Tag: trails

Take Your Time

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

As a kid traveling in the backseat of our family 4x4s, what I looked forward to most was the stopping and getting out. Once I was old enough to drive, a whole new world of traveling enjoyment opened up, just for the sheer joy of driving. But, now that I’m getting older and have my own kids riding in the backseat, I find that there is so much more to enjoy when you aren’t trying to set a record pace for every mile of terrain. Most of us didn’t buy our Jeeps to just get from point A to point B, right? Why not invest a little time into where that wonderful machine is taking you?

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Overlanding 101: Eating, Sleeping, Pooping

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

The term “overlanding” is quite the buzzword these days. I would say the difference between “overlanding” and “camping” is determined by your primary intention for setting up camp: Are you setting up a camp to just squat around a fire and drink beer in one place all weekend, or are you exploring cross-country and you need a place to sleep each night on your journey? Whether you are “camping” or “overlanding,” the bottom line is that there are three simple things that one must do in the great outdoors: eat, sleep, and poop. Here’s a quick look at how I do it when I’m overlanding or camping.

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Cooperation for the common good

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

It’s a human tendency to lump ourselves into groups. We are naturally attracted to groups of people who have similar interests and values. Jeep enthusiasts are no different. Along with the enthusiasm for the vehicle comes a shared interest in traveling the great outdoors in it, and a desire to see 4×4 trails and dirt roads kept open for exploration. But in our efforts to keep trails open we should remember that hunters, mountain bikers, motorcycle riders, equestrians, hikers, and many other outdoor enthusiasts (including, yes, UTV drivers) also have an interest in keeping 4×4 trails and dirt roads open. What is important to the future of public roads and trails is that all of us who use them learn to identify as the same tribe—one large group of people who really enjoy the outdoors and having access to beautiful public places upon which to recreate.

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How to Be a Trail Access Advocate

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

At some point while out exploring in your Jeep, you will come to a “Road Closed” sign on a trail. Maybe you just got into four-wheeling, and you decide you need to learn more about where to go. Or maybe this was a trail you have wheeled on since you were a kid, and suddenly there is a locked gate on it. Either way, it dawns on you that somewhere, someone is making decisions about the places where you get to recreate. How do you get a say in that?

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How To: Moab For First-Timers

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

Moab. You hear the name whispered in reverence throughout the Jeep world. If you are planning a wheeling trip Moab for the first time, there are some things you should know about visiting and driving the trails there.

First, there are some driving techniques that are specific to red rock country. The sandstone offers some amazing traction —we call it “sticky.” This exceptional traction means you will be able to climb surreal inclines and hang off of heart-pounding sidehills, but it also means that horse-powering your way up an obstacle is more likely to snap axles and grenade differentials than other terrain types that allow more wheel spin. It takes a lot more torque to break traction here, so slow and steady is usually the best first approach.

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Keep Your Guard Up!

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

Something we see over and over again in the four-wheeling world are mishaps at the places one would least expect it. We get through a nasty obstacle, breathe a sigh of relief, and then get stuck on a small rock we didn’t even notice. Or we spend all day on a grueling 4×4 trail, get through without a scratch, then on the way home, slide off of the gravel road into tree. Or we just head out without much thought on a trail we have done dozens of times, don’t check the weather, and get stranded on the wrong side of a wash during a flash flood.

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. The following are a few things to think about before, during, and after your trip to help keep everyone safe.

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Up Lion’s Back: One Last Climb On An Iconic Obstacle

By Nena Barlow
This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

One of the most iconic off-road obstacles on the planet is the famous Lion’s Back in Moab. Located on private property, it has been closed to the public since it was sold in 2004. With special permission from the current owner, Jeep was able to coordinate one more run on this amazing piece of rock.

It started with a passing conversation between the property owner and Scott Brown of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles about how cool it would be to do something really special for the 50th Easter Jeep Safari and the 75th anniversary of Jeep. Out of the blue comes a call from Scott that all the legal paperwork had been done and to ask if I am available to guide the climb in just a couple of days (Thursday, March 24, 2016) for a sunrise photo shoot on Lion’s Back. Yes was the only answer. This was a big secret, as neither the property owner nor Jeep wanted to attract a crowd.

We met in the predawn hours of Thursday morning to prep the Jeeps and their drivers for the endeavor. I was to right-seat for Mark Allen, head of Jeep design, in a 75th Anniversary Edition Wrangler. Tyler Ruby, Jeep Wrangler brand manager, was to follow us in the Wrangler Red Rock Limited Edition. Jim Repp, vehicle development manager, would tail gun in the 75th Anniversary Grand Cherokee, with John Marshall (a friend and guide) as his right-seat. On cameras were Chris Collard, Jay Bernard, Brad Stanley, and a few other social media team members somewhere off in the bushes. After a quick driver briefing and a cue from the photographers that all was ready, we started our ascent in the twilight. We were all very excited, with a keen appreciation for the uniqueness of the circumstances.

Lion’s Back is one of those obstacles that looks much more intimidating than it is diffcult. In fact, if you have driven the gatekeeper ?n on Moab’s Hell’s Revenge, you have survived much narrower rock than Lion’s Back. If you have driven up Kenny’s climb on Moab’s Fins N’ Things, you have driven much steeper than Lion’s Back. However, Lion’s Back is tall. Very tall. Very, very tall. It’s about 350 feet tall.

All went smoothly as our Jeeps slowly crawled up the fin. I was excited to be there, but it didn’t give me an adrenalin rush— yet. The view from the top was breathtaking. We reached the turnaround spot, and I glanced down off the side—now the adrenalin was flowing! The emotional and physical impact of just how high in the air we were struck me. There are parts of your body that clench up and refuse to go anywhere near the edge. I stepped out of the Jeep to help Mark turn around. The physical reality is that the two-door could easily do a three-point turn on top, but the sphincter takes over and it becomes an 11-point turn to avoid looking down into that chasm of certain death.

We took in the sunrise view, posed for photos, congratulated each other, and then took a collective deep breath and started down. It always seems steeper on the descent than it does on the ascent, but we reached the bottom uneventfully. While we were all celebrating the first drive on Lion’s Back in 12 years, Tyler said something that really struck me as significant. “These are the first JKs to ever drive on this!” he remarked. And they are likely the only ones that ever will.

As I drove away from this momentous event, it occurred to me that Jeep is not just selling vehicles. From design to engineering to marketing, the key people at Jeep really do live and breathe the Jeep lifestyle of four-wheeling, outdoors, fun, family, and friends. They too want all the cool gadgets, to run the cool trails, and respect and preserve all of it for future generations to continue to enjoy.

Special thanks to Lionsback Resort, a full-service hotel and conference center soon to open, for allowing this all to happen.

My Favorite 4×4 Trails

By Nena Barlow
This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

I am asked all the time which trail is my favorite. Usually, the trail I just did is my favorite trail ever. That’s how I feel after a fun day of wheeling and exploring.

Some might expect me to highlight trails in my own backyard of Sedona, Arizona, but I enjoy a varied diet. I like trails that offer a whole package: views, at least a little challenge, some historical point of interest or natural wonder, and far enough away from town to feel like an adventure, not just a trip to the gym. Here are some trails that consistently bring a smile to my face, in no particular order.

Sevenmile Rim, Moab, Utah

Many people are surprised at this lesser-known red rock trail. I love it because it has a little of everything and so many options that you will never run it the same way twice. There are rocky ledges, views, sandy flats, views, steep slickrock climbs, and yes, views. I regularly take stock Jeeps through here, but even the big rigs will find some fun options. With the stunning Monitor and Merrimac Buttes and the famous Wipeout Hill along the way, it will be the picture you use on your desktop.

Backway To Crown King, Arizona

This trail climbs from the desert floor around Lake Pleasant at 1,700 feet in elevation, tops out over the pine-covered Bradshaw Mountains at about 7,000 feet, and drops you into the historic mining town of Crown King. The tiny town of Crown King offers a couple of tasty restaurants, a historic saloon, lodging and camping options, and other interesting nearby trails. The main route of this trail up from Lake Pleasant is mostly easy 4WD with only a few non-optional high-clearance obstacles but offers some great play areas as well. Though popular and doable in a stock Jeep, it should not be taken lightly. It is remote, it is long, and like many Arizona trails, it can change in an instant and be flooded, snowed under, or on fire with very little notice. Bottom line: Be prepared, don’t go alone, and make good choices.

Alpine Loop, Ouray, Colorado

The high shelf trails are guaranteed to take your breath away, either from the stunning beauty of the high peaks or the fear of certain death should you venture off the edge of the trail. You can pick and choose which parts of the loop you would like to connect, but most trails will pass through the picturesque ghost town of Animas Forks. There are huge vistas on Engineer Pass, surreal rainbow-colored mountains in Corkscrew Gulch, incredible wildflowers along Cinnamon and California Pass, and waterfalls everywhere. Bring a rain jacket and squeeze your trip in between July and early September.

Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, Glamis, California

Sand dunes are intoxicating and addictive. The wind-rippled crests and lingering gold light will mesmerize you, even if you resist the urge to scream “yee ha!” as you throttle through a rainbow arc across the face of monster dune. Reading the sand and picking a line through a sea of dunes takes a lot of concentration and quick decision-making. It can be overwhelming with choice after choice in any direction, unlike most 4WD trails where you only have a little wiggle room along a narrow trail, but that is part of its unique fun!

The Rubicon, Georgetown, California

With beautiful rivers and lakes, blue skies, green trees, and endless Sierra granite, the Rubicon has been called the toughest trail in the world. What the Rubicon lacks in single pants-wetting obstacles, it makes up for in constant rocks. It will beat you with stamina. It will put beach-ball sized rocks in your path until your brain and body are weary, then it will change to off-camber ledges until you are not sure which way is level any more, then it will squeeze you between rock and tree after rock and tree. It is 20 miles of never-giving-you-a-break. And I love it. Whose bucket list is it not on?

Ask me next month what my favorite trails are and you may get a different answer. My best recommendation? Go find the ones that make your heart soar with joy.

How To Survive The Rubicon Trail Your First Time

By Nena Barlow
This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

“Sure, you can drive a stock Jeep through there—that’s what they’re made for!”

“I crossed the Rubicon on 31-inch tires and no lockers!”

“I did the whole trail in 8 hours!”

Mention the name “Rubicon Trail” in any four-wheeling forum and you are bound to hear some boasting, unsolicited advice, and tales of “back in my day…” However, that doesn’t answer your question: What do you really need to do the Rubicon Trail?

Regardless of your wheeling prowess and tire size, there are a few inarguable facts about the Rubicon Trail that you need to take to heart before you leave home:

It changes every day. Just because your buddy with a similar Jeep cruised through Little Sluice last week does not mean you will do so this week. Rocks move every day. Weather varies widely. Trees fall.

There are much tougher obstacles on other trails than you will encounter on the Rubicon Trail. The Rubicon beats you with stamina. It slowly wears you down one rock at a time, increasing the odds of making a bad decision due to mental and physical fatigue.

It’s narrow, it’s busy, and it’s dirty. Passing is difficult. Popular camping areas are loud on weekends. You will be scrubbing dirt out of yourself and your Jeep for days afterwards. Bottom line: Driving the trail isn’t the only challenge with which you will be dealing.

As for your Jeep, it should be in top-form maintenance. Parts and labor are significantly more difficult to acquire on the trail than at home. Steering component, motor mount, axle, and driveshaft failures are the most common breaks. Starting with good basic equipment is key.

It should have at least one locking axle differential. Both front and rear are better. Limited slip and traction control are not the same as a locker.

At least one frame-mounted recovery point (rated for 5000 pounds or more) should be mounted on each front and rear bumper. Yes, factory Wrangler hooks are sufficient, but while bumpers won’t make or break your ability to run the Rubicon Trail effectively, the odds of factory bumpers surviving the trail are slim to none. We call that an “unplanned upgrade opportunity.” You can choose whether to do it before or after the trip.

Factory skidplate protection for the transmission pan, transfer case, and gas tank are adequate on factory Wranglers, but we recommend protection beyond the minimum, especially on your gas tank and diff covers. If you really want to enjoy the trail and minimize stress, consider these aforementioned upgrades, as well as lower front control arm mount protection, 33 to 35-inch tires, and suspension upgrades to allow for those tires, real rocker guards or “sliders,” and better gearing.

Can a lesser vehicle make it? Yes, but it will take more time, with a higher risk of damage. That can create more stress than fun for you and anyone else on the trail that day (oops, some trail-etiquette preaching almost slipped in there). Do these upgrades now—not two or three weeks before your trip. The worst thing you can do is to install a bunch of new stuff on your rig right before the trip and use the Rubicon trail as the “shakedown” run.

The single most important piece of equipment to bring is your brain. Use it before, during, and after the trip. Degrade its proper functioning as little as possible while on the trip. No drinking and driving, wear your seatbelt, pack out your trash, and check on current fire and sanitation restrictions before you depart. Leave the trail for all to enjoy.

One of the most commonly smashed/broken components of the Jeep Wrangler is the lower front control arm mount. Adding a lower control arm skid is an inexpensive way to eliminate the problem. Parts are less than $50 and pay a professional 4×4 welder an hour’s time to install them.
Your tire sidewalls and wheels will get “scrubbed” throughout the trail. Three-ply sidewalls with healthy tread are a must, as is a full-size working spare. A minimum of 33-inch or taller (35″ tall for wheelbase longer than 105”) will help work around all those differential-grabbing rocks. Taller tires also involve having an adequate suspension lift to accommodate full articulation and steering degree of the larger tires.
Unless you don’t mind body damage, you need some side protection, not only for the occasional slip off of a rock, but also for recovery purposes. The factory Rubicon rocker guards are barely sufficient, but they are better than cheap aftermarket “side armor” aka “mall crawler steps.”
We recommend a minimum crawl ratio of 55:1 for automatics and 65:1 for manual transmissions. You will find the constant slow rock crawling of the Rubicon trail much more enjoyable with a vehicle that is geared properly for it. With an automatic transmission, one can compensate for higher gearing with some good left-foot braking, but this gets tiring after all day (or three or more days) of crawling over rocks. With a manual JK, you and your clutch are going to work extra hard without at least a 65:1 crawl ratio. Many people try to compensate for shallow gearing by overusing the clutch—a burnt up clutch is the last thing you want to have on the Rubicon Trail. You can accomplish low gearing with either the transfer case gears (like the factory 4:1 Rubicon t-case), so that your rig only crawls when in low range; or with axle gears, which give you more torque at the wheels all the time.

Trail Ratings

As the Jeep event season looms closer, and winter-bound Jeepers start licking their chops over the trail selections of various 4-wheeling events around the country, I find the ever-sticky trail rating questions frequently crossing my path:
"Can my Jeep make it through the _____ trail?"
"What's a good moderate trail to do at _____?"
"What's the most fun trail at ______?"

As most of you already know, the askee cannot adequately answer any of these questions without acquiring a slew of other information from the asker: "How is your Jeep set up?", "What's your definition of moderate?", and "Is your idea of fun an easy scenic jaunt, or a heart-pounding steel-crushing rock fest?"

But beyond those subjective conversations is a larger befuddlement in the entire 4-wheeling world:
There is NO universal trail rating system!

In Arizona, we have used a 0-5 scale for a long time, with 0 being paved road, and 5 being impassable to any vehicle that ever rolled off a factory line. And we throw around terms like "easy" or "beginner" to "adventurous" or "extreme". Utah (specifically, Moab) has gone to a fairly well-defined 1-10 scale that categorizes anything in the 9 or 10 rating as buggy class only, relegating those of us in originally factory-built rigs, no matter how modified, to the 1-8 trails only. But to confuse matters further, Colorado and California use a 1-10 scale that makes trails like the famous Rubicon an 8-10 on their scale (the same trail might be a 6 or 7 on the Moab scale).

Then factor in that trails like Black Bear Pass near Ouray CO--the trail is actually very easy to drive--would barely rate a 4 or a "moderate" on the scenic Jeepers scale, except for that one little sticky fact about the narrow shelf road and excrutiatingly tight switchbacks with a sheer drop off of hundreds of feet promising certain death if you screw up by just a few inches--how do you calculate that HUGE intimidation factor into a trail rating?

Ask two different wheelers about the rating of a particular trail, and you will get two entirely different replies. For example, take a trail I will call "Bad Deal"--if you ask my friend Rick, whose Jeep has no straight sheet metal, a full roll cage, and carries crash helmets for its passengers, Rick will tell you that Bad Deal is a really easy trail. If you ask a recent client of mine, Jim, with a shiny stock 2011 Grand Cherokee, he would say it was impassable--that it wasn't a "trail" at all. The truth? In the rental and 4x4 instruction business, we would call this trail difficult or extreme, because it does take an aggressive 4wd with a driver who can make some good line choices to be able to make it through without damage beyond a few brush scratches and a little exercise of the skid plates. But, in the rock crawling world, this trail is barely a speed bump, and you have to go out of your way to make it interesting.

With all of this said, how can you properly choose a trail? Read, research, ask...Ask detailed questions of a knowledgable person you trust, or, at the very least, ask a variety of people and hope the truth will reveal itself in the averages (online forums are great for that!). Other good sources of info are local clubs, 4x4 shops in the area of your intended trails (and good people to know ahead of time in case you need some repairs), Jeep or ATV rental shops, and sometimes you get lucky and find a knowledgeable trail person at the local BLM or USFS Ranger Station.

But, what do you ask in order to get a true picture of what you are trying to get yourself into?

As an instructor, I address this with clients, and advise them to ask detailed questions about trails they are considering, such as:
"What size are the biggest rocks I will have to surmount? Labrador-sized? Volkswagon?"
"How tall are the ledges? Are they easy, rounded steps, or 90-degree steps?"
"What is the trail surface like? Sand? Sandstone? Slippery shale?"
"Are there bypasses for the harder obstacles on that particular trail?"

And, if you have particular fears or interests, ask about those too:
"How wide are the shelf roads?"
"How steep are the sidehills or inclines?"
"Is there adequate trail to pass other vehicles or stop for pictures?"
"Are there (ruins, mines, historic sites, etc.?"

And, last, but not least, don't forget to plan to get in and get out comfortably:
"How far to the nearest gas station to the trailhead? Closest air?"
"What about bathroom breaks...facilities at trailhead or just plenty of shrubs near the trail?"
"Closest place to pickup lunch/snacks/drinks on the way?"

Remember--the only dumb question is the one you didn't ask.

Happy trails!