The trail turns east at the base of Goat Peak and drops quickly into Bishop Creek with a series of challenging descents. An optional spur is heavily eroded and tilts the passenger toward a 6-foot drop. Despite the short wheelbase, one of our group's members, Brian, did a great job moving his modified Wrangler through the rut, allowing the Jeep's excellent articulation to keep the tires firmly planted. Several others tried the challenge without any issues, and we made quick time to the stock tanks and windmills at the canyon bottom.
The trail became easier on its route back to Bloody Basin Road, but a few washouts tested the breakover of the longer Tacomas. A series of narrow, rutted climbs provided a few wheel lifts and spinning tires as the open-differential trucks searched for traction. Fortunately, the trail took us back into an unburned area near Wright Cabin, with huge oak and sycamore trees lining the track. After 6 miles, our detour on FR44 ended, only whetting my companions' appetites for more adventure.
That evening, we made camp on a huge rock outcropping overlooking Lime Creek. Surrounded by stone spires and a deep erosion trench, the location was perfect. The campfire and talk of adventure burned on into the night.
Morning promised new adventure and different terrain. The day's trail would be FR41, which leaves FR24 into the curiously named Magazine Springs. The area is a beautiful, healthy section of the Sonoran Desert containing thick, tall saguaro and dense stands of mesquite. We engaged 4-Lo and were soon enjoying OFF-ROAD Magazine Springs (sic). The trail begins with little challenge, but the sweeping views occupy the driver and provide a reward for all of the miles traveled. We encountered several water crossings as our group dropped into New River Canyon. The water crossings were taken with caution due to the submerged boulders and poor traction. Several optional climbs kept the more adventurous drivers entertained and allowed the less inclined members of the group to document their efforts. Soon the trail was over, terminating at a ranch and a short drive to I-17.
The last section of our journey was a 60-mile trek into the Bradshaw Mountains. While not particularly challenging, the history and scenery is incredible. Anyone with a stock 4WD and a little sense of exploration could wander these mountains for years. The route begins at the Bumblebee turnoff of I-17 and winds northwest into the old mining town of Cleater. From Cleater, the dirt road begins climbing in earnest, gaining 2,000 feet in a few miles, with a series of switchbacks terminating at nearly 6,000 feet and Poland Vista. From there, it is a short drive to the dusty little town of Crown King. What Crown King lacks in size and amenities, it makes up for in style and character. A one-pump gas station also serves as the market and post office, and the original bar and brothel is still in operation... well, at least the bar is still in operation. You can't leave town without pulling up to the century-old wooden bar and ordering a Crown King Ale. A surly glare from one of the hardy locals makes it all worth it. We made camp just outside of town and settled into more talk of lockers, suspensions, and the merits of a fridge to keep a layer of ice on your favorite brew.