Part 3: We Find The Road Less Traveled
(Editor's Note-This is part three of a three-part series documenting the travels and adventures of Four Wheeler Technical Editor Sean P. Holman and Senior Editor Ken Brubaker as they 'wheel a bone-stock '06 Hummer H3 on a five-day adventure on obscure trails in Arizona.)
2:50 p.m., Coconino National Forest, south of Flagstaff: Firefighters peer at us through the smoky haze as we slowly pick our way down the trail in our H3. Late afternoon sunlight filters through the smoke and trees, adding even more eeriness to the scene. The smoke permeates our rig causing the interior to smell like someone had a bonfire in the backseat. Off to the east an ominous, colossal brown cloud of smoke hovers over the forest like the alien spacecraft in the movie Independence Day (anyway that was Holman's enthusiastic observation). The firemen are still staring at us. Their vibe says "leave now." We get that a lot. We decide it would be in our best interest to scram, so we head back to the highway.
3:25 p.m., somewhere on Highway 17: Brubaker verbally notes that we're traveling parallel with Rattlesnake Canyon. Brubaker also points out that yesterday we were on Rattlesnake Road and Rattlesnake Mesa, which runs alongside a different Rattlesnake Canyon. Holman pretends to be asleep even though he is driving.
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4:05 p.m., Highway 17, exit 320: We still have a couple of hours of daylight left, so we plot a course to Sedona via Schnebly Hill Road, which is also known as FR 153. This dirt road is known for its incredible views even though it is relatively short at less than 10 miles in length. As we exit from the highway the first sign we see warns that it's only recommended for trucks or off-road vehicles. This doesn't deter the rental car in front of us.
4:15 p.m., Schnebly Hill Road: The road is graded and well-packed but rocks protrude from the surface making it a somewhat rough ride. Still, it's nothing a stock rig (or a rental car) can't easily traverse. It's more than 6,000 feet in altitude, and we see ice on the first waterway we cross. Beach-boy Holman begins to make noise about it being too cold to camp.
4:30 p.m., still on Schnebly Hill Road: We stop to admire the fantastic views of the nearby mountains as they're bathed in the late day light. We meet Chris Halsted who is driving a Pink Jeep Tours rig out of Sedona. He enthusiastically proclaims that "Life is good. I get paid to four-wheel." We like his attitude so we give him some Four Wheeler stickers.
5:05 p.m., Sedona, Arizona: It's almost dark, so we hook up to Highway 89 and sprint for Flagstaff. The inside rearview-mirror-mounted thermometer in the H3 is showing that the outside temperature is dropping fast. Holman is becoming uncharacteristically quiet as he ponders setting up camp in well below freezing temperatures.
5:40 p.m., Flagstaff, Arizona: It's dark, there's patchy snow and its 15 degrees Fahrenheit. After an eternity of dead silence Holman forcefully states that he is not camping tonight and that is not negotiable. Brubaker scoffs out loud but even he realizes that the temperature is still dropping and single digit temps are not far away. The Holiday Inn Express becomes the nights lodging.