Friday, October 6, 2017

USA's Backcountry Byways LLC expands 'roundabout' of wildland-travel routes

Heart of the West Adventure Route -- your solution to the risks and challenges of planning an overland trip yourself -- is further refined for 2018 as a roundabout of interconnected wildland-travel loops and routes that extend from Canada to Mexico, from the Rocky Mountains to the Mojave Desert, and from the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide.

By itself, H.o.W. has always been an adaptable, GPS-guided 2,800-mile odyssey along backcountry roads that loop through some of the American West's most iconic landscapes. But over the last few seasons, we've developed optional and included routing that today extend H.o.W.'s reach far beyond its original six states.

The result: For the 2018 season Heart of the West Adventure Route (in the photo above) debuts as a convenient "roundabout" that links its original network of loops 'n routes with:

  • new included routing;
  • supplementary optional routing to Northern and Southern California; and
  • the multistate Backcountry Discovery Routes.

Have a look ...

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Too busy to plan an adventure route? Backcountry Byways can do it for you!

Having difficulty planning your wildland-travel adventure? No time for research? Don't have the resources, geographic knowledge or expertise to build a truly unique vacation? 

At Backcountry Byways LLC, we do the work ... so you can live the dream!

Explore wild California ... in your SUV!
Tap into our expertise, earned through decades of experience chronicling the unpaved and often historic wildland roads of the American West. Since 1993, we've been actively documenting the wildland roads for our Backcountry Byways guidebook series, as well as National Geographic Adventure, Road & Track Specials and other magazines and publications, and corporate and individual clients.

Each adventure-motoring season, we take the work and worry out of planning long-distance wildland routes -- thoroughly, accurately and professionally -- for individuals, couples, travel groups, even families. We can do it for you, too!

This could be you ... in Utah!
Continual field research, the latest maps and GPS-based resources, consultations with public-lands agencies ... we apply these tools to all of our work. And on-the-ground verification helps assure that the routes and trips we develop are appropriate and accurate.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

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 (
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).

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Kriega's modular motorcycle packs prove to be tough, adaptable ADV riding gear

In gearing up in August 2012 for the inaugural motorcycle ride of Touratech-USA's new 710-mile (1,127 km) Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route, we decided to try something new for storage: a waist pack in place of our KLR 650's tank bag. In the process, we ended up discovering an innovative, modular system for carrying gear that may work well for ADV riders, and riders with more than one bike.

R3 waist pack
A tank bag can interfere with standing on the foot pegs and leaning forward while riding in rough terrain. That wouldn't do for seven days adventuring with TT-USA's COBDR scouting team. A waist pack seemed a practical alternative for the small items we all typically like to have handy in tank bags.

Our search turned up Britain's Kriega line of soft motorcycle bags, including its waist packs. The brand was new to us, and we were impressed by the user comments and reviews. Specifications for Kriega's R-3 waist pack (USD$89) made it seem ideal.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Looking to get legally high? Just drive Colorado's sky-scraping Imogene Pass

The following tour description is a sample from my guidebook Colorado Byways, which I researched in a stock Toyota 4Runner. The 80-route guide details non-technical backcountry tours suitable to adventure motorcyclists and SUV-borne travelers. Best of all ... it's coming soon as a PDF for just USD$18.95! To be notified as soon as it's available, send us a note today at backcountrybyways at gmail dot com.
NOTE: Check out my magazine feature about adventuring through Colorado's sky-scraping San Juan Mountains in Mercedes-Benz's exclusive Gelaendewagen (a.k.a. G-Wagen) SUV.
LOCATION Between Ouray and Telluride, in the San Juan Mountains. Uncompahgre National Forest. Ouray and San Miguel counties. Google Map

G Wagens on Imogene Pass
HIGHLIGHTS This is one of Colorados most famous and scenic 4WD routes, with some of the best alpine scenery in the state. Named for a prospectors wife, 13,114-foot Imogene Pass [N37°55.910′ W107°44.127′] links two old mining towns that now rank high on tourists itineraries. The views of Telluride, Black Bear Pass (Tour 55 in Colorado Byways), Ingram Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are inspiring indeed. And the wildflowers are beautiful. But dont pick them, so that other visitors can enjoy them as well. The Tomboy mine and town site, 3,000 feet above Telluride, are interesting. You can combine this tour with Yankee Boy Basin (Tour 52), which is particularly famous for wildflowers.
DIFFICULTY Moderate. Rocky with stretches of narrow shelf road and drop-offs. Its busy, as well, so remember that uphill traffic has the right of way. The road is usually open by July 4.

TIME & DISTANCE 3 hours; about 19 miles.

MAPS Trails Illustrated No. 141 (Silverton, Ouray, etc.). Uncompahgre National Forest. Benchmark Maps' Colorado Road & Recreation Atlas, p. 110 (3-C).

INFORMATION Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, Ouray and Norwood ranger districts. Montrose Public Lands Center.

Monday, June 25, 2012

California's Old Coast Road: Big Sur's little-known 'Beatnik Byway'

The following tour description is a sample from my guidebook California Coastal Bywayswhich I researched in a Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX450. The guide details non-technical backcountry tours suitable to adventure motorcyclists and SUV-borne travelers. For information about the book, contact Wilderness Press 1-800- 443-7227. If you are unable to acquire a copy at a reasonable price, contact me at:
For a more complete sense of what it's like to explore Big Sur, read my magazine feature, Backroading the 'Big South', published in Road & Track magazine's spinoff, Open Road.

LOCATION Monterey County’s northern Big Sur coast, inland from California’s famous coastal Highway 1 between Bixby Landing and Andrew Molera State Park. Google Map

Bridge on Old Coast Road
HIGHLIGHTS Prepare for an enchanting drive through a misty coastal forest complete with redwood groves, mossy riparian woodlands, ferns and gurgling brooks. Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti had a cabin in Bixby Canyon that was frequented by Beat Generation writers in the late 1950s, including Jack Kerouac, who described his visits in his 1962 novel Big Sur. This is a peaceful and beautiful alternative, if only for a short distance, to the traffic on Highway 1.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Springtime amid Idaho's loftiest peaks

Pass Creek Road

MACKAY, Idaho -- As usual, the first long weekend of vacation season brought two days of steady rain, even snow in the mountains of eastern Idaho. So when Memorial Day itself dawned partly cloudy, I thought that a long highway ride west across the Snake River Plain to the mountains of central Idaho was better than nothing.

It turned out be an exhilarating spring day of Rocky Mountain riding.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

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

GREEN RIVER, Utah -- I recently 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.

Touratech USA's Utah Backcountry Discovery Route
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 magical Escalante canyons: Missed by Moab-bound masses?

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 my guidebook, Utah Byways. This post includes videos and a Google map.

ESCALANTE, Utah -- I may not be done with touristy Moab, but more and more I am succumbing to the allure of Utah's more remote, often overlooked and underappreciated portals to canyon country -- humbler 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. (Today's Boulder Highway, SR 12, wasn't even paved till 1985.)

That's how Escalante, a village of some 800 souls, seemed when my wife and I spent a long early-October weekend in this isolated land of sinuous sandstone canyons, flash floods and piney woodlands atop high plateaus.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Usal Road: 'Main Street' through California's alluring Lost Coast

The following tour description is a sample from my guidebook California Coastal Byways, which I researched in a Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX450. The guide details non-technical backcountry tours suitable to adventure motorcyclists and SUV-borne travelers. If you are unable to acquire a copy of the book at a reasonable price from Wilderness Press or your favorite retailer, contact me at

Would you like a fuller sense of what it's like to explore America's loneliest shore? Read my magazine feature, Lost Coast Castaways, originally published in Road & Track magazine's spinoff, Open Road.
LOCATION Usal Road winds through the North Coast's isolated “Lost Coast,” in northwestern Mendocino County and southwestern Humboldt County. It passes through Sinkyone Wilderness State Park and King Range National Conservation Area. Google Map

Lexus LX450 crosses Usal Creek.
HIGHLIGHTS This tortuous, historic little dirt road winds along high ridges amid a magical forest of redwood, Douglas fir, madrone, tanoak and ferns. The soaring King Range rises dramatically more than 4,000 feet less than 3 miles from the ocean. The site of historic Usal has a quaint wooden bridge and a gray-sand beach.

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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Deformed trout linked to mining contaminants in eastern Idaho streams

Are two heads better than one? Ask J. R. Simplot Co.
Selenium contamination traced to phosphate mines in one of America's greatest backcountry travel and recreation locales -- Greater Yellowstone -- is leading to profound deformities among trout in southeastern Idaho's mountain streams.

The New York Times carried a story Feb. 23, 2012, that further exposed a study by J. R. Simplot Co. in support of easing standards for selenium contamination in Idaho streams. The study included photos of two-headed fish, a consequence of stream poisoning by Simplot's Smoky Mountain Mine.

The mountains of southeastern Idaho, for decades the focus of reckless phosphate-mining operations, are among the American West's premier destinations for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and adventure motoring. Of all the regions I've explored in my backroad travels, the wildlands of southeastern Idaho rank high among those in need of responsible stewardship.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Butler Maps, Touratech-USA chronicle new 'Utah Backcountry Discovery Route'

Just as I put my ADV motorcycle away for the winter, I learned that a north-south backcountry travel route through the wildlands of Utah is now chronicled in a new map and teaser video.

The recently developed, 871-mile Utah Backcountry Discovery Route (UTBDR) is the third trans-state adventure-motoring route in an anticipated network of linked routes through each Western state.
The new UTBDR includes portions of famous Kokopelli's Trail.

The UTBDR crosses eastern Utah from the Arizona line southwest of Bluff to Bear Lake on the Idaho-Utah line, just west of the Wyoming line. Portions of the route are chronicled in my guide to Utah's adventure roads, Utah Byways.

Butler Motorcycle Maps has just added a map of the UTBDR to its expanding catalog of references available to backroad explorers. Like its other durable, detailed and plastic-coated maps, it retails for $14.95. With a focus on the needs of adventure riders and drivers, I will review this and other Butler MC maps in an upcoming post.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Continental Divide Route travelers see global-warming impacts along the way

Travelers who pass through the northern Rockies on the backroads that comprise the Great Divide Route (a.k.a., Continental Divide Route) can see an ominous effect of global warming: expanses of dead and dying trees, primarily conifers and aspens.

Entire forest ecosystems along Union Pass Road, for example, are being reduced to ghostly tracts of beetle-killed, tinder-dry trees that stand like graveyard headstones.

Global warming is damaging the wildlands we backcountry travelers expend so much time, money and resources to enjoy. Just look closely at the photos in the many CDR or other Rocky Mountain ride reports on Web forums like Adventure Rider. What can we do? I wish I knew; I suppose reconsidering the vehicles we drive would help. But first, we need to be aware of the problem.

To learn more, read this recent story in The New York Times, headlined "With the Deaths of Forests, a Loss of Key Climate Protectors."

Also view the Times' accompanying interactive map, Changing Forests.

Red and gray conifers signal a dying forest on Wyoming's Union Pass.

Study: Global warming impacting prime adventure country of Greater Yellowstone

The negative impacts of global warming are being seen in the vast wildland known as Greater Yellowstone, world-class adventuring country that includes parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. A new study has taken a look at what's happening, and what is likely to happen as our children and grandchildren inherit our legacy.

Read about global warming's impact on Greater Yellowstone here.

Montana's Beartooth Plateau, part of Greater Yellowstone.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Yellowstone's historic dirt roads provide glimpse of travel in park's early days

With summer finally arrived in the northern Rockies, I packed up my Kawasaki KLR650 dual-sport motorcycle for four mid-August days of exploring and camping in southwestern Montana. But to get there, I opted to ride through Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and visit the only dirt roads remaining in the park that are open to the public.

Toyota T-100 on Blacktail Plateau Rd
The first is six-mile, one-way Blacktail Plateau Drive Auto Trail, which, as so many roads do, generally follows the course of an old trail that Native Americans used long ago.  But as the name suggests, this single-lane 2WD high-clearance road climbs gently onto a plateau that offers sweeping vistas into the rugged wilderness of the Absaroka Range.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Digging through primordial past just one reason to explore Utah's House Range

The following tour description is a sample from my guidebook Utah Byways, which I researched in a stock Toyota Land Cruiser and 4Runner. The 65-route guide details backcountry tours suitable to adventure motorcyclists, four-wheelers and SUV-borne travelers. For information about the book, contact Wilderness Press 1-800-443-7227. ISBN 978-0-89997-424-4
Trilobite fossils
NOTE: Don't miss my magazine feature article about digging trilobite fossils in the House Range.
LOCATION The Great Basin, west of Delta, north of U.S. 6/50 near the Nevada border. Google Map

HIGHLIGHTS These mountains are full of surprises. Marjum and Dome (or Death) Canyons are noted for high, terraced walls and side canyons. The 4,000-foot-plus west side of 9,655-foot Notch Peak [N39°08.590′ W113°24.560′] is famous for its sheer, roughly 2,000-foot cliff. Hikers who climb to the summit are rewarded with a 360-degree panorama at the very brink of the cliff. Near the summit is a large stand of bristlecone pines, among the world’s oldest living things. Sinbad Overlook also provides top-of-the-world views. The gravel road through Marjum Canyon is a relic of the original unpaved U.S. 6/50, replaced by the paved highway in 1950.
Driving a 4Runner to Dome Pass

If you have the time, add the drive up to verdant Amasa Valley, on Sawtooth Mountain. There you will find granite boulders and outcrops, aspen groves, creeks, meadows, and the vista from atop 9,290-foot Pine Peak. The range’s dramatic uptilted west side has canyons worth exploring as well.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mackay, Idaho: Mo' betta than Moab?

MACKAY, Idaho -- Move over, Moab. This scenic Idaho ranching town -- founded on mining long ago yet rich today in outdoor recreation and small-town charm -- is hot on your wheels.That's the impression I gained during four days of riding adventure motorcycles in the lofty mountains surrounding this yet-to-be-discovered rival to Utah's mecca for dirt-road adventure.
Located on the Big Lost River in Custer County (Google Map), in the shadow of Idaho's Lost River Range -- Idaho's highest -- little Mackay (MAC ee) is accommodating to ADV and dirt-bike riders, ATVs, SUVs, mountain bikes and hikers alike.

So a fellow adventure-motorcycle rider, Dave, and I allocated four days to exploring the region's mountains and valleys via a vast network of dirt roads that rivaled the best of the northern Rockies. We traveled on dual-sport motorcycles ... he on his Honda 650, I on my Kawasaki KLR 650.

ADV Friendly
Wagon Wheel Motel
We unloaded our bikes and checked in at the Wagon Wheel Motel -- convenient, comfortable, reasonably priced and well-kept. After a long day of exploring, we could sit out each evening and gaze at the towering, 12,000-foot-plus Lost River Range just east of town.