Sorry, but the Grand Canyon and its parade of tour buses can suck it. The American Southwest offers plenty of gob-smacking vistas that can be appreciated in isolation – but only if you’re intrepid enough to find them. The trick is getting far, far away from well-trodden paths.

Ken Cameron is the owner and lead instructor of Cameron Advanced Mobility (CAM), an off-roading school based in Eagle, Colorado. For the last couple of decades, Ken and his hired guns have been teaching off-road techniques to the most elite members of the US military, focusing on high desert, dunes, jungle, and snow.

Gallery: Cameron Advanced Mobility Off-Road School

So Ken is literally an expert at finding the paths less taken. And this afternoon he’s been directing us around a tract of high desert trails somewhere between Utah’s Arches National Park to the west and the Colorado border to our east. The roads are tough and technical.

We’re using one of Ken’s rigs, a 2013 Range Rover Sport outfitted with a two-inch lift and beefy Cooper S/T MAXX tires. The Sport (yes, a Sport!) capably crawls up a series of rocky shelves and narrow ridges until we reach the panoramic payoff: The Dome Plateau Overlook.

Cameron Advanced Mobility Off-Road School

I exit the Range and sit down at the edge of a sandstone precipice, a thousand-plus foot drop to the desert floor below, my feet dangling into nothingness. The desert valley is framed by Wile E. Coyote–worthy mesas and the faraway, snow-salted La Sal mountains. The Colorado River and a highway cut across the landscape.

That highway – Utah State Route 128 – is also known as the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, and I briefly feel sorry for the occupants in their tiny little cars scuttling along its asphalt. They think they’re on the scenic route, but most will never even imagine what it looks like from up here.

Cameron Advanced Mobility Off-Road School

This perspective is, after all, self-selecting. You’ll need four-wheel drive and ground clearance. And even if you own a Tacoma or Defender or Bronco, you’ll still need off-road skills.

Luckily there’s an app for that. And by app, we mean application of left-foot braking, a neat trick that, when overlaid with right-foot throttle, helps to keep all four of a vehicle’s wheels planted and supplying equal torque. There’ll be less jouncing up and down (and frame-scraping on sharp rocks) as you get up those scrambles.

Cameron Advanced Mobility Off-Road School

This is just one of the techniques taught by Ken and his team, who include veteran off-roaders and a former member of the FBI. Ken has been off-roading for most of his life, including a stint in the Army and successfully competing in the storied Camel Trophy off-road series.

But his credentials come into better focus when he talks about his regular students.

In the early 2000s, he was approached by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), to help train members of Task Force Orange, a special intelligence unit, in off-road driving. So began the CAM school, and thousands of elite students have come through since.

Cameron Advanced Mobility Off-Road School

“JSOC opened us up to Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, and 24th Special Tactical Squadron from the Air Force,” Ken says.

The list of bad-ass students goes on and on, including the members of the American covert intelligence community.

You’d think it would keep Ken busy, and it does. But he’s the restless type, and so for the first time ever, he’s started a civilian program. The goal? “I want to show people true adventure,” he says. “I have a vision to train people to be tough and to be eager to go out and do exciting things. But to also have the safety net of a guide.”

Cameron Advanced Mobility Off-Road School

The civilian program is infinitely customizable. Customers can use their own vehicles (once the rigs are vetted by Ken), or choose to use the school’s regular vehicles, which include the Range Rover Sport and a pair of early 2000s-era Discovery IIs. Ken envisions civilian caravans of four to six vehicles, made up of family members, longtime buddies, etc.

Customers can choose to rough it or can opt to have all meals provided for and the camp set up by CAM. My own experience was luxe: We spent two nights under a slate of Utah stars on comfy cots inside spacious tents, and the meals (and wine!) were uniformly excellent.

Cameron Advanced Mobility Off-Road School

While the Southwest is CAM’s primary training location (I flew into Grand Junction, Colorado), more exotic locales include a five-day drive in Costa Rica. “Costa Rica is plug and play,” says Ken. “We’ve got mountains and rivers or we’ve got mountains and beaches. Choose your adventure.”

Pricing starts at $5,000 per person for five days in the American Southwest, with a minimum of six attendees, which includes use of CAM's vehicles, and food. (That's a pretty great bargain, compared to many driving schools which may run $5,000 for only three days.) Pricing goes up according to complexity and alternate locations. For trips to Costa Rica, CAM can also arrange to have attendees' personal vehicles sent to the country with minimum hassle.

Cameron Advanced Mobility Off-Road School

It’s worth noting that CAM Mobility specializes in expedition-type off-roading: getting around the backcountry efficiently, with minimum impact to both the environment and the vehicles. (Ken allows that the program is probably not best suited to those who are looking for hardcore rock crawling.) Courses are typically five days, and the major skills emphasized are driving techniques, the ability to problem-solve, and general preservation of the vehicle.

“We teach the mechanics of driving off-road, such as left-foot braking and proper driving gear selections, then the ability to identify a problem with a vehicle and have the confidence to fix it,” Ken says.

Cameron Advanced Mobility Off-Road School

“The final element is vehicle preservation. The military guys often drive the wheels off their tactical military vehicles and we retrain them to get their vehicles back home, too. You’ve got to slow down to go fast.”

Over our three days, we negotiate over tough, technical stuff. Still, it’s not quite to the level of terrain I’ve experienced on the Rubicon or on high-country passes in southern Colorado. That is, until we pull out the winches.

Cameron Advanced Mobility Off-Road School

Both Discos have front winches outfitted with synthetic rope. All four vehicles in our caravan (including a Land Cruiser recovery vehicle) have a kit bursting with kinetic tow ropes, snatch blocks, shackles, pulley blocks, winch line extensions, and a variety of straps.

I was shown how to properly rewind a winch on our first day, back at the hotel parking lot. The need only begins apparent when we hit a series of slick rock shelves and sandy earth. We could get up the incline; we could also bust an axle.

Cameron Advanced Mobility Off-Road School

And so the beginning of winching’s many angles and permutations begins to present itself. How the winch line from one vehicle (a Disco) can be attached to a tree at the top, and then reversed so it attaches to another vehicle’s tow point (the Sport), allowing the winch-less Sport to be tugged upward. It’s a slow process, and takes careful timing between operating the winch and the gas pedal.

It gets even more interesting. Later, we need to drive a Land Rover across an expanse of sandstone slab that slopes enough to potentially cause a rollover. So, using a strap tied to both B-pillars and a complex geometry between a second line, the winch, and separate fixed points, the Land Rover’s suspension is sucked down onto the rock.

Cameron Advanced Mobility Off-Road School

This added tension essentially acts as downforce onto the tires, allowing the Disco to confidently traverse the rock at an angle that might otherwise result in a flip downhill. I’m not sure I could replicate it all myself without a lot more practice, but it is exhilarating – in a really, really slow and methodical way.

The winching, as it turns out, is like the Dark Arts of off-roading. I’m jazzed.

Seeing my reaction, Ken looks pleased. “See? That’s our entire purpose out here. The idea is to experience something that you wouldn’t get to experience otherwise. It translates to discipline and resiliency – preparing yourself to go out someplace without a cell signal, and the confidence to know you can get out the other side.”

Got a tip for us? Email: