Rover Love!

The Raven & The Rattler in Capitol Reef, Utah

The Raven & The Rattler in Capitol Reef, Utah

Earlier this spring, during my loop through southeast Utah, it became apparent to me that my trusty Subaru’s miles were numbered. The Raven has towed the Rattler for many miles – all the way to Alaska and back, last summer – but I could feel it getting tired and I didn’t want to drive it into the ground. So I started looking for another car.

I searched all over for a good used Subaru, but couldn’t seem to find one with fewer than 200,000 miles for much less than 10 grand and, in keeping with my no debt, no credit lifestyle, I  wasn’t willing to take on monthly car payments. If I was going to buy a new (used) car, I wanted to buy it outright.

Then, on a whim, I did a search for my dream car: an older, manual Land Rover Discovery. And I found one at Pikes Peak Rovers in Colorado Springs, only a couple of hours from where I was camping near Salida, Colorado. I showed the ad to Drew and said, “Please talk me out of this.” And he said, “Why would I talk you out of it? That would be awesome!”

Yep, this is awesome.

Yep, this is awesome.

Of course, it was love at first test drive and I bought outright, in cash. My new chariot, my dream car, is a 1996 Land Rover Discovery. One owner, low miles (for its age), well maintained, in beautiful condition, for under 3 grand. The best part? It’s a stick shift! For some reason, manual Land Rovers are a rare animal.

The elusive manual Land Rover

The elusive manual Land Rover

If you think it sounds too good to be true, you’re right. Three days after I bought the Rover, it stranded me up a mountain road. The morning after climbing Grey’s and Torrey’s Peaks, it wouldn’t start. I suppose there’s not really a good time to learn to roll start a car, but three days after you buy it, on a steep, rocky mountain road is less than ideal.

Camping in the Arapaho National Forest, where I got stranded the first time by a bad starter.

Camping in the Arapaho National Forest, where I got stranded the first time by a bad starter.

When it comes to car trouble, my mantra is, “It can always be worse.” So I unhitched the Teardrop, pointed the Rover downhill, put it in second, got a Herculean push start from Drew and popped the clutch once I was rolling over 10 mph. And it worked! I rehitched the trailer and drove 3 hours straight back to Colorado Springs, without stalling out, where the guys at Pikes Peak Rovers installed a new starter at cost.

But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. Less than a week later, bumping down another mountain road, smoke started pouring out from under the hood. Turns out the coolant system had sprung a leak and coolant was pooling on the hot engine, creating clouds of noxious smoke. Fortunately, I carry a spare jug of coolant (and several jugs of oil) with me at all times so I refilled the coolant system, let the Rover sit overnight and limped into Leadville the next day for a fix.

So much room! All my camping/ emergency equipment, my library, my miscellaneous box and the dog food bin, with room to spare!

So much room! All my camping/ emergency equipment, my library, my miscellaneous box and the dog food bin, with room to spare!

My experience at the garage in Leadville was classic “take advantage of the damsel in distress.” I’m no engine expert, but I do know when somebody is trying to scare me into unnecessary repairs. I could see the leak in one of the hoses and it looked like it should be pretty easy to patch. But the mechanic kept trying to talk me into replacing the whole cooling system.

I asked him to draw me up an estimate and he came back with a ridiculous list of numbers that almost exceeded what I paid for the Rover. Parts would have to come from California and I would be stranded for at least a week. Without all the repairs and replacements, he told me I was unlikely to make it off the lot.

I stood my ground and told him I would take things one step at a time. I wanted him to repair the active leak with a patch and then pressure test the system. If it held, then I’d be fine. If it didn’t then we’d start talking about replacing more parts. He grudgingly agreed to make the patch and test the system for me that day.

Camping at Cottonwood Pass near Buena Vista, CO

Camping at Cottonwood Pass near Buena Vista, CO

Two hours, a short length of hose and $107 in labor later, the Rover passed all the coolant system tests with flying colors and I was once again a free woman, at the wheel of my dream car. It’s now been a month since I bought the Rover and we haven’t had any more hiccups. In my experience, all new travel partners require some adjustments and while the Rover and I do have some trust issues to work on, I’m not going to give up on this particular dream.

The River & the Rattler on the Continental Divide

The Rover & the Rattler on the Continental Divide

So why is a Land Rover my dream car? Because it represents the ultimate in rolling freedom: a Rover, properly dialed, can take me anywhere I want to go. For example, one of the entries on my epic life to do list is: Buy a Land Rover, live in Utah! All those back dirt roads leading to far off trailheads are calling my name.

Where to? Anywhere!

Where to? Anywhere!

The downside to this particular dream, of course, is gas efficiency. So far, I seem to get around 20 miles per gallon towing the Teardrop, down from 25 mpg in the Subaru. My gas budget hasn’t increased so that means driving fewer miles, which is just fine by me anyway. I got the long-haul out of my system last summer, on my journey to Alaska and back.

My goal for this summer was already to spend less time in the car and more time on foot and chilling at sweet free campsites. Instead of moving somewhere new everyday, I’ve been spending several days in one place, then moving a little ways down the road and setting up shop again in another free site. Colorado is so endlessly ripe for exploration, I haven’t felt restless yet!

Journeying into the Wheeler Geologic Area in the La Garita Wilderness

Journeying into the Wheeler Geologic Area in the La Garita Wilderness

Stay tuned for a post on my first successful 4WD adventure in the Rover: a 30-mile rocky, rooty, rutted journey to the Wheeler Geologic Area in the La Garita Wilderness. I’ve been wanting to check this place out for years and last week, thanks to the Rover, I finally made it! No roll starts or coolant triages necessary! I think this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship… 🙂

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
This entry was posted in Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Rover Love!

  1. Congrats!

    I’ve owned my (1999) Discovery for over a year now, and I love it beyond belief. It takes me everywhere, regardless of the season (and I live in Quebec).

    The only downside, really, is that parts are way more expensive in North America than they are in the UK. But since it’s rock solid, it’s not that big a deal.

    Is yours a diesel (I have the V8, I dream of a diesel engine, but they were never imported in Canada)

    Having been following your blog for a while, the only upgrade I’d recommend, in the long run, is potentially the addition of a heavy duty front bumper, to be able to install a good winch (here’s my setup). I did so, and I’ve since then sworn I’d never own a winch-less car ever again! It’s not just to get yourself out of trouble in the trails, if you get a tad adventurous with it, it also comes in quite handy to get other people who also did, as your roam around. There are a lot more use for said winch too (pulling stumps, etc). 🙂

    ps: forest green is the only color Rovers should come in! 😉

  2. jeremymeehan says:

    Well I wish you all the luck with a Land Rover – I also share a fondness for them. However if it breaks your heart like it has so many others – get a 94-97 Toyota Land Cruiser. I think you would be really happy with that too and may prove more reliable and less costly to repair – though it’d further cramp your gas budget. Thanks for your writing – I love to get each update while I sit at my desk =)

  3. Oh, also: be sure to remove the trailer hitch when you’re not actively pulling: it tremendously reduces your “angle of attack” when climbing a hill. The first time I went out with my son, we ended up having to cross a ditch and said hitch plowed in so deep in clay, we had to dig ourselves out free… :p

  4. Jack Stansbury says:

    Yes, I’m sure it will be a beautiful relationship Mary. I’m surprised you got it for so little, with low miles. I think ours had around 170K or so on it when it was totaled. Yes, they do go anywhere and everywhere! I loved the low gear in it too, and used it in WV a number of times and in the snow a lot too. I remember driving through some desolate path near Blackwater Falls in WV and it made it through easily. Watch some of the Rover videos to see how to go over rocks, one wheel at a time. The mileage isn’t so great, but hey, the miles it does are incredible! J You must have so much more room now for “stuff” in the back, and it does hold a lot too. We liked how the back seats were up higher for those in back to see better. And if it ever rolls, it has a great steel frame to protect you. We have a great Rover mechanic here if you ever need one; he used to work at the local Rover place for a long time.

    Jack & Kippi

  5. beachman says:

    Life is good….

  6. Max says:

    Good luck with the Disco, I had 2 from new in the 90’s, three engines and 4 gearboxes, great cars but build quality really let them down. We’ve just driven 2000 miles around Iceland in a Toyota Avensys with 300,000 on the clock, now there’s a car! Great blog.

  7. Danielle says:

    That is so funny! That is my dream car also! I finally got one before my first son was born. A green 96, I could not believe I finally had one and I felt pretty invincible in it. The engine blew a little over a year later though 😦 we had already replaced the transmission and it was just not cost effective to replace the engine so we bought a suburu 🙂 I guess we did the opposite. I still drool over them and miss the invincible feeling I got from driving it. Enjoy your freedom!

  8. As a Subaru owner, I’m sad to see the raven go but I’m all about dreams coming true! Congrats on the new baby!

  9. Andy says:

    The raven and the rattler. Jackdaw likes that.

  10. Donna says:

    I hope your love affair continues, but being a Colorado resident, I have found there is nothing to compare between a Toyota (land cruiser or truck) and the rovers. Too many have broken down, when the Toyota goes forever. Just don’t go too far off the beaten path! There was a Rover stuck up at altitude near me for several years before it could be brought down. Stay safe!

  11. Paul leverenz says:

    My son just bought his 16 yr old daughter a new land rover; I have no details yet as to model, color, etc., but he was thinking primarily of safety. Says he wants to enroll her in an offroading school. Right. Her commute will be to high school & manhattan, ny. Unbelievable, but true . Your survival instincts are awesome. Not only out in the outdoors, but just as importantly in the narly realm of auto mechanics. Decades ago my go, now my wife of 27 plus years, was enroute from I think Colorado to San Diego in her vw beetle when the starter failed at a gas station. A mechanic wanted to swap her a 59 caddy convertible for her bug. She has great survival skills too and called me, skilled in auto mechanics, for advice. I told her to jack up the car on the passenger’s side and contact the positive battery cable with the solenoid on the starter. That worked. She made it back home from somewhere in New Mexico to pacific beach without shutting it off. I replaced the faulty solenoid. We had a hearty laugh about that 59 caddy she almost got suckered into owning. You are so very right to be skeptical of those sketchy mechanics and their faulty diagnosis. Be careful. Start monitoring land rover discussion groups. Good luck.

    • Paul Leverenz says:

      Damnitall. speaking of sketchy things, how is that gmail or some phantom editorial system keeps altering my words? The initialism I used to say girl friend, GF, got switched to GO without my noticing it. Please note this correction. thank you. and if anyone knows how to turn that awful word-changing system off, please advise.

  12. Good luck with the new wheels!!

  13. Sylvia Ramos says:

    My husband wanted me to ask whether you considered a Toyota Land Cruiser? They’re pretty indestructible! He also says that in the US, only only the 6-cylinder gas model is available.

  14. I nearly bought a Rover a few years ago when I was shopping for a new used car, but ended up with a 2001 Jeep Cherokee instead because I heard it’s expensive to repair.

    Next time you hit a big town, find a good, trustworthy mechanic and have him give the Rover a thorough once over. It may be worth your time and money to get parts that look worn to the point of nearly breaking replaced before they, uh, break. Less stressing over figuring out how to get the car to a mechanic when you’re in the boonies.

    You might also be able to save money on parts by hitting a car graveyard to look for LRs and part them out for your LR. Do your research and figure out what years and models use the same parts as yours. My first car was an ancient German car, and that’s how I kept it going the last two years without breaking my meager bank account.

    Your grin is a mile wide. I suspect mine looked like that when I got the Jeep.

  15. Oh and: What did you name the Rover?

    And I second your love for the manual shift. It’s getting harder to find these days.

  16. I’m a big Jeep fan. I’ve been driving them for 30 years, from Wrangler to Commander, and have never been disappointed. That said, your vehicle is impressive. I’ve never even looked at Land Rovers because the prices are so high. It’s a shame the mechanic tried to take advantage of you but you did extremely well in controlling the situation.

  17. Amber says:

    That is where I met you, on top of Cottonwood Pass! I have enjoyed reading your blogs since I’ve returned to the “flatlands” of Illinois. You are an inspiration. Keep on doing what you’re doing girl.

  18. I’ve spent too long on this site on Land Rovers:
    Looking forward to reading more of your adventures

  19. tagnoue says:

    I can’t help but write something about my Land Rover here. I owned 1996’s V8 and sold her after a long maintenance, patch-up and shakedown story. The car took me everywhere. I didn’t need to take care any road condition whenever I didn’t rush. Every time, I made memories behind a story. Just like a life.

  20. Patrick D says:

    Its great to travel…these days I take the train. Great photos! Bert you had a great time…I dig your camper =:o)

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