Tag: Off-roading

How to Take Any Car Off-Roading [Insert Caveats Here]

off-roading in a sedan

Photo: VW Forum

So you want to venture into the wilderness but you don’t want to fork out the dough to build an ultimate adventure rig? No problemo. Outside Magazine tips you to what you need to venture off the beaten path no matter what kind of car you’re driving.

At the top of their list is traction because, well, it’s all about where the rubber meets the road. Or doesn’t as your case may be. So tires and tire repair are definite must-haves.

And if you have the derring-do to adventure into the outback in your Corolla, please read to the end of their article…which is all about recovery. Sand ladders, a tow strap and some kind strangers might be all it takes to make your trip something you can survive long enough to share with the grandkids.

Jeep Trail to Big Caliente

Santa Ynez Crossing

The drive to Big Caliente isn’t challenging enough to be a good Jeep trail, and it isn’t smooth enough to be pleasant. But when you finally make it to the floor of Blue Canyon, you feel like the time was worth it. The canyon is a large meadow area with sycamore and oak with the Santa Ynez river meandering down the middle.

The road is passable by almost any vehicle (I saw more than one Camry making the trip). Several concrete water crossings might pose some difficulty after a big rain, but it isn’t until you get to the last water crossing on 5N16 that you really need some clearance. Here the water was over a foot high, well over the sills of some passenger cars.

The attraction of this drive is the hot springs at the end of 5N16. There you’ll find a cement tub about the size of a home spa, some cinder block changing rooms that have seen better days and a pit toilet. The water in the springs is a good 170 degrees and the setting is nice, although perhaps too much traffic on a weekend. Google maps show a 4WD road near 5N16, but I didn’t see it on this trip. Most of the roads, such as the continuation of Murieta Canyon Road were gated. The Los Padres rangers keep these closed so that they don’t get churned to oblivion during the rainy season.

Blue Canyon has a number of hiking trails and campsites that would be worth further exloration.
Big Caliente hot spring

Here’s a Google Pedometer map of the route.

Originally published February 24, 2007

Hungry Valley – An OHV Park You Could Get Lost In

Hungry Valley 4x4 Training Course

Hungry Valley is a State Recreational Vehicle Area just off Interstate 5 near Gorman. The park is packed with 130 miles of trails for dirt bikes, ATVs and 4WD vehicles. This might conjure up an image of a nuclear-broiled landscape swarming with jump-suited Suzuki pilots–something like Mad Max meets the Power Rangers. And that wouldn’t be a completely wrong picture. Part of the fun in Hungry Valley is watching dirt bikers domino into each other as they round a hairpin turn at 40 miles per and find themselves facing the business end of a Jeep.

What surprised me on a recent stopover was how much of the park is unspoiled. There were several places where I got out of my Jeep and felt that I was completely by myself. Either I couldn’t hear, or I simply didn’t notice the gnatlike whine of distant two cycle engines. What I heard was the sound of the wind in the black sage.

At one place I left the Jeep behind and scrambled up a ridge where several junipers stood sentinel. I figured I’d take a few minutes to commune with God and see if he might break his long silence.

The hill itself wasn’t anything to write home about. Just a steep sandy rise covered in chaparal and prickely pear. But on the back side of the ridge there was…nothing. And I do mean nothing. I was standing on the rim of a vast red rock canyon. Something I’d expect to see in Utah, Arizona or New Mexico.

I looked to see if there was some way down into the canyon. There was a narrow path crossing a ledge less than a hundred feet below me. As I studied the ledge, a large, healthy mule deer came bounding along the path and darted out of sight behind a rock wall. A second or two later came a very large gray coyote, burning up the trail in pursuit of the deer. I never knew coyotes had such ambition.

While Hungry Valley OHV park isn’t so big – well, it’s 19,000 acres big – but you probably won’t get technically lost in the park. Yet you can get lost in the exploration of it all.

First published December 20, 2006

Hungry Valley

Trail Notes: Quatal Canyon Jeep Trails

Quatal Canyon Road is Smooth and Wide

Entering from Highway 33, just south of Ventucopa, Quatal Canyon Road is the superhighway of Jeep trails. After several hours of bashing my brains out on the moguls in Ballinger Canyon it was actually kind of nice to be on a smooth dirt road for a change. (I really have to install some anti-sway quick disconnects.)

The first five miles or so is private ranch land on both sides of the road. After this the road narrows and becomes rugged washboard. Fortunately Trail 106, Quatal Canyon Corridor, comes along pretty soon and you can drive in the sandy wash, keeping your fillings intact.

Looking toward Cowhead Portrero (?)

This picture is taken along OHV Trail 106 after it leaves the Quatal wash, looking toward Cowhead Portrero. Note the red color of the soil here, washed down from the hills visible in the upper left part of the picture. These mountains are deep, vivid red. At this point the trail starts to gain elevation. Pinyon pine become more common. By the time the trail reconnects with Quatal Canyon Road, you’ve reached a Jeffrey pine habitat.

At the end of Quatal Canyon Road where it connects with Cerro Noroeste Road there is a small camp ground with picnic tables and fire pit. I didn’t notice what restroom facilities were available, if any.

The Pio Bureau photoblog has some nice shots of some labrynthine areas of Quatal Canyon, a great place of canyoneering. Geological surveys of the area have turned up mammalian fossils, making it a likely place for some amateur paleontology.

Originally published April 11, 2007.

Ballinger Canyon Jeep Trails

Ballinger Canyon Moonrise

Ballinger Canyon is a high desert Off Highway Vehicle area similar in terrain to Hungry Valley, but about half the acreage. Ballinger has 11 jeep trails interlaced with about two dozen ATV and motorcycle trails. There are two main roads through the canyon, both easy to moderate with a few more challenging connectors.

Entrance to the canyon is off Highway 33 near-ish to route 166.

On this trip I arrived mid-afternoon to do some hiking in the canyon. I drove Trail 24, an easy road with mostly soft soil that is compacted into a billowy washboard ride…something like riding a jetski on a choppy day. I hiked up Trail 14, an ATV-only trail, and a stiff uphill to boot. But the trail wends through a nice pine habitat and there are some beautiful views.

I made it back to the Jeep about 4:30 pm. And I really didn’t want to drive all the way back down 33. Now, here’s where good map skills would come in handy! I’ve got an aging DeLorme map book that shows Ballinger Canyon road (NF-9N10) cutting all the way through to Cerro Nordeste–which would take me into to Frazier Park. As a matter of fact, Google Maps also shows 9N10 connecting to Cerro Nordeste.

If I had paid a little better attention to the map posted at the park entrance, I could have spared myself a wild ride. The trail map makes it pretty clear that there are no through routes. But my made it look like I was within spitting distance of the highway so I gave it a try.
Now, trail 24 is marked as an easy route, but as it climbs eastward up the canyon it starts getting damp and rutted. There was snow on the sides of the road and in places the mud had been whipped into a froth. In a few places there was barely enough width to the trail for a Jeep and a wrong touch on the gas could easily have sent me skidding into a big ditch. I had visions of getting high-centered and spending a frosty night trying to dig myself out in the moonlight.

Did I mention that it was getting dark by the time I hit the end of Trail 24? And yes, Trail 24 comes to an end with a big red timber closing off the drive.  In the dark it was a little challenging to navigate the maze of trails that often petered out into a motorcycle track. Finally I decided to bite the bullet and slog back the way I came.

Overall it was a fun ride, in a white knuckley sort of way. I think I might wait until Spring to go back. It is supposed to be one of the best areas to view wildflowers.

Review: Accutire Talking Tire Gauge

Accutire Tire GaugeDo you really want your tools to talk back? Well, with the Accutire pressure gauge, sure. Why not.

The audible readout is handy when you’re checking tire pressure at night or in a dimly lit garage. The LCD display is a little hard to read in low-light conditions, making the audible feature all the more important.
This gauge feels good in your  hand and it has a little nubbin on top to help deflate tires.

My biggest problem with this gauge is that it is battery powered and has no low battery indication. Mine started to malfunction one morning–it took a pressure reading of 28 PSI and then wouldn’t clear. The battery is a button-cell, meaning that you’re not likely to have a spare handy and it’s pesky to remove.

My recommendation–around the garage this thing is a gem. But on the trail, I make sure I carry a mechanical dial gauge.