All we had was a cooler, camping gear, fire wood and full fuel tanks. Okay, so I also had tools, extra filters and fluids. I’m an optimist, not an idiot.
In the weeks before the trip *we’d replaced the pinion seals, fixed a leaking radiator hose, bled the clutch/brakes, installed new window seals to keep them from rattling and installed some new Old Man Emu springs/shocks. (*When I say we, I really do mean Kelsey and I. She is there handing me tools or turning wrenches herself at every step.)
The truck was ready to go, anything can happen in a 40+ year old truck that’s a couple decades behind on maintenance so you’re never really done. We just try to keep the break down gods happy by doing something to improve the mechanicals of the truck each month. Feed the beast or suffer it’s wrath!
We headed out for the highway drive from Phoenix, AZ to Quartzsite, AZ about 150 miles away. If everything went to plan we’d drive double that heading home as we zigged and zagged on whatever dirt track we could find that looked least used.
The plan for this trip was to keep the plans light. We’d started out having 6 trucks coming along and little by little it had whittled down to just us, as often happens with trips. In a way, this is a relief. I would prefer to see friends, but once you know no one else is coming you can make changes on a whim, try dead end trails long past the normal persons attention span and generally make it up as you go. The original plan was to take some trails in and around KOFA that we’d yet to explore. The new plan was to take those trails and then string together some random trails all the way to the outskirts of Phoenix.
We brimmed the tanks in Quartzsite. Although the town is almost non-existent the population of a couple thousand see’s visitors into the millions during the Gem and Mineral show in January and February. The town was still calm, but the storm was rolling in as thousands of RV’s start to setup a makeshift town in the desert surrounding the 2 freeway exit town. Every gas station was full and had a wait. “GET ME OUT OF HERE.” Kelsey saved our spot at the pump after filling the main fuel tank so I could flip the truck around and get the auxiliary tank filled without someone snaking the spot. We happily motored out of town and with each passing dirt mile the RV’ers camped in the desert were less and less.
I waited and let Tonto (The FJ40) suffer for a while just because I didn’t want to even stop in this plastic temporary desert city. Finally, we took pity on him and ourselves to pull over and air down. That’s better. Now Tonto seems happy. The new suspension is still archaic, but it was 100% better than what I had before. We bounced and swayed down the track ever climbing elevation. I had a spot in mind I’d seen on Google Earth. A pile of tailings nice and high up on a nearby mountain. A good vantage point and too tight of a track to have anyone bugging us during the night or early morning.
Thankfully the trail seemed rarely used which was a nice sign, although if too rarely used you can assume there is something wrong. Eventually we pulled up to a wash where each side of the track was a 3 foot drop and then step up on the other side from water flow. “No thanks, I don’t want to be the first” Tonto seemed to say. I know buddy, you have a long way to drive home for me to have you sitting on your belly half in a wash. We bailed on camp 1 and drove up another canyon to find a similarly lightly used trail that ended up at some tailings with a view of the entire valley below.