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New Guidebook Explores Northern California Backwoods

Winch HillOne man’s frustrations in finding a good backroads guidebook motivated him to write one of his own – then another and another. Now, his sixth book, Guide to Northern California Backroads 4-Wheel Drive Trails, has just been released.

Ten years ago, Coloradan Charles Wells bought his first 4-wheel drive SUV and set out to find adventure in his mountainous home state. He quickly learned that existing maps and guidebooks provided few helpful details about backroad conditions. After wasting many weekends on endless washboard roads and dead ends, he eventually discovered some dream locations like those television viewers would see in SUV commercials. Then he resolved to make it easier for others to find such adventures.

In 1998 his first book, Guide to Colorado Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails, Wells struck a chord. Sales took off and so did he – from his day job, that is. Since then he has been traveling around the western United States, meeting with locals, driving trails and cranking out about one book a year. He has published two Colorado books and one each on Arizona; Moab, Utah; southern California and now northern California.

Wells aims to make his books easy to use. They include hundreds of photographs of actual trail conditions, not just "beauty shots." His unique "zoom-in" map technique makes it easy to locate a trail. Every trail has a custom map filled with details important to the backroad traveler. Wells’ clear narrative style makes you think he’s sitting in the seat next to you.

Guide to Northern California Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails includes 75 trails: 25 easy, 25 moderate and 25 difficult. Easy and moderate trails are suitable for most stock 4-wheel drive, high-clearance SUVs. Owners will need skid plates for the tougher moderate trails. Difficult trails are intended for serious 4-wheelers with modified vehicles.

WaterfallWhile most trails are located in the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains, Wells shows readers many other fascinating areas. He includes several outstanding coastal routes, a great beach experience, a trip through redwood forests and a loop tour of Mt. Shasta. He also describes a little-used backcountry route to Bodie Ghost Town, a fantastic trip through Alabama Hills to Mt. Whitney and an unusual composite route through northern Death Valley National Park.

Hardcore enthusiasts will find the famous Rubicon Trail, the Dusy/Ershim and Fordyce Creek Trails. They’ll also discover lesser-known but truly outstanding hardcore routes like Barrett Lake, Swamp Lake, Hell Hole, Snake Lake, Coyote Lake, Niagara Rim, Pichacho Peak and Hollister Hills. ATV and dirt bike routes also are identified.

Wells emphasizes safety and courtesy and stresses low-impact use of fragile backcountry. He explains driving techniques, rules of the road, driving etiquette and safety precautions. Topics for each trail include difficulty, vehicle requirements, trail features, time and distance, getting to the trail, a detailed trail description, return trip instructions, services, historical highlights and other helpful maps available. The book includes a full index and long list of helpful contact information. GPS basics are discussed, and waypoints are provided for all trails.

The handy 6"X9", 286-page book features 85 maps and over 400 photographs. It retails for $19.95 and will be available in California bookstores (including Barnes & Noble), map stores and 4-wheel drive shops. Or, order toll free from FunTreks Publishing at 877-222-7623. Books can also be ordered at

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