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Rock Junction 2017: Growing Into A Major Event

Posted in Events on August 31, 2017
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The city of Grand Junction, in western Colorado just a few miles from the Utah state line, is an amazing locale for the off-road enthusiast. Within an hour and a half are some of the most scenic and most challenging 4x4 trails in America. The Grand Junction-based Grand Mesa Jeep Club is one of the most active in North America, and with the playground it has, there’s good reason for that. Since 2008 the club has showcased the trails in the area with its annual Rock Junction event. It’s always the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before the first Saturday in June. Saturday is always reserved for a huge Off-Road Expo and vehicle show.

For 2017, the club leased 22 acres west of Grand Junction near Fruita, Colorado, to stage the event. For the first time, camping was included with registration for out-of-town off-roaders. Every evening a free BBQ was part of the social activities. This year, 131 people and 75 vehicles preregistered for guided trails that were rated easy, moderate, difficult, or challenging (for rockcrawling buggies only). Every morning 15 trail rides departed between 7:30 and 9:00. This year the weather was perfect, with blue skies and mild temperatures.

21 Road

We had heard a lot about the Grand Mesa Jeep Club’s efforts with the BLM to keep what is locally known as 21 Road open, so it was the number one trail ride on our list. Almost all of the driving had us negotiating a boulder-strewn creek bed. It was nearly constant technical driving, challenging drivers over, around, and between boulders. We did encounter one section of creek bottom that we had to climb out of to avoid the habitat of the Great Basin Spadefoot Toad, known locally as the 21 Road Toad. The club had erected signage and barriers to guide us, and because of these efforts the road/trail remains open. It took us six hours to drive 10 miles to the large cove at the end of the road. For some reason the trip back to camp seemed to go faster than the drive up the canyon, and soon we were swapping stories with other participants.

The 21 Road Creek Bed Challenge started just a few miles from the Rock Junction base camp.
Tire placement is the name of the game in the 21 Road creek bed adventure.
21 Road trail leader Christina Sullivan demonstrated the axle articulation of her Wrangler JK.
Dave Adams tried a route that did not work out very well. However, he was able to back out of this awkward situation under his own power.
The 21 Road trail ends in a huge cove that is a rewarding contrast to the creek bed.
Here are the six Jeeps that successfully navigated the challenges of 21 Road to arrive at the cove near the top of the canyon. Left to right: Christina Sullivan in a Wrangler JK, Darrin Brown in a Cherokee XJ, Audrey Byrd in a Wrangler JK, Adam Soltani in a Wrangler LJ, Dave Adams in a CJ-7, and Orin Siebert in a Wrangler TJ.
This is a barrier put up by the Grand Mesa Jeep Club to protect a known habitat area of the Great Basin Spade Foot Toad.
This 21 Road Toad sign is an example of what has kept this trail open to off-road enthusiasts.

Peach Valley—Gunnison River Gorge

This was an easy and scenic trip for our second day of Rock Junction trail rides. We started south of Grand Junction near the community of Montrose. This road was suitable for stock 4x4s, and one of the participants was a woman in a stock Ford F-150 bearing a handicap permit, reminding us that what we do also provides access for people with disabilities. The road was a twisty climb up to the western edge of the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness Area. The view of the gorge and mountain peaks from the top of the ridge was classic Colorado eye candy. It was another wonderful day and ended with another delicious Rock Junction BBQ.

The high point of the Gunnison River Gorge Trail Ride provided panoramic views. Note the Ford pickup with the handicap permit out enjoying the trail ride.
The West Elk Mountains from the top of the Gunnison River Gorge Trail is classic Colorado scenery.
A line of vehicles is shown descending the Gunnison River Gorge ridge to complete the day’s trail ride in this scenic area.

The Calamity Mesa Loop Road

Our last trail ride of Rock Junction 2017 followed old uranium mining roads near the tiny community of Gateway. After the uranium industry died in the 1970s, the mining roads were abandoned and left to nature’s erosion. In 2008 members of the Grand Mesa Jeep Club worked to reopen this road. We’re glad they did. The mesa top provides a view of the San Juan Mountains to the south and the La Sal Mountains to the west. The trail has 11 named obstacles and a few unnamed obstacles, giving it a difficult rating and causing the drivers and passengers a lot of emotion along the way.

This sign is a reminder of uranium mining activity that was once part of the Calamity Mesa Loop Road.
Jerry Smith in his Wrangler TJ starts down the first major obstacle on the Calamity Mesa Loop Trail, known as Gate Keeper Wash.
The lunchtime view of the La Sal Mountains just across the state line in Utah was one of many scenic highlights of the Calamity Mesa Loop Trail.
The after lunch obstacle on the Calamity Mesa Loop Trail tests the double traction action of a 4x4.
A modified Grand Cherokee driven by Cody Lange is shown about to descend the Twisted Drop obstacle on the Calamity Mesa Loop Trail.
Chuck Burns directs his wife, Mary, driving their Wrangler JK around an obstacle on the Calamity Mesa Loop Trail known as Mike’s Rock.
Jerry Smith is shown climbing a section of the Calamity Mesa Trail known as Articulation Station. This obstacle is number 5 of 11 named obstacles.
This obstacle on the Calamity Mesa Loop Trail is appropriately called The Squeeze.

The Friday Evening BBQ

The Friday night meal was a special event sponsored by Bestop. It was during this social hour that BFGoodrich and its partners—4 Wheel Parts, United Four Wheel Drive Associations, Blue Ribbon Coalition, and Off-Road Business Association announced the Grand Mesa Jeep Club as the recipient of the 2016 Outstanding Trails Award. An oversized check in the amount of $4,000 was presented for the club’s work to keep 21 Road open. It was the second time the club has won an Outstanding Trails Award and everyone was pretty excited.

Charlene Bower of Bower Motorsports Media presents an Outstanding Trails check to Grand Mesa Jeep Club President Jeff Bates.

The 2018 Rock Junction event is scheduled for May 30, 31, and June 1. Keep this in mind when you are scouting around for 4WD events to attend. The Grand Mesa Jeep Club Website is gmjc.org.

About the Author

The author of this article, Ed Helmick, is a founding member of the Grand Mesa Jeep Club, which dates back to 1962. He remains an active member today, 55 years later.

But Wait, There’s More

On the Saturday after the three-day Rock Junction event, the Grand Mesa Jeep Club holds its huge Rocky Mountain Off Road Expo as another attraction for the off-road enthusiast.

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