Overland Adventure Part 2: Up In Elevation And Onward To Overland Expo
Overland Adventure: Part 2
Morning mist hung low to the ground, the nearby cows exchanged their morning greetings, and the smell of cinnamon rolls wafted through the sea of rooftop tents. The sun had scarcely risen over the campground, and Dan Cressall, a participant from Logan, Utah, had the oven in his '08 Dodge Ram fired up, cranking out gooey morning treats. If you're just joining us, this is Morning Two of Four Wheeler's inaugural Overland Adventure.
From the stacks of applications submitted through , we selected 20 overland vehicles of various sizes, makes, and models; all were equipped with true four-wheel drive and unique sleeping accommodations, and they came from all corners of the United States to join us on our inaugural expedition.
Overland Adventure was a journey you likely would not experience by simply heading off into the backcountry on your own. Not only did our route traverse the awe-inspiring mountains, rocky canyons, and thick forests between Wickenburg and Flagstaff, Arizona, the trip also concluded at the largest-ever Overland Expo West (the official event partner of Overland Adventure) with a celebration banquet, raffle, and VIP camping on-site at the Expo. That's not all. Nena Barlow is celebrated in the off-road community for her many years of 4x4 experience, recognition as an International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers' Association Master Trainer, and also for her shining attitude on the trail—and she was the professional guide leading the way on Overland Adventure. Nena's infallible enthusiasm, extensive knowledge of the American Southwest, and acclaimed 4x4 acumen are only a handful of the reasons why we selected her to lead the inaugural Overland Adventure. Alongside handling many of the nuances of the expedition, Nena kept the group engaged and informed using her Rugged Radios GMRS radio as we traveled, calling out turns, pointing out pieces of history along the way, and inserting well-placed humor.
But wait, there's more! Overland Adventure even had gourmet meals at camp each night! Since we squeezed so much adventure and excitement into each trail day, we made sure to appeal to each overlander's sense of taste with a sizzlin'-hot, freshly cooked meal with some hinterland-inspired zest—and we didn't forget dessert. The food wizards at Overland Gourmet prepared it all, and it was served in fine-dining style.
As the event kickoff date of May 13, 2019, drew nearer and the overlanders were preparing for adventure, some chose to take advantage of offers from Overland Adventure's sponsors. BDS Suspension, Bubba Rope, Canyon Coolers, Conqueror Off-Road Campers, Dick Cepek, KC Lights, Offroad Power Products, Power Stop Brakes, Rugged Radios, Superwinch, and VTX Wheels extended everything from gift certificates to product discounts to the participants of Overland Adventure. In addition to helping participants outfit their 4x4s, each sponsor had a vehicle on the trek to represent their brand as well.
One by one, fingers peeled back the zippers on rooftop tents, trailer doors swung open, and participants buzzed about camp brewing coffee and building morning meals. The driver's meeting oriented the group to the day's plans—leaving the pastures behind and gaining some elevation. Traci Clark, the event's medic, reminded the audience of the severity of the region's drought and its sensitivity to fire. The adage—"It only takes a spark"—is gospel in the Southwest. Soon, engines joined the sounds of bellowing bovines as our herd of overlanders proceeded onto the wide-open trail.
The climb into the higher elevations showcased some essential points of Overland Adventure. At the morning's lowest point, the altimeter read 4,200 feet, increasing to over 6,800 feet as we traveled 10 miles into the hilly country. Strain on the vehicles was almost as constant as the panoramic views. Cody and Cade Jones spent the previous evening troubleshooting the cooling system on their '94 Ranger, but to no avail. To alleviate some stress on the Ranger, Stephen Garrett, a participant from Owasso, Oklahoma, offered to tow the trailer with his '18 Wrangler JLU. This way, Cody and Cade could remain with the group until parts to fix the cooling system were available.
Our route briefly joined the pavement in Chino Valley, testing the convoy's communication skills as we proceeded through traffic signals and into a fuel stop. Participants were reminded that this was the last opportunity to fill gas tanks and jerrycans before we made camp for the night, and nobody wanted to be "that rig" stranded with an empty reserve. As we rejoined dirt tracks, the winds picked up and carried with them the wisps of dust swirling behind each vehicle as we filed toward the mountains. The hills in the distance began to show a rusty, red hue as we drew closer to the red rocks of Arizona's northern half.
Climbing to Camp
Perkinsville, Arizona, was founded in 1900 by cattle ranchers, and during its booming times was home to between 10 and 12 families. Nowadays, the area is known for its use in the 1962 film How the West Was Won and for its single-lane steel Pratt Truss bridge spanning the Verde River. After crossing the bridge, we paused in the shade to enjoy afternoon snacks and prepare for the climb to the night's camp. Before the sun burned away at the horizon we had climbed from the river, which was at 3,800 feet, to Dogtown Reservoir, just above 7,000 feet. Why's it called Dogtown? The grasslands near the lake used to be home to communities of prairie dogs. That evening, the master chefs at Overland Gourmet sizzled and dazzled the crowd with meat, veggies, potatoes, and dessert; and before long, sweaters and jackets were brought out so the campfire stories could continue into the night.
Lily and Travis Chrystal of Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, called their '71 Chevy K10 home during Overland Adventure. In addition to cross-country exploration duties, the truck serves as a daily driver and a hunting rig. Travis told us his 33-inch tires give him all the clearance he needs for the off-road predicaments he gets into, while reducing strain on the driveline so he doesn't need to upgrade to chromoly axleshafts. He does, however, want to add solar panels to the truck to power an electric fridge.
Early risers on the final trail day of Overland Adventure were greeted by chilly mountain temps, blue skies, and perhaps another gooey cinnamon roll from Dan Cressall's overland oven. Nena Barlow gave the final orientation over the Rugged Radios and the procession began out of camp. After 20 miles of red dirt, crushed cinders, and towering Ponderosa pines, we paused to take in the spellbinding panorama of Sycamore Canyon and the Verde River some 2,000 feet below. Onlookers absorbed the layers of Coconino Sandstone, white limestones, and even darker lava formations that made up the canyon walls, many taking note of how the scenery was in direct contrast to the sandy arroyos the group traversed during the first day of the trip.
Filing Into Flagstaff
With the canyon views behind us and the miles between us and Overland Expo West dwindling, we made sure to savor every silty dirt corner, roadside cattle tank, and whiff of the vanilla-hinted Ponderosa pine bark before pulling into Flagstaff. And it wasn't long before we entered Fort Tuthill County Park, where the excitement certainly was not yet over. Each Overland Adventure participant was given access to Overland Expo West along with a VIP camp spot near the event's front gate, with their rig poised prominently for all to see.
We didn't stop there, because before turning everyone loose to explore the Expo, we corralled the group one last time at the Horsemen Lodge Steakhouse. Dinner was served in a rustic ambiance as the weary adventurers shook a light coating of dust off the memories of the past few days. Following the evening meal, Four Wheeler Editor Ken Brubaker stood before the smiling faces and announced the raffle. BDS Suspension, Bubba Rope, Canyon Coolers, Conqueror Off-Road Campers, Dick Cepek, KC Lights, Offroad Power Products, Power Stop Brakes, Rugged Radios, Superwinch, and VTX Wheels stacked the table with prizes that found their way into the hands of overjoyed overlanders one by one. Whether it be a box of prizes, a new friend, or a sliding drawer system chock-full of stories, everyone left the banquet richer than they came—and that was the core of Overland Adventure 2019.
The following day, participants and sponsors alike dove into Overland Expo West and were immersed in the largest show to date, where 22,000 overland enthusiasts, 405 exhibitors, and 135 media outlets gathered at Fort Tuthill County Park. While the weather ranged from hailstorm to bluebird sky, spirits climbed high, and we heard people whispering, "Will there be another Overland Adventure in Arizona?" The answer is yes, and more info regarding the 2020 Four Wheeler Overland Adventure will be available soon at . If you joined us on this journey, you're no stranger to the invaluable experiences filling these pages. For anyone considering coming with us in the future, it's a one-of-a-kind adventure!
From the Logbook
Highest elevation (ft. ): 7,200
Righthand drive rigs: 2
Lowest elevation (ft. ): 2,050
Number of tires: 221
Miles driven: 217
Cinnamon rolls consumed: 72
#overlandadventure19 Instagram tags: 503
Total miles driven by participants to get there: 20,196
Fire extinguishers deployed: 2
Patches displayed: 386
States represented: 15
Hottest day in Wickenburg: 99 degrees F
Coldest night at Dogtown Reservoir: 40 degrees F
Fire extinguishers, among other things, were required on every vehicle participating in Overland Adventure. Like other pieces of safety gear or recovery equipment, carrying them might not always immediately benefit you—but having them could save someone's life. While on the trail to Dogtown Reservoir, a vehicle fire literally rolled up next to some members of our group. Without hesitation, the Overland Adventure participants closest to the scene first ensured the vehicle's occupants were safe and that the engine was powered off, and then they reached for their respective fire extinguishers and suppressed the flames. The occupants were unharmed, the vehicle was still operational, and thanks to the preparation and swift response of the Overland Adventure participants, harm to human lives and the surrounding forest was prevented.