I broke my Jeep.
Not that I was trying to, mind you. I was using it in the way I intended, to reach the really cool places a normal vehicle could not. In this case a secluded camp site on the top of a mesa just outside of Zion national park.
It rained that day, and quite a few days leading up to it. Unusual for southern Utah at this time of year, but welcome for the people who live there. It was dark after supper as we headed out to find a camp site. The way to the top of the mesa was Smithsonian Butte Scenic Byway, a dirt road that is either rated easy or moderate as an off-road trail depending on where I read up on it. In the dark I was hoping for the best, but that is not quite what we got.
The road starting from the Zion side climbs steadily up to the top of the mesa, and dry would be a rough, rutted road with the occasional rock. With all the rain however the road became mud on top of mud. We slid around, the back end of the Jeep sometimes tried to be in the lead, and we never quite knew where the drop off at the edge of the road was. But we made it, in no small part to the capabilities of the vehicle and the moderate experience I have had offroading in the past. On the top of the mesa the road became almost flat, which would account for the easy rating some people gave it. Still, we slid around in the sometimes axle deep mud.
We found a camp site, also covered in mud and tucked in for the night. In the morning we woke to a beautiful day and could see the full extent of where we were. It was lovely. Looking over the Jeep gave me the full extent of what we had traversed the night before.
The top of the mesa (and the road to it) was entirely red clay. The sticky gooey kind, the kind that turned puddles into oily red lubricant. Which, honestly, was not what I expected. I expected sand or rock, the kind of things you find in a desert, or semi-desert. But, it was still lovely, and mud caked boots are just part of the adventure. We left camp and headed back down the mesa for our day in the park. Going down in the light of day was not as nerve racking, but still a challenge.
Fast forward through an amazing day at Zion (to be chronicled later). We headed back up the mesa to our camp site in light rain after a dry day. It was still light out this time, and having done it before make it less stressful. There was still the sliding and slipping but no more than I expected.
That night at camp was a different comedy (looking at it from the outside at least) of errors. Another thing I'll write about later. It was the next morning where things went south fast.
From the first moment the Jeep started moving crunching sounds came from the drive train. As we started down the road we could not make the progress we could yesterday. "4 wheel drive unavailable" message popped up on the console. The Jeep started spinning its tires and came to a halt.
We spent close to an hour hauling mud out from the tires, putting rock under the front wheels (the only ones spinning) and other efforts to get the Jeep forward almost two whole feet. Defeated, we called a tow company who kindly sent out a built up first generation Cherokee to tug us out to more solid ground, and drove my Jeep to the nearest paved road. Thankful for at least that we headed toward the nearest town to find a mechanic to look at my broken truck.
Getting to town was not as easy as we hoped. Even though we were stuck in front wheel drive, low range was still engaged and the real locker active. This means the back wheels, spinning freely, still jumped on tight turns and we could not go more than 50 miles an hour. We limp into the town of Hurricane and stop at the nearest shop. It's a small shop with just the owner on site. He can't look at the Jeep because his bays are already full of non-functioning vehicles. Instead he calls another shop down the road who is able to have a look.
Down the road for a mile, which takes us over the river and into the town of La Verkin, the next shop has a look. He looks at computer logs and under the truck but isn't able to get anything in the four-wheel drive unstuck. But all was not lost yet. The mechanic called Jeep's road-side assistance and got us a tow to the nearest dealer (30 minutes away).
So, instead of another day in Zion, we had two tows, two stops at garages and an afternoon in a dealer waiting room. Not the adventure we were hoping for. Once they were done looking the diagnosis was, basically, to replace the entire four wheel drive system from the transmission back. The best part, though, was it being entirely covered under warranty. Really, what other choice would Jeep make. Would they really say that the most rugged Cherokee they make can't handle mud? I suspect a bum part because, while it is no Wrangler, it can do a lot more than I was asking of it.
To shorten an already long story, after getting the largest cod-piece of a pickup truck as loan, we finished up our vacation while the Jeep waited patiently or the parts to ship. Now that I have it back I'm looking forward to getting it out again.
No video today.
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