Flocking to Flagstaff

My weekend of exploration in Gila National Forest, New Mexico, ended abruptly, as I had a very specific destination in mind. Flagstaff, Arizona.

When I set off on this journey, I promised myself that I’d make plans very loosely, and wouldn’t change course for events, gatherings, or rallies. However, Overland Expo West was upon us - the mother of all overlanding events in the United States, and it was only a few hundred miles away to the west. Having traveled so far, such a drive was just a drop in the bucket.

As I traveled westward, at a faster pace than usual, I crossed the border from New Mexico to Arizona shortly after leaving Gila. My travels took me through Alpine, past the Petrified Forest National Park, into Holbrook, and along a historic section of Route 66, which looked like it was right out of Disney/Pixar’s Cars.

An Unexpected Climate

I arrived in Flagstaff just a week before the event started, to give myself some time to settle in and acquaint myself with the area. If you’re not familiar with Flagstaff, or with Arizona in general, make no assumptions about the city’s climate. It’s not hot and barren as one from the east might expect. Quite the contrary.

The city is flanked closely by National Forest land, which is largely rocky and coniferous. Humphreys Peak looms to the north, a white-capped mountain measuring over 12,000 feet, and the city itself is at half that elevation, ensuring cooler-than-usual temperatures. It looks and feels a bit more like the Colorado mountains than most of Arizona.

In fact, on my first day in town, while I was pecking away at my laptop in one of the many coffee shops in the area, it began to snow. I sat and watched, dumbfounded, while it accumulated on my parked Jeep… in mid-May.

Ideal for Overlanders

Free, dispersed camping near a vibrant center of commerce and culture, is like the Holy Grail for those sustaining a mobile lifestyle. I’ve discovered no place better for vehicle-supported camping than Flagstaff, as the city lies directly in the center of Cococino National Forest.

Countless forest roads branch out within a few miles from downtown. Many of which are lined with primitive campsites. During the day, one can go downtown to do work, or to enjoy the city, and then at night, retreat to a safe and private wilderness campsite only a short drive away.

Not Before Tires

Having logged well over a thousand miles on my new AEV suspension, with tiny, poorly-worn tires, I seized the opportunity to purchase a new set before Overland Expo.

My friends Rin, from OK Auto, 4wd & Tire, and Jason, who helped install my suspension in Texas, both individually recommended BFGoodrich’s All-Terrain KO2, 315/70R17 in the far less common load range C, as opposed to the 10-ply, load range E. These are very close in size to the 35x12.50R17, however the 6-ply load rating would deliver a more comfortable ride in a carcass that is still very durable. It is important to note that these tires are original equipment for the Ford Raptor, and you’ll likely have to look a little bit harder for them than their 10-ply counterparts.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find them around town. I had to drive two hours to the south, to Phoenix, to pick up a set. However, I had time to kill, and I was excited by the prospect of having new sneakers for the Jeep!

The wide tires billow a bit on the narrow stock wheels, but the fitment with the AEV suspension is superb, and they fill out the fender wells nicely. I’ll talk more about my experience with the new KO2s as time goes on.


Overland Expo West

Back in Flagstaff, overlanders began to pour into the city.

The streets became swollen with eye-candy. There was everything from cutting-edge new campers, to lumbering, 8-wheeled behemoths, to vintage, resto-mods, to cost-effective platforms suited to every man-and-woman. It was as if the world had become overrun with self-sustaining adventure-mobiles. This isn’t a bad thing!

On the opening night, the merchants in downtown Flagstaff took advantage of the event by serving free beer samples to their patrons, which I thoroughly enjoyed as I wandered the streets with my friends from Blue Ridge Overland Gear.

The event itself was held in Fort Tuthill County Park, on the outskirts of the city. In the morning, I was among the first to arrive at the registration tent to purchase a ticket. People trickled in slowly at first, and then a steady stream of vehicles as if someone lifted some unseen floodgate. From what I could tell, the registration line consisted of everyone from curious locals to seasoned world-travelers.

Unlike a typical car show, one could do numerous “laps” around the venue and still not see everything. In fact, multiple laps was sort of a requirement, as one would’ve missed too much in a single pass.

There were five major sections. There was the camping area - although this wasn’t part of the show, it was well worth a visit - the vendor area, the vehicle area, the motorcycles, and the obstacle course, spread out over a few hundred acres. Tents and food trucks offering delicious, high-quality sustenance dotted the venue.

Having remained for the duration of the event, and seen almost everything, I found respite at an outdoor bar constructed around a classic truck equipped with craft beer taps.

Overland Expo West is a three day event, lasting from Friday through Sunday. It is a great opportunity to learn, network, experience, and to be inspired. If you can’t make it to Arizona, there is also Overland Expo East, which takes place in North Carolina in the early fall!