Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Backcountry Byways LLC links USA network of wildland routes from Rockies to Pacific

Heart of the West Adventure Route -- the plug-and-play solution to the risks of planning an overland trip -- continues in 2020 to provide wildland travelers a GPS-guided network of interconnected loops and routes that remains unparalleled in North America.

This premium service -- which uses the GPS navigation system for accurate guidance -- facilitates customizable overland journeys that can extend from Canada to Mexico, and from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Do it your way!

H.o.W. (in the photo above) remains an adaptable, GPS-guided 2,800-mile loop along backcountry roads through some of the American West's most iconic landscapes. But over the last few seasons, we've chronicled optional routing that can extend the experience far beyond H.o.W.'s original six states.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Sierra to the Sea Adventure Route: Motoring through the wildlands of Northern California

Sierra to the Sea/Sea to Sierra Adventure Route (S2S) is our 825-mile, eight-day, GPS-guided backcountry motor route from the Sierra Nevada to the largest coastal wildland in the Lower 48, the fabled "Lost Coast."

S2S is focused on Northern California's most scenic, historic and remote unpaved backroads. The objective: To guide select overlanders, adventure motorcycle riders and other wildland travelers through some of California's wildest vehicle-accessible backcountry with data that is accurate, useful and current.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Six-state 'Heart of the West Adventure Route' is even better for 2019 wildland travel

Heart of the West Adventure Route maintains its "always something new" reputation for 2019, with substantial new routing in the northern Rocky Mountains.

Have a look ...

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Rare GPS-equipped cameras, data loggers can precisely I.D. wildland photo locations

In the days when we shot photographic film for our wildland-travel guidebooks and magazine features, it could be difficult months or years later to match an image with a dirt road or other feature we needed to depict.
A lineup of cameras that are equipped with GPS sensors
GPS-equipped cameras and accessories
That’s because photographs of deserts, mountains, plains, forests and such often lack features that make exact location unclear.
So, since adopting digital imaging many years ago, we’ve put considerable effort into acquiring cameras and accessories that can embed GPS (global positioning system) data into our photographs.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Tow strap, folding hand saw can keep forest deadfall from ending your wildland journey

Now and then we encounter forest roads blocked by deadfall ... trees felled by fire, age, drought, insects or wind. Often they can be cut away with the folding hand saw we keep in our moto and SUV tool kits.

Tow strap being used to move deadfall
Sometimes, however, they need to be pulled off the road using a tow or recovery strap.

We've never used our 30-foot-long recovery strap for its intended purpose: hitching to a second vehicle to be extracted from a hole of some sort. We find that good judgment, used preventively, is the better tool.

We have used the strap a number of times to pull deadfall either completely out of the roadway, or far enough to make room to pass. (Why 30 feet instead of, say, 20? We find that a longer strap can probably be made shorter with wrap-arounds; but a shorter strap cannot by itself be lengthened if necessary.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

There is a nail waiting for a tire along every wildland road, so be ready for the inevitable

"Flat tire!" adventure-motorcycling videographer Sterling Noren called out from his BMW F800 as we rode from our campsite along the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route. He was there to film the Touratech USA- and Butler Motorcycle Maps-sponsored inaugural ride of the border-to-border route. I was there to write about it for RoadRUNNER, the motorcycle-travel magazine.

COBDR campsite where Sterling Noren's BMW got a flat tire.
Sterling's words are among those that every ADV-style motorcyclist dreads, for they proclaim the inevitable along America's wildest roads.

It was the second flat of the trip.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Southeastern Idaho site memorializes worst massacre of Native Americans in West

Interpretive site overlooking area of massacre
At 6 a.m. on January 29, 1863 -- the coldest time of year in southeastern Idaho's Cache Valley, perhaps as cold as -20 °F that morning of deep snow -- the U.S. Army attacked a Shoshone Indian encampment on the Bear River in what was then southeastern Washington Territory, a few miles north of today's city of Preston.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

More than 80 years later, a byways journey reveals remnants of '30s 'Dust Bowl' country

After decades spent documenting wildland roads of the American West, we opted in 2018 to focus on historical backroad travel through what once was the Dust Bowl.

Dust Bowl region of southeastern Colorado

For several days, we traveled in our 4Runner along the often unpaved and remote county roads in the Great Plains where the states of Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma meet.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Backcountry Byways LLC's web address changes to 'www.backcountrybyways.com'

Backcountry Byways LLC's web address has been changed to www.backcountrybyways.com.

The change enables us to better reflect the range of premium, personalized services we've provided to wildland and overland travelers since 1993. The URL previously directed web visitors to our ground-breaking Backcountry Byways guidebook series.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Utah's Comb Ridge, Bears Ears shelter America's ancestral-Puebloan heritage

It is a privilege to experience the homeland of America's ancestral Puebloan people, whose centuries-old cliff-dwelling culture mysteriously vanished centuries ago, yet reaches out to us today at places like Utah's Comb Ridge.

Utah Hwy. 95 ascends the west face of Comb Ridge.

The dramatic sandstone uplift barely survived the Republican Trump administration's downsizing of Bears Ears National Monument -- authorized by Democratic President Barack Obama -- by 85 percent in December 2017.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wilco Off-Road's Hitchgate solves spare-tire issue, but poses installation, support hurdles

There is no law of physics, nature or probability that assures only one flat tire will occur when traveling wildland roads.
Wilco's Hitchgate Solo mounted on our 4Runner.
That's why we carry two all-terrain spare tires, and recommend that our clients do so as well.

However, the problem of where to carry a large, 70-lb. (32 kg.) or heavier second spare wheel is difficult to resolve.

We had hoped that Wilco Offroad's Hitchgate Solo spare-tire carrier was the solution. Unfortunately, two years' experience with Wilco and the Hitchgate Solo on our 4Runner leads us to recommend against the California firm's products.

Problems with Wilco and their Hitchgate include:

  • the cost (upwards of $1,000 USD);
  • installation and fitment problems;
  • a defect in a key component of the Hitchgate;
  • lack of support in overcoming that defect;
  • long fulfilment times; and
  • Wilco's failure to fill our order for small replacement parts (two pivot arm washers) after multiple contacts, and repeated assurances that they would promptly do so.

Monday, December 11, 2017

For SUV adventures, your smart phone or tablet can replace a dedicated GPS unit

For easy backcountry navigation using our plug-and-play GPS data, many of our wildland-travel clients are switching from dedicated GPS units to smartphones and tablets, both Android and iOS.

Detailed GPX tracks make backcountry navigation easy.
These devices are equipped with GPS sensors, which is why Google Maps can provide directions and routing. This does not require an internet connection or cell service; it relies on GPS satellites. That makes is easy to follow the plug-and-play "tracks" we provide.

But sunlight screen readability can be a problem. (See our post on that issue.)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Smartphones can work for adventure motorcycling, but know the pitfalls

Many adventure motorcylists who come to us for routing services see no point to loading our detailed, GPS-based navigational tracks onto expensive and bulky dedicated GPS units.

Instead, they want to use the device they already have and use all day long: their phones, both iPhones and Android phones.

Garmin Montana (left), Samsung S5, iPhone 5

While our GPS data files work well on smartphones, especially when traveling in the shaded interior of an SUV, those devices can have important shortcomings when used in the daylight and the demanding conditions of adventure motorcycling.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Antigravity Batteries' jump-starter can save a wildland trip ... but with one note of caution

Our small yet powerful Antigravity Batteries XP-3 personal power pack proved to be worth many times its $100 price tag deep in a remote corner of Utah's Canyonlands National Park.

The battery in our Toyota 4Runner had died twice in the driveway. It wasn't an old battery, and the cause remained a mystery. So before leaving on a three-day, early November 4x4 journey deep into Canyonland's remote Maze District, I purchased a tiny XP-3 lithium battery pack from Utah's Rocky Mountain ATV/MC.

Remote campsite where battery died.
An arduous 5.5-hour low-range grind brought us to the Doll House's remote and undeveloped cluster of rock pinnacles. There, the National Park Service provides only three primitive, reservations-only campsites high above the Colorado River.

For three days and nights alone, we charged and recharged our phones and camera batteries from the truck's battery (there was data service, for better or worse; and nightfall by about 5:30 p.m. left us with little to do). While the XP-3 comes with a web of USB-type charging connectors and ports, fortunately they and the XP-3 went unused.

Foolishly, we didn't run the engine to recharge the 4Runner's battery. So on the morning of our departure, after dismantling camp and packing the truck, its battery was dead. We had good jumper cables, but there was no other vehicle from which to get a jump. So I reached for the XP-3, connected it to the dead battery and, as advertised, the truck fired up.

The XP-3's diminutive 10.5-ounce, 6″ x 3″ x 1″ size (larger models are available) makes it easily stowable. And while its triple-figure price seemed high at first, the device spared us the need for a four-figure call for help ... or a long wait till help came along.

NOTE: There have been reports of these power packs heating up excessively when being used.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

'Asphalt & Dirt: Life on Two Wheels'

We've just received a copy of the new book Asphalt & Dirt: Life on Two Wheels, by Aaron Heinrich.

The book is packed with engaging profiles of individuals who've been engaged in advancing various genres of motorcycling ... including yours truly, of Backcountry Byways LLC.

The 365-page paperback ($22.95) is published by Florida's Road Dog Publications (roaddogpub.com).
Kindle versions are available from Amazon, and Nook versions are available from Barnes & Noble.

Give it a look!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Want to plot your own adventure route? First, navigate the world of maps

At Backcountry Byways LLC, we are often asked what maps we rely on to develop personalized travel routes for clients who prefer to explore the wilds of the American West on their own -- without the expense and limitations of a hand-holding guided tour.

Without divulging too many secrets, here are some tools we use and recommend.

Benchmark Road & Receation atlases: This series, focused on Western states, is an indispensable tool and the best of the atlas genre. Each page of shaded-relief cartography illustrates primitive two-track roads (faint red hairlines), primitive high-clearance or 4x4 roads (orange-hued dashed lines), and unpaved roads (dark red dashed lines). Landmarks abound, both natural and man-made, as do place names and countless other details. We have found that the faint hairline roads often are better than their designation suggests, and thus often are suitable for adventure motoring.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Olympic Park's Obstruction Point Road provides travelers a gold-medal drive

The following tour description is from my guidebook Washington Byways. The 56-route guide details non-technical backcountry roads for adventure motorcyclists and SUV-borne travelers. The book is available as a convenient PDF download ... for just USD$14! To get your copy, contact us at: backcountrybyways at gmail dot com. It's a 25mb-plus file, so you will need either Dropbox or Google Drive -- both free to download -- to transfer it.

LOCATION Olympic National Park. South of U.S. 101 and Port Angeles. Clallam County. Google Map
Obstruction Point Road
HIGHLIGHTS With its wildflowers and views of the Olympic Mountains, particularly glacier-capped 7,965-foot Mt. Olympus and the park’s deep river valleys, this short, narrow and winding ridgeline road packs a powerful scenic punch as it climbs to 6,150 feet. It runs both just below and on top of Hurricane Ridge (named for the winds that blow in winter), and ends above tree line at the base of 6,450-foot Obstruction Peak. The parking area at the end of the road is the trailhead for a number of day hikes, including the steep, 7.6-mile (one way) Grand Ridge Trail to Deer Park (Tour 3 in Washington Byways).

DIFFICULTY Easy, on a good high-clearance, native-surface road. The park tries to have the road open by July 4, depending on weather and the previous winter’s snowpack. It is generally closed to overnight parking in early October. It is closed altogether by the end of October. It is also closed whenever snow, which can occur anytime, makes driving hazardous. This is a busy road on sunny summer weekends, and the parking area at the end fills up fast. So consider going on a weekday if you can, or going early in the day.
TIME & DISTANCE 1 hour; 15.6 miles round-trip. But this is a great day-hiking and sightseeing destination, so plan on spending considerably more time.
MAPS The map you’ll receive upon entering the park (and paying the $10 fee) is adequate. It is also shown in Benchmark Maps' Washington Road & Recreation Atlas, p. 54 (E-G, 3-4).

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Utah's anti-Moab: Green River, and the nearby San Rafael Swell and Book Cliffs

Green River, Utah -- We once did what most travelers wouldn't do when spring arrives in canyon country: spend a week based at this forlorn hamlet, which barely clings to life in the shadow of Moab, the outdoor-recreation mecca just 50 miles away.

Book Cliffs, near Green River, Utah
There are reasons to bypass this quasi-ghost town. Although there are some remodeled and contemporary lodgings, Main Street is lined with the dilapidated hulks of abandoned motels, vacant lots and derelict gas stations. Instead of Moab's brew pubs, mountain-bike shops and espresso bars, there are boarded-up bars and bygone cafes.

These are ghosts of the era when old U.S. 50 -- not nearby Interstate 70 -- was a major cross-country route, and the Cold War search for uranium brought a level of prosperity but left the region pocked with abandoned mines that still pose hazards today.

With all of its warts and woes, Green River appeals to me. It is authentic Utah, and there are reasons -- access to gorgeous backcountry roads, spectacular sandstone canyons and ancient rock art -- to make Green River a destination, and to stay for a while.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Utah's Escalante country seems overlooked by Moab-bound masses -- and we're glad!

Note: To learn more about adventure driving in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, as well as Capitol Reef National Park, pick up a copy of our guidebook, Utah Byways. This post includes videos and a Google map.

Escalante, Utah -- We may not be done with touristy Moab, but more and more we are drawn to Utah's remote, often overlooked (and underappreciated) portals to canyon country -- humble hamlets like Green River, Hanksville, Boulder and Escalante.

Table with a view at Kiva Koffeehouse & Kottage
To my traveled eye, these hamlets remain authentically Utah: rooted in the lore of Mormon pioneers; minimally or not at all commercialized; unwaypointed by auto navigation systems; away from it all. (State route 12 wasn't paved until 1985.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

'Backcountry Discovery Route' maps for Washington, Utah rich in planning info

Utah BDR
Wash. BDR
Two innovative motorcycle-travel maps that depict "Backcountry Discovery Routes" in Washington State and Utah span the divide between print and digital publishing, providing trip planners with essential cartographic data and access to video.

And they're available now, in time to plan this season's backcountry ride or drive.

Butler Motorcycle Maps' information-packed Washington Backcountry Discovery Route (WABDR; 575 miles; 925 km) and Utah Backcountry Discovery Route (UTBDR; 871 miles; 1,402 km) ($14.95 ea.) can help travelers more efficiently plan full or partial trips on these two off-highway road systems.