by Axel Kaliske und Ursula Walter…..

It was a cold and stormy spring day when our four heroes boarded their 2-horse carriages and drove off into the wild west in search of new adventures…

Photos by Ursula (Uschi) Walter & Axel Kaliske and by Karsten & Jutta Schreiber.

Finally, with a 2-year Covid-delay our friends Jutta and Karsten from Germany arrived in Seattle again. Karsten had spent a lot of time researching off the beaten path places and we were looking forward to another “trip of a lifetime”. And so we left Seattle and the unusually cold spring of 2022 on a morning in May, heading south towards sunny California.

Our 2 Deux Chevaux ran well and we decided for a Motel in Medford, OR for the first rainy night. Near Grants Pass all of sudden I-5 behind us disappeared in a plume of smoke and it clearly came from our exhaust pipe! Pondering our chances for repair on the road, we decided that our friends carry on while we turn around and catch up in a few days. And so we were heading back north again the next morning, checking and refilling oil every 100 miles. 455 miles, 10 hours and 3 quarts of oil later we were back home, transferring all our gear into another 2CV to get an early start the following morning. California, here we come!

“Take 58 over the mountains, it follows the train tracks, much less climbing for the 2CV!” It really is a nice drive – until the road veers off the train tracks and we crawled up Willamette Pass, elevation 5128 feet – in the snow! But downhill we made up for it and on the evening of the next day we arrived in Big Pine, CA where Jutta and Karsten had claimed a spot on a campground.

We were at the back door to Death Valley! The National Park is huge and the touristy part is only one of several valleys. We all had done the beautiful road from Big Pine to Scotty’s castle before, so this time it had to be the Saline Valley. After a few miles the pavement ended and a good dirt road lead us down the mountains in sometimes steep curves past an old mining place and beautiful views over mountains and valleys. We hit the morning rush hour when 2 Jeeps came the opposite way: “Don’t miss the hot springs down there, it’s heaven!” Those were the only cars we saw until we hit pavement again. Down in the valley the road turned into hard washboard, shaking the fillings out of our teeth. We took the turnoff to the springs and the little oasis with palm trees (and a naked camp host) was so inviting that we spent the night there, camping under Mesquite bushes and watching the total eclipse of the moon. The next day we carried on, the corrugations changed to uphill curves again (up to 6000 ft) and at one point we had to help our car with a short push to make the steep incline.

The beautiful quiet lonely desert was sharply cut by the band of asphalt coming from Lone Pine with cars and people and all of a sudden we felt the heat and hectic and the need to get somewhere. Time to change that! We filled up our cars ($ 7.50/gal in CA!) and turned off the main road again towards Wildrose and Emigrant Pass. That lovely road brought us the next day to the visitor center in Furnace Creek, at that time of year still at moderate 110 F (compared to 83 F up in the mountains). A short detour to Artist’s Point and off we went towards Henderson/Lake Mead where we camped near the former lake shore. The quest to find water for a swim revealed the California water problem: The lake was so far out that it was either impossible to reach the water or the ground was so rocky/mucky that we gave up trying to wade in. Driving around of what’s left of the lake, we found Roberts Hot Springs where at last we could dip into warm water.

The next overnight stop was Zion Natl. Park in Utah, where we hiked The Narrows. We did not follow the Virgin River for all 16 miles, but we spent a few hours getting our feet and legs wet zig-zagging through the water. What an unusual trail and a great way to see that beautiful canyon!

Lining up for the one-lane Zion-Mt.Carmel Tunnel, Karsten pulled off to the side, signalling a problem. The fan was shattered into pieces! While he was digging for the spare, Axel took out the tool box and started working. 15 minutes later we were ready to roll again and the friendly ranger allowed us to enter the tunnel before the rest of the waiting cars. At the other end of the tunnel another stop: The spare was wobbling! The spare fan pulley was not manufactured correct and it did not sit tight! Luckily only the plastic was broken and so we could use the old pulley with the new plastic fan. 15 minutes later … this time it held for the rest of the trip.

Axel — a big fan boy!

We checked into Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park for 2 nights, allowing us to leave most of our luggage behind while we ventured out to play on dirt roads. The nights turned out very windy and cold, just above freezing and at daytime the sky was hazy with dust. We did a nice day trip, trying to reach White Pocket in the Vermillion Cliffs Natl. Monument. The last few miles were sand and while we were still discussing if we should try our luck, a Jeep arrived to pull out two cars that got stuck. They paid $ 700 for the service and we decided to turn around.

The next day we re-visited the amazing Bryce Canyon Natl. Park and went on to stay 2 nights at Petrified Forest State Park in Escalante. After an evening hike to the petrified trees, the temperature dropped again to barely 40 F. The next day we drove Hell’s Backbone, a lovely “shortcut” from Escalante to Boulder and back on spectacular HWY 12. To finish the day properly, we hiked Calf Creek trail to the lower falls, only Jutta and Uschi reaching the falls.

The next day we took the very rough Hole-in-the-Wall-Road to Peekaboo- and Spooky slot canyons. The hike was quite interesting and sometimes challenging and the slot canyons were certainly worth it! What a spectacular country!

In Boulder we entered the Burr Trail, heading east. Looking for a place to spend the night, we found a nice spot beside the road in the shadow of a big red rock. We were rewarded with a quiet and warm night under the stars.

We followed the road down into beautiful Long Canyon and on to Capitol Reef Natl. Park where the downhill switchbacks were good gravel and very spectacular.

We had arranged to pick up a 2CV in southern Arizona while Karsten and Jutta continued hiking the red rock country of Utah and so we had to say good-bye to our friends for a few days. Due to low water level in Lake Powell, Bullfrog Ferry was not operating and we had to drive a long detour all around the lake. We still managed to make it to Flagstaff that night!

On the way to Sierra Vista, our little car passed it’s 400,000 km mark! That night, we already started to service the car we bought to give us a headstart for the next day. That worked so well that we made it back to Flagstaff the following night. The “new” car ran well and we were actually a day ahead of plan.

Now three 2CVs on the trip!

Unfortunately, the weather report had heavy rain in the forecast, killing our plans for more hiking and camping in Utah. And after another long day on the road, the “new” car started knocking with the valves again like it did during the first test drive. Axel had adjusted unbelievably loose valves two days ago! During the last hour on the way to Richfield, it lost some power and slowed down a bit.

The next morning Axel turned the Motel parking lot into a workshop and discovered the problem: One of the steel caps on the aluminum push rods had come loose, twisting and hammering on the rod and shortening it with each turn of the engine – creating an intake valve gap of almost 1/3 inch! Amazingly the engine still ran. And we were still in Utah, 1300 miles from home and on Memorial Day weekend.

Our only chance was a temporary fix and hoping that it will hold up for a while to get us at least closer to home. And so we went to the nearest automotive store and bought some JB Weld (quick weld epoxy). After cleaning the parts with brake cleaner the epoxy was applied and after a while everything was mounted and the valves adjusted once more.

The instructions read cure time 4-6 hours and so we waited patiently for 6 hours before starting the engine again. Axel had spend some of the time trying to calculate how many million times the rod would get hammered until we got home…

So far so good, the engine ran fine and quiet all the way to Ogden that day.

That night a heavy thunderstorm came down and we were happy to be in a motel.

To make some use of the rainy day, we visited the Golden Spike Natl. Historical Park where the railroads connected east and west in 1869. What great stories there are around that historic moment in time on Promontory Pass!

More recent technology was on display at Northrup Grumman just a few miles away where they are building rocket engines of all sizes, including the booster rockets for the Space Shuttle.

That night we met Jutta and Karsten again in a motel in Carey, ID and we decided to visit the Craters of the Moon Natl. Monument the next day. Despite the rain we did some short hikes and enjoyed the awesome bizarre volcanic landscape. Just the drive time turned out much longer than expected and we  reached Ontario, OR late for another night in a motel.

Finally, the rain stopped and we could dry out and enjoy the drive through Oregon. We looked at the big old dredge in Sumpter and spent the night at McCully Fork campground where the temperature dropped to lousy 34 F!

The next day we reached the Columbia River and followed it westward, mostly on the WA side and spent the night at the nice Deschutes River State Park on the Oregon side.

The last day saw us heading straight north on backroads, getting a peak at Mt. St. Helens from the South and finally hitting I-5 for the last bit. And just when we thought we were lucky to get fairly fast through the Tacoma traffic jam, a downpour of torrential rain hit us and traffic crawled at little more than walking pace from Fife all the way to Southcenter. And we were lucky that everyone went that slow as it was hard to even see the rear of the car in front through the wall of water coming down.

Summary: 21 days, 4930 miles (not counting Seattle – Medford – Seattle), the highest price for gas we saw was at Furnace Creek in Death Valley at $ 8.73 (just like in Europe!). Temperatures reached from 34 F at night to 110 F in Death Valley. The highest elevation driven was 9115 ft at Bryce Canyon, the lowest 80 feet below sea level in Death Valley.

It is always surprising how much of the Western US is above 6000 ft and how often the roads are climbing to that level or higher. That mountainous landscape with canyons and deserts makes for truly breathtaking vistas, especially combined with the red or multi colored rocks of Utah. 

America the beautiful at it’s best!

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