With arguably the best warranty in the automotive industry, we couldn’t help but take one last test drive…this time in the stylish Hyundai Palisade.
On the Trail: Imogene Pass
Imogene Pass looks like the sort of place where you'd run into orcs while you and eight friends seek to destroy Sauron's ring: misty, mountainous, and ripe for exploration. It's what a national forest would be like if it were made by Peter Jackson. But how surprising is it when you find out Imogene Pass is located near Telluride, Colorado?
Tap that Pass
The pass crosses a ridge connecting the towns of Telluride and Ouray. It’s also the highest mountain pass in the San Juan Mountains. This was gold rush country and there are a couple of ghost towns in the area that were once thriving mining settlements back in the day.
Collin Coates from Built2Wander hosted our mountain adventure into Imogene Pass. He and the company are full-on off-road enthusiasts first and foremost so we knew we'd have a great time. Mel Wade of Evo Manufacturing and Matt Thompson of 3D Offroad came along as our guests for the day. We got out and about on the Tomboy Road in the morning. Ultimately, the climb would take us to about 13,000 feet above sea level before the drop down into Ouray.
Rather than rush the trip, the crew opted to take its time. That way, we could get to know not just the terrain but also the mining history of the place. Our three Jeeps for the day were Collin's Triton JL on 40-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers with Bilstein coilovers and 1-ton axles, Matt's 2020 Gladiator (aka “Blaze JT”) with a 3-inch lift and Rockjock arms on 40-inch Trail Grapplers, and Mel Wade (daughter’s) Jeep JL on 37-inch Trail Grapplers. Mel had been on the pass before and he provided some good tips for anyone looking to tackle it. Like, say, looking out for its many loose slick rocks as you navigate the steep switchbacks. Also, be aware that uphill has the right-of-way when the road gets really narrow.
All of the basic essentials apply before you get started, though. Food, water, and a spare tire for sure. But this is high altitude four-wheeling. You'll also want a recovery kit and cold weather gear since temps can drop in a hurry up here. After airing down to roughly 10 PSI, it was time to get busy.
As Mel told us, tire placement in this terrain was critical. It's easy to get off-camber on the rocky hillsides and roll downhill if you're not careful. Pick your line and try to crawl in order to keep your vehicle as level as you can. If a line isn't working for you, though, don't worry. There are plenty of established alternates for you to take.
Part of the history of the roads goes all the way back to the late 1800s when the gold mines opened up. From Telluride, the path goes passed the ghost town of Tomboy and Savage Basin to the summit. Speaking of which, we stopped about a mile and half before it to take in the breathtaking views surrounding us. Mel highly recommends hitting the trail early in the morning in order to beat the traffic. We'd already encountered about half a dozen other vehicles out here and we weren't even at the summit yet. Just pay attention to the trail and watch out for drop-offs.
Today's Forecast: Widely Scattered Awesome
From there we came into fresh snow, switchbacks, and more drop-offs as we approached the summit. It didn't disappoint. The views were tremendous. However, that also makes it the favorite rest stop for other drivers. Jeeps, UTVs, and more were here alongside us, all enjoying the views at 13,000 feet above sea level. Just be aware that the weather changes faster than a Magic Eight Ball's mind. It can go from sunny to sleet in no time.
Once break time was over, we started the downward run to Ouray. It's a combination of the same sort of obstacles we faced going up, but with treeline terrain and river crossings to boot.
Collin risked life, limb, and bladder control at Poser Rock for a killer photo op on this leg of the trip. Our own Randy Wilcox gave him a spot to get Collin right up to the cliff's edge for the best view (and photo) possible.
From there, we wound down into Ouray. Everyone loved the epic vistas and panoramic mountain views; the gold rush history was an added bonus and if you get out here, it's definitely worth bringing a camera.
Wondering what off-road trails are like in Texas? Big Bend National Parks offers plenty of 4x4 trails to explore.
On the Trail: Ocala National Forest
In this episode of On The Trail, Cole Young guided avid hunters, anglers, noodlers Hannah Barron and her dad Jeff Barron over a blend of surf, turf, and mud for the day. Our heroes stormed Ormond Beach, just north of infamous Daytona Beach before heading inland on the highway to conquer the Ocala National Forest (and hopefully catch some fish there). (Click here to go directly to the video.)
Cole and the Barrons chose Ormond Beach for three reasons: location, location, location. It's part of Volusia County, where it's legal to drive on the beaches (and easily accessible to do so). The crew just couldn't pass up the chance to hit the sand while they were here. And who can blame them?
Cole's weapon-of-choice was a Toyota 4Runner TRD Offroad on Nitto Mud Grapplers with a VT Racing kit (adjustable coil over up front, adjustable high low rear). Hannah and Jeff ran a stock 2020 Ford Ranger on Nitto Terra Grappler G2’s. We made sure we had a winch, jumper cables, food, and water. It gets muddy and the winch might come in handy. After tackling the beach it was on to the 40-minute highway run to Ocala National Forest.
They entered the park at Alexander Springs. One great aspect of the Ocala National Forest is its ready accessibility and Alexander Springs sits along the eastern edge of the park, in Central Florida. That means you can hit the trail and Disney World in the same day. Before you head in, nabbing a map at one of the welcome centers is a great idea. While the trails are all clearly named and marked, at some point you will lose cell phone reception. The Ocala State Forest isn't exactly a petite dog park. You can get lost in it.
On the first leg, our team drove west below the powerlines into the forest. It's a blend of trees, sand, and water. And, of course, that famous psycho Florida weather. You'll be running along, all nice and sunny, and then you get a brief rain shower just because the sky likes to do that here. Sometimes those showers aren't so brief; keeping current on the weather forecast is a good idea. Otherwise, you might get a bad surprise when you hit the trails.
Seeing as how the park is also home to over 600 natural ponds and lakes, you're bound to navigate at least one of them while you're here. Cole guided Hannah and Jeff through a couple of them before a downpour vented itself on the trio. It was the perfect opportunity for lunch.
With full bellies and high spirits, the group got back to it. The owl Jeff saw was just one of the many forms of wildlife that call the park home. Black bear, wild boar, white-tail deer, river otter, bobcat, and more live here too.
The trail snaked its way to the St John's River where Hannah and Jeff busted out the rods and reels for a go at the fishing. There'd be no noodling because, as Hannah said earlier, "Everything in Florida has teeth." I'm sure she could rock the Captain Hook look, but you can't blame her for not wanting to explore that idea.
At least, the fauna they ran into sure had teeth. A few gators scouted the group as they fished and the gar were out in force to the point that absolutely zero fish were around to be had. So thanks for that, big scary aquatic predators. Jerks.
Into the Wild
Skunked by the fish that were too cowardly to risk death-by-chomping for the chance to dance at the end of a fishing line, the team hopped back on the trail. Cole thought he'd put Hannah's driving chops to the test with more water to tackle at this point. And she wasn't shy about getting the truck all dirty in the mud.
From there it was smooth sailing back to Alexander Springs. Not a bad way to end a full day of tackling beaches, forest, mud, and water. Both sets of Nitto tires gave our drivers plenty of confidence to get the job done, too.
Check out the full video here.
This Golden-Era Honda follows a recipe that keeps the owner coming back again and again.
On the Trail: Sand Hollow to Sand Mountain OHV Area
Sand Hollow State Park looks like someone tried to recreate the Martian landscape in the middle of Utah. That's because of all the beautiful red rock characteristic to this part of the US of A. You'll find it close to Saint George as part of the Sand Mountain OHV Area. Dedicated in 2003, the park surrounds the Sand Hollow Reservoir. Since then it's become a popular playground for camping, fishing, and, of course, off-roading. But you don't have to tell Austin Stobaugh and Courtney Shipper that. They've taken lots of beginners through Sand Hollow with the Off-Road 101 school. That makes them perfect for schooling our own Mike Sabounchi on what can be a very technical course. The place has all the desert fun: solid rock slabs, loose shale, and dunes at the end. (Click here to go directly to the video)
Off-Road 101 School explains tire placement, reading the terrain, finding the best line, and spotting. The whole point is to make beginners feel comfortable so they’ll come out and adventure more. Tackling a park in the Southwest with a variety of obstacles and courses provides a great environment not just for applying those lessons but also building confidence while you learn (as Mike found out).
Now Let's Meet the Vehicles
For this episode of On the Trail, Mike’s piloting his bone stock Lexus GX470 with an Eibach lift and Nitto Ridge Grappler tires.
Austin is running a 2012 four-door JK with 37-inch Nitto Ridge Grapplers, 4-inch suspension lift, and front and rear housings and bumpers. “Everything you could do to a JK without changing the tub,” Austin puts it.
Courtney is driving a 2002 TJ stretched on coil overs. She’s running Dana 60’s front and rear with 37-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers.
Before heading out to explore Sand Hollow, you'll want the standard items we recommend for any excursion but also a few additions for a place like this: GPS due to the looser nature of the trails in this park; sunscreen to deal with the hot sun is hot, and buggy whips to make your vehicle more visible, especially at the end of the day in the dunes.
The Big Squeeze
Things got pretty tight during the first leg of the trip (aka The Slide) where their chosen path passed between two red rock formations but then it opened up. They stopped to check out the scenic overlook of nearby Washington and St George. Sand Hollow being under twenty minutes from St George, the park makes a good day trip from town. There are plenty of offshoots of the trail they were on; some more challenging than others. That makes it more like a big, rocky sandbox or a playground than a cut-and-dried trail. This is why you want that GPS along for the trip.
Then they were on to the next obstacle, the Squeeze. Mike and Austin scouted it on foot and Mike noted it was “probably the hairiest obstacle I’ve done in my life.” It’s downhill, with a wave, and a hump in the middle. But with Austin's guidance, he made it through okay.
If The Squeeze was Mike’s idea of extremely hairy, what followed next would be a wookie dipped in Rogaine. He tackled the steep rock-laden downhill, though, and was just as happy as he was concerned before Austin walked the GX470 through it. Should you find yourself contemplating rocky terrain, remember that body armor and sliders can really shield your ride from damage. The next rock obstacle packed a very off-camber tilt on the driver’s side but our intrepid heroes offset that with some rocks to take some of the aggression out of it. If you end up grouping rocks to even out a rough patch, remember to tread lightly on it.
Crushing Obstacles on the Trail, Seeing them in Your Rearview Mirror, and Hearing the Exultations of Your Buddies
After three tests of Mike's ability (and, arguably, his courage), he was thrilled. He’d faced all three beasts and come out on top (at the bottom) each time. He gained more confidence and grew better after each one. Until the next part. When he saw Austin’s Jeep up ahead struggling to climb a patch of rock, he knew it was time to test his nerves again. But with some guidance and path preparation, Mike took it on, with Courtney ahead just in case he’d need winching out.
By the time the crew reached the last hurdle, Mike’s nerves were an elation and trepidation smoothie. The climb looked intimidating and there was a rough patch with his back driver’s side wheel; tight, unforgiving squeezes abounded. But he made it through unscathed. Can the same be said of his Lexus? Watch the video for yourself and see.
Austin tells us that the trail is rated between a four and a six but that the rating can change greatly by the path you choose. This is also when he let Mike know that they’d just conquered the most difficult obstacles in the park. While an experienced spotter like Austin or Courtney was the biggest help for a trip like this, throttle control was vital for tackling the rough terrain as well.
Sittin' on Top of the World
Finishing out tight passing in The Squeeze, the team made its way up to The Top of the World. From there, it was all about cutting loose in the dunes. Watch the video for yourself and see just how much fun they had.