9:35 a.m., Highway 180 north of Flagstaff: We've driven 1,039 miles so far. Per our original plan, we have no plan. Today we're heading north towards the Grand Canyon. Brubaker is wearing camo pants yet again. Holman is aghast to learn he brought five matching pair.
10:05 a.m., somewhere near Slate Mountain: The beauty of not having a plan is that we can explore on a whim. As we head north we began to see an abundance of forest roads branching enticingly off the highway. The lure was just too strong. We chose one at random, which happened to be FR 191. This dirt trail took us across an open expanse before depositing us into woods thick with pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, and mixed conifer. Because this area was at 7,300 feet in altitude there were several inches of snow covering the trail. Speaking of the trail, it varies between mostly smooth dirt, rutted dirt, and dirt laced with small rocks. Dirt is the common denominator. Even so, it's clear that this area is perfect for a family backcountry outing in a stock rig.
10:40 a.m., somewhere on FR 736: For no particular reason we decided to head west on FR 736. The terrain has run a gamut from open meadows to thick woods. We've seen no other vehicles, but tracks in the patchy snow indicate that the area has had visitors. At N 35 28.000 W 112 04.380 we took a break at an old ranch that was sitting forlornly in the middle of nowhere in Spring Valley near Spring Valley Wash. This is the first structure we had seen in a long time. We sat under the warm Arizona sun and enjoyed almost dead silence. We decided that we had in fact discovered yet another obscure trail.
Free-range cattle wander throughout the Arizona backcountry. Holman was intrigued by this
Here Holman inspects a wrecked World War II-era Japanese dive bomber at the Planes of Fame
The Grand Canyon is an awesome place, but after spending a few days on two-tracks in the b
11:05 a.m., locked gate: We've been exploring unmarked two-tracks that branch from secondary trails. These have been quite fascinating and they've taken us even further into the backcountry. Many have ended at gates marked with "no trespassing" signs, but we're still having fun. We're delightfully off the grid because there is no cell phone service. We've seen no other travelers and free range cattle roam everywhere. Thanks to our GPS and Gazetteer we have a basic idea where we are, but it's clear that this hodge podge of two-tracks can quickly cause you to lose your bearings if you don't have the proper navigational tools. One of the challenges has been that while the Gazetteer shows roads, it doesn't differentiate between roads that are closed and roads that are open.
1:30 p.m., Planes of Fame Air Museum: After a few hours of exploring two-tracks, FR 736 bisected Highway 64. We headed north toward the Grand Canyon but our travels temporarily halted when we spotted the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Valle, Arizona. Second to our love of 'wheeling is our love of aircraft. Holman sprung for the admission fee and we spent the next hour drooling over the planes parked in the hangar. Some surprises included a Douglas RB-26C Invader attack bomber, a bullet-riddled Yokosuka D4Y Suisei (Judy) dive bomber recovered from a jungle a few years ago, and an authentic German Messerchmitt ME-109 fighter.
Our last humble camp was at the KOA Campground in Needles, California. This is where we ha
3:30 p.m., Grand Canyon National Park: It would've been wrong to be this close to the Grand Canyon and not stop in for a visit. We did the tourist thing, and visited a few of the overlooks to view the incredible scenery. However, we quickly found that after two days of exploring two-tracks and remote backcountry, the paved, tour-bus-laden park didn't quite feel right, so we split. We had big plans of continuing north to explore the utterly desolate North Rim and points west of that, but then cold deadline-laden reality set in and we realized we had to start heading back to the office in Los Angeles.
11:20 p.m., Needles, California, KOA Campground: Brubaker went to take a shower, but before he left he locked the doors on the H3. Unfortunately he left a door open. Holman closed the door which triggered the alarm. The resulting loud, unceasing racket of the horn blowing woke up all but the heaviest sleepers in the campground. Since Brubaker had the only set of keys, it took Holman a few minutes to find the tools to disconnect the battery cable to disable the alarm. Yup, we were makin' friends fast.