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Arizona 4x4 Trails - The Big Adventure Part One

Posted March 1, 2006

Deep Backcountry Explorations On The Arizona Strip

As I searched for a place to pitch my tent on the steep and rocky shelf road, I reflected on how our adventure had gotten to this point. It was easy. We had violated one of my Cardinal Rules of Four-Wheeling. The rules are simple and go something like this:

Rule Number 1 - Never follow in your Jeep if Phil Collard is on foot.
Rule Number 2 - Never drive into something unless you are sure you can get back out.

We were a day's hard drive deep into the vast Arizona Strip. The notorious Mr. Collard was somewhere home in New Mexico, so we were OK on Rule Number 1. But the trail leader (yours truly) had egregiously violated Rule Number 2. We had crossed a rocky arroyo in our hasty effort to reach the top of the Grand Wash Cliffs before nightfall. Now the Comanche was thwarted by another, even larger, washout. I couldn't back down across the arroyo over which I had just dragged my rear bumper, and the road was far too narrow to turn around. It was also now well past dusk and rapidly approaching dark-thirty! So there we were, violators of one of the Cardinal Rules, paying the price and grumbling about an appalling lack of level tent sites.

The trip and the day had started out much differently. We were embarking on our third annual "Big Adventure." This yearly, week-long, autumn rite requires long distances, new country to explore, and point-to-point camping along the way. It also requires a few close friends of like mind and temperament when the itinerary calls for exploring this deep into the backcountry. This year we had chosen the three-million-plus acres of the Arizona Strip, the remote area of Arizona bounded by the Colorado River and the Utah and Nevada borders. This epic backcountry sojourn would involve four vehicles, six days, and over 400 miles between gas stops! Our trek would take us through three states and even more jurisdictions: Grand Canyon National Park, the new Parashant National Monument, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, a plethora of BLM-managed land, and even a corner of the Kaibab Paiute reservation.

The adventure started benignly enough in Mesquite, Nevada, with an on-time rendezvous. We topped off our tanks, filled the last of our gas cans, and bid farewell to the "madding crowd." We left I-15 at Riverside (Exit 112), crossed the Virgin River, and followed a very decrepit paved route along the river and then down into the desert toward Lake Mead. Twenty-five miles from the four-lane, the last pavement we would see for six days disappeared in our rearview mirrors as we headed into the unknown of the Arizona Strip.

We motored along into the afternoon. The first stop was the Devil's Throat, a nearly unfathomable geologic oddity. In the middle of the valley floor is a straight-sided, gravel-bottomed sinkhole that is at least 100 feet deep. Experts have yet to provide a logical mechanism for its creation. Stay on the outside of the protective fencing, because if by some miracle you survived the drop into the hole, there would be no way out except with winch cable.

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