Currently, there are no trail write-ups on this route.
The Navajo Nation section of this route is currently closed.
Arizona State Parks and Trails is currently developing a management plan for the entire trail. Expect re-routes and changes to this route sometime soon.
The Great Western Trail is a 3000+ mile multiple-use trail that travels from Mexico to Canada. This route is the original Arizona section of the Great Western Trail. The route incorporates some of Arizona’s well-known scenic drives, such as Mount Lemon, Pioneer Pass, Four Peaks, Seven Springs Rd, Cherry Rd, and several others.
You can complete this route in sections. There are several opportunities to bail out, fuel up, and get groceries.
There isn’t much to see directly along this route, but exploring some side trails will take you to some incredible destinations. There are several abandon mines, old cabins, and even state parks to visit. I would suggest downloading our POI collection and choose some destinations.
Among these locations are the historic town of Lochiel and the Marcos de Niza monument, American Flag Ranch, monster cactuses near Mammoth, and several fishing destinations.
The route is super easy and suitable for any lightly equipped 4wd truck or SUV. Wet weather conditions may change that. You must be prepared to spend at least three days without services. Extra fuel is not required.
The Center For Biological Diversity is declaring war on a small Church camp on Mount Graham.
The Arizona Church of Christ Bible Camp is a small Bible Camp that sits just east of Webb Peak on Mount Graham in Arizona. The Bible Camp allows kids of all ages to spent time in the wilderness. Among them are troubled teens who often experience their first outdoor adventures at the camp. It was built in 1966 and is visible on maps as early as 1972 as the “Arizona Bible School.” Since its creation, the camp has hosted several getaway retreats for Youth summer camps, religious groups, scouting events, and other community functions.
The Bible Camp is allowed to operate under a special use permit from the Coronado National Forest that expired in 2009 and is currently up for renewal. The property is located on public land, and there are several buildings, a water system, and other amenities. Despite being quite old and needing some work, It’s functional and easy to maintain the facility.
Thousands of folks have enjoyed the Bible Camp over the past 55 years. On the permit renewal, you will see many positive comments about the Bible Camp. One woman says,
“Our organization rents this camp facility for our teen summer camp and college weekend retreat. The camp facility is very rustic and the camp board works hard to make sure we leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but memories and pictures. We introduce teens and college students of all backgrounds to the beauty and awesomeness of nature. Countless students have been positively impacted by their experiences at the Mt Graham Bible Camp.”
The historic town of Old Columbine
Old Columbine is a historic town that was founded in the 1890s. It’s situated on public land just south of the bible camp and is visible on maps as early as 1904. The town started as a retreat for locals to escape the summer heat. Today, the community of cabins is allowed to operate under special use permits. However, they are not up for renewal.
The Coronado National Forest accepted the Special Use Permit for the Bible Camp, and a Final Record of Decision should come sometime this year. This is excellent news and nothing to complain about. If all goes well, the Church will continue to provide our youth with an opportunity to learn and grow a fondness for nature. However, the Center For Biological Diversity (CBD) is not happy with the Forest Service’s decision to renew the permit and the Church is now facing incredible hardship.
Special use permits for recreational cabins are different than Special Use Permits for Organizational Camps. Simply put, they are both semi-private agreements between individuals and federal land managers where the individual owns the buildings, and the federal government owns the land. They must be renewed every twenty years.
The University of Arizona Mount Graham International Observatory
In the early 90s, the University of Arizona erected an International Observatory on top of Mount Graham. The observatory is part of the Steward Observatory, the Department Of Astronomy’s research arm at the University of Arizona. The Observatory was enabled by an act of congress in 1988 and required U of A to develop a management plan for the endangered Mount Graham Red Squirrel. Since 1992, the University of Arizona Conservation Research Laboratory has published yearly reports on its website detailing its work to monitor squirrel populations. However, They haven’t posted any reports since 2018.
The new law authorized a “Special Use Authorization” of 150 acres of land and limited development to 25 acres. Three telescopes were immediately built, with two more planned in the future. The Observatory existence is subject to the terms and conditions of a US Fish and Wildlife Biological Opinion dated July 14, 1988. The CBD claims the Biological Opinion is “Politically and religiously motivated.” We cannot find this document anywhere.
The law also recognizes the Old Columbine and the Arizona Bible School special use permits and notates that the permits shall continue for the entire duration. It mentions that while reauthorizing these permits, federal land managers should consult with the US Fish and Wildlife under the ESA requirements and conduct another Biological study.
During this process, the law says that land managers shall consider the small amount of land used by the cabins, work with local representatives from the city of Safford, Arizona, and, upon the denial of a permit, developed a relocation plan for the permit holders.
Furthermore, the law makes the University of Arizona responsible for all financial burdens involving the Mount Graham Red Squirrel management plan, including biological studies.
The Mount Graham Red Squirrel.
The Mount Graham Red Squirrel is a federally protected endangered species found only in the Pinaleno Mountains in southern Arizona. In 1988, there were less than 400 known Squirrels in the range. In 1990 Critical Habitat was designated, giving the rare critter a chance to flourish. In 2016 there was an estimated 252 Red Squirrels. In 2017, the lightning-caused Fry Fire ripped through the area, decimating their numbers and pushing them outside their designated habitat. After the Fry Fire, studies revealed an alarming drop in population to just under 33 Red Squirrels.
In 2017 the Center For Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audobon Society petitioned the Forest Service to update the Red Squirrel’s critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. Later in 2019, they sued to compel the Forest Service to act. The Forest Service failed to perform in both instances.
According to the Center For Biological Diversity, the Columbine Recreation Cabins and the Church Camp are “the only substantive restorable habitat and is critically needed to help the squirrels get through the habitat bottleneck.” In November of 2020, they sued the Coronado National Forest, claiming that the Coronado National Forest failed to reinitiate the Endangered Species Act consultation while renewing the Columbine Special Use Permits, including the Church camp. In a press release, the CBD wrote,
“The squirrels have found ways to survive the destruction of their habitat, but now there are so many forces aligned against them. Climate change, university astronomers, recreational buildings, and uncaring federal agencies could wipe these little animals off the planet.”
A joint study conducted by AZ Game and Fish, Coronado National Forest, US Fish, and Wildlife Service, and the Arizona Center For Nature Conservation in November of 2020 reveals their populations have risen to over 100 individuals since the Fry Fire. The data shows that despite the special use permits, the Mount Graham Red Squirrel is flourishing.
On the contrary
In 1995 world-renowned scientists and mammal expert Robert S. Hoffmann published a book called Storm over a Mountain Island Conservation Biology and the Mt. Graham Affair. In that book, Robert writes,
“While the Mt Graham red squirrel subspecies exhibits only slight phenotypic differences (slightly smaller body size and slightly narrower skull) than other red squirrels found in North America, genetic evidence does support the distinction of this subspecies.”
In other words, according to Robert’s research, other than physical appearance, the Mount Graham Red Squirrel is no different than the Red Squirrels that are found across Arizona and America. This brings up a serious question. Does the Mount Graham Red Squirrel even meet the requirements for endangered species designation? This whole fiasco could all be null and void if proven so.
The University of Arizona School of Agriculture and Life Science references Roberts’s work in their publication, Natural History of the Mount Graham Red Squirrell. Roberts’s work is also part of the Arizona Public Record in The State of Arizona Research Library.
Old Columbine Camp and Bible Camp users support the permit renewal.
Daryl Weech who is a volunteer firefighter and President of the Columbine Cabin Owners Association responded to the CBDs intent to sue in an article in the Gila Herald. His opinion seems to directly correlate with the scientific data produced by several studies.
“The threat to the population (Red Squirrel) has come from the misdirected attempt to protect them by not allowing logging and manually cleaning up the forest. For many years, the government put out every fire on the mountain as was thought to be the best thing for the forest. We now know that this only resulted in an abnormal buildup of fuel, which results in catastrophic fires.
The environmentalists have added to the situation by the mandate that the squirrels were found in a ‘trashy environment’ and must remain in such conditions to survive.
The thinking has resulted in a major portion of the mountain burning so hot that a good portion is now moonscape. The cabin area and Bible Camp are still green and intact because of the ongoing efforts to mitigate the fuel load in these areas. Several squirrels have historically lived within the tract. Removing the cabins and Bible Camp would result in the forest in this area becoming heavy in burnable fuel and would only be a matter of time before fire would blacken these areas also and be uninhabitable for not only the squirrels but all other wildlife as well.”
“The generation that grew up in the late 1930s and 1940s have often commented that at that time, they were able to walk anywhere in the forest as the small fifes would clear the forest floor of fallen trees and excessive duff. Today, we are not able to do so due to the massive accumulation of fuel.
We have proposed for the past 30 years that since the squirrel had to learn to live in the horrible conditions they find themselves in today, due to man, that if we were to clean the forest and restore it to the condition it was in pre-fire suppression days, that the squirrel will adapt back to a beautiful clean forest and thrive.”
It would come as no surprise that many folks have a passion for the Bible Camp and the Old Columbine recreation cabins, especially if it’s part of your family, childhood, and possibly your first outdoor experience. These camps have been allowed to operate for decades, and suddenly because of no fault of their own, they are facing some drastic changes. Several folks submitted comments in favor of The Arizona Church of Christ Bible Camp. One commenter said,
“I have been attending the Bible Camp on Mt. Graham for over a decade. My mother and her siblings went to this camp when they were kids and when I was old enough to go my mom took me there even though we lived in Wyoming. My grandparents and their peers from Oslo Verde church of Christ in Tucson helped build that church and remodel and maintain it. I myself have voluntarily helped remodel and main the camp site including its water tanks, infrastructure and more in the last 5 years. This camp has allowed me to make connections I wouldn’t of been able to otherwise at a young age. The people who come to this site are very respectful to nature and understand that the area belongs to nature and we don’t trash or vandalize it in anyway. I plan on taking my kids here and continue to give my aid and support to those who work it every summer. This camp isn’t like any other. The drive up is unique, the site is amazing with cabins and a mess hall and bathrooms. Everyone who had gone to this site has a personal connection to it. Please consider renewing our permit.”
A financial burden
We contacted the Arizona Church of Christ Bible Camp and conversed with Leonard Taylor, the Bible Camp’s vice-president. Upon this, we learned the Forest Service had put the small church into a terrible situation. Because of the circumstances of the CBD lawsuit, the Mount Graham Red Squirrel, the International Observatory, and the 2017 Fry Fire, the Forest Service requires the Bible Camp to complete an Environmental Assessment before the Forest Service can renew the special use permit.
The Environmental Assessment will cost the Church over $40,000, and it’s not guaranteed the Forest Service will renew the permit. This will open up more public participation and drag this process out for years. The Forest Service is giving them an ultimatum, pay the $40k or give up the camp.
Likewise, the Forest Service requires special use permit holders to remove buildings and restore the natural landscape after the permit is denied or canceled. This process will cost the Church upwards of $50,000 to have the structures removed. It’s an undue and unfair burden.
Here’s what Leonard had to say,
“We have operated a camp on Mt Graham for over 50 years, and are grateful for the opportunity to have done so. Through the years folks have invested considerable money, time, and effort in construction and maintenance of the facility. The camp has been a blessing to countless campers, and has changed lives. Alas, times have changed, and people have difficulty getting the time or extra finances to support the camp. There is not so much interest in a rustic place so far away from civilization, and cell towers. In addition, the 2017 Frye Fire has changed the conditions we operate in, with concern for the Mt Graham Red Squirrel being a major factor. The costs associated with renewing our Special Use Permit are prohibitive, more than our small group can afford. We greatly appreciate all the support and encouragement we have received through the years, but it seems the time has come to let it go. There is a group interested in buying the facilities, and we are working with them and the Forest Service in hopes they can keep the camp going.”
vice-president, Arizona Church of Christ Bible Camp
There is a lot to take in here. Decades of false science and misleading political agendas are steering the management of the so-called “Mount Graham” Red Squirrell at the expense of our traditional values and historical places. The Church Camp, Old Columbine cabin owners, the University of Arizona, the US Forest Service, and US Fish and Wildlife face undue burdens that ultimately trickle down to us, the individuals. All caused by the perversion of the Endangered Species Act by several environmental groups.
The observatory’s critical research is burdened by the false belief that the Mount Graham Red Squirrell should be protected. Only with an act of Congress and thousands of dollars in legal fees will this issue be resolved. This is a perfect example of why endangered species protection should be handled by the state and local authorities.
UTV users are the most vilified users in the offroad community.
We all know the stereotypical UTV user. You know, “The ones who tear up the trail” and, “Leave trash everywhere they go.” The ones that are ” loud and obnoxious with their load music and multi-colored whips.” We always hear stories of “UTV users doing this” and “UTV users doing that.” It’s gotten so annoying that I can’t help but point out how counterproductive and terrible it is for the 4×4 community.
While I recognize there are issues with the UTV community, I am not willing to pretend there is nothing wrong with other user groups. It doesn’t matter what you choose to drive. Shitty people are everywhere, and the moment we choose to turn our backs on each other is the moment we swoop to new lows.
The slandering of UTV users reminds me of the environmentalists who hate the offroad fellowship. It’s the same argument. “They destroy everything. Stop them!” Not only is it counterproductive, but it also works in favor of environmental groups that want to cancel the offroad community. It’s similar to the angry hiker who doesn’t want to hear the sound of an engine. Taking this stance, you are doing the offroad community no good.
UTV users are the majority in Arizona.
A recent study published by Arizona State University and Arizona State Parks and Trails estimate that UTV users are 43% of the offroad community in Arizona. Combined with other user groups that fall under Arizona’s OHV laws, a total of 71% of motorized users are OHV users. In other words, according to this study, SUVs and other registered motor vehicles are the minority in the offroad community in Arizona.
OHV users are a part of the offroad community, just like you and me. The policy that treatens OHV users also threatens the rest of us. By vilifying UTV users, you are shooting yourself in the foot. If we could put feelings aside, we would be an unstoppable force for change. Matters like the recent changes in Moab have expressly highlighted this divide in our community. By closing the gap, we would have a better chance to retain a future for our backroads. We should be listening to each other, riding trails together, and coming to each other’s aid.
Instead, OHV users have their own trails, and attempts are made to keep us separated in the name of “user conflict.” They maintain, fight for, and protect their own trails, and they are highly successful. These folks are a big part of public perception, policymaking and have done a lot for our community.
In particular, OHV groups actively work with the Arizona State Parks and Trails to recognize and designate 4×4 routes all over Arizona. This is important because it puts these trails under local control, provides a maintenance plan, and gives the state legal standing under ARS 37.931 and RS2477. It’s too bad that more groups don’t do the same.
The offroad community used to be a fellowship. It didn’t matter what you drove. Of course, there was the occasional brand bashing, but tension among user groups never existed. We never wished that other user groups were punished for the ignorant mistakes of a few. We focused on education, passing knowledge, and there was little to no animosity towards one another.
Our Community is fractured. The more popular our lifestyle becomes, the more we must step up to the plate and educate folks who are new to our backroads. We need to fuse the severed bond that used to be a tight-knit family who was happy to come to each other’s aid. There are real problems everywhere, and we need to acknowledge them and fix them.
We understand some folks are ignorant about the consequences of their actions. We should not assume these folks don’t care or are purposely being destructive. Some folks honestly don’t understand the consequences of leaving trash or driving off the trail. We have all made ignorant mistakes, and some of us have learned the hard way. The answer is the law, and we should advocate for its enforcement.
UTV users are NOT the problem
Many folks believe that UTV users are the problem with the offroad community. UTV users frequently take the blame for closures and other restrictions that harm motorized access. Some counteractive actions may result in some closures, and being the majority makes it easy to lump everyone into the same category. However, user conflict, trash, and driving off trails are not why places are being closed.
Radical federal policies are focused on closure rather than management. Policies such as Travel and Resource Management are the driving force behind most of these closures, not the actions of any particular user group. Instead of demonizing the majority of offroad users, we should be educating and instructing, building and promoting, and strengthening our involvement with managing and maintaining our trails and recreation areas.
I urge everyone to re-evaluate your position on UTV users and understand the consequences. We must stop driving a wedge between each other and start creating alliances. The very existence of our lifestyle depends on it.
Please let us know what you think in the comments section below.
A $25 entrance fee is required to visit the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Visit the National Park website to learn more.
DO NOT DRIVE INTO THE GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK! There is no gate and only signs to indicate the National Park boundary on your way to Mollies Nipple overlook. You must park at the boundary and hike the last 2 miles to the overlook. No fee is required to hike into the Grand Canyon National Park.
Hi ranger Todd!
There is no cell phone service anywhere along these trails. Cell phone service is currently only available at the canyon overlooks if you use the Verizon network.
Get your rig ready and make sure you’re prepared for this 400 mile plus journey to the most beautiful overlooks of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. You will travel through Arizonas deepest sandstone canyons as you make your way to the Granet Gorge.
This collection consists of maintained county roads and highly technical 4×4 trails. You will find several sections that require technical driving skills and recovery equipment. Vehicle failure is possible on these routes and could be devastating. A vehicle recovery could take 4 days or more, so be prepared for anything.
There are over 1,500 miles of trails in this collection that provide many route options. These routes are not maintained, and there are no services for hundreds of miles. You will need to pack in a full tank of extra fuel for each vehicle plus enough supplies for a minimum of 5 days. Do not underestimate this area. Climbing in and out of deep canyons will use more fuel than anticipated.
There are endless opportunities for adventure along these routes. Nearly a hundred old ranches lay scattered throughout the Parashant National Mount, along with several other relics of the pioneer days.
There are four National Parks in this collection. The only area requiring a fee is the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The Gold Butte National Monument and the Parashant National Monument do not require an entrance fee.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park is accessible from Mollies Nipple. However, you will need to hike approximately 2 miles to visit the Mollies Nipple overlook.
This collection consists of about 1,500 miles of dirt roads. The shortest distance required is 400 miles of dirt. This route will require a minimum of 4 days to complete but can take up to 5 or 6 days, depending on destinations. Requires expert driving, route finding, and problem-solving skills. You will find boulders 12 inches in diameter or more on some sections.
For decades, Moab, Utah, has been a top destination for OHV events, but not anymore.
Moab, Utah, is possibly one of the most well-known 4×4 destinations in the world. Moab trails are known as some of the most challenging and scenic backroads you will find in western America. You might think the small town of Moab is overwhelmingly friendly towards 4×4 enthusiasts, but I suppose you might be wrong. Continue reading →
You will not believe what we found in the Arizona National Scenic Trail Comprehensive Plan.
The Arizona Trail is an 800-mile non-motorized trail that traverses Arizona from Mexico to Utah. It’s one of Arizona’s prized destinations for many of Arizona’s residents and serious adventurers. The idea was developed and promoted by local outdoor enthusiast Dale Shewalter in 1985. Later, in 2009 the Arizona Trail was designated a National Scenic Trail under the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act. The Arizona Trail wasn’t completed until late 2011. Continue reading →
Yup, you read that right. Several Forest orders in effect since December 2, 2000, have just expired on the first of the year.
Several forest orders in the Coconino National Forest expired on the first of the year. These forest orders have been holding many of northern Arizonas best 4×4 trails and campsites hostage. As far as we can tell, some of these roads are still open on the MVUM. Continue reading →
The USDA Forest Service is seeking public input on the Fossil Creek Comprehensive River Management Plan.
The public has a chance to object to the final decision of the Fossil Creek Management Plan and Forest Plan Amendment. Objections will only be accepted from those who have previously submitted timely comments regarding these planning efforts during any designated opportunity for public comment unless based on information not available during an earlier designated opportunity for public comment (i.e., new information). Continue reading →