Touring the scenic dirt road byways that run through western wilderness areas is a rewarding thing to do! Unlike when driving on the paved highways, there is very little traffic on the dirt roads and there is no pressure to drive fast with no stops. Travelers can plug along at a snail’s pace while stopping to take in the scenic views anytime that they please. Some of the dirt roads present driving challenges that add to the fun, especially when operating a capable vehicle. There are also plenty of campsites, recreation areas and all sorts of interesting sights to see that are rarely featured on maps or mentioned in motel lobby travel brochures. Touring the official Scenic Back Country Byways is a great way to escape from the crowd and enjoy some real peace and quiet in a majestic setting!
Out west, there are some very challenging dirt 4×4 trails for modified vehicles and then there are well maintained smooth dirt roads that a high ground clearance passenger car can easily do. Most maps do not differentiate the two, so some research needs to be done before committing to the venture. The BLM, National Forest or National Park websites offer good information about dirt road travel and the restrictions are posted. Jeep club and ATV club websites are good resources too. Stopping by a 4x4 rental shop to ask questions is also a good way to gather pertinent information. Researching the dirt trail conditions ahead time will not only save wasted time, it will also prevent becoming helplessly stranded in a vehicle that was not suited for the task.
The Mojave Desert Joshua Tree Road Scenic Backway is a very easy dirt road to drive and the surface is fairly smooth. Nearly any passenger car can handle the trip, with the exception of low ground clearance vehicles, like muscle cars and sports cars. If your 2 wheel drive car has good tires, good shocks and a fair amount of ground clearance, then touring the Mojave Desert Joshua Tree Road Scenic Back Country Byway is an option, although a pickup truck or SUV would provide a smoother ride. All bets are off if wet weather is in the forecast, because flash floods can dramatically change the dirt road conditions.
Finding The Mojave Desert Joshua Tree Road Scenic Backway access point is fairly easy to do. This dirt road can be found on Old U.S. Highway 91 just about nine miles north of the community of Beaver Dam, Arizona. After crossing the Utah State Border on Old Highway 91, a visitor will officially be in the Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area. The Mojave Desert Joshua Tree Road Scenic Backway is well marked and the signage is easy to spot. This road is also called Bulldog Pass/Apex Road, but on most maps it is referred to by the National Byway name.
From the access point on Old Highway 91, the Mojave Desert Joshua Tree Road Scenic Backway runs 19 miles through the mountains to the Shivwits Paiute Territory. The endpoint is near Snow Canyon State Park and the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, so there are plenty of options after the drive is done. The paved road that the Scenic Backway meets at the end point actually is Old Highway 91, so one might say that this long dirt road is kind of a backwoods shortcut. In reality, the Mojave Desert Joshua Tree Road Scenic Backway is a viable option for getting from Mesquite, Nevada to St George, Utah, so this is part of the reason why this dirt road is well maintained.
Taking the northerly direction route option is the best choice when touring the Mojave Desert Joshua Tree Road Scenic Backway. This is because the grand finale of the trip will be majestic views of the Snow Canyon, Red Cliffs and Zion National Park region. Starting the trip in the other direction is nice too, but the views of the barren desert landscape at the other end do not compare to the sight of the bright colorful mountain views. Heading north on the long dirt road definitely is the way to go when doing this Scenic Backway tour!
The desert landscape dramatically shifts from a barren vast dry wash mud plain to grassy hills and Joshua Trees when first entering the mountains. This is a great area to spot desert Bighorn Sheep and an occasional mountain lion may be encountered very early in the morning hours. Raptors soar from the steep bluffs and bats roost in the many caves on the mountainsides. The Mojave Desert Joshua Tree Road Scenic Backway passes through some open range ranch territory and a few old abandoned mines can be seen. Recreational opportunities also abound in the high desert mountain section of this road. There are several primitive campsites and a famous rock climbing area along the roadside that are managed by the BLM that are free of charge.
Shortly before reaching the apex, the mountain landscape turns into sparse juniper and pine forests. In this area the beautiful colors of Snow Canyon and Red Cliffs come into view in the distance. There are a couple of side roads near the apex area that are worth checking out, because they lead to unobstructed views of the panoramic lanscape.
After the apex point, the Mojave Desert Joshua Tree Road Scenic Backway follows the crest line through a pristine mountain landscape. The massive upheavals of land are marked with fault lines and ridges that extend for miles into the horizon. All the while, when looking at the scenery ahead, the views of Snow Canyon and Red Cliffs become more intense and the bright colors are more vivid. When the dirt road finally starts going steadily downhill, it becomes very easy to be distracted by the majestic views, so plan on making a few stops to take it all in!
Toward the end of the Mojave Desert Joshua Tree Road Scenic Backway the route passes through the Shivwits Paiute Territory and the old abandoned Gem Mine can be seen on the roadside. After getting to the end of the line, it will be decision making time for what to do next. Snow Canyon State Park and the Red Cliffs Conservation Area are good choices for finishing off the day, while the cultural scene in St George is just a few miles away.
There are many more good Jeep trails that start in the Nevada, Utah, Arizona tri-state area and some will be featured in upcoming articles soon. Till then, the Mojave Desert Joshua Tree Road Scenic Backway is a great place to start, because this smooth dirt road is so easy to navigate. This beginner level Scenic Backway offers majestic views, recreational opportunities and both of the end points are close to metropolitan areas. You do not even need a heavy duty 4×4 vehicle for traversing the Mojave Desert Joshua Tree Road Scenic Backway, so there is no excuse to not get up and go!
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