Summer was beating down the door and Jeep season was in full swing. What better place to enjoy Memorial Day weekend than the Southern California desert? The California Four Wheel Drive Association (Cal4Wheel) has kept the holiday weekend earmarked for the Hi Desert Round-Up (HDR) for decades, making this the 45th annual event.
Barstow, California, is roughly the halfway point between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and is also a major off-roading hub of the region. Rocks, sand, long desert washes, hills, and open BLM acreage for miles makes the area an extremely popular and fun place to go. HDR moved its headquarters some years ago due to BLM permit issues and now resides in the back lot of the Slash X Café, a local Barstow-area watering hole for off-roaders.
HDR is not a huge event. It is, however, one of the most fun. Clubs from all over Southern California flock to Slash X and HDR for top-rated off-road trails, games, and comradery. Several vendors show up as well to display their products and get a piece of the fun. Gen-Right and Fabtech both brought out large displays, and several other companies, such as Red Peak Offroad and Made For Rocks, were on hand.
It’s About Wheelin’
The first day was for wheelin’. The trails surrounding Barstow are a mix of light-duty scenic trips and hardcore trails. On the more hardcore trails you will get body damage, and there are no sissies allowed. An organized trip to Calico Ghost Town area took the better part of a day but was mid-range in difficulty and filled with beautiful views. The more adventurous Jeepers tackled the harsher trails like Pumpkin Eater and Jack Rabbit Trail. Pumpkin Eater is aptly named and has lots of loose boulders throughout the trail that move around and make for a different experience each time it is travelled.
Led by Tony Pellegrino of Gen-Right, 30 or so Jeeps travelled through Pumpkin Eater’s canyons, up and down steep waterfall ledges, and over boulders with sizes ranging from that of a basketball to a Prius. The last section of the trail proved to be the most difficult. Loose dirt and rocks moved way to create large, tire-eating holes. Roughly three-quarters of the Jeeps that didn’t turn back in the middle needed to be winched up the last section. Luckily, a rock buggy on 49-inch meats and Rockwells was parked at the top to pull tow truck and winch duty.
Saturday night was the kick-off for the HDR games. Four local clubs, including the Dirt Devils and Hemet Jeep Club, lined up. The game is called “Best Equipped.” Each club used a single Jeep and five members. The MC would call out for items that should or could be in the Jeep. Creativity was rewarded. Requests were for something to air down tires, something to lift a Jeep, and so on. There were also specific requests, like a lug nut, or a valve core. The team to get the item up to the MC the fastest won the points. The Victor Valley Four Wheelers gathered up the most points this year.
The games continued into the next day with a Wet Lap race, Potato Stab, RTI ramp, and more. Awards were given out just before the raffle. Thousands of dollar’s worth of merchandise was raffled off for kids and adults. Raffle prizes included bikes, RC trucks, BFGoodrich tires, a Warn winch, and much more. All the funds raised go directly to helping keep public lands open.
Cal4Wheel is a club of clubs. Smaller clubs from all over California join up to be a part of something bigger. Individuals can also join Cal4Wheel, helping the club to have statewide events all through the year and be active in the off-roading community, keeping our trails clean and usable. Next year’s HDR is already set for Memorial Day weekend. Check out the Cal4Wheel website for more info.
We followed the Pumpkin Eater Trail up into the nearby hills. The hard part was yet to come.
The trail didn’t care what type of vehicle you had. Long- and short-wheelbase rigs had an equally hard time through much of the trail due to loose boulders.
The first major obstacle was a steep waterfall climb. The base easily got chewed up and deeper with every Jeep that passed through it.
Short-wheelbase Jeeps suffer at the waterfall. Many of them were able to pass through it with a main dish of luck and a side of skill.
Tire sizes ranged from 35s to 49s. Jeeps with larger tires did marginally better on average.
Pumpkin Eater is full of boulder fields. All of those rocks got moved around and changed the ideal line to run as every Jeep moved through it.
Lockers and 35-inch-or-larger tires were required to run Pumpkin Eater. Unless you wanted to be on a winch line or a towrope the entire way, it was a good idea to follow that rule.
Lots of flex was a key advantage to many of the tough trails in the Barstow and Stoddard Wells areas. Hi Desert Roundup attendees chose your trail carefully if they were concerned about body damage.
GenRight and Fabtech brought out big displays to show off their goodies. Other vendors in attendance offered gear such as on-board camera systems, campfire starters, and compressed air solutions.
A red, white, and blue tire stack seemed fitting to celebrate Memorial Day.
If Jeeps could do a conga line, it would look like a tire stack caterpillar. Thirteen Jeeps in total stacked up.
The line of Jeeps waiting for the Teeter Totter was always at least four deep. The goal was to balance as quickly as possible within a minute and a half. The amount of time remaining after balancing was your score. Top score was 49 seconds.
The Wet Lap race was extremely popular. Warm weather made it easy to convince a codriver to carry a bowl of water during an off-road lap around a mountain.
In another of the “games,” drivers raced around a course while their codriver stabbed and then hauled in potatoes that sat along the side of the trail. Fastest time through with all the potatoes won.
Multiple clubs and vendors made donations to the raffle. Folks from as far away as Texas came out to the Cal4Wheel Hi Desert Roundup.