Year: 2009

Keep Your Guard Up!

One thing that I see over and over again in the four-wheeling world are mishaps where no one expected it. We get through a nasty obstacle, breathe a sigh of relief, then get stuck on small rock we didn't even notice. Or we spend all day on a grueling 4x4 trail, get through without a scratch, then on the way home, slide off of the gravel road into tree.

The common thread? We let our guard down after the "perceived threat" is past. The solution? Don't take anything for granted--keep your guard up until everyone is safely home on the couch.

A few recent examples:

This Jeep was damaged just AFTER successfully navigating a nasty obstacle. The driver got through and parked. Then he realized that the Jeep coming through the obstacle behind him didn't have enough room to park, so he got back in, started the Jeep, put it in gear and, in his haste to not miss watching the other Jeep come through, accidentally mashed the throttle down, instead of the brake. He careened off of the back of the Jeep parked about 40 feet ahead of him before he stopped. Total bill: $7000. Ouch.

One-minute before this photo was taken, this very capable Jeep and driver were attempting a very challenging optional obstacle. After several attempts at the hairy obstacle, the driver decided he just wasn't going to make it up today, and was backing out to leave. He relaxed, not paying much attention to what was behind him, and backed into this rather innocuous crack with just enough momentum to flop his rig.

I have archives of such similar occurrences. These examples were lucky in that no one was hurt. Not every "oops" moment is so lucky.

The point, folks: Always traverse the trail with humility--give every inch of the trail its due attention. Plan, prepare, and educate yourself BEFORE you go. Don't ever RUSH through ANYTHING. And, in conclusion, PAY ATTENTION!

Be safe and happy trails!

GPS Locators: No Substitute for Proper Preparation

This week's blog is brief, but, once again, focuses on bad behavior.

By now, most of us have heard about or used a "Personal GPS Locator"--a device that allows you to use satellite communication to send a distress call. I often mention these during 4x4 clinics as a good tool to have in your bag of self-preservation goodies.

However, it is recently coming to public attention that GPS locators are being abused, wasting the resources of various emergency services for such trivial things as being scared by a thunderstorm, having bad-tasting water, or just an accidental activation. My favorite quote from a Search and Rescue administrator says "you send a message to a satellite and the government pulls your butt out of something you shouldn’t have been in in the first place.”

Though having a GPS-based locator can save lives, it should NEVER be used as a substitute for good preparation, including having adequate water, maps, a thorough weather and trail conditions check, and--what I hesitate to call "common" sense--a general awareness of one's surroundings, one's capabilities (and limitations) and a little knowledge about handling "the unexpected."

Even having a locator doesn't mean that you will have adequate signal or that conditions will allow rescuers to get to you. One should always approach a venture into the backcountry with the attitude that "no one is coming to rescue me--I have to rely on myself to get out and back", and plan accordingly, even if that plan means scrapping the excursion altogether. Know when NOT to go.

For a thorough article about the rising misuse of GPS locators, see

For more information on one specific device that I have used with great satisfaction, visit:

Happy trails!

Don’t be the Guy Who…

Don't be the guy who drives a moderately challenging Jeep trail in 2wd and then brags about it.

Why not?

1. Many of our Arizona Jeep trails are heavily used, old, and highly scrutinized. Spinning your tires and revving your motor is not only disruptive to the enjoyment of other trail users (4x4's, hikers, mountain bikers, etc.) but also destructive to the road surface, and contributes to the unwillingness of land managers to keep trails open.

2. Using RPM's instead of gearing to pull yourself up hills is very likely to result in an overheated motor and/or transmission--if you are not aware, both are VERY expensive components of your vehicle.

3. It makes you look like an idiot. A 4x4 has gears specifically designed to tackle steep and/or rocky terrain. NOT using them is like using a screwdriver as a hammer, or using a toothbrush to comb your hair. Use the tool the way it's supposed to be used. If you like looking like a moron, by all means, entertain us, but PLEASE don't do it on OUR land--public trails are not your personal back yard--they belongs to all of us.

It boggles my mind when someone comes back from a moderate trail where we recommend using 4L, and they say "I did it in 2H (or 4H)!" like we should be impressed. This past weekend, we had several reports of a 2wd Ford pickup on Broken Arrow trying to get up several obstacles, having to rev the motor, and make multiple attempts to climb, whereas any SUV with 4L just walks right up. Rocks and dirt were flung for 50 feet, and people throughout the 4 mile trail could hear the roar of the V8 motor struggling.

What do you say when you encounter someone on the trail who is that blatantly ignorant and/or disrespectful?

First, I try to establish if they are having a mechanical problem, ignorant or just totally disrespectful. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt first by saying something like: "Is everything okay with your truck? It sounds like you are stuck in high range." And SMILE when you talk to them--that's important.

If everything is okay with the truck, I proceed: "You know, you are really tearing up the trail--if a ranger catches you, there are big fines for that. You really should be using 4L to avoid digging up the trail, not to mention overheating your motor or tranny. I think I speak for a lot of people out here when I say that I would like the Forest Service to keep this trail open, not to mention having to drag a dead truck out of here." At this point MOST people will get sheepish, and humbly say okay, to which I respond "Thank you so much--have fun and be safe!" with my biggest syrupy-sweet smile.

But what if you still get no result? Again, smile, say "Well, have a nice day_______(insert nickname of choice)" then get a photo of them, the truck, the license plate, the trail damage, and write down all the details of the location and the incident and turn it in to the Forest Service--they are very hi-tech now--you can email your info! At the very least, the moron in question will get a message asking to speak to them about the incident, and maybe, just maybe, they will think twice about acting like an idiot on our land next time.

May the morons on your trails be few and far between.

Happy trails!

More Fall Color: Mingus Mountain

Mid-October is usually prime color on Mingus Mountain, and though some sporadic color may be enjoyed from the highway and some of the hiking trails, by far the most spectacular color is only accessible by Jeep or other high-clearance 4x4.

We enjoyed a jaunt up Mingus Mountain this past Sunday, October 18, and it was definitely in that perfect 10-day window of the most vibrant reds, oranges, yellows, and golds.

The trail starts in Cottonwood, Arizona from Mingus Avenue. Take Mingus Avenue past the airport and stay on it as it turns to bumpy dirt and gravel road. This is now FR 493 in the Prescott National Forest. Follow 493 as it winds up the mountain and gradually gets narrower, steeper and rockier.

Pass the Copper Chief Mine (be careful to stay on the main forest road, not wander onto private property--respect signs and gates), which was a very rich copper mine from the turn of the century until the mid-50's, but gets very little historical note due to the fact that the much bigger and richer Jerome lies just over the rise. With the rise of metal prices, this mine has recently been reopened and you can see signs of more modern mining amongst the historic footing of the old operation.

About 5 miles up, you will come to a T at FR 413, but not before the trail tests your resolve with a half-mile of extremely rocky trail. This last 1/2 mile before FR 413 is the toughest part of the whole trail and definitely requires a high-clearance 4x4 with tough tires and a driver who knows how to pick a line. Experienced Jeepers in well-built rigs will walk right through this section without much thought, but a novice in a stock SUV will gasp at the sight of 12-16" rocks sticking up in the narrow trail.

In addition to gorgeous flora, visitors are also rewarded with expansive views of the Verde Valley and the red rocks of Sedona.



For the best color, turn left (southeast) on FR 413. The red and orange maples and yellow walnuts will cluster in the canyons for the next few miles as the trail winds southeast and climbs gradually toward the top of Mingus Mountain.

Follow FR 413 all the way to the pine forests on top of Mingus Mountain. As you get closer to highway 89A, note many great campsites in the area. Come to a T at a (sometimes marked) road, where left takes you to the highway, and a right takes you to the Mingus Mountain overlook and hang glider launch area.

About 18 miles total, from Hwy 89A in Cottonwood and back to Hwy 89A on the top of Mingus Mountain. You climb 4000 feet in elevation, from 3500 to 7500 feet above sea level. Allow 3-4 hours with stops. This trail is not recommended in wet weather and is usually closed at the top in the winter.

Happy trails!


Fall Color in Northern Arizona

11 October 2009, Flagstaff AZ - Fall Color is here! Golds, coppers, and reds contrast the green pines and blue sky for spectacular scenic drives throughout Northern Arizona. Aspens, oaks, and maples are in full swing at the highest elevations (north side of the San Francisco Peaks), with color expected to carry through mid-November at lower elevations (Mingus Mountain, Oak Creek Canyon).

Yesterday's excursion ventured to the Flagstaff area to visit Lockett Meadow, then around the north side of the San Francisco Peaks. This area always presents the earliest autumn color, with its higher elevations and cooler, northerly-facing slopes. Apparently, the secret is out, as we passed hundreds of other motorists out for a picturesque country drive as well. Note: Lockett Meadow is busy on weekends, especially a holiday weekend!

The road to Lockett Meadow is easily passable by any truck or SUV, though we did see many adventurous (or careless?) folks in sedans, many of which we witnessed bottoming out in ruts or changing a flat tire. Expect ruts, washboards, baseball-sized rocks, and some mild wash-outs. It is plenty wide for any single vehicle, but can be interesting when you encounter a vehicle coming the other direction--watch for wide spots. The road is also completely devoid of any guard rails and does follow a steep, shelf section for most of the three miles of the Lockett Meadow spur. If heights bother you, this road will get your attention!


Lockett Meadow is the caldera for the San Francisco peaks--the heart of the (dormant) volcano. There are campsites and hiking trails available in the area. Please stay on the established road and use existing pull-outs and parking spots--Arizona meadows are very fragile.

To get there: (See map below) Take Hwy 89 north from Flagstaff, and travel about 10 miles north of the mall. Watch for the entrance to Sunset Crater & Wupatki National Monument on the right--turn left onto the Forest Access road directly across from the monument entrance, near mile marker 430. Follow the Forest Access road approximately 1 mile to the T. Turn right onto FR 552 (sign says Lockett Meadow and FR418 to the right). Approximately 1 mile further, note FR 418 to the right--you may want to return here later to follow the road around the north side of the Peaks. Just past this, FR 552 Lockett Meadow turns right. Follow 552 another 3 miles to the meadow--the next 2 miles are the narrow shelf section! Once you reach the meadow, the road makes a 2 mile counter-clockwise loop of the meadow, with a side road to the bathrooms, and hiking trails and campsites all along the way.

Return the way you came, or for a slightly less-traveled road, go back to the bottom of the hill and follow FR 418 around the north side of the peaks. Once you turn onto FR 418, it's about 20 miles to Hwy 180. Spectacular views northward toward the painted desert and the Coconino Plateau, and many sunlight-dappled stretches of road that offer patches of fall color.

About 8 miles in, you might want to turn left to the trailhead for the Abineau or Bear Skull trails--there are numerous 4x4 side roads for more private picnic and/or camping spots.

About 11 miles along FR 418, the road splits and becomes FR 151 in White Horse Basin. Take it right (north) for a short 2 mile drive to Hwy 180, or left (west) for more scenery back to Hwy 180 and come out just 3 miles north of Snowbowl Road. The left route is my favorite because it wraps around the northwest side of the peaks, for more of those breathtaking meadow vistas, with the peaks as a backdrop--great for wildflowers in the summer, too!

Allow about 3 hours for a casual roundtrip from Flagstaff. Remember to take plenty of water, and have a good spare tire and jack on board, just in case. Cell signal is weak (if any) for most of the trip.

Once you get to pavement, turn left on Hwy 180 and drop into downtown Flagstaff for a refreshment at one of the fine local pubs or coffee houses.

Happy trails!