Thursday, September 3, 2015

4 Wheel Driving in Colorado, Arizona, and Tennessee

For seven years I enjoying occasionally using my Nissan Xterra to its full potential -- driving in total several thousand miles on 4-wheel drive roads in Colorado, Arizona, and Tennessee. The biggest week was in 2001 when 50+ Xterra owners gathered in Ouray, Colorado for a week, to drive the mountain roads in the high Rockies. Photos and info on that week are available here.

Below you'll find photos of some of my other adventures off-pavement, most of these alone, which is a bit scarier than when accompanied by other vehicles or having another person in my vehicle.


This view is from the 90+ mile Mogollan Rim (Colorado Plateau) Road in Arizona (Forest Road 300) which I drove from highway 61 south of Show Low to highway 87 near Strawberry. Plenty of beautiful campsites are available along its route as well as several Forest Service campgrounds. This road for the most part can be easily traversed by passenger cars, especially the center section where highway 260 crosses.

Obviously, the views of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest are spectacular!

The next two photos were taken in the Cerbat Mountains outside Chloride in northwestern Arizona. Remote, arid, and desolate are good adjectives for this area, an area that was mined out a long time ago. The town's name, Chloride, gives you an idea of what they mined. Certainly nothing like the beauty of the prior photos!


Red Dirt Creek Road (Forest Road 611) and Derby Mesa Trail create a loop that began and ended at the Colorado River in Colorado.

You always put one of your front tires on big rocks, though your gut might tell you to put the wheels on either side of the obstruction. But that allows the rock to damage or destroy the important stuff under the car frame if the obstacle is too tall to be cleared. So that's what I'm doing in the photo below.

Another tip for 4-wheeling: Never put your thumbs around the steering wheel. If you hit a boulder or other obstacle and the wheel is violently jerked from your hands, your thumb is likely to be broken!

Guanella Pass Road in Colorado, 22 miles from Georgetown to Grant takes you to 11,699 Guamella Pass. Native Americans used the pass as they followed the migrating bison which grazed their way over the pass. In 1861, Captain Edward Berthoud and the famous Jim Bridger crossed the pass when surveying for potential railroad routes

Georgia Pass, Colorado, crosses the Continental Divide on a route traveled heavily by both the Ute and Arapaho Tribes, topping out at 11,585 feet elevation. I was always able to find lovely campsites to stay at along these 4-wheel drive roads through these national forests.

The ugly white mounds are gravel tailings from the four huge dredge boats that worked the Swan River, placer-mining for gold until 1904. One dredge boat's remains are testament to these boats that had been built on-site from 200 tons of components that had been freighted in from Milwaukee in the late 1800s.

Boreas Pass Road is named for the Greek god of the north wind, an apt name for this gusty mountain road. Though unpaved, passenger vehicles can use it if they avoid the numerous potholes. A narrow gauge railroad -- the Denver, South Park, and Pacific -- used this route and at the time it was the highest rail route in the country at 11,481 feet elevation. In 1889 it became the Colorado Southern which ran until 1937. In 1938, the rails were  removed for scrap metal, and in 1952, the county rebuilt the road for auto travel. Below is the restored Bakers Tank, and below it,  the station house now used as an interpretive center.

 The ski slopes of Breckenridge are seen in the next two photos as I descend to the town.

Weston Pass Road at 11.921 feet elevation follows the South Fork of the South Platte River on the east side and Union Creek on the west side, again following an old Ute trail. The 1860 gold boom in Leadville made it a popular route, and four freight and passenger companies met the demand. One company made 1.5 million dollars in fares in 1879, and one day, 225 teams were counted as they crossed the pass pulling stagecoaches or freight wagons!

It also offers a lovely campground.

Haggerman Pass at 11,982 feet, does not require 4-wheel drive, though high clearance is advisable.

The lovely Turquoise Lake near Leadville is below with a number of forest service campgrounds available.


In 2002, I volunteered on an American Hiking Society volunteer trail crew that was working on building the Cumberland State Trail. Several others and I had 4-wheel drive vehicles which we all piled into, and the backroads we drove really needed such vehicles. It was a rough road with many crew crossings, and at one point our leader, Andy, made a left turn into a creek, drove up it a hundred yards, and then turned right back onto dry land. The three photos below show some of our wet driving adventures.

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