Arizona. The Wild West. Ghost towns, saloons, old mines, and open spaces. During our three-day adventure, we found all of the above as well some great 4WD action along the way. Our group of 10 vehicles had just participated in the 1st Annual Expedition Trophy (www.expeditiontrophy.com) and had made time to explore the New River area and the Bradshaw Mountains, covering over 100 off-highway miles in the process.
Our adventure began at the Bloody Basin turnoff from Interstate 17 with a short climb to the east onto Perry Mesa. The road is wide and graded, allowing our group to make good time to the Tonto National Forest. From Bloody Basin Road we took a quick detour to an old Hohokam Indian pueblo site situated on the edge of Silver Creek Canyon. While the ruins were a nice find, it was the view that was most impressive. The strategic positioning of their dwelling provided the Hohokam people commanding views to the north and of Copper Mountain.
While the Bloody Basin Road provides excellent views and instills one with a sense of exploration, it is its access to remote and challenging terrain that creates the greatest appeal. Several challenging trails head to the north, including FR44 and FR18, which require Low range and good clearance. Our group was ready for a challenge, so we left the improved surface and headed into the heavily eroded washes and decomposed granite hills of Mesa Butte. FR44 is a 2.5-rated trail, favoring a flexible suspension and lower center of gravity. The area had been ravaged by fire and flooding, which created deep cross axle holes, washouts, and severely cambered traverses.
As the trail left Copper Creek Wash and turned northeast, we came across our first major obstacle - a 25-degree cambered traverse. The drivers of the taller trucks used additional caution, progressing slowly across the shelf to minimize any shift in stability. Even the tall FJ40 with an AutoHome Roof Tent did well, and each truck passed without any problems. The trail climbs to a saddle, with little challenge except for the close brush. The hilltop seemed otherworldly, with the blackened and leafless trees standing among the hollowed shells of cactus. But new life was blooming. The recent rains had driven tall grass up the watersheds and it covered the southern slopes. Small groups of wildflowers provided contrasts of purple and yellow against the blond rye.