a sign that camp wasn’t far, and the day of driving was nearing an end. We made the climb down, and shortly thereafter, we set up camp at the base of a mesa, surrounded by a slew of others that have all earned their name. Utah is home to its fair share of places with serious names, but it should come as no surprise when the locales live up to their namesake.
As was becoming second nature, we set up camp for the night. The dogs balanced their act of patrol for critters and patrol for head scratches as the skillets sizzled and dinner cooked. A small general store in Boulder gave us the chance to purchase a few steaks and some mac and cheese, making for what was easily the best meal of the trip, with Chef Sylvia on the stove. We boiled some water and took some much-needed hot showers, and enjoyed chilled rum and bourbon from the coolers. It was a long evening, one that felt like a bit of time off, and it was clearly welcomed by everyone.
The sky dimmed and we huddled closer around a group of lanterns. The basin, with its dry brush, meant that we were prohibited from having a fire, but an extra layer of clothing kept the evening rolling. Without a fire burning at our feet, the night sky was its brightest yet. The moon was late to rise, and the stars burned intensely above. The Milky Way was faint, but visible.
One by one, members of the group peeled away from the circle of chairs and nodded off. Day Four was in the books, with the real gem of the trip, Lockhart Basin, looming in the future. With excitement for the trip so far, and excitement for the trip to come, I too eventually called it a night beneath the stars and the Gods. Stay tuned for Part III, coming soon.