Along the Great Divide

Story and images by Jonathan & Roseann Hanson


Picture a route two and a half thousand miles long, stretching from Mexico to Canada, traversing Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, with elevations from 4,000 feet to a cloud-scraping 13,000 feet.

The path criss-crosses a single geologic feature that rules over most of the North American continent, influencing weather, determining which oceans receive the outflows of thousands of watercourses, creating and dividing habitats—and offering spectacular views to those who challenge its heights.


This is the legendary Continental Divide, also known as the Great Divide.


So remote and inspiring is the route that Land Rover chose it as a challenge for the North American introduction of the Range Rover in 1989, when six Range Rovers became the first vehicles to complete the entire journey.


Main banner: Sunset over the Colorado Rockies and the Great Divide, from Hartsel, Colorado; our Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper getting its feet muddy, Routt National Forest, Colorado; pronghorn on the way up Hoosier Pass, Colorado; watching the clouds, Dillon Reservoir, Colorado. 


IMG_9229 2.13.39 PM.JPG

In May/June of 2014 and 2015, we gathered two groups of overlanders willing to test out their vehicles, equipment, and skills on a four-wheel-drive journey from Bisbee, Arizona, along the Divide in New Mexico and Colorado, and into Montana if weather permitted.


The routes (there are multiple iterations, to allow for "bail outs" if there was too much snow or mud or both along certain passes) were developed over four years by Jim Hyde, owner / operator of the famous RawHyde Adventures, best known for their epic motorcycle tours and training but less-known as having gotten their start at the turn of the current millennium as a 4x4 tour operator.


Jim invested thousands of hours in researching and scouting the routes first for adventure motorcyclists and then for four-wheel-drives—and he recruited us to gather up enough overlanders willing to test the waters, or mud and snow, as it turned out.



Here we share images from both journeys—the good, the bad, and the muddy.

Banner: The 2015 group lines up at the start of the Continental Divide Trail at Separ, New Mexico; exploring New Mexico's piñon and juniper highlands, along the Gila National Forest's North Star Mesa and northwards, above Grants; the region has been popular with overlanders for hundreds of years, as we saw proof in graffiti dating from 1894.

Above: Lunch break above Beaverhead Ranger Station off FR61 in New Mexico.

The highlights of the journey for many of us were the camps under the vast stars of the great American West. From top: On the edge of the Red Desert, east of Highway 28 and south of South Pass City; 'smores and bourbon; relaxing after a wet and muddy day at New Mexico's Blue Bird Mesa above Cuba.

Below: Contemplating a satisfying day, Red Desert, Wyoming.

Above: Lunch break along the Alamosa River, Colorado, off FR250, where things got interesting entering southern Colorado’s Rockies and we started climbing over 10,000 feet. Below: We encountered plenty of winter-fall trees and enough snow to break out the MaxTrax as well as to turn us around a few times; posing in front of Steamboat Springs' Rabbit Ears Motel, a gem of a place—priced well, on the Yampa River, and across from the hot springs. 


Above: Stopping at one of the most interesting high-desert dune fields in the Red Desert, Wyoming. Below: Aspen Alley greets us in southern Wyoming, just before hitting the Red Desert; red crenellations help give the desert its name; early human hand ax from the region; desert paintbrush blooming after recent rains; the area is crossed by the Oregon Trail. 




Photography and videography equipment:

Canon EOS 5D Mark II;  24-10mm f/4 L IS; 300mm f/4 L; EF 15mm f/2.8 fisheye; 70-200mm f/4 L

  Apple iPhone 6


2012 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab with Four Wheel Camper Fleet, BFGoodrich All-Terrains, BOSS Suspension, Warn 9000 winch, ARB rear air locker with engine mounted compressor and fill station, MaxTrax, Hi-Lift Jack, 50W Yaesu 2M radio, OCENS satellite phone.

For more details, there is a 12-page guide on vehicle rentals, accommodations, food, currency, and logistics such in our Overland Sourcebook, 2016 WEST edition (available to order in print or to download for free).