Differentiating the trucks in addition to their cab configurations were their rear axles: 3.42 for the Canyon, 3.73 for the standard cab Colorado and 4.10 for the Chevy with the five-speed.
The biggest difference from the driver’s seat was the degree of engine braking each of those rear axles provided. The 3.42 had us wishing these trucks offered hill descent control. The 3.73 was more like it and in the words of that famous off-roader Papa Bear, the 4.10 was just right.
The five-cylinder engines power and engine braking both were important as we ascended and descended sometimes very steep and rocky trails.
Many of us who live in the West swear by the Backcountry Adventures trail guide series by Swagman Publishing of Castle Rock, Colo. (www.4wdbooks.com). The books rate off-road treks on a point scale.
The Martinez Mine Trail is a “4,” which means, “high-clearance 4WDs are recommended, though most stock SUVs are acceptable. Expect a rough road surface with rocks larger than 6 inches, but there will be a reasonable driving line available.” The next section talks about mud and stream crossings, which weren’t a problem with the unseasonable hot weather Phoenix had been suffering, although there was one point on the trail where we did have to splash through some puddles. “Sand may be deep and require lower tire pressures,” the book warns, adding “there may be… substantial sections of single-lane shelf road, moderate grades, and sections of moderately loose road surface.”
And that was the easiest of the three trails we’d tackle in our daylong drive. Telegraph Canyon and Box Canyon are rated “5,” which the book says means, “high-clearance 4WDS are required. These trails have either a rough, rutted surface, rocks up to 9 inches, mud and deep sand that may be impassable for inexperienced drivers… Certain sections may be steep enough to cause traction problems, and you may encounter very narrow shelf roads which steep drop-offs and tight clearance between rocks or trees.” To which we’d have to add cactus, but hopefully the “Arizona pin stripping” we added to the car’s sides can be buffed out.
Speaking of narrow, the book adds this warning for those entering Box Canyon, a winding, 1.3-mile slot between rock walls that rise hundreds of feet on either side: “The trail is very twisty and narrow, and there are large boulders and rocks that must be negotiated. Vehicles with side steps, low-hanging brush bars, or low-clearance will be at a definite disadvantage. This trail is not recommended for such vehicles because of the likelihood of damage.”