Instructor Spotlight: Taylor Morton

Photo By: Taylor Morton

Taylor Morton is one of Overland Expo’s youngest instructors in the general education area, but it doesn’t mean his classes won’t fill a room and leave some of the most impressive overlanders in our community transfixed by his teaching approach. And that is exactly what he did at his first event with Overland Expo in Flagstaff in 2022, so we’re looking forward to his debut at Mountain West 2023! 

Photo by Taylor Morton

Taylor is a native of Sacramento, California, and is an intrepid individual who grew up immersed in outdoor adventures such as camping, hiking, and fishing in Eldorado National Forest. His passion for exploration and tackling problems led him to pursue an engineering degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he became fascinated with the hundreds of former mining settlements throughout the state. 

With a passion for history, he embarked on researching, mapping, and exploring these forgotten places scattered across Nevada. Taylor’s dedication to uncovering the stories of these forgotten communities led him to undertake arduous journeys, requiring modifying his vehicle to traverse rugged terrains, stay in remote areas for extended periods, and reach otherwise inaccessible destinations. Armed with as little as original map coordinates from historical sources, Taylor charted and traveled to what remained of these once bustling settlements. 

READ MORE: Gear Showcase: July

After completing his studies, Taylor found himself in Phoenix, Arizona, working as a Research Engineer for PING in the golf equipment industry. Despite his professional success, his adventurous spirit persists, and he continues to embark on expeditions exploring local sites in his free time. Taylor applies his daytime job of designing and developing innovative golf equipment and technologies, utilizing research, new materials, and analytical data to enhance the performance and functionality of his overland vehicles. Through his engineering skills and love for the outdoors, Taylor Morton continues to push boundaries, hoping to leave a positive impact on the environment and the outdoor community. 

During Overland Expo Mountain West, we strongly encourage attendees to check out Taylor’s classes: “Tackling OH S**T Situations: Engineering Your Recovery 2.0” and “Snap, Crackle, Crunch: What Materials Matter.” To learn more about Taylor, continue reading below: 

Tell us about your rig: 

I started my overland journey with a 1996 Toyota 4Runner that was inherited from my family. Initially, I wasn’t interested in off-roading, as my childhood was filled with backpacking and hiking adventures. However, that changed when I discovered a passion for overlanding and the access it provided. I began modifying the 4Runner to suit my new interest. 

Photo by Taylor Morton

To enhance its capabilities, I added a Prinsu roof rack, Tuff Stuff hard shell tent, Sway-a-Way coil-overs, uni-ball upper control arms, and a custom-built drawer system and cargo management system. The plan was to continue adding accessories, but I encountered a significant challenge—weight. Despite the upgraded suspension, the weight of the modifications started dragging down the 4Runner’s performance. 

The increased weight impacted not only the vehicle’s capabilities but also its fuel economy and range. On highways, I was getting around 13 mpg, and off-road, it was even lower. Recognizing these limitations, I decided to explore other options that could better meet my needs. 

After careful consideration, I settled on a 1996 Land Rover Defender 110 300tdi in early 2023. This vehicle provided a drastic upgrade in terms of Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and fuel efficiency. With the Land Rover, I could achieve 28 mpg on the highway—an impressive improvement. 

However, like many older British vehicles, the Defender was not in the best mechanical shape. To ensure its reliability, I embarked on a painstaking journey of replacing almost every engine, transmission, and transfer case seal. Additionally, I performed weld repairs and, restored the bulkhead, seat box, and fully replaced every floor panel. Rewiring was necessary, and I also installed a diesel auxiliary heater. Every short project rapidly turned into a painstaking restoration of said component. 

Photo by Taylor Morton

With the base vehicle now finally in good shape, I’m eagerly moving towards the next phase—a one-of-a-kind camper build-out. This project has been incredibly challenging thus far, requiring a high level of dedication and perseverance. However, the process of transforming the Land Rover Defender into a unique camper perfectly suited for my overland adventures makes every hurdle worthwhile. 

The transition from the Toyota 4Runner to the Land Rover Defender 110 300tdi reflects a shift in vehicle choice driven by the need for enhanced capabilities and better fuel efficiency. While the modifications made to the 4Runner showcased my passion for customization, the limitations in weight and fuel economy led me to explore other options. The Land Rover Defender offers improved performance, a higher GVWR, and better mileage, albeit with the initial need for extensive mechanical work. The ongoing camper build-out on the Defender is a testament to my commitment to creating a truly remarkable overland vehicle. 

What is your all-time favorite campsite? 

Located in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, Soldier’s Meadows Hot Springs stands as my favorite campsite, a true hidden gem awaiting discovery. Nestled away from the bustling crowds, this haven unveils its true amazement when visited outside the chaotic timeframe of the Burning Man Festival. 

As you explore the trails meandering through this picturesque landscape, you’ll trace the footsteps of history along the original Oregon Trail. Plaques and markers dot the terrain, adorned with poignant journal excerpts from pioneers who once braved the unforgiving conditions in their sturdy wagons. It’s a humbling experience realizing the resilience and determination that propelled these pioneers across such harsh landscapes. 

Among the wonders, there are the dazzling opals hidden within the streams and rocks. But the real showstoppers are the antelope, whose graceful presence graces the hillsides in breathtaking numbers. Watching these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat is a sight that will remain etched in my memory forever. And let’s not forget the pièce de résistance—the hot springs. Few campgrounds have the natural soothing embrace of warm, mineral-rich waters far away from crowds of people. 

Photo by Taylor Morton

However, be mindful of the wind that howls through the valley. Though it lends an untamed, raw charm to the place, it can also be a formidable force that tests the sturdiness of your gear. Ensure your tent is sturdy enough to withstand its gusts, for I have personally witnessed it claim the demise of many ill-prepared structures. 

In summary, Soldier’s Meadows Hot Springs in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada is an idyllic camping destination that captures the essence of serenity and adventure. Discovering the remnants of the Oregon Trail, unearthing opals, witnessing the graceful antelope, and surrendering to the embrace of the hot springs are all part of the remarkable experience that exists there. Just remember to choose your timing wisely, avoiding the bustling crowds of the Burning Man Festival, and prepare for the potential challenges of the winds that sweep through the valley. 

READ MORE: ‘Why We Roam’ Season 3 Episode 3 Featuring Delia and Enoch

What’s your go-to overlanding meal? 

My favorite overlanding meal is Shakshouka. It is a dish originating from Tunisia but eaten throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and consists of eggs poached in a delicious tomato base. If you haven’t had it before, I understand being initially intimidated. However, Shakshouka is particularly well-suited for breakfast when overlanding. 

It is a one-pot recipe, which is ideal for camp meals as it minimizes the need for dishwashing. Most of the ingredients used in Shakshouka are canned or spices, making it convenient for overlanding trips. The recipe can be easily scaled up or down depending on the number of people you are serving. You have the option to make it beforehand and reheat it or prepare it from scratch. Shakshouka is delicious when served with bread, flatbreads, or simply in bowls. I find myself making and eating Shakshouka on almost every overlanding trip. 

What is your best silver-lining story?

My best silver-lining story began when my trusty 4Runner was sidelined, patiently awaiting some much-needed suspension parts. Just when I thought I would miss out on the excitement, fate intervened with a late invitation. My brother and a friend had discovered a new off-road trail and urged me to join them. With my vehicle temporarily out of commission, I reluctantly agreed to ride along. 

We embarked on this uncharted trail, unsure of its duration. Although most of the snow had melted, our previous experiences taught us to be cautious. Mud, snow, and ice could quickly impede our progress. Anticipating the possibility of an extended adventure, we packed ample supplies, uncertain if we would even spend the night out on the trail. 

Now, to truly appreciate this story, you need to know a bit about Nick, the driver. Like me, Nick was an engineer, but our approaches to life couldn’t be more different. While I favored caution and meticulous planning, Nick was bold and fearless. He drove a robust 2012 Tacoma, which had proven the legendary Toyota reliability time and again. Nick was always the first to tackle any obstacle head-on. 

Returning to our trail tale, this particular route branched off from a well-traveled path. As we veered away from the main trail, the conditions rapidly deteriorated. The path became soaked and heavily overgrown. Eventually, we found ourselves winding through a meadow, where a portion of the trail had been washed out. The dense foliage concealed any clues about the severity of the situation. 

With this crucial information hidden, Nick opted for a strategy of power and speed, aiming to bounce his way through the treacherous washed-out section. The Tacoma bounced and slid precariously, with its right-side tires teetering on the edge of the trail. As we disembarked from the vehicle, the grim reality set in—the trail was at least six feet above the meadow floor on the right-hand side. The Tacoma stood perilously close to toppling over. 

Photo by Taylor Morton

Our first day on the trail was consumed by shoveling, desperately attempting to level the vehicle. Despite our efforts, no amount of traction boards or dirt could free the stubborn Tacoma from its predicament. To make matters worse, the weather took a turn for the worse, causing the truck to sink even deeper into the mire. Cut off from cell reception, our next course of action was to climb the nearby mountain peak, hoping to regain a signal and seek help. 

That night, several friends’ vehicles valiantly tried to climb the trail and rescue us. Alas, each attempt proved futile. Desperate for aid, we posted our GPS coordinates in local 4WD Facebook groups and even ventured back to the main trail, desperately waving down any capable vehicle that could assist in removing the trapped Tacoma. Miraculously, fate smiled upon us as we stumbled upon a friend of a friend—an individual with an impressively built LJ rig. Hours of arduous digging, cable running, and bush-cutting ensued, ultimately resulting in the salvation of the Tacoma in the late hours of the second day. 

While our pride had taken a hit, there was no physical damage to any vehicle, and we had never been in imminent danger. We had prepared accordingly and endured a stressful but ultimately safe night. I once heard fun categorized into three types: Type 1, enjoyable both in the moment and in retrospect; Type 2, not enjoyable in the moment, but becomes fun when looking back; and Type 3, not enjoyable at any point, past or present. If we were to apply this scale, I would say this adventure epitomized the epitome of Type 2 fun—the kind that tests your mettle, pushes your limits, and leaves you with unforgettable memories once the dust settles. 

What is an area of overland travel that you think you have nailed? And what is an area of overland travel that you feel you could use some improvement in? 

It seems like I have really excelled in the building and preparation aspect of overlanding. My commitment to designing, building, and fabricating my vehicle with careful consideration and attention to detail is remarkably different than when I began so many years ago. My focus on weight distribution, wiring diagrams, and the use of proper specifications for fasteners and coatings shows that I have learned to prioritize reliability and longevity in my overland setup. 

However, I also will mention that I miss the more spontaneous and adventurous nature of the weekend warrior aspect of overlanding that I used to enjoy in college. It’s understandable that as I’ve grown and refined my approach to overlanding, it may have shifted towards more extensive and longer trips. But I feel the need to reconnect with the smaller overnight trips and day trips that offer a different kind of experience. 

Finding a balance between quantity and quality in my overland adventures is important. While I’ve focused on the quality of my vehicle build and preparation, it’s worth considering incorporating more frequent, shorter trips into my overlanding routine. These smaller adventures can provide opportunities for exploration, testing new gear, and simply enjoying the outdoors without the pressure of always striving for bigger and better trips. 

Don’t miss out on Taylor’s session and the hundreds of other great educational opportunities at Overland Expo Mountain West!

Photo by Brett Willhelm

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