Every state in the union has its own unique history for off-road adventurers to seek out and explore. From east to west, north to south, terrains vary widely, climates change with the elevation, and trails themselves run the gamut from mud and dirt to rock and sand. These unique elements combine to keep four-wheeling an ever-changing pastime full of adventure and exploration.
One of the most vast and interesting trail systems in the U.S. lies in Oregon, where enormous tracts of land owned in part by state and federal agencies, and in part by big timber interests, are still open to the four-wheeling public. From the coastal sand dunes in the west to the deep forests to the east, there are thousands of miles of trails simply waiting to be explored by the intrepid four-wheeler. And fortunately there is a slew of local clubs throughout the state whose in-depth knowledge of and abiding passion for their trails can provide you with all the information you need to launch your own backwoods investigation of this beautiful state.
One such club is the Oregon Trail 4Wheel Drive Association in Eugene. This committed group of real-world four-wheelers recently held its annual Oregon Trail Jamboree Invitational, and it proved to be an excellent introduction to the mountainous trails in this wonderful state. There were four primary trails on the schedule, as well as an Off-Road 101 class for those new to the art of off-roading. We especially appreciated the fact that the runs were limited to 15 rigs maximum. This kept the groups moving along at a reasonable pace and gave everyone an opportunity to stop and play along the way. The schedule of trails included Bohemia Ridge, Champion, Mayflower, and a long section of pay dirt for the 101ers.
As Bohemia Ridge is considered one of the area's four-star trails, we elected to get the weekend started with some serious off-road action and some exquisite scenery. Almost from the very first, this trail keeps four-wheelers on their collective toes with continually changing obstacles and terrain. It is a great mix of rock gardens, mud bogs, steep, loose hillclimbs, and sharp twists and turns through very dense forest. Every rig on the run was set up with lockers, tall tires, springy suspensions, and fearless drivers, and while vehicle damage was actually pretty spare, there were more than a couple of crushed rockers and pounded doors and corners by the time the day was done.
As we climbed in altitude, we began coming across old outposts from the days when mining was still the primary industry in the region. Small ghost town settlements are still sprinkled throughout the mountains, with old narrow-gauge track disappearing into mountainsides. And at the very peaks of some of these amazing mountains there are still fire watchtowers that loom over the countryside like silent sentinels. They rise about 60 feet off the ground and are enclosed in glass. While we did not have the chance to climb these peaks, we imagine that the 360-degree views must be staggering. If you are looking to spend a few days up in the hills, we were told that these watchtowers can be rented from the state for $40 a night. The primitive gravel roads that wind circuitously up the mountainsides are maintained year-round and would offer no difficulty to four-wheelers in the spring and summer. But what a spot to launch your daily adventures from! And what a campsite to come back to at the end of the day. We've already started planning.
Evenings were a little chilly at day's end, but the remote splendor of Hobo Camp, just inside the national park, was a perfect corollary to the days spent exploring the winding trails and foothills. If you are already looking for new adventures to add to your list for next summer, you could spend years exploring Oregon's trail systems and still find new and interesting destinations to keep you entertained. The four-wheeling is great, the people are very knowledgeable and friendly, and the sheer beauty of the state itself makes it all worthwhile.
Over the years we've seen some strange things on the trail. Parts broken that you'd think would never break (but do), and hacked up, redneck repairs that you'd swear would never work (but do). One of the most curiously strange we've had the honor to witness, though, was the cobbling job on this Jeep YJ owned by one of the Oregon Trail's veteran club members. And what really makes the story is that this was done on the Off-Road 101 course, which, in the grand old state of Oregon, is still some pretty good four-wheeling. Basically, the Dana 35 rear axle snapped under relatively light load and, because it was a C-clip setup, something had to be done to keep the wheel-and-tire assembly from sliding out of the axletube.
As you can see, the club members made great use of the materials at their disposal and came up with a truly unique answer to the dilemma. Using winch straps, a log, and a bit of axle grease for lube, they managed to keep the axle in place and limp the Jeep back to the gravel road, all under its own power. With deep potholes and some inconveniently placed trees along the way, it wasn't the prettiest 100 yards we've ever seen, but it was certainly one of the most entertaining. Bravo!