Off-Road Near the Grand Canyon - 2012 Jeep Wrangler Long-Term Road Test
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2012 Jeep Wrangler Long-Term Road Test

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport: Off-Road Near the Grand Canyon

March 21, 2013

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

There's a lot of unspoiled desert out there, and last weekend a small group of us headed north from Quartzsite, Arizona in three vehicles to explore a decent-sized swath of it. We left the pavement just northeast of Q-site at a wide spot in the road called Bouse, and from there we bumped our way north as far as Meadville and Grand Canyon West.

This was expedition-style off-roading. Nothing too technical, but clearance and 4-wheel drive were necessary. A soft-road crossover, especially an AWD one without a lockable center differential, would have stood a good chance of getting stuck in any number of sandy washes and rocky streambeds. I used low range a few times.

Anyone who ventures out this way can't be averse to superficial paint and clearcoat scratches because trailside growths of mesquite, creosote bush and palo verde are common along the often-narrow trails that meander across the Arizona backcountry. You could say the Desert Stripe package comes standard at no extra charge.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

Tiny Bouse, Az is the place to top off and air down. You may have heard of the Parker 400 off-road race. This place is near the southernmost point of the course.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

The Swansea mine and ghost town is barely more than an hour up the road if you take a graded road. We took narrower primitive tracks, so it took us twice as long.

Once there, some of the old mine buildings have been stabilized and partially restored. This crumbling adobe structure was the railroad depot about 100 years ago.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

We set up camp nearby at a semi-improved campsite. There are about a half-dozen fire rings and sun shelters, but they are spaced several hundred yards apart. None of the others was occupied. Except for coyotes, we had the entire valley to ourselves.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

The Jeep's antenna mast makes a handy hang-point for my battery-powered lantern.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

Burgers, beans and beer.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

Next morning we headed for the Bill Williams River to find a way across. On the way we ran into this rather unassuming opening that leads to a really cool slot canyon. We hopped out and took a look.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

We went in about 800 feet, and this was the wider of two branches. The narrower one quickly necked down to about 2 to 3 feet wide and 30 or 40 feet tall, with the slit far above our heads barely 18 inches across in places.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

After crossing the Bill Williams River, a series of puddles this time of year, the trail followed a gas pipeline for a few miles.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

The track bounced along toward Alamo Lake, where other access roads for the bass fisherman are graded. We turned off onto unmaintained tracks to make our way north to Kingman, Az.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

North of Kingman we stayed on asphalt until we reached Meadville, our next overnight stop. Next morning we turned onto dirt once more and passed through a very healthy Joshua Tree forest.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

The west end of the Grand Canyon sees few tourists because you can't easily access a rim view. And to get to the park lands you have to cross private ranch land in a 4x4 first.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

Fortunately, the Arizona Department of Fish and Game has worked out an access arrangement for "sportsmen and recreationists." There's a sign-in box and free access passes at the fence line. All they ask is that you pack out your trash, stay on the trail and refrain from pestering the cattle.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

This isn't the Grand Canyon Rim, but we are close. That's Lake Mead in the far distance.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

The far side of the Grand Canyon, the North Rim, is the dark line of cliffs in the distance. We're about two miles away from a point where we could see the Colorado River. For now, this is lunch.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

To get the last picture I stood on the "front porch" of a small cave. This was the view behind me. It goes in 60 or 80 feet, with evidence of ancient walls halfway back. There are hand-worked rock shards at my feet, remnants of the arrowhead-making process. Also, there are big-cat prints and droppings, but thankfully no fresh ones.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

A wooden pole and rusty sign indicates we've crossed onto Grand Canyon National Park. I have my annual pass if anyone asks. We see nothing but two Pronghorn Antelope, a coyote and a couple dozen cows.

2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport

In the end the road peters out before we get to the Grand Canyon gorge. We can see the other side, but the West End of the Grand Canyon is broader than the famous parts farther east. We need to proceed on foot to get to a dramatic overlook, but we haven't got the time and there's no trail from road's end.

We'd need another night in the bush but don't have one. Monday is staring us in the face. It's time to retrace our steps to Kingman and take the freeway home and return to the world of alarm clocks and commuting.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 29,165 miles


Comments

  • darthbimmer darthbimmer Posts:

    Nice pictures. You're right there's nothing too technical looking there-- though I say that as a person who's owned and driven real 4x4s for 15 years. When I've gone on trails like that with friends more familiar with street-racing than off-roading they've always expressed surprise at how casually I-- and my vehicle-- handle the challenge.

  • emajor emajor Posts:

    Nice post, Dan, these kinds of explorations are what living west of the Rockies is all about. I just need to convince my work to keep a fleet of 4x4 vehicles for use as weekend loaners so I can do the same thing without suffering the atrocious fuel economy and tire costs of that Wrangler during everyday use. You guys are fortunate.

  • alex4515 alex4515 Posts:

    Now THAT is my kind of road trip - great post!!

  • larryfitz larryfitz Posts:

    Yeah, I traded my 2006 Honda Pilot 4WD for a 2012 Nissan Xterra Pro4x last year just so I could combine my CA Sierra and Death Valley trips with some OHV stuff. For casual OHV people like myself, it's best to be cautious and not try anything beyond your vehicle's ability and your skill. I'm amazed at how much more difficult some of these trails can be compared to the photos you see in guidebooks, blogs, etc. Thanks for the cool article and nice pics!

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