Road Trippin’ With Gruppe R – Adventures In The American Southwest

IMG_1484We built project Gruppe R to be a rally/recce inspired AWD hot hatch. Our Mk6 Golf R is a platform usually doomed to scrape fenders and leaves through parking lots of slammed lifestyle cars. The warden called for our car, and we embarked on a unique trajectory that no one else has followed through to meaningful completion. Our Golf has gained ride height, suspension travel, aerodynamic and mechanical grip, stopping power, and of course a little horsepower.

We conceived this plan for Gruppe R to serve as an adventure car, one we could appreciate on windy back roads, traverse the highways and byways with ease, but eat up the washboard when the going gets rough. Living in Southern California, we are reminded that as industrialized, gentrified and seemingly civilized we are – this is still the wild west.

IMG_1453What better way to christen our usually reserved German car than with a rugged tour along the archetypal American weekend road trip – SoCal to ‘Vegas (with some detours). Our’s would be a iconographic trip, challenging pop culture affirmations, and making our own discoveries.

Thompson said (a la Raul Duke) something to the effect of, ‘you sure as hell can’t find the American Dream in a Volkswagen,’ we submit that in this day and age you can.

Follow along as we present a photojournalistic study of our discoveries – both natural and internal combustion. Our journey began at our home in rural north eastern San Diego County. Interstate 15 North was of course our river Styx; conveying us to the lymph node of all domestic debauchery – Las Vegas.

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The desert takes a tole on asphalt, but Gruppe R glides over the rough roads.

Less scenic and more iconic stops along the way, of course included ‘some stinking desert crossroads,’ called Baker, who could resist the kitsch of America’s tallest standing thermometer – I know I can’t, but I’m a sucker for campy roadside attractions. Embracing our full touristy itinerary, we pressed on to the next locale.

IMG_1254Meandering out of the California desert we stopped in Primm, once a product of the Herbst family of ‘Terribles’ oil fame and prolific desert racers. This three casino watering hole presented us a nice stop to stretch our legs and shake hands with the one armed bandit.

IMG_1260Just up the 15 we turned off for a little highway called 161. The small Mojave town of Goodsprings was our destination. Of “Fallout” fame to us, we geeked out at the saloon, general store and surroundings. Of more mainstream fame, this was the location Clark Gable waited three days at the bar to receive the tragic news of his wife’s death.IMG_1345

The interior of the bar oozed with a checkered history, if the walls and floor boards could talk I’m sure they’d have a story. Dark and musty, the stale smell of spilt drinks and decay hung in the air.IMG_1344

Onto the neon and noise of the city, we circumnavigated the strip, Red Rock Canyon National Park was our last destination of the day. The geological curiosity lays at the base of the mountains to the west of downtown Vegas.

IMG_1374Highway 160 to 159 lead us to the visitor’s center and the ferrous laden sedimentary structure of the landscape. A fantastic one-way ‘scenic drive’ loop is available for better viewing of the natural awe. With little traffic on the road, and the sun setting behind the western hills, we couldn’t help but snap a few glamor shots of Gruppe R in it’s adapted habitat.

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The ‘Scenic Drive’ loop through Red Rock Canyon National Park is a one-way technical driving loop through the park. Although it has a 35 mph speed limit, it’s a fun run in a nimble car.

Hiking and bouldering through the multiple lookout points we enjoyed the flora and fauna. Yuccas, wild burros, and vibrant colors made for a pictorial southwestern scene like something out of an early Rivera painting.

IMG_1470We left the tranquility of Red Rock Canyon for the bright lights of the strip. We originally had plans for a concert but it was canceled due to illness. We took in the sites, scenery and wild life of South Las vegas Boulevard before hitting the road again.

We left early for our next foray into the American Southwest. Valley of Fire National Park is just a short jaunt north of Las Vegas and on the way to our end destination.

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Valley of Fire is a relatively small park, similar to Red Rock. The visitor center has tons of information, maps and history to make a full day of exploration.

Valley of Fire is a bit of a hidden gem, we cruised up lonely highway 169 asking, where is it? We rounded the final corner and were presented with the toll booth and natural beauty beyond.

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The landscape at Valley of Fire is extraterrestrial.

Similar to Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire is a complex terra of ancient sea bed sandstone structures, richly pigmented in iron oxide.

After a short stint in Nevada’s first National Park, we pressed on. Working our way north on Interstate 15 we clipped the northwest corner of Arizona before passing into the plateaus and mesas of southern Utah. Saint George, UT provided us some much needed sustenance, we caffeinated and hit the road for the final leg.

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Zion’s shear rock walls weep water forced out between the layers, facilitating hanging gardens of plants. The monumental height of these formations simply cannot be captured on camera.

Zion National Park was our final stop. This renowned National Park is defined by its monumental rock formations and lush vegetation nourished by the Virgin river.

This park is an outdoorsman’ paradise; climbing, hiking, camping, and adventure seeking is found at every turn. With just a day trip budgeted, we opted to explore one of the most well-known features; The Narrows.

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The Narrows is an easy hike in the water of the Virgin river. Over millions of years the river has carved a narrow canyon. The water ranges from ankle to thigh deep.

The Narrows reside at the north end of the park, reached by the final stop on the visitors center tram. Along the way we were treated to a history lesson and some metaphysical advice from a native inhabitant to listen for the songs, voices and culture echoing in the rocks river and canyons.

We hiked in the frigid water up river, until the sun set. Forced to turn around, we were left with a sense of discovery and untapped opportunity; what would have been around the next bend? With night falling we got back in the car and headed back to Las Vegas.

We know that most of you who value performance driving also value a good drive, finding a good driving road is not always about the curves, elevation changes, or challenge. Sometimes it’s the adventure of discovery, and adventure in the machine you built with your own hands.

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Gruppe R was built as a multipurpose rig to conquer the rugged southwest, winding asphalt and gravel alike.

About the author

Trevor Anderson

Trevor Anderson comes from an eclectic background of technical and creative disciplines. His first racing love can be found in the deserts of Baja California. In 2012 he won the SCORE Baja 1000 driving solo from Ensenada to La Paz in an aircooled VW. Trevor is engaged with hands-on skill sets such as fabrication and engine building, but also the theoretical discussion of design and technology. Trevor has a private pilot's license and is pursuing an MFA in fine art - specifically researching the aesthetics of machines, high performance materials and their social importance to enthusiast culture.
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