The Dakota Territory Challenge is the kind of event that reminds us of why we got into Jeeps in the first place. Beautiful scenery, great food, and friendly people have all been hallmarks of the Black Hills 4Wheelers premiere event for nearly three decades. Add in some of the most challenging trails in the country, and it is easy to see why so many people keep coming back year after year. Members of the Black Hills 4Wheelers span multiple generations and drive everything from near-stock flatfenders to Jeep tube buggies. The trails that they lead at the Dakota Territory Challenge represent the same diversity, ranging from smooth fire roads to nearly impassible rock washes. At the end of the day, everyone returns to the Whispering Pines Campground for a hot shower and Brad Wagner's famous barbeque dinner before swapping lies around the campfire and patching parts together for the next day of fun. And really, isn't that what Jeeping is all about? For more info on the 2010 Dakota Territory Challenge go to bh4wheelers.com.
Dan Pierce was our trail leader on T-Back and Bikini. His unassuming YJ raised more than a few eyebrows throughout the day. The secret to DP's success is a simple, light Jeep with nothing superfluous added, plenty of seat time, and a set of Red label sticky BFGoodrich Krawlers.
We don't know how Josh Lowenstein managed to keep the Dana 30 alive under the front of his Cherokee, but he did. Lowenstein wheeled hard trails all weekend with the 35-inch Mickey Thompson MTZs punishing his front axle.
Kerry and JoeAnn Hancock plated the entire tub of their CJ-7 with 3/16-inch steel to fend off body damage. In their home state of Arizona the biggest threat is rocks, but the armor works equally well with trees.
Normally a stock flatfender wheelbase and 39-inch tires aren't a good combination, but they seem to work well for Chad Bowman. After he was done as trail leader for Calamity Canyon, we caught him playing in one of the harder sections of Hal Johns.
Jayson Mitchell added Sway-A-Way coilovers and a custom-built four-link under the front of his Cherokee to locate the Dana 60. Out back is a GM 14-bolt under the Alcan leaf springs.
Meredith Trout had to borrow a stub shaft for her front Dana 44 axle to get on the trail, so she drove her YJ intelligently throughout the weekend. She used momentum when necessary, but if there was a high chance of breakage, she chose to pull winch cable.
There are plenty of climbs in the Black Hills, but most of them are not like Moab, where you can tumble for hundreds of feet. Still, Richard Evans wisely hooked up the winch when the 37-inch Baja Claws on his TJ left the ground.
It would be easy to get the impression that you need a hardcore rock rig in order to attend the Dakota Territory Challenge, but that is not the case. There are trails for every Jeep from stock to heavily modified.
When we got home we realized that half of the photos that we shot were of Pat Helgeson's CJ-7. That is when we had to admit we had an obsession with it. The simple design, clean execution, and best welding we have ever seen make this Jeep really stand out from the crowd. When you consider that Helgeson built his Jeep on 42s, Hummer wheels, and Dana 60s a decade ago, it makes the CJ that much more impressive.