The two foot tall rock shelf cambered toward the pool of water, leaning Brian’s Wrangler Rubicon towards the edge, the front suspension unloaded and 80% of the vehicles weight shifted to the passenger rear tire, perched on a small pile of crumbling rock. The Pyeatt Draw trail to this point had been a fun route, challenging the group of ten high-clearance trucks, Jeeps and SUVs with a series of 3.0 rated sandstone and rock obstacles.
Pyeatt Draw was formed by heavy spring watershed from the Mogollon Rim, the Alluvial confluence of Ellison Creek and Lewis Creek collecting at the Draws highpoint just west of Tonto Village. Just east of the confluence, the water cascades off of the trail’s final (and optional) obstacle. This 4.0 rated exit is a cambered and narrow waterfall with a series of ledges just inside the wheelbase of most vehicles, adding to the challenge.
The trail starts less inapproachably after Thompson Road climbs above Diamond Rim and turns east, crossing Pyeatt Draw. Our group, led by John Shotts in his “Trail Limo” (July 2007 Off-Road) Land Cruiser began the process of airing down, disconnecting swaybars and shifting into low-range. We were fortunate to have a diverse group of vehicles in attendance, including an FJ40, three Tacomas, the big 100 series, two FZJ80 Land Cruisers, a Land Rover Discovery II, a solid axle Toyota Truck and a pair of Jeep TJs. I always prefer having several makes and models on the trail, as it is much more interesting than watching the same trucks drive the obstacles nearly the same. With wheelbases measuring between 93” and 127”, there was certainly variety in approach and degree of success.
The trail starts right off with a series of sandstone and rock challenges. With a small Tera Flex lift and 31″ BFGoodrich All Terrains, Jared’s TJ was the right balance for the trail, not being over-built for the rating.
We were also fortunate to have two entertaining drivers, willing to push their rigs on the more challenging lines. Ben was driving an FZJ80 Land Cruiser with 35” Maxxis Crawlers and Brian was piloting a 2003 Jeep Rubicon with 33” MTR’s and a hybrid long-travel suspension. Both drivers used finesse to clear the big ledges and rocks of the optional lines and were impressive to watch.
Pyeatt Draw slowly builds in difficulty as the wash narrows, creating larger steps and a greater concentration of loose boulders. The pace began to slow and more spotting was required to help the less modified machines. One particular obstacle brought the group to a stop and all occupants worked their way to the front with various digital and video cameras. The trail chokes down into a narrow “S” turn in the sandstone, forcing the drivers to weave their way through Jeep size turns, rubbing their rock sliders and pivoting around the corners. Then the trail exits to a taller slab up a cambered shelf with a large rock on the right followed by a deep hole and ledge on the left. This made the obstacle a real challenge for the vehicle with open differentials or traction control. Several trucks had some dings and scrapes there. The most impressive success on that challenge was by Jared Albert in his open diff. and near-stock 4-cyl TJ. With only a 2” Tera-Flex suspension and sway-bar disconnects, Jared flexed his Jeep through the notch without any wheel spin, resulting in a hooray from the group.
With all ten vehicles through the notch it was time for lunch, and to enjoy the great view down the Draw and the cool breeze coming from the Rim’s edge. At nearly 6,000 feet, the Tonto National Forest is a retreat from the intense heat of Phoenix and other valley cities. This makes Pyeatt Draw a popular trail for Arizona 4wd clubs, and despite its remote location, it is not uncommon to find several groups running the route over a summer weekend. However, I was pleased to find very little trail damage and no trash on the trail during our visit, showing that the commitment of time and expense to drive to the trailhead is keeping “wildcat” (or less responsible) wheelers away.
Brian McVickers brought his clean 2001 Discovery II on the run. His Land Rover is equipped with an ARB bumper, Safari Snorkel, and OME suspension. The grippy Yokohamas and traction control got him through the trail.
After lunch, we drove a short distance to the first “exit” option from the trail, where an improved two-track crosses the wash and then begins to parallel the Draw from the south. This is the end of the 3.0 rated section and the beginning of the 4.0 rated trail end. The last section is only a few hundred yards long, but begins climbing in elevation quickly and the sandstone surface is fractured into a series of 2-3 foot ledges clogged with large boulders.
The final obstacle is a true 4.5 rated challenge, and only one vehicle in our group attempted it. With some gentle prodding, Brian climbed into his Rubicon and engaged first gear. Running 10 psi in the MTR’s, the sidewalls deformed against the first ledge and pulled the Jeep up and to the right, lining the vehicle up for the final waterfall. Just the obstacle alone was impressive, but combined with a 15’ cliff into a pool of cold water on the passenger side increased the intimidation factor considerably. We knew it would be difficult for the Jeep to climb the obstacle unassisted, so we had prepared the winch recovery kit at the top of the waterfall and plugged in the winch controller. The passenger side tire began to climb the ledge and slowly the Jeep crested its lip and the drivers side tire began to grip on the three foot tall sandstone face. In a moment the rear passenger tire kicked out a large rock, tilting the Jeep towards the edge and putting the front driver’s tire a foot in the air. I asked Brian if it was time to hook up the winch, to which he responded, “Yeah, I think that would be a good idea”. The Jeep finished the climb with the assistance of the 9,000 LB. TMAX and a big pine tree.
The Pyeatt Draw trail is maintained in partnership with the Forest Service and the Rim Country 4 Wheelers. When visiting the trail please remove all trash and stay on the route, only exiting at the Jeep trail that crosses at the end of the 3.0 section or the trail exit at the top of the final waterfall. Spectacular trails like Pyeatt Draw only remain open because of the efforts of clubs like Rim Country 4 Wheelers and responsible OHV enthusiasts. Pyeatt Draw really is an “Outstanding Trail” set in a spectacular region of Arizona. When it is 110 in Phoenix, there is some great adventure up by the “Rim” just a few hours away.
Ben spots Ed through one of the more difficult challenges. Ed’s 1983 FJ40 is loaded with trail goodies, including OME suspension, ARB Air Lockers, 4.88 gearing, BFG Mud Terrains and a brand new 8274 Warn.
BFGoodrich Outstanding Trails
Pyeatt Draw was chosen as one of five Outstanding Trails in the country in 2006 by BFGoodrich, Tread Lightly and the United Four Wheel Drive Association (UFWDA). Through a careful selection process, including terrain type, enthusiast following and uniqueness, the following trails were showcased as the top “Outstanding trails” for 2006:
- Black Bear Pass, Colorado
- Pyeatt Draw, Arizona
- Hell’s Revenge, Utah
- Historic Naches Pass, Washington
- Upper Tellico OHV Area, Tennessee
Under the watchful eye of a spotter and his dog Cherokee, Brian winched the Jeep over the two ledges and on to the end of the trail. Good ground clearance and a stroing winch are needed to attempt this last waterfall.
As featured in 4Wheel Drive & Sport Utility Magazine