The sun crested the mesas bright and early, and the occasional shuffle and burble of a truck passing on the nearby trail hurried the morning along. Our excitement was high: Day Five was underway. The day itself didn't have huge plans; we were several hours south of our eventual destination, and for better or worse, it was the one day of the trip we knew we'd be pounding pavement. If we wanted to make it to Moab by the end of the week, we needed to put rubber to tarmac and make our way North. On the other hand, though, Lockhart Basin was waiting for us come nightfall: the hardest trail of the trip and the crown jewel of our expedition.
As everyone made the early, cold climb from their truck cabins, Zach was quick to point out something rather important was missing from beneath my truck. Laying down in the back of his HJ61, he was able to spot a missing nut, a bent retainer, and a missing bushing for my front leaf spring. When it departed is anyone's guess, but I was glad he noticed before we were at highway speeds and the worst could happen. As a somewhat crucial component to keeping the truck mobile, a bit of worry set in. I wasn't sure exactly how the truck would take to a trail repair, and with some serious trails planned in the days to come, failure wasn't an option. Luckily, after a bit of hammering, drilling, and stealing a nut from one of the front axle U-bolts, I was able to re-secure the spring retainer, and while I was unable to come up with a bushing, the truck didn't seem to mind. In fact, it was as happy as ever. I packed up the tools while the gang packed up camp, and we set out for a few sights to see on our way towards northeastern Utah.
We stopped by the goosenecks to admire the views: one final stop for Jim Bob before his departure back towards Santa Barbara. We were bummed to lose our host and guide, but he left us with coordinates to carry on, and with a recommendation for a killer burger on our way to Moab: both very helpful, if you ask me.
It was mid-afternoon by the time we made it to Needles Outpost, which sits just inside the Canyonlands National Park, and is the final gas stop before the Lockhart Basin trailhead. They know it, too, with their $5-per-gallon price. We were happy to pay, though, in an effort to ensure no one runs out of fuel. Inside was cute and quaint, set up as a small general store, including a very small made-to-order kitchen for hungry passers by. After our tanks and bellies were topped off, we hit the dirt.
Lockhart basin is one of Utah's "hidden" gems. Connecting the Needles district of the Canyonlands National Park to Moab, it's a 38-mile stretch of remote, scenic beauty with a few hurdles thrown in. Requiring a full day of trail time, most trail guides rate it at a 7-8 hour trek, or more depending on the size of your crew. With 7 trucks together, we knew it'd take us some time, so we set our sights on finding camp within the first few miles of the trail.
A few miles in, we found a few turnoffs, and after some exploration, we settled on one of my favorite camp spots of the trip. About a mile off of Lockhart Basin Road, a secluded flat site made the perfect home for the night. A well-used fire pit ensured that we weren't alone in our thinking. With the evening's golden light draping the rocky landscape, we set up camp and kicked back for an evening of leisure, knowing day six would be chock full of fun.
As one of the most photo-friendly spots of the entire trip, I was eager to snap some shots of the trucks as they scattered about the camp site. Gehn's truck, in particular, served as a huge source of motivation for everyone. With a 1HZ-T under the hood and a 5 speed behind it, and lockers underneath, it was a 60-series dream-come-true. Its OEM+ flavoring was full of both class and style. Having owned the truck for some 15 years, he's had time to build, refine, and improve it into one of the coolest trucks I've seen.
There was of course Zach's HJ61 too - impossible not to fawn over as it commanded presence among the rest of the crew. Emblazoned in a new hue of orange thanks to Lockhart's dust, it was, dare I say it, looking better than ever.
Eric's HZJ77 left us Americans craving 70s of our own. Having made the trek down from Canada, his truck was the star of the show for any Land Cruiser fans we encountered on the trip. Set against the cascading rocks and valleys of the campsite and draped in dust, it was, simply put, perfect.
I can't forget Justin's Ranger, either. As the odd man out when it came to our Cruiser-based discussions, he let his actions speak louder than words, proving the little Ford pickup could hang with the best of them. Outfitted with his own custom-built canopy, a James Baroud camper, an awning, and a hell of a lot more, it was easily the best-equipped truck on the trail. We've done our best to try and bring him to the dark side, but we don't blame him for sticking with the pickup.
As the sun fell lower in the sky, we cooked dinner, kicked back brews, and enjoyed the cool spring night. The conversation flowed until it was time to retire, and eventually we called it a night.
We hit the trail at dawn, bright and early. Lockhart Basin Road is tame for the most part: little more than a rocky dirt road through the Utah wilderness. At points, though, the difficulty ramps up some, with obstacles here and there. Of the 38 miles of trail, the first 36 are relatively easy. Its only in the final two that things get rather difficult.
Our pace was slow but steady, about 8 miles per hour for the first part of the day. I'm sure I slowed things down, asking to stop regularly for photos, but I was unwilling to miss the opportunity. For the scenic moments and occasional obstacles early in the trail, it was a photographer's dream come true.
It was maybe a third of the way in before we encountered the first considerable terrain changes. A rocky staircase with some large drops offered an opportunity to snag photos as everyone made the descent. First up was Gehn, followed by Andrew in his FJ62.
Charlie followed, working his way down, making an effort not to smack a quarter panel on the rocks. The difficulty ramped up for him, his brake booster still blown. With his body weight on the brake pedal, he was able to keep the truck in control. Emily got behind the wheel of my truck, confidently making her way down the rock face like a trail veteran.
With the rest of the crew back down on the dirt, we carried on, following the trail as it works its way around the base of the plateau.
It was around halfway through the trail that we encountered the first difficult obstacle of the trail. While there is a way around it, it's no fun to back down from a challenge. Justin and the Ford Ranger tackled it first, pushing the limits of both the truck and gravity. After a bit of work, he conquered it, followed by Gehn making it look easy with his lockers and diesel torque.
I approached the rocks with hesitation, but the V8 power and the Nitto Trail Grapplers made quick work of the terrain. Deflated to around 15PSI, they clawed their way over the boulderous terrain without a fight and with no slip at all. It was a real confidence booster for what was to come.
We all expected Eric's truck, with his 35" tires, to clear the obstacle no problem, but his front hub issues reared their ugly head, revealing that he had in fact been in 2WD for a majority of the trip. Impossible to pass in 2WD, he pulled the parking brake tight, and let the truck cling to the hillside as he got down and dirty.
He pulled the front hubs apart once more, this time disassembling them to ensure the truck would stay locked in 4WD. After a bit of work and reassembly, the 70 series was back in action. With a bit of effort, Eric finally clawed his way over the rocks and on up the hill.
For Andrew's Fj62, some rock stacking was required. A few well-placed rocks helped to get the truck up and over, and lastly, Zach's rig had us wondering if we were making a big deal of nothing. With his rear locker prepped for anything and 35" tires under his oversized fenders, he made quick work of the crag before asking "so what's the big deal?"
We stopped for lunch and admired the views, excited that we were nearing the last few miles of the trail. Jim Bob had warned us it might be more than we were expecting, but we were feeling confident with what we had accomplished, and our spirits were high.
Just as we had been told, it was around mile 37 that we encountered the trail's toughest terrain, starting with an aggressive, rocky downhill descent into the canyon we had been perched atop for most of the trip. With Justin's spotting talents at my aid, I took to the trail first.
Justin highlighted the path down, helping to keep the truck's body panels off the rocks and the tires planted on stable footing. Jim Bob warned that the trail would "stand the truck up on end," and he wasn't fibbing.
Chloe seemed unimpressed as I finished the first downhill segment, but nevertheless, my excitement was at an all-time-high for the trip. I made my way forward, and hiked back up the trail to watch the next descent.
Charlie was next, and we all expressed some nervousness due to his lack of braking assist. Nevertheless, and to no surprise, he made easy work of the rocks, using all his might within his legs to keep the truck in place and balanced.
Gehn followed suit, and then Andrew, both with Justin guiding them down. The line became more refined as we progressed, with a bit of experience at Justin's disposal to help the later trucks down with ease.
Eric stepped in to guide Justin and the Ranger down, and did a great job, too. After his descent, Justin helped to guide Eric and Zach down as we charged ahead to make room on the trail.
A few more challenging rock obstacles were ahead, but were all passable without spotting. Before long, we found ourselves at the trail's end, where Lockhart meets with Chicken Corners. In the bottom of large canyon, we had a long climb out and into town, but Moab wasn't far away.
It proved to be a very long day. It was several hours before we found ourselves in downtown Moab. We hunted down showers and food, each of us and our trucks caked in red dust from days on the trail. It was nice to catch some cell service, and to rest for a few over a hot meal and cold drinks. By the time we had left town, the sun had long since fallen behind the horizon and the sky was solid black. We made our way towards camp, or so we thought, before realizing Andrew wasn't entirely sure where he was taking us. After getting lost not once but twice, we turned our GPSs for a camp site Justin had selected, about 45 minutes away. By the time we had arrived, it was well after midnight, and we were struggling not to fall asleep at the wheel. Camp was set up in record time, and the camera never made it out of the camera bag.
Day Seven came a bit later than most: we took the opportunity to sleep in and catch up on some much-needed rest, and followed that with a hearty breakfast. Sausage, eggs, pancakes, bacon... you name it, we enjoyed it, and then some. Initially, our itinerary for the trip called for seventh night of camping, but nearing week's end, we all sadly agreed it might be best to depart that afternoon. While being out in the Utah desert was as good as it gets, we all knew we could use an extra day to get home, clean up, unpack, and prepare to return to normal life in the city.
Leaving camp, we made a quick detour to a nearby set of switchbacks. A rockslide some 60 or 70 years ago trapped a number of cars under boulders on the hillside, and we were keen to take a look.
Between the red-orange rocks and the rusted steel, there was admittedly not a lot to see. We pondered about whether or not any cars deeper within the rubble still had skeletons within them, and wagered it was likely - a retrieval mission was likely pointless. Peering over the edge of the cliffs, it was thousands of feet to the canyon floor below... if the cars were still there, we guessed that anything within them must be too. After enjoying the view and pondering about the hillside's mysteries, we made the trip down the cliffside, turned around, and climbed our way out.
After stopping at the Natural Bridges National Monument we took our final trail out of the rough, stopping to play on some slickrock before concluding our trip.
Poorly named, slickrock is blessed with a sandpaper-like texture, making it some of the grippiest rock out there. It's what makes Moab famous, and is what calls off roaders from around the world to its famous trails. Throughout our trip, we had managed to miss it completely. While we still never got to push slickrock traction to its limits, we enjoyed seeing what the trucks would do and where traction would end.
No trip is complete without a family photo. In a nook of the slickrock park, we gathered and posed, eager to capture a conclusive photo to remember the trip by. Having converged from all over North America, and having tackled obstacles, failures, and highlights alike, it was an incredible, if not cheesy way to end our trip. It was a bittersweet moment, knowing the trip was in its final miles, but it was impossible to sour such an incredible, monumental experience. Utah proved to be unlike anything I've ever witnessed, and I'll be counting the days until we return once more: a count that began on the drive home. As we departed from the park, we went our separate ways, with thousands of miles of asphalt to cover between us all. Southern California just isn't the same, but as you might imagine, we're eagerly waiting for 2019's StanceWorks Off Road trip. We're thinking Montana. How about you?