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Know When to Say When While Four-Wheeling Know When to Say When While Four-Wheeling
Our group was traveling up Mazourka Canyon Road with plans to camp at Papoose Flats. Weather reports told of a big storm brewing off... Know When to Say When While Four-Wheeling

Our group was traveling up Mazourka Canyon Road with plans to camp at Papoose Flats. Weather reports told of a big storm brewing off the coast. Bearing heavy winds and cold temps, it was scheduled to hit the Papoose Flats area in the evening.

Upon arrival at Papoose Flats late that afternoon, we discussed the situation. Cold and rain would’ve made for a miserable night. We decided to press on and find a campsite on Death Valley Road. It was a wise decision. The storm turned out to be as predicted. We watched it roll through the mountains from the alternate campsite.

Papoose FlatWhile we missed hanging out at Papoose Flats, we were able to enjoy a fine evening at our new campsite.

Four-wheeling entails a lot of decision-making: Where to go. When to travel. What to pack. And then all the standard decision-making that occurs while on the trails.

To all that I’d like to add: Know when to say when. Meaning, when to change course or turn back to salvage the day. Be humble. Overconfidence can jeopardize vehicles and everyone’s safety.

Various circumstances can force drivers to rethink the trip. Chief among them are inclement weather, trail conditions, and time of day.

Inclement Weather: The storm mentioned above is a good example of a weather-related issue. Thankfully, cell service alerts and ham radio conversations kept us abreast of impending conditions.

Sometimes a storm hits suddenly. Now there are risks of muddy trails and even flash flooding. In those situations, it’s generally best to turn around or choose an alternate route.

Saline Valley

Trail conditions: When possible, learn as much as you can about the trail conditions before departing. Even if you’ve driven the route numerous times, conditions could’ve changed since last time. A trail could be strewn with boulders or large rocks that have come crashing down the mountain. The trail might be washed out. Or the trails and roads are covered in snow – even into early June. That’s the case with many high-elevation roads here in the West. We’ve received so much snow each of the past two winters, many roads still have snow covering into early summer.

You’re at an impasse or lost. Do you press on? When in doubt, err on the side of caution. Turn around and look for a better route, or head back to base camp. The safety of the group is always paramount.

SunsetTime of Day: It’s early evening, with sunset in about five minutes. There’s one more place on your itinerary. You had hoped to visit that location by midafternoon, but image004.jpgsomething caused a delay. You can count on about 30 minutes of light. The destination is about an hour away. What do you do?

I suggest returning to camp. Any sort of obstacle – washout, muddy conditions, snow – is more difficult to overcome in the dark. Wait for daylight to make the drive.


In four wheeling, important resources include food, fuel and gear. But we can’t ignore stamina, as it determines how long we stay sharp behind the wheel.

Regular readers know that I usually recommend carrying spare fuel. Those extra few gallons can make the difference if the drive takes longer than planned. Such is the case when encountering unforeseen obstacles.

If fuel is running low, watch for an exit point. Fuel up as soon as possible, even if it means altering the course temporarily. Don’t push your luck; someone is likely to run out of gas. And then you’ll be even farther from a gas station.

Accidents happen when the group is fatigued. Best to stop and camp or go back to base camp.

As for food and gear, they can be a factor when far from base camp. If drivers hit severe weather or get stuck, can they hunker down for the time needed? Few people pack an extra sleeping bag, tent or survival gear. Know your limits.

Successful four-wheeling entails near-constant decision-making. One of the more important decisions involves knowing when it’s time to quit. Overconfidence can lead to trouble. Remember, you’re recreating, not working. It’s not absolutely imperative that you accomplish what you set out to do. Call it a day, and head back to base camp.


Tom Severin

Tom Severin is an International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association© certified professional 4WD Trainer and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR), and President, Badlands Off Road Adventures.