The remote arid lands of the United States’ West have always called strongly to me – the sandstone canyon country of the Colorado Plateau, the broad detritus-filled valleys and formidable ranges of the Great Basin, and the cactus forests of the Sonoran Desert to name a few. These characteristically dry landscapes all exude a unique, powerful beauty and a particularly intimidating shared aura arising from the scarcity of water. Beyond that, broad swaths of these regions are sparsely inhabited, and that remoteness combined with the aridity can be especially challenging for anyone looking to adventure in the backcountry, whether it’s for single- or multiple-day outings. But in many areas, the water is out there if you know where to find it and plan your route with that in mind, and in this article, I am going to walk through my process for planning out trips in the desert.
Founded in 2016 by Jon Yazzie and Nadine Johnson, DziłTa’ah Adventures runs bike and packraft tours from their home base in the town of Kayenta inside the Navajo Nation. While we’ve documented multiple experiences with the nascent outfitter – including Hunt’s Mesa, John’s Canyon, Yellow Dirt routes, and others – getting the business off the ground hasn’t been easy for John and Nadine. Last winter, Josh Weinberg reconnected with Jon, along with a group of photographers including Chris Burkard, Jeremy Bishop, and Murray Smith for an unforgettable tour along one of DziłTa’ah Adventures’ most popular routes to learn about what’s next for their guiding operation…
In escaping the concrete canyons of New York City, the idea of new horizons, and the promise of unfamiliar faces drew me into what became a 4,112-mile bicycle tour across the deep south and southwestern United States.
“Snowbirding” is the second layout of the Radavist 2022 Calendar. It was shot with a Sony A9 and the Tamron 70-180 lens outside of Tucson, Arizona. It was shot by Josh Weinberg.
“Reddington Road is a classic gravel climb in the Tucson area with vistas for days and plenty of elevation to make your legs burn.”
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In the Navajo Nation town of Kayenta, Arizona, Jon Yazzie runs a guide company called Dzil Ta’ah Adventures. Its intent is to educate visitors on the history of the areas surrounding Kayenta through guided bike trips. This particular route is one he’s been working on for a while which parallels the mighty Comb Ridge before climbing the Sandstone Backbone via an old Mormon dugway, overlooking Kane Valley where the US government drilled into the Earth, uncovering uranium for the Manhattan Project. The result would send waves of radiation through the community for decades to come…
On November 1st, 2018 I rolled out to cover 1200 miles of the old Butterfield Overland Mail Route from San Francisco to Tucson, AZ. For almost a year prior the headlines had been dominated by news of things happening along America’s southern border. Child Separations. Immigration Caravans. National Guard deployments. On social media channels the rhetoric from all sides, which had already been getting increasingly strident, ramped up to a fever pitch. Normal conversations spiraled completely out of control. I found myself caught up in it all, furious at family members, friends, and strangers alike.
Before we all realized the great changes that were in store for us due to the increasing spread of COVID-19, six friends and I set out for a 3-day bike ride on the historic El Camino Del Diablo. The El Camino Del Diablo is believed to have started as a series of footpaths used by desert-dwelling Native Americans. Today, the Camino Del Diablo is a road only a lonely few have traveled that runs along Arizona’s southern border in a remote section of the Sonoran Desert. With signatures signed, safety videos watched, permits printed and a shuttle set, the crew was ready to roll out.
“See that rock formation over there, and the other skinnier one in the distance?” Jon Yazzie says, “they represent the story and fate of Big Snake and Owl Maiden. Big Snake came from what is called Sugar Loaf near Mexican Hat, Utah slithering its way down, and eventually ending up coiled around Agathla Peak or (what Kit Carson called) “El Capitan.” The Owl promised to look over Big Snake until he came back to life again. Owl is frozen in sandstone looking right at big snake on Agathla Peak.” Having passed through Kayenta countless times, driving from the southwest US to Moab, or further into Colorado, these prominent volcanic plugs and sandstone towers rising iconically out of a sea of sandy fields and sandstone mesas have always caught my eye. As we rested there just a few miles into the ride, legs slung overloaded bikes attempting to absorb everything Jon was telling us about the surrounding landscape, I knew this was going to be a special weekend.