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.