Rock 'N' Road

Some Folks Just Can't Resist A Challenge.
By Kevin Franklin

ASK THE AVERAGE guy if he should do something, he just might stop to think about the pros and cons.

Ask the same guy if he can do something, especially if it falls somewhere in the realm of a manly challenge, he'll dive right into it.

Case in point, the road into Cañada del Oro in the Catalina Mountains.

Out There According to the map--famous last words--the easiest way into Cañada del Oro is off the paved road that leads to Biosphere 2. We take the turn off Highway 77. It's a good mile and a half of public road, until you get near the bogus-sphere. Our turn should lie between here and the entrance. We keep our eyes peeled for Forest Service Road 670. Nothing materializes.

I decide to cross onto Biosphere property just to see if the road hides in there.

"Howdy folks, welcome to Biosphere 2. Keep to the right," says the fellow leaning out of the booth. His gaze pauses suspiciously on the 9,000 pound winch, mounted shovel, assortment of chains and surplus Jerry can strapped to the back of my home-grown rural assault vehicle.

Finding no road, we leave the terrarium on steroids to enact Plan B, which begins in Oracle. From a previous excursion five years ago, fellow adventurer Bob Moulton knows the road is accessible. Unfortunately, getting to it remains unclear. Working from memory, Bob spots the hill F.S. 736 follows and we make our way in that general direction, slowly and carefully picking our way around speed walkers and haphazardly parked bigwheels. After numerous false starts, we find our way to the National Forest boundary.

Right from the get-go there's some pretty steep climbing over loose gravel. On a scale of one to 10, one being pavement and 10 a cliff face, I'd give it a 6+. The Bronco negotiates the climb without difficulty, but Bob assures me there's much more to come. He keeps referring to something called the "elevator" and refuses to divulge anything more than sadistic grins.

Soon the road resembles a roller coaster track. Steep climbs and deep dives around precipitous curves keep my attention highly focused. An erosion channel has chewed a three-foot pit into the road, a trap hidden from view by the hood of the truck. Fortunately, my passengers spot it and we avoid delays and costly repairs.

We even descend the elevator--a truly terrifying talus slope--without too much difficulty, avoiding the tree that dented Bob's truck years before. I'd give it a 7+. But all of this is nothing compared to the chute.

Following the course of a semi-active streambed, the chute is a deep gully, barely wider than a truck. It's densely populated with boulders and trenches befitting a World War II battlefield. This is the point where the sensible dude gets out and walks the rest of the way.

I almost do. But somewhere deep inside a powerful creature stirs. It's the beast, summoned by a challenge. It's the same creature that brought London Bridge to Lake Havasu, put the Spruce Goose in the air, and created the beehive hairstyle. Unencumbered by awkward questions--like "why?"--it seeks only to answer "how."

So I begin creeping down the chute. Bob directs wheel placement from in front. I perch on one boulder and creep up another. Often in places like this, it's best to stay on top of the rocks, regardless of how far you leave Earth behind. At all costs, resist taking the more stable low road if it puts you in jeopardy of ripping out the guts of your oil pan or differentials.

Things proceed well. At one point the front left and rear right tires perch on rocks higher than the other two tires. The truck rocks back and forth--like a giant, 5,000-pound teeter-totter. It's an altogether unique sensation.

We make it through the chute, cross Cañada del Oro and enjoy the view of colorful changing sycamores. And then we stop in our tracks: F.S. 736 has lead us to a cliff. According to the map, this is still a road. It is, in fact, a cliff with a few whimsical aspirations of becoming a road.

Rather than winch our way up in the dark, we tuck tail and retreat, all the while wondering how we could be so stupid as to even attempt this. And, of course, we're already planning our return--someday we'll get up that damned cliff.

Getting There

Take Oracle Road north. Follow American Way Road to Viento Road. Turn right and continue to Estes Road. Turn left and you should be able to see the National Forest gate. Horses, mountain bikes, and especially feet work well here. TW

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