It was a relief to reach the hotel in Apache Junction before dark. Drew changed a lower ball joint on his IFS Toyota that had been rattling for weeks before the trip.
The rest of our traveling companions met us at the hotel to fill out our attendance expectations. These included Trenton, who had towed his Blazer from Louisiana to Las Cruces and then drove the orange bomber to Apache Junction. We understood why Sam towed his monster CJ-7 from Tulsa. It would otherwise be a long drive on unbalanced 39.5-inch Boggers. Rob towed his Jeep too, but we have to give him extra credit for camping at every stop, even though it was in a 90-foot motorhome. We frowned on trailering rigs for this tour, but each of their cases was understandable. Even so, we still affectionately called them trailer weenies.
Day TwoWe woke and met in front of the hotel to find our trail leader Mr. Ed and quite a gathering of locals to make the run over Upper Ajax. We drove to the trailhead to find even more vehicles waiting to make the run with us.
Local Rick Hanse separated a steering shaft just minutes before Tom snapped his first axleshaft. A little wrenching got them both back on the trail in no time.
Upper Ajax was the perfect trail for us to start this adventure: difficult, but not impossible. The fullsizes didn't struggle too badly, and the Toyotas made quick work of the trail...in air-conditioned comfort.
We made it back to the hotel before sundown to wrench on our rides, gather parts, and share expectations for the rest of the trip.
Day ThreeThe heat from the previous days had gotten to most of us, and we were ready to get out of Arizona and head for the next stop on our adventure-Las Cruces. We hit Highway 60 east to enjoy higher altitude and much welcomed cooler temperatures. This was the first two-lane highway we used for our trip, and it was a pleasant departure from the Interstate. Highway 60 winds through the mining towns of Globe and Superior, Arizona, where we were treated to living history.
About an hour away from Las Cruces we ran into dark skies and light rain. Ordinarily this wouldn't be a big deal, but several of the vehicles had open tops and at least one didn't have windshield wipers.
When we made it to the hotel it was still early, so those that needed to make repairs did so in the parking lot or went to Jim Huff's shop, Hytech Automotive and 4x4 Service. Jim was kind enough to let Trenton park his tow rig and trailer there for a couple days. He also supplied Tom with another spare axleshaft since his spare was being used. Jim also gave Sam room and tools to bolt his steering box back on the frame. Jim's hospitality didn't stop there. We spent much of the evening conversing at the shop and he offered us Coronitas (miniature Corona beers) and shots of something we were afraid to try. Some of the Toyota boys went to a local Mexican village called Juarez to catch the late-night stage show.
Day FourThe trail was a little further from the hotel, which meant more pavement before we hit the dirt. This didn't discourage Sam, who had taken his Jeep off the trailer to drive it to the trailhead of Tabasco Twister. Homer Van Zandt and Jim's brother, Fred, were our trail leaders.
The Twister made radial tire sidewalls look like papier-mch. Our group had an uncountable number of flats. Tire-plugs in the sidewalls were hard to keep in because the sharp rocks would pull them out and, in some cases, make the holes bigger. Jody broke a front-axle U-joint early on but made repairs to take up the back of the pack. One of the locals broke a pitman arm so Jim hung back to help make repairs with Sam and his onboard welder. The Toyotas didn't seem at all flustered by the rock ledges, but the fullsize and short-wheelbase vehicles had troubles. The end of the trail didn't come until way after dark, and many drivers' nerves were frazzled.