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Published: November 11th 2009
We slept in a bit, had breakfast, topped off the fuel and finally got rolling about 10:30. I wanted to take a route that I recalled from my youth that goes from Sugarloaf to Moonridge (though we would do it in reverse). We made our way through the Moonridge neighborhood via Sand Canyon and picked up the Sand Canyon trail. Along the way we found several offshoots that we explored and ran until the trail ended then came back out. Views, and wildlife are abundant and we even saw a deer, though it scampered off before we could get the camera out. One small trail gave us the chance to drop Opie (the name of our Jeep Wrangler Unlimited) into 4WD low and I locked the rear axle just to give it a test. We climbed and climbed until there was nowhere else to climb and he never complained or even slipped a tire.
We made our way to Sugarloaf only to find that in the years since I had been there it had been extremely suburbanized and all the previous dirt roads that met the trails had been paved and there were barbed wire fenced blocking our exit from the trail. Fortunately we had the computer running and just kept trying different ones until we found one where someone (not us!) had pulled a section down and we were able to exit. We located the cabin where we stayed on our honeymoon, then found the dinky cabin my family owned when I was a boy. Its still there and just as dinky due to the 25x40 foot lot size. Our camera had died so we snapped a picture with the cell phone and jaunted back into town to buy a new one (gotta love easy access to a Kmart lol)
The plan was to have a picnic somewhere scenic so we headed to the area I had plotted on redtrails.com. Again things had changed and the trailhead was blocked by private property so we made our way to the 18 skirting the east end of Lake Baldwyn and dropped down Cactus Road (which is a “road” only in name) onto Smarts Ranch Road/N303. I know this sound like an advertisement but Overland Navigator is simply an indispensable tool. Because we have it we can find new routes easily on the fly and adjust with little effort. We are running it on our 15’ laptop as we don’t have a smaller one but it sits perfectly in the middle of the back seat and Kari can co-pilot by taking a look back. We found a pretty, sunny spot and had a late picnic lunch about 2:30. Heading down N303 would eventually bring us to part of the route we intended to take so we rolled on. By the time we got there though it was one of those “its farther back than it is out” moments, and with a navigation check we saw a route that we believed would take us to Hwy 38 figuring that if worse came to worse we could backtrack using the breadcrumb trail we had recorded.
Smarts Ranch Road/N303 took us to Burns Canyon/N202 where we headed left (southeast) for a few miles. Then we went right on a small trail just before Rose Mine. The trail was marked with an off road guide that listed it as Green (easy) for Jeeps so we headed out it. In about a half mile there was a sign that changed the listing to Blue (moderate) for Jeeps. A short climb and crest into Round valley lead to where the trail split and the sign now listed the route as Black (Most Difficult) for Jeeps and Blue for motorcycles. I was hoping that the ranking was for the other trail that we were not taking as we only had about an hour or so of daylight left, but within a few hundred yards it was clear that, Oh yes…we were on a Black Trail! We took our time, ran in low with the rear axle locked and carefully made our way, no spotters, just seat of the pants careful driving. At one point my dear wife proved her salt, I said, “Honey I’m sorry that I have us here at this time of the day I intended to be here earlier.” Her reply? “No problem baby, we have provisions and can sleep in the Jeep then continue tomorrow if we need to.”
The trail got rougher and tighter as we went until we were faced with a section about 50 yards long that looked nearly impassable. The initial trail had become a washout about 6’ deep, there was a partial left path that was severely banked into the washout and I knew we would end up rolling by taking it. To the right of the washout was a path that looked JUST wide enough to fit on but just at the start there was a 4’ high rock on the right to maneuver around without sliding into the washout. Add to that once around the rock there were washouts on both sides of the path and the trail at the top looked to be a tough rock climb. We chose the right path.
As I approached the rock I could see tire marks, scrapes and paint on it where others had passed but somehow we snaked around it without a hitch. We crept up the knife edge path over various rocks until we made it to the rock climb. There I paused and said, “Ok, what are we gonna do now?” as I tried to visualize the path I would try and I shot up a quick prayer “Ok God, show us the way and get us through this safely.” Though I didn’t know it at the moment, Kari started to quietly cry and I don’t blame her a bit as we were facing a series of 1-2’ vertical step ups that spanned a car length and no way back. As we started forward the thought came into my mind, go right and hit it squarely, which I did. Opie crept, crawled, flexed, and maneuvered right up and over the whole section without even slipping a tire or scrapping! How? We have no idea. With a HUGE feeling of relief we both started cheering, laughing, and talking at the same time. We realized that in our excitement we hadn’t thought to take pictures of the area lol. In retrospect we would love to do the area again, during the day, with friends driving a second vehicle as going it solo was not really the best plan. The remaining drive out was a simple fire road and as we did both of us patted Opie on the dash and I said in my best Sheriff Andy Tailor impression, “Opie, you done good son!” We rewarded ourselves with a fantastic burger and sweet potato fries at Stillwell’s before heading back to our cottage.
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