Saturday, May 17, 2014

Front Receiver Hitch Installation

Installation for a 2013 Toyota Tacoma SR5 V6 4x4

I wanted a front hitch for my truck, but I didn't want to change the appearance too much from stock and I wanted a high-clearance unit that didn't extend so far down as to get hung up on a challenging road.

The proper front hitch could also become a legitimate recovery point for the front of the truck, with a shackle insert. I also wanted to have a mount for a front bike rack, as the options for mounting a bike at the rear on a Fleet camper are limited, at best.

This is not a full how-to post, but more a pictorial of the process. If any Tacoma owners want to do this for their truck, I've provided links and details at the bottom of the post which will hopefully be helpful. The hitch bolts onto the frame, no welding or modifications are needed (other than cutting out a section of plastic grill.) All fasteners were included in the kit.

Let's start with a photo of the completed project, then read the captions to follow along.

You can click on the photos for larger versions.

Completed project. You can see the receiver in the center of the lower grill.

Grill removed.

Bumper cover (and little panels under the headlights) removed, exposing the actual aluminum bumper.
If you have the accessory skid plate, that needs to come off to get to the bottom bolts
on the bumper cover.

Bumper and bumper stand-offs removed. Save those nuts.
The hitch will take the place of the stand offs, then the bumper will be reinstalled.

Close-up of mounting studs. Also note the horizontal channel. The end pieces, "inserts," will be
removed before installing the main hitch assembly. I also needed to remove the tow-point bracket
which can just be seen here. The welded loop on the other end did not get in the way.

Here you can see the inserts have been removed and are sitting on the concrete.

Now the main hitch assembly has been installed with nuts just "snug."

A closer view of the main hitch assembly. The bumper will mount with the four 10mm bolts
included in the kit hardware along with the original nuts in the holes seen on the front.

The side brackets mount to the frame using both the sway bar bolts and a new 4" bolt through the frame.
You can also just see the bolt attaching the bottom of the hitch assembly to the horizontal channel.
(I forgot to take this picture at the time, so this cramped view is the result of me laying on the ground
to take the photo after everything was already put back together.)

Bumper re-installed, but now on the hitch, not the stand-offs.
Happily, the bumper cover and grill went back on easier than they came off.

Closer view of the completed install. You cut the center section of the lower grill
to make room for the receiver (and pin & clip). I used a hacksaw blade.
Be careful not to mar the soft black plastic of the bumper cover like I did.

The bike rack allows me to vertically position the bike to minimize visual obstruction. Taking the seat off also helps.
I don't believe the obstruction is dangerous. Multiple bikes will create more obstruction.
Photo added on March 21, 2022 by request.

Links, Details & an Important Disclaimer

Link: I chose an assembly made by CGI Offroad Fab of Boise, Idaho specifically for 2nd generation Tacoma's. Here's the part's webpage. I was impressed with the quality of the construction and believe it is rugged enough as CGI built it to hold their custom hitch-mount winch holders. All hardware was included, as well as a hinged license plate holder for those who live in a state requiring a front plate. If you live near Boise, I'm sure Nathan would be glad to install it for you.

Link: Here is the article by forum member Rodney on Tacoma World. It was his post that first clued me in to this hitch and provided enough photos that I began to think I might be able to do this myself. Note, his photos are of his 2011 Tacoma, there are slight differences between that and my 2013 model. Also, read through the comments, as Rodney later realized he took apart more bumper cover than he needed to. There is also a reference in his post regarding a non-standard receiver tube - that has now been taken care of by CGI.

Link: This PDF by the folks at Grillcraft was very helpful in showing me how to remove the grill and bumper cover. Note: there was one additional clip in the fender well, not called out in the PDF as it was for a 2012. They have some awesome looking grills if you want to customize your truck.

Link: I also watched these videos on removing the grill & bumper cover: 2010-2012 Toyota Tundra Grille InstallHow To Install Replace Front Radiator Grill Toyota Tacoma 01-04 and 2012-2013 Toyota Tacoma Status Grille. They were moderately helpful, but not essential.

Hint: You will need a deep 14mm socket to reach the nuts on the bumper stand-offs. I also recommend a half-inch ratchet, as my 3/8th ratchet didn't have enough leverage to break them loose.

Hint: I recommend you take the bumper off first, then remove the stand-offs from the frame.

Hint: The instructions don't say so, but if you have a late model Tacoma, you need to remove the tow-point bracket under the channel on the passenger side of the truck before the main hitch assembly will fit on the studs.

Disclaimer: I'm not a professional. You take my advice at your own risk and responsibility. If you don't think you're up to the job, hire a pro. If you break something, it's your own damn fault. OK?

SE Utah - May 2014 - Part 4

I spent 6 days exploring southeastern Utah. This included two national parks I'd never visited, Canyonlands and Arches. It would also take me back to Muley Point and to discover a few new areas between those destinations. 

I divided the trip report into four parts to aid digestion. This is part 4, the final installment.

Remember you can see larger versions of the photos by clicking on one of them.

Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky
and Canyon Rims National Recreation Area

May 7, 2014 continued

Dubinky Road

I think I mentioned I'd stopped at the Interagency Information Center on Main Street in Moab for info on dispersed camping on BLM lands around Moab. Due to the high number of visitors, this area is controlled much more strictly than your usual BLM lands in the west. You really need a map to determine if you are required to camp in a campground, camp area, designated area, etc. and the rules for trash and waste. All campgrounds and sites are first come, first serve. They have a whole 8 page "newspaper" with maps, lists and descriptions to help you figure all this out, it is a must have.

With the help of a knowledgeable gentleman, we determined that the dispersed campsites out Dubinky Road, between Arches and Canyonlands: Island in the Sky, might suit me. You get there by turning at the (very small) sign for Lone Mesa Group Camp off State Route 313. I missed the turn the first time in broad daylight.

To greatly shorten the story, I passed by a few areas already full of 5er's, RVs and ATVs. I found a narrow "designated" road headed south and I was hoping to find a hill, bluff, tree, or something to block my camper from the winds. I drove through a wide prairie, which I later learned is Dubinky Flat, to what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I would have turned back, but the road was too narrow and about 2 feet below grade. By the time I found a place I could have turned around, there was a giant, interesting looking, hill-shaped rock about a mile ahead and I wound my way there hoping for a sheltered camping spot. I switched on the 4WD toward the end as the road, and especially the turn-off, became very sandy.

I found a great spot as it turns out, in the lee of the giant rock. There was a good sized piñon to boot, and previous campers had left a large rock fire ring (complete with empty ammunition boxes) and a stack of cut wood. But best of all was the shelter from the wind. Again it was too cloudy for my hoped for star photography. I spent a quiet night.

May 8th

Another cloudy day, but with some morning light. It was pleasant enough to take a few photos and explore "my" rock, though I did not climb to the top.

Campsite and a small shoulder of the rock.

Looking down at my camp, from that shoulder.

From the vantage of the rock's shoulder (or maybe its ankle) I could see large trucks on a road to the south. I was later able to determine that road led to an oil well and became heavily used by tank trucks and what looked like strange cement mixers, but may have been carrying fracking mixture for all I know. I was glad I was off the beaten path. I had breakfast, took a little hike, then packed up to drive to Canyonlands, taking a photo of the rock hill as I retraced my path back to Dubinky Road and 313.

Campsite beside the rock hill. Estimating from a topo map, it's about 150' tall.

Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky

Island in the Sky is a narrow, branching mesa along the top of 1000 foot cliffs. There are foot trails, but not nearly as many as at The Needles. As my feet and knees were sore, I was happy enough to drive to the various overlooks and take one short, steep hike to look over the mysterious Upheaval Dome. The park is also noted for the famous White Rim Road - an adventure saved for another trip.

View from across the road from the Visitor Center

I drove first to Upheaval Dome, in the forlorn hope that the skies would clear later. It was an interesting hike. I took a large panorama from the first overlook. After processing it at home, I've decided not to save it as it just looks like an uninteresting pile of dirt. It's one of those very cool places that you just have to see with your own eyes.

Flowers along the trail to the dome overlook.

Next, I headed to the Green River Overlook. Another spectacular vista that you have to see with your own eyes. Again, my panorama does not do it justice, so I'll only display two photos of details of the scene. I did have a nice conversation with a young man who was a park service volunteer. I asked him about the White Rim Road, a section of which was laid out before us, down below. He allowed it was great fun and easy for the most part, only a few very steep, very narrow sections -  he mentioned Murphy's Hogback. We could actually see two jeeps moving along the road. He said there were some rough spots, but no steps or other technical features that should cause trouble for a Tacoma. To drive the road does take advanced planning as it is at least a two day drive and backcountry permits must be obtained. In prime season, those should be reserved ahead of time. Watching videos at home makes me really want to take that adventure.

Cliff edge and vista from Green River Overlook.

Zoomed in on a small section of the view, showing a gooseneck of the Green River
and a piece of the White Rim Road on the left and right.

Next stop was the picnic area at White Rim Overlook.

A view from the picnic area. I think this might be Gooseberry Canyon.

After lunch I drove to the Grand View Overlook. Had the weather been nicer, it actually drizzled for a few minutes, I might have told my knees to buckle up and taken the hike to the actual Grand View Point as it was only 2 miles there and back. So you'll have to be content to accept this panorama and a closer view of Monument Basin.

Monument Basin from Grand View Overlook.

Zooming in on a section of the basin. Notice the road and the white canyon rim.

It was time to start heading out of the park, as I wanted to get across and down to the Canyon Rims area for my last night before heading home.

I believe this is Buck Canyon, and again you can see White Rim Road.

Colorado River Recreation Area

In one of the national park visitor centers I'd admired a large relief map. In doing so I noticed a deep, winding canyon of which I was unaware, stretching northwest from above Moab. I decided to briefly explore up that way on State Route 128, before continuing south. The photo below is not the most dramatic, as I waited for a safe pull-out to take the picture.

Colorado River along Utah 128

There are many BLM camping areas along the river. I'd seen them listed on their website and maps, but was still surprised by the reality. Some of them are right on the Colorado and fairly secluded from one another, in others you'd be watching your neighbors as much as the scenery. Still, no getting around the fantastic views of the river and canyon walls. Moab has a great bike lane system and there is a beautiful, smooth asphalt path that runs along the river and provides great access to the first few camping areas. As none of the individual sites are reservable, theoretically you have as good a chance as anyone of getting a primo site. But I suspect there are large families or small groups of friends who send advanced scouts a few days ahead to try and snag a good one; I know that's what I would have done back in the day!

A nice couple from Colorado in a big Lance pop-up camper, who I met later that night, said there were good sites downstream on Utah 279. I may have a to check those out next time.

Canyon Rims National Recreation Area

After having a green chile cheese burger in Moab, I continued south on US-191, then took the turn onto the paved Needles Lookout Road toward the BLM Canyon Rims NRA. (The BLM may be the nemesis of a certain dead-beat rancher, but they're a godsend for those of us who love to camp and enjoy the wild spaces of the American Southwest!)

I took a look at their Windwhistle Campground, which is about 9 miles in from the main highway. It looked pretty nice and is situated in an area with large cliffs and a lovely view. Still, I wanted to go to the Needles Overlook and would check out areas for dispersed camping out that way.

The Needles Overlook is extremely nice. The BLM has done a wonderful job. There are easy sidewalks for those who need them, fun climbs for others, picnic tables, natural landscaping, informational placards and vault toilets. The views are spectacular.

Looking toward the north toward Island of the Sky.

Looking southerly across Indian Creek Canyon with the Abajo Mountains in the background.
You can see the Lockhart Basin Rd, which I drove a few days before.

Turn around to see the La Sal Mountains to the northeast.

As I drove away from the overlook, I took a dirt road north where I'd look for a campsite. Not too many that way that weren't taken, unless I wanted to be out in the open, susceptible to high winds. There were a couple of sites with fantastic views south of the paved road a few miles east of the lookout, but according to one BLM map these were not designated sites, though people had obviously camped there. I stopped there, relaxed a while and admired the views, but decided I'd been beaten by the wind enough on this trip and headed back to the Windwhistle Campground which was sheltered by the surrounding cliffs.

My site at Windwhistle.

There is also quite a nice nature trail located past the group campsite. It is in an alcove in the cliffs and worth checking out if you're in the area. I took the following photo as the sun was going down.

Windwhistle Rock in the early evening light.

Despite the promise of the photo above, there was no sunset worth photographing that night, either.

May 9th

I got up early, didn't even stop for breakfast, but broke camp and drove quickly back out to Needles Overlook. I was hoping for a nice sunrise or early light on the canyons and cliffs. Alas, the weather continued to not cooperate. Here is a panorama, similar to the one taken the previous afternoon, though from a slightly different spot. You can see the shadow of the overlook stretching across the valley.

Indian Creek Canyon vista.

That's pretty much it, folks. I headed back to the highway, turned south on 191 toward Monticello. I found a little cafe on US-491 that I'd be taking to Cortez, Colorado, before turning south to New Mexico. It is called PJ's and I recommend it to you. You have to order your food and pay at the counter, but then they bring it to your table. Every item was freshly cooked and delicious. They even placed little Ball jars of homemade marmalade on the table. Now normally I'm not a big fan, as it is a little tart for my taste, but this was mild, sweet and delicious. I can't recommend that famous diner in Moab, but PJ's breakfast restore my faith in mankind :-)

I hope you enjoyed "coming along" on my camping trip to SE Utah. Leave your questions or comments, below, as I enjoy those. And I hope to meet you on the trail.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

SE Utah - May 2014 - Part 3

I spent 6 days exploring southeastern Utah. This included two national parks I'd never visited, Canyonlands and Arches. It would also take me back to Muley Point and to discover a few new areas between those destinations. 

I will divide the trip into at least four parts to aid digestion. This is part 3.

Remember you can see larger versions of the photos by clicking on one of them.

Arches National Park

Tuesday, May 5th

The weather didn't cooperate as well as I would have hoped - very cloudy with rain showers, though none where I was. Consequently, these photos are not picture postcard perfect, but the best of the day. None of the landscape panoramas turned out well enough to inflict upon the public.

Balanced Rock

The view approaching The Windows

North Window

A different angle on the North Window (with fewer people.)

Turret Arch

South Window

Double Arch

Roadside Wildflowers

Delicate Arch
Taken near lower viewpoint with telephoto lens. I removed the people with the clone brush.

Entrance to Devil's Garden Trail

Photogenic dead tree along the trail.
Landscape Arch
My knees cried "Enough!" at this point, so no photos of other arches in Devil's Garden.

Trail as it leaves Devil's Garden

That's all, folks.

I'll leave the story of my campsite on BLM land on this night to the next installment.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

SE Utah - May 2014 - Part 2

I spent 6 days exploring southeastern Utah. This included two national parks I'd never visited, Canyonlands and Arches. It would also take me back to Muley Point and to discover a few new areas between those destinations. 

I will divide the trip into three or four parts to aid digestion. This is part 2.

Remember you can see larger versions of the photos by clicking on one of them.

BLM Indian Creek Recreation Area
Canyonlands National Park: The Needles

Note that Canyonlands National Park is segmented into three distinct districts. Island in the Sky is to the north, is the most visited of the districts as it is close to Arches NP, and is located atop a high plateau; my visit there will be in a subsequent post. The Maze is the most undeveloped; I didn't visit this area. The Needles is located in an intermediate zone surrounded by high bluffs, but also containing deep canyons.

Monday, May 5th continued.

Newspaper Rock

North of Monticello, I turned west on SR 211 toward The Needles. My first stop was the BLM Newspaper Rock Recreation Site. This large petroglyph panel represents multiple cultures and times. No one really knows what it all means.

Newspaper Rock

I continued NW on 211 and checked out the Creek Pasture Camping Area. They recommended it to me in the Monticello BLM office, because it had trees and shade. All the shady spots were taken and those available were unappetizing. Plus, the sites seemed too close together for my comfort level. They'd also recommended the new Superbowl Camping Area, but I decided instead to drive up the road toward Lavender Canyon to see if I could find a nice dispersed campsite. I took a spur road and found a quiet spot with lots of shade. It was next to Indian Creek, but there was a fence between the site and the creek - probably to keep the cattle out of the creek. (By the way, the information on the Indian Creek area on the BLM website is woefully out of date. I recommend you contact the Monticello BLM office for current info.)

Dispersed camping on BLM land in Indian Creek Canyon.

Tuesday, May 6th

The Needles

I headed in to Canyonlands NP first thing after breakfast. Driving into the park I was astonished at the large numbers of wildflowers blooming. The Evening Primrose were especially prolific and interesting, as their blossoms are larger than the green part of the plant.

This species of Evening Primrose blooms all during the day.

I wanted to get a camping site at the park's Squaw Flat Campground. This is a first come, first served area. I was there a little after 9am, but both Campground A and B were full. As I was driving out of B, I noticed folks packing their car. I asked if they were leaving. They were, so I got a nice spot. I registered and put out my site-occupied bucket. Check out time is 10am and I noticed one or two other sites opening up about that time.

I then headed out the Scenic Drive to the Big Spring Overlook.

These pillars greet you as you walk toward the overlook from the parking area.

If you hike down this canyon about 5 miles you come to the Confluence Overlook
where the Colorado and Green Rivers join.

My next stop was the nearby Slickrock Foot Trail. This is a fairly easy 2.4 mile loop, but my old, beat-up knees were less than pleased by the ups and downs. There are four major viewpoints along the trail and you follow rock cairns in order to follow the trail.

An early section of the trail still primarily on soil.

Looking south from Viewpoint 1 with the Needles peeking over the canyon walls.
Lots of purple and yellow flowers in the foreground.

Follow the cairns. Note the cryptobiotic soil in the right foreground.
These fragile crusts are formed slowly by living organisms and are an essential part of the ecosystem.

A lovely trailside, floral tableau.

Another canyon viewpoint.

This checkerspot butterfly generously posed for a portrait.

Another viewpoint. The winds were beginning to really crank up at this point.

Baby Asters sheltering in the lee of a rock outcrop.

On the way back to the car the winds were very strong. The straw hat I was so happy to have at the beginning of the hike was a liability. I finally stuffed it into my daypack despite possible damage to its brim. Sand was getting underneath my contact lenses which was pretty miserable. I even got lost for a few minutes as I could't see well enough to spot the cairns marking the trail.

I returned to my campsite for lunch. It was shielded from the wind by a large rock wall and a few trees. It was very pleasant there for both me and a little chipmunk who refused to have his picture taken.

With the wind kicking the dust and sand around, I decided no more hikes for me this afternoon. A scenic drive might be just the thing.

Lockhart Basin Road

The young woman at the Visitor Center convinced me that the 4-wheel drive trails in the park were too technical for my tastes. I'm not sure that they are as bad as she made out, or if they are just tired of folks needed rescue. I thought I'd explore up a road I'd seen on the map just outside the park called the Lockhart Basin Road. As I stopped to chat with the ranger at the entrance station to say I was going exploring, she recommend that road as being interesting.

And interesting it was, at least after the first few miles of washboard where it passes by Hamburger Rock, another of the BLM camping areas. The road then the winds into the Indian Creek Canyon where there are more dispersed camping areas. It fords the creek and climbs up the side of a hill, then squeezes between two large rock pillars right at the top and makes a sharp turn to become a very narrow road with a steep drop off, where you come to a gate. Then down the hill to gently wind in the canyon area, eventually coming out onto the flats where there are views of the tall bluffs to the north.

Lockhart Basin Road

I recognized from an earlier examination of a map of the area that the point of the bluff that extends the farthest into the canyon was the Needles Overlook. I drove to a location under the overlook and called it far enough for the day. I'd gone nearly 8 miles. My intention was to drive out to the overlook later on the trip.

Parked below the Needles Overlook. I loved these striped boulders.

I headed back into the park to set up camp.

My lucky campsite. Had I found one in area A, I would not have been shielded from the winds.

The view across from my campsite as the sinking sun begins to color the sky.

Despite the promise of the previous photo. There wasn't really much of a sunset this night.
I did the best I could to grab a silhouette with what little color there was in the sky.

Tuesday, May 6th

The morning looked promising, so I headed out the hard-packed road toward Elephant Hill.

A view of the eponymous Needles from Elephant Hill Road.

I'm guessing this is Elephant Hill.

Not far from the Visitor Center is a small parking area signed as Roadside Ruin.
Follow the short loop trail and you see this ancient granary structure under a rock overhang.

Not far from the granary was this gorgeous group of cactus blossoms.

Leaving Canyonlands for now

About halfway back to US-191 the canyon walls come closer together. The highway proceeds through
the gap. You can see the Abajo Mountains to the south, in the background.

Upon hitting US-191 I turned north toward Moab where I'd get a hot meal and information on camping in BLM lands around Arches, since I knew those reserved campsites were long filled.

Stay tuned for the next installment which will include Arches National Park.