DOVE CREEK, Colo. – Last week I hopped off the Oklahoma panhandle into Grenville, New Mexico. After a tight right-left on Grenville's Lake Road, the tarmac fell away into immense, scrub-filled valleys rimmed by rock spires and elevated mesas. Pushing into Colorado from the southeast, elevation and high-plains beauty come quickly. It's like driving through the imaginary Arcadias on bottled water labels, or one of those 5,000-piece puzzle sets that grandparents and aunts devote months and bottles of gin to.
I'm shacked up in Dove Creek's surprisingly quaint Country Inn because rain. Here are some notes from the road.
- For lack of time and space, I only mentioned the Jeep Collection in Suwanee, Georgia in passing last week. Once more: if you're a fan of Jeeps and you get to the Atlanta metro area, I highly recommend a visit — and look at the pictures at the bottom of this article. The 2018 Wrangler Rubicon I'm driving now sports Willys icons on the gear shift lever, windshield, and wheels, and when you turn the rig on, a graphic in the dash cluster morphs from a Willys into a JL Wrangler. Jeep insists on carrying the torch of its origins, so I found it edifying to sit in all four of those origins at the Jeep Collection. I can tell you this: the Americans who fought WWII were a lot smaller than we are.
- What am I driving? The Monroney titles it a 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4X4, with a base price of $40,495. It's been plumped with these options: Leather ($1,495), Customer Preferred Package 24R (Cold Weather Group, $895), Trailer Tow HD Electrical Group ($795), LED Lighting ($895), Electronic Infotainment System Group with 8.4-inch Uconnect and Alpine Premium Audio ($1,295), Steel Bumper Group ($1,295), Trail Rail Management System ($195), All-Weather Floor Mats ($130), 8-Speed Automatic Transmission ($2,000), Premium Black Sunrider Soft Top ($595), and 17-inch black wheels with polished lips ($895). Add the $1,195 destination charge, and a customer paying MSRP would need to pony up $52,175 to take it home.
- Regarding my previous list of aftermarket bits, the Mopar rock rails are so well integrated that I forgot to mention them. They have come in handy. The Mopar grab handles, however, aren't so handy. The hard rubber grips hang from the roof by nylon straps, next to the front windows. When the Jeep gets rocking on ragged trails, the grab handles start knocking on the windows. If I need to hold on with my free hand, I'm using the steering wheel. Perhaps the grab handles should retract. Or go away entirely.
- The rig weighed 5,060 pounds before I departed SoCal, hauling nothing more than myself and a full tank of gas. I haven't weighed again because I'm still sorting out final fitment. Will do in Seattle before launch to Alaska.
- Two-door Wranglers have an 18.5-gallon tank, four-door Unlimited models get a 21.5-gallon tank. The EPA rating: 18 city, 23 highway, 20 combined. I took possession with 9,016 miles. I've stopped at Shell 31 times to pour in about 440 gallons of regular unleaded to drive 7,243 miles. Including the full tank that came with the Jeep, the math registers a 16.5-mpg average. I have no complaints, since that takes into account a few hundred pounds of stowage, doing 65 to 80 miles per hour during highway stints, and lots of low- and high-speed spells in 4H.
- The Jeep wave is a real thing. I'd read about it, but hadn't prepared for it — it doesn't exist in L.A. I believe the first waves started in North Carolina, but that might only be where I began to notice them. Ferrari drivers wave at one another, but there aren't that many Ferraris on the road. I find the Jeep wave a peculiar phenomenon because the further west you go, the more Jeeps you see. By the time you get to Colorado it stops, thank heavens, because everyone has a Wrangler in Colorado. It's the state flower. I've got to keep my head in the game and be ready to wave again in Utah, though.
- The Jeep family does more than wave. When I stopped beside a rural Arkansas road for a break, a Grand Cherokee passed me and pulled over. A woman hopped out and came my way, asking, "You all right?" I said yes. "You sure?" I said yes again. Her name was Sundi, she's a member of the Seven Slots Jeep Club of Arkansas, and she was lovely. She said she stops for every Jeep that's pulled over — "It's the Jeeper code." Her daughter, nicknamed Sunshine, had a yellow jeep with a sun painted on the hood. When Sunshine lost her life in an accident in her Jeep, Sundi said she was going to get rid of her own Jeep. But Sundi said Jeep club members helped her immensely through the trial, and she decided to keep Jeeping in memory of her daughter. As we said goodbyes, she referred to Sunshine again, saying, "I know she's got her great big red and pink and white wings wrapped around you for the rest of your trip." Sundi and Sunshine, thank you. I'll take it.
- Colorado is where the Trans-America Trail turns into a trail. Dusty roads to nowhere, mountains everywhere, cattle, mining and pioneer relics. Slow going through Wylie Gulch and Devils Hole in the Pike and San Isabel National Forests. Even slower for miles once I turned off Devils Hole, a mere preview for Engineer Pass. After climbing up the east side of the Pass out of Lake City, it's tame beauty all the way up to the Alpine Tundra. Coming down, not so much. Steep, constant boulder fields, more Jeeps and side-by-sides than flies, doing two or three miles per hour and still going bump on occasion. But a beauty only seen in dreams. It's like living in a Jeep brochure out here.
I'll be back from the end of the trail on the Oregon coast, assuming the wildfires don't stop me before that.