Once we were aired down and our sway bars were stowed in their full upright and locked positions, we hit the trail. The beginning of the modern day Naches Wagon Trail is located where one of the most dramatic events occurred in the first crossing. Towards the end of their trek, the expedition was faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge; a massive cliff that had no bypass. The Indian trail bypassed the cliff, but was narrow and circuitous, not at all suited to a bunch of wagons and oxen. After careful consideration, the decision was made to lower the wagons down the face, which Longmire later described as being 300 yards high.
Two oxen were sacrificed to this end, and rawhide ropes were fabricated. They attached the ropes to trees (the evidence of which can still be seen today) and slowly lowered the wagons down. In each of these heavily burdened vehicles was everything a family owned or needed to make a new life in the furthest reaches of the Oregon Territory.
The prospect of losing one is hard to imagine, and one family did indeed have to finish the trail on horseback after their wagons were lost.
Of the seven rigs that had assembled to retrace the route, all of them happened to be Jeep Cherokees. While this was a coincidence, the similarities with the early wagons that blazed this trail are not lost. Like the covered wagons that the early emigrants used, XJs are fairly simple, rugged machines. They maximize interior space while keeping the overall exterior dimensions compact. They even look a little bit like station wagons (in stock form); certainly in comparison to today’s bloated “SUVs.” While our trip was a short one, the abundance of space was appreciated; Wrangler owners would’ve had to be more creative.
Some of you may recognize my white 2-dr, the white 4-dr and the blue 4-dr from my Moab expedition a few months back. The white rig belongs to Jesse Connor and has recently undergone a few modifications, including a Moab 4×4 Outpost winch bumper and 33” Trxus M/Ts. The blue rig is John Mathews, a name that is becoming more and more familiar in the JPFreek community in conjunction with tech articles.
The clean black 4-dr is piloted by Ryan Barrett; while it looks straight and unmolested, Ryan isn’t afraid to put the spurs to it. Dean Tanner is the driver of the other 2-dr in our group; he is in the process of transforming it from a street rig to a dedicated wheeler. The most abused rig in our convoy is Eli Celli’s. With a total disregard for body damage and a heavy right foot, he’s always entertaining to watch. The only late model Cherokee (‘97 and newer) in the group is Jay Syc’s; he’s a meteorologist by profession and ensures that we never have an idea what the weather will be like on our trail runs. Jay’s is the other black 4-dr, running 31” Trxus M/Ts.