My Off-Road Beginning
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My Off-Road Beginning

Author: Lori Shoaf

easyoffroadingfamilyHow did I get started in off-roading? My husband! He used to go off-roading in the 1970s and early 80s before I met him. Off-roading was more popular then. I enjoy being outdoors, in nature, and have grown up driving on scenic roads around the beautiful state I live in, Arizona. When I am outside, I feel at peace and relaxed, enjoying the beauty that is all around us. We have three kids, and when they were younger, we took them on many camping trips in the southwest along some very scenic roads.

Last year was a turning point for us. We sold our huge van and got an off-road vehicle, a 1996 Ford Bronco (Eddie Bauer). Our kids are preparing to leave the nest in a few years, and I thought to myself, “I want to see more of the great outdoors and get excellent pictures of it, creating memories for my husband and I.” When we first got the Bronco, the A/C didn’t work. That’s not good when you live in Arizona, especially in the summer. This was only the beginning.

Luckily, the engine and transmission were rebuilt, but we have been slowly restoring the rest. We tested it out in an area close to home in case we got stuck, as we didn’t know if everything was fixed. My husband is a careful driver, and he doesn’t want to race the vehicle to avoid expensive fixes. He taught me the basics of 4-wheel driving. We have gone to areas around our state that are considered “easy” for off-roading. We found out shortly after we started 4-wheeling that our rear differential had a serious problem. When we got it fixed, we found out that it was really falling apart and we were very fortunate that we didn’t get stuck out in the middle of nowhere. My husband is the type of guy that wants to take care of our vehicles and make sure they run efficiently. He has a mechanic’s heart, especially for old vehicles, so I am fortunate to have him.

fuelsmellfixGoing to Colorado back in July has been our ultimate adventure so far. I absolutely love Colorado! It is my favorite state to visit. You really have to like the outdoors to fully enjoy the gorgeous state. The Bronco pulled our pop-up tent trailer, and we camped in Durango with our teenage daughter. As we were traveling, we noticed a gas smell, which wasn’t good. We were not losing gas, nor did we see any flames. We made it to the campground, and my husband took a look at it. We just had the fuel pump and fuel gauge replaced. My husband tightened something, and it seemed better, but then the gas smell came back as we were off-roading to a hiking spot. He ended up taking it to a garage where they replaced a cracked hose by the fuel tank. After that, the smell was all gone!

topoftheworldThen, we went to the Silverton area and did some awesome 4-wheel driving. We drove over really large rocks compared to Arizona. To be honest, my husband did most of the driving. I was a little nervous since the roads were narrow but still passable. Being a photographer, I also wanted to take pictures. As we traveled around, our daughter stared at her phone. She is a homebody and prefers the comforts of home. She stares at her phone and enjoys electronics. Kids these days. We went to the breathtaking San Juan Mountains. I couldn’t believe there was snow on the mountains in the summer. The views were amazing! That is one of the things that I love about off-roading. You can see beautiful things out in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes, you can’t help but stare for a while.

We were above the timberline where just grass and some flowers grow, when the “check engine” light came on. So, we had to leave before we made it to Cinnamon Pass. We decided to save that trip for another time. Our daughter was happy to go back to the campground. We found out later that the Bronco wasn’t used to such a high altitude (just under 13,000 feet). We just touched the surface of the ultimate 4-wheel driving experience in Colorado, but I highly recommend it as a place to take a road trip.


Recently, we took a short off-road trip by accident. We were visiting the southern part of Arizona, and I wanted to get some pictures of old buildings. I couldn’t believe how green it was! We live in the desert and seeing green is a rarity unless it is planted. We saw green rolling hills with blue skies and puffy white clouds. It reminded me of Montana.

serpentinebeltrepairThen, when we were trying to get back to the highway, we took a dirt road that we thought was paved. The scenery was gorgeous! I drove this road, and we did get a little high in the elevation. We saw mountain range after mountain range, and grass and shrubbery with a sprinkling of flowers. We hardly saw a soul, except the border patrol who usually drive too fast on dirt roads, especially around corners. You have to be cautious around them!

Our son, who is about to graduate from high school, is interested in off-roading. He is trying to look for a vehicle that will accommodate his taste for 4-wheeling and will probably be a bit more extreme than his old folks.

redmountainfunFor a time, I was having second thoughts about purchasing an off road vehicle. We have put so much money into it, and yet it continues to break down. It is 20 years old and we are trying to restore the parts that were never fixed. Even though fixing it has been rough, I think we are almost done for some time. I am thankful we can have adventures that we could not have if we had a basic car. It will soon be time to make it “pretty”, put my signature on it, and drive on. I am looking forward to more adventures in the years to come!

Author: Lori Shoaf