May/June 2016

A Field of Tigers

We wander around Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming

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Our last real letter was sent out mid-April; sorry for the long delay.  It’s not that we’re lazy, and not that we haven’t been busy — but that’s just it: we’ve been so very busy.  Over the last two months we’ve visited our solar guy in the Phoenix area twice (hot and hotter), been to Flagstaff three times, wandered north through Nevada from Las Vegas to Reno, on to southern Oregon for about 10 days, back across Nevada along lonely and lovely Highway 50, crossed a bit of southern Utah, and then back near Flagstaff in time for the Overland Expo being held about 25 miles southwest of there.  Pant, pant.  

While in Oregon (Central Point, Grants Pass and such) we managed to organize the work that will be done on the truck later this year, mostly right there.  You see, we fixed the turtle’s house back in South Carolina; now we are going to work on the turtle itself.  We will head back to Oregon late July, and hang around until they get the work completed.  We’ve alluded to this before and will write up a full report when we’re done.  Not surprisingly, there are a few areas of any vehicle with almost 180,000 miles on it that might need attention if you plan to take it out of the country for another five or so years.  We’ll fill you in on the details later.

Overland Expo was really a great experience this year, and the weather was much better than the snow and mud we’d enjoyed the last time.  Bigger than ever, it seems they had about 10,000 people coming through on the Saturday.  They elected to put us among the “featured vehicles”, which kept us closer in to the ‘action’ and gave us bunches of exposure and a constant stream of visitors who wanted to know just what a Tiger was, anyway!  It was cool.  Everyone was very interested in our travels, wanted to know what was next on our list, and had lots to share about their adventures out in the great unknown.  Rick really was excited about all the vendors to visit, getting lots of info on “proper” bumpers and tire pressures and the perfect winch (no, not wench, you sillies — he already has me!), and also taught a pair of classes on Shipping Your Vehicle as he did last year at Expo.  

We exhausted ourselves every day, running back and forth between seminars we wanted to sit in on, classes Rick was teaching, visiting old friends, and feeding our faces with all sorts of things that aren’t good for us.   Rick, when he could, was attending sessions on the intricacies of 4-wheel travel in sand and mud and such.  I got to go to Q&A’s on Africa and Central Asia and Australia and even one on new electronic gear (but don’t expect too much to come of that — I still can’t return messages sent to my year old smart phone).  Together we were on the panel of a Q&A on wandering the more remote areas of eastern Europe and Iceland.

We met amazing people who are so much more adventurous than we are.  My new role model is Tiffany Coates, an Englishwoman in her late 40s who’s well known for her solo motorcycle trips to strange places, including the wilds of Madagascar. She’s made 3 solo trips across Russia and Central Asia.  And she’s great fun to laugh and giggle with.  My hero!!  Another favorite was a young guy who’s running around the world on a Honda 90cc scooter - what a hoot he was - and with great stories to tell.

You may be getting inklings of where we’re planning to go when we ship abroad next spring.  Rick?  Shall we tell them, or is it still a secret?…

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We left Flagstaff absolutely beat, and delighted we didn’t have a commitment for the next two weeks or so.  We slowed down to a crawl.  Our first night we spent in a campground just a few miles north of town — we’d managed to hook up with California friends Bill and Sandy, who were passing through on their way to Amarillo (ye gods!  Amarillo!  Have you ever been there? — their excuse was they were heading to a Memorial Day weekend family gathering.)  It was super to see them; we’ve caught up with each other in New York and Alabama in years past and it’s always good for a giggle or two.

We had lots of time to get from Flagstaff up into the Colorado Rockies, where we were going to have a delightful long weekend with the owners of more than 30 other Tigers, situated in a lovely setting north of Leadville at almost 10,000 feet.  To get there we picked a route that would take us east through northern Arizona, cut across a little corner of New Mexico, and then spend as much time as possible exploring the passes and meadows of the Colorado mountains.

Along the way, we poked around Canyon de Chelly, in northeastern Arizona, learning about the early inhabitants of the area.  We spent a late evening and an early morning there, so we were able to enjoy the canyon’s spectacular colors and deep valley in varying light.  There are nifty petroglyphs and ruins in the canyon and it’s in a great setting.  This site gets far fewer visitors than nearby Mesa Verde, and is a super destination. 

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Another good friend, Mabelle, had organized a Memorial Day weekend camping site for us all at Mesa Verde National Park in the southwest corner of CO.  Mabelle lives in California, but we first met in Mexico 10 years ago.  We’ve kept in touch but visits have been  spotty, particularly in as great a spot as this.  We spent the weekend catching up and seeing stuff.  Too many folks, but we had a good time regardless.  We parted ways eventually, and set about driving every pretty Colorado mountain road we could find.  Except for driving I-70 and US 50 to get east and west across Colorado, we’ve really not seen much of the state over the years.  So we concentrated on a good explore.  And we’ve found western Colorado to be just amazing.

We’ve been camping in the forests and beside streams, making full use of our National Forests, and each new campsite was a pleasure.  We followed forest roads into aspen and pine groves mixing actual NF campgrounds and dispersed camping opportunities.  We shared our makeshift campsites with cows and birds and deer and all kinds of wildflowers — red and blue and yellow and white, to say nothing of the purple lupine everywhere.  In some areas we’ve seen evidence of the damage caused by the Western Pine Bark Beetle, with swathes of trees having been removed to keep it from spreading.  Nasty rascals.  Our favorite campground has to be a National Forest site just below the southern approach to the top of McClure Pass.  It’s a little spot, just 10 sites, set in an aspen grove with a stream along one edge and deer grazing among the ferns in an open glade.  Really delightful.

In Colorado alone we crossed the Continental Divide 8 times: over Wolf Pass, Spring Creek Pass, Independence Pass (at 12,095 the highest in CO, and just opened the week before we were there); Hoosier Pass, Fremont Pass, Muddy Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass, and Tennessee Pass; and we would make one more crossing before leaving the Rockies — Battle Pass in southern Wyoming.  And that’s all just this spring; last fall we crossed Monarch Pass, too.  We like heights!!

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We crossed over the Gunnison River; followed the Rio Grande (you know, that big guy in Texas) up to its headwaters in Weminuche Valley; took pictures from the top of Slumgullio Pass on Highway 149 above Lake City; stopped at Moose’s in Ouray for lovely ice cream; and were entertained by the squirrels and chipmunks and elk and deer and bison.  We even saw a real moose.

Colorado is mining country, of course.  Doesn’t do much for us, but I couldn’t help but notice all the mountain towns that spoke of their history:  Leadville, Basalt, Carbondale, Granite, Copper Mountain, Coaldale and Marble are just a few.  Nowadays most of the activity is skiing-snowboarding-rafting-kayaking-mountain biking-hiking and the like.  Colorado is a real playground.  

The rivers have been very high, and there were warnings everywhere.  We stayed in camps where some of the sites were still partly under water; folks in rafts were going by right next to us.  There is an amazing amount of water around here.  

But were there adventures, you ask?  Well, we haven’t gotten lost, and we haven’t had to shoot a bear to protect our dinner (although the signs say they are near), and we’ve mostly had good weather (although it was snowing as we drove through Tonopah, Nevada in late April, and we have had some rain). 

However, of course there were adventures!  We managed to be near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon the day before it opened on May 15 so we wandered the surrounding Kaibab National Forest to poke around and peer over the edge.  We camped one night right along the rim of the canyon.  We also got ourselves into a bit of a rough spot along the way.  We thought we were taking a shorter, more direct path to our destination, but ended up on a very steep, very rough road that paralleled a river; it had large water features to splash through and tree limbs blocking the road and boulders to climb.  Rick did magnificently, remembering everything he’d read about 4-wheeling it in places where you really ought not be in the first place.  We finally had to give up and turn around when we came upon a tree limb that was too big for us to move.  This meant working our way through all the difficult bits again, but Rick was grinning from ear to ear the whole time.

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The Tiger Rally?  An awesome adventure all by itself.  We were welcomed into the Tiger owners’ group like celebrities.  It seems Tiger owners know all about us, our travels, our repairs (!), the changes we’ve made to La Tortuga over the years, what’s gone wrong — but even better, how much they all seem to admire us and consider us role models for what they’d like to do themselves.  We gave a talk on our travels, answered lots and lots of questions and just enjoyed our time.  Several people said we’d inspired them to go further afield.  

It was so different to look around and see all those Tigers; wow.  A few folks were already friends, but now we have about 50 new ones.  They are a great group and so passionate about their Tigers.  The oldest one there was Tiger #10, built in 1987 and still being enjoyed by the original owners; while the newest had just been picked up at the factory eight days before the rally.  

Such a super weekend, and then we were rolling along again.  We worked our way north to the Colorado/Wyoming border, via Steamboat Springs.  From there we began traveling a bit northwest on CR 129, which turned to gravel about 30 miles north of town.  Such a lovely, lovely part of Colorado.  There are a couple of state parks in the area, and a few small ranches, but otherwise it’s meadows and flowers and slowly diminishing mountains.  At about the state line the road was paved again, but we’d enjoyed our stint “off the tarmac”  — we’d even used the 4x4 a couple of times getting through areas that had seen a hard winter followed by a lot of muddy cows.

Sigh; back on pavement.  But the adventures were not over.  We turned east across the bottom of Wyoming, heading for Laramie.  Our route took us over the aforementioned Battle Pass and down into Encampment, where we picked up a little wifi for the first time in several days… as well as some badly needed water.  Encampment had atmosphere in spades, including a local Opera House, being a leftover from the old Army vs. the Indians wars.  But hot and windy, so we moved on, and began climbing again.  

And kept on climbing.  We may have already crossed the Continental Divide for the last time in the near term, but the mountains were getting much higher.  Starting to think about a spot for the night, we left the highway and headed into the forest, looking for the perfect glade to settle in.  And really kinda sorta got ourselves into trouble.  

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Wyoming’s forest roads (at least that we’ve seen so far) are much rougher, less used, and more difficult to negotiate.  The further we went on this particular road, the worse it got.  It was steeper than ever before and the drop-offs very close; it traveled between huge felled trees that were very hard to squeeze through; the boulders were bigger; we’d been following the GPS trail, but then suddenly left it.  Well, you get the picture.  

Rick soldiered on.  And he was just great, calm and steady; I was, of course, less sanguine.  The Tiger was panting but never missed a beat; it also was truly magnificent.  We were dreading the final felled tree that would end our progress, but instead finally hooked up with a better road, and then ultimately got back on the highway.  Enough, we said.  We’ll get to a real campground, and we did.

Before that we went over the Snowy Range Pass area — and this is a real WOW!  The top of the pass is at 10,847 feet, and the name “snowy” isn’t by accident.  Tons of snow at the top.  Marvelously, you pass right next to the peaks, and there are still-frozen lakes right beside the road.  A real treat.  Not long after, we settled into a campground, having dropped down to a more reasonable 9200 feet.  Below snow level and very pleasant.  Tomorrow we will head into Laramie (where our mail is waiting), and will hope to send this on to you all.  

We don’t expect to spend any more time in Laramie than it takes to take care of business and perhaps enjoy a steak at the local Cattlemen’s.  Because then it’s on to Rapid City SD to visit friends Bridget and Jon, who own a travel store in town.  We’re going to look at maps of… well, okay: here comes the cat right out of the bag.

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Next spring we hope to be off to Russia and Central Asia.  In March we intend to ship the Tiger from the Seattle area to Vladivostok in eastern Russia.  Then the plan is to drive across Siberia and Mongolia, heading toward Moscow, St Petersburg and… Murmansk.  Why Murmansk?  After all, it’s in a tiny corner of northwestern Russia, almost on the border with Finland.  Well, we’re Arctic Circle buffs, as you may recall, and crossing the Circle in Russia will complete our goal of driving north of the Arctic Circle in the seven countries in the world where it is possible to do so.  So we just gotta go! (Ed. Note: regular readers will know that this trip has not yet happened.  For a variety of good reasons we changed directions and headed instead to New Zealand and Australia.  We still hope to get to Russia and do talk about it from time to time.  We’ll see.)

This fall we’ll be back in Morro Bay, CA for a few months; Rick is going to have his other shoulder worked on (more rotator cuff activity).  And we’ll be busy buying warm furry boots.

Be well, don’t forget to write, and let us know where you are; we’re always up for a visit.

Rick and Kathy and La Tortuga, currently A Work in Progres

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