Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Tripsor Overcoming Pavement Aversion Syndrome Think back to a time when you were young and innocent—long before you learned it was sinful for an overlander to enjoy driving a paved road. Go back…before roof tents, onboard showers, and moving dots on mapping apps; back to a time where “county highway” could mean anything from divided four-lane to poorly maintained dirt. Remember when you’d pick a direction and let the road carry you away, with little more than your wits and a bag of truck stop munchies to see you through?… Link: Living Overland
NY18A champagne-fueled exploration of fluid dynamics Aside from Halloween, which only matters because it was my first date with Dani, the next most important holiday for me is New Year’s Eve/Day. It’s not because I care about it. In fact, I don’t particularly care about any holidays—most are merely attempts by one religion to snuff out another, or inventions to fuel sales, and seen in this light NYE is the most honest of the lot. Sure there’s the silly tradition of resolutions no one follows, but the date is sold as little more than an excuse to stay up late partying. I challenge you to find me one holiday, birthdays included, that is this honest about it’s history and core nature. The hustle cliché was strong this ‘eve: Sunday night, and both of us scheduled with projects for the first day, the first Monday, of the new year. I love that. This was the last sunset of 2017, and our forecast clear-and-calm had been swallowed up by overcast gloom. Not dissuaded by a little weather we made the three-hour round trip to the viewpoint anyhow, determined to improvise and make it work. Epic skies greeted our arrival, the sun popping through between layers of clouds and setting them aflame for a show of colors far better than any bluebird day could have offered. The makings of my perfect New Year’s Eve? Two bottles of bubbly, a thrift-store flute, a second-hand outfit, some cheap sunglasses, a cliffside viewpoint with storybook sunset to match, and a pretty redhead. These were all shot on a Canon 80D with my back-in-action Canon 50mm f1.4 lens (the nifty fifty), a proper high-speed-sync strobe (I’m so done with speedlites), and the laser-assist auto focus from the strobe’s transmitter. Aperture bounced between f2.8 and f4, ISO100, shutter floating around 1/1000th, with the single AD200 strobe set from 1/4th to 1/8th power and a small dish reflector/diffuser. There’s a few shots from the new-to-me Polaroid 600 as well, but those are for another time… Happy New Year! Yes, “year.” Not “years” and most definitely not “year’s.” You only get one new year at a time, and you should never let it own you.…
The End of SummerAdventures 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……
Bulldust & Bad MapsRoutefinding for Hema Maps on El Camino del Diablo It was a questionable decision, running the Arizona border along Mexico in an antiquated truck with no support vehicle. A brand-new suspension had been fitted, and an extra 300 pounds of fatman-and-iron packed into the passenger side, but our little Hema Maps BJ-74 Land Cruiser stubbornly insisted on holding it’s five-degree lean to the driver’s side. The air conditioner sputters, laughs at us, then blasts hot air into the cabin. Chris and I roll down from the cool air of central Arizona’s highlands with the windows wide open. The adventure begins in the middle of Phoenix—a route declared “quickest” by Siri insists we exit the interstate in the ghetto, then brave three miles of surface streets to reach the BLM Field Office. A permit is required to traverse El Camino del Diablo. To obtain the permit, one must show up in person. From the eighth floor of a downtown high-rise a video drones on about not touching bombs, and the dangers of remote desert travel. Curiously efficient window architecture on the tower across the street prevents the summer sun from baking through the glass. My thoughts are interrupted by a disinterested federal rep as he hands over several pages of forms. I read through, then sign away any and all rights to sue the government if I’m kidnapped, injured, lasered, exploded, or a Predator drone falls from the sky and crashes onto the truck. With our lives signed away we flee the city, classic rock blaring from a set of phone-powered portable speakers as Highway 85 leads us south through an unseasonably green Sonoran. The desert heat is more humid than expected, but the freedom of this forsaken two-lane makes the journey worthwhile…even in our little tin oven. Ajo. We giggle at the potential pronunciations of the town’s name until the square rolls into view. It’s worth at least a short stop. The old Spanish architecture of covered walkways connects a derelict train depot with a converted mission, all surrounding a central park that’s in desperate need of a little rain. Dueling cameras round the plaza snapping away with abandon before we’re back in the truck. Tempting as the little café looks it’s not on the agenda—there’s a long drive ahead, and we have an unfortunately tight schedule to keep. The beauty of wide-open desert is broken by a single ominous sign at the intersection of two dirt roads, this must be the track. I hop out for a closer shot when the stillness is suddenly interrupted…
Destinations: Poncho HouseA side hike into ancient history with the Diné. The unmolested desert stretched out before us without so much as a bent branch or dimpled dune to hint at the correct course. We’d only been making our way through the sand and shrubs for an hour, but the silence and isolation made it feel like days. A combination of dead reckoning and a flashing dot on the GPS were keeping us close to the old two-track trail, which had been wiped clear by last winter’s brutal storms. Finally a landmark, the southernmost point of Tséyík’áán (Comb Ridge) jutting up on the horizon. Moving map technology is neat…when it works. Cautiously we made our way down the cliffs, breaking ground on a new trail to reach the valley floor through the most stable looking notch. At the bottom an old corral clearly marks the start of the foot trail, and off we set for the mile-plus hike up Chinle Creek. As we approached a bend in the canyon I looked up, and looming overhead, a massive citadel clinging to an alcove in the cliff wall. Planning a tour of Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii (Monument Valley) or Tséyi’ (Canyon de Chelly)? Ask your guide to include a stop off the beaten path to explore this must-visit destination. Information on (mandatory) guide services in reservation lands can be found at discovernavajo.com. Originally licensed to American Adventurist for publishing on May 11th, 2016.…
Relics: The Richardson HomesteadIt’s amazing what you can find just off the highway. Highways have been standardized to keep the flow of traffic moving swiftly and smoothly onward. White lines flash by in time with the gentle hum of the motor, yellow lines keep you subconsciously floating down the right side of the tarmac, and the repetitive consistency brings on a state of semi-hypnosis. Most of the time the system works, commuters arrive safely, and travelers continue on oblivious to the treasures that might be hidden over the edge of the manicured medians. Over one such edge, on the eastbound side of Arizona Highway 68 as it winds through Union Pass, rests a crumbling gravel ramp. At the end of that ramp stands a nondescript ADOT gate—standard issue, except that this gate is unlocked, and what’s left of the road beyond is open to the public. At the bottom of the hill lies the abandoned Old Kingman Highway, and not far beyond that the ruins of an unnamed town homesteaded by Jonathan Draper Richardson and his family. Originally licensed to American Adventurist for publishing on May 11th, 2016.…
Four Corners, Four DaysWhen they offer to pay wandering fuel, take the job. It amazes me the lengths a person will go for that extra mile-per-hour. Even more surprising is how long it takes some folks to figure out that I’m going slower than they are, and maybe just maybe they should use that wide-open passing lane to, you know, pass… Mile twelve-hundred-and-eleventy-something of my new employ with Ye Olde Overland Shipping Company. No sooner do I get one trailer disconnected and another is hooked up—when Adventure Trailers offers to cover your fuel for a long weekend of wandering, if you can get a trailer to Durango by morning, it’s tough to say no. It’s nearly 8pm, and the lingering summer sun is closer than it appears. In spite of the tailgating, slow-to-pass speed demons, I’ve safely traversed Navajo territory with a nicely apportioned Horizon trailer silently in tow. The glow of Farmington, New Mexico is dead ahead. It’s midnight. I have Motel 6. I’m going to bed. Running late. Arriving early. The drive time into Colorado is a lot shorter than I imagined. The trailer delivery went off without a hitch (sorry, couldn’t resist). Mission accomplished, now it’s time to satisfy that wanderlust. That all too familiar Land Rover “ding” fills the cabin as I’m rounding the tight curves of the Million Dollar Highway somewhere above Silverton, and I glance down to find my speed reading zero. Speed pops up on a digital readout, intermittently, after a few button presses on the ScanGauge—much more helpful than an orange “check engine” light and a dead gauge. A check of the error code shows a wheel speed sensor is on the fritz, the Discovery is just old enough to not care so I press onward. It’s interesting how the things we stop and see or choose to skip can change when traveling solo. Without my wife’s love of old-fashioned trains and small towns to keep me company, Silverton just doesn’t have the same hold. After a brief lunch and an Americano in hand I’m anxious to hit the road. Ophir Pass appears quickly out of Silverton, and I’m reminded of that cliff-side gnome village spotted during the only other visit I’ve made to the San Juans. I’ve never been over 10,000 feet, at least not for any length of time. Slowly up the winding road toward the pass, ever cautious for signs of acute mountain sickness. Instead of the anticipated headache and dizziness the low pressure of altitude clears my sinuses more quickly than any pill ever could. Spectacular vistas swing…
Overland Expo 2015The 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…
Running the RimFour 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,…
Utah: Sand and MudSometimes 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…
Harquahala 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…
Return to Swansea 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,…
Prescott to Death Valley 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.…
Cherum Peak 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.…