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My Expedition Vehicle & Trailer

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Majestic Mines of The Mojave Desert

 This adventure is a follow up to my last trip to this area and I invited a few friends to help me safely explore some truly majestic mines. Let me state right here: Do not ask me for the names or locations of these mines. The information is out there but if you have to search for it and then drive hundreds of miles and overcome difficult hikes you too will strive to protect these vanishing treasures. The vandalism we witnessed is sickening. This is a museum without display cases or barriers so please help to preserve it.

The desert is dangerous for the unprepared. The steep and unrelenting terrain can quickly injure or kill you. Its remoteness demands that you be self-reliant. Even if you could dial 911 on your cell only a helicopter might save you but is there one that can be dispatched in time to save you?

I know that some of you reading this have been to these locations and I applaud your achievement. To those of you that have yet to go, perform your research! The history is amazing. The struggles, abysmal failures and triumphs of the men and women who first came here are to be appreciated and preserved.

We spent three days for this adventure and I still feel as if we barely touched a small portion of what is to be discovered. Along with me were these hardy overland adventurers:



 Mall Ninja of the East Mojave Desert
(Jim's finger is OFF the trigger)

Of course I did not miss the opportunity to bring out my expedition trailer!

Camp Teotwaki Aerial Shot

We traversed many miles of rocky and elevated trails as many mine adits are well off of the beaten path. A quality compass, old topo maps and a good GPS are invaluable.

We were amply rewarded for our efforts! At higher elevations spectacular structures and adits  patiently await cautious exploration.

photo by Alan

Photo by Alan

Sometimes the spirits of jealous miners stand a fierce guard over their gold and silver.....

D. McC. was here in 1923! Miners often used the soot from their carbide lamp's flame to write names, dates and ribald comments. (Photo by Peter)

Alan inspects a vertical shaft that was boarded over.
Photo by Joey

Route finding under cloudy desert skies. (Photo by Peter)

 Once back at camp Joey enjoyed Mike's well equipped all-frequencies communications station.

We all enjoyed Mike's very agile and swift drone which allowed us to easily inspect old burro paths and  mines before we tried clambering up to them.

photo by Joey

How to swat a pesky drone
Photo by Alan

We hugely enjoyed great meals of Mediterranean meat skewers, teriyaki chicken, stew and Apple pie.
Spectacular sunsets at Camp Teotwaki were always far better than mere photographs can portray

My camp the next morning

Only three of us would go on the last day's hike. We packed up camp and said our goodbyes to the others. We planned to navigate faint desert jeep trails to a rugged and forbidding canyon to search for a mine that few have ventured to.

This location did not disappoint!

 The day was getting late and I was tired. I had run a marathon the weekend before and was still recovering. The steep descent went more quickly than anticipated. In large part it was due to Alan's keen eye that traced out an old miner's trail that helped us to avoid the scree covered slopes.
Photo by Alan

Upon my return to home I was able to research one location that we visited and match up this old photograph of a steam train's visit to the remote location. It explained the section of former railroad bed that we discovered near a mine's ore chute.

We also identified this old can with a small valve and spout as an old kerosene container from Standard Oil with a brand name of "Pearl Oil".

Thank you for joining us on this adventure! I'll be sure to give you a call on the next one.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My Expedition Vehicle & Trailer

I have received a lot of inquiries about my rigs, the gear choices and guiding philosophy. This write-up is an attempt to share a little of the story behind the modifications I have made and what additional equipment has been installed. It will be a work in progress so check back for updates!

I have sold the 2005 4Runner and replaced it with a 2018 TRD Off Road Premium as shown here:

My base vehicle was a stock new 2005 Toyota 4Runner 4x4, SR5 model. My intent was not to modify the vehicle in some way that would negate the OEM warranty or be so irreversible as to ruin the resale value. The latter never really was an issue because nine years later I am still driving my 4Runner. I am currently at 239,000 miles and I hope to pass 300,000 miles without an issue.

What I desired was a very reliable overland vehicle that would easily traverse rough roads or uneven terrain where a paved or graded dirt road did not exist. I can divide the design approach into these 5 categories:
  1. Exterior - cargo rack, skid plates, sliders, tires
  2. Interior - lighting, mats
  3. Systems - GPS, comms, air compressor, dual batteries, Engel Fridge, DC power outlets
  4. Suspension - coilovers, rear shocks & springs, Lower Control Arms (LCAs)
  5. Drivetrain - rear air locker, cyclone air cleaner, extended rear axle breather
Over the years I have changed and improved on my choices so most of what you will see here is the final result as it exists in 2012-2013.

1) Exterior

The stock Toyota roof top cargo rack is adequate for loads up to 150 pounds total. If you add any sort of type of aftermarket cargo basket you must deduct the weight of that basket from the total. Those big & burly "macho" steel baskets from various companies look great but at 80 to 100 pounds you cannot safely load up the rack full of gear. For a while I had a Thule aluminum rack that weighed maybe 30 pounds but had limited space. Also note that the 4Runner has only 4 points of attachment for the roof rack and 6 points would better distribute any load over the roof.

After trying the Thule rack I installed an African Outback all-aluminum rack; a big and strong platform that weighs less than 60 pounds with 6 points of attachment to the roof and a versatile system of tie-down points for cargo. Here is a picture showing how it can be loaded for an extended trip. When I am not off-roading the rack is easily removed to help keep my MPGs reasonable.

The stock Toyota skid plates are very thin steel so I installed a 3/16" steel skid under the front differential and engine.

The Toyota running boards are nice for high heeled ladies to climb into the 4Runner but they will be damaged during any serious offroading. A more useful addition are "sliders" which are heavy wall steel tubes that are bolter directly to the frame. They not only protect the 4Runner's body but can support the weight of the vehicle as you literally slide on them across large rocks. The sliders also offer strong points to lift the vehicle with a Hi-Lift jack.

I've chosen a slightly larger than OEM size tire: LT265/75/R16 load range C. Light truck tires are much better than P-metric and this size provides 1/2" more lift to the vehicle when new. The tougher and taller sidewalls are an advantage when airing down. Up until now I have run Bridgestone Revo all-season tires but I recently switched to a tire that best fits between the categories of All-Terrain (A/T) and Mud Terrain (M/T). The center lugs are like an A/T but the outer lugs are designed like an M/T. They are made by Goodyear and are the Duratrac model. So far they are good on pavement with only slightly increased noise and on a recent trip in Utah they were excellent in rocks and sand, even while towing my trailer.

2) Interior

You know that when offroading your  shoes will bring a lot of dirt and small rocks into your vehicle so a good set of all Weather mats will help. I chose Husky but there are lots of good brands available. Look for a design with a raised edge that will keep mud, snow and water from getting off of the map and into your carpeting.

My 4Runner still had old fashioned bulbs in the ceiling lights and they consume 8 watts of power. I swapped in some LED arrays that are brighter and consume only 2 Watts.

3) Systems

Dual Batteries

Air Compressor

Just for the convenience of airing up tires it is great to have an on-board air compressor. i installed the ARB CKMA12 unit under the hood on the drivers side.

My Expedition Trailer

This is the trailer when I first bought it in 2010 and it had giant tires and rims, no awning, no backup lights and other minor problems that I eventually corrected. 

This trailer is a one-off built by a company that went out of business. Lots of companies out there sell similar designs so mine is not truly unique in size of design. However, I have improved upon the original platform by improving the wiring, correcting mistakes, adding in new features such as a Fiamma awning and powerful LED back-up lights.

One recent project was to replace the two straps that hold down the roof top tent (RTT) cover. They are to help prevent the cover from ballooning up due to pressurized air from the truck's slipstream while at speed. Besides having deteriorated two straps were not enough as the area of the cover over the ladder would balloon up six to ten inches. So I purchased new 2" wide straps and made new retaining plates for the ends.

Lock & Roll Hitch Failure

After the Lock N' Roll hitch failed on the 2013 Maze trip I purchased a Max Coupler hitch. 

On mine the bushing for the bolt has thicker walls and a shoulder that sits against the bottom of the yoke.  It has not had any outright failure issues but the bushing in the yoke is an area of concern due to wear. I am uncertain if the wear is due to metal-to-metal galling, lack of enough lubrication or invasion by dust and grit. 

Here are some pictures of the damaged surfaces of the yoke and the bushing

There is enough play in it now that I had to order a new yoke. I experienced difficulty in communicating with the current OEM company, CU Offroad. I ended up ordering elsewhere. Here is what the new one looks like. Note the changes in the yoke including a grease fitting.

After waiting a week I finally received the new yoke that I ordered. Here are some pictures highlighting the design changes and what I observed about the quality.

For some reason CU Offroad calls this bushing a "Crush Washer" which it is not. The new bushing is now internally threaded to secure it to the bolt. However it is still a very hard steel wearing against the softer steel of the yoke.

Here is where the grease port feeds the grease to the bushing

These tacked on curved rods are meant to temporarily support the poly bushings on the tongue assembly so as to make it easier to align the holes for the hitch pin.

 What;s this bare spot?

Pretty bad paint job.

Build quality is mixed. This gap in the bushing support is annoying. 

The instructions shipped with the unit are completely out of date, failing to mention the bushing is now threaded and how to correctly disassemble the unit.

In 2015 I set up both the truck and trailer with new Duratrac tires. It  allows emergency one-for-one swaps of the trailer's tires for the truck's tires.

So why run aggressive tires on a trailer? The common answer is to have the same sized tires and rims as the tow vehicle such that the trailer's tires serve as emergency spares. In the beginning I ran all weather tires on the trailer because I wanted to minimize rolling resistance and any negative impacts to the 4Runners MPG. On a recent trip to the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands NP we had wet enough weather that the old dirt roads quickly became layered in mud. While towing the trailer uphill I could see the tires turn into huge donuts of mud that was not being shed and the tires soon lost all traction whether moving forward or while applying the brakes.

I believe that the more aggressive tires will shed mud more easily and eliminate this issue but the drought in California is not providing any usable test conditions. 

Fully loaded vehicle and trailer deployed in a remote desert canyon

I added a small modification to the tent to help with very windy weather. I've noticed that high winds can push up the folding section where the ladder attaches. At each of two corners of the platform I've bolted in folding D-Rings for attaching lines to ground stakes or other anchors..

Here is a first look at the trailer's new spare tire carrier. It mounts into the hitch receiver at the back of the trailer and is hinged so as to drop the tire down before the tailgate can be opened.

Here is the finished tire carrier in use while I was out on some adventures. It was really nice to have the option to bring another full-sized spare. If I ever have multiple flats on the 4Runner I can remove the trailer's tires and leave the trailer behind for later recovery.


I've wanted to have a bottle opener mounted to the exterior of the trailer for those wild nights where I drink beer after beer and can't be trusted to not lose a handheld bottle opener.  (I jest!)  I just so happened to have completed a 10 mile race today and received this nifty finisher's "medal" that can be a wall mountable opener! Now I have to figure what spot of honor this keepsake will occupy on the outside of the trailer.


Trailer Batteries & Solar Charging

In the Trailer's nose box is a panel that I built to provide an organized way to attach and fuse all of the electrical circuits, from the electric brakes to the solar panel. The panel includes terminal strips, breakers for the high current paths, fuses for low current paths, solar charge controller and the AC powered battery charger used for when the trailer is parked..

 Here is the nose box with two batteries and panel installed.

I made an insulating cover to protect the battery terminals and it uses the battery hold down screws to fasten it securely.

This is the Kyocera 60 watt solar panel that can be securely stored on slides between the roof top tent and the top of the trailer. The panel has a cable lock to protect it from casual theft.


This is how the panel slides out before it is released from the slides.