The 10 Sweetest Rigs at Overland Expo 2018

Outside Magazine features our newest addition to the fleet:

We’ve covered a lot of vans at Outside, but this one caught our eye because it’s a rental. It’s a Sportsmobile conversion of a 2017 four-wheel-drive Mercedes Sprinter, and it was just added to the Tonto Trails fleet out of Durango, Colorado—a company owned by John Hartley (pictured here with his daughter, Betty). It comes stocked with a full kitchen and plenty of room for a family of four. Upgrades like better suspension and 33-inch all-terrain tires help it get up any back road you’d care to explore. Tonto’s van-rental prices vary depending on the model, but Hartley says they run between $2,500 and $4,000 per week.

German Allradler Magazine

In the summer 2015 issue, we were proud to be featured in the German Allradler magazine. This magazine is popular for overlanding adventurers all over the world. A two-week trip taken by the author is wonderfully described in a 10-page spread. The story highlights our itinerary planning service as well as the capability of the vehicles. The incredible scenery that can be found in the Southwestern states is described in words and with great photos.


Best Thank You from Clients Ever!

Wilhard, Anita and their dog Kota from Austin, Tx, took a Tonto Trails trip and gave us the best thank you – a video to share with you! You can see how capable the vehicle is and Kota, who didn’t like the plane ride very much, loved the ride in the van! (I like playing “spot the van” in the distance behind Kota in his cameo:)

What is the Tonto Trails Experience?

A sunset like this demanded a special meal, so we cooked glazed pork loin….and that was after a day of four-wheeling in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

It was Day 3 of our first adventure with Tonto Trails. We’ll talk about this night later, for now we need to go back to the beginning. About six months ago, my husband Michael and I decided to visit parts of the west that were unfamiliar. We have previously visited several National Parks, staying in hotels close by, but this time we wanted to really explore, so we contacted John Hartley, co-owner of Tonto Trails, about our idea. After a few emails discussing where we wanted to go and the activities we wanted to include (hiking for sure), he sent us a sample itinerary, which included maps, pictures and helpful information, so we could get a sense of the trip. We were very excited by the suggested route and wanted our vacation to start then and there; however, we had to wait until October as planned.

October finally comes – Arrival Day!

We got to Durango on a Saturday and began the first order of business, selecting the vehicle. Our choice was Truck Norris (Dodge Ram with attached camper) or a Sports Mobile (SMB). Either would have worked, but as I’m short and could see better in the SMB, the choice was made. John took us through the vehicle training to familiarize us with the ins-and-outs of the SMB and the supporting materials, should we need their reference. Full disclosure here, we are John’s aunt and uncle, but underwent the same process as any client. The next order of business was to plan some menus and go food shopping. With those tasks out of the way, we essentially moved in to the SMB for a five-day camping trip. We were ready! The SMB was fully loaded with great cooking equipment, sheets, towels, warm sleeping bags, other camp tools and a supply of maps, GPS and satellite text. We basically had a rolling condo!

Day 1

After looking at the maps again and discussing the general plan, we headed west to Utah. A relatively short time later, we stopped in Blanding, UT at a gas station, complete with a bowling alley. A few miles after that, we stopped to hike in the South Fork of Mule Canyon to see the Anasazi Ruins (Ancient Pueblo). The well-known ruin is called “House on Fire”. We saw a few fellow hikers a long the way, but not many. After three miles of exploration, we hiked back to the vans to proceed to our first night of camping.

We drove on to Muley Point and found a site overlooking Monument Valley. By the time we got there it was supper time, so we set up camp quickly – raised the top of the SMB, got out the table and chairs, collected some wood and started the camp fire. Dinner was rice pasta with tomato sauce and sautéed vegetables – all cooked on the camp stoves. It was a great start to the trip! We had the added bonus of a nearly full moon, which made headlamps unnecessary. Since we expected the sunrise to be spectacular, we went to bed early so that we would be ready at first light.

Day 2

We awoke when it was still dark and put water on for coffee. At first light, we walked about 50 yards to the edge of the cliffs to watch the sunrise.

Trying to find adequate words to describe the beauty, may be best left to those with more poetic talents than I. I’m going to have faith that the pictures offer several thousand words.

Once the sun was up it was time for more coffee and Michael’s yummy oatmeal with cranberries and nuts. After that, we broke camp and began driving to our next hiking destination – Hammond Canyon in the Manti-La Sal National Forest. The hike featured a significant elevation change (almost 2,000 feet), spires, a stream and in fact more shade than I would have imagined. It was challenging, but the trail is well maintained and the many switchbacks help tremendously.

Hammond Canyon Spire

Because we finished a little later than we had planned, we considered camping there (it’s not like we had to worry about a hotel reservation), but in the end we pressed on to get near the southern tip of Canyonlands National Park. We pulled into our site in a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) area off of Salt Creek Rd and were treated to another spectacular sunset view.

We set up camp, lit the campfire and tonight, got out the grill for steaks with sides of green salad and quinoa. We were again treated to a blazing moon and clear sky.



Day 3

After a full night’s sleep, it was time for breakfast, so John whipped together French Toast. Once we packed up, we headed to the Needles District of the Canyonlands National park. Today would be a less active hiking day since the Hammond Canyon journey was challenging.

We decided to test the vehicles on a moderate road and practice some of our off-road driving techniques. Several miles in, we saw John out of his vehicle motioning for us to pull over. We do and then see the large, but relatively fat rocks in the road, so we think it must be the hard part. Boy were we wrong, this wasn’t the hard part, that would be in a few more miles. I confess that I gulped when I realized I was going to actually drive over this, for it was intimidating! I also know that we were with experienced drivers and both John and Julie excel at four wheel driving. John walked us through how to determine the route by sections and Julie instructed on spotting techniques. By breaking it into segments it seemed less scary and very possible. I got in the Sportsmobile and did my first rock crawl! What a thrill!

We had several more ahead of us and with each one there was great instruction and confidence-building guidance. Eventually we got to the “extreme” part and so we parked and walked to the overlook. After walking back, we of course realized that we had to traverse the same road back. Using the same instructional method, Michael got to experience his first rock crawl!

Once we completed crawling and driving back, we made our way to the Needles Outpost for much needed shower. We had options in that department, because the van is equipped with a solar shower, but it was late in the day with not much solar left. The $7 shower for five minutes of hot water was a great investment, plus we could get ice cream at the general store! After that, we headed to nearby Hamburger Rock and picked a camping spot on one of the rocks. That is when we decided that Glazed Pork Loin would be the perfect meal. We got out the barbecue grill that was in the van and Michael went to work. In about 45 minutes, we had a spectacular meal to match the aforementioned sunset.

We soon realized that there would be a Total Lunar Eclipse in the wee hours of the morning, so we packed up the supper dishes and set our alarms. We did get up to view it, which was cool. You can’t really do that in the city, so it was just one more special moment in an already packed trip.

Day 4

The next day, we were heading off on our own, without Julie and John, to Moab and Arches National Park. Along the way we stopped for breakfast at Eklecticafe, a funky place that is worth stopping for. We hiked in Arches and reflected on the fact that had we been smarter about the area, we would have spent more time in Canyonlands; however, this motivates us to come back for a second trip! In the afternoon we stopped at Moab Coffee Roasters for a coffee top-off. It was another off-beat place where you could shop for a Life is Good T Shirt or flowy dress while you waited for your order.

With coffee in hand, it was now time to plan where we would stop for the night. Because we planned to spend a day in Telluride, we decided to head East towards the dot on the map called La Sal. We realized we would drive through a section of the La Sal National Forest, so we decided to explore some roads there and find a camping spot, which was easy to do.

Day 5

After breakfast we began our trek to Telluride and made it there about mid-day. It was raining steadily at this point. We stopped at the Visitor Center to get information on the Town Campground, showers and such. After stopping at the Steaming Bean (there is a theme here), we headed to the campground, where, because Michael is over 59, we got a spot for $12 a night. We were staying in Telluride, walking distance from the main drag, in a comfortable (and dry!) van for 12 bucks! The rain did not deter us, but we did opt for the free shuttle to take us a few blocks into town.

We did get a little concerned when we heard about winter weather advisories affecting our route home, but we talked to some people at a local sporting good store and were told to take Lizard’s Head Pass back to Durango the next day. The clouds were still low and we only occasionally saw a snow-covered peak, but it was still beautiful and at times breathtaking.

Not seeing the mountains around Telluride due to cloud cover was added to the list of reasons we were accumulating to do this type of trip again. We truly experienced the great outdoors in a way that we had not before and we realized that we had barely scratched the surface. Tonto Trails made it all possible!

Pork Loin with Chutney on the Grill Recipe
Get a small pork loin – about 1.5 lbs and buy a jar of chutney.
To cook it, heat the coals in the BBQ so they are hot.
Make a slice in the pork loin and spread it a bit.
Put the chutney in the slice and then press it together.
Spread more chutney on the outside of the pork loin.
Wrap in foil and put on the hot BBQ grill for about 45 minutes (depending on heat).
Once cooked let sit for a few minutes, then slice.
Then eat it. Yum!!

Mountain Khaki and Overland Journal

In 2014 we were proud to partner with Mountain Khaki and Overland Journal as the official prize for their annual sweepstakes. One lucky winner drawn from over 14,000 entries is taking the Tonto Trails Jeep JK on a week long trip in the San Juan Mountains! The winner also received over $18,000 in prizes from other partners such as BF Goodrich, Suunto, Ospresy, AEV, Arc’teryx, Keen, Safari LTD and Goal Zero.

Upgrading our SMB Suspension with Agile Off Road

On a recent trip in our personal Sportsmobile we were delighted to be able to test out our new Agile Off Road Ride Improvement Package that we had installed a few months ago. We needed a good off road trip to test them fully and we finally had a great four days in Southern Utah that we could get some miles in. It also served as a great itinerary planning trip for future Tonto Trails clients. This is a write up of the performance of our newest installment to “wrenching” on the Sportsmobile.

It is important to note that we are are VERY familiar with handling characteristics of our van as well as with many other types of Overland vehicles. Since 2003 we have used our Sportsmobile as an escape vehicle to leave our lives and jobs in the Northeast U.S. and look for a different lifestyle.  We lived and travelled in our van for 1.5yrs which included extensive exploring in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.  And we settled in the beach town of Sayulita, Mexico for 5yrs and used our van for more exploring around the mountains of Mexico.  Not to mention all the new areas in the Four Corners that we enjoy exploring as much as we can!  (If you would like to read more about some of our early adventures link here.)

We were previously using Rancho 9000XL shocks, with adjustable dampening.  And we have our airing-down/shock adjusting routine finely tuned – Julie working the right side of the van, John the left.  With the shocks adjusted to the firmest setting, on-road manners were good, and adjusting them for off-road gave good results too.

We drive our van cautiously and carefully – always aware of it’s limitations – after all, it has served as home for long periods of time.  That doesn’t mean we won’t take it through a rock-crawler section (Maze district of Canyonlands?), but line selection is considered and avoiding damage is always priority one.  With that cautious attitude we never minded slowing down for bumps in the trail – in the end it was just a limitation of the vehicle and we were more appreciative of what the van could do than what it couldn’t do quickly.  The only times we would really cringe was when an unseen bump lay in the trail or an unidentified “tope” crept up on us.  Then the front end would bottom out – hard.  My bad judgement, right?

Our goals for the Agile Off Road Ride Improvement Package (RIP) were to raise the front end a couple of inches to match the raised rear (added 3 leafs to compensate for carrying a dirtbike), try out the custom valved Fox Shocks, and to give the van a little more room for error when finding one of those stealthy bumps.  After the installation, we could tell right away that the front end was raised and more closely matched the rear.  The short trips around town didn’t reveal much difference in handling though.

Finally, last weekend, we got the chance to head into southern Utah for some backcountry exploring, also known as itinerary research for upcoming clients.  This meant 2hrs of road driving followed by many hours of off-pavement in unknown terrain.  Driving at highway speeds on 2-lane winding Colorado mountain roads felt very comfortable – we noticed a subtle increase of confidence in the turns – cool.  But we were wondering if, with no rebound adjustment, the new Fox Shocks might feel too firm off-pavement.

We left the pavement for what turned out to be a150mi tour through the areas west of Canyonlands.  We aired down the tires as usual (65psi down to about 40psi) and got on our way.  The first impression we had was that the van was riding as smoothly as if we had made a shock adjustment.  The shocks were allowing just the right amount of body movement to keep the bumps and rock gardens from being jarring.  Again, a subtle, but noticeable improvement.

As the miles rolled away over the next 3 days of exploring, we began to notice that the progressive front springs were sucking up the bigger hits on the trail much better than the original Quigley specified springs.  This began to translate into increased confidence; instead of slowing down abruptly for every unidentifiable bump/rock in the road, we started carrying more speed, cautiously.  The spring/Fox Shock combo was sucking up much more trail chatter than the stock set-up.  We began to test the suspension response by aiming for and rolling through and over holes and rocks intentionally.  Our confidence in the suspension continued to increase!

As we rolled back into Durango and neared home, John chose to dart-board the right tires into a couple of recessed manhole covers that everybody in town swerves to avoid.  Wow, what a difference! The 2003 Sportsmobile/Quigley rolled over them with barely a steering wheel deflection.  We both agreed that the van took the hit much better than our brand new, spiffy suspensioned sports wagon!

In the years we’ve owned and driven and lived in our van, the RIP package made more difference in handling than any other change we’ve made.  With a stable of finely equipped Overland Vehicles to compare to, we enjoy driving our Sportsmobile very much, and now I enjoy it even more!

John and Julie Hartley
Owners – Tonto Trails

More Information:

Photographer + Sportsmobile = Unforgettable Adventure

I saw a Sportsmobile on the internet and started to dream. After talking to Sportsmobile and some other Sportsmobile enthusiasts, I found Tonto Trails; and connected with John and Julie Hartley, who luckily began a business renting Sportsmobiles and other 4WD/RV vehicles. It was a done deal and the scheduling began. John and I hit it off over the phone and exchanged many possible itineraries. Maps, books, internet searches and information from other photographer friends provided an initial game plan to do the back roads north of Durango, where John was based, then head west for canyon country, possibly as far as the Grand Canyon. However, arriving in Durango, Colorado was inundated with rains, floods so extreme as to lead to national disaster relief. Fortunately, Durango wasn’t in the center of the storms and it didn’t delay the trip. Plans altered however, I need to head west, away from the weather where 4WD roads would be impassible.

Meeting John for breakfast, on Friday the 13th the journey began with a thorough review of the vehicle. I was driving an extended body van and John decided to come along and drive Tonto, his personal Sportsmobile that he and Julie had put many memorable miles in. John was bringing Ozzie, a young red heeler, with whom I quickly bonded. After the lengthy and detailed review of the vehicle, we headed to the supermarket for provisions and agreed to head west into Utah, arriving toward the end of the day in Valley of the Gods, Utah for our first boondocking site. Storms were roving and I took the opportunity to take a few lightning shots at day’s end and John surprised me with his culinary skill. Not an experienced camper, I quickly learned the daily life drills for boondocking and spent the end of a long day “upstairs” in my Sportsmobile.

(Saturday, 9-14) An early riser, as still in Eastern Time, two hours earlier, I was up at 4am and anxious to get some initial sunrise shots, especially with the numerous storms which were still roving the area. With Ozzie barking at my movements I decided to drive my van closer to the buttes where I might be able to get a better composition than from where we were camped. Some of the best shots of my trip resulted, being treated with a double rainbow over a tall and imposing butte.

Considering out options we decided to head southwest to Monument Valley. Flat arid land with amazing buttes and red rock structures rising from the plain in a myriad of shapes and sizes. John and I had the same immediate reaction: tourists galore. The Navajo don’t permit explorations without a native guide and the permitted loop road, was crowded with cars. The absence of rain made the midday photo opportunities nil. We were on the verge of leaving but met Fred, a native guide who professed to specialize in guiding photographers. He turned out to be a treasure. He showed us an impressive photo album and I made arrangements to meet him at 3am. John decided to find a boondocking site and do some hiking with Ozzie and connect with me back in Utah Sunday afternoon at 1pm. I caught a shower for $10 at Goulding and camped at a public area just outside the entrance to Monument Valley.

(Sunday, 9-15) Fred was able to verify my arrival from his house and met me at a deserted visitors center at 3:15am. We spent the hours before dawn shooting rocks in the dark, starlight background and various artificial lighting. (Definitely a learning curve with I’m anxious to get back to.) As the dawn approached we headed for a location that would put us on the top of a butte for a good view of the area. After walking over flat sandy ground for a couple of miles we came to the rocky base of a large butte. Fred asked if I wanted to take the valley or the rocks. Of course, the valley. The valley lasted for a few hundred yards when he led me the base of a way too vertical rock face. Fred assured me it was very short, he would help me, carry the tripod and began the initially doable lower portion. It wasn’t possible from that position to see where we were going or the climb would have been over before it began. Sweating and nervous we turned a corner and nervous turned to scared and soon scared turned to terrified. There weren’t any handholds and only the barest of depressions to gain secure footing. In the less vertical areas Fred kept instructing me to stand straight but my brain wouldn’t allow it. But leaning into the rock reduced the surface area my feet held on the rock. I finally arrived at a slightly more upright posture, crouching so my hands could be pressed against the rock in front of me and I kind of scuttled forward behind my upright noble guide.

Without going into more detail, which is seared into my memory, we made it up and back without fatality or mortal injury and I will never do it again, but given my survival very glad to have had the experience. The pictures from the height of the mesa took on a somewhat Salvador Dali look due the atmospheric conditions and I am quite happy with them.

[Fred Cly Photography Specialist, P.O. Box 310308, Mexican Hat, UT 84531-0308; cell 435-419-0465, home 435-739-4294, $175/person for what we did.] Back for another shower and off to meet John at Moki Dugwai, where we arrived simultaneously. My nerves and my legs were shot so I was only interested in a nice drive and campsite. We took a dirt road to Muley Point and set up camp. We were high on the rocks with a nice view of the unusual terrain below, carved into a seemingly infinite number of rises and valleys. Ozzie found a dog pool in the rocks and I snapped a few shots of John and his best friend at the campfire.

It initially looked like our planned route to Capitol Reef was going to be frustrated due to flooded roads. We headed west on 95, south on 276 and wanted to take Burr Trail to Boulder, UT. Unfortunately the road was closed to standard vehicles. Having Sportsmobiles, however, we decided to dare it. We encountered one 4WD truck being pulled by a bulldozer out of the mud but were glad to learn that it had come from the direction we were going and the going turned out to be easy. On to Burr Trail with a glorious switchback rise into the southern portion of Capitol Reef National Park. John led us into Muley Twist, a rocky dry riverbed that I found very challenging but John advised was relatively easy. Good directions, spotting and lessons from John and the experience made my confidence in the vehicle soar. Finding a flat spot we set up camp. A short hike to Strike Valley Overlook followed by dinner and a few night shots of the stars and some welcome recovery sleep from the hard day at Monument Valley.

We hiked the first portion of the Upper Muley Twist Canyon, which began at our campsite, and found and photographed the first two arches on the trail. Back to camp for lunch we met and Englishman, Sam, coming down from the Overlook trail as his wife, Helen, hiked the Twist Canyon trail. We invited Sam to sit with us for a while and had a nice conversation.

We quickly broke camp and headed west on Burr Trail to Boulder. Knowing that I would want to stop for pictures and knowing that the camping area at Lower Calf Falls, our next target, would fill early, John went ahead and we agreed to meet at Boulder if he was still there or at the camp site. Burr Trail was breathtaking. (Like most of the trip, words don’t describe.) Boulder is really just an intersection, with a few hotels and a gas station and wonderful restaurant and store. It turned out that there were no more campsites at Lower Calf Falls and neither of us was interested in camping in the parking lot, which the host graciously said we could do. John spotted a dirt road leading to the power and phone lines on the ridge paralleling the valley and we found a campsite there much more to our liking. We came back to Boulder for dinner, caught up a bit on our email and met Gina and Matt, who gave us some directions on how to hike to Neon Valley, which was going to be the highlight location of the trip. It is a cavern with holes at the top, water at the bottom where rock climbers sometime go to practice their rappelling skills. High hopes.

Up early to hike Lower Calf Falls before people got there. I got a good head start on John and Ozzie but those two athletes quickly caught up. The hike was a lot longer than I expected but we were delighted with the falls, which we had to ourselves for a good two hours. Lots of shots with and without Ozzie, and of Ozzie retrieving sticks. After the hike back I told John I needed a day off if I was going to do Neon Canyon, which was a much longer and included climbing into and out of valleys. We decided to go to Escalante and check with the Rangers. This was a well equipped Ranger Station on the west side of town. We learned that all access to Neon Canyon was washed out, no access even for our capable vehicles. We had lunch at the Outfitters, which we expected to be burgers but was reasonable and gourmet. The waitress was an older woman named Page. Our plans dashed, we decided to head for Dixie Forest which had a rocky steep access road that John had some history with climbing it in snow and flowing water coming down the path. We found a nice meadow at the top and set up camp.

I was up early and took Ozzie for a nice hike. John cooked us up some breakfast and we decided to check out Bryce Canyon. We got to Bryce in the early afternoon and explored a bit. I wanted to be at Sunset point at early but misjudged the time to get from the southernmost point of the Rim Trail to that point. John dropped me off there and parked at Sunset Point. We both realized the mistake and he came running to my aid. He was an anxious for me to get good shots as I was. I was going as fast as I could thinking I might just make it in time when to my relief I saw him coming. He grabbed the tripod and camera and off we went. Jogging the downhill. Going up I felt a hand on my back and benefited from the well-known “Hartley Assist”. We made it and although the sky was clear and the sunrise short, the place is unreal. John treated me to “Bird in a Basket”, an egg, bacon on a nice piece of toast. I wolfed it down.

(Friday, 9-20) Up early again to catch the sunrise at Bryce and hike the trails. Magical place. After a quick lunch we decided to make the long drive to Arches. Heading north on 89 to catch I-70 East. I expected the interstate to be bland but it was anything but. I would come around a curve to massive hard-edged buttes that towered over the highway. We made Arches in plenty of time and I decided to photograph the Windows area. Unfortunately, the sun wasn’t right for that location at sunset and we didn’t have time to explore further and determine a good location for sunrise. I decided to come back expecting the shadow side of the double arches to be bathed in the dawns light. Wrong. Experience counts. Next time unless there is weather expected, I’ll come during a full moon and photograph at night. The park is open 24 hours and I think the locations under the moonlight would abound.

Up early again and we on the hard roads to the Windows section of Arches for sunrise. Lots of shots, hiking and exploring and time to start the long journey back to Durango. Frankly, I was beat and needed lots of coffee to keep me functioning. John suggested taking the mountain route back to Durango, which would include Ophir Pass. As tired as I admitted to being, John assured me it would be worth it. Ophir was a collection of what looked to be vacation homes followed by an easy 4WD trail heading up. John taught me how to air down and up the tires and we shifted to 4WD low for the pass. The pass crosses the face of a mountain and while the road was easy, it still made my palms sweat and I was very concerned about meeting oncoming traffic, as there was only room for one. I’m happy John encouraged me to take the pass. It is unforgettable.

Back to Durango to meet Julie and her joyful reunion with Ozzie and John, in that order. I never saw him wiggle so much, Ozzie that is. Their house is beautiful and we were met with a double rainbow over the ridge behind their house. Their road had been closed due to flooding while we were away but despite the mud it was open and easily passable. They have set up a camping area on their property and after a nice dinner in town I went to bed early to get my camera gear and clothes together. Very happy to be spending my last night in the Sportsmobile but it thundered and lightning all night keeping me awake and concerned about my flights. A waste of worry, home safe and sound dreaming of my next Sportsmobile adventure.

Mike Cohen

Alpine Loop Adventure

With lots of requests for itinerary options around the San Juan Mtns, just north of Durango, we decided to take a few days to explore some new territory.

After a long day of chores and finally a stop at the grocery, we departed town about 6pm in our Sportmobile “Tonto”, hoping to find some worthy territory off Old Lime Kiln Rd – only 30min from home. Wow! A site next to extensive beaver ponds with high mountains in the background was more than we had hoped for! Pesto pasta with chicken and asparagus for dinner with a beautiful sunset made it one of those spectacular Colorado nights.

The next morning we rolled through Silverton and headed up the road towards Stony Pass. At 12,650ft it seemed the perfect place to make lunch. As an early June snow squall whipped by outside we were able to “pop our top” and make soup, sandwich, and coffee. Warm inside – Julie declared “ahhhh…. Tonto provides!” for the 100th time.

Kite Lake is located at the border of the Weminuche Wilderness Area which houses parts of the Continental Divide Trail.As we descended on the other side of the pass, the sun came out and we decided to take a side road towards Kite Lake – a 6mile out and back. The last 1/4mi was blocked by snow, but we found a boondock site for the night with a high alpine meadow surrounded by beautiful mountain views, a flowing creek, and privacy. That makes it a 5-star boondock site in our book! After a short hike around we settled in for grilled potatoes, hamburgers, and salad for dinner.

Kite Lake is located at the border of the Weminuche Wilderness Area which houses parts of the Continental Divide Trail. The next morning we were able to day hike from our camp spot into the foot-travel-only Wilderness area. We came across a VERY well preserved mine site. The bunk house still stands with tin cans full of mining tools nailed to the walls among the heavy machinery relics.

After a short bit of “you run, I drive” trade off back out the 6 mile road we continued down the rest of Stony Creek Pass Rd, which turned very narrow and steep with loose rocks for the surface. Narrow, but nothing un-doable for the Sportsmobile. In 4WD and low range, the compression braking of the big diesel engine allowed us to simply crawl down the steep declines, rarely having to touch the brakes. “Ahhh… Tonto” says Julie.

We rolled into Lake City, Colorado about 5pm and marveled at the “cuteness”. After a light re-supply and a long hot shower at the local hostel ($5), we pointed the wheels up Engineer Pass Rd. An easy 8mi up the road (29mi total length) we turned right up the Matterhorn Road to find a campsite for the night. Picturesque sites are found a-plenty for the first couple of miles of the road and we settled into one halfway between two trailheads and had delicious jumobalaya and salad for dinner.

The next morning we geared up for a loop hike that wend its way through some high alpine territory. We entered in the Matterhorn access trail and came out the Wetterhorn access. The scenery was worth all the effort. A couple of snow field crossings were required as well as some raging creek crossings since it was still early season. The whole loop took us three hours and thirty minutes to complete.

Back at camp we rinsed off in the river, lunched some sandwiches, and made ready to head to Ouray via Engineer Pass. The road was mellow driving, which allowed us to take in some of the spectacular scenery! On the way down two sections turn to VERY technical driving – especially for a rig as big as Tonto (a Sportsmobile). Julie assumed her role as head scout – running ahead of the van to identify tricky maneuvers.
We emerged from the wilderness just in time to catch the Ouray Town Park Summer Concert featuring the always zany March Forth Marching Band. What a change of pace after living in the mountains for days. These uber hip Marching Band holdouts wear costumes, walk on stilts, and hula hoop while keeping the crowd dancing for hours. Go see them.

That night we boondocked about 2 miles out of town up a 4-wheel drive road. A beautiful wooded spot was still available when we rolled in well after dark. The next morning we drove the short 90min route back to Durango.

We captured coordinates of dozens of high quality boondock sites to share with our clients. The beauty and scale of the San Juan mountains, within site of the town of Durango, put another nail in the coffins of all other towns vying for “best overland launch site”. We’re confident this version of the Alpine loop will be a favorite of many clients!

4×4 Magazine

Tonto Trails was featured in the October 2013 issue of 4×4 Magazine in the UK. ( “Toby’s Grand Adventure” followed Toby Savage and his friend Jo through a trip on the north rim of the Grand Canyon with Truck Norris (Ram Powerwagon – 4 Wheel Camper) and Silver (Sportsmobile).

Silver Bullet Weekend Getaway!

Upon our arrival at the lovely small Durango Airport, we were warmly greeted outside by our guides, John and Julie and two lovely Sportmobiles. Shiny, stocked and ready to rock!

The vehicle (silver bullet as I like to call it) was in impeccable condition. Stocked fridge, walkie talkies on and all amenities set in place. With some instruction and review, we were ready to hit the road. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The journey to our first stop at Butler’s Wash at Comb Ridge took us through a beautiful canyon where we stopped for a short hike. We timed it perfectly with the afternoon sun warm on our backs and nature provided us a wonderful colorful journey of spring flowers – what a treat! Hard to believe we were in Atlanta just hours earlier!

Our campsite was beautiful – what an amazing view of the valley at sunset. With my fire-starter husband on the hunt for dry wood (NOT a problem in the desert valley), we struck up a roaring huge bon fire for the evening. It was wonderful to sit under the stars and nearly full moon and recap the day.

The next morning we packed up (an easy thing to do with the Sportmobile, clean up site, shut doors, go.) And headed to the Ranger Station north of the Valley of the Gods.

This day’s adventure included a spectacular 10 mile canyon hike, taking us from the top of the canyon down into the deep valley. We walked through the dry river bed to the edge of the HUGE dry falls that overlooked what I could have mistaken as the Grand Canyon! Wow… without the cairns (?) I don’t know how we would have made it. The long hike was so worth it…. we traversed through ruins, kivas and some of the most stunning desert hiking.

We spent an amazing evening at what is probably the world’s most fantastic canyon campsite. The view was spectacular. Right on the edge of the cliff, overlooking the Valley of the Gods. Stellar – the sunset and sunrise was majestic and such a unique treasure.

Being able to venture out in a stout 4 x 4 vehicle into the wild lands of the West is a treasure. One I hope to repeat VERY soon!
What a memorable trip.

Thank you Tonto Trails, you’re amazing and am looking forward to our next adventure together.

Pat and Michelle Register, Atlanta, GA

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