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(>Pictures at the bottom!)
We were really looking forward to California and its stunning nature. At the top of our wish list was Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, this wish came to nothing for the time being! The Tioga Pass was still closed (snow) and no opening date had been set. A ranger from the National Forest said briefly and dryly that the National Park was not interested in opening the pass and wanted to keep it closed as long as possible. The alternative would have been to drive over the Sonora Pass further north. In the meantime, we surfed around intensively on the internet and were surprised by the rush of visitors for Yosemite N.P.. The waiting times at the respective access roads were hours long and we couldn’t book a place to stay in the park before September, simply everything was fully booked; holiday time! In addition, the weather forecasts indicated very high temperatures, so we definitely postponed Yosemite N.P. until autumn; it is supposed to be even more beautiful at that time of year.
So we roamed the mountains and crossed countless passes to get to Lake Tahoe. There is the legendary Rubicon Trail, which every Jeep driver dreams of having driven once. It was also a wish for me (Tom); after all, we have the Wrangler model Rubicon and according to the website of Stellantis (Fiat Group), every standard Rubicon should be able to do this. The anticipation on my part was relatively great.
Around Lake Tahoe itself – where the rich citizens drive each other’s land prices up – all sorts of things were moving on and off the road, according to the motto see and be seen. We, on the other hand, prepared ourselves for the three-day drive for the 40 kilometres of scree road, got enough food, filled our water tanks and checked our jeep meticulously. After all, a recovery due to a technical defect would be an expensive affair. Time was also of the essence: a club had signed up for the trail the next weekend and we didn’t want to be stuck in the forest with countless other vehicles.
I knew that the Rubicon Trail would be one of the most difficult trails I would ever ride. On the difficulty scale, it is rated 10 out of a maximum of 10 and is considered one of the most difficult trails in the world that is still rideable. But already after Lily Lake I was surprised by the track and our jeep already had to climb up over the first boulders. Oncoming vehicles bounced easily over the boulders with their souped-up vehicles, while we slowly drove up over the steep sections.
At the Botton Dollar Hole, we got our jeep stuck in a bog hole and the whole ride was in an awkward lean. Thanks to the winch and a thick tree, we were able to free ourselves from this unfortunate situation. A few metres later – we were by now at the Potato Patch – we were in the recreational traffic jam. Countless vehicles stood in each other’s way at the first really difficult passage. One was already screwing around on his jeep, others were struggling with their ATV’s over the boulders and metallic scraping noises were also part of it, as well as loud screams of people trying to guide the vehicles in the most ideal line possible.
I watched this hustle and bustle patiently for a while and was surprised by these difficulties. In the meantime, the ATVs were vigorously digging up the earth between the boulders, adding another centimetre to the depth. Already a rear axle of another vehicle hit a stone with full force. Another vehicle was already missing the cover of some gearbox and a boulder was well smeared with oil. These collateral damages were taken away by the individual drivers with a smile; crazy these Yanks.
And here – according to the manufacturer Stellantis – a standard Rubicon is supposed to get through? Disappointed, I went back to Chantal and our jeep; no, this trail is out of our Rubicon’s league and we didn’t want to put all our eggs in one basket here; we didn’t want to end our journey in this forest.
My emotions were on a wave ride between disappointment and pride that I mustered the courage to abort. What might once have been possible on this Rubicon Trail is now completely destroyed with ever better technology and more powerful vehicles, and probably always leads to even crazier technical upgrades. Too bad!
The Rubicon trip up to Potato Patch was a day trip into rougher terrain for us. Somewhat encouragingly, we patted each other on the back at Lake Tahoe and were sure that we would continue to find great trails through the wide world. The backcountry of the USA offers wonderful trails everywhere, far away from any civilisation, where you can mostly ride alone over the gravel roads and don’t have to sacrifice the car right away. Afterwards, Chantal was also happy about this decision, as she didn’t know whether she would have been able to keep up her health for the 4 days.
In the meantime, our vehicle was due for a service (oil change engine / various gearboxes). For this reason we changed the state again. In Reno/Nevada everything is supposed to be a bit cheaper than in the posh resorts around Lake Tahoe. In addition, there was a technical problem with a universal joint on the front axle and, on the recommendation of a mechanic, this should be changed as soon as possible so that no major consequential damage can occur.
We noticed that we were on the road during the holiday season at the first garage we visited. They can change the oil, but for a repair we would have to make an appointment in September. And, for the replacement of the left universal joint of the front axle, the Jeep garage wanted to sell me the complete inner shaft for $750. There is no other way to replace the parts! I looked at the salesman from the spare parts store a little perplexed when he slipped me a note with a workshop address under a covered hand; “they change the universal joints for a fair price.”
Somewhat relieved, we drove to the workshop in question. But again; no possibility of getting an appointment in the next few weeks. Again another recommendation where we could solve our problem. It was a maze through Reno, from one workshop to the next and everyone put us off with another address where we could go and get help. Finally, we were back at the first recommended garage, almost desperate for help. The guys there were very understanding. They would change the universal joints for us, but we had to organise the removal of the shafts ourselves. They also gave me a deadline, otherwise I would have to come back on Monday.
So I removed the drive shafts of the front axle myself in the sweltering heat of a car park and brought them to the workshop before the final appointment. To my surprise, both universal joints were replaced in fifteen minutes and for only $275.00. The installation of the drive shafts, which are designed as quick-release axles, initially caused me some difficulties and the fear that I could damage the inner sealing rings when pushing them in was correspondingly great. The sun was already very low when I finished my repair work and was able to stow the tools away again. Completely dehydrated from the sweltering heat, we went to the next petrol station shop, where we refuelled with plenty of fluids for our own bodies.
The following day, we were already standing in front of the Jeep workshop at 7 am, where the planned oil changes were still to take place, according to the motto; “first come – first served”, as I had been told the day before. But the person preparing the work no longer wanted to know anything about the statement he had promised on Friday and so there was only an oil change for the engine. For the other service work we would have to make an appointment; probably some time in the next few weeks. Gritting our teeth, we accepted the new situation and were glad that at least the oil for the engine had been changed.
That same day, we drove out of the sweltering city into the wide world and back to California. The front joints were doing their job without rattling, the oil seals were tight and the engine had new oil for smooth operation. Anything else would have been desirable, but not urgently needed.
We headed for Lassen Volcanic National Park and roamed through extensive forests, all of which were designated as National Forests. This also meant that we had a certain amount of freedom for the next few days in terms of our choice of route as well as where to spend the night. Besides getting our jeep stuck in a bog hole, we were increasingly surprised by the large areas of forest that had fallen victim to forest fires in recent years. The areas with charred tree corpses were unimaginably large and beyond our imagination of a possible natural disaster. A ranger at Lassen Volcanic N.P. explained to us about the cause of these fires: all were of natural origin, i.e. caused by lightning. (Note: 8 out of 10 forest fires in the USA are caused by humans! ..according to a firefighter).
The holiday rush in the Lassen Volcanic N.P. was correspondingly large and so we searched in vain for a place to stay at the campsites of the national park. The former “first come – first served” concept seems to be a thing of the past, and reservations are diligently made in advance on the internet. Unfortunately, this concept does not quite fit our way of travelling; most of the time we do not know in the morning exactly where we will be in the evening, and besides, there is not everywhere a connection to the wide world (www). 🙁
So we turned our backs on the national park and found a nice place to stay in the adjacent national forest, and for free. 🙂
On our way north towards Oregon, we decided to drive from the Pacific chain to the watershed in the Eastern Rockies. No sooner had we crossed the state border to Oregon than the Great Sandy Desert beckoned with its euphonious name. Of course, we didn’t choose the fastest route, but sought the way through the Fremont Mountains with its extensive forests. What already led to great horror on our part in California found its continuation in Oregon, the yellow warning signs were everywhere along the roadsides. Unbelievable how much forest area a fire can destroy in a relatively short time and leave a gaping wound in nature for many years!
On the other hand, we were surprised by the Lost Forest in the middle of the Great Sandy Desert; in the middle of this very dry area there is a forest with its pine trees that can manage with an absolute minimum of water. We skipped the adjacent sand dune, where big boys are allowed to dig around in the sand, and continued our drive east through a very wide open landscape.
The eastern part of Oregon is very sparsely populated and often the endless kilometres dragged on. The fuel gauge moved more and more towards “empty” and there was no petrol station to be found anywhere. Once again, the road led over a mountain range, where our jeep consumed a little more diesel juice for the 3.5 tonnes and our fear of breaking down led to additional sweating. In Fields, somewhere in no man’s land, we finally got the necessary juice at a highly inflated price that could easily compete with the European ones.
It was only a few kilometres to Idaho and the barren stretches of land gave way to farms, where huge areas of land are irrigated at great expense. After crossing into the new state, we scrambled up through wonderful valleys to Silver City, where gold and silver are still being mined today. The few permanent residents of Silver City are enthusiastically remodelling the somewhat run-down village and want to restore its former flair. There is certainly no lack of work and perhaps a gold discovery will soon make the project easier.
In southern Idaho we visited a few monuments, looked over the cliffs down to the Snake River and the Shoshone Falls and then followed the southern border through a very varied landscape. In addition to the extensive forests, we reached pleasant-sounding names such as Malta, Elba, etc. in the valley valleys. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a real Italian pizzeria anywhere, where a real pizzaiolo would have swung the dough through the air.
At Bear Lake there was a short detour to Utah and already we reached Wyoming, a state six times the size of Switzerland, but where only about 600’000 people live; unimaginable! The first impression was not deceptive; the vastness is almost endless. Few farms stood outside the rare settlements, but there were plenty of prohibition signs warning passers-by that the land to the left as well as to the right was privately owned. Of course, everything was secured with two or three layers of barbed wire. For our part, it was already difficult to find a suitable place to spend the night and there was no National Forest far and wide in this barren area.
Our first stop was at the Fossil Butte National Monument, where the remains of the past had been blown out of the rock masses with great effort. Already at the entrance there were boards, later a tape showing in time-lapse the history of the earth and from when something existed. Man is pretty much at the end of this long history. Amazing! But if it weren’t for this national monument, the excavators would probably already be digging for some mineral resources. The whole area lies in a former raised sea basin where many raw materials are stored. In any case, the earth around the monument is being diligently dug up.
We wanted to leave the park via an elevation and drove over a hill as the rain started. The gravel road inside the park was relatively easy to drive on, but after the park boundary the ground changed abruptly and our jeep followed the force of gravity. The tread of the tyres were completely caked with clay-like soil and the rear of the vehicle skidded from left to right and back again. It was actually quite amusing, as there was no abyss in the immediate vicinity. Nevertheless, we turned back, as we were unfamiliar with the route ahead and would probably not have been able to manage the first counterclimb. The rain was our faithful companion from then on; in the morning it was often promisingly sunny, but already in the afternoon the rain usually followed, accompanied by a lot of wind.
At Flaming Gorge Reservoir – a huge reservoir with a wonderful canyon – we reached Utah again and, after a breathtaking canyon passage, the Green River and the border to Colorado once more. Vast sanctuaries have been set up for the migratory birds passing through, so that they at least find a quiet place when passing through without being shot out of the sky by the hunters straight away.
We roamed Colorado from the northwest corner across to the southeast over countless mountain ranges to the Colorado River and up to Aspen. We really wanted to be there, where our skiing legends jet down the steep slopes in wintertime and relax their muscles in the warm pool in the evening. As we drove up, we were already amazed at the oversized airfield and the many parked planes that transported celebrities here. In the centre it was correspondingly lively and the Saturday market provided a large crowd of visitors. Here too; see and be seen! And, the prices are probably normal for Aspen; a croissant for a ridiculous $7 and the endless queue completely lost our appetite for the French treat.
Steeply we headed up into Aspen towards the watershed and Independence Pass. During the short walk to the viewpoint, the almost 3,700 metres already made themselves felt. Chantal remembered the times of high pass crossings in South America and was glad that there were still coca chewing tablets in the car.
Once again we headed north towards the Rocky Mountain National Park. Passing through many resorts, where everywhere was busy, we reached the southwest entrance to the national park. As we could not show a reservation for the entrance, we had to turn around and wait for one and a half hours; from 2 p.m. the passage was open to everyone. We didn’t quite understand the reservation system, but we were glad that we were allowed to enter.
In the meantime, dark clouds were gathering and it was already raining heavily on the first ascent. Further up, the rain changed to snow showers and a strong wind made us stay nicely behaved in the protective car. So we crossed the various passes and hoped again and again to have a view of the highest mountains in the park. Unfortunately, this wish was not fulfilled and we were put off until the next day, which actually began very promisingly. But also for this day we had not been able to book a free date for a possible access to a corresponding viewpoint; for a free date we would have had to wait a week. Shaking our heads and somewhat irritated, we left Rocky Mountain N.P. in the direction of Boulder.
Until Boulder/CO the road followed through a very narrow canyon, where left as well as right the steep walls are climbed up and it tingled in me (Tom) to climb up somewhere, too. Boulder itself, some say this is where climbing and bouldering was invented, was more like a normal big American city for us and climbing legends don’t walk the streets as we know. It wasn’t a place to linger for us either; the mountains to the west drew us back up into the heights.
Chantal and Tom/August 2023
>Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator