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Best of the West 2003

Rear Driver Side View Car Over Rocks
Posted August 19, 2003

NAXJA: Conquering the Toughest Trails in the West 2003

The North American XJ Association recently completed another Best of the West trail adventure. As the name implies, the goal of the club is to explore and conquer the toughest trails the West has to offer. This year, members of the XJ association headed to Colorado to test their 'wheeling skills on the most arduous Rocky Mountain trails the state has to offer. The group of wayward wheelers consisted of adventurers from the California, Colorado, and North Atlantic chapters of the club. Along the way, they defeated trails such as 21 Road in Grand Junction, Die Trying, and Scratch and Dent in Montrose, and then moved on to the trails of Avalanche Ranch located at the base of the San Juan Mountains, just outside Durango.

The NAXJA is the largest Jeep Cherokee club in America and is in its fifth successful year. The association is quickly increasing in size due not only to the popularity of the Cherokee but also to the organization's very active and supportive agenda. The club has about 450 to 500 active members and is comprised of five chapters: Southern California (SoCal), North Atlantic, South East, Sierras, and Texas.

Every year, the club organizes and sponsors numerous trail runs; the biggest event this year will be held in October in Moab, Utah, to celebrate the XJ's 20th anniversary. The club expects to have more than 100 Cherokees in attendance and will be giving away an '88 Jeep Cherokee Pioneer as a grand prize.

The club's first trails runs were overcome without a glitch. 21 Road, Die Trying, and Scratch and Dent were conquered with only a couple of blown tire beads and some very minor body damage. This was very surprising because these trails are touted as some of the toughest. We were told it was an amazing sight to see the line of XJs wind their way through these nasty trails.

We met up with the group of fanatical Cherokee 'wheelers at Avalanche Ranch off-road park. The park is located on 850 acres of southern Colorado wilderness and offers four-wheelers the opportunity to test their skills on 12 challenging trails. The park will have an additional 8-10 challenging new trails open sometime this year, including one that will be billed as the toughest four-wheel trail in the country. Avalanche Ranch also offers camping for those wheelers who wish to stay close to the action.

Approximately 10 vehicles from NAXJA participated on the Avalanche Ranch's trail run. With a smile on their faces, the crew broke camp early the first morning and hit the trails. First on the agenda was Sidewinder, and the following day would be Alien and Aliens. The three trails are extremely technical because they consist of boulder-strewn rock gardens, ledges and drop offs, steep accents and descents, and narrow passages through scrub pine. The owner of the off-road ranch Steve Rumor was surprised that the Cherokees completed the trails. This speaks to the very capable and trail-worthy XJ and to the members' ability to tackle almost any trail thrown underneath them.

After two days of 'wheeling the ranch, only a few minor trail repairs had to be undertaken; a broken axle, a damaged driveshaft, and a couple of blown CV joints didn't keep the group stranded for long. Everyone who started out on the trails finished them. Watching the NAXJA members' four-wheeling abilities was a pleasure and a learning experience, and their comradery and trail skills are exemplary of how things should be run in large groups. If a Jeeper needed help, there were plenty of helping hands and minds to work the situation out. Everyone in the group had an awesome time on this adventure, especially at Avalanche Ranch, and they swore they would be back for more. We look forward to running the trails again with this group of Cherokee enthusiasts.


View Photo Gallery
  • Here's Andy Couch preparing to test the durability of his rock sliders.

  • Avalanche Ranch provides plenty of opportunities to test your three-wheeling skills. Here, Kevin Marcus gives it a whirl.

  • Richard Gauthier and his '88 custom crew cab Cherokee prepares to take the plunge on Aliens.

  • Paul Sinclair shows off his technical rockcrawling skills with this three-wheel balancing act.

  • The NAXJA has members nationwide. Jeff Ayers traveled all the way from Wisconsin to show his support and 'wheel with fellow club members.

  • Bill Van Tuyl from Seattle is having a blast at Avalanche Ranch.

  • Wedged against a tree and showing us what axle articulation is all about, Led Lancos wonders how he will escape this maneuver.

  • The good thing about 'wheeling with club members is that they are always there to lend a helping hand.

  • Matthew and Jennifer Andrew took turns driving while out on the trail. Here, Jennifer takes a nervous peek out the window while getting a little tippy. Matthew was a great help to everyone while 'wheeling. He has become know as Matt Tool; nobody should 'wheel without one.

  • Grant and Carol Barklay were some of the few Colorado members along for Best of the West. Grant's Cherokee has seen many trails, but it keeps 'wheeling as a true champion.

  • Mike Jarvis from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, doesn't see the need to start with baby steps.

  • Grant finds a need for longer bumpstops.

  • The trails at Avalanche are lined with trees that crave sheetmetal. Here, Jesse Rivers checks to make sure he doesn't have a bite taken out of his rig.