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Coyote Flats

Contributed By: Tom Anhalt

Hi all,
Just got back from an offroad trip to the Eastern Sierras monday night with "El Jeep" ('81 Cherokee Laredo, I6, NP208, 3" lift). We went to check out an area outside of Bishop, CA called Coyote Flats/Baker Creek. Although it is kind of late in the year to be headed to the mountains, we lucked into some nice warm, clear weather for the trip. Here's a (not so) quick synopsis of the trip ( pictures...everyone forgot their camera)

Day One:
My friend Scott came over to the house at 6:45 am Saturday and we loaded up "El Jeep" with his stuff and headed out to meet Jim B. & Jim V. in Santa Barbara. The Jims were riding in Jim B.'s '82 CJ-7 (I6, bone stock). Needless to say, El Jeep, with it's much greater cargo capacity, served as the pack mule/chow wagon for the trip! We left Santa Barbara around 7:15 and headed south through Ventura, and inland to Mojave. We then headed up hwy 395 through Olancha, Lone Pine, Independance, Big Pine and finally arrived in Bishop about 6.5 hours later. We had to limit the speed on the hwy to 60-65 mph since it seems that a fully loaded CJ isn't too stable at much more than that. In contrast, El Jeep, with his 3.31 gearing , 31" tires, and longer wheelbase is a relative luxo-cruiser at 70mph! Oh well...I guess we have to make exceptions when travelling in the company of our little jeep cousins .

The trail starts from right in the town of Bishop (email me for directions if you want) and after approx. 3-4 miles of simple dirt road, it enters the Inyo National Forest and starts climbing. At this point there's a little turnoff and we stopped to discuss how far in we wanted to try to get that night. I shut off El Jeep, I noticed that the temp gauge was reading a bit high (about 2/3 through the green) and he had already started puking. Seemed kind of odd since we hadn't really done any climbing yet and the outside temps were in the upper 70s at most. I popped the hood and grabbed ahold of the fan (engine off, of course) and sure enough, the thing was pretty free. Remembering the many discussions on fan clutches, I didn't think this was right. Since we weren't that far in and we had plenty of climbing to do, it seemed like the prudent thing to do was to head back to Bishop and get a new fan clutch. So that's what we did. Within 50 minutes, we had found a parts store, got a new clutch, swapped it in, and were back at the same spot. BTW, the clutch I got from the parts store (AutoZone) is the type that Mike Baxter has described as the one to get (All aluminum front, bimetallic on front). Interestingly, the clutch I took off did not have a bimetallic clutch on the front...hmmm. Anyway, this did the trick. When El Jeep heated up to the same levels as before, I could now hear a reassuring humm from the fan engaging and the temp would drop. Problem solved.

The trail wound through a couple of series of switchbacks as we climbed out of Bishop (4000 ft) to our first campsite which was at 7900 ft. So far, the road was pretty mild and if it wasn't for the steepness, it could probably be taken in 2wd. However, the steepness, especially the switchbacks, required 4wd and I think pretty much any stock 4wheeler would make it. We set up camp, had a little grub, built a campfire and watched the stars come out. Although it was a very clear night, the lows probably only reached the 40s, which wasn't bad for that altitude. BTW, the campsite had some pretty nice views of the Owens Valley and overlooked Bishop.

Day Two:
Everyone was up pretty much at the crack of dawn and a breakfast of eggs and bacon was whipped up over the camp stove. After breaking camp, the vehicles were packed up and the climbing continued with El Jeep in the lead. The destinations for the day were a couple of alpine lakes (Coyote and Funnel) and eventually ending up near Baker Creek. After a few miles and some more switchbacks, we climbed into a canyon and crossed over Coyote Creek. Just after the crossing there were a few ruins from an old Tungsten mill that we stopped to check out. After the mill, the road opened into a large plateau called Coyote Flats. This plateau is at over 9000 ft and has been used in the past for cattle grazing. We took a right turn off of the main trail which lead us over to Coyote Lake. The trail to this lake is a little rougher than the main trail and this lake is very scenic and has a couple of outstanding campsites. There was even a little snow on the ground to greet us. Since we wanted to check out a few more places, we didn't linger long, but marked some good campsites on the map. Maybe we'd stay at one that night. Back we went to the main trail in Coyote Flats.

A little further along in the plateau, we took another turnoff to the right and headed for Funnel Lake. Just off the turnoff we came upon a PAVED airstrip at 10,000 feet!!! There was even a small metal hangar and a windsock! It turns out that this strip was built in 1968 by the DOD as a place to test out the high altitude performance of light helicopters and airplanes. Man...I wouldn't want to land or take off from that strip in the middle of summer...It really wasn't that long.

The trail to Funnel Lake was the most technical 4wheelin' of the trip. Although the rocks weren't very big, there sure were a lot of them! In parts, it was difficult to tell if you actually were on a trail instead of just going through a rock-strewn field and the suspensions of both Jeeps got a real workout. The difficulties were worth it since Funnel Lake was truly a spectacular setting. We ate lunch alongside the lake and hiked over a ridge see another close-by lake called Rocky Bottom. We also figured out why it's called Funnel Lake. On one end of the lake, there is a small outlet that drains directly down into a funnel shaped depression in the ground that's lined with boulders. The water drains into the "funnel" at a pretty good clip and then just disappears into the ground! There's no stream or anything. I really think there must be an underground cavern or something to be able to handle that kind of water flow.

After lunch, we headed back down the trail to the airstrip and then headed towards the far end of the Coyote Flats plateau with the destination of Baker Creek in mind. We had made it all the way to the far end and had just started a more difficult section of trail heading to the creek when Jim called over the CB that he was hearing a strange clunking sound in his suspension and he wanted to stop and check it out. After looking around under his CJ, we discovered that the frame of his Jeep, on the driver's side, between the shock mount and the steering box, was cracked completely through!! The frame wasn't seperated however, since the sway bar, the body, and the front crossmember were still intact and sort of holding things together. Well...this pretty much put a damper on the wheelin' for the day because neither of us had a welder. Now the order of business was to try to milk the CJ back to Bishop which was approximately 20 dirt miles away! Jim took it real slow and gentle and tried to minimize the twisting of his front axle. After a long 2.5 hours back to a spot just above where we had camped the previous night, Jim's nerves were just about shot. Before starting dinner, we all took a break and grabbed a beer and a lawn chair since this campsite had an even better view than the previous one. It was a true panorama of the Owen's Valley. In fact, we named the ledge we were sitting on "God's Front Porch". Again, there was an awesome stellar display that night and we spent a long time after our dinner of Tri-Tip checking out all the planets and constellations.

Day Three:
Again, we were all up bright and early and munched on a breakfast of pancakes and sausages. The plan for the day was to try to get Jim's CJ out the remaining 5-7 miles to Bishop and find a welder to patch his frame up enough to get it home. Taking it slow and easy, we were back on pavement 1.5 hours later and found a muffler/welding shop. There we met up with the owner, a big guy named John who had more than a passing resemblance to "Cooter" from the "Dukes of Hazzard". He even had a big patch on the back of his muffler shop uniform that had the slogan "No muff too tuff!" embroidered on it. He took a look at it and basically told us that he would just try to drive it all the way home as is! Since it would take a long time to do a full patch becuase of the need to remove the steering box, and tacking it would just make it harder for the guy who would be doing the full fix, he recommended just driving it, since everything seemed to be held in place and Jim hadn't experienced any wandering while driving on the street. Wow. He said that you wouldn't believe the cracks in frames he's discovered while replacing mufflers. Basically, the bodies were holding the frames together! Jim decided to try just that. We had to part ways, since I needed to be back in Santa Barbara by 6:00, so we bid farewell and Scott and I blazed back to SB. BTW, there was a pretty beat up Super Wagoneer in the parking lot of the muffler shop!

Overall, it was a pretty fun trip. There was a full range of wheeling difficulty and the scenery was awesome. No big problems with the FSJ although the CJ's frame didn't seem up to the task.... In fact, the El Jeep displayed remarkable performance both on the highway and on the trail. I just can't wait to slap the FI setup on him (I just found out it will be shipped in 4 days!!! Yipee!!!) and make him even better.

-Tom Anhalt
Santa Barbara, CA

P.S. Jim made it home fine and even got to catch a little of Monday Nite Football.

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