Adventures in our own backyard – It’s been a busy season. A very wet winter meant the summer monsoons fell on an already saturated earth. I’m certainly grateful all this water spared from the massive fires blazing all over the west, but it also brought additional repairs and chores to get ready for the next winter, and left little time for anything else. Not one to be outdone by a little water—and enjoying her role of teasing and taunting until she gets my attention a little too much—Dani pushed for us to go out and shoot around town whenever we had a free hour. The abundance of water this year gifted Prescott with full lakes, green mountains, and flowing creeks. It’s the first time we really explored what this area has to offer; six years we’ve lived here but we always seem to be chasing the horizon. Lesson learned: there’s opportunity to explore just about anywhere, if you only look for it…… The End of Summer
The new and the interesting at this year's Snoverland Expo – The chaos which ensued in the weeks leading up to OX15 should have been a hint. I wrote chaos as if it was a bad thing…often times it isn’t, and this particular chaos was the good kind. The out with old-and-busted, in with new hotness, perseverance and persistence overcoming, new alliances and last-minute salvation kind of chaos. The weather that followed us to the show was much of the same: wind, rain, snow, sleet, and the endlessly deep slurry left behind when all of the above happens on a dry lakebed. I’m making Overland Expo 2015 sound miserable, when it was quite the opposite. The beauty of a trade show put on by a group of self-reliant world travelers for a group of self-reliant world travelers is that the principles of adapt and overcome are second nature. Exhibitors braced against the cold and wet with fire and awnings; attendees strapped on the mud gear, grabbed a hot beverage, and slugged on through the muck; when the heavyweight campers bogged there was no shortage of torque and strap to free them. The fellow adventurists that weathered out the storm and stuck it out through the aftermath made the show —in four years of going to Overland Expo, this was the best one I’ve attended. Plus, there was bacon. This year American Adventurist stepped up when our campsite was canceled mere days before the event. Their answer to my panicked “Dude, can I crash on your couch?” was to place the Discovery as a featured vehicle in the booth. What a welcome change in pace to hang with a group of such chill-yet-prepared folks and make new friends. Humbled by their generosity, I prepared a little something special for the show (first photo). As the Friday winds started to die down the snow rolled in, nothing overwhelming, just that perfect light dusting that makes everything with a light seem magical (especially the Rigid Industries beacon). I never saw the six inches of snow I was promised, but we did wake to a beautifully crisp Saturday sunrise. I love a good saloon, and thankfully Mormon Lake Lodge keeps theirs well stocked and at the perfect temperature—a welcome respite when the weather turns too cold (or too hot). Enough about the weather, on to the adventure vehicles. The usual suspects returned this year, but there were a few standouts: more classics, more motos, more trailers, and more fatbikes. Rocky… Overland Expo 2015
Four days of wandering along the Mogollon Rim and eastern Arizona’s Coronado Trail. – Winding through dense forest for 120 miles atop the most prominent section of the Mogollon Rim, the Rim Road (FR300) crosses the eastern half of Arizona from north of Payson to Apache country at the White Mountains. With a maze of roads twisting through the pines on top of the rim FR300 is a little tricky to follow on a map, but it’s fairly easy to stay with it on the ground. A few miles of pleasant driving through the trees reveal little, until the road reaches the edge of a 2,000-foot cliff as it turns sharply east. Starting out on a Tuesday, we’re able to explore in solitude and our focus stays with the scenery for much of the drive along the smooth surface of the Rim Road. In the entire length of FR300 between Highway 87 and 260 the face of the Rim is breached only once, where the Arizona Trail climbs to the top of the rim at Big Dry Wash. Good camping and lunch spots dot the sides of the road, some in the cool shade of dense pines, others with wide-open panoramic views of the lowlands to the south. In dry weather most of the Rim Road and historic locales are accessible by a 2WD vehicle with good ground clearance. The most scenic and secluded of the campsites on the Rim are hidden down the many side roads, but be warned: most degrade to rutted, rock-strewn trails shortly after leaving the main road. Lakes, ponds, and streams litter the countryside and support a variety of wildlife including deer, elk, mountain lion, and black bear. Camping is not allowed on the shorelines of most vehicle-accessible lakes in the area, but we had other plans… One of the many rutted, rocky and overgrown side roads designated FR764 leads south not far from Bear Canyon Lake. With a little patience and perseverance, the trail leads out from the Mogollon Rim to the edge of a 7,800-foot high mesa known as Promontory Butte. There, a small fire ring overlooks Christopher Creek and Highway 260 some 2,000 feet below. The road continues on for another 60-65 miles as the valley below gains elevation and the Mogollon Rim slowly disappears from sight outside the town of Pinetop, where the Rim Road rejoins Highway 260. Our route continues east, the pines giving way to groves of aspen, high plains, and blue lakes below the 11,421-foot peak of Dził Łigai (Mt. Baldy). Knowing sunset was just minutes away,… Running the Rim
Sometimes it’s best to put away the maps and just wander. – There are few places in the world quite as spectacular as southeastern Utah. Pinnacles of stone tower over a parched red desert floor, dusty backroads wind thousands of feet up narrow switchbacks precariously cut from vertical rock walls, and aspen forests reach for 11,000-foot snow-capped peaks. Late spring is my favorite time of year, when the summer thunderstorms are just getting started but the roads are still dry enough to be passable. With a canoe on the roof and a prototype trailer to test out we wandered north from Overland Expo in search of that picture-perfect mountain lake. As the first decent camp beyond the Navajo Nation, Valley of the Gods has become a kind of obligatory tradition when traveling north from eastern Arizona. That’s not to say it isn’t worth a visit—it’s only slightly less impressive to behold than Monument Valley, a campsite and campfire are practically guaranteed, and it’s absolutely free. Our first night’s camp greeted us with fierce wind-driven sand that blew well into the evening, but our spirits would not be diminished. As we huddled inside the massive canopy of the Kakadu tent sipping Corona and waiting for the storm to pass, the only smart member of our expedition mocked us from his clean, comfortable lair. Eventually the wind subsided and we settled into a fire-lit evening of tall tales and tall plans for the following day. I awoke to the smell of bacon and poked my head out into a calm, overcast morning to see if the scent was a lingering dream—it wasn’t. Adding to the delightful smell, bits of left-over filet mignon from the previous night’s dinner were joining the bacon, along with eggs, veggies, cheese and hot sauce. Minutes later, the Bacon Filet Mignon Breakfast Burrito was born. Departing from our mile-high camp we climbed higher up the Moki Dugway continuing our search for the perfect lake. Pulling in to the tiny Mormon settlement of Fruita we made a quick stop to top off our water tanks, and grab a bite for lunch… and pie. Ignoring the signs warning us of road closures and impending doom, we turned south to follow Pleasant Creek in hopes of winding our way up the massive form of Boulder Mountain in the distance. The first water crossing was little more than a trickle and a fun off-camber exit this time of year—while Google Maps will send you over Lippincott Pass in a Camry without a second thought, the slightest hint of water is enough to… Utah: Sand and Mud
Mornings in Swansea can be deceptively cool. The placement of this ghost town up against the north side of a northwest-to-southeast mountain range results in four extra hours of shade on the ground each evening. It can be 60°F at sunrise, and reach 90°F by 09:00. Despite experiencing this first hand on my last visit, we set off into the mountains on foot in search of mines. Wild burros thrive in the Mojave. The great thing about wild burros is their habit of pounding smooth trails into the ground they walk. The bad thing about wild burros is they have little desire to pound those trails up the mountains and to the mines as their domesticated ancestors once did. The old mining road faded to burro trail just outside of town, and the burro trail altered course about half-way up the mountain in favor of a water pocket in the nearby wash. Resorting to cross-country travel and bouldering we reached the summit with no sign of the mines seen from town, but the view was worth the climb. Railroad Canyon, our exit path, was a fun little diversion of high-speed wash running and smooth desert road—the “more difficult” rating only applies to a few yards on the Swansea end. After winding our way through dunes and cactus fields to Midway we said our farewells and parted ways. My course: east across the Arizona desert. Bouse The sunburnt town of Bouse is what those crumbling ruins along every desolate desert highway might be if their long-buried citizens remained. Not dead, but not quite alive either—a fate all too common on highways like U.S. 60, which continue to exist merely as service corridors for the railroads and shortcuts to cities deemed unworthy of an interstate. I’ve passed this way many times, but never stopped before. As a twenty-year-old Lincoln pulls up easy to the general store across the street I watch in anticipation, waiting for our antihero to retreat, guns blazing, and speed us off on three hours of Tarantino-style action. Such is the feel of a hot summer day in Bouse. The Climb The road up to the abandoned Harquahala observatory starts out innocently enough, with cactus and ocotillo covered hills closing in on a narrow, winding canyon. Those hills and canyons obscure the climb to come, leaving one to think the long steep hill at the end of the canyon… Harquahala
Something I love about living in Prescott—it takes forever to get anywhere. All of the interstates are over 40 miles away, and you reach them right smack in the middle of nowhere. A road trip to any destination involves a long drive on twisty two-lane roads through a harsh beauty only northern Arizona can offer. In taking the time to slow down and enjoy life’s little distractions, I’ve come to appreciate this remoteness—even when I’m in a hurry. I was in a hurry this morning. The sun had risen without bothering to ask me first, and left me with only four hours to reach Lake Havasu City. Another interesting footnote on the geography surrounding Prescott: there is no straight line connecting anything. This is true for both navigation within the town, and when outbound. Havasu is only 100 miles away, but the quickest route involves over 200 miles of road. Fortunately, speed limits out here reach a generous 75 MPH. My second closest friend (the closest being my wife, Danielle) asked me to be his best man next weekend, and this is the last opportunity to get him out for the obligatory bachelor party. For this particular friend the ideal bachelor “party” has little to do with strippers, and everything to do with the desert’s solitude and the company of a good friend. Our destination: Swansea, a small town of only a few hundred thousand… cactus. About half way between Lake Havasu and Alamo Lake along the Bill Williams River, the ghost town has a similar geographic isolation to Prescott, but with an additional 20 miles of dirt protecting it from the nearest tarmac. The most scenic route along-and-through the river has unfortunately been closed off by the BLM, another victim in their undeclared war against free access to Arizona’s backcountry. That leaves Shea Road out of Parker, Swansea / Lincoln Ranch Road out of Bouse, and Alamo Road out of Yucca as the only ways to reach the ghost town, any of which can be combined into a worthwhile loop. Using the Shea Road approach, we reached our camp in the center of town at 3 in the afternoon, plenty of time to set up camp and explore. Our exploration took us along the old water pipe that once fed Swansea, and down to the Bill Williams River. There’s always something new to see when I visit the Mojave,… Return to Swansea
My first “assignment” in my new position with the Journal is to move a Bigfoot up to San Francisco. A Bigfoot is a well-insulated, 3,000-pound “cabin” that sits in the back of a pickup truck, in this case a GMC 2500 Diesel. It needs to be there by the morning of June 3rd. Dani has joined me on this 1,200-mile test drive so we can evaluate the pros and cons of an “overlander” this large, though we will be sticking to tarmac for the most part. The plan is to retrace part of a trip we did back in June of 2000, and hit a few of the little places we missed last time—like Bodie and Yosemite. For sentimental reasons (and a luggage-free return flight) we’ve left most of our gear behind, and will figure the route out as we go using a paper map and our open eyes. We pulled out of Prescott far later than planned this morning afternoon, but we had already decided to skip the Route 66 part of the trip since we live right next to it. The campsites I picked out on Lake Mead and the Colorado didn’t look too appealing either so we pushed onward into the sunset. The first “pro” we’ve noticed with the Bigfoot is that no matter where we are, all we have to do is pull off the road and open the door—the kitchen, dining room and bathroom are always ready to use. After a quick bite to eat in the foothills northwest of Las Vegas, we made for the eastern border of Death Valley and an abandoned RV park I had only read about. What it lacks in shoreline, it more than makes up for in eerie silence and desolate beauty.… Prescott to Death Valley
Here’s a few photos from our hike up to Cherum Peak in the Cerbat Mountains earlier this month. The Cerbats aren’t terrifically tall, but they do best most of the surrounding mountains by a thousand feet. Cherum Peak rises to just under 7,000 feet, high enough to see over Nevada into California and enjoy panoramic views in every direction. The first 3,000 feet of climbing is done via Big Wash Road, a surprisingly well graded dirt road that would be an absolute blast in a rally car. Most passenger cars can make it up the mountain just fine with a careful driver at the wheel. The hike itself is about 5 miles round trip and not all that difficult, though it can get still and hot on the east slope during the first part of the ascent. Fortunately, there is a nice shady spot to stop and rest just off the trail once you crest the ridge. The rest of the way up there is plenty of shade and a nice breeze. The mountainside is littered with abandoned mines, most very near the trail, and many well hidden. Shortly after passing a rock sundial, the trail merges with a road that comes up from Hualapai Valley. Right about this time we found ourselves under a storm of birds dancing overhead—I can only guess it was mating season… The trail branches off from the road again after a few hundred yards and begins the final climb up rocky switchbacks to the summit. This last segment is where the best of the scenery comes into view, ending with an unobstructed 360° view from the peak which extends for miles. A little scrambling is required to reach the top, where a crow’s nest of rock has been built around the benchmarks. There’s even a recliner built into one wall for an afternoon nap.… Cherum Peak
It’s been a few months since I wrote an “on the road” entry. That’s the downside (and upside) to rural living: you can do a 100+ mile trek through the wilderness and be home for dinner, but you get far less of that long white line to ponder life. Yes, I actually enjoy those long highway hours… Today I find myself climbing up the hill to the North American overlanding Mecca: Prescott, Arizona. It’s funny, when we started marketing Enfluence a few weeks ago, my friend Drawk asked me “If you could do anything, what would it be?” My answer was travel, exploration, and adventure (preferably via Land Rover over dirt roads). While I enjoy design and production very much, it has always felt like a means to an end. So naturally when asked if I would be interested in doing what I do for Overland Journal I jumped at the opportunity. Doing work I enjoy, on a product that’s right at the core of my own interests? It’s bi-winning. Taking that opportunity means leaving our rural lifestyle for the big-little town of Prescott, but I count that in the “plus” column. As much as I love the quiet isolation out here, I’ve missed having an open downtown we can enjoy. It’s pretty clear Danielle feels the same way.… Mixing Business with Pleasure
I should be used to this by now. After all, the past 3 years have been exactly the same. In 2008 they claimed it was a “freak occurance”, in 2009 they pondered the odds, in 2010 “a record breaking storm”, and this year they finally admit that “weather extremes” are the new norm. Snow, in the Mojave, in April? Sweet! The forecast called for a warm and sunny afternoon. Knowing this last snow of the season wouldn’t stay long I grabbed some munchies, scraped the ice off the windows, and headed out to explore the Cerbats. My first stop was the Chloride general store in search of a refill for my now cold coffee—no joy. “Sarsaparilla?” The shopkeeper looks at me with confusion. I settle for a Weinhard’s root beer and wonder to myself if the previous owner is enjoying his retirement. Soda in hand I wander the streets of the old mining town, snapping photos of snow-covered relics and watching the sun come out. From Chloride I pushed east in search of some landmark called “The Mural.” Just outside of town the first in a series of prominent markers led the way. The location of The Mural on this route couldn’t be better: just before the first obstacle on the trail leading up the mountain, and right in front of the perfect air-down spot. I spent the next few minutes checking out how the artwork changes from different angles before a fellow traveler pulled up. He was once a prospector out here, and after a brief conversation I learn that the original Mural is still intact nearby—a mosaic of the old town made up from the glass of broken bottles. I’ll have to come back after the snow has melted and look for it. With the sway bar disconnected and the tires aired down I continued east, climbing quickly over the ice-covered boulders. I didn’t make it very far. At the first switchback the sound of rushing water overpowered the purring of the engine, and I spent the next two hours getting to know the full potential of the Canon S95. I left the waterfall and crested the next ridge, only to be met by a wall of dark clouds and snow. Time and weather had once again lined up perfectly, and the hours spent at the waterfall were just long enough for the last remnant of the snowstorm to… Cerbat Mountains
Dani and I headed out today to pick up where I left off in my exploration of the Warm Springs Wilderness area. Once again, things did not go as expected. What looked to be a short day trip around Black Mesa turned into several longer jaunts into the interior. Wilderness often means a very different thing here in Arizona than I’m used to: instead of locked gates and big red signs standing guard over the perimeter, we were greeted by friendly brown signs reminding us to stay on existing roads when driving inside the wilderness area. Wait, driving inside? We stopped off at the old corral again so I could spend some time re-shooting the same subject, and better learn how the filters work with the camera. The tank was now half-filled with water, courtesy of a tap that had been left running. The morning sun revealed a water line headed up the hill I hadn’t seen before, no doubt this is where my creek had disappeared. I’m guessing it’s almost time to round-up the cattle, which hopefully means we’ll be seeing filet mignon at the butcher soon (deep-frozen Omaha just doesn’t compare with straight-off-the-cow fresh). A larger pack of burros was out enjoying the morning too, and they were feisty. In the picture below they aren’t running from us, but playing. They were so busy running in circles kicking and shoving each other they scarcely took notice of our presence. Swinging through the town of Yucca we crossed the tracks and headed up Sacramento Wash to find a road leading into the wilderness that I spotted several months back. This is where the power of the “period” comes in: one little dot. It is the difference between a 1.5 mile stroll and a 15 mile hike. We were after the latter, and all trace of the little dot had long ago vanished from the ancient sign. Within minutes we arrived at Caliche Spring—little more than a big metal pipe sticking out of the ground. It does have a great view of the valley, a quaint little campsite, and the decaying ruins of another large corral. Rather than cross the tracks and hop on the interstate, we opted to continue down the rail service road and around the eastern edge of the wilderness. Along the way we passed several mine sites, but none were accessible by vehicle, and none looked… Warm Springs Wilderness