What do you do when you’ve explored every FJ Summit trail in the Ouray-Silverton-Telluride area multiple times? Find something new.
The Hema Explorer system helped to scout a high alpine lake that we’ve never explored. With a route planned in the cloud, I synced the tracks to my phone & tablet and downloaded the proper maps. We hit the pavement south of Ridgway, headed for Red Mountain Pass.
After turning off the highway, we found a standard forest road complete with a washboard surface. We aired down to 22psi on the new tires, hit record on the app, and headed for the hills.
Despite the cloudy & rainy day, we were able to find some really great views throughout the ~8 mile journey which included over 3,000ft in elevation gain. We spotted the Golden Horn a few times, along with several lakes, waterfalls, and great potential campsites.
The end of our trip revealed a socked-in yet still beautiful Clear Lake. At an elevation near 12,000ft the lake is actually....quite clear. It’s also cold, and a really great place for lunch. Alas, the rain caught us so we enjoyed our sandwiches in the comfort of the GX.
This trail is suitable for any stock 4x4 or SUV with low-range and you should plan 2-4 hours for a round trip, depending on how often you stop to capture the views. You can see our track on the Hema Explorer Cloud: http://hema.li/clrlkco
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Summer 2017 Issue:
"You know you’d love another project, you need one."
More true words have never been spoken.
If you’ve followed our publication for long you’ll know that we've always tried to focus on interesting topics, vehicles, and ideas to help get you out into the great unknown with your Toyota truck or SUV. Our journey has been covered in great detail within these pages.... now the next chapter begins.
As our lives change, so do our needs for daily transportation and weekend exploration. Our original TRD FJ Cruiser served us well for nearly 10 years, however as our family grew, we had to move on. Our 2007 GX-470 was a great vehicle, but came along around the same time that we needed to do a 'flagship' build (See TCT Explorer 2015-2016). The Tundra is still by all accounts almost the perfect exploring vehicle, and will be missed in our stable. Alas, daily driving, mileage, and my 'need' for a new project all resulted in our latest vehicle. "Project 4"
The Lexus GX 460 is by no means an unknown or unproven vehicle. In most parts of the world, this platform is known as the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 150. It's closely related to the 5th Gen 4Runner, and enthusiasts throughout North America already have great builds for inspiration.
So why is the 460 the best fit for our next project?
First, its Land Cruiser & Toyota heritage means that we know it will be a solid truck for many years. Ours is a 2012 model with just over 70,000 miles on the clock. Just barely broken in from a Toyota perspective.
Also, the newer version of the GX includes the more efficient 4.6L 1UR-FEV8 engine, the same that powers small V8 Tundra trucks. At 301hp and 329ft lb of torque we have plenty of power to get us anywhere we want to explore. That power also hauls or pulls whatever gear is required for just about any adventure.
Finally, since the 460 debuted in 2010 as a luxury vehicle, they are just now starting to price down to what we consider a 'normal' level for an off-road or overland build. Finally, since the 460 debuted in 2010 as a luxury vehicle, they are just now starting to price down to what we consider a 'normal' level for an off-road or overland build.
Unlike the TCT Explorer, which was essentially a show truck with a thirst for dirt, the GX will be more of a 'sleeper'. We're two months in and so far, we've only added tires (See Economical A/T Sidebar). Next on the list are sliders from Metal Tech 4x4, followed by a fully tuned suspension with minimal lift from Toytec Lifts. We’re also looking at a Pioneer rack system from Rhino Racks, USA as a great lightweight option. Beyond those basic modifications, we'll see where the wind takes us.
Our goal for the GX-460 is to show how with very little effort, a luxury SUV can be configured to travel anywhere a North American family wishes to explore.
Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and within the pages of this magazine to see how the GX-460 is an amazing family overland explorer! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and within the pages of this magazine to see how the GX-460 is an amazing family overland explorer!
Economical A/T (Sidebar)
We expect to own the GX-460 for many years, so we'll likely try many sets of tires for the truck, which is primarily daily driver along with very little towing, and some trail use.
The choice for our first set seems like it was 'meant to be'. Let me explain. Less than one week before FJ Summit XI we suffered a small hole in an old tire, so we needed something quickly. Price is always a consideration, but we also knew we needed to move from a standard passenger tire to a slightly more aggressive all terrain, while maintaining as much efficiency as possible.
A search of available options in our area led (as it almost always does) to Discount Tire. I found the economical "Trailfinder" A/T at the local store, but couldn't find any information about it online. More of an entry level tire than other options, this tire is exclusive to DT and is offered as "dependable performance and excellent value", and comes with a 45,000 mile warranty. That equals about two years of daily driving and a few off-road trips. Also, since this is a very new offering with little information published, it presents the perfect opportunity to test an entry level, economic option. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as we post updates on this tire over the next few months and years.
Load Rating: 116 (2705lb)
Weight: 9lb/tire heavier than OEM (36lb total)
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Summer 2017 Issue:
With a constantly growing show, we’re seeing more and more new companies emerge in the aftermarket industry. Around every corner we’re seeing new innovation pushing the boundaries of the automotive industry.
Both inside and out, we been seeing some impressive builds and great new product at this year’s SEMA Show. Big, small, new and old these builds can give even a seasoned SEMA attendee some serious whiplash!
Although Toyota strayed away from displaying any off-road vehicles this year, exhibitors around the show still had a good showing for Toyota enthusiasts to flock around.
As I surveyed the dirt roads of the BLM land surrounding the Castle Gardens Petroglyph site, I took note of the variety of numerous camping rigs sprinkled across the land. It was as if Overland Expo was sharing space with a Retro Glamping event, and first-time-ever campers. The total eclipse of 2017 attracted an unprecedented amount of attention. The plentiful public lands in Wyoming made it an ideal target for eclipse chasers. With a population of just over 585,000 people, some news sources speculated that the population number doubled on the day of the eclipse.
Picking out first-time campers was quite easy: no shade, no table, tent set up right next to the road, and car parked partially in the road. Some people didn’t even bring chairs, so they sat on the ground and leaned against their vehicles. Seems it took an eclipse to get people to leave their comfort zone and experience the great outdoors. Hopefully they took note of the gear used by others and will want to pursue natural escapes.
A group of fellow Toyota off-roaders started organizing an eclipse gathering back in 2012. Castle Gardens area was the chosen destination. I received my invite in 2016 and started planning the telescope situation. Despite all the planning and the multiple eclipse photography tutorials and articles I endured, my preparation was still inadequate. I didn’t capture the eclipse quite how I envisioned. Fortunately, I learned my lessons and have 7-years to prepare for the next total eclipse.
I arrived at Castle Gardens on Friday, August 18 found one of the organizers, Bob Devereux, and his wife sitting next to their 80-series Land Cruiser enjoying the setting sun. My friend Stan Gibson was the next to arrive. When the last bit of sunlight vanished, I treated my camp mates to an evening of deep space objects viewing. Using an 130mm aperture apochromatic refractor, we examined galaxies, nebula, and star clusters. We finished with the Andromeda Galaxy—an object so large that it fills even the lowest power eyepiece. I always enjoy sharing views through my telescope with people who have never experienced a telescope in dark skies. Hearing the expressions of amazement make it worth the effort.
The next day, as more friends arrived, I set up the Hydrogen-Alpha dedicated solar telescope (Lunt 60THa). This filtered telescope displays surface detail of the sun, as well as solar flares at the edge of the sun. A set of sun spots across the middle resembled the Caribbean Islands. Two large solar flares, each capable of holding 5 to 6 earths, were visible.
On eclipse day, the human presence was strong. Dead rattlesnake carcasses were scattered across the dirt roads—evidence of the numerous vehicles that drove into the Castle Gardens area the previous night. Reports of a rave party was shared by frustrated amateur astronomers, who lost their dark skies to the glamping and party lights. Roadside rookie campers were subjected to dust as vehicles sped down the dirt roads as though they were shooting a Mad Max scene.
Fortunately, the organizers for the gathering I was with had found us a spot up on a hill next to a cliff. Accessing this area required high clearance. We thought we were safe from the herds of rookie campers. While most vehicles that attempted to come up in our direction were defeated, a little AWD Subaru wagon with paper tags managed to conquer the high clearance road, take a left and drive right into the middle of our campsite. Realizing we were not the droids he was looking for, he turned around. 30 minutes later, he was back, and this time he tried driving through the middle of our campsite. One of the guys sprinted past the Subaru and stopped the lost and confused driver before he damaged his new car and our camping gear.
The cookie-bite look of the sun greeted us after breakfast on eclipse day. It wasn’t long before the morning sunshine was more yellowish-orange than white and people were looking up with their ISO-certified cardboard specs. I was feverishly shooting bracketed photos through 2 DSLR cameras attached to 2 different telescopes. One was equipped with a dark ND filter, the other with a white light solar filter. Totality came too fast. I removed the filters and started capturing the corona and solar flares. After 2 minutes and 20 seconds, totality was over. People were cheering. It was truly a moving experience. Light increased and I tried to capture the diamond ring effect. Turns out, it is better to shoot that through long focal length camera lens than through a telescope. Lesson learned.
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Summer 2017 Issue:
The popular Expedition Overland YouTube series is entering its 3rd season, featuring their South American travels in the latest examples of the Tacoma, 4Runner, and Land Cruiser.
I'm sitting in a shop outside Bozeman, MT with a long-time friend and a source of inspiration within the overland industry. We chat about the first time we met and how so much has changed, and things that haven't
We've covered Clay Croft and Expedition Overland in previous issues. If you're not familiar with the XO web series, go have a watch, then come on back.
Clay and I met at SEMA Show 2011, after midnight, at the Overland Journal party. I had, quite literally, just watched the first episode of Expedition Overland which launched just a few weeks before.
I recognized Clay immediately and introduced myself as ͟The FJ Cruiser Magazine guy, who really loves your series!
The original series of Expedition Overland featured Clays personal vehicles which were initially modified for exploring Montana backroads. At the time the Clay was in a budding career as a film maker, but was between gigs. That is when XO was born, but I digress.
Back to the shop....
This 'little' shop on the Croft property outside Bozeman is called the X-Hangar. It's a custom designed shop, logistics hub, creative space, and production studio. Also, it's awesome!
Last month I had the opportunity to visit the X-Hangar for the first time since it's completion and Clay was nice enough to give me a personal tour.
Custom bi-fold airplane hangar door is over 14͛ tall and houses 3000 sq. ft. of shop space. All the tools you can imagine, and already plenty of stories. The shop is where rigs are built, modified, repaired, and prepared for expeditions. They're also home to XO's new Series' Oh "Hey There!" and "In The Shop".
Plenty of room for planning, promoting, and various staff to hang their hats. On the day I visited the XO team was busy planning & editing their upcoming South America series. In the outer office, comfy couches + a linear fireplace with a very large display panel are perfect for reviewing daily edits and previewing upcoming releases.
The Logistics Area Clay tells me that when they originally drew out their South America route it was -30 outside the door, so apparently the X-Hangar has great insulation. A large custom table provides room for the entire crew to discuss where the next adventure will take them. I'm also told that dozens of XO hats, shirts, and other swag are packed & sent out from the Logistics Area each week.
The Edit Suite
The suite is my favorite room in the X-Hangar. XO designed it to be as comfortable as possible which helps ensure editing continues uninterrupted for as long as is necessary. The edit room features custom lighting, its sound proof, has professional audio capture, an extra-wide curved screen connected to a top of the line Mac Pro. The goal of this room is to produce the most inspirational and amazing content possible. Apparently it works: I caught a glimpse of epic aerial footage from South America during my tour, alas Clay wouldn͛t reveal any details.
It's been almost six years since I met Clay Croft and became aware of Expedition Overland. I knew from the beginning this team would produce world-class content. I knew they would inspire tens of thousands of enthusiasts to get out and explore. The X-Hangar now allows them to do so with a dedicated facility which results in a world-class production. I have no doubt the future seasons of XO will continue to inspire all of us to get out & explore!
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Summer 2017 Issue:
After years, why keep coming back? Why come the first time? Will you come again?
Its no secret that the crew at TCT Magazine loves the FJ Summit. We keep coming back. Shane & Angie were at the first FJ Summit in the original Williams FJ and have attended ever since. Director Jonathan Harris also became a TCT editor. Associate Editor Daniel Markofsky leads trails here in his 80 series Land Cruiser.
People, Scenery, Tech, Trails, History, Education, Vacation, Food, Relaxing, Hot Springs, Excitement, Community, Camaraderie, Family.
Prep. I need that lift. Don’t forget armor.
Do I really need sliders, dual batteries and solar? Check.
Axe and shovel. Check.
Gears. Next year, nope, now.
Definitely a roof rack.
CB or HAM?
Every Summiteer goes through this type of list.
Day 1: Breakfast. The steam rises off your fresh local burrito as it peeks out of the foil. Coffee steams in your other hand. You feel the chill, but know the day will warm. You meet the group. You make new friends.
On The Trail.
Its why we are here.
Tire pressure. Check. Debate. Check. Ask. Debate. Add air. Check.
Fuel. Never pass a gas station. Is my tank full. How much is my reserve. How long is the day. How much gas do I need. Do I really need a full tank. I have enough, I think.
How hard is the trail? What is your experience? Let’s check out your rig. What is your tire pressure? Are you scared of heights? Do you have A-Trac? Lockers? Have you ever used them? No, you won’t need them. You will need them.
Having trouble on the trail? Are you in low range? You mean this button? What does that one do? What is it? I don’t know, I just turn them all on. I was told that was what to do. No, I did not air down because I have no way to fill up. To what? 50 PSI like the sidewall says.
ATVs coming up. Side-by-sides coming down. Jeeps ahead. Did you turn? Where is the bathroom? What time do we get back to town. Can I get a spot! How did they get that bulldozer/Subaru/Jeep/Honda up here? Do those people need help? What time is lunch? ATVs coming up. Side-by-sides coming down. Jeeps ahead. Did you turn? Where is the bathroom? What time do we get back to town. Can I get a spot! How did they get that bulldozer/Subaru/Jeep/Honda up here? Do those people need help? What time is lunch?
Lunch. Is it a cold sandwich, handful of chips, grilled chicken, or mac n cheese hot off the manifold.
Did you take in the view? Glad the rain stopped. I don’t need 4-low first gear all the time? Oh, You were on channel 22, that explains it. Car off, hand brake on, manual tranny in gear every time we stop?
Dinner. The food is good and the line is a slow roll down vendor row. Dude! We chatted online, soooo great to meet you! Under the tent you are welcome at any table and anyone is welcome at yours. At the brewery, grill, or grocery you are surrounded by friends. Maybe you pass on that additional margarita as the excitement for the next day appears.
Sleep. Is it a comfortable condo? Hotel room? RTT, camping pad. Maybe stealth on the sleeping platform you built the night before you left. Shhh. 2017 treated Summiteers to a lightning show of biblical proportions, thunderclaps worthy of the Roman Gods, and snorkel eating rain.
Saturday night: Hi remember that trail we ran Thursday? I did all those things my tail leader showed me. It was so much fun! I can’t wait to get home and explore my local trails. Now I finally understand how my FJ/4Runner/Tacoma/Prius works! (ok, not the Prius.)
Sunday: Yep, mine is 6, 8, 9, 16 hours to home.
Oh, me, I’m here another week.
See you in 2018!
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Summer 2017 Issue:
A few years ago, sitting at my desk job playing on the internet; I stumbled upon the blog of a couple traveling south on the Pan-American highway in a first generation 4Runner. The more I read, the more excited I became at the possibility of such a trip. I went home and shared the dream with my girlfriend (now fiancée) Leah. That evening we became lost in the magic of an adventure of this magnitude, and our minds began to whirl as our future goals changed. Over the next couple of months, as the enormity of the trip sunk in, we realized that we would need a lot of time to plan and save to pull off such an endeavor. Leah was just about to start a two-year MBA program, and I was nearing a career change. We forecasted our budget, crunched the numbers, and realized that we could be debt free and have our required funds ready by the end of her MBA program. After a few months of intensive research and the beginning stages of saving; we were well on our way to our Pan-American Highway adventure that would take us from Denver to Ushuaia.
Earlier that year I had purchased our 2004 Toyota 4Runner for camping, off-roading, and as my daily driver. Since the 4Runner is such a reliable and well-built vehicle, we knew it would be the perfect vehicle for an overland trip. As our budget allowed, I started to purchase the desired suspension and various other upgrades that we would need. Since the 4Runner had just over 100,000 miles, I rebuilt most of the front suspension and changed the stock front shocks to 2.5” Sway-A-Way coil-overs and SPC upper control arms. The rear suspension was changed to MetalTech4x4’s version of long travel suspension with custom built control arms. Since much of our driving would be highway, we decided that a tall, skinny tire would be the best option to help with fuel consumption while still performing well off-road. The tire of choice was the 33” Cooper S/T Maxx because of the unique size and the semi-aggressive treadpattern that would be able to handle any type of terrain.
At times building an overland vehicle on a strict budget can get very frustrating; such as the large price tag on a rear bumper with a spare tire swing out. With prices hovering around $2,000, we had to discard the dream of the new beautiful steel bumpers. Instead, I drew up some plans and custom made one specific to our needs, saving us $1500. I also made and installed a full set of drawers with easy access from the back that would also allow us to sleep inside if necessary, all the while keeping an extra seat for a third traveler. We did invest in a Tepui rooftop tent, which has made for a very comfortable home in nearly all types of weather and has been by far one of the best investments we have made for this trip. I built and installed a 100W solar and dual battery system to power up our 43-quart refrigerator and to keep us self-sufficient in remote places. The build turned out to be a reliable and comfortable setup, and hopefully tough enough for the grueling 30,000 miles of paved, potholed, dirt and sand roads ahead.
The 4Runner has been a great vehicle for us on this trip. Except for Mexico (which doesn’t sell 4Runners), we have felt confident that in the event we encounter a problem, we would be able to find and replace parts. We have come across all types of roads and all types of weather along this trip. The 4Runner has powered through every type of terrain with such grace that it almost makes the trip seem, dare I say, easy. Mudslides that have stood in our way, hundreds of miles of dirt roads & sandy beaches, there was even a road in southern Mexico that had in excess 300 speedbumps in 150 kilometers! All of which the 4Runner has made its way through with relative ease.
We have been to some pretty amazing places so far on this trip, but there are really a handful that stick out in our memory. In Mexico, Chichen Itza was a great visit. We also enjoyed just about every cenote that we dove into, especially the one in the town of Valladolid.
If you were to ask us what beaches we would recommend, well we would have to ask, what are you looking for? If you’re looking for the surf culture, then the Pacific beaches of El Salvador are for you. If you’re looking to scuba and snorkel, we would point you in the direction of the Caribbean coast because of its clear blue water and tremendous reefs. One of the most clean and beautiful countries in all Central America is Costa Rica. The parks are very pretty and full of wildlife, the beaches are clean and free of trash, and the lakes are top notch since there are not hundreds of speed boats zipping back and forth all day long. The greatest city that crossed our path in Central America was undoubtedly Panama City, Panama. The cityscape is one of the most amazing scene from the docks of Panama Bay, which is south of the city off a small strip of land. This city was very clean and well planned, which is something every trip navigator will appreciate, although traffic is an absolute nightmare.
One of the best aspects of this trip that was unexpected was the relationships that we would forge with other overlanders. When you meet another overlander – the connection is automatic. You immediately fall into deep conversation and form a bond as if you have known each other for years. It is these spontaneous relationships with other overlanders that has given shape to our trip. Prior to leaving, we believed that we would have a plan of what and where we would be a month out. This view changed very quickly.
The best example is how we spent this past Christmas. We were headed across the border to Belize, when we started talking with another overlanding couple and, decided on the spot to join them for the Holiday. This involved driving three days to Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, where we celebrated with eight couples from eight different countries. We came together, shared our favorite dishes from home and shared stories until the early hours of the morning. Since then we have traveled on and off with these same overlanders.
The only regret we have is that both of us should have taken our Spanish lessons more seriously. Don’t get me wrong, we have made it a long way with our broken Spanish, but we completely miss out on being able to connect with locals on a deep and meaningful level. We have had to rely on our overlanding friends who speak fluent Spanish, or the grace of the locals with whom we are trying to communicate.
For those who dream of a trip like this, we have but one piece of advice for you... Do it! If we have learned one thing on this trip, it is that the world is continually changing and not always for the better. Experience it while you can, learn to explore and adventure will unfold at every turn, including learning a lot about yourself. If you are afraid of what lies beyond our borders, let us tell you that we feel just as safe on the road as we would in any national park in the United States. People south of the US border have been friendly, helpful and generous.
A major topic around the overland campfire is the issue of bribes. We do our research prior to entering a new country; we try our best to follow the letter of the law and are respectful to any officer that we come across. We are firm believers that being polite and giving a big smile are all you need, and of course the proper documents to get out of any situation bribe free. Early in our trip we had the pleasure to meet a couple that has been on the road since the early 90’s; the best advice I took away from our lengthy conversations was that the best tool you have in non-ideal situations is time. As an overlander you must be patient, and willing to go with the flow.
You can follow their adventures on their website and Instagram site:
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Summer 2017 Issue: