Sometimes a small extreme group is good for some hair raising, but a Jeep caravan in the desert during our short little Arizona spring is therapeutic for all Jeeps and Jeepers alike. Putting down a few modular differences, 33's and 40's can come together and walk in each others footprints in search of secluded destinations and adventure. We began ours at a Chevron...well three different Chevrons, but no one's here to rub it in each other's grills that there may be more than one gas station on a 10 mile stretch of highway. When we all got eventually assembled, we headed through the small town of Cave Creek towards our destination. Little did we know that our caraJeep would become its own parade entry. The "Fiesta Days" Parade had just started with our lane of traffic being diverted alongside the lined up spectators. Our line of eleven vehicles creeping down the road ahead of the real parade got quite the stare especially by children who thought we were the first entry.

When we got to our air down spot, a couple Forest Rangers pulled up and made sure we were some of the good guys. They gave us the "stay on trails and be careful speech" and we let them know where we were going and where we would come out. They actually talked to us a while about Higher Ground and they took a phone number and a card for just in case purposes. After some very cordial convo (including some on the FR42), we proceeded down into the wash.

When you have a large group coming onto a trail that have never run it before, it is important to know the trail conditions ahead of time, time involved, and obstacles that may be around corners. The requirements for this trail also add another important factor that not everyone may know about their vehicle: What width is your Jeep? TeamYellow and I took the liberty of prerunning the entire trail a few weeks earlier so we could let people know what was expected.

The trail itself, can be broken down into thirds. The first consists of a medium sized wash and offers a few rock gardens that clearance will be an issue on. The second leg begins with a steep loose fin climb out that lockerless vehicles will have a time with. It continues above the washes, running the ridge for a while before bringing you into the second canyon. This canyon is the last trip portion and the one you need to know about ahead of time. This canyon becomes harrowingly narrow quite quickly and more than likely you will draw quad and dirt bike spectators that are certain of your imminent stuckness. Our prerun determined that a Wrangler with a width of 74" between its rubber sidewalls, can just make it by climbing the wall a bit at the narrowest portion, but doing so gets your rear rollbars/roof quite close to the hungry rock walls. Even so, it is easy to get one wedged if attention is not paid. We had two of our larger unJeeps break off from us at this point and head out a different direction.

 

Our group did well in the first canyon. The main obstacle here is right at the beginning where a huge boulder tries to block the trail. After destacking the trail here, our group rolled on through as Jonathan (one of the prerunners) showed them how to stay high left to anticipate the suck down that the hole would inevitably bring you in where the boulder could have its way with your rear. Even so, we had a TJ corner panel get smashed and a more vulnerable Cherokee lose some red glass and bumper. Of course Chris's LostOffroad buggabeast went somewhere along the no nonsense line of just going over the whole thing. There were a few hang ups in some of the rock gardens where open diffs and sand, and pointy rocks and lower clearance didn't mix.

The trail gets a little lazy after that, and some pedal can be used to wash down the trail until the hill climb. It would be obvious when you get there, even if it weren't signed. Its a pretty unforgiving loose ground ramp with no buffer to speak of on the sides. Loose traction with open diffs at the steeper 3/4 mark and you most likely won't get it back again. The locked Jeeps crawled the giving gravel without too much issue. Then the opens came through trying their own approach. The ones who kept it straight and hammered down made it on their own accord. Staying along the scary edge was actually more helpful since the ground was harder packed, but it didn't leave much of a margin of error. Russ at the 3/4 mark lost his ground and while trying to seek out the harder edge to get going again, got his Jeep a little sideways in a way no one wanted to see or risk, so cable was pulled to assist him higher. Unfortunately due to some cable issues, poor Russ had to double brake stand for a good 25minutes in his precarious position until we were sure the winch was safe for the work. The cable had actually become detached from the spool but after some duct tape (you heard right) and some respooling, Russ was on his way up.

 

That second third of the trail while boring wheel wise, did offer some great views of Four Peaks and the lakes and there were plenty of wildflowers out. On the prerun we spotted 5 large antlered Mule Deer, but this time they must have been hiding out. We did see a Rattler, and a Gopher Snake catching some sun though.

From the drop-in at the next canyon, the walls look unassuming and spacious enough at first then slowly become to creep in. We had a golf cart group pass by just before the drop and ask us where were headed and after explaining, they said there was no way, that even they rubbed the wall on the way in. We neglected to tell them it had been a perfect fit a few weeks ago, and pressed on. I don't need to go into detail on just how tight stuff got, the pics tell the story- besides there's way too many innuendos in there and I'm tired of coming up with good ones only to have to censor-erase them. We were all glad the last two in the group opted out of trying the squeezins. I'm pretty sure it was the news over the CB that a certain red TJ had fat guy'd in a little coat himself in front and back. It took a good bit of pulling in either direction to free him and some tense moments where slowly walking away whistling came to mind. The point is that it can be done. There was plenty of rubbing of tires and maybe a little roof paint lost, but if you can anticipate the narrowest spot and climb the wall a little bit for some added canyon width, you should be ok. However, if you're tires don't caution on the side of Mexican enough to buffer the body itself away from the rock, you should expect your vehicle to come out with evidence of rough play.

So fast forward now. Hopefully you didn't meet anyone coming the other way for the 1/4 mile of one lane action. You're basically done, that's the trail. Upon being spit out on the last 3 miles of 11 mile wash, we continued downstream to join its meeting at the river. There we dipped our feet, downed some lunch and drinks and hung out for a while with a general air of cool. A little later a few HG'ers tried their hand at the play area and views above Needle Rock. Everyone that started finished, hands were lent when needed, views were taken in, trails were kept clean, and a mark was checked off on another successful Higher Ground excursion.

 

Trail Rating: 3.0-3.5
Trail Length: 8mi (+3.mi down main wash to Verde)
Trail Drive Time: 1:30
Trail Recommendations:
No full size (due to narrow canyon walls)
Some clearance
No locker requirement
Sliders recommended

 

Thanks to the Arizona Rough Riders for this trail's upkeep

 

 

Photography: Michael D'Avy