|Red Elephant Hill|
by Eric Steenburn
|It was a very warm 23 June 07 Saturday at the Red Elephant Hill trail head. Lined up were 14 off-road vehicles including a flatbed and a Pinzgauer so the day promised to be interesting! Participants in this day's adventure were Greg Beery, Mike Treen, Patrick Davis & family, Gene King, Don Owens, Neil Segal, Darrel Turner & family, Matt Nunn & family, Ron Douglas & family, Bill Boitano, Perry Willson, Chris Lundberg, Vance Cannaday, the Willers and your trip leaders Eric & Pat Steenburn.
Once everyone had aired down we shoved off and began the steep climb up this lesser known but challenging 4x4 road. It didn't take long for our progress to come to a halt. The 'elephant' had a choke hold on the Pinzgauer and it succumbed to vapor lock. The group was so large and strung out it was difficult to maintain radio contact from the front to the back. Relays of information on the group's status kept everyone informed.
Next this evil red elephant grabbed a jeep and pulled it sideways half off the road (with steep shoulders) much to the amazement of the wide-eyed driver. A single winch line rescue was suggested but more prudent TRR members prevailed and two winch lines were deployed to safely rescue this teetering jeep.
After another too close to the edge mishap and a high-centered victim news of an experienced spotter putting his own vehicle over the edge of the same obstacle he spotted for filtered up front. Who could this be? There were only rumors about 'neighing' and a statement of "Well, at least I didn't get strapped by the Scout!" Perhaps we will get to the bottom of this mystery at the club meeting.
At the top of the hill we re-grouped and counted vehicles& We were short again! This Red Elephant was kicking butt! My original plan was to have lunch at the Empire Hilton cabin but we were only one third the way there and it was already 1pm. Time for plan B& The first suitable lunch spot was quickly located and this hungry and weary group settled down in the cool shade for a much needed R & R. The stragglers finally arrived for lunch and entertained us with trail 'war stories'.
Now that the 'easy' part of the trail was behind us I was wondering how the group would do with the rocky loop trail ahead of us. (Mill Creek is actually more technically challenging than Red Elephant Hill) This part of the trail sported rock gardens, tight downhill maneuvering between trees and rocky stream crossings. For some strange reason the club seemed to do better here and we managed to get through the obstacles unscathed with only some minor delays.
We arrived at the Empire Hilton Cabin 3:30ish and waited for the tail end of the group to catch up. A rest and exploration of the cabin was soon followed by a discussion of the 'late hour'. (Doesn't everyone wheel until 9pm?) A continue or retreat vote was made and the majority voted to finish the last two thirds of the Mill Creek loop road. Four vehicles balked and decided to mutiny anyhow with a plan to retreat and take the short way out using a guide book.
The remaining 10 vehicles got to enjoy the full measure of what the rest of the rocky loop trail had to offer. When we finally reached the western Mill Creek stream crossing we had to wait for the tail of the group to catch up again. It seems there were a few more problems to deal with. Once together the group crossed the scenic water crossing and 'closed the loop' . Everyone had a sense of satisfaction of conquering the whole Mill Creek Loop road.
The next stop was the staging area just north of Empire. This is a wide spot on the dirt road that is used to park trailers and air up/down tires. I aired up my tires and then two other vehicles that didn't have air systems on their rigs. It was starting to sprinkle so I also put my soft top windows back on. Just as I was finishing up everyone started laughing hysterically so I turned around to see what was going on and I couldn't help but crack a smile when I saw the 4 vehicles that took the shortcut much earlier finally making their way out of the mountains to join us. It was a fun day with challenges, a few tense moments and some laughs. We hope everyone had a good time.