The 2-foot-tall rock shelf cambered toward the pool of water, leaning Brian's Wrangler Rubicon toward the edge. The front suspension unloaded, and 80 percent of the vehicle's weight shifted to the passenger rear tire, perched on a small pile of crumbling rock. To this point, the Pyeatt Draw trail had been a moderate route, challenging the group of 10 high-clearance trucks, Jeeps, and SUVs with a series of 3.0-rated sandstone and rock obstacles.
Pyeatt Draw was formed by heavy spring watershed from the Mogollon Rim, the alluvial confluence of Lewis Creek and Ellison Creek collecting at the Draw's high point just west of Tonto Village. Just east of the confluence, the water cascades off of the trail's final (and optional) obstacle. This 4.0-rated exit is a cambered and narrow waterfall with a series of ledges just inside the wheelbase of most vehicles, adding to the challenge.
The trail gets more approachable after Thompson Road climbs above Diamond Rim and turns east, crossing Pyeatt Draw. Our group, led by John Shotts in his "Trail Limo" Land Cruiser began the process of airing down, disconnecting sway bars, and shifting into low range. We were fortunate to have a diverse group of vehicles in attendance, including an FJ40, three Tacomas, the big 100-series, two FZJ80 Land Cruisers, a Land Rover Discovery II, a solid-axle Toyota Truck, and a pair of Jeep TJs. I always prefer having several makes and models on the trail, as it is much more interesting than watching the same trucks drive the obstacles in nearly the same way. With wheelbases measuring between 93 and 127 inches, there was certainly variety in approach and degree of success.
We were also fortunate to have two entertaining drivers willing to push their rigs on the more challenging lines. Ben was driving an FZJ80 Land Cruiser with 35-inch Maxxis Creepy Crawlers, and Brian was piloting an '03 Jeep Rubicon with 33-inch MT/Rs and a hybrid long-travel suspension. Both drivers used finesse to clear the big ledges and rocks of the optional lines and were impressive to watch.
Pyeatt Draw slowly builds in difficulty as the wash narrows, creating larger steps and a greater concentration of loose boulders. The pace began to slow, and more spotting was required to help the less-modified machines. One particular obstacle brought the group to a standstill, and all occupants worked their way to the front with various digital and video cameras. The trail chokes down into a narrow "S" turn in the sandstone, forcing the drivers to weave their way through Jeep-size turns, rubbing their rock sliders and pivoting around the corners. Then the trail exits to a taller slab up a cambered shelf with a large rock on the right followed by a deep hole and ledge on the left. This made the obstacle a real challenge for the vehicles with open differentials or traction control, with several trucks getting some new dings and scrapes. The most impressive success on that challenge was by Jared Albert in his open-diff and near-stock four-cylinder TJ. With only a 2-inch TeraFlex suspension and sway-bar disconnects, Jared flexed his Jeep through the notch without any wheelspin, resulting in a "Hooray!" from the group.
With all 10 vehicles through the notch, it was time for lunch and to enjoy the great view down the Draw and the cool breeze coming from the Rim's edge. At nearly 6,000 feet, the Tonto National Forest is a retreat from the intense heat of Phoenix and other valley cities. This makes Pyeatt Draw a popular trail for Arizona 4WD clubs, and despite its remote location, it is not uncommon to find several groups running the route over a summer weekend. However, I was pleased to find very little trail damage and no trash on the trail during our visit, showing that the commitment of time and expense to drive to the trailhead is keeping "wildcat" or less-responsible 'wheelers away.
After lunch, we drove a short distance to the first "exit" option from the trail, where an improved two-track crosses the wash and then begins to parallel the Draw from the south. This is the end of the 3.0-rated section and the beginning of the 4.0-rated trail end. The last section is only a few hundred yards long but begins climbing in elevation quickly, and the sandstone surface is fractured into a series of 2- to 3-foot ledges clogged with large boulders.
The final obstacle is a true 4.5-rated challenge, and only one vehicle in our group attempted it. With some gentle prodding, Brian climbed into his Rubicon and engaged first gear. Running 10 psi in the MT/Rs, the sidewalls deformed against the first ledge and pulled the Jeep up and to the right, lining the vehicle up for the final waterfall. Just the obstacle alone was impressive, but combined with a 15-foot cliff into a pool of cold water on the passenger side increased the intimidation factor considerably. We knew it would be difficult for the Jeep to climb the obstacle unassisted, so we had prepared the winch recovery kit at the top of the waterfall and plugged in the winch controller. The passenger-side tire began to climb the ledge, and slowly, the Jeep crested its lip, and the driver-side tire began to grip on the 3-foot-tall sandstone face. In a moment, the rear passenger tire kicked out a large rock, tilting the Jeep toward the edge and putting the front driver's tire a foot in the air. I asked Brian if it was time to hook up the winch, to which he responded, "Yeah, I think that would be a good idea." The Jeep finished the climb with the assistance of the 9,000-pound T-Max and a big pine tree.
The Pyeatt Draw trail is maintained in partnership with the Forest Service and the Rim Country 4 Wheelers. When visiting the trail, please remove all trash and stay on the route, only exiting at the Jeep trail that crosses at the end of the 3.0 section or the trail exit at the top of the final waterfall. Spectacular trails like Pyeatt Draw only remain open because of the efforts of clubs like Rim Country 4 Wheelers and responsible OHV enthusiasts. Pyeatt Draw really is an "Outstanding Trail" set in a spectacular region of Arizona. When it is 110 degrees F in Phoenix, there is some great adventure up by the Rim just a few hours away.
BFGOODRICH OUTSTANDING TRAILS
Pyeatt Draw was chosen as one of five Outstanding Trails in the country in 2006 by BFGoodrich, Tread Lightly, and the United Four Wheel Drive Association (UFWDA). Through a careful selection process, including terrain type, enthusiast following, and uniqueness, these trails were showcased as the top "Outstanding Trails" for 2006:
Pyeatt Draw - Payson, Arizona
Black Bear Pass - Telluride, Colorado
Hell's Revenge - Moab, Utah
Historic Naches Pass - Naches, Washington
Upper Tellico OHV Area - Nantahala National Forest
Each year, BFGoodrich chooses a new group of outstanding trails. For more information, visit www.bfgoodrichtires.com/outstandingtrails.