Thule Road: No Cell Contact and One Too-Big Rock

I bought this Jeep for a reason. Last May, I tried to take my cute little orange Chevy Cobalt up a trailhead access road at Twin Lakes near Leadville, Colorado. Hoo boy. I was lucky to come out in one piece—or with the car in one piece. It was really rough. I was very careful, but sometimes careful is not enough. The Cobalt just couldn’t handle the miniwashes and embedded rocks. But who in their right mind would think it could?! I just HAD to get to that trailhead. I’m glad I did. The view and the 5-mile hike melted my anxieties, and during my first serious hike in years I began to breathe.

However, when it came time to purchase a new vehicle, I knew I had to get something a little more serious, even if I would only end up on trail access roads once in awhile. Even one disaster could put a little car out of commission and me in danger. Gee, too bad I was going to need something with a little more hutzpah—that might mean I’d have to get the truck I’d always wanted: a red Jeep.

Parked on the way down from the closed North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I was the only one in the parking lot.

So, since I got the Jeep last November, how many backroads have I traveled? Very few, unless you count potholed highways. However, I have an excuse. I’ve been busy visiting clients and relatives in more civilized parts of the world, and happy to do it. I also have to make sure I have web access to do my work, and thankfully there’s been a lot of that.

Today, though, when I came upon J.B. Road to the west of Roosevelt Lake in Arizona (the one with the famous dam), I couldn’t resist. I was like a bear in a cartoon who can’t keep his body from following his nose after a honey hive. Not only was the call of the dirt road strong, but the dirt was a beautiful red. In these parts, they call it vermilion. I’ve been traveling for the last week and a half right beside vermilion cliffs, and never once had time or guts to turn onto a backroad. My parents, at least, are glad I’ve stuck to the main highways, but I know dad would be turning down every backroad he could find if he were here.

J.B. Road was smooth at first, and it took me through a beautiful garden of cacti. My first thought was that they were planted there for the tourists, they were so beautiful. That’s a city girl for you. As I looked more carefully, I realized these cacti were different from the ones you see in zoos and people’s yards. They were scrubby. There were dead parts, and there was no rhyme or reason to their layout. “I’m in a REAL desert,” I thought.

As I traveled down J.B. Road, it split in two. To the left was Campaign Road and to the right was Thule Road. Thule looked like it was going up, so I went up—all the better to see the lake. I found a spot and set up the table in the passenger seat and hooked up my computer for work, then realized my phone and iPad had terrible reception, so work was out. So sad.

I knew I had to get to work eventually. I had a deadline at 5:00 today, but decided I’d take just a little while to explore first. I had sent off a couple texts to mom earlier to make sure someone knew where I was, so I felt pretty safe. The thought crossed my mind that I might run into a white supremacist group practicing a little terrorism, and a few shocking news accounts ran through my head to make me cautious, but I pushed them back down into my subconscious. That wasn’t going to happen to me, right?  Right.

I continued down Thule, passing what looked like an ATV track to me, with nothing but a number to mark it. From there on, Thule was fun, with many different kinds of flora to take photos of. I looked around for fauna, too, terrified I’d see the tarantulas my parents encountered one time when they were nosing around the desert with a spotlight. But Thule was too smooth. I soon became jaded to all the cacti and wanted something more. So I doubled back and took to the ATV track. It turned out to be a real road. I know this because on down the way I ran into a pretty new Toyota SUV, with an older couple parked and just staring at the lake. Peaceful. Not a skinhead in sight.

I got my fourwheelin’ road, alright. Plenty of cracks in the earth, buried miniboulders, steep rises and twisty turns. After about 20 minutes of complete bliss driving through the vermillion obstacle course, I came upon an old cattle chute and corral, plus a windmill. The road from there was crazily fun. I took out my camera and videotaped part of the drive, until I thought maybe I’d better get two hands on the wheel.

The vermilion Thule Road calls me...

Partly because I was supposed to be working, and partly because I was a little nervous I might be getting lost, I turned around, careful not to squish any cacti and puncture a tire. In the process, I heard a big thunk, and I got butterflies in my stomach. Was this going to be my first fourwheelin’ breakdown? And I had only just begun my career.

Once I got to solid ground and turned-around, I got out and looked under the truck. I saw plenty of scratches, dents and moist spots that could have been the rock’s kiss, but nothing was dripping, so I decided everything was okay. Besides, the faster I got out of there, the faster I’d be back in cell range and could call for help if I needed it. So I high-tailed it back to the highway, and it was the most fun I’ve had in ages.

I love my Jeep, so I was very careful over the rough spots, but if it looked like the truck could handle it, I gunned it. And I think the truck loved me for it. After all, the 4,300-lb, 5.7 Hemi was made for this—and for pulling a trailer, which is on the wish list for the next couple of years. Later tonight, I’ll see what all the commotion was about in the back of the Jeep while I was driving. I’m assuming nothing got broken, but I’m sure a lot of my gear isn’t where I put it this morning.


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