In the modern times of trail closures and vehicle use restrictions, it's incredibly uncommon to hear about a new trail being opened. It is even stranger still to be asked along to break it in. But lo and behold, that rare event actually happened. We were invited along for the inaugural run by the members of Geared 4 Fun and My Jeep Rocks.
Back in the mid 1800s in Southern California, there was a road cut through Devil's Canyon that ran from the Yuha Desert up to Mountain Springs. This road was developed and turned into a toll road for stages and freight to travel to and from San Diego. The route was further improved with the invention of the automobile. In the early 1900s, a better route was developed and the old Se Trail was promptly forgotten and fell into a state of serious disrepair.
In the 1960s, when the westbound portion of Interstate 8 was under construction, the route was used to gain access to build sections of the new highway. After the highway project was completed, the route was once again forgotten. Years of rainfall and other geological conditions took its toll on the trail and rendered it all but impassable and most people forgot about it all together.
The young gun of the day was Brice Faulwetter, but he didn't let his age show. He had one of the best overall runs of the day with no breakage and very little body damage done to his '97 TJ. With an EZ-locked Dana 30 and ARB-actuated Dana 44 rear, the 4.10-geared diffs held up like champs to the load of his 35-inch Pro Comp XTerrains.
Then, a few months ago, Vern Britain made a fateful phone call to Steve Unwin about trying to traverse the route and once again make it passable by 4x4s. So it was that during four trips spread out over three months, Steve and Vern toiled away, moving rocks and trimming back brush to make the trail passable. This past April the trail was deemed ready for use. On May 6 a group of nine well-prepared Jeeps gathered at 9 a.m. at a little gas station off Interstate 8 about 80 miles outside of San Diego to run the trail for the first time in more than 40 years.
The trail is short at a mere 2 1/2 miles, but it still took our group a good eight hours to traverse the trail. Make no mistakes, Steve and Vern did make the trail passable, but only to the well equipped and well prepared. The trail is tight, narrow, and difficult with several very challenging obstacles. Equipment recommended to successfully traverse this trail are a minimum of 35-inch tires, lockers front and rear, a winch, and some spare parts. Mechanical breakage is common and body damage is almost certain on this trail. Our group suffered body damage all around, several bent and broken tie rods, an exploded wheel hub, and a broken stub shaft.
This is an incredibly fun and challenging trail with a very unique and interesting history. The trail is very scenic and there is a good variety of cactus, plant life, interesting rock formations, and lizards to be seen along the way. Like most trails in this area, it gets hot very quickly in the summer and there is not much shade to be found along the route. If you would like more info on the trail and its history, contact the Geared 4 Fun four-wheel-drive club (www.geared4fun.com).
Step By Step
Russ Fichtelman piloted his '03 Rubicon over almost every obstacle with ease. His Rubi boasts a Kenne Bell supercharger, a Dynatrac Pro Rock 60 rear stuffed with 4.88s, and a prototype Electratrac. Russ puts the power to the ground with a set of 35-inch Krawlers wrapped around Trail Ready bead locks. However, the final waterfall did take its toll on the TJ. Russ lost two fender flares, bent a tie rod, bashed in a rear corner panel, and exploded a chromoly Dana 44 stub shaft.
Matt Pascoe made short work of the toughest obstacles in his '89 YJ, or what's left of it anyway. This spot in particular caused some body damage to more than one rig. The Sahara is equipped with a custom coilover suspension that locates the Currie high-pinion 9-inch rear and high-pinion Dana 30. Both axles are filled with ARB Air Lockers and 4.88 gearsets. Low gearing comes from a twin-sticked Dana 300 with a 4.1 gearset. And Champion bead locks ensure the 35-inch Goodyear MTRs stay on the rims.
Due to a last-minute mechanical failure, we hitched a ride with Geared 4 Fun member Mike "Tie Rod" Parsons. His was the smallest Jeep in the group, running 33-inch MTRs on his '98 TJ. His TJ boasts a homemade suspension system that supports a Dana 44 rear and Dana 30 front. Both axles are filled with chromoly shafts, 4.88 cogs, an ARB in the front, and a Rubicon Air Locker in the rear. Mike says he wants to replace his 33-inch BFG Muds with some 35-inch meats as soon as possible
Our Trail Boss Steve Unwin and wife Nora know this trail better than anyone since they spent many a weekend working to reopen it. The only damage suffered by their '00 TJ was a bent tie rod and some minor body damage that resulted from Nora driving through a notch on her side. With 4.56 gears stuffed in the Lock Rite-locked Dana 30 and factory limited slip in the 8.8 rear, the 35-inch Goodyear MTRs clawed their way through the rough stuff with little trouble.
The trail was originally rediscovered and researched by Vern Britain. He discovered the trail by accident while trying to locate another old trail in the area. His '97 TJ is well equipped to run this tough route with dual high- pinion Tera 60s stuffed with ARBs and 4.56 gears. To get the low gearing he needed to motivate his 35-inch Krawlers through the tough stuff, Vern installed an Atlas 3.8:1 transfer case.
While this particular spot claimed others' sheetmetal, Ed Webster and his built '00 Jeep TJ made it through without a scratch. An Avenger supercharger feeds the beast, providing ample motivation to the Atlas 4:1 transfer case. Dual Currie high-pinion 9-inch axles stuffed with Detroit Lockers and 4.10 gears ensures that the extra power gets to the Center Line bead-locked 35-inch Pro Comp XTerrains.
Despite the giant fender-crumpling boulders, Bryan Jensen in his '97 TJ managed to make it through the day unscathed. With power running from an Atlas 5:1 transfer case to dual ARB Air Lockers wrapped in 4.56 cogs in his Dana 30 and Dynatrac Dana 44, Bryan had his Staun bead-locked 35-inch MTRs do the grunt work.
A blown Warn lockout hub wasn't enough to stop Erik Jordan and his '95 YJ. Apart from the waterfall that claimed his hub, Erik had little trouble negotiating the tough obstacles this trail has to offer. Boasting an Atlas 5:1 transfer case, Erik had the gearing to get through the day. With 4.88 cogs wrapped around dual ARBs in both the shaved 8.8 rear and CTM-equipped Dana 30, Erik motivated his 35-inch MTRs to go where he wanted them to go.