The Great Western Trail is exciting, informative, and challenging, but it can also be unforgiving. In its trek from Phoenix to the Utah border, it meanders through hot, sandy deserts, forested mountains, and everything in between. None of the challenges it presents is impossible, although each requires its own set of driving rules. Even so, motor sports, and especially off-road driving, are potentially dangerous. Be prepared and use good judgment when driving the Trail. It is not within the scope of this book to teach off-road driving, but we will describe some of the obstacles you may face on the Trail and suggest how to overcome them, follow. You can find more detailed instruction, including videos, at Tread Lightly!, http://www.treadlightly.org, and other online sites.
If you have no experience in off-road travel, before driving the Trail take a course with a qualified instructor or join a 4-wheelers club and go on several trips with its members. Know your vehicle and its capabilities A skilled driver in a high clearance vehicle with 4-wheel drive should have no difficulty with any leg of the Trail, but an unskilled driver will, no matter how modified his vehicle may be. Unless someone has moved them since we wrote this book, wrecked vehicles along several of the trails bear silent witness to our warning. We do not know the specific causes of the accidents, but there are at least two: the driver did not understand his abilities and the capabilities of his vehicle and drove both over their limits, or his vehicle had unknown or uncorrected problems before beginning the trip. Make sure you or your mechanic inspect your vehicle before you embark on your trip.
Top up all fluids, check for leaks, and make any necessary repairs. They are easier to make in a warm, dry garage than on the side of a mountain during a blizzard or in a desert where the air temperature is 120 degrees. Travel alone or in company There is no easy answer to this question. Some people suggest you always travel with others since they can help immediately in case of an accident or breakdown. It may be wise to travel in a group of at least two vehicles if the trail is remote and challenging, as parts of the Great Western Trail are. Others feel that if you drive a well-maintained vehicle, are experienced in off-road driving techniques, and have a communications device that is more effective in remote areas than a cellphone (such as a satellite phone or a Personal Locator Beacon), it is safe to travel alone. Know where you’re going The maps and waypoint coordinates in this guide will help you find your way through each leg of the Trail, and you should study them carefully before beginning your journey.
To use the coordinates, you will need a good GPS unit, possibly with a remote antenna for improved reception, or a laptop computer with topographic software, such as Fugawi or Terrain Navigator, and a GPS receiver. You should have maps of the national forests, which you can purchase from the Forest Service at http://www.nationalforeststore.com. You can also find maps of the GWT at Ranger Stations in the Tonto, Prescott, and Kaibab National Forests. These are free but limited in scope. Before starting your trip, you should know where each trail begins and ends as well as its length and any obstacles it may present. Note the location of nearby towns in case you need supplies or assistance, as there are no stores or service stations along the trails. And before you go, especially if you go alone, tell someone where you will be and how long you expect to be away. Cellphone service is erratic or nonexistent on most of the trails.