Warmer Climes — Moab Heat Trip Report

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | June 3, 2006      

How long would you be willing to sit and wait at the driver’s license bureau? The episode started joyfully enough. Son turns 16 years old so this past Thursday we head down to Grand Junction, Colorado to get his “real” driver’s license. At the bureau It’s “take a number” time — with 45 people ahead of you and one person working the desk. As motivated as I’ve ever seen him (actually, not as motivated as when ripping a couloir…), Louie waits it out. One hour, two hours — he’s jumped ahead to 30th in the que! Then the computers go down. “We don’t know when they’ll be up folks, leave if you feel like it.”

Soon the crowd of fifty dwindles to those with faith in Colorado’s state government computer geeks (i.e., five). Now the boy is at the head of the line. Another hour goes by, then another. I take Louie out for food, while Lisa holds the fort with her cell phone in reach. We eat a bagel and return. Count is now 4.5 hours waiting. The clock ticks toward closing time. A hum of activity begins at the desk (actually, more like a slothful shuffle). The computers are up! Will the boy make it in time? Yes! A few forms to fill out, get a mug shot. Done. Five hours waiting. One of the big transitions in a young person’s life is complete. And if he ever needed an example of what the government does with our tax money, he got it.

Per our plan, we continue west to Moab and set up camp. Birthday dinner at Zax Pizza, then pleasant sleep with a warm desert breeze ruffling the tent netting.

Next morning we head for 4-wheeling and mountain unicycling on the Poison Spider Mesa trail, a famous mountain bike and Jeep route that’s one of the Moab classics. I know it’ll get hot, but I’m not planning on the ensuing scorcher.

Rumble Bee gets a backcountry wedgie.
Rumble Bee gets a wedgie. On the Poison Spider Mesa Trail, Moab, Utah. Louie driving.

Remember what it feels like on your face when you open your oven door to check something you’re baking? That’s a good description what the breeze coming off the mesa feels like when we stop at the trailhead parking area to air down. I know the Rumble Bee CJ2A Willys Jeep radiator can handle the heat, but can we? And is there something about our mechanicals that the triple digit torch will take over the edge? Hey, we could get stranded out here. Three gallons of water looked like a ton in the City Market parking lot. Now it looks like a swallow.

Temperature is easily over 100 f when Louie decides to try some unicycling. That idea lasts a few hundred yards. Lisa mentions the possibility of heat stroke. Indeed. Now the trip becomes a simple 4×4 excursion. Hiking and bicycling are out of the picture. But the Poison Spider trail is still fun. A series of interesting obstacles make the route more than a slog, and the views are incredible. You catch glimpses of the Colorado River, while the magical fins of the Behind the Rocks formation rise to the east as foreground for the LaSal Mountains. Westerly, a vast area of mesas and rift canyons makes you realize how uncrowded Utah still is.

A bit of Jeeping between backcountry skiing trips is always a nice break.

As happens on many Moab trails, Poison Spider has a nice natural arch you can view. Known as Little Window Arch or Little Arch, this one is cool because it picture frames the famous Moab Rim trail, down more than a thousand vertical feet and across the Colorado River. In this photo you can see the trail and a couple of Jeeps enjoying the route. Click image to enlarge.

The Jeep holds up well, though it gets so hot the solenoid on my fancy aftermarket starter motor fails to kick in a few times. After that I don’t turn the engine off unless I’m pointed downhill.

On the way back we stop and play for a while on Poison Spider’s most interesting trail feature. Known as the “Wedgie,” this optional part of the route is a narrow v-slot you straddle. You can do it with an extreme tilt by placing one tire in the bottom of the gully, or bridge by “side climbing” one tire against a vertical rock wall, with the other tire is held from sliding sideways by the angled wall it’s wedged against. It’s not that tough to negotiate with the bridge technique, but turn a wheel too far and apply too much gas, and you’ll break a front axle or u-joint.

About this time I realize the gas in the tank under the driver’s seat is boiling (it gets some heat from the exhaust system down below — usually not a problem, but combined with the air temperature…) We’re close to the trailhead so I sacrifice some water and pour it on the gas tank to cool it so the bubbling doesn’t become something that goes boom (we like that kind of thing unless it’s under our rear). Time to go home.

Good decision. When we lift the hood for our end-of-trail inspection, we notice a bunch of gook that’s been sprayed all over the engine compartment. After a bit of detective work I realize the battery got so hot it boiled and spurted battery acid through the battery top vents. So much for my nice engine compartment detailing. Turns out battery acid makes great paint remover. Oh well, Krylon is cheap.

We head back to Moab and inhale some milkshakes, then decide it’s perhaps a bit too hot for desert recreation and we’ll head back to the alpine for some late spring backcountry skiing. Yeah, I know anyone in Moab who reads this will think we’re wimps. Okay, you’re right.


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4 Responses to “Warmer Climes — Moab Heat Trip Report”

  1. Mike June 3rd, 2006 9:07 pm

    Way to man up, Lou(s). I see the price of gas ain’t gonna get in the way of your fun. Steve’s got a 48, yellow, just like rumble bee, but the free ski gear has not come soon enough to allow for his piggy bank to feed the trick kit,,,yet.

    Looks like you have one sweet ride!


  2. Lou June 4th, 2006 5:37 am

    Hi Mike, we’ve been building that Jeep for nearly 14 years and it’s getting nice. Gas price for Moab trips is balanced by other recreation choices, such as not paying for airline tickets to Europe or buying new SUVs (grin). Luckily Moab is close enough so gas to/from there is not ridiculous, though I did notice the cost of fuel during this trip (we tow the Bee with a 2002 Silverado pickup). Funny thing is that once the Jeep is on the trail, a normal day only costs perhaps $20 in gas money. Repairs and improvements are the costly part, but that’s gotten better now that the Jeep is built about as much as I want.

  3. Chris Webster June 7th, 2006 6:52 pm

    So is a “flattie” just an MJ-3 ?

  4. Lou June 8th, 2006 5:59 am

    Hi Chris, a “flattie” is any flat fender Jeep. In this case it’s a 1947 CJ-2A (gas tank, body and frame are 1947 anyway )

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