Syncro Solstice 4

Once again, our local Moab event was super fun! Got to see old friends and make new ones and drive lots of great roads.

This year it all started at my house for some of the Pacific Northwest travelers. I had invited them to stay here along the way and it made for a close drive the next day. We made veggie lasagna and fresh bread and the timing ended up being perfect. Due to some “technical vanagon difficulties), they were late, and due to my work, I was late! The four syncros rolled in about 11pm, just as I was pulling the lasagna out of the oven! It was a great start to the trip.01-IMG_6621

Our dirt road route started near Castle Dale, Utah after a brief stop in Huntington where a loose CV joint was repaired. Buckhorn Wash is full of interesting stuff, and we managed to find some shade while looking at some pictographs. Note: It’s best to see these in the shadows since the sun can wash out a lot of the colors as we learned a few weeks after on another trip.



The next scenic stop was Crystal Geyser, a man made accidental cold water geyser. I had hoped to camp there and see it erupt but vandalism in the last few years (rocks down the tube) has resulted in just a trickle. But made for a nice stop and the mineral deposits ran right down the the river and were beautiful!

We made it to camp later that night after following dirt roads all the way there. I know there is a Jeep Safari route directly through that starts at Crystal Geyser, but I have to map it out first.

The next day we went hiking at arches while the rest of the vans did their thing…

We made it out of there before it got really hot! Then on to town for ice cream and then we drove back up Shafer Switchbacks and past the potash ponds on the way back to camp.

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The next day a large group of vans went out to Fins ‘n’ Things Jeep trail. We did about the first third then went out for a nice lunch at a park by the river. Other vans did about two thirds and then went to the swimming hole and only a couple braved the entire trail. I’m fine with skipping out on beating the van up in favor of a nice lunch break.

And this was about the worst part of the trail I drove on, not really that bad, but nothing you can do to stop a 5000 pound van from sliding down a sand covered rock! And as the white van found out, the grass is not always greener on the other side. Best to stick with where everyone else had been driving down!

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After lunch we went out exploring North of camp. Found some extremely fun sand roads leading to Tuscher Tunnel and Hidden Canyon. There was one cool spot on top of the mountain I had seen last year after mapping it out but wasn’t able to find it this time. Maybe next year…

Back at camp that night we had a great meal cooked up by my friend Jeff in Oregon (same one who drove along with us in out last blog trip!) and his co-pilot. Thanks again guys!

The next day was Sunday and the last day I had off for the weekend. We headed out the long way and got a great overlook into the river and Hey Joe Canyon trail. It’s good to be back in the desert.


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Christmas Vacation: Astoria OR to Lost Coast CA

I have been wanting to do this trip for a LONG time now. With the brand new transmission I had 100% confidence in the westy to get us there and back! I was 99.99% correct.

We started off after Christmas dinner at my Oma’s house, but first stop at the shop to change oil and rotate tires. We hit the road around 8pm Christmas night. Drove around 3 hours to a classy rest stop in Idaho and after a good nights sleep, headed off for Portland OR in the morning. The drive was nice, although all a blur now. I remember a grove of trees after Boise ID that I had seen the last time I drove the road years ago. All planted in a row so you can watch the pattern change as you drive past. It felt like it was all uphill on the way there, could have been the wind, but fuel economy wasn’t as good as it usually is and I was getting a little concerned about if something was wrong with the engine. I also received a broken headlight due to debris being kicked up but trucks in front of me. I was definitely looking forward to reaching the Columbia River Gorge…

001-DSC_0002Almost made the sunset. We were teased by the first night, foolishly thinking the Portland area wouldn’t be rainy!

One stop I’ve ALWAYS made on this road is Multnomah Falls. From when I was a kid traveling with my parents, to the 2000 Gene Berg Cruise with a lineup of 20 air cooled VW’s parked in front! It’s awesome.

005-DSC_0012We slept right here. Another classy rest stop. We had a couple leads on other places to camp around here but they weren’t open. Didn’t matter, free camping is free camping!

After being the first ones (and only for a while!) at the falls on a beautiful misty morning, we head into Portland OR to meet up with a friend with another Syncro Westy and get a local guide!

Off to Astoria! Ever seen the movie Goonies? I love this part of the Earth.009-DSC_0027

One condition of this trip is I get to drive on the beach. Life achievement unlocked!

I could have driven the entire trip like this. It was pretty neat. I’m not worried about the salt water rusting away my already rusty westy, that experience was far greater than any rust damage.

A couple of stops along the way to view the ocean (Utah is sort of landlocked…) was a nice way to break up the drive. I love the little fishing towns along the way. It’s one of my favorite memories about the rtips we used to take when I was a kid.

We then made our way down to our first camp on the ocean, Nehalem Bay State Park. It’s nice here, nice restrooms and hot showers were really nice!017-DSC_0051


And what else is made in Oregon that I love? Tillamook Cheese! Staying on Highway 101 took us right by the factory and we had to stop. Tip: Eat the ice cream even if it’s cold out. It’s totally worth it. Also stock up on yogurt and cheese! Oh and sample all the cheese… We loved the Tillamook smoked extra sharp cheese, it was like a dessert each time we ate it. Cant find it easily in town but lucky for us there is the interwebs!019-IMG_6096

Then we continued driving down the coast…020-DSC_0067

Next stop Lincoln City. I remember this place as a kid too. Tons of sea life (and people) all along the rocks. Didn’t matter, I got to drive a very short distance on the beach again and be close to the ocean.025-DSC_0080

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Our friend had to head back home after this, and we were continuing our trip down the coast.023-DSC_0072

We had a long leg to drive and unfortunately a lot of it wasn’t directly on the coast. As a result we still didn’t get our ocean sunset. But when ever you set up camp in the dark, there are always nice surprises to be seen in the morning!

034-DSC_0105Just missed the sunset

Cape Blanco is where we stayed, and we loved it so much we will definitely be back! Seriously, it’s beautiful. Plus it has syncro accessible beach access! Careful though, it’s deep wet sand. I even almost had to air down my tires!034-IMG_6136

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We drove out to the lighthouse but tours were closed. Really nice view point though. So windy it almost blew the doors off the van!

Next we stopped for lunch somewhere along the coast, nowhere in particular, but beautiful as always. Did I mention it was unseasonably warm and calm for this time of year? Nature knew we were headed there and looked favorably on us 🙂045-IMG_6161

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Ate some good lunch, played in the sand and tried not to get wet trying to photograph starfish around the rocks.

Now here is where the 0.005% of my problems came in… The same vibration I felt driving back from Canyon de Chelly (right before my CV joint exploded) was occurring during left hand turns and acceleration. I knew I was going to have to deal with it sometime. We stopped in Crescent City CA at the Redwoods State and National Park office to check out the van and grab a map. The front axles didn’t feel bad and I couldn’t find anything wrong. The problem ended up going away as soon as it started. Once back home, I found out the front inner CV joint circlip fell off and either the axle pulled out a little bit or the clip tumbled around and touched the cage inside the joint. Either way, it could have gone a lot worse than it did! No issues and no noises after that.

The visitors center was nice, bought a Benchmark Maps book of California (I prefer them over the Delorme maps). And talked to the ranger about nice places to camp. His suggestion of Gold Bluffs was spot on. I don’t remember where we were planning on camping, but it wouldn’t have compared to this. I’m now wishing we had enough time to do the Fern Canyon hike. It’s just a good excuse to go back! It was the most expensive campsite I had ever been to at $35 cash only! But since it’s in the park, it can be half off with a National Parks pass. It was totally worth it though! It is a dirt road driving to it, but well maintained.

067-IMG_6231 064-DSC_0212 066-DSC_0226 055-IMG_6224Yes, that IS the ocean out there, a couple hundred feet from our campsite!

055-IMG_6187Silipint cup from Syncro Solstice making it’s way to another kind of sand than that found in Moab UT.

Wow. I couldn’t have ended the year any better than this campsite.

The next morning we would start our trip home, but not before visiting Lost Coast. I had seen photos of it and wanted to go. Another friend had helped me with directions around the area. It made for a perfect hours long lunch break. Even got to see sea lions and whales in the distance!! The other 0.005% of my problems happened on this road. I have some wiring connectors for my accelerator pedal, brake/clutch switches and a couple other items in the front of the van, and one of the wires popped out. It’s happened before, but this time I lost a brake switch signal, so no cruise control and a flashing glow plug light. It was a quick temporary fix on the road (I have to have cruise control!) and now it’s been fixed permanently since I’ve been home.071-DSC_0281

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After this it was time to say goodbye to the ocean and head inland to the Avenue of the Giants. Tip: Take the side roads in life.077-IMG_6333


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Amazing. I wish I had more time off to explore more.

We made it to Clear Lake CA for our last camp of the trip. We both had to work January 2nd and a day rest at home would be nice. Just find a dirt road and call it home for the night.082-DSC_0332


Not many photos the last day. It was nearly all driving. I’m sad we passed the only open fruit stand thinking we would stop at the next one. There wasn’t a next one…

083-DSC_0334Scenic overlook that smelled like sulfur.

Driving over the mountain passes was a breeze with the TDI and the new transmission was great. Average fuel economy over 2300 miles was 27.5MPG 🙂

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Can’t wait for the next coastal trip!

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Sun Tunnels During Winter Solstice aka: Freeze Your Tail Off

I had read about this event on Expedition Utah and always wanted to see the sun tunnel installation and finally got out there! About 40 miles of some pretty rough dirt road at 45-50 mph in a train of 20 4×4 trucks was a little much on the westy cabinets. But everything (including us!) held together!

I heard it wasn’t as cold this year as it was last year, but it was still pretty cold. Luckily one of the trucks was loaded completely full of firewood. And when you end up with a truckload of wood in the desert in the middle of winter, you get fire. A BIG fire! It was nice and we made more Tortilla Soup! I know our recipe was a little different this time and we prepared a lot of stuff at home because it was just a quick overnight trip.

It was fairly cold and it snowed a little bit, but it kept the crowds and hippies away. In fact there were only a couple others outside our group that showed up. One gentleman from England came all the way to the Utah desert to see the solstice at the tunnels! It was fun chatting with him and he was enjoying our beautiful state of Utah. I really wish I would have tried the tea he made that morning, I mean, British tea! Anyway, on with the pictures!




No sunrise through the tunnels this morning. I’ll be back to try again and the effect is still the same a couple days +/- the solstice. I would love to see it on a clear night when you can look through the portals in the tube.

Leaving the sun tunnels, we drove North to Lucin then to Highway 30 to start the long way home. Amazingly, out in the middle of nowhere we had to wait for a freight train to pass, it was pretty awesome! We were actually driving along side it for a bit until we got stopped at the crossing. Wishing I had video (or even pictures!) of it…




DSC_1393Elephant arch along the railroad grade.

Around Black Butte mountain, we turned South on snow covered dirt roads and headed to the Kelton station along the old railroad grade.  This is the same railroad where East met West in 1869! We followed the road until the Golden Spike National Historic Site, stamped out National Parks Passport, then headed home. We decided to skip the spiral jetty so we have an excuse to return later.


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Central Utah Dirt Road Thanksgiving

I finally got my new transmission in, a couple days off and a girlfriend who wants to road trip (and drive dirt roads!). So away we went…

No real destination in mind until about 30 minutes before we left, just get in and drive…

Ended up driving on the Pony Express Trail until the Fish Springs bird reserve, then turned South.



I could think of a million more warmer places to build a cabin



Waking up in the shadow of Notch Peak.

Ibex Utah, really amazing rock formations!



Cowboy trash


Then on to Wah Wah Ranch and to Frisco to look at ruins and hopefully see horses. Got lost a little bit until I got to the power line road, back out onto the highway just in time for a nice lunch in the sun and air tires back up.

Charcoal kiln at Frisco


Then on to Milford, turn North for a bit and followed the dirt road by the new power lines out to Cove Fort. Took the tour, didn’t get proselytized, then out to Monroe to soak in hot springs!

We were planning on getting to the dirt road between 4 and Kanosh (in the Utah 65 byways book) but the map failed us right off the freeway exit. Ended up climbing up dirt roads towards Kimberly until the snow got too slippery and didn’t want to deal with sliding off the road in the middle of nowhere! So we turned around and found a camping spot right off the road. Turns out the loggers who we passed on the way up had done a dumb thing and left hot embers in their fire pit. Have to admit it was kind of nice though just plopping down my large firewood and having it going in a couple minutes! Meant dutch oven soup that night!

Brrrrr! Coldest night yet in the westy!

The next day we found the real road we were supposed to find the night before and started home. Really nice views everywhere.

Then headed up to Delta, then through Eureka and home. Nearly flawless running of the van, just had a coolant light relay go bad and give a false light. New transmission was awesome! Thanks AA Transaxle, gearing was spot on. This trip was also the first with cruise control! Oh how did I ever drive without it 🙂 Average fuel economy on this trip was 26-28 and it generally goes up on dirt roads.

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Northern Utah Mini-dirt Tour

A group of us had been planning a longer trip around the state of Utah, driving dirt roads. Unfortunately time constraints for everyone involved got it whittled down to just an overnight trip.

This trip took us from the Uinta mountains, past Strawberry Reservoir and down to Highway 6. About 100 miles of dirt road with only 10 miles or so near the reservoir. Great food, amazing sunset at 10,000 feet above sea level and good company around the fire made this trip really fun! Map of route here (still getting the hang of saving and sharing routes)…

On to the Photos!











And now the view from another camera on the trip!











There is so much to drive in this state it’s unbelievable. I need more time off…

Oh and note the amount of BFG All Terrain tires on this trip!

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Mineral Basin Road

I went out with one of the local 4×4 clubs last weekend. They had their quarterly training camp out and drive. Recovery techniques and gear was discussed, great books on Utah back roads and off road adventures were passed around plus a bunch of other camping related questions asked by the group (the Westy has camping stuff covered pretty good though! I was mainly interested in the recovery aspect). We also got more info on Tread Lightly, a group I think everyone should be friends with. I believe in enjoying the landscape in a variety of ways, driving off road included. But we have to  be good stewards of the land, especially if we want to continue using it.

The next day we split into groups based on the drives we wanted to do. I wanted to see what the syncro had in it so I went up with the second to Mineral Basin road (Forest road 007). It’s rough…

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A few of us did the first hard third of the entire trail. The rock garden section is almost 150 feet long… It wasn’t too difficult for the syncro, but I could have used some more clearance. Mine still has stock shocks/springs and on the small side of what tires are used!

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American Fork Canyon is really beautiful! Huge area too.

And on the way back down.

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Then I took Pole Line Pass over to Midway, nice drive! Will be beautiful in the fall with leaves changing colors.IMG_5386 IMG_5389

Another trip done. Lots of scrapes from rocks underneath but didn’t break anything and drove home. It’s nice to know what this thing is capable of. There are places I want to drive it in this world and I have to know we can do it!

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Jordanelle dirt roads

A couple of weeks ago, I had some time to kill before my hockey game in Park City, so I decided to explore some of the local roads. Pretty fun stuff, great overlook of Jordanelle reservoir! I was also testing transmission and shock temperatures, so it wasn’t all fun and games…




It was definitely at least as steep as this looks!

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2013 Syncro Solstice

Syncro Solstice 2013 Moab Ut.

A little over 40 vans showed up this year for it’s third annual event. First test of my ALH TDI (turbo diesel) engine conversion and pretty much ran flawless. Average 27 MPG driving every single type of road imaginable.

More photos and videos available on this thread on The Samba: <a href=”″></a&gt;

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Uinta shakedown

Note: This is a snippet from my post on Just seems a better fit to post it here. Original post was on Sunday June 24, 2012 8:52 am

I needed another shakedown trip to make sure everything is good for Syncro Safari. Spare tire carrier stayed attached through all the very bumpy roads! New propshaft u-joint fixed my vibration too!

Did about 30 miles on dirt roads ranging from just rocky to one section that really didn’t have anything smaller than a football. Elevation got up to 10,000 feet and my cooling system didn’t appear to be adequate so I need to check it out. Also found I need to check out my ECU temp sensor, when the car is hot at that altitude, it is difficult to start. Feels like it isn’t getting enough fuel (or too much).

On to the pics!

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Roughest section of the road. Would have been easier if my car didn’t feel like it had asthma. Had to use the locker it was so bumpy, lots of giant rocks lifting my tires.

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I’ll be bringing the kayak up sometime this summer for sure!
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2012 Syncro Safari

These are some of my photos from Syncro Safari 2012 – Canyon de Chelly.

Smiles for miles…

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