by Blake Herzog
Yavapai County’s territory covers a wide range of geography — forested mountains, rocky dells and hills, placid lakes, high-desert plateaus, red-rock wonders. The landscape provides an endless supply of inspiration and challenge to its residents and visitors from across the globe.
This makes it an ideal playground for off-roading, or the art of driving places where most people can’t.
It draws enthusiasts who love to use the powers granted to them by a 4×4 or ATV to reach ghost towns, campgrounds and other treasures just out of reach. For others it’s all about the journey and how many obstacles they can overcome, the bigger and more jagged the better.
Greater Prescott and vicinity have great opportunities for both kinds of adventurers, as well as the many who fall in between. Off-roading is also ideal for reaching awesome hiking and biking trails you’d never have the time to reach by foot.
The Alto Pit OHV Day Use Area is just northwest of Prescott off Iron Springs Road; its 400 acres are set in two former gravel pits just below Granite Mountain. It has open pits and more than 20 miles of trails, threading east and west along the base of the mountain through forests punctuated by massive boulders.
The Mingus Mountain area is another excellent choice for off-roading with several options including the Mingus Mountain Loop Trail that slithers along the base and the Goat Peak Trail, which connects the small town of Cherry to the bigger town of Cottonwood.
Perkinsville Road is Chino Valley’s gateway to off-roading adventures that can keep you busy for days, and some that take you by some gorgeous red rocks. The road itself will take you through the ghost town of the same name, and you can backroad all the way to Williams from there.
Going a little farther from Prescott, you won’t want to miss Sedona and the chance to get even closer to the towering spires and mesas, or head south to the high desert and sky islands around Bumble Bee, Cleator and Crown King.
You’ll benefit from the adventure no matter which trail you happen to be on, because it engages your mind and body in a way that doesn’t leave any room for electronic distractions (even if they’re still within range).
Off-roading can also be a very social activity, as most experts recommend against off-roading alone, so it’s easy to find people in search of new buddies to accompany them to the latest hot spot they’ve never been to.
One of the best reasons to go off-roading is to get away from civilization and spend time camping, birding, working out or doing anything else in nature that lowers stress and blood pressure.
Some people do have concerns about how off-roading vehicles affect the natural environment it crosses, but there are many ways to minimize your impact. First and foremost is to use established roads or trails whenever possible so you stay on compacted soil that already is disturbed and not suitable for plant life.
Don’t cross streams or running washes unless you’re following an established trail. If for some reason you must leave the trail, try to cover up your tire tracks so other drivers won’t follow them; this is how social trails are created, and once they’re established it can be hard to get them out.
Drive over instead of around obstacles to avoid widening the trail — this is where you get to have fun! Avoid driving through mud if possible and press the gas lightly if you do so you don’t create a rut for yourself and everyone else.
With these few tips you can leave the wilderness as pristine as possible for those who come behind you, and the same spectacular experience will be awaiting you the next time you venture out.
PHOTO BY BLUSHING CACTUS PHOTOGRAPHY