Summer has arrived. Among the myriad outdoors activities that come to mind is four-wheeling. Many four-wheelers go off-road during the winter months, of course, but summer is a particularly popular time.
With weather conditions generally calm, it’s natural to assume that the trails and back roads are open and accessible. That’s not necessarily the case. Indeed, trails could be closed or made impassable due a host of natural calamities.
Even in summer, spend a few moments checking the status of the trails you intend to drive. One or more may be closed.
Why might the trails be closed?
Trail and road closures occur for a number of reasons, including:
- Deep snow. Due to the record snowfall California received this past winter, higher elevations still have significant amounts of snow. Roads and trails could be challenging. The Rubicon still has snow on it. It’s not technically closed, but you can’t drive far on it.
- Debris from landslides. Snowmelt is causing flash floods, mudslides and landslides. Roads and trails may be torn up or blocked by boulders and mud. Flash floods can literally rearrange a trail, leaving it markedly different in shape and location.
- High water on the trail. In as little as 2 feet of water, the vehicle is lifted so that the tires lose traction. Streams could be running high for several months, as the snowpack slowly melts.
- A government agency deemed the trail or road unsafe. Authorities are concerned for your safety, as well as the safety of first responders who may be called to provide aid. Even though the trail may seem passable, heed the CLOSED sign. Turn around and come back another day.
Know the area to adapt to weather hazards
Back in May I joined several buddies for a trip in Utah. We intended to drive and camp on the Barracks Trail but learned early on that the trail’s 20-odd water crossings were impassable. (There’s no way to drive the trail without crossing streams multiple times.) The water was flowing so fast and deep, we were advised to stay off the trail.
As one local put it, “Even if you had 40-inch tires you wouldn’t have made it.”
We nixed that idea. Being familiar with that area helped us quickly rethink our plans. We found a great campsite on a parallel road.
I encountered similar issues in Death Valley in autumn 2022. Several storms moved through that area during the summer. Just before leaving for my trip in October, I learned that almost everything – paved roads and back roads – was closed.
The Park Service closed the roads because they didn’t feel it was safe to drive through. Roads were so washed out you couldn’t get from one side of the park to the other. (Incredibly, three or four roads are still closed.) As an alternative, we had everyone drive all the way around to enter the park from the east side, change our route to use open roads and change to an available camp site.
The issue isn’t confined to California. A number of roads in Utah suffered water damage and are closed.
How to find out about trail conditions
A good place to start is the internet. Search for a blog or forum dedicated to the area you’re interested in. While those resources are useful, the information could be old and obsolete. Note when the article was published. If more than a week old, conditions could have changed.
With snowmelt causing flooding and washouts, a trail discussed in a blog post could’ve changed dramatically soon after the person’s visit. You wouldn’t know that by relying solely on blog or forum post.
The DOT and some counties publish road status reports on a regular basis. One of interest to me is produced by Inyo County in California. Go here to download a copy of the PDF. You’ll note, for example, that Buttermilk Road, along with North and South Saline roads are closed. I believe they update the list on a weekly basis. As of this writing, the June 12 report is the latest.
Perhaps friends – or their friends – live near where you intend to drive. Call them for advice.
Feel free to call the oversight agency. That could be the county, U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. Note that officials tend to err on the side of caution. They don’t know what your capabilities are, so you may be told to choose a different trail.
The mountains present their own hazards
As mentioned already, mountainous areas out west still hold deep snow packs. During the hot summer days, tourists gravitate toward higher elevations. They don’t expect to encounter roads covered by snow or damaged from snowmelt. Or simply closed.
Always check the status of roads and trails before leaving. And, of course, pack appropriate clothing.
Have a backup plan
Memorial Day 2019, I was with a group that planned to camp near Papoose Flats, located in the White-Inyo range of eastern California. The weather deteriorated as we climbed to about 7,000 feet. Listening to NOAA weather on the ham radio, we learned a big storm was going to hit that night. Changing plans, we drove through Papoose Flat and exited the Inyo Mountains on Death Valley Road.
As we descended into Saline Valley, a heavy, violent thunderstorm blew out of the Inyo mountains and Papoose Flat, and across the road we were travelling on. Still about 10 miles north of the storm, we had a bird’s eye view as it travelled quickly beyond us. Camp was pleasant that night considering the alternative: spending a cold, freezing night on the side of the mountain.
There were two takeaways for us that weekend:
- Carry a radio capable of receiving the NOAA weather channel.
- Know the area well enough to select an alternative campsite.
Few four-wheeling expeditions go exactly as planned. But that’s part of the allure of this hobby. An unexpected challenge adds spice to any excursion. However, closed or blocked trails and roads can ruin a trip if not accounted for.
Before every trip, check on trail conditions, and create a backup to counter a blocked trail or other unexpected challenge.
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Did you miss the previous articles?
- 2023-05-17 The Secret Art of 4-Wheeling – Visualization
- 2023-04-09 Pickle Thinks He is a Big Dill
- 2023-03-10 Don’t Let Inclement Weather Dampen Camping Experience
- 2023-02-15 Be A Good Sport: Tread Lightly
- 2023-01-13 What We Share And Don’t Share Off-Road
Some Upcoming Events (click on the link for details)
Time to sign up for the Independence Day Club Run. Use the link below. The plan is to visit two of my favorite camp sites. Both are in the 6,000 to 7,000 foot elevation. Hopeful by July the camps will be clear of snow. However, we may be able to drive to a higher elevation to drive in snow. Day one is Wheeler crest and day two, we have an ambitious plan to do the route around Glass Mountain in the Long Valley Caldera and then take NF200 route to Huntoon Valley. This is also a favorite drive of mine – see picture above. It is very scenic and an easy route except there is a short section that is difficult where we drop down in elevation on a rocky shelf road. Our destination is what we refer to as the “high camp”.
Wavian NATO Military Steel Jerry Can – 20L/5.3 Gallon $89.99
Order several cans now at:
Best to order these cans now as we enter the hurricane season. The warehouse has sold out every can they have 3 times in past year due to natural disaster. People bought any color and any size just to have one right away. Half of the new supply shipped as soon as it came in due to a long waiting list. You don’t want to be caught without a gas can or forced to buy an inferior can that leaks.
Check out this fire test of the cans https://youtu.be/xG6x_BoGqNY
These are the real deal and are now legal again. These cans do not leak! They are the ones I recommend. However, the penalty we have to pay to get these cans again is that every can must come with a CARB approved spout. That adds about $30 dollars to the can. Still worth it. I have cans built during WWII that still hold gasoline and do not leak. (I am not that old. I bought them surplus.)
Due to a recent ruling by CARB, we cannot ship black and green cans to California.
If you live outside CA. contact us (phone or email) to see how you can order black or green.
I hope to see you on the trails!
Tom Severin, President Badlands Off Road Adventures, Inc.
4-Wheel Drive School
Make it Fun. Keep it Safe.
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