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I've been hearing tales of broken axles, shredded tires, smashed sheet metal, and other carnage all as a result of Axle Alley. So, when Bruce Browell asked if I wanted to run it I accepted with gusto.
We met Dave Hickmen, Zane Morgan, and the famous Mr. Ed some 60 miles east of Phoenix on highway 60. To get to the trail head you have to pass through a military training area. On this day the flags were not flying at the turn off, indicating that it was supposed to be safe to enter. If you enter when the flags are flying don't be surprised to find yourself sharing the road with a tank or convoy of Hummers.
Several miles of very scenic flat dirt roads lead to the trailhead. A few fellow four-wheelers decide to park and walk along to watch. Mr. Ed talked one of the onlookers into driving up to the trail exit point so we could use his truck as an anchor point. Apparently, winching is the only way to get out.
As with most of the harder Arizona trails Axle Alley is in a dry wash. The trail tends to get narrower as you go. I'm not saying a full-size couldn't make it. It just depends on how much sheet metal you want to bend to match the rocks.
The first chute you come to is quite impressive. You have to straddle a deep V with boulders strewn about both sides. These tended to slide you into the V, or no-mans land. At the top of it there are V-shaped vertical ledges almost as tall as my tires. Just as you catch your breath at the top, the sight of the next challenge sucks it back away.
A waterfall just tall enough to stand your Jeep in launching position looks impossible. Very few have made it up this section without winching. We all ended up winching ourselves up. Afterall, this is one of the obstacles that named this trail and make it's name stick.
All along the trail are off-camber sections that attempt to throw your Jeep into the rocks. At times it sounded like a wrecking yard as metal banging and scraping on rock echoed up the canyon. At one point a large crack threatened to swallow Mr. Ed's Jeep whole. He didn't seem too concerned about the paint, but a High Lift jack was required to push him away from a rock ledge to prevent being stuck. We took turns making impossible-looking sections look easy and then getting hung up badly. The second you lose respect for this trail, you pay.
Besides the dented sheet metal and whatever the rocks pulverized underneath, the only other casualty on the trail was a rock through my sidewall. I heard the puncture pulling through a tight section. When I stopped to look we found a piece of rock still in the tire. We left it there until tire plugs could be readied. Fourteen plugs later and a little air we were off.
The next waterfall was steep and high, but not impossible on a good day. Near the top of this waterfall, my tire spit out the plugs and was flat instantly. I was the only one on the trail without a winch so I really had to depend on these guys a lot. They seemed more than happy to winch me over the fall with my rim scrapping out a song as the bead peeled off. The rocks now had a pinstripe and I was forced to put the spare on.
I've found that if you're at this angle with a 4.0L engine you should make up your mind which way to go (faster then I did) or your Jeep will burn oil for at least a half an hour. As a result, your fellow four-wheelers could get verbally abusive as they breath the fumes.
Our trail leader, Dave Hickman, was the first to winch up the last impossible waterfall. A cable was also attached to the rear of Dave's Jeep from the Jeep in back of him. This way as Dave was winching up, the cable for the next Jeep was pulled up at the same time. This last obstacle will have most of your cable unspooled because of the long distance you must winch. Hopefully, someone is still parked at the top as an anchor point or it's a long way back in the direction you came.
The trail is Extreme. Extreme beauty, extreme obstacles, extreme fun.