By Jon Crowley
I absolutely love to explore and I think that is one of the reasons that I find UTVs so attractive. UTVs allow you to cover long distances in a wide variety of terrain in relative comfort. One of the first adventure rides I took in a UTV was back in 2007 with my late friend Rick “Wally” Wallace – see Mojave UTV Adventure Ride.
Since then I have done as many rides off-the-grid as possible. My buddy Wally loved to plan these rides and I was always willing to tag along. Unfortunately Wally passed away a few years ago, and it seems tougher to get out and explore without him around as the driving force behind the adventure. I plan to try my best to carry that torch over the next few years and I know that my friend Reid Nordin from Walker Evans Racing is game as well.
Reid and I began to talk about adventure rides again a few months ago, and he brought up the Arizona Peace Trail. The Arizona Peace Trail is a 750 mile long Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Loop Trail that explores the dramatic and remote Sonoran Desert landscapes of western Arizona. The trail stretches from Yuma, AZ in the South to Bullhead City, AZ in the North.
I love loop rides and we decided that 4 days was our maximum days on the trail and we would start and end in Parker Arizona. With only four days, we looked at the great resources on the AZPT website (http://arizonapeacetrail.org) and determined that we would depart Parker AZ on January 1 and travel to Bullhead for the night. Then Bullhead to Hualapai Mountain Resort for day 2. Hualapi to Salome for day 3. Then Salome to Parker for day 4. This loop is 450 miles total and skips Salome to Yuma, and Yuma back to Parker.
The AZPT team has done an incredible job with sample itinerary, GPS routes and even fuel and food locations. This is an invaluable resource that would have taken a ton of time if we were to concoct this trip by ourselves.
In preparation for the trip, we made a conscious decision to keep things simple. One manufacturer keeps spare parts and repairs easier. A group of three can also move through the desert at a quicker pace. Two things I want to stress that should be required for this trip are GPS and radio communication, in proper working order and with a knowledge of how to use them.
Reid was totally setup with LeadNav and a Lowrance GPS plus a radio. I had radio as well (Ultimate Rider RRP660 2-Person System with 60-Watt Car-2-Car), but was testing a Magellan TRX7 for the first time. I also had Ride Command maps in my Dynamix RZR. Troy from UTV Off-Road Magazine was the least prepared for adventure ride with a handheld radio and handheld GPS.
We left the Bluewater Casino on New Year’s day at about 8AM. Parker AZ is actually not on the actual AZPT loop, but there are connector routes and spur trails amongst the many GPS routes downloaded from the website. This is where some preparation and knowledge of your GPS is critical. I had all the routes on my GPS, but didn’t know how to find the right one. And Polaris Ride Command had most all of the trails, but we could not get the route to download so all we had were tons of trails without any markings about which was our route. We also tried to setup a “Group Ride” to see if we could follow Reid up front, but that falls apart as soon as you lose cell service.
We resorted to following dust trails and trying to stay in radio contact, but that gets frustrating with limitations to handheld radio performance. I finally figured out the naming conventions for the AZPT routes and how to select them on my Magellan TRX7 at the end of day one as we closed in on Bullhead City.
We made one fuel stop on the way from Parker to Bullhead at Golden Shores. We each carried extra fuel with us, and it is very important to have an idea about how far you can travel in your particular vehicle. I was in a 2-seat Polaris RZR XP Turbo and was able to get 90-100 miles on a tank. Reid got more in his naturally aspirated RZR XP 1000 and Troy got a little worse in his 4-seat RZR XP Turbo.
Day 2 we started in Bullhead City with breakfast at the Black Bear Diner in town. After about 140 miles on day 1, day 2 would be much shorter. We planned to hit Oatman, Secret Pass and Kingman before stopping at Hualapai Mountain Resort for the night.
Oatman is a quick and easy drive from Bullhead City, but worth the stop. Oatman has undergone a tourism renaissance of sorts in recent years, thanks to interest in Route 66 and because of the local “wild burros”. The place can be very crowded on weekends though so keep that in mind.
After Oatman, we headed towards Kingman with a stop at Secret Pass. The trip into Secret Pass is a spur trail off the main route but well worth it.
After Secret Pass, there are a few miles of interesting terrain, then the rest of the route to Kingman is either graded or paved. Fuel, food and places to stay are plentiful in Kingman. We ate at the Dambar Steakhouse.
One mistake we made in our planning is Hualapai Mountain Resort is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and we were showing up on Tuesday. No problem on the bed for us there, but dinner we would have to figure out on our own. It is a quick drive up to Hualapai Mountain Resort from Kingman, but we knew that our day 3 would be a long one so we opted to stick with our plan to stay at Haulapai.
As expected the place was deserted except for a few elk and deer.
The Hualapai Mountains top out at over 8,000 feet and the resort is somewhere around 7,000 up in the pines. The difference in temperatures can be dramatic up there and snow is NOT uncommon in the winter so plan ahead.
Once the sun set, it got cold quick. We found some heaters in the outside patio area and ate out Fritos with bean dip for dinner. Pretty sure we were all in bed by 9PM.
The next morning, we hit the trail about 7:30. Mornings in the desert are cold, and up here even a bit colder. It was slow going on curvy mountain trails way up high with incredible views down to the valley floors below.
Here is a quick view of some of the terrain we hit from Secret Pass, then along Hualapai Mountains, down to Alamo and almost into Salome (at night).
This is what I love about riding in the desert in some places. The terrain changes are simply amazing to experience.
We climbed and descended at a pretty slow pace for a few hours and this is something that you really need to take into account when planning. This is not fast pole line road type driving for the most part so the 169 miles we drove on day 3 took us almost 12 hours with a longer than expected stop for lunch in Wikieup. And this is with just three decently fast vehicles/drivers with no mechanical issues.
The climb up to this pass was pretty slow going in 4WD low range for me.
After the trail passes by Burch Peak, we finally descended out of the mountains but it was probably still another hour to Wikieup where we stopped for fuel and lunch.
Wikieup is off the AZ Peace Trail route by 5 miles or so, but fuel and food made the stop a necessity for us.
I figured we would be making some fast miles after lunch, and we did for 20-30 miles. But we had 169 miles on tap for the day and it was looking like an arrival in the dark at Salome Arizona was a distinct possibility.
We drove by Alamo Lake and found some nasty silt and a little river crossing too.
The last 20 miles or so into Salome Arizona were either incredibly dusty or slow going in 4WD low range. But we arrived around 7PM and found our motel. Lodging and food are pretty slim in Salome so be prepared.
We were “lucky” enough to be in Salome on Wednesday, which is karaoke night. None of us were brave enough to give it a go….
The next day was a short hop across the loop from east to west to Parker. We backtracked about 10 miles then took the pole line road back to Shae Rd. and into Parker.
As I mentioned before, we skipped out on 2 days of riding to complete the loop, but I think we will be back at some point to finish that up.
The Arizona Peace Trail is a great concept and the folks that have made this trail a reality are to be commended for their efforts. Please take the time to study up on their website before jumping into a ride like this. Make sure you are prepared for the unexpected. This is remote territory and often there is no cell service.
Make sure all your vehicles are in good working order. Everyone should have radios and GPS and test them out before you depart.
And I would recommend not having too many vehicles in the group. Dust can be bad and this can spread you out considerably.
Be ready for extreme temperatures. We had great weather for January, and it was still very chilly in the mornings. Plan to layer as it warmed up quickly for us and we were peeling off layers at each stop.
Visit http://arizonapeacetrail.org/trail-resources for GPS route information. I used the zip file and uploaded all the files without truly understanding their layout. Look them over and understand what they all represent before your trip. I found the files that begin with “AZPT” are the routes to use if you want to follow along the normal trail. Most of the others are spurs for destinations, bypasses or alternate routes and also routes that allow you to cut across the loop in different locations if you chose to not drive the entire loop.
Here is how I outfitted my Dynamix RZR:
- Cognito Motorsports stock width suspension – A-arms, Trailing Arms, Radius Links and Tie Rods
- Cognito Motorsports Cage, Doors and Tire Carrier
- Shock Therapy Dual Rate Spring package and Ride Improvement System
- Walker Evans Racing Forged Legend Beadlock Wheels (15×5.5)
- BFGoodrich 32×9.50R15 Tires
- Walker Evans Racing Walker Links
- RCV Pro Series II Axles
- Factory UTV UHMW Skid Plate, Rock Sliders and A-arm Guards
- Warn 9.0rc winch mounted in Campbell Enterprises Bumper
- KC HiLiTES Flex LED Lights and Rear Tail Light Bar
- XTC Power Products Power Control System and Turn Signal Kit
- Zollinger Race Products Billet Hubs
- Rugged Radios Intercom, Radio and Helmet Blower
- Magellan TRX7 GPS
- Momo Steering Wheel
- Simpson Race Products Vortex Rally Suspension Seats and 3×3 D2 Harnesses
- BlueFire Outdoors Gated Shifter
- Sick Stick Lighted LED Whips