I speak a lot about being fully prepared for the 4WD experience. Knowing where you’re going, what you’ll need along the way, and when you’ll be back. That’s all well and good. But sometimes a little adventure is called for. You yearn to try something new. To go out exploring (overlanding, as four-wheelers call it).
You still need to prepare properly, but the trip has a more spontaneous nature to it. The thought pops into your head while driving on the road. You spot an interesting trail off in the distance. Or cross over one while on a highway. Sometimes you’ll hear of an intriguing drive from a buddy. (Or read of one here on my website.)
In the process, you force yourself out of your comfort zone, to take some chances. Scouting – a form of exploring – is like that. You’re checking out a new area, and going in ready to accept challenges that may come your way.
Expect the unexpected
Part of the fun of exploring, as odd as it sounds, is in the issues you’ll face. Expect to take wrong turns, hit dead ends, run low on gas, and otherwise have an atypical drive. In fact, your destination might change slightly. Heck, you may even get lost. More than once.
You’ll arrive late at a campsite and have to set up in the dark. And it might not even be your first choice for a site.
But you’ll have fun in the process. Humans are naturally curious. We want to know what’s “out there.” In this case, “out there” is what’s to be discovered and experienced by taking trails you haven’t been on before.
My exploration wish list
Let’s see how this process might pay out. I’ve thought of taking a drive that would follow the Mount Diablo meridian baseline from California through Nevada. (We’ll save a discussion about baselines for another article.) Mount Diablo is in the northern part of the state, northeast of San Francisco.
The baseline, found only on certain maps, is a straight line. But following it would take me through a variety of landscapes, roadways and trails. I’d like to follow it as closely as possible using what maps and resources I can find.
Once I go off-road, I’ll be truly exploring. I have some idea of the terrain, but I’m bound to encounter challenges. Is some of the land in private hands? If so, I’ll probably have to detour. In other spots, there might not be a trail corresponding to the baseline itself (which is just a line on a map anyway).
How far north or south do I have to drive to find a trail? Is there a trail? This may sound frustrating or maddening, but it’s not. I actually enjoy this aspect of four-wheeling.
What do I hope to accomplish? For one, that it’s possible to actually drive the route. Maybe I’ll encounter historical markers or old, abandoned towns along the way. Regardless, I will be exploring. And learning along the way.
If the route is interesting enough, I’ll consider adding it to my list of guided tours.
Another item on my wish list was to drive the entire rail bed of the Carson and Colorado Railway. The line ran from Mound House, Nev. to Keeler, Calif., a distance of about 300 miles. I’d like to see what’s left of stations and depots. I know that some have been preserved as museums. Others have become cafés and even a fire station.
Your resources for the trip
Like any other 4WD excursion, you’ll need maps and trail reports. Because exploring takes you into lightly traveled areas, resources may be slim. Some trail books are good, but many are written for day trips.
An internet search could bring up blog posts or other information from drivers who have driven the route already.
Contact government agencies for their maps and trail information. At the federal level, that would be the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. Your states’ department of natural resources should be able to help you regarding state parks.
Then there are local resources. Here is where you get to be creative. I once called a senior center and asked about campsite options in the area I wanted to visit. The guy on the phone turned out to be quite helpful.
With all that in hand, you draw the route on your map(s) or load into your GPS unit.
Then it’s a matter of packing up and hitting the trails.
The point of all this is to get out and explore. Pick a spot you haven’t visited before. Ask yourself, “How can I get from here to there?”
Of course, you’ll prepare as best as possible, but you also understand that the trip might not be smooth sailing.
Yet you’ll have fun. And you’ll experience four-wheeling in its purest form. One of the reasons for going off-road, after all, is to discover. So, go exploring.
[Editor - Make sure your are on valid & allowed off-road tracks. Follow Tread Lightly! principles. Respect all No Trespassing signs and close all gates you open. Watch for dead grass packed into your skid plate to avoid a fire. The trails may be overgrown due to little use. Don't go alone - have a 2nd vehicle tag along. ]
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