They came from all parts of the country; each sharing a common love affair with adventure, family, and camaraderie that many believe only a Toyota 4x4 can evoke. From Coast-to-Coast, Texas, to the Northern Border they came. It had never been done in all of the Americas. What started as an informal gathering of a few like-minded Land Cruiser owners in 2015, evolved this year to an unprecedented gathering of over twenty 200 Series Land Cruiser owners in the famous western playgrounds of Moab, Utah and Ouray, Colorado.
Twenty does not sound like a large number, but sightings of late model Land Cruisers are about as rare as seeing a news Rolls-Royce. (Rolls-Royce and Toyota Land Cruiser sales in the U.S. were roughly the same last year). Could it be the stories, the pictures, or perhaps the banter from 2015 that led to this historic gathering? Or was it the fast-growing wanderlust seed planted when many purchase their first Land Cruiser, or when watching an episode of an Overland series on YouTube? What drove a gathering of nearly two million dollars’ worth of metal to congregate at one place?
Cody Golliher, who resides with his family in Fort Collins, CO, is the organizer of the 200 Series gathering. “I attended FJ Summit several times in the very beginning and it was so much fun to see so many people who shared my same interest and passion,” said Golliher. “It ended up growing so big that it filled up quickly and I was unable to attend. I really wanted to keep going to Ouray with other enthusiasts so I decided to see if there was any interest in other 200 Series Land Cruiser owners who would like to go, and the rest is history.”
Travis Wilcox proposed a great idea to the group: “It’s only three hours from Ouray. Let’s also do Moab as a Pre-Run.” And so it was on! The early adventurers arrived in Moab a few days ahead of the larger gathering that would soon convene in Ouray. This group of six set their sights on the legendary slick rock and rugged trails near Moab. Hells Revenge, Fins and Things, and Top of the World trails gave little resistance to the fully equipped 200 Series Land Cruisers while offering amazing views and memories over tightly gripped steering wheels and taut seatbelts. It was a textbook demonstration of the rugged and refined capabilities and features of the latest version of Toyota’s flagship vehicle.
The gods of Moab sought to disrupt the plans to make it to the summit of the Top of the World Trail throwing lightning bolts, rain, and obstacles that had some questioning the destination. Were the imaginary gods on the side of those who believed the 200 Series Land Cruiser was an $85,000+ mall mobile? The people on this adventure knew better. With only a half mile and 500 feet elevation to reach the infamous ledge rock at the summit, the group put safety first and spread out until there was a break in the lightning storm.
Once all was safe and we traversed the rest of the way, the rewards at the summit were majestic views that only the combination of the wet landscape, fog, and the sunlight that illuminated them could have provided. Greg Weik’s Phantom 4 drone was launched, and epic pictures and videos ensued. The next morning, the group set out on a three-hour drive that would put this group in Ouray just as others began arriving from all parts of the country in anticipation of the historic gathering.
It was the afternoon of August 4th in a small park near a picturesque Gazebo in Ouray when history was made. Twenty-one 200 Series Land Cruisers, ranging in years from 2008 to 2016, had gathered in the small town known to be a basecamp for large 4x4 events such as FJ Summit. More than 60 souls convened to get to know each other, share food and drink, share our rig upgrades, and watch our kids blow bubbles and play. “I envisioned a gathering that was intimate where friends were made and families could play. We all have a love for Land Cruisers but I wanted more than just wheeling and a corporate style event,” said Golliher. The gathering was exactly that.
The next three days provided breathtaking trails across the San Juan Mountains including Engineer Pass, Poughkeepsie Gulch, Imogene Pass, and the formidable and feared Black Bear Pass in the rain. For some, it would be the first true test of their stock or modified Land Cruiser. Yes, these are also cushy rides with heated leather seats, 18-speaker sound system and a built-in refrigerated cooler in the console. Don’t let that fool you. The observed smiles said it all—the kind of smile you see when your daughter kicks her first soccer goal or you son puts a ball through the hoop for the first time. These Toyotas really are legendary. They really do defy logic and physics to overcome the obstacles ahead with unsurpassed reliability and safety.
In the lower valley in Ouray, a highlight of the event was the Slee Off-Road- sponsored group gathering for drinks and dinner. Friendships were forged and social media connections were made. The kids spoke of the Pokémon they caught and, with equal excitement, the elk they saw earlier in the day. Golliher has pondered the future for the group. “I really like the idea of destination places each year. I love Ouray but there are so many other great places to visit,” he said. “It’s not just off-roading but seeing new places with your friends and family. It will get more challenging as we grow but we’ll adjust as it happens. I do not envision this ever becoming a big sponsored event, but one that stays true to people and enjoying great company.”
On the last day, the skies cleared to reveal the true beauty of this area. The blue sky, clean mountain air, the small stream crossings, and the majestic mountain views clearly demonstrated why this area is called the “Switzerland of the U.S.A.” That evening, the group gathered once more to break bread, enjoy a home-grown brew, and share stories of the day. Goodbyes, handshakes, and hugs were abundant, but so was the talk at every table … of next year.
Photography by Ken Reiten - Story by Todd Gatewood