Saturday, March 31, 2018

Sierra to the Sea Adventure Route: Motoring through California wildlands

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."

Also known as Sea to Sierra ... or just S2S.

S2S is focused on Northern California's most scenic, historic and remote unpaved backroads. The objective: To immerse wildland travelers in some of California's wildest vehicle-accessible backcountry. With our detailed, plug-and-play GPS data file showing the way, you will be accurately led along every mile of the route.

One of many gold rush-era roads included in S2S.
Travelers are immersed in the canyons of Gold Country, the forests of the Sierra Nevada, the volcanic landscapes of Cascadia, the pastoral hills of the Coast Ranges and the windy bluffs above the Pacific Ocean.

Overnight options include dispersed campsites in national forests, developed lakeside campgrounds, oceanside state parks, and motels and B&Bs in historic towns that trace their founding to the forty-niners and offshore lumber schooners.

Friday, February 23, 2018

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

Heart of the West Adventure Route -- the popular solution to the risks of planning an overland trip -- 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. (shown in the banner photo, above) has always been an adaptable, GPS-guided 2,800-mile-plus 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 new routing that today extends 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, at no additional cost;
  • supplementary optional routing (at additional cost) to Northern and Southern California; and
  • connectors to the multistate Backcountry Discovery Routes.

Have a look ...

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 Solo solves second spare tire, extra fuel dilemma

There is no law of physics, nature or probability that assures only one flat tire will occur in a day when traveling wildland roads.

Getting one flat tire leaves you without a spare tire, unless the flat can be plugged in a roadside repair. If not, well, get a second flat and you'll be in big trouble indeed. And it does happen. Worse yet is that in rugged terrain, tires often are ruined by roadbed objects that leave unrepairable holes and sidewall cuts.

That's why we carry two all-terrain spare tires, and recommend that our clients do so as well. Since we typically wander much father than planned when inspecting new routing, we also carry several extra gallons of gasoline.
Deep in wild Idaho, with two spare tires and extra gas.

Over the years of doing both, however, a way to do so safely, conveniently and affordably (in relative terms) was elusive. We tried the roof rack, but you're talking about a 70-lb. tire and wheel. We put it in the cargo area, which devoured space where we needed it most. But we did not want to spend thousands of dollars on a permanently mounted, heavy-duty after-market rear bumper/wheel carrier suited to the purpose.

Then, as the 2017 backcountry-travel season got under way, we learned of the high-clearance version of Wilco Off-Road's Hitchgate Solo. The heavy-duty swingout spare-tire carrier mounts conveniently into a rear trailer-hitch receiver. An internal wedge tightened inside the receiver keeps the carrier secure and wobble-free.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Wildland travelers turning to phones, tablets, apps for backcountry navigation

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.
Our detailed GPX tracks make backcountry navigation easy.
Since these devices are equipped with GPS sensors -- which is why Google Maps can provide directions -- using them to follow the plug-and-play "tracks" we provide does not require an Internet connection or cell service. It can require one of the many inexpensive GPX/GPS map apps that are available for download from the Apple or Google Play stores. (We use Android devices, and prefer the app GPX Viewer Pro, by Vectura Games.)

Avoid the risks of wildland trip planning: We do the work ... and you have the fun!

Having difficulty planning your wildland adventure? 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 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.

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.

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 rugged conditions of adventure motorcycling.

Among them:

-- poor daylight screen readability (see photo, below);
-- inadequate durability; and
-- inadequate battery life.

Garmin Montana (left), Samsung S5, iPhone 5
Our routing is provided digitally, in the non-proprietary GPX format that is commonly used for following "track" files. That makes the data easy to load onto a device -- either a dedicated GPS unit, tablet or smartphone -- and to follow using one of the many inexpensive apps that are available.

The durability issue can be addressed by purchasing an inexpensive older smartphone, and loading the track file onto it rather than your very expensive current phone.

Battery life can addressed by wiring the phone into the motorcycle's electrical system, or otherwise keeping it charged.

Poor daylight screen readability is not easy to resolve. While some riders devise sunlight shades, that seems a cumbersome and insecure solution.

Sad to say, until smartphone manufacturers resolve the problem of daylight screen readability, riders may have to buy suitable, dedicated GPS devices. (We use a Garmin Montana 600, whose screen is readable in bright daylight, as shown in the photo above.)

Fortunately, as with smartphones, the technology is evolving, although not so fast. Good used devices are often available. Online retailers like GPSNation and GPSCity often have factory refurbished units available as well.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Antigravity Batteries' jump-starter saves a trip ... but with a 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.

Twice in the preceding year, the battery in our Toyota 4Runner had died in the driveway. It wasn't an old battery, and the cause remained elusive. So a few weeks before leaving on a three-day, early November 4x4 journey to the Doll House -- deep in Canyonland's remote Maze District -- I purchased the little XP-3 lithium battery pack from Utah's Rocky Mountain ATV/MC.

Doll House, Canyonlands National Park
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 badly when in being used. If you ever need to use one, keep an eye on it.

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 (
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.

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.

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.