The weekend before last, Melinda's Jeep got out for an adventure! She was quite protective of her main vehicle, and other than the occasional snow storm in Illinois, I don't think it was ever put into 4WD. On one of our driving adventures, we approached a jeep road, but she refused to allow me to go down it. Our good friend Donna was interested in perhaps purchasing it, so figured we should put it through its paces, particularly since it has mostly sat in the yard the last few months...
I suggested that we go for a longish drive - perhaps drive around the Catalina Mountains to Oracle and head up the back road to Mount Lemmon. I had been down it a couple times in the old van, and was thinking the Jeep would have no problems going up it. We drove up Oracle Road out of Tucson, stopped for sandwiches and drinks in the town of Catalina and followed the signs through and past the town of Oracle looking for the turnoff to the right road. It was a bit confusing a time or two, but generally it was a good, if narrow dirt road, presenting no issues. We met a lot of vehicles going the other way - the road was barely wide enough to pass if one of them stopped and moved over as far as possible...
We didn't see any wildlife, but saw some pretty good-looking cattle like the steer shown at right here!
After the initial climb up the foothills, it leveled out for a time as we traversed the valley adjoining the north side of the Catalinas. We frequently had some amazing views across to the north-facing slopes, and it was a truly spectacular, if warm day. The cloud buildups added to the scenery. At left is shown a 5-frame panorama (5 vertical shots put together to make this horizontal one).
And hey - just so you know it is me taking these pictures, at right is a 3D anaglyph of an agave growing out of the hillside as we passed! You need your red/blue glasses to see the 3D illusion on this shot. The spiked leaves make an interesting view in stereo!
Once the road turned upwards again, we reached the sketchiest part. The road was steep and very rocky and partially rutted, so you needed to pick your path carefully and keep the speed down. For about a mile or two this section was the only spot where we used 4WD-low range. Interestingly, we still saw normal sedan cars and even minivans coming down the road, though smaller ATVs like those shown here at left seemed very popular.
As we climbed the plants changed dramatically from the manzanita and scrub oak shown at left to Ponderosa Pine in just a couple miles. The road surface also improved greatly as we topped out - more dirt and less rocks perhaps...
Eventually we reached civilization, and stopped to take a portrait of us (and Jeep!) coming out past the signs warning of the poor road ahead. All-in-all it was a fun, easy if safe adventure. The Jeep did it fine with flying colors. Once on pavement, we headed up to cruise past the Octoberfest at Ski Valley before heading back down the road. There were some signs of Fall - some aspen on the upper slopes were turning yellow, but the shirtsleeve temperatures at 9,000 feet still made it feel summery!
As we headed back down the civilized road, we stopped at Windy Point to take in the view. Some thunderstorms had developed underneath the cloud buildups and the remarkable shot at right is an HDR combination of 3 shots with different exposures in an attempt to capture the high dynamic range of the scene. In the clear spot at center, Kitt Peak's familiar shape can be spotted between storms.
Once back home, Donna and I were discussing the Jeep. The day's ride was fun enough that I'm not sure I need to rid myself of it anytime soon. More rides like we had might be kind of fun. I went out a few days later and invested in the "Guide to Arizona Backroads and 4-Wheel Drive Trails", so I see some more adventures in the future!
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