Sand and Rock... No White Stuff
While much of the north end of the country lay under a blanket of the cold, white stuff, a group of 'wheelers in Arizona decided it was time to hit the trails. It was a pleasant February day with weather just perfect for desert 'wheeling. Our destination for the day was a group of trails north of Phoenix, near the small town of New River.
Here the sandy terrain rises to an elevation near 3,000 feet above sea level. This area could be considered high desert and is riddled with Palo Verde trees, saguaro cactus, and other arid-climate vegetation. Since it was the dead of winter, much of the area was relatively green due to recent rains. There was also a variety of wildflowers in bloom.
A group of trails snakes through this region of the state. Some are hill trails that traverse through more mountainous terrain and offer expansive views of the desert. Others, such as the ones we sought, are wash trails that follow the meandering paths carved in the canyon floors by flash floods and rain runoff. These washes are scattered with rock outcroppings and surface boulders, providing hard-core challenge for rockcrawlers.
Our group included a small collection of Toyota trucks and 4Runners for a day of four-wheeling. With hubs locked and transfer cases in Low range, we dropped into the sandy trail that winds its way to what is called Raw Deal. Rated a 3.5 on a scale of 1 to 5, Raw Deal is a fun and challenging wash trail. It is relatively wide for this type of trail. This makes it suitable for a wide range of vehicles, with enough room to spread out so that obstacles can be tackled full-on or driven around along another line.
Several rock notches make for great opportunities to stretch out your suspension and test your articulation. Given the recent winter rains, there was also a fair bit of standing water in the low areas. This made some of the deeper obstacles more interesting and left your tires wet, making it more difficult to grab traction when climbing the rock faces.
Toward the end of Raw Deal, there are two paths back to the main dirt road. One is an easy wash, but the other offers an optional obstacle or two. One particularly interesting spot is a deep rock slot that is almost always partially filled with water. The lines leave you either tipped seriously off-camber or straddling the slot. Tire size and vehicle track usually determine which one will work for you.
Having completed the first trail in decent time, our group opted for another trail in the area. The Predator trail carries a 4.5 rating and does so due to a number of tight rock obstacles. Similar to the other trails here, it is short in length, but big on challenge. The rocks strewn along this wash are a particularly nasty variety with plenty of sharp edges on them. This rock is rough on wheels and tires, and wet tires are vulnerable to cuts here.
Though the obstacles on Predator don't carry specific names, you can be sure they've been called a few by those that have been beaten by this trail. There are narrow passes, rock ledges, and tight turns to contend with. Paint marks on some of the canyon walls are subtle reminders of the times when sheetmetal has kissed unyielding rock. Wider vehicles may certainly find the fit more difficult.
As our group carefully picked our way through the terrain, several of us struggled on some of the larger obstacles. We all made it through in a short while, but not without a few tire problems. We plugged two tires and had to replace a sheared valve stem on another. Not too bad of casualties for a day of 'wheeling.
Raw Deal and Predator are just two of the Table Mesa area trails north of Phoenix. The rest of the network of trails here is just as fun, and some offer some even greater challenges. Our small group of Toyotas had come out to play and our day of winter 'wheeling in the desert turned out to be a blast.