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Nena Knows Jeeps: Take Your Time

Posted in Features on January 13, 2019
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As a kid traveling in the backseat of our family 4x4s, what I looked forward to most was the stopping and getting out. Once I was old enough to drive, a whole new world of traveling enjoyment opened up, just for the sheer joy of driving. But, now that I’m getting older and have my own kids riding in the backseat, I find that there is so much more to enjoy when you aren’t trying to set a record pace for every mile of terrain. Most of us didn’t buy our Jeeps to just get from point A to point B, right? Why not invest a little time into where that wonderful machine is taking you?

Though everyone has their own pace, my advice is to plan to travel fewer miles and expand your stopping and looking around time. I recently took a trip across the Mojave Road—about 140 miles of fascinating desert. Many people said the trail could be easily driven in a day. We took three full days and felt rushed. Why? Because we made stops at many of the notable historical sites along the trail, delving into the history and significance. We also ventured some miles on tangent roads to nearby interesting spots, including caves, mines, old army outposts, and petroglyph sites. And I can’t wait to go back and explore even more of the side trips.

A beautiful drive made better by finding this pretty spring with unique geology surrounding it, as well as a herd of wild burros. Another good reason to take your time is that the GPS track showed the road driving straight off of this. Look up!

Whenever researching a new trail to explore, I spend hours looking at atlases, maps, and Google Earth researching the area—I have become quite adept at picking awesome campsites off a map without any on-the-ground reconnaissance. In some cases, I have found an odd geographical feature on Google Earth, and then I just had to go see it in person. I have found names of places on maps with barely any foundations left, but upon researching the name, found fascinating tales of deeds long done.

You don’t always find what you are looking for, but that can be just as fun. One time, I heard a legend about a grumbling volcanic hill nicknamed “Talking Mountain.” When we arrived there, we didn’t hear any rumbles, but found some amazing petroglyphs. Another time, we went hunting for some gold mines. We didn’t find much left of the mines, but we found some really fun slot canyons. And sometimes just a named spot on a map has inspired a wonderful trip, like one marked “Highly Desirable Viewpoint” in Moab, another marked “Finland” in the middle of the Nevada desert, and yet another marked “Nothing” in the hill country of Arizona.

The Agua Fria Fort is not only an interesting historical stop, but it also offers unsurpassed views of the Agua Fria River Valley and the Black Canyon Trail. It’s less than a half-mile off of the main road that is busy with Jeep and OHV traffic, but very few people even know it’s there.

I also gather intelligence from different sources, including maps, books, websites, and a few trusted people from whom I can glean details, like the guys from Funtreks, an old river guide from Moab, some Arizona prospectors, and a few public land management representatives—folks who have had a reason to measure and analyze every inch of their terrain. What I am looking for is not only information on what to expect from terrain, but what really cool stuff is out there—easily missed by just flying by on the road. Then I will search more online for topics of interest, or buy books about the subject area on topics ranging from geology to human history to botany and wildlife. The more you delve into it, the more you will be amazed at what is out there and the way things interconnect.

They say all those who wander are not lost, but I think wandering is even more important than that. Connect with your surroundings and the people with whom you are traveling, and that Jeep ride will be one of those memories you cherish for the rest of your life.

The Copper Chief Mine commanded some amazing views of the Verde Valley. I had been driving past this old and rusty chimney-like structure for years before I finally took the time to research what it was and the whole history of that particular hill.
When you take the time to look around, you find all sorts of treasures, like this baby saguaro growing right out of a rock face. Good to NOT lean on it, too.
I drive by dirt roads all the time and wonder, “Where does that go? Why is that there?” If I can look up on the atlas and see that it’s public land, I’ll go check it out. I was rewarded on this day with some dramatic canyon pour-offs. This was 1.3 miles of easy road off of a major highway.
Whenever we stop, the kids are out and playing with rocks, dirt, and sticks—instead of their iPads.
A local told me this hill was called “Talking Mountain” because it was a recently active volcano and was known to make grumbling noises. We didn’t hear any grumbling, but we found extensive petroglyphs and an ancient well.
Before gold miners built stamp mills, they used arrastras. In the center was a post with a long arm. At the other end of the arm, a mule or horse would walk around the outside of the circle. A large stone was attached by a chain to the middle of the arm and dragged slowly around in a circle, crushing the ore in the middle circular pit.
I saw this odd feature on a map and will soon go find it. It’s a cut-off gooseneck on the San Juan River—a canyon where the river used to flow, but now just a big circle in the earth.
I asked a local where to find some unique petroglyphs, and this was the map he gave me. Worked like a charm!
My usual pile of route-planning resources.
One of the stops often missed on the way to the Rubicon Trail is Uncle Tom’s Cabin, full of relics, photos, and tales of the Rubicon Trail and locals.
I picked this camping spot off of an old topographical map. Now it’s a well-known (though somewhat drier) location.
Pro-tip: Without spoiling the fun, let me tell you that if you drive the Mojave Road, you should take a toy frog, a toy Jeep, a sticker, and a penny—just trust me.

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