2006 Hummer H3 Arizona Trails & Tents Tour - In Search Of Obscurity

    Part 3: We Find The Road Less Traveled

    Sean P. HolmanWriterKen BrubakerPhotographer, Writer

    (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.

    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.

    9:35 a.m., Highway 180 north of Flagstaff: We've driven 1,039 miles so far. Per our original plan, we have no plan. Today we're heading north towards the Grand Canyon. Brubaker is wearing camo pants yet again. Holman is aghast to learn he brought five matching pair.

    10:05 a.m., somewhere near Slate Mountain: The beauty of not having a plan is that we can explore on a whim. As we head north we began to see an abundance of forest roads branching enticingly off the highway. The lure was just too strong. We chose one at random, which happened to be FR 191. This dirt trail took us across an open expanse before depositing us into woods thick with pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, and mixed conifer. Because this area was at 7,300 feet in altitude there were several inches of snow covering the trail. Speaking of the trail, it varies between mostly smooth dirt, rutted dirt, and dirt laced with small rocks. Dirt is the common denominator. Even so, it's clear that this area is perfect for a family backcountry outing in a stock rig.

    10:40 a.m., somewhere on FR 736: For no particular reason we decided to head west on FR 736. The terrain has run a gamut from open meadows to thick woods. We've seen no other vehicles, but tracks in the patchy snow indicate that the area has had visitors. At N 35 28.000 W 112 04.380 we took a break at an old ranch that was sitting forlornly in the middle of nowhere in Spring Valley near Spring Valley Wash. This is the first structure we had seen in a long time. We sat under the warm Arizona sun and enjoyed almost dead silence. We decided that we had in fact discovered yet another obscure trail.

    11:05 a.m., locked gate: We've been exploring unmarked two-tracks that branch from secondary trails. These have been quite fascinating and they've taken us even further into the backcountry. Many have ended at gates marked with "no trespassing" signs, but we're still having fun. We're delightfully off the grid because there is no cell phone service. We've seen no other travelers and free range cattle roam everywhere. Thanks to our GPS and Gazetteer we have a basic idea where we are, but it's clear that this hodge podge of two-tracks can quickly cause you to lose your bearings if you don't have the proper navigational tools. One of the challenges has been that while the Gazetteer shows roads, it doesn't differentiate between roads that are closed and roads that are open.

    1:30 p.m., Planes of Fame Air Museum: After a few hours of exploring two-tracks, FR 736 bisected Highway 64. We headed north toward the Grand Canyon but our travels temporarily halted when we spotted the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Valle, Arizona. Second to our love of 'wheeling is our love of aircraft. Holman sprung for the admission fee and we spent the next hour drooling over the planes parked in the hangar. Some surprises included a Douglas RB-26C Invader attack bomber, a bullet-riddled Yokosuka D4Y Suisei (Judy) dive bomber recovered from a jungle a few years ago, and an authentic German Messerchmitt ME-109 fighter.

    3:30 p.m., Grand Canyon National Park: It would've been wrong to be this close to the Grand Canyon and not stop in for a visit. We did the tourist thing, and visited a few of the overlooks to view the incredible scenery. However, we quickly found that after two days of exploring two-tracks and remote backcountry, the paved, tour-bus-laden park didn't quite feel right, so we split. We had big plans of continuing north to explore the utterly desolate North Rim and points west of that, but then cold deadline-laden reality set in and we realized we had to start heading back to the office in Los Angeles.

    11:20 p.m., Needles, California, KOA Campground: Brubaker went to take a shower, but before he left he locked the doors on the H3. Unfortunately he left a door open. Holman closed the door which triggered the alarm. The resulting loud, unceasing racket of the horn blowing woke up all but the heaviest sleepers in the campground. Since Brubaker had the only set of keys, it took Holman a few minutes to find the tools to disconnect the battery cable to disable the alarm. Yup, we were makin' friends fast.

    2:45 a.m., KOA Campground, Needles: It's our last night on the road and it's a beautiful winter night in the desert. The temperature is in the low 50's and Brubaker has the rainfly removed from his Coleman Evanston tent so he can see the moon. He's sleeping in his Coleman Diamondback summer sleeping bag and he's hot. Holman has his Sundome tent all buttoned up and is sleeping in his Coleman Big Game -5 F. winter sleeping bag with his ProCat PerfectTemp Catalytic Heater on high.

    7:45 a.m. KOA Campground, Needles: It could be our imagination, but it seemed like a bunch of campers wanted to dismember us this morning.

    9:40 a.m., Highway 40 crossing the Mojave Desert: We pass more roads leading off into the desert but we have to quell our urge to explore as we make a beeline to the office.

    12:20 p.m., Primedia headquarters, Los Angeles: As we ride the elevators to our floor, Holman witnesses a prissy L.A. chick and her cronies make fun of Brubaker's camo pants behind his back. Nonetheless, Holman and Brubaker have pity on the poor girl. Obviously this city girl has never 'wheeled deep into the backcountry, cooked over an open fire, or slept under the stars. If she had, she would respect what camo represents and she'd understand the Trails & Tents Tour.

    Our goal was to 'wheel obscure trails, and thanks to Arizona's thousands of miles of forest roads, it was an easy goal to achieve. These trails harbored a surprise around every bend and they were measured not in extreme obstacles conquered, but miles explored. The trails we traveled were perfect for a family adventure when you want to explore desolate backcountry and still have your rig carry you home under its own power.

    Days on the road: 5
    Miles traveled: 1,753
    Tires destroyed: 1
    Javelinas encountered: 1
    Days we wished we were in the office: 0

    All total we explored three distinct trails during our trip to Arizona. Here they are:

    Rattlesnake Road-Head east out of Phoenix on Highway 60. Continue east on Highway 70 past Globe to Klondyke Road. Head south for approximately 26.9 miles. Trail begins at N 32 48.041 W 110 17.363.

    Rating: First 8.3 miles 1, last 2.5 miles 3.5 on a scale of 1-5.

    Schnebly Hill Road (FR 153)-This trail can be accessed via Highway 17 at exit 320 or in Sedona via Highway 179 (look for FR 153 signs). Rating: 1

    FR 191/FR 736-Head north from Flagstaff on Highway 180. A few miles north of Kendrick Park and FR 191C turn left on FR 191. In approximately less than 5 miles FR 191 will merge with FR 736. Rating: 1 (higher if snowy or wet)

    Yup, the boys did daily blogs. You can log on to http://blogs.fourwheeler.com/page3.html and read about the Trails & Tents Tour as it happened. There are also more photos from the trip.

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