Day Two: Monday, Dec 5, 2006
Apache Junction, AZ to AZ Backcountry
Total Miles Traveled: 804
Dr. Peppers Destroyed: 5
Flat Bridgestones: 1
Minutes Used To Change Tire: 7
Cows trying to get friendly with H3: 2
Senior Editor Ken Brubaker
1. Today we drove east of Phoenix to the Globe area, where we accessed a very cool trail called Rattlesnake Road. This "road" travels through stunning private ranchland and mostly follows a high ridgeline so the views are spectacular. After several miles the road enters the Coronado National Forest. At this point the trail turns rocky and far more challenging. With rocks and steep ascents and descents, we found ourselves shifting our H3 into 4-low quite often as we picked our way along the trail. Overall, it was an outstanding trail. It had an anticlimactic ending however, when it abruptly ended at a gated Wilderness Area. That little surprise wasn't on the map.
2. We killed a Bridgestone Dueler. It gave up the ghost at sunset on the way down Rattlesnake Road. A seven-minute tire change and we were back on the trail.
3. Holman will not even consider looking for a gas station until the fuel light comes on. I hate that. It does add to the adventure quotient of trail riding in remote areas, however.
4. Holman was shivering like a Chihuahua in northern Minnesota when he came out of his tent this morning. It was 45 degrees. He'll really feel abused when we camp at a higher altitude near Holbrook, Arizona in a couple of nights. The low is expected to be in the upper teens. I'm going to hide his tent heater.
Tech Editor Sean P. Holman
So last night wasn't too cold. We figure it got down to the low 40s or so here in Apache Junction and it was actually quite comfortable. Since we'll be heading North Tuesday morning, we expect Tuesday night to be in the high teens. Brrrrrrrr. This is where all of that good cold weather Coleman gear will come in handy.
Today started out a bit slow as we poured over our priceless DeLorme Arizona Atlas and Gazetteer map book over breakfast (I had OJ, Ken - Coke), trying to find an area with a dirt thoroughfare between two towns, cities, and/or highways. What we found was the Rattlesnake Canyon trail in the Coronado National Forest that looked promising from the map book, unfortunately it was far enough out of the way that it nixed our attempt to cross the New Mexico state line, oh well, another state for another trip.
With lots of fun high sped dirt roads behind us, we neared the trailhead in the early afternoon and came across an interesting obstacle - a Private Property sign. Apparently, the local ranchers allow the road to cut through their property as long as people check in at the sign in station and display a permit. So sign in we did and we were finally touching a trail for the first time this whole trip.
After an hour and a half of map checking and GPS coordinates confirmation, we wound our way atop this ridgeline, with stunning Arizona vistas surrounding us before dropping down in to a small valley. We crossed tons of fun low range and locked up type obstacles, which the H3 eagerly conquered. We had our eyes set on a gorgeous gorge ahead, with a churning river at its base. According to the map book, the trail dropped down to parallel the river before heading out east to civilization.
With the sun dropping fast, my co-pilot was starting to get uneasy about nightfall and the half tank of fuel the H3 was carrying. He started screaming about his mommy, or binki, or something like that. I used the old "just another 15-minutes" rouse to calm his nerves. I don't think it worked as he got uncharacteristically quiet and even stopped throwing around insults at me. Fortunately I know exactly how much range I have left on the H3's fuel gauge and we were never in any imminent danger from the engine starving.
As the sun dropped below the mesa above, we rounded a corner with the gorge in clear view. As the excitement started to rise, the sight of a gate supporting a ubiquitous Wilderness Boundary sign immediately quashed our goal. There would be no gorge to explore today. With heads hanging low, we spun the H3 around, knowing that we had an hour to get back through the 10-miles or so of trail to the road. It took us an hour and a half to get to where we were. With Ken starting to tear up at the sight of daylight waning, we bumped up our speed a notch and with the little H3 bouncing over rocks, we heard the occasional skid plate clunk, but thanks to generous approach and departure angles, we were no worse for the wear - or so we thought.
As we cleared the trail and found ourselves on a fairly fast road, we chuckled at the good fortune of beating the sun's departure and not fulfilling Ken's Prophecy of Doom. We relaxed and uneasily laughed about our day's adventure (we weren't to pavement yet), but were sent reeling when we heard the unmistakable high-pressure hiss of a sidewall puncture. Looking at each other, we knew the desert was merely toying with us and had one more challenge before letting us return to civilization. Quickly we jumped out of the H3 to assess our sundown situation.
We give kudos to Hummer for designing the H3 correctly for situations like this one. With an easy-to-remove, exterior mounted spare tire, a jack stored in the rear door so that no matter how much junk is in the cargo compartment, you can access it and a pretty good scissor jack (unlike the POS bottle jack that broke under our Avalanche on Pickup Truck of the Year) we were able to do a tire change in 7-minutes, even taking a few photos along the way. Points off for using Bridgestone Dueler A/T tires (they work well enough in the dirt and highway, with great traction, but are susceptible, in our experience, to sidewall punctures) instead of stronger 3-ply BFGoodrich A/Ts. Overall, our H3 has handled this adventure well. It is one of the few stock vehicles we'd trust to do any serious backcountry exploring and handles the transitions between highways and trail seamlessly.
Anyway, time to hit the sack and get ready for tomorrow's adventure, which no doubt will surround finding a new spare tire before heading North.
Until the next blog...