By Teresa Crowley
What sets you free? For my husband and I, it is exploring the roads less traveled and spending quality time in nature. The outdoors give us a sense of peace and a chance to reconnect with each other. Traveling thirty days across the country with our Can-Am Maverick X3 in tow allowed us to explore remote destinations and enriched our lives more than we anticipated.
From our home in Northern California we traveled via Hwy 50 to Nevada State Route 375; the Extraterrestrial Highway! Nevada’s remote State Route 375 links U.S. 6 at Warm Springs with the U.S. 93 corridor near Crystal Springs. The “Extraterrestrial Highway” designation came in 1996 as part of a tourism campaign to hype the highway’s connection to UFO sightings and the proximity to the top-secret “Area 51” military installation. While we didn’t see any UFO’s, we did visit the Alien Research Center Gift Shop where you can buy a green alien for good luck.
As we left alien territory, it wasn’t long before we arrived at Sand Hollow State Park – famous for the red rock country near St. George, Utah. Southern Utah is one of our favorite destinations for off-roading because of the diverse trails throughout the state park – from novice to expert. Some of our favorite trails are Double Sammy, West Rim, The Maze, and Plan B. Sand Hollow State Park offers over 20,000 acres of sand to explore and rocks to crawl. We spent three days rock crawling, cruising through the sand dunes and hiking in Snow Canyon State Park. Hiking the Petrified Dunes trail, we even explored an ancient underground lava tube that was formed over 27,000 years ago from a now extinct volcano.
Not far from Sand Hollow State Park we met up with Lance Chournos in Colorado City, Arizona, and drove fifty-six miles down a dirt road to the awe inspiring Toroweap Point at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This portion of the Grand Canyon gives a dramatic view of the Colorado River, with it: a sheer drop of 3,000 vertical feet. Most people experience the Grand Canyon from the South Rim and disappointingly contend with hundreds of people. If you truly want to have an authentic experience at the Grand Canyon, off-roading to Toroweap Point is bar none. Since you’ll be entering the National Park remember you’ll need to be street legal with the proper insurance.
Next we traveled to Little Sahara State Park, nestled along the banks of the Cimarron River three miles south of Waynoka, Oklahoma. Little Sahara offers over 1,600 acres of dunes ranging in size from 25 to 75 feet high. While the dunes might not be huge, the hospitality of the community of Waynoka runs off the charts. Before we arrived into town, we called Jim McIntire at UTV Takeover for suggestions regarding parking, unloading and riding. Within an hour, Jim had contacted Dr. Stan Diehl of Waynoka and arranged for him to meet us at the dunes for a private tour. Following our dune tour, we had lunch with the Mayor of Waynoka, Susan Bradford. Over lunch at Miss Jamie’s Malt Shop & Pizzeria, Susan Bradford told us all about her mission to create the best off-roading experience for enthusiasts riding at Little Sahara State Park. Susan and the community of Waynoka have embraced off-roading enthusiastically, adding a new ATV trail which leads from the dunes to the town of Waynoka for easy fueling, food and lodging. If you have never been to Oklahoma, I highly suggest you stop at Little Sahara State Park and Miss Jamie’s Malt Shop & Pizzeria. Miss Jamie’s offers a daily homemade lunch special, desserts, calzones, pizza, ice cream, malts, shakes and floats.
Six hours southeast of Waynoka, OK is Mount Magazine – Arkansas’s highest point at 2,753 feet. Mount Magazine State Park has an extensive trail system for off-roading, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. We did not have an overall map of the trail system, so we used Gaia GPS to find Big Shoal Cascade and Buzzard Overlook. Big Shoal Cascade was a peaceful place to stop, wade in the creek and enjoy a snack before we continued on towards Buzzard Overlook. The scenic Buzzard Overlook gave us a glimpse of how the constant wind shapes cedars that grow on the edges of bluffs into large, artfully gnarled bonsai-shape trees. The trails on Mount Magazine are a mix of tight, technical and graded roads meandering through bright green layers of shrubs and trees.
In addition, we were fortunate to visit family in Georgia and Tennessee for a couple of days before driving to Wind Rock Park in Oliver Springs, Tennessee. Windrock Park is the largest privately owned off-road recreation area in the country with over 73,000 acres of off-road, hiking and mountain biking trails. The trail system includes over 310 miles of maintained off-road vehicle trails for riders with all skill levels and is open to all types of vehicles including: ATV’s, SxS’s, Jeeps / 4×4’s, buggies, dirt bikes and mountain bikes. At the park we met up with Tyler from Super ATV, Hubert Rowland and David Uptain. Hubert had a full day planned for us off-roading with stops at an abandoned railroad car, spectacular overlooks and the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary (now a museum, restaurant and gift store). After driving over one hundred miles we were treated to an amazing BBQ by Tyler from Super ATV. Tyler BBQ’d ribeye steaks and a variety of organic vegetables for all to enjoy. An amazing end to our day exploring Wind Rock – the South’s Largest Off-Road Park.
Just over four hours Northeast of Oliver Springs, Tennessee sits a portion of the Hatfield – McCoy Trail System. We spent two full days checking out the Buffalo Mountain, Devil Anse and Rock House Trails. We quickly discovered that a windshield is a must have accessory when off-roading in this part of the country. Without a windshield on our Can-Am Maverick X3 we were covered in mud at the end of each day. All of the trails are professionally mapped, maintained and patrolled for safety. The trails range from easy to most difficult with trail signage clearly marking difficulty ratings, intersections and temporary closures. To easily access the various trails, Jon and I stayed at the Historic Matewan House Bed & Breakfast in Matewan, West Virginia. The town of Matewan is chalk full of history relating to the Hatfield and McCoy family feuds. I love mixing off roading with visiting historic locations and learning about the local communities. This region blends together gorgeous scenery and relics from the past, such as coal mining equipment, the Hatfield Family Cemetery, the Matewan Train Depot, the site of the Matewan Massacre and the Matewan Flood Wall. Over the past 50 years, this region has experienced a rebirth in tourism, so try to leave yourself as much time as possible to visit the charming towns and to take in the marvelous beauty of West Virginia.
As we turned the corner towards home, Jon and I were a little sad that we didn’t have time to continue eastward, but were excited to be on our way to Moab, Utah for the Rally on the Rocks event nonetheless. Now it was my turn to get behind the wheel and regain my confidence driving off-road while taking in the fabulous scenery. I drove on the Fins and Things trail which is a 9.8 mile loop full of incredibly steep inclines and descents in the Sand Flats Recreation Area. The slickrock fins felt as if I was riding on a roller coaster! – but Jon was patient with me as I fine tuned my driving skills on the slickrocks. Most importantly, Jon and I were able to meet up with all of our sponsors at the Rally on The Rocks. Without the support of our sponsors this epic adventure would not have been possible. Can-Am, Rugged Radios, SSV Works, and System 3 Offroad provided the opportunity of a lifetime to travel across the country in search of the path less traveled.