boon•dog•gle (verb): waste money or time on unnecessary or questionable projects.
Does this sound like you? If you have ever seen our projects you know that “questionable” is being kind. So when we heard about a rocky canyon called Boondoggle nestled in the mountains north of Reno, Nevada, we felt compelled to check it out and see if it was a waste of time or worth the effort. Nearly every rig in our group was a tube buggy with 40-inch-tall tires, and once we got in the canyon it was easy to see why.
Although Boondoggle is short, the steep canyon walls did not allow for any bypasses around the huge boulders that lined the bottom of the trail. The loose rocks moved under each rig, causing them to get hung up on skidplates or differentials and changing the line for the next vehicle. We stacked some rocks, we winched, but in the end this is one Boondoggle that was definitely not a waste of time!
Jake Hallenbeck led our run in his Wraith II competition buggy. He runs portal axles from Jesse Haines Fabrication that provide amazing ground clearance with the 40-inch Pro Comp Xtreme MT2 tires.
The other full-bodied vehicle on the run, in addition to our Tracker, was Kyle Congdon’s YJ Wrangler. He runs 40-inch BFGoodrich KMs with a Dana 60 up front and a Ford 9-inch axle out back. The full-width axles helped keep the rocks away from the sheetmetal.
When your name is Jon Conner of course you are going to call your buggy the T800 and have a photo of the Terminator on the hood. We told him to come with us if he wants to live.
This was the most challenging trail we have taken our Tracker on since completing it last winter. In addition to the difficulty of the obstacles, much of the trail was quite narrow and not conducive to straight sheetmetal.
Pete Turgeon started with a Toyota pickup that slowly evolved into a buggy over the years. He did all the work himself in his garage. Now it has 1-ton axles and coilovers, and Turgeon races in the Nor Cal Rock Racing series.
Whenever Kolt Mieras breaks something on his Toyota he views it as an opportunity to upgrade. Currently he runs 1-ton axles located by coilovers and a custom link suspension under his Toyota to handle the 39-inch-tall sticky BFGoodrich race takeoffs.
This was the crux of the trail, and the people at the top of the photo give you an idea of the size of the rocks. The issue is the giant boulder in the middle, which doesn’t have enough room on either side to allow you to navigate around it easily.
Hallenbeck’s buggy has the engine in front, but by using a Honda V-6 engine he was able to keep the buggy lightweight and have excellent visibility for both competition and recreational wheeling. ORI struts are used at all four corners of the suspension.
Hallenbeck was nice enough to spot everyone through the trail. He is a longtime rockcrawling competitor and, when we hit Boondoggle, was fresh off winning his second WE Rock event of the season in the Pro Mod class.
All that Turgeon saw was the sky when climbing this obstacle. The issue is that the farther you try to go to the left to avoid the boulder, the more you lean into it. Fortunately the damage was limited to some scratched tubing.
We shed the doors on the Tracker for less weight and improved visibility and so they wouldn’t get smashed up. We also removed the spare tire and left it on the trailer since Boondoggle is a relatively short trail. This freed up space for our cooler; we brought lunch just in case it turned into a long day on a short trail.
We finally got to wheel with Jon Conner and Thomas Robinson of CR Fabrication. They did all of the sheetmetal work on our Tracker and are avid wheelers with their right-hand-drive buggy. The all-Toyota drivetrain features a turbocharged 22R that runs off propane.
We affectionately call Kolt Mieras the “Biggest Little Redneck” since he weighs about 95 pounds soaking wet. Even though he is only 23 years old, he has racked up quite a bit of seat time, as is evident by the dents that cover his Toyota pickup.
The stretched wheelbase and wide track width of Congdon’s YJ allowed him to climb over the big boulder that gave us trouble in the Tracker. While the axles have been upgraded, Congdon still runs a 4.0L under the hood of his Wrangler.
Stop!!! We were almost in the clear, but the tub of the Tracker was leaning against the rock at this point. Fortunately the vehicle is light enough that a few extra hands were all that was needed to get past this spot with minimal damage.
Congdon’s YJ has been built up over the years as funds allowed. Samco Fabrication stretched the rear of the Jeep and added coil springs. Later, Nate’s Precision linked the front of the Wrangler and added for increased articulation.
Kolt Mieras keeps cutting sheetmetal off of his Toyota pickup. It started with removing the doors, then bobbing the bed. After the truck was rolled, the roof was cut off and replaced with tubing that ties into the frame.
After getting past the big rocks we let our guard down too soon. Somehow the Tracker found itself in a spot where it was bound up between two rocks and we were concerned about breakage. Rather that push our luck we felt that there was no shame in winching.
The last obstacle on the trail is a 6-foot-tall rock face that is covered in sandy soil. Fortunately it is fairly wide and with some throttle can be climbed without much drama, as long as the vehicle has enough wheelbase to remain stable.