2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport: Off-Road Near the Grand Canyon
March 21, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Jeep's antenna mast makes a handy hang-point for my battery-powered lantern.
Burgers, beans and beer.
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.
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.
After crossing the Bill Williams River, a series of puddles this time of year, the trail followed a gas pipeline for a few miles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This isn't the Grand Canyon Rim, but we are close. That's Lake Mead in the far distance.
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.
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.
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.
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