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  • Expedition Overland Leads Us on the Adventure of a Lifetime

Expedition Overland Leads Us on the Adventure of a Lifetime

Drive to the Summit

Nov 28, 2016
Photographers: Manufacturers
At the advent of the Information Age, our world got a bit smaller and a lot faster. Suddenly, everything from world news to sometimes-questionable memes could be spread across the globe within a few days, hours, or minutes. Even grocery lists and piles of laundry could be dispatched online, with service in 30 minutes or less.
But as with physics, this action created an opposite reaction, a legion of people who crave to slow things down just a bit, if only for a few moments. From this space grew the enthusiast movement known as overlanding. In essence, overlanding is the polished, rebranded version of the family road trip, a way to cross the countryside with more intimacy than air travel. Delays are frequent and even welcomed in overland travel, and kitschy roadside stops are part and parcel to the experience.
It’s with this mindset that Toyota partnered with the legendary Expedition Overland team to create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We would embark on a four-day off-road journey from Las Vegas to Ouray, Colorado, with our arrival coinciding with the famous FJ Summit, an off-road–centric gathering of FJ Cruiser enthusiasts.
Expedition Overland
Expedition Overland (XO) consists of more than a dozen overland enthusiasts who produce a reality web series documenting their adventures. To date, the crew has traveled to Central America, through Alaska, and across the United States, with plans in place to expand their adventures across the globe. On our trip, we enjoyed the leadership of five XO veterans: Clay Croft, expedition lead; Rachelle Croft, driver; Rhonda Cahill, driver; Scott Cahill, cinematographer; Kurt Williams, navigator and resident encyclopedia; with their close friend Travis Swanson attending as the camp medic.
The XO team gave us a safety briefing and high-level overview of the trip, and without much detail, we hit the road, following behind the team’s fully built Toyota 4Runner Trail (nicknamed Rufio) and ahead of X3, a brand-new Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road that’s been modified for overlanding duty. We would be using factory-stock trucks for our trip, cycling between TRD Pro versions of the Toyota Tundra and 4Runner, plus a Tacoma TRD Off-Road.
Photo 2/18   |   Expedition Overland Trd Badge
Our time with Expedition Overland would be spent piloting Toyota’s TRD Pro and TRD Off-Road lineup of vehicles: the Tundra and 4Runner TRD Pro and Tacoma TRD Off-Road.
Day One: Easy Rider
Our first day on the road began with an easy highway slog to our group’s starting point near St. George, Utah. From there, we hit the dirt, heading due south toward Mt. Trumbull, Arizona, a ghost town once famous for its farming and ranching operations. After a quick tourist stop at the local schoolhouse, we continued through Arizona public lands, enjoying picturesque views of the desert before climbing Mt. Trumbull, where we stopped for lunch.
Rhonda and Rachelle would provide our camp cuisine throughout the trip, and our fears of cold frankfurters (borne through dozens of haphazard camping trips as teenagers) were dashed to pieces, replaced instead with salads, street tacos, and Greek yoghurt. It’s safe to say we don’t eat this good when we’re not camping, so the tasty meals were much appreciated.
Once back on the road after a filling meal, the group headed northeast through the Arizona strip, enjoying the mixture of scenery that included red rock formations, pine stands, and desolate desert prairies. Barely skirting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the landscape was diverse and beautiful, giving us the first of many arguments in favor of overland travel.
Photo 3/18   |   Expedition Overland Trucks At Night Lineup
A few weather-related setbacks had us running late almost perpetually, but the good guidance of the Expedition Overland crew kept us safe.
After passing into Utah, we hit the highway for a few miles, heading east from Kanab toward our campground. We bedded down for the night at Kodachrome Point, a stunning display of landscapes that seem like they were donated from an alien planet. As Kurt, our cruise director, pointed out, the rocks attained a deep red hue thanks to their high iron content, which oxidizes into copper hues. Within Kodachrome Basin State Park were a variety of hikes and trails, of which we were only able to sample one: the trek to Grosvenor Arch. This beautiful natural arch is one of many in southern Utah, but its size and grandeur merit a visit.
Photo 4/18   |   Expedition Overland Trucks At Night Arch
Photo 5/18   |   Expedition Overland Kodachrome Basin
Grosvenor Arch, in Kodachrome Basin State Park, was a great place for an early-evening hike.
Once nestled in camp, XO bartenders Rachelle and Rhonda served up cocktails made from Montana huckleberry vodka, then prepared a hot meal to prepare us for the desert’s chilly evenings. Nestled under the shadow of Inspiration Rock, we bedded down for the night.
Day Two: Getting Technical
Our first day of off-roading, we must admit, was a bit tame. Riding on well-groomed roads winding through the Arizona and Utah mountains, we were somewhat disappointed at our vehicles’ smooth rides. After all, we were riding in some of Toyota’s most adept, off-road–oriented machinery, and we’d yet to engage four-wheel drive.
No worry, as our Day Two route would lead us through some challenging trails. Skirting the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, and Lake Powell, we traveled over some stunning terrain, including the treacherous Burr Trail Switchbacks, a cattle trail cut in the late-1800s. The switchbacks lose 600 feet of elevation in just 1.3 miles, yielding a 9 percent grade on some very narrow, unpaved curves.
Photo 6/18   |   Expedition Overland X3 In Mud
Photo 7/18   |   Expedition Overland X3 Trailer
Our second day of travel got us very, very dirty. Expedition Overland’s Toyota Tacoma, codenamed X3, is one very, very cool way to play in the mud. If we had our way, every Tacoma would come with its own expedition trailer.
The day also brought the unexpected challenge of a water crossing. Rain in the area the night before had caused a flash flood before we’d arrived, turning the formerly pristine desert floor into a shallow river bordered by thick, sticky mud. After testing the riverbed’s firmness and depth, Clay and Scott made the decision to proceed forward, keeping the team’s set of Maxtrax on hand if needed. Rufio made the trip easily, as did each of Toyota’s factory trucks. Even X3, which was towing an Adventure Trailers habitat and storage trailer, passed the crossing with ease.
Mercifully, the rain didn’t start again until we were beyond the water crossing, spitting a few sprinkles on us once we’d gotten back on the highway. With dark clouds looming, we high-tailed it to our next campsite, a primitive spot off the beaten path. A quick trip into the shadow of Mormon Pasture Mountain led us to our second spot, nestled in a gorgeous meadow. Although the rain eventually caught up to us, it was kind enough to wait until we had our tents set up, the habitat’s rainfly deployed, and a hot dinner ready, so we weathered the storm with full bellies and dry accouterment.
Day Three: Mud, Mud, Mud
The rain persisted all night long, finally breaking just before sunrise. Again, timing was our friend, as the dewy meadow made for a spectacular view when opening our tents’ front doors. Check one more for the overlanding “pro” column.
Photo 8/18   |   Expedition Overland Campsite Rainbow
While primitive, our second campsite paid off big with a gorgeous sunrise after a long night of rain. The pitter-patter on our tent roofs made for immensely relaxing sleep as well, and the rain-soaked land smelled amazing.
A quick breakfast was necessary as today would be our longest day on the road, and with weather hampering our forward progress the previous two days, we had some ground to make up. This scenario is possibly the only downside to overland travel, but most adventurers have flexibility with time that we didn’t. Pro tip: If you’re interested in overland adventuring, don’t get too attached to your schedules and you’ll enjoy it a lot more.
The first several miles of the trail were through some thick, sticky mud. The trail’s sometimes-steep descents made for some white-knuckle driving in the slick mud, and we kept the rigs spaced apart as much as possible to avoid any damage. But even with the mud, skillful leadership and driving kept the trucks shiny side up and with most of their paint intact.
Photo 9/18   |   Expedition Overland Departure
We took off, braving the thick mud that coated seemingly every surface for miles. Our trucks were well-equipped to handle it, though, and the lush forest made for some great scenery while we drove.
Sites this day included the amazing Newspaper Rock, a massive set of petroglyphs inscribed in a rock panel. The first carvings date to around 2,000 years ago, left by the Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo, Pueblo, and Archaic cultures. Featuring more than 600 individual designs, the inscriptions have been scrutinized for years, but the reasons for such a large concentration on one panel are unclear. It’s a beautiful link with the region’s history, a saga that predates those frontiersmen we commonly call the area’s settlers.
Photo 10/18   |   Expedition Overland Newspaper Rock
Newspaper Rock is one of many roadside attractions that greet overlanders. Some of the petroglyphs are more than 2,000 years old.
After several hours in the saddle and with rain once again looming, we settled into our third and final campsite, just on the other side of the Colorado-Utah border. As our last night in camp, we felt a celebration was in order, and out came the tequila and beer to go along with our tacos.
Day Four: Imogene Pass
Telluride, Colorado, is a hidden gem, not in the least because of Imogene Pass, one of the most entertaining mountain passes in the Western United States. Imogene is all that stood between us and FJ Summit, and we were keen to take it on. Starting at a lofty 8,900 feet above sea level, Imogene has an overall climb of more than 4,000 feet, cresting at 13,368. At these altitudes, medic Swanson was keen to keep everyone hydrated and fed to stave off acute mountain sickness.
Photo 11/18   |   Expedition Overland Imogene Pass Landscape
Imogene Pass, although narrow and tricky, rides through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. This was a whole new kind of distracted driving, and although not caused by cell phones, we still had to keep our eyes on the trail and save the gawking for when we stopped for a water break.
In a stroke of bad luck, the trail was very crowded, making two-way travel on the narrow road extremely treacherous. Fortunately for us, many of the wheelers we encountered were experienced FJ Cruiser enthusiasts who made quick work of the tricky interchanges.
Photo 12/18   |   Expedition Overland Imogene Pass Trail
This shot shows how narrow the trail was in places, with a sheer dropoff to one side and a vertical rock face on the other. It was admittedly nervewracking, with not even enough space for a spotter.
About halfway through the trail, we once again had to make haste to avoid weather. Our brief stop at the mining ghost town of Tomboy was cut short thanks to lightning. Lightning is a serious concern at sea level, but when you’re literally in the clouds, it can be incredibly dangerous, and our trail leader and navigator made every attempt to get us down quickly and safely. After two thrilling, picturesque hours on the trail, we made it into Ouray.
Photo 13/18   |   Expedition Overland Imogene Pass Spotter
Once on the backside of Imogene, the road widened, although its craggy rocks presented other challenges. Still, they were easily dispatched by the XO crew and experienced spotters.
Our time with the XO crew and Toyota’s family of off-roaders had come to a close. After a few fun hours at FJ Summit and a fun-filled goodbye dinner, we turned the keys and the trail over to a new group, and Expedition Overland began the return trip without us.
Adding insult to injury, just hours after ending our epic road trip, we boarded a plane and headed back home. A journey that had lasted more than three days in off-road vehicles took just a few hours by plane, but the time saved didn’t feel like progress. We were stuck in a tube, flying high above the action, and our views of the scenery were interrupted by the atmosphere’s haze and our seat neighbors’ snoring.
Indeed, three days off-road gave us new appreciation for the slower pace of overland travel, the beauty of the countryside, and the capabilities of these Toyota vehicles. Whether showroom-stock and heavily modified, none of our trucks or SUVs suffered even a minor hiccup, and while our trails may not have been expert-level, they surely would have sidelined many lesser vehicles.
To Toyota and Expedition Overland, if you ever want to do it again, we’re game.

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