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By: Robert Janis

Arizona ATV Adventures

Outdoor Adventurer Creates ATV Tours in Arizona

Arizona ATV Adventures Arizona's Box Caynon Tour

You could say that Charles Lutz is a daredevil. He has been an outdoor adventurer for more than 30 years. His first steps into the world as a tour operator was in 1966 when he was president of the University of Arizona Ski Club. That is when he discovered you could charge more than the trip costs and make money running tours. He served in Vietnam from 1968 through 1971 when he received a commission as a second lieutenant. He returned to Tucson after the war, and in 1972 he started building and flying hang gliders and taught people with the same sense of adventure how to build and fly them too. His desire for more thrills led him into snow skiing then whitewater rafting. As in the case of the hang gliders, Lutz shared his knowledge with other adventure enthusiasts. “For the bulk of my business career I ran whitewater rafting trips in the spring and summer, snow skiing trips in the winter, and then I took October off,” he said.

All that changed when the state in which he did and taught these endeavors, Arizona, suffered a major drought in the 1990s. “It didn’t rain or snow,” Lutz lamented. Out of work and not certain what the future would bring, Lutz stepped into the garage of his home one day and saw his old three-wheelers just gathering dust in a corner. He stared at the machines and then thought, “Why not?” You can say that at that moment Lutz Adventure Tours LLC was born.

Lutz decided that he would organize ATV adventure tours around Tucson and Sedona, Arizona. The areas in which the tours would travel are managed by the Federal Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service. So, he went out and got a federal permit to run the tours; he sold his three-wheelers and acquired several four-wheelers and he and his business were off and running. It was 2002.

Arizona ATV Adventures

Arizona ATV Adventures Arizona's Box Caynon Tour

Today Lutz is manager of a company that runs two adventure tours under the name Arizona ATV Adventures. The Florence Tour traverses land that is halfway between Tucson and Phoenix. The journey is 38 miles long and takes about three and one quarter hours. The terrain is rugged and has an elevation gain and descent of about 1500 vertical feet. Moreover, the canyon walls are about 900-feet high on both sides and the river bed you can drive down is only 10 feet to 15-feet wide. “We climb up and over the front range of the Pinal Mountains and drop down into what is known as the Box Canyon,” explained Lutz. “Box Canyon was the shortcut between Grove, Arizona and Florence, which was the first county seat of the state in the 1800s. It was a part of the Butterfield Stage Coach route between St. Louis and San Francisco, and it was also used by the Pony Express. In addition, the Anasazi Indians inhabited the area going back 1200 years and there are Indian petroglyphs that the tourists can see. We stop the tour so that the riders can observe the art, and our guides give a brief history. However, the tours are designed to concentrate on the fun and excitement of driving an ATV in absolutely beautiful country.”

The other tour covers the west Sedona canyon. “Travel magazines and writers identify it as one of the most beautiful places on Earth,” continued Lutz. “It is a valley that is about 15 miles square and once was an ocean floor. So there are great big rolling hills there with red rock formations on two sides. Over the last 50 years portions of 43 major motion pictures have been filmed there.” This tour is about 30 miles long and takes about three hours.

There are two tours to each location every day including holidays. One starts at 8 a.m. and goes to 1 p.m. The other runs from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. During the summer months there is also a “Sunset” Tour of the Sedona Canyon that runs from 5 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.

There are 15 ATVs for each location and each trip includes guides who have knowledge of the area and can answer most questions. Some guides have the skills to fix ATVs that may break down during the tours. Commonly, there is one guide for every seven machines. In May there are usually about three or four ATVs that go out in a tour. The peak times for both tours are the summer months, holidays and the spring (March through April). At those times, there are as many as 15 ATVs in a single group. “When we have a large tour we have a guide in front, frequently a guide in the middle, and a guide in the back,” said Lutz. “This allows the group to spread out so we can get as much as a hundred yards between machines so the riders don’t have to breathe the dust from other ATVs.”

Arizona ATV Adventures Arizona's Box Caynon Tour

Each tour has strict passenger and driver guidelines. For example, riders must be no less than 5-years old or weigh at least 50 pounds and drivers have to be 15-years old or older. Before each tour begins everyone has to participate in, and pass, a driving test. In addition, Lutz, who is a certified ATV safety instructor, has created a curriculum to teach people how to drive ATVs, and he has taught the guides safety procedures. Moreover, Lutz frequently accompanies a tour to observe the guides to assure that they are sticking to safety regulations. “I check ride each guide every two years,” said Lutz. The National Forest Service also sends representatives out with each tour periodically to do their own check rides.

Arizona ATV Adventure Tours uses Yamaha ATVs. “In 2002, when we started, Yamaha was the only manufacturer who offered ATVs with a fully-automatic transmission and regressive or engine braking,” said Lutz. “When you take your thumb off the throttle, the engine slows the ATV to a walking speed. The other ATVs that were available featured free wheel.”

The company has a total of 43 ATVs for customers and six guide bikes. “The guide ATVs are larger so they can carry stuff,” said Lutz. All the ATVs have been purchased from local Arizona Yamaha dealers.

Lutz revealed that the company still uses some of the original machines. “My son is mechanically inclined. When we bought our first ATVs, the dealer was unusually pleasant. When a machine needed repair, the dealer would do it, but would let my son watch. So, my son received a free education on how to fix Yamaha ATVs. He has subsequently become really good at it. For example, he can tear down and fully rebuild an engine. So, we’ve been able to keep some of the original machines. My son keeps them in tip-top shape and has rebuilt the engines, transmissions, and brakes. We’ve put fresh plastic on them and painted the racks so they’re like brand new. Some of our ATVs have traveled more than 50,000 miles but you wouldn’t know it.”

Arizona ATV Adventures Arizona's Box Caynon Tour

Each tourist receives bottled water and candy bars to serve as sustenance and the Adventure does not offer lodging. However, Lutz recommends that riders in the Florence tour stay at the Holiday Inn Express. “It’s a brand new hotel. Just about everything else in Florence is 150-years old, but there are several nice B&Bs,” he said. He suggested that riders check the Internet for more details.

Lutz added that participants in the Sedona tour have a large selection of accommodations from which to choose. He noted that the town is a tourist Mecca and has upwards of 50 hotels and B&Bs in the area. He recommends the Best Western because it is right across the street from the Tours’ offices.

As far as dining is concerned, Lutz pointed out that there is not much in Florence. “It is a very small town with two stop lights. But there is a McDonalds, Burger King, a Subway, and a couple of ma and pa cafes,” he said. “In Sedona, you name it, they got it.”

Participants in the tours pay only for the rental of the ATV. Each ATV, which is designed to carry two people, rent for $119.

For more information and to book a tour, visit the company’s website at: www.azatvfun.com. Or call (800) 242-6335.


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