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Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
9/22/20 1:23 p.m.

Down the other side, the trail fairly quickly turns into what is basically just a rough gravel road. And over this surface, the Fox Racing shocks really shone. I felt like I was driving a trophy truck. It was like showing up to a track day in a fully prepped Spec Miata and it turns out it was put on by a Miata club that is more interested in tours and polishing their cars. Luckily, most Jeeps are equipped with functioning rear view mirrors. Many side by sides are not, it appears. 

Anyhow, made it down to Lake City. It looked like Sturgis during Bike Week, there were Jeeps everywhere. Unbelievably busy. I decided to finish the Alpine Loop and run over Cinnamon Pass, which is a pretty easy drive that starts off really pretty. But before I got too far, I saw a sign for Carson. I'd only been up there once, when I went over Cinnamon with my parents in 2002.

Hasn't changed all that much.

I love the weathered timber. I have a tendency to take pictures of textures like this and forget about stuff like, you know, mountains. This town only lasted about 20 years.

Alas, Carson may not remain as it is for much longer.

By this time, it was getting a little later than I'd originally planned. The Cinnamon side trip was making for a long day. So I stepped up the pace a bit and put that Fox Racing suspension to work. But it wasn't without appreciating the trail - the aspen are already turning on the Lake City side of the mountains.

Finally I got close to the top of Cinnamon Pass. This is a gorgeous vista and I finally got some of the trail to myself.

That is some pretty country. Color me jealous. 

Thanks for sharing. 


Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
9/22/20 1:31 p.m.

The second pass of the day.

Once you're at the top of Cinnamon, it's a fairly short run down the other side into the popular ghost town of Animas Forks. My plan was to duck off the trails there, head out to Silverton and run back to Ouray on the Million Dollar Highway. I met someone on the trail who mentioned there was a bad accident on the Animas Forks-Silverton road that had everything shut down, so I decided to finish the loop and head out via Ouray. It's a shorter distance but covers the roughest part of the trail. No worries, the mountains were emptying out. Not many pictures because I'd been there before, but it was still gorgeous.

Popped out on Highway 550 and motored on home. Made it back at 8 pm, so that was a 13 hour trip. 

The Jeep was almost flawless. The only thing that happened is the crossbars for the roof rack kept loosening off - if you look at the picture of the top of Engineer's, you'll see the rack has walked all the way to the front. Maybe I should have slowed down a little :) No real problem, I just had to give the knobs a good twist once in a while. Eventually I got that sorted out.

The first time I did Engineer's was in a 1967 Land Rover in 2001. That truck was 34 years old at the time. The XJ is 30 now, but it feels like a much newer vehicle. Generations newer, with AC and power windows and suspension and power steering and real brakes and everything. Kinda makes me feel old.

I think I'm going to have to head back into the high country once or twice more before everything gets too snowy. Maybe I'll bring a tent and spend the night in that campsite.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
9/22/20 1:41 p.m.

Here's the route I took if anyone's interested. It doesn't include the side trip in the Mineral Point area.


As I found on my last trip, the size of the XJ is a big benefit on these trails. Stuff that the new Jeeps had to clamber over, I could drive around or between. I didn't see another XJ the entire time, it was all the last couple of generations with either rental plates or slathered with toys. Biggest vehicle on the trail was a Gladiator (with NJ plates!) with a color-matched topper. HUGE. The Fox Racing shocks were stars on this trail, allowing me to run at 25 mph when everyone else was picking their way at 10 mph. Had a couple of challenging obstacles on my side trip that the XJ got over with some careful placement. But I never needed any more equipment than I had.

One of my other trips up here in a 4x4 :) If you come in from the Silverton side, it's a LOT easier.

I can't even imagine a traffic jam in the Francis Marion. I only saw two other vehicles when I was out there Sunday, both parked at trail heads. The forest service has been saying they have been seeing record numbers of people and are having issues with overcrowding. Unfortunately around here, that usually leads to closures. I know two of our rifle ranges are closed, but I think that's due to covid instead of other issues. 


Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
9/22/20 2:24 p.m.

The traffic jams on this trail were because it's a bucket list drive. It's the sort of trail you build your vacation around. And apparently with the schools closed in Texas and people "working" from home, everyone's taking that vacation. Since my whole goal was to get out of town and clear my head, that traffic hit me hard. Really, I should have gone somewhere else. I just didn't expect it to be this busy in the middle of the week in fall.

I almost took a right into Escalante Canyon on my way out of town. Next time, that's what I'll do.

I've been to that exact area. Some friends were in their side by side, and I was on a borrowed 200 2 stroke Yamaha four wheeler. I've got pictures somewhere. Lovely write-up. Below, current selfie:


In reply to Keith Tanner :

I can see that. We don't  have people coming from across the country to drive through the Francis Marion. I'd bet most of the locals don't even know it exists beyond a sign on the side of the road. That kind of traffic would certainly be a let down. Better luck next time. 

EvanB (Forum Supporter)
EvanB (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
9/22/20 5:27 p.m.

I really want to be there some time with no snow. When I was going through in late May one year all the passes were still snowed over. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
9/22/20 6:14 p.m.

That's when you go to Moab, before it gets crazy hot :)

Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter)
Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
9/23/20 7:26 a.m.

This continues to make me want a xj after we sell cars. 

ProDarwin MegaDork
9/23/20 7:31 a.m.

Whenever I see this thread pop up I end up searching for XJs, Grand Cherokees, Pathfinders, Xterras and 4 Runners

Rodan Dork
9/23/20 8:06 a.m.

Great drive, and beautiful country!   yes

We just spent 10 days in that area ourselves... left just before the first snow.   We also saw mostly newer Jeeps on the trails.  A few Toyota pickups, and a Range Rover, but mostly Jeeps.   Our Bronco and one other Jeep were the only vehicles we saw that were pre~2000.

Oh, and we met 3 other Flyin' Miata customers... cheeky

ultraclyde (Forum Supporter)
ultraclyde (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
9/23/20 9:28 a.m.

Gorgeous. I wish I was closer to that kind of territory. Just out of curiosity, how much of your route could you have done in a fairly stock modern 4x4 full size pickup without bashing it? 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
9/23/20 9:45 a.m.

Full size? Almost all of it, but it would have been a little tight in spots and the side trip near Mineral Point would have been unadvisable. Parts of that felt more like an ATV/UTV trail than 4x4. The Alpine Loop is not a terribly difficult trail in the majority.

The Moab trip before it? Lots of bashing, especially on the drops. And it would have come to an end sooner. 

Robbie (Forum Supporter)
Robbie (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
9/23/20 10:12 a.m.

I love the lines of the XJ. I had a really clapped out '88 for a while in college, and then my brother used it as a his high school car for a year or two. Bought it for $350 or something needing a clutch slave. The dang things are internal to the trans so it's basically like doing a clutch job. 

Brother and I replaced probably 4 slaves in 2 years, I don't know why they kept going bad. Thinking back, I think it might have been because the trans mount was blown and that caused too much movement that busted the seals on the lines over and over. No one will ever know. 

But I did love driving the thing, amazingly capable in clapped out stock form. Yours looks awesome.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
12/4/20 6:11 p.m.

Warning, this post may cause more cruising of FB Marketplace for XJs. After getting drained by the run up to Black Friday and the event itself, I needed to get out of town to clear my head. So on a sunny day with temperatures just above freezing, I saddled up and headed for the rocks. This was not a day to push limits, it was a day to get into the silence and the starkness of our desert landscape.

There is a Jeep in this picture. It's right about in the middle.

I spent a few hours parked there and just hung out on the rocks. Absolute silence. It's a fractal landscape with interesting stuff at all scales.

I had left the house with no real plan. I could have headed up Top Of The World again, or run up Onion Creek for some interesting rocks. I decided to head down to the Dolores River to see what the long crossing looked like. It's kinda fun, you drive in, turn left and drive down the river for a while before climbing out. It's just about 150 yards in the water.

What the heck. It's low water season and the water is nice and clear, so I decided to go for it. I've driven this (16 years ago) in the old Land Rover when it was considerably deeper.

Umm. Turns out the deepest part was at the exit, and there was some ice. Sustained crunchy noises.

Maximum dept was a bit more than sill depth, but the bow wave took ice over the hood. It also removed my light covers and leaned the lights back a bit. No damage, but I never did find the covers.

So now I'm on the other side of the river, I can take the overland route back to GJ. It's a drive I've done before but not for years so I navigated by dead reckoning. I did find a handy signpost, though.

The trail was really just a dirt road. A little rocky at times, but this is ranching country so they don't let it get too bad once you climb out of the river valley. But it was gorgous and isolated. I didn't see another vehicle the entire time my tires were on dirt.

No cell service, no demands on my attention. Driver's window down, heat on, good music and a little bit of make believe trophy truck. Just what I needed. The XJ took it like a champ, which is exactly what you'd expect. No prep, just tossed a few tools in a bag in the back and loaded up the ammo can full of recovery gear. If you want to see the route, click here. The dirt started at Dewey and ran until the CO border, but the scenery remained excellent on the southern part of the loop through CO.


Beautiful countryside. Looks like a perfect day. 


preach Reader
12/4/20 11:04 p.m.

Looks like a great drive. I absolutely love XJs, I owned 4 of them over the years with the largest on on a small lift with some sawzall work on 34" swampers.

A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ SuperDork
12/5/20 7:37 a.m.

“Take a stock XJ and you really don’t have anything better than anything else out there for off-road capability.  Add a 3” lift, some 31’s, and disconnect both sway bars, and now you’ve got something that will out wheel almost EVERYTHING out there.”  

Matt from Matt’s Off-road Recovery.  Truer words have never been spoken about the venerable XJ.



ultraclyde (Forum Supporter)
ultraclyde (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
12/5/20 8:05 a.m.

Having spent my life so far in the southeast, I can't imagine driving an entire day and never seeing another vehicle. Even off road in national forests and such. Sounds amazing. 

these posts don't make me look for Jeeps on CL now, they make me look for job listings out west...

Ottawa Reader
12/5/20 2:52 p.m.

Here's the Google Map for the water crossing


Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
12/5/20 6:28 p.m.

My mother asked "why did you cross the river?" I told her it's because otherwise I would have had to drive home on the interstate. I'm not sure she believed that was a valid reason. I think she's still holding out hope that I'll grow up someday.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
12/31/21 8:22 p.m.

It's been a year since an update, and the XJ is mostly being used for useful things. But part of the orginal excuse for this thing was to be a winter vehicle for Eric. And with a rare snowfall, I finally got a chance to really check it out. I'd been hoping to hit the mountains or the red rocks over the break, but this will have to do.

It's been snowing all day and I managed to come up with a ridiculously transparent reason for why I HAD to go for a drive. Janel just shook her head.

As some might remember, this particular XJ is fitted with a transfer case that allows for RWD operation - aka hoon mode. It does okay with that. The short wheelbase, tall CG, lack of steering self-centering and compliant suspension means it's tough to be super-smooth (this is no Silvia holding your hand in a drift) but it's pretty fun.

In full time 4WD, it's very competent. A bit of tendency to oversteer when you're powering out of a corner (woooo!) but you have to be careful on turn-in especially if you have the power on. Brakes don't give a lot of feedback for being locked, but hey. This is snow.

The best part was that the Jeep was parked outside my shop, which is at the end of a couple of hundred feet of gravel driveway that's uphill. I stuck it in locked-up 4WD and it didn't even bat an eye. Okay, so it's not the snowstorm of the century but it was deep enough that things other than the tires were making contact with the snow cover occasionally.

Really, this post is just an excuse to put up pictures of an XJ in snow because it's fun.


Toyman! MegaDork
12/31/21 10:59 p.m.

Fun times.

I had a chance to play in the snow with min several years ago. I was surprised at how competent it was. 

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