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Permanent Vacation

5462 Views 50 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  zzyzx
I will post some road trip pics here. This started in June–but better late than never. I intend to keep it going for a while.

First, parting shots from the Reno area. These are the hills around Virginia City: site of the Comstock Lode and one of the best-known mining ghost towns.
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Stalking horses:
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Virginia City isn't really a ghost town. Some people live there, and there are a lot of tourists. They are building roads and subdivisions in the area.
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But the mustangs don't seem worried.
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I got out of those mountains via Corkscrew Pass, one over from Hurricane Pass. Judging from satellite imagery, Corkscrew Pass is nicer. I still want to check out Hurricane Pass to be sure. Corkscrew Pass is really nice though:
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Farther down it dumps out into another colorful valley with the aptly-named Mineral Creek.
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On the way out I saw some folks preparing to go up the pass. There was a big Silverado in the group with a flat tire and apparently no spare. They were mounting a mismatched spare from another vehicle. Good luck to them! At least I'm not the only crazy one out there.
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Sweet as can be. This is why I rent 4x4s when in the US. (For the most part.)

These last 2 years are the first I've not been in the US for +20 years.
Taking the scenic route out of the mountains. There was a highway, but this way was more fun:
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The southwest corner of Colorado is mostly flat, but a series of canyons is cutting away the plateau and sending it down the river. The plateau is completely occupied by agriculture, for now, while the canyons are wild. It makes a striking pattern in the satellite imagery.
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Much of the area is in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. The ancients had the foresight to build in the canyons where nobody goes these days, so there are still a bunch of standing structures. This is Painted Hand Pueblo.
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Over in Utah there is a thin layer of desert on top of the sandstone formations…
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…and lots of good driving on the way down to the big canyons.
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This is at the Hook and Ladder Trails in southeast Utah. I usually don't bother to search for "off-roading trails" since I find plenty of opportunities just by looking at maps and driving around. This time I did enough research to know that there would be plenty of trails. Maybe I didn't look too closely at the level of difficulty. I don't know how other people gauge difficulty, so what good would that do?

The first half of the route was easy, moving in a line across sandy desert then along a canyon. When the route switched up over a ridge and started to cut across strata it got interesting.
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With a little planning, and crawling along in rock mode, it worked out fine. But yeah I would call it "difficult".

The return leg follows a ridge. The views were great, but there was a lot of climbing. At this point I thought hard about turning back. I hadn't done a climb like this before. The hill looks unforgiving, but others had made it before. I didn't want to go all the way back around the loop, so I gave it a try. Slow and steady.
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The payoff:
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At Canyonlands National Park, I got the official map and headed out to see the designated photo ops. On the way out of the visitor center, I made a wrong turn and found a dirt road with an old sign saying something like "Jeep trail". Even better. The sand gave way to rock making the trail harder to follow. These stone markers helped.
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It ends with a nice view of the Colorado, which is hard to get from any of the paved roads in the park.
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I spent several days checking out trails outside the park. There's plenty.
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The area in and around Canyonlands is awesome. You should go there.
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I got a permit from the rangers to drive into Lavender Canyon, a remote area at the south end of the national park. The attractions:
  • Fifteen mile drive up a river bed
  • More natural arches than you can shake a stick at
  • I had the area to myself for the day (nobody else got a permit)
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Normally I wouldn't drive up a river. Crossing one is enough excitement. But there was evidence that at least two others made it out before me and—more important—after the last rain storm. Besides, I had already told the ranger that I am capable of self-rescue.
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Handhold Arch, one of many:
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I tried a couple forks near the head of Lavender Canyon. I got farther than the other guys. Now I can see why. The last twenty meters or so narrowed down to a gap just wide enough for the Jeep, with hardy shrubs on both sides. The shrubbery is angled downstream so it catches, pokes, and scrapes all over anything moving upstream. (The red paint is holding up, but the plastic moulding around the doors is getting scraped up from outings like this.) After that it became clear that there was no more trail.
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Only one way out. Here is a view of Cleft Arch in the back-up cam.
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Out and around to another fork of the canyon.
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This one ended with a nice whirlpool feature. It might have been passable if the sand was dry, but I didn't want to find out the hard way. Anyway I got farther than the other guy who tried this fork.
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And made it back out of the canyon before sundown without having to self-rescue. It's mostly BLM land outside the park, so it is easy to find a place to camp before moving on.
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Passing back up through Colorado, here is a quick nod to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It has an awkward name, but the place is awesome.
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At the northwest corner of Colorado, Dinosaur National Monument is also awesome.
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It looks like there is a good Jeep road leading down to the river there, but I was short on time. This is the south side of the park and I needed to get around to the north. Luckily there were some muddy trails through BLM land leading to this rocky slope down around the south side of the park—thus avoiding highways. This trail, and many like it, seems to be there for access to infrastructure like power lines and cell towers. The maintenance crews get to enjoy these views and bone-jarring rides all the time and probably don't think it's such a big deal.
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Good camping on BLM land outside the park.
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Petroglyphs at the south side of the park.
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And at the west end, near the visitor center. They apparently have a lot of dinosaur bones and an active quarry there too.
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The north side of the park is served by this really long gravel road…
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…leading to more petroglyphs.
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Back in Nevada for a spell, this is the road to Virginia City. Autumn is hitting here several weeks later than it did in the Rocky Mountains.
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There is a perfectly good highway from Virginia City over the mountains to Reno. But there is a parallel trail through Seven Mile Canyon. The first six-and-half-miles were fine. The last half-mile, which climbs out of the canyon to meet the highway, was a mess after some recent rain and snow. As usual I didn't get photos of the worst of it. After a lot of spinning tires while trying to climb a muddy stretch, I found an alternate route which was still pretty slippery.
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The mud peeled off and I got going. So close to that nice highway…
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This is the only sign anywhere on the Seven Mile Canyon road. With hindsight I think the road doesn't get used much.
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Made it back to Reno. Here is a random forest road in the hills. Farther up, it became impassable due to ice on top of mud. Maybe I'll stay down in the valley for a while.
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Down by the river, where the mustangs hang out.
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... Still jealous.

looks like you are having a great time.
Finally getting snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountains—six feet this week. This was the Renegade's first blizzard.
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The same thing happened a couple days later. The excitement wears off quickly after all the shoveling.
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So cool.
What is your overnight set-up? Motels? Camping? In the Renegade, or a mix of all?
It's a mix. This week is a hotel up near the ski resorts at Lake Tahoe. But it was more like camping when the power went out for a couple days during the snow storm. I have been doing short-term rentals and, in the summer, camping on occasion.
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I spent the winter in the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado. The skiing was good, though it seems like this area should get more snow. I quickly found out that off-roading wasn't going to happen. Most of the forest roads and mountain passes are closed until around the end of May. Oh well. I finally found on this forest road called Switzerland Trail, in the foothills west of Boulder, Colorado.
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At only 2600m elevation I guess they don't bother to close it. It was good to get back to crunching over rocks.
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This is at Great Sand Dunes National Park (tallest dunes in North America) back in April. The Medano Pass road runs around the dunes and up into the mountains. It was only open for the first mile or so, but it's still an opportunity to slosh around in soft sand. After hiking on the dunes, I can affirm that driving on sand beats walking on it.
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The flat plains around here are desolate. Of course, there are some nice spots up in the mountains. A little to the south, Blanca Peak Road runs up to an alpine lake below Blanca Peak.
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Good view of the desolation from above:
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That's an hour of driving for a 600m/1800ft gain of altitude. The temperatures were better up there. There was time to reflect on how, on an out-and-back trail like this, every rock has to be crawled twice. I turned back, half way to the lake. The bumpy ride down:
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A road like this is probably more fun in a light, springy ATV. But with the ATV you can't just roll out to the highway and keep on traveling.
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Good to hear from you.
This cool mountain road is in the national forest north of Los Alamos, New Mexico, back at the end of April.
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There isn't much traffic on this route, and it is barely clinging to the side of the mountain farther along. There is a nice little clearing and a stream at the end of the line.
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The problem with traveling through (and living in) New Mexico is that many of the forests are on fire. I dodged two large fires and a couple small ones while finding a route across the state (and on to Arizona, where there is another ongoing fire near Flagstaff).
There is less fire down in the desert. This is crossing Nambé Badlands:
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Scenic, but not cool like the mountains. A little farther down there is a network of dry washes leading to the Rio Grande near Diablo Canyon, with opportunities to play in the sand.
I try to stay alert to unusual hazards while off-roading, but it's always nice to have a helpful warning sign. I might not have noticed…
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This area is called Peck Canyon, in the middle of some desert in southeast Arizona. The actual canyon is more of a large gully, somewhere off to the left. This place has some of the most diverse desert vegetation I have seen anywhere.
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I kinda feel bad for all the cactus that was bulldozed to make this route connecting two points in the middle of nowhere. It's an easy-going road, following the contours.
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Down through a dry wash, then the road connects with a service road for a gas pipeline. The pipeline was clearly planned by someone with a map and a ruler. It cuts straight across the contours, with some gut-wrenching climbs and drops.
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…and on through the desert. It is getting hot in Arizona so I just kept moving.
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A few days later I passed through Sedona. I had heard that it is nice, and sure enough everybody from Phoenix goes up there to relax. The town is crowded, but there are some excellent opportunities for four-wheeling. The place is lousy with commercial Jeep tours.
This is on the Broken Arrow Trail, which has lots of slickrock and lots of traffic.
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That's also the last photo of the Renegade before I punched a hole in the rear bumper when backing up on a rock. That black plastic trim around the bottom is very soft. I suppose it's better than metal trim which would show a big dent now.
The entrance to each 4x4 trail around town begins with an aggressive speed-bump, built from local stone, to keep out some of the knuckleheads and to give a taste of what lies ahead. I scraped the bottom of the Renegade on one of them. I guess that makes me a knucklehead.
I was looking for something less crowded, so I headed up Schnebly Hill Road. It is the slow way out of Sedona, but the views are worth it. Dodging the Jeep tours…
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…and on up the grade.
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After a lot of bouncing around, the payoff:
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This fun back road leads to Aguereberry Point above Death Valley. The valley was getting pretty hot when I passed through a month ago, so heading to the high points was key.
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That worked well, so the next day I took a shot at this trail through Park Canyon, which is supposed to lead from Panamint Valley, through a mountain pass, and back into Death Valley. It was a rough ride and, at 8:30am, was already as hot as it looks.
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I gave up on it and instead headed north in search of cooler weather. Got a nice view of Panamint Valley though.
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