Bucket lists, the lists of things you want to do before “kicking the bucket,” are on everyone's mind these days. There's a good reason: Life is short. There's not enough time to explore every option life throws your way. Prioritizing is the only way to narrow your focus enough to do what matters most. From hence comes the Bucket List.
So what should go on your off-road bucket list? Rather than offer a universal list and pretending that that list works across the board (thereby displaying massive hubris on our part), we'd like to offer some guidelines about how to craft a custom list that's perfect for you.
Finally, we'd like to offer a sample list based on what we'd think was a good way to go out. Adopt it as you wish, or do something completely different. Just be sure to get out there and get crackin' on the list. After all, none of us knows just where that fabled bucket lies, or when we're gonna kick it.
The Five-Point Plan
We've got five suggestions for creating your list. Only five? Yes. Less is more.
1. Make it attainable. Some people like the word “someday,” but for the most part, “someday” just brings dissatisfaction and frustration. It's OK to have some lofty goals, but you've got to keep things within reach if you plan to check off your entire list.
2. Make it yours. Enjoy hardcore rockcrawling? Then your list should be a collection of 'crawling trails. Baja fan? Your selections should all be on the famed peninsula.
3. Include some low-hanging fruit. Prove you can do it by taking an easy adventure, or by finding a local trail to conquer. Give yourself a small victory to build on.
4. Challenge yourself. If it's too easy, completing the list won't feel like much of an accomplishment. What if you finish your list with time to spare? Make another one!
5. Document it. You never know if or when you'll be back, so snap some photos along the way. This is an easy proposition thanks to the advent of smart phones and affordable digital cameras.
1. Prerun in Baja
Why? Almost anyone will tell you that prerunning in Baja is more fun than the actual race. During prerunning, you've got time to take in the scenery, explore new trails, sample local food, and generally enjoy the pace of Baja. Race day is exciting, but it's all business.
2. Colorado's San Juan Mountains
Why? The San Juans are sometimes called “The Switzerland of America,” and for good reason. Every view seems worthy of being on a postcard, and the high peaks and crystal-blue streams and lakes all vie for your attention while you're driving on classic trails such as Cinnamon, Ophir Pass, and Imogene Pass. Black Bear Pass has a high pucker factor, but none of the classic passes involves overly technical driving. Stay cool, and stay on the (sometimes narrow) trail, and you'll be fine.
3. Swansea-Cerro Gordo Road
Why? Swansea-Cerro Gordo Road snakes its way along the backbone of the rugged Inyo Mountains in the California county of the same name. The Inyo range is as remote as it is steep, with spectacular views of the Owens Valley and Sierra Nevada to the west, and the Saline Valley to the east. Relics of the old west, such as Cerro Gordo ghost town and the Saline Valley Salt Tram, appear at regular intervals and serve notice that you're not the first or the toughest person to visit this place.
4. Attend King of the Hammers
Why? This event showcases some of the world's gnarliest rockcrawling trails and requires competitors to race through open desert on their way to and from each 'crawling section. If you want to see one of the ultimate showdowns between humans and terra firma, it doesn't get much better than KoH. Editor in Chief Jerrod Jones has co-driven at KoH and can attest to the brutality as well as the excitement of competing. Even as a spectator, you're part of the phenomenon that is King of the Hammers.
5. The Mojave Road
Why? The Mojave Road offers a step back in time and the chance to traverse some of the best that the Mojave Desert has to offer. The Mojave Road follows a series of springs and forts (or sites of forts) that were used in the 1800s by travelers making their way west to Los Angeles and San Diego. This route, and access to it, is available thanks largely to Dennis Casebier and his organization, Friends of the Mojave Road. Friends of the Mojave Road publishes “The Mojave Road Guide,” which makes the perfect traveling companion should you undertake the journey.
6. Local routes
Why? These local routes are the “low-hanging fruit” mentioned earlier. The trails in and around Cajon Pass, Lucerne Valley, and the Hungry Valley OHV area (aka “Gorman”) are some favorite local routes. They offer a chance to get off the pavement even if there's only an afternoon available.
Why? Moab, Utah, is a place, not a single trail. However, there are so many trails in the Moab area that you can point your rig in virtually any direction and find something truly epic. Moab's local trails offer something for almost everyone, even if you've got a mild vehicle. Moab's Easter Jeep Safari is usually fun, but it's crowded and can be expensive. Easter Jeep Safari should be experienced at least once, but Moab itself is friendlier outside of Easter week.
Done? Yes, but there's still more to go back and do.
8. Canaan Mountain Sawmill Trail, southern Utah
Why? This trail is one of the most scenic ever, and the technical challenges keep you on your toes at regular intervals. At the trail's apex, you can see where the area's pioneers cut down trees and then literally winched them down a steep mountainside to the settlement below. Life was clearly different a century ago.
Done? Yes. This is a “life is short” example because the Omnibus Wilderness Act has since gobbled up this trail and it is now in a designated Federal Wilderness Area. A big salute to Senator Harry Reid (among others) is in order for that "gift."
9. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Why? Anza-Borrego comprises 650,000 acres in Southern California near the Salton Sea and the Mexican border. Many miles of 4x4 trails are there for the exploration. Favorites include Split Mountain Gorge, Diablo Drop-Off, Font's Point, and Grapevine Canyon/Jasper Trail.
Done? Yes, but we've yet to drive every available mile. Gotta go back!
10. Drive in a desert race
Why? Co-driving is fun, but nothing beats the challenge and enjoyment of the pilot's seat. The two main ways of getting to drive in a desert race are either to fabricate your vehicle yourself or to write a big check so that someone else can build it for you.
Done? Not yet. There's more fabricating to do, and more parts and material to obtain. Building a true race truck is a monster-sized project and it takes patience and stubbornness to see such a project through to completion.