Phew. Weekend Regroup.

Last weekend did not go exactly as planned…

I did give my Ignite talk at the Sherbino and it went fantastic! I hung out at Cimarron Books and Coffee grading on Friday morning.

And then the XJ I’d been looking for popped up in Denver so I canned my plan for a hike of Whitehouse on Saturday and jetted for Denver.

Saturday I bought the new Cherokee, rented a Uhaul tow dolly and began the drive home. Sunday I zoned out working on my quilt and then returned the tow dolly. I stopped for coffee and spilled the ENTIRE LARGE THING in my bag of papers.

So how was your weekend? I need a weekend from my weekend.

More from me soon. <3

Fall Color: Leadville to Aspen

After getting the Jeep running midday on Saturday, I loaded up Sprocket and we hit the road. We stopped briefly in Glenwood Springs to stretch a bit before pushing on to Minturn and the trailhead.

My vague plan was to hike Holy Cross but when the alarm went off at the trailhead on Sunday morning, I really just wasn’t feeling it. The weather was gorgeous, the leaves were amazing but I had no motivation to push myself at all.

What was in order was a day of epic leaf peeping.

I still wanted to be sure I got a hike or two in so since we were camped at a trail, we hiked it! The hike up to Half Moon Pass was a super enjoyable way to spend the first part of our morning in a super non-hurried fashion. I stopped at the top of the pass to enjoy the views and soak in the sunshine.

The drive back down to the highway was astoundingly beautiful. I’d gotten glimpses of aspens above I-70 on the drive east but after dinner at the Minturn Saloon, it was dark before I drove to the trailhead so I had missed the brilliant colors on the way up.

Since we had all day to explore, I turned south towards Leadville instead of going home via I-70. I stopped to check out the site of Camp Hale, the home of the 10th Mountain Division. I knew a little bit about the 10th Mountain Division but reading some of the signs at the historic site and at the memorial located at the top of Tennessee Pass reminded me of some things I’d learned watching Ken Burns’ “The War” several years ago. My grandfather loved history, especially World War II history, and to travel—I couldn’t help but think of him and how much he would have loved this interesting piece of history!

We poked around Leadville for a bit, checking out antique stores and enjoying a hot apple cider from City on A Hill Coffee. (Yes, Sprocket walks around antique stores with me.) After a bit, we continued on over Independence Pass. It looked a little different from when we were there in June!

The weekend felt really short because I was so embroiled in getting the Jeep running again but I’m so glad that Sprocket and I got out to enjoy the fall weather! You never know this time of year when the snow will start to fly!

1977 Jeep Cherokee: Starter Replacement

Last Friday, after I’d decided to take a weekend off from hiking, I headed to Grand Junction to pick up some supplies for my quilting project. On my way home, I stopped for gas and when I tried to start the Jeep, I was greeted with an absolutely terrible grinding noise. The only logical thing I could think of was that the starter had gone bad. I made a phone call to #thehelpfulex who confirmed that it was likely to be the starter but perhaps it could be the flywheel.

Regardless of what the issue was, the part was not going to be available at 8:30pm so I called for a tow back to De Beque. The next morning, I got on the phone and was able to get a starter ordered. Thanks to the wonders of community Facebook groups, a neighbor was able to pick up the starter for me and drop it off Sunday evening.

Monday, I tried to install the starter. First, I realized that I didn’t really know where to find a starter. Next, I realized that it’s a really simple job. Two bolts and one electrical connection and I had the new one installed. I hopped in the jeep for the moment of truth. …nothing…

There was no grinding noise but there wasn’t even an indication that the starter was doing anything at all. I could hear a click indicating that the starter solenoid was working but besides that, I was dead in the water.

I immediately blamed myself. I’m not a mechanic, therefore, it HAD to be my fault somehow. I followed wires all around the battery. I Googled. I browsed the FSJ forums. I called #thehelpfulex. He suggested that the battery was probably dead. That made no sense to me since I haven’t had issues with the battery discharging but I was willing to entertain the idea.

Tuesday, I got up and asked my neighbor for a jump. He lent me his battery charger so we topped off my battery. Still nothing. My neighbor and I poked around for awhile trying to figure things out. #Thehelpfulex called to check in on me and the project. He walked me through some troubleshooting ideas and nothing worked. I wound up in tears out of frustration. I hate being vehicle-less. I really really hate it.

Without any better ideas, I threw some money at the problem via Amazon Prime: I ordered a voltmeter to be able to better test the electrical connections and I ordered another starter. I figured in any case I could return the locally purchased one and this would help me eliminate the very unlikely scenario in which the replacement starter was bad.

Friday, the starter arrived late in the afternoon so I put off the swap until the sun had warmed things up a bit on Saturday morning to dive in. I was feeling a little defeated and nagged by a sinking feeling that something more major might be going on and I wasn’t going to be able to get Francis Sally started.

Before I crawled under the jeep for the dirty part of the job, I used the voltmeter to test a few things, many of which I had tested before but now I’d have data(!):

  1. Battery voltage: The battery measured 12.67 (about 95% charge). Clearly it wasn’t my battery.
  2. Voltage at the starter solenoid: Power appeared to be traveling through the cable to the solenoid since I measured the voltage at 12.62 there.
  3. Voltage across the starter solenoid: I didn’t actually measure this because I didn’t have a helper to read voltage or turn the key. (Santa really needs to bring Sprocket some thumbs for Christmas…)
  4. Voltage to the starter: First, I disconnected the negative battery cable from the battery terminal. then I disconnected the positive battery cable from the solenoid and attached it to the opposite side of the solenoid (essentially bypassing the solenoid). I reattached the negative battery cable and tested the voltage at the starter. I was measuring about 12.5V but the starter wasn’t doing anything.

That was enough. I’d confirmed that even with voltage flowing to the replacement starter it wasn’t spinning. I returned the solenoid wires to their correct positions and  quickly swapped to the replacement for the replacement starter.


I tried by passing the solenoid. The stater spun! I briefly entertained the idea that maybe I’d somehow burned up the solenoid with the bad starter. And then I remembered my neighbor had been trying to figure out why there was only one small wire going to the solenoid (the ignition wire). I swapped its position and tried again.


The #damselNOTindistress was victorious again.

James Peak: Gilpin County Highpoint

I had hoped to head up Mount of the Holy Cross on Saturday, but after I had kind of a tough day on Elbert, I changed my plans and headed for James Peak. I’d hoped to climb this back in July but when the power steering pump on my FSJ died, I skipped it in favor of playing mechanic at Aleya‘s place. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I’d learned about the existence of the Kingston Peak Jeep Trail in the meantime which cut way down on the elevation gain and hike distance.

I got a little nervous heading down a loose hill from the “stone house” since I’d have to reascend it to get out but I figured if it was really a problem, I could go out to the north. Just a few minutes later, we were at the start of our hiking route to James Peak. The “trail” is a former jeep road and the hiking went really fast as we approached the peak.

This angle of James Peak is really pretty but we wrapped around the peak to the south (left in the above photo) and ascended up the much gentler south side.

As we reached the south side, views of Loch Lomond, Ice Lake, and several other smaller lakes.

From here, the ascent went quickly as we gained the ridge and then the summit.

There were a few people on the summit but I still really enjoyed taking in the views from the peak.

We made quick time back to the Jeep and started our slow drive down the mountain. James Peak is my 26th Colorado County Highpoint; I’m steadily approaching my goal of being at 32 by the end of 2015!

Colorado 4×4 Roads: Ophir Pass

I hesitate to call Ophir Pass a 4×4 road. This isn’t a bad thing at all. Ophir is a beautiful road and what’s awesome is that with a little bit of ground clearance, just a touch of driving know-how, and maybe airing down your tires a little, Ophir is very manageable. (Full-size vans, I’m looking at you.)

Ophir Pass is the easiest off-highway connection between US 550 “The Million Dollar Highway” or Red Mountain Pass and CO 145 “Lizard Head Pass.” And when I say “easiest,” I mean that this is a pretty darn good gravel road; there is a small creek crossing that is manageable by pretty much any vehicle with a little momentum and airing down will let you make it up the steeper sections.

Ophir Pass is about 10 miles; it takes a little while to drive because you’ll be taking photos and it is gravel, not highway. I’m a little bit astounded that I haven’t driven this yet. I mean, seriously, check out this view:

Because the road isn’t super rough, it gives you a ton of bang for your buck in terms of views without a lot of abuse on your vehicle. It would also make a great return from Black Bear if Imogene is more than you want to bite off.

Something worth keeping in mind is that the actual summit of the pass doesn’t have the best views. It truly is a pass through some walls which means it’s a good plan to look for a break spot on either side of the pass itself. There are pull outs near the top of the west side of the pass and some throughout the eastern side.

This was a great end to a beautiful day of hiking and I’m really glad that I finally drove this route!

1977 Cherokee: Car & Driver Review

Sometimes I start reading random things on the internet and later can’t remember who brought them to my attention. A few weeks ago, this awesome link showed up: a 1977 Car and Driver review of the AMC Cherokee. What is even more exciting is that they specifically sought out an “S” model: “We deliberately ordered a rather conservatively equipped Cherokee. We wanted to examine a medium-priced vehicle that the median consumer might actually buy.” Since Francis is an “S” model, I got way too excited about it.

I don’t read a lot of car reviews so I have no idea how this compares to anything else but this phrase, right at the beginning of the article pretty much nailed it: we .. “found it to be a strangely loveable vehicle.” EXACTLY. Strangely loveable is right.

And I’m probably the only one out there that just totally smiles her face off at tidbits like this: “It lacks the third seat available in vans, Suburbans and full-size station wagons, but all that means is that it probably won’t see much use as a school bus.”

And the were absolutely not kidding when they said “The man who lives in snow country, skis or boats or hunts or fishes, or just likes to get out and really see the country, should give the Cherokee wagon some serious consideration.”

But mostly, it’s that tag line: “A Conestoga for the courageous”

I don’t think Car and Driver quite pictured this Conestoga-ness but just maybe they did. 🙂

It’s sort of a ridiculous find but if you like old Jeeps and car reviews with personality it makes for a totally amusing read. I seriously grinned the entire time.

Colorado 4X4 Roads: Stony Pass

When I decided to head home from Creede, I had a decision to make: what route would I take? It’s only 50 miles straight line distance between Creede and Ridgway but the highway route goes north to Highway 50 and is over 175 miles! My other options were Engineer Pass, a combination of Cinnamon/California/Hurricane/Corkscrew Passes, or Stony Pass.

I wasn’t really excited about either the Engineer or Cinnamon Pass options because I’ve driven them before and would rather wait to re-drive them until I am going up to hike something. I was down to either the highway route, which was mostly new to me road which would be fine, or Stony Pass (96 miles).

The weather looked promising, despite seeming threatening at Phoenix Park that morning, so I decided that Stony Pass would be my route home. The road all the way up the reservoir was an easy gravel road drive. There was minimal washboarding and barely any potholes and it went really quickly.

Beyond the reservoir, the road deteriorated. There were lots of mud puddles and it was hard to tell just how deep and how muddy some of them were. I hate mud. It makes me nervous when I’m out alone. I’m conservative enough that I don’t feel likely to get stuck on rocks since I can almost always back down something if I can’t get up but mud has the ability to make you actually stuck—especially if, like me, you don’t have a winch. These puddles didn’t really pose too much of a threat but I managed to splash mud all over the Jeep anyway since I was going to “keep up my speed” just to be safe.

Along the way, I ran into a gentleman driving a TJ coming down the road. I backed up into a pullout to let him by when he stopped to get out. “How much further?” he asked. I assumed he was talking about out to the east so I told him, “A-ways.” Turns out he was curious how much further to the top off the pass, the answer to which was also “a-ways.” He’d gotten about a mile further than where we were and turned around because it was “really rough.”

As I’ve discussed before, people’s definition of “rough” varies greatly but I was a little bit nervous since I did not want to drive all the way out and then around on the highway so I just laughed and explained that I lived in Ridgway so I was going to be fairly stubborn about making it over. He shook his head and headed on his way. (Actually, he made the sign of the cross over the hood of the FSJ. I hope he was kidding.)

I continued upward and found his rocky section and had no problem with it—it was simply a sustained (quarter mile?) section of steep and rocky but not anything that needed “crawling” over. The thing that almost made me turn around was actually the mud just before the rocks. I ran into a couple of dirtbikers as I needed to make a crossed up muddy stream crossing and it made me super nervous. Did I mention I hate mud? Seriously, the rocks were a relief!

(I really need to mount the GoPro on the front of the Jeep since capturing what “rough” means photographically is hard when you’re solo and the road demands attention not being a photographer.)

Past the top of the rocky section, it was smooth sailing. There were lots fewer puddles and the road smoothed out a lot. In fact, I’ll probably do this road again, just from the Silverton side and only down to Pole Creek and back.

The road runs right on the northern edge of the Weminuche Wilderness and, along with the adjoining Bear Creek Road and Pole Creek Trail, provides access to some amazing high country.

Even though things had gotten much easier near the top, I heaved a really big sigh of relief when I reached the top. I’d been told by some people that I trusted that the drive from the Silverton side wasn’t that bad (plus it was downhill) so I knew I was home free.

In the end, I’m really glad I drove Stony Pass. Besides the mud (which really wasn’t that bad, I’m just being a whiner) I found it to be something that pretty much any SUV with low range can traverse. There might have been a section or two where a lift might be helpful if you’re not an experienced off road driver but my Jeep only has a small lift and I had no issues.

Creede: Phoenix Park Road

I arrived in Creede mid morning and visited all the galleries and small shops with Sprocket. I also asked anyone I thought might be able give me trail conditions on the Phoenix Park road. At the Forest Service office, the ranger wasn’t particularly helpful but I did pickup a handout that described it as “more difficult.” More difficult isn’t necessarily what one wants to see when you’re driving a vintage Jeep alone but I wasn’t exactly detered. I asked a man who was working at the Historical Society about it and he said he drove it several years ago and it was really rough. Trying to obtain a better read on what it is actually like in comparison to other Colorado trails, I explained that I’m from Ridgway and regularly drive my Cherokee on Engineer Pass.

This, of course, is all a half truth. I did regularly drive my TJ on Engineer but I’m sure when I said “Cherokee” he pictured an XJ (which is exactly what I wanted him to do) and I’ve never driven my FSJ on Engineer.

However, I did get the information I needed: “It’s steep in some places and rocky in others but never at the same time. I did it in a Jeep Cherokee and had no problems. I sent a man from Texas up there in a Wrangler and he said it was the worst road ever.” This sounded absolutely do-able so Sprocket and I headed up that way.

The lower part of East Willow Creek Road was easy to drive and was really pretty—the road was narrow but not steep or rocky. I almost missed the entrance to Phoenix Park Road because it was tiny, looked like a quad trail, and was unsigned. I checked the map twice and realized that, yup, I was going that way. In low range, I crawled up just fine and then the road turned steeply downhill. I hate hate hate going downhill on the way to somewhere. I always like knowing that the route down gets me out not further in but it really didn’t look that bad. We made it all the way out to within about 1/10th of a mile of the road’s end. There, the road crosses the creek but the creek seems to have taken over the road for quite awhile and it is muddy and just pretty much unnecessary to drive.

In the morning, the sky looked fairly threatening and I didn’t feel like hiking in a torrential rain or, worse, getting caught in a thunderstorm. I hemmed and hawed about it for almost a half hour before driving back down to Creede. The drive out was mostly uneventful and I’ll definitely hike from the end of the road when I make it back down to try Phoenix again!

Phoenix Park Road: ~2 miles of rough road where high-clearance is helpful and at least one steep grade where low range is really helpful. I was able to make it in and out in the FSJ without an issues at full highway tire pressure.

Ouray FSJ Invasion: Maggie Gulch

Every year, a group of full size Jeep enthusiasts descends upon Ouray for a couple of days in July. I had absolutely no excuse to not attend since it is so close to home and I was excited to see more Wagoneers, Cherokees, and J-trucks!

I was able to join everyone for a barbeque dinner on Wednesday evening and a mellow ride up gorgeous Maggie Gulch near Silverton before it was time for me to head out for Ice Lakes Basin and the start of my county high point adventure. While my jeep isn’t pictured, this photo I stole from our Facebook group shows just how many FSJs were present! It was pretty cool:

Although I’ve done quite a fair amount of exploring in the Ridgway-Ouray area I haven’t driven any of the roads heading south out of Silverton. I am so glad to have gotten to head up Maggie Gulch; I’ll be back since there are a handful of 13ers that are pretty easy to access from the top of the road!

Maggie Gulch (also known as CR 23) is located about six miles east of Silverton. The road isn’t long and isn’t difficult at all but the views were absolutely incredible.

Sprocket immediately went into his classic alpine dog mode, sniffing his way through the tundra. As we were hanging out, a family showed up with a 12 week old puppy named Clifford. Sprocket and Clifford weren’t too sure about each other but I’m pretty sure that if they’d have had more time together, Sprocket would have been teaching him all about hiking:

Like many roads in the San Juans, this ends at an old mine. It’s always kind of neat to poke around and check out the old workings:

I really thought that they were kidding when I was asked if I wanted cheese crisps and ribs. No one was kidding.

Looking forward to next year!

1977 Jeep Cherokee: Tailgate Rehabilitation

Among the common issues on the full size Cherokee (and Wagoneer) was that the rear window had to roll down to open the tailgate. This design had it’s benefits with a truck like tailgate for sitting on and a giant opening which makes for awesome camping views (plus there’s no overhead hatch to hit your head on like the XJ). The downside is that if something happens to the window mechanism, you can’t open the tailgate.

When I bought my Cherokee, the rear window kind of worked. By kind of, I mean that it would roll down about two inches, I’d get out rock it to the left, and then be able to roll it down the rest of the way. I’m sure you can imagine that as my primary way to load and unload Sprocket that this got old very quickly. I ordered all of the internal parts hoping to only have to disassemble the whole thing once and figured I could handle the more external parts as I desired. In retrospect, I wish I would have just ordered the deluxe tailgate renewal kit from Team Wagoneer considering that I used everything but the lifter bar and its cushion (and I was just lucky, I very well could have needed this and had actually ordered it separately).

This was my first major repair on the Jeep and I was a little bit nervous. I’d tried to read descriptions on the FSJ forums (Full Size Jeep Network and International Full Size Jeep Association). I’d poured over the factory service manual diagram of the tailgate. And finally I realized that unless I just dove in I wasn’t really going to understand it.

My first order of business was to actually remove the window. I recommend having a garage or at least not being in Colorado during the wettest May ever. Removing the window was actually a lot easier than I’d expected it to be. I took off the carpet on the tailgate and the access panel. I raised the window just enough to get my hand inside and remove the clips from the lifter bar. Next, I worked one of the studs out of the slots in the window lifter and began to search for a friend to help support the window before I removed the other stud and slid the window out. Fortunately for me, Ridgway is a friendly place and I nicely asked a woman out on a walk through the neighborhood to help me for two minutes while I accomplished those things. (Fortunately for her, it only took about one minute.)

A look at how the studs and clips hold in the window:

I inspected the lifter channel (also known sometimes as a lifter bar?) and realized that I didn’t actually need to remove the glass from it. I’d heard that these often rust out; mine was dirty but not rusted so I opted to keep it.

I replaced the tailgate glass side channels which looked like they’d seen better days. In fact, this was all I needed to replace to make the window function. After 38 years of dust working its way into the channels, there were large chunks missing. In fact either the inner or the outer piece (I didn’t really look at it until I’d set it down) of the drivers side channel was entirely missing. Putting in the new channels only took a couple of minutes but the rain started falling before I could get them in so it necessitated this:

I became the heroine of my neighborhood when I had to leave Francis looking like this for a couple of days while I waited for the sun to return:

Eventually, I got tired of waiting for the rain to clear so I informed my friend Bryan that I was coming over to use his garage. This arrangement also helped me to have his help getting the window back in place. (I was petrified of breaking it the entire time it was out of the vehicle. It took a little bit of figuring out how to get the clips back in (I’d bought a new pair in case the ones inside bent or broke on the way out or in…) but I got them in, or so I thought…

I left my friend’s house and headed to the laundromat and was super excited with my working window but suddenly, right as the rain started falling, it wouldn’t roll up. One side just wasn’t going up and it didn’t take very long for me to figure out that one of the clips had fallen off. With thunder rolling in the background, I decided to avail myself of the cover provided by an after-hours bank drive through:

Sure enough, that fixed the problem!

I found that with all the driving I do down dirt and gravel roads that I was pulling in a lot of dust. I’d learned that the original weather stripping was body mounted but somewhere along the lines, someone had replaced mine with generic weather stripping. This didn’t take long at all to replace but it had taken me until the end of my roadtrip with Amanda to choke it up and spend the money on a new seal. The seal needs the plastic rivets at the top and doesn’t come with them. I had one still floating around, fortunately, so I was able to size one for the other side.

I also went ahead and replaced the upper slide channel since pretty much everything else was new and didn’t want it to feel left out. Removing the old one was way more of a pain than putting in the new one since it came out in about twenty pieces.

I also purchased a new wiring harness for the rear window that I haven’t finished installing yet—with all of our monsoons, it’s been hard to feel comfortable cutting off my ability to close the window for a day! More on that coming soon (probably once I get to De Beque and have a garage!).