From our home in Colorado Springs we took most of a day for the journey to the trailhead. Our route passed through Moab with a short break for lunch and a visit to the fantastic independent book seller Back of Beyond Books, a great source for anything Utah.
We chose to camp at the trailhead so we could complete the drive and camp at the end of the trail. With this in mind we arrived at the trailhead near
Halls Crossing with plenty of time to setup camp and have a leisurely dinner. The evening finished off with a classic Utah sunset and a great view of the surrounding sandstone formations.
We started the day early knowing we had a long 30 miles ahead of us. It was a typical sunny and windy spring Utah day. The drive started on relaxed graded roads and we were able to make good time, however this soon ended and the true adventure began.
With LJ needing to gain experience behind the wheel she took over once we reached the start of the rougher double track. The slow methodical driving is very good experience for her, she is quickly learning to pick the correct line and then get correct tire placement. LJ skillfully navigated the FJ until the road became a little too technical for her neophyte driving skills. We did make a stop at Flat Track Junction which provides quite a novel photo opportunity.
Once to rock crawling began the forward progress slowed even more. Pulling the trailer raises the technical aspect of each obstacle knowing that in most cases I cannot back off and make a second attempt. The traction and the ability of the FJ goes against our instincts so we just have to trust and go. Our forward progress now slowed to a crawl. Endless sandstone, climbs and descents, all at a snail’s pace. For most of the first technical section the views of the Red Cliffs are spectacular and many stops are in order to enjoy the view.
Approaching the climb to Gray Mesa we entered a short section were it follows a cool little wash. This section finishes with a sloped drop of about 4 feet, an indication of what is to come. I already thought the trail was getting very technical. Going down this ledge reminded me why I should always get out and inspect the trail. I kept going without a stop and took the ledge where the drop was steepest. This resulted in a good slam of the hitch on the rock and a reminder to look before leaping, especially with the trailer in tow.
On the climb to Gray Mesa is where we found the trail started to get even more technical. The route follows a section of road that was blasted out by prospector’s years ago. This section took some inspection to pick the best line. It is a long climb and with the trailer I had to be fully committed. The climb starts with a nice steep ramp that the FJ walked up and then we entered the rough blasted section. Things got interesting a few times during the climb. One example where I had to climb around a little washout and got a little off camber and the second being a spot where I lost traction. Once traction was lost I had no choice but to backup. The hairy part was when the FJ did a little tail stand with the drive rock rail resting on the inside cliff. With both front and rear lockers engaged and a little change to the line I has able to complete the section with no additional problems.
Once at the top of Grey Mesa we had a fast run across the top. To the east of Gray Mesa there is a fantastic view of the San Juan River. Once across Gray Mesa the route again drops into the sandstone and becomes even more technical. In this section there are a many small ledges and some steep descents and climbs. We finally arrived at the Chute, this is the section that everyone talks about being the most technical so it had my attention.
The section begins with a large ledge, once the ledge has been negotiated the line takes you straight down and nice chute right between two sandstone walls. At the bottom there is a section that goes right by a deep pothole that the front end could get lost in. For me the hardest section was the first ledge. I could not approach it straight on due to it being too steep and dug out at the bottom by others. I chose to go around and to the left dropping the ledge a little off camber. At the bottom it was on the gas keep the FJ moving forward rather than the right front sticking and causing us to roll. With that over I was breathing a little easier. Then it was down the shoot and mast the large holes at the bottom. Some spotting from LJ helped keep me on the right line.
Past the bottom of the shoot it was time to climb back out. Once again the FJ impressed my with its ability to keep climbing even when I don’t think it will be able to.
The trail finally came to an end with a great campsite and the isolation we always seek on these trips. The view is fantastic with lots of sandstone formations and of Lake Powel down Cottonwood Canyon, our hiking route for the next day. With dinner made it was time to rest and reflect on the day’s drive. My thoughts about this trip: trust the FJ and don’t let my nerves get the best of me. The FJ earned high praise on this day for sure. The active traction control in the front worked exceptionally well pulling us up many of the technical climbs. Even though I had to remember the trailer was there, the FJ could have cared less pulling it though all the obstacles with little additional effort.
Follow Tomas and his adventures throughout the west, including tips, mods, and reviews at his FJ Cruiser Blog: http://www.MyFJCruiser.org