The 2022 Great Desert Road Trip

Johnny O

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Well folks we are just about a month away from the annual solo excursion to the middle of nowhere and parts beyond. Finishing up final touches on the itinerary. Going to get at least one more short test trip (preferably 2) before the saga begins.

Figured I would start the thread a little early this year so folks can get a feel for the way I plan trips.

First up is the mad dash to get the heck out of Nebraska, "The Boring State with Virtually No Public Lands." Its a 12 to 15 hour drive from the Omaha Metro to Kemmerer, Wyoming. Sure there is lots of things to do and places to go in Wyoming along the way, but my plan is to explore Wyoming and Montana as a separate trip. Depending on the Weather and Fires, I'll either stay in a hotel in Kemmerer or camp out on the BLM land northwest of Fossil Butte National Monument.

The next day will be spent digging excellent fish fossils in one of the quarries near town and having what will likely be my last "real" meal for quite a while at the small, but most excellent Bootlegger's Steakhouse in town. That evening, Ill head over to a "secret" dispersed camping area in the Idaho end of Cache National Forest.

Will do a bit of hiking and rockhounding there the next day. Also throw in some species surveys. This site is known for fossil plants and a few rare extant plants. Its also bear and big kitty country.

From there it's time to break camp and off to Copper Basin near Jarbridge, NV, a remote valley known for its interesting biome and geology. There are fossil bearing layers in-between igneous layers. More eocene(ish) plants and insects! More camping and species surveys there too!


Then deeper into Nevada to the Buffalo Canyon fossil site, with quite a bit of soil and water sampling along the way. This leg also marks the last pavement I will see for a few days.

From here I kiss civilization good bye, and head deep into the heart of Nevada to a "secret" fossil site and ephemeral pools. Camping, Science, and Off-roading. If I'm gonna die out there, this is probably going to be a place as the population is zero from 90 miles in any direction in rugged terrain.

Then after a few days it is off to the pinnacle adventure site and ultimate goal for this trip- Great Basin National Park and a grueling hike to see the oldest known living organisms on the planet- Bristle Cone Pines.

Then on into Utah for more camping and off-roading. Did the science there last year, so I get to chill out this year. Am taking the overland route, so will hit some well known Jeep trails that are far better than the "pavement" at Moab.

From here there are five possible conclusions to the trip, but it is impossible to choose which one due to wild fires, Monsoon flash flooding, sand storms, and so on. I'll either work my way across southern Utah and into Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas OR I'll head into New Mexico and Texas.

Next Up: Gear Loadout and inventory
 

lfhoward

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Sounds like a blast, Johnny! Looking forward to following your adventure thread.
 

Johnny O

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Gear is going to be a bit tricky this trip. Instead of carrying a month's worth of food, water and fuel, I'll only be carrying a weeks worth of food. I can resupply here and there along the way. Not gonna lie, this makes me nervous. Was able to get in a few bricks of the Copper-22 non-lead/non-sparking/frangible hollow point rounds for Mister Henry. Pushes muzzle velocity up around 2 grand. I generally find no need for a firearm, but the big kitties are frisky in July and the ability to make some serious noise comes in handy. Mister Henry only weighs two lbs compared to Mister Savage's five lbs.

By cutting food stores down to a week, fuel down 20L and water to 40L, I save close to 110lbs. I also don't have to carry cooking supplies for four people, something I always do in case I stumble across hungry folks. I'm also cutting sleeping bags and clothing down. My trusty Alpaca blanket is all I have ever needed in the past, and there are laundromats available. Not doing any altitude camping this year, so nix the cold weather gear too. Bye-bye another 40lbs! Also added larger propane stores, so gained weight there, but makes up for skipping other gear.

My new flat floor design is a third of the weight of the original design ringing in at about 35 lbs.

However, vehicle spare parts, recovery gear, fluids, etc etc etc has been upgraded along with tools and such- Total load out there is 75lbs, a net gain of 50 over the previous load out.

So at this point the estimated vehicle loadout weight is as follows:
Tools, Recovery Gear, Armor, Spare parts- 150lbs
Camping Gear, tent, tarp etc- 80lbs
Food and Camp Kitchen- 75lbs
Clothing, Hygiene, Personal Items- 25lbs
Science Gear, Equipment, and Reagents- 250lbs (actual weight 100lbs but have to allow for weight of samples and specimens collected)
Flat Floor Weight- 40lbs
Gasoline, Propane, Water- 30+20+90 respectively- 40lbs
Me- 200lbs
So that puts the total load out at projected load out at 820lbs. However, 100 of that is only after samples are collected and 200 of it is me. So for all intents and purposes, the load out is 520lbs. which is far below my projected maximum of 700lbs.
I also may be able to shave 150lbs of the science gear by shipping samples back to the labs rather than processing them on site and holding vouchers. There are enough towns along the way I can ship rather than carry.

Last year, on sagged out suspension and my own ignorance I was hauling around nearly 1100 lbs of gear and Bert did well. I figure this year I can save hundreds on fuel costs by paring down my load out.
 

Johnny O

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Next we get to the Jeep stuff. Compared to last year's trip, I am basically driving a completely different vehicle. The entire front end is effectively brand new. There's the lift and skid plates. Engine is tuned up and running well as long as I skip ethanol gas and remember to buy 89 instead of 87 while loaded.

So I'm also carrying repair parts this year. Lessons learned from last year.
Serpentine belt. Idler pulley, COPs, Electrical tool kit, an assortment of bulbs and fuses. Grease gun, Free-All, Kroil, Endura. ATF+4. 756w-90 Gear Oil, Zerex G05. Cordless Impact, Drill, Sawzall, and Air Compressor. Jump Stater pack. Tire repair and air down kit. Trusty Toolbox, etc. Sure it seems excessive, but remember, I'll be solo. Even with CB/FRS/GMRS/HAM and Satellite coms, one still has to expect to self rescue. Many of the places I'm going, no help is coming.

I had hoped to have Moabs and appropriate tires on before this trip but it just isn't in the cards. The stock size Toyo AT3s on OE steel did great last year and kicked ass at the ******** Tuttle Creek test run. I now know that Bert's weakness is mud, so I am gonna have to carry self recovery equipment for mud. Not quite sure what yet, but I'm those stupid traction boards. truthfully, I should never see any real mud, but there's always the risk of Monsoon Flash Flooding
 

Johnny O

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So trip prep continues with a test run this weekend. Only going to be gone for 4 days, but the terrain at my camping location is perfect for testing the load out and vehicle. The terrain and trails are very similar to what I find in the Great Basin. Not nearly as challenging as Tuttle Creek was.

I am experimenting, with a mere 300lbs of gear. A quarter of that weight is water and propane- it is going to be hot and humid, and I refuse to skimp on water. I also have completely revamped my clothing and hygiene requirements. Lots of lightweight, quick dry, UPF50 backpacking stuff and of course, the all important kilts. I just don't need that much clothing, and can stop at a laundry mat if stuff gets rank.

In years past I have survived on a mere 3 liters of potable water per day, and one liter of general purpose water. With the new load out however, I can carry 40 liters of water, and can add 40 more if need be keeping collapsible water bladders on hand just in case. This year's route has towns all over the place , so it is easy to restock on the fly.

My thinking is this: on this year's excursion, I have fuel, grocery and laundry available on the entire route, so I can minimize how much Ill be hauling. Won't need the spare fuel cans for this week's trip, but I'll carry a spare 20L for the July excursion.

Fuel is always my biggest expense on any trip, and this year looks to be brutal with gas projected to be at 5$ or more this July, so minimizing load out and aerodynamics has become paramount. Hypothetically, I may be able to get away with having no gear on the roof rack and can skip the hitch rack without sacrificing comfort or ability to self rescue. I may actually pull the roof rack off for the July trip to try and reduce some drag. I may also skip the memory foam mattress in my Swag tent, which saves another 30lbs and reduces gear volume dramatically. I picked up a very comfortable Klymit Double V air pad for an obscenely low price and it has proven to be very comfortable. For my purposes it weighs next to nothing.

The addition of propane is a new dynamic. Campfires are never an option in the desert. There are always burn and liquid fuel bans in effect. Adding a proper dual burner camp stove and a portable fire pit means I can have something resembling a camp fire. In past years I took 15lbs of propane and barely used two. Now I carry 20lbs. That allows me to skip campfire and and non propane stoves. Still have my Trangia and lots of reagent ethanol for back up in case something goes wrong. Plus, the ability to heat mass quantities of water means I can save money by skipping a motel or truck stop to wash the filth out of the hippy-hair without feeling like a wandering landfill.

While vehicle maintenance is complete and up to date, I have decided to pull the pin and replace both front steering knuckles and hubs. The passenger front has been problematic for months between ABS sensor BS and the slippy lower ball joint. I got a fair price on knuckles through one of my vendor buddies, and already have a pair of Moog bearing hubs on the shelf.

I hate to do it, but I have added traction boards to the gear list after I learned just how well Bert does in the mud, which is to say, Bert doesn't do mud well at all. The odds of ending up in a mashed-potatoes-for-road scenario is slim in the Great Basin, but it only takes one flash flood to put me in the hurt locker. Is no way in heck I'm going to have bumpers and winch mounted in time for the trip and to be honest, there is nothing to connect a winch to in the places I go most of the time.
 

Johnny O

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Welp, just 30 days to go. Gear and vehicles testing is complete. All preventative maintenance is up to date save for gear oil across the board.

Sure, I still need an alignment, but was no point in getting it done till I get the passenger knuckle and hub replaced.

The short term fix was to drill and tap three set screws to hold the lower ball joint. That worked, but is by no means a permanent solution.

I tried to pull half a dozen scientific permits, but struck out on every one. Apparently being a naturalist, laboratory, and collections manager is not good enough for Idaho and Nevada…if I studied cows and corn, there’d pay me to take permits…morons…

I got my petty revenge by canceling all three speaking stints and all four summer school/camp visits.

Oh well…that frees up nearly 40 hours to do fun stuff…and they can’t stop me sampling on private property. So now it’s a mad dash to contact private land owners.

Picked up new bear mace and frangible hollow points. Also considering retirement of the tomahawk for a scogaxe…since the tomahawk is illegal in the “Indian states”. Sure, I can carry a claymore sword, but a tomahawk is a “club” and therefore banned. The scogaxe is far more useful/dangerous anyway.

Have yet to correct the electrical issue of the off road lights vs. GMRS. No matter how I connect things the light bar drowns the radio signal. No big deal as I have never needed both at the same time.
 
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Johnny O

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Here’s a taste of things to come from the test run last weekend.
 

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Johnny O

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Had to delay the trip until the 16th due to my wife’s inconsiderate planning…but it works out as it gives me an extra week to get the cruise control working by fixing the ABS system.
 

Johnny O

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So all that is left to do is to get the ABS fixed and an alignment. Bert is as ready as it’s gonna get before I hit the road in 20 days.

This year I’m taking a Henry AR-7 instead of the Savage 64F left hand takedown. It’s lighter, takes up less space, and has been heavily modified by yours truly with a bull barrel, compensator, and red dot optics.

Also got some Alaska grade bear mace, a 12 volt fridge, and a small solar rig. Got a good deal on some used gold panning equipment and have retired my trusty tomahawk for a CRKT Skeggox. Have to modify the badly designed leaves on the latter, but it’s full tang SRK-5 steel. Should serve me better.

I’m actually a little nervous about this trip- it’s the longest, most off road and grid- yet best equipped trip yet. This one even beats out the week I spent in the Atacama.
 

Johnny O

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About a week to go. Time to start loading up and testing balance.

I’ve stripped things down and purchased different gear so on paper it should be 500lbs. If you include me, that leaves 300lbs for all the fossils and other stuff I’m going to collect, meaning it will only be 1000lbs total to drag around.
 

klc

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About a week to go. Time to start loading up and testing balance.

I’ve stripped things down and purchased different gear so on paper it should be 500lbs. If you include me, that leaves 300lbs for all the fossils and other stuff I’m going to collect, meaning it will only be 1000lbs total to drag around.
Umm… Go, Johnny, Go?

Sounds awesomely awesome.
 

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Sounds like quite the adventure! Keep us posted if and when you have service along the way.
 

Johnny O

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Finally. Just 18 hours or so and I’m on the road. First up is a mad dash across I-80 to Kemmerer, WY. This year actually going to dig some fish fossils. Beyond that I’m gonna have to wing it due to fires and flash flooding in the backcountry.

Now if I can just finish this game of Tetris for the last few items I need to load…
 

Johnny O

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Managed to get six hours sleep, and the wife made it home, so got on I-80 around 0200. 80 on 80 made ok time. Had to stop and do a few laps around a rest stop to keep them pesky blood clots away. Apparently is some nasty construction coming up. Should make Fossil Butte National Monument with plenty of daylight left to set camp for the night anyway.
 

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/pass the popcorn

Been out that way on dirt bikes. Two weeks, no pavement with tent camping except to refuel and restock in towns along the way. Started in Rawlings, WY and rode dirt thru there to Montana near Yellowstone, back south thru Idaho into Utah and east across Colorado then up to Rawlings to get our stuff loaded back up. Quite an adventure!

Found Dinosaur National Monument to be fascinating! Lots of very old critter bones in that entire area.
 

Johnny O

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Had a few bars almost everywhere, but this site wouldn’t load for some reason.

Mission accomplished without a single issue with the Jeep.

Full report to come.
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Johnny O

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So the trip started out great! Me and Bert got on I80 and set the cruise. Drove straight through from Omaha to Kemmerer, WY. Milestone: Bert hit 180k doing 80 on I80! Did the drive in 13 hours. Since I left at like 2AM, had time to visit Fossil Butte National Monument and find a nice campsite on BLM land.
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Johnny O

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Got up at the butt crack of dawn and headed to the American Fossil Quarry, one of the pay-to-play dig sites on the Green River formation. It’s famous for fish fossils. I go there as you get to keep anything you find as long as the value is les the 100k dollars. I had a bunch of prototype tools, built to my specifications by Trow&Holden stone cutting equipment. The quarry employees thought my stuff was too ********* for the regular rocks ( incorrect: they just fear change) so they turned me loose solo in the normally closed heavy tools area. I then proceeded to split around two tons of rock into 1 cm slabs. Many fossils were found, including a single, very rare fish. After that they all wanted to try my tools out. Even got invited to the pub by the foreman after closing time at the quarry. Even though I had to give up booze, I allowed myself one real beer and a shot to celebrate the hard earned rare Fish, and the chance for social hour with the pros. Everyone was amazed by Bert and even got offered a job prepping fossils! As a a generally antisocial type, it was nice to be able to interact with people I consider peers- a rarity in itself!
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Johnny O

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Thanks to the locals at the pub, Bert and I got a badass campsite for the night…and woke up surrounded by a few thousand sheep out on the open range. Got delayed a bit getting back on the road. Next stop Jarbidge, NV via Twin Falls, ID.
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Johnny O

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Not a lot of pictures this leg. Idaho is well, Idaho.
Little did I know the adventures awaiting me…
Once I left the twin falls metro, it was nothing but open range of until I dropped down into Jarbidge Wilderness. The “road” isn’t much wider than Bert and is paved with rock from the river and canyon walls. Not only is the town one of the most remote in CONUS, there’s only one way in and one way out. It’s a serious skill drive. Was many hand made signs that read things like “ Your van won’t make it” and “We no longer rescue Subaru. Closest wrecker is TF, ID” Bert of course just rolled on through in 4hi and the cruise set at 25 mph.
I rolled in to the town of 12 ish people and walked into the one of two pubs that were open. Extremely friendly locals. The pub has a shower you can use for ten bucks!!! Once again, I faked it and let my old social animal loose. Many fake beers consumed, bought a round for everyone…and scored one of the most beautiful and remote camp sites that the Jarbidge Wilderness near Copper Basin has to offer. Towed a tree out of the way that I had just driven over to let a pavement princess wrangler through…
Didn’t find any fossils, but had one of those life-changing 20 mile hikes. Again not many pictures or videos as it was so serene and beautiful, I wanted to keep it only for me.
 

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