Colorado Samurai Adventure
Editor: Johnathan Hall
Tulsa, OK – There we were, in July 2014 two weeks prior to starting our now annual August Colorado driving-Samurai hauling trek from eastern Oklahoma.
During the previous two treks out to Colorado we had driven my “dirty job” truck, a 1993 Ford F150 with 275,000 miles on the inline-6. We used this truck to haul our bags, and to flat tow a Samurai behind it. The old Ford was still running well, but the air conditioning had just gone out. Due to the fact that the air conditioning repair cost was about as much as the truck’s value, we decided not to repair it. However, that would likely translate into a hot and sticky drive across Oklahoma in the triple digit heat.
However, the stars strangely aligned for our trip! It was as if some Samurai deity was smiling down upon us, and prodding us forward on our journey. As the day of departure approached, the northern Oklahoma temperatures became unseasonably cool with high temperatures reaching into the low 80’s, which was rare feat in August. It was now cool enough to comfortably drive a vehicle without air-conditioning across the state of Oklahoma. In fact, that vehicle could be…..a Samurai! We would have our own “Ultimate Adventure” type of event, which would include nearly 2,000 road miles with moderate trails along the way!
So we quickly put forth a plan to pilot a mildly-built Samurai, packed with only essential camping gear the 800-miles to Colorado. Needless to say this ended up being our favorite of all three recent trips out to Colorado.
A little about the Samurai…it was stock other than the following modifications:
Armor: ARB Bull Bumper, Diff Cap for the front differential cover Drivetrain modifications: GRSII Transfer Case (18% lower high range, 115% lower low range), Spidertrax T-case arms. Suspension/Tires: Old Man Emu springs, Dropped Pitman Arm, Gabriel Shocks, 235/75R15 Goodyear Wrangler All Terrains on 15×7 Aluminum Rims
The 1300 engine was stock other than 150k miles on it! It likely had less than 60hp of output at that point.
On a late Friday morning we performed the final load up of the Samurai with our camping gear, cooler, personal bags, and various spare parts. Then hoping for the best, we headed out west towards Colorado. One of the nice things we quickly discovered about driving a Samurai cross country is that it allowed us the opportunity to easily explore areas along the way. This type of exploration can be very difficult when flat towing a vehicle, as you always need a way a large area to turn around.
We took a leisurely secondary highway route across Oklahoma that included roads that I had not driven on nearly 20 years, or other roads that I had never traveled before. I found the drive very interesting as we drove through smaller towns, which in many ways, appeared to be lost to time. They were the younger versions of the ghost towns that we would soon explore in Colorado.
After the 500-mile scenic drive across Oklahoma, we made our way into New Mexico and then straight into a raging Colorado thunderstorm. We finally stopped in Walsenburg, Colorado at about 10pm Friday night. Saturday morning we had a leisurely walk around Walsenburg, which appeared to be having a summer block party. Then about noon we proceeded on to Lake City. The weather could not have been any nicer as it was sunny and in the mid-70s.
We arrived at Lake City at late-afternoon on Saturday, did a quick drive of the town, and then we had an early dinner at the Cannibal Grill. After exploring the various campsites, we quickly decided on the most scenic of the campsites, Wupperman, which oversees Lake San Cristobal.
Sunday morning marked our first trail adventure. We had an early start, packed up all of our camping gear, and then we drove to the Lake City town center to link up with Ben Peterson and his family. Ben had a heavily modified Tracker on 35-inch tires that dwarfed my little Samurai.
From there were proceeded onto Engineer Pass, which was as breathtaking as it had been the year before. After Engineer Pass we proceeded onto much rougher Mineral Creek trail, and out to the town of Ouray for a very late lunch.
During lunch it started raining cats and dogs, and it looked like our afternoon of trail riding was over. After lunch we discussed the Black Bear Trail, and despite the rain, we decided that Black Bear was now and never. I had always wanted to traverse the Black Bear trail, and it was one of my goals for this trip. Therefore, we proceeded onto to Black Bear.
As stated this Samurai was pretty much stock, therefore the carburetor didn’t want to idle at the 13,000 feet or so of the Black Bear summit. This made the trek near the top of the pass a little difficult as I had to dance on the gas, clutch, and brake pedals, and also actuate the handbrake during the initial descent. However, once we descended to around 10,000 feet, the engine idled once again. Maybe the Samurai was scared at first? Nah… After Black Bear trail, Ben had to go back home for work so we spent the rest of the week exploring solo.
Since it was pouring down rain, we decided against camping in Ouray. We booked a room at the Ouray Chalet Inn, which had a nice central location, and it allowed us to explore the town further, before heading back east.
On Monday morning, we headed out to Corkscrew Gulch, hoping that it would be smoother than Mineral Creek. At the trailhead we were quickly told by others that the trail was washed out, and that there was no way around the washout. We decided to proceed forward to see for ourselves as we didn’t want to go back take Mineral Creek again. We spoke to several more people along the way, that said that the trail was not passable, but once we got to the washout, I knew that my Samurai could pass it. So, with about 15 onlookers to cheer me on, I picked a line, and quickly negotiated the wash-out area. I definitely impressed that group! The other vehicles then followed the same line I did, and the drivers insisted that I take the trail lead from that point forward. We proceeded onto Cinnamon Pass with its high elevations and tight switchbacks, and back to Lake City.
On Tuesday we chose a lighter schedule consisting of exploring the ghost town of Carson and Lake City. On Wednesday morning we packed up our camping gear, and headed north on county roads towards Gunnison. It was a nice scenic drive at a leisurely pace.
On Thursday we took our last trail ride, which consisted of the Cement Road, Italian Creek, and Lower Reno Divide trails. These trails were exceptional beautiful, but they were also extremely rutted and quite rough for an easy-moderate trail. I do not think we saw any other vehicles on the trail except for motorcycles and a couple of RZR clubs. The RZR owners were definitely bewildered and impressed to see our Suzuki out there.
After a long and bumpy ride on Thursday, we were pretty worn out, but we still had about 800-miles of highway driving to get back home. Therefore, on Friday morning we decided to end our week of trail riding, and we spent the morning hours exploring Gunnison, and preparing the Samurai for the long trek back to Oklahoma.
In summation, it was a very fun trip, and one that we had absolutely no regrets about taking! Finally, I was really surprised about how many people in Colorado asked me about my Samurai. “Do they still make those?” “Where can I buy a new one?” They had a look of dismay when I informed them how old our Samurai was. They also couldn’t believe that I was driving something that old, and small all the way from Oklahoma. In addition, several former Samurai owners came up to us and heaped praise on our little white Samurai. “I wish I still had mine….”