In the Western Slope of Colorado, hidden in towns like Rangley, Montrose, and Grand Junction, is some of the best rockcrawling in the nation. This notion was the premise for the first Rock Junction event in 2010, when a group of friends wheeled a different local area each day. Fast-forward to 2017 and the Grand Mesa Jeep Club (GMJC) now hosts dozens of trail rides throughout Colorado (and Utah) as part of Rock Junction, and even caps off the week of wheeling with a huge cleanup event and the Rocky Mountain Off Road Expo.
Event chair (and 2009 UA alumni) Dale Znamenacek has secured a five-year permit with the BLM and the Forest Service for Rock Junction, which is just the tip of the iceberg for the GMJC’s relationship with the government. The Grand Mesa Jeep Club worked to establish Billings Canyon as a Jeep trail in the Bangs Canyon Recreation Area. This canyon wasn’t an old mining road or historical trail; it was built from scratch with the BLM as a hardcore rockcrawling trail. By contrast, 21 Road was a county road that experienced frequent flash floods, making the road impassible to normal traffic.
What these trails have in common is that they have been adopted by the GMJC, and those efforts were noticed by BFGoodrich, which recognized the Billings Canyon in 2015 and 21 Road in 2017 as part of its Outstanding Trails program, where the tire giant donates money to clubs who set the example of great land stewardship.
We visited both Billings Canyon and 21 Road during our visit for Rock Junction, and capped the trip off with a visit to Montrose to run Cactus Ridge. Needless to say, we were not disappointed! We will definitely be back to wheel with the GMJC.
The Western Slope of Colorado is full of trails ranging from dirt roads to buggy-only rockcrawling canyons. The Grand Mesa Jeep Club knows all these routes better than anyone else, so who better to show you around?
Past GMJC president Roy Joseph was our trail guide for the Tabaguache Trail. At the end of the day he took us to the “playground” in Bangs Canyon Recreation Area, where a variety of ledges challenges any level of vehicle.
Ever heard the expression, “Been there, done that”? Roy Joseph has the proof in the form of this sticker on the back of his CJ-7 from when he helped open Billings Canyon to motorized recreation.
Billings Canyon is a challenge from start to finish. The trail is close to Grand Junction, though, so if things go wrong it isn’t uncommon for people to get the parts they need and bring them back in to repair their rigs.
Jeff Bates is the current president of the GMJC. When 21 Road was identified as habitat for the Great Basin Spadefoot Toad, Bates was instrumental in working with the BLM to find a solution that protected the habitat without closing the trail to recreational use.
Jeff Bates owns several different rigs, but none are cooler than this buggy fitted with vintage Willys pickup panels. Under the sheetmetal is a box tube frame with leaf springs in the front and a four-link and air shocks in the rear.
The event chair for Rock Junction is Dale Znamenacek. Even though she is busy coordinating the event, she still makes time to get out on the trail in the 1-ton TJ that she and her husband Zane drove on Ultimate Adventure 2009.
The entire Rock Ware crew came up from Colorado Springs for Rock Junction. Jack Peterson piloted the family’s rear engine tube buggy through 21 Road, taking all of the hardest lines without issue.
Each morning the participants congregated at “Area 21” to line up for the daily trail rides. Everyone returned here at the end of the day to enjoy barbecue together and tell stories from the day. At the end of Rock Junction, vendors gathered at Area 21 for the Rocky Mountain Off Road Expo.
Unfortunately there are people who feel that the desert is a free dump. These people are not off-roaders, but we often get blamed for the mess. Over 50 volunteers from GMJC cleaned up 8 tons of trash at the staging area for 21 Road.
We think rockcrawling is exciting, but for John Hembel it’s just a relaxing pastime. Hembel is a world record holder on downhill skis, going over 150 mph! His small-block–powered Land Cruiser is only slightly slower.
Jason Keith gave us a ride in his stretched CJ-5. Though the rig is now linked with 1-ton axles, it still runs a 258 straight-six and a T-176 transmission mated to an Advance Adapters transfer case.
Dane Murphy knows that you can’t lose with 42s. He is running 42-inch Maxxis Trepadors on his YJ, which still retains the full frame and most of the sheetmetal. None of the original drivetrain is left anymore, though.
The bottom of Cactus Ridge is full of big rocks and ledges covered in sand, which doesn’t provide much traction. Further up the canyon the trail divides, with the right side going to Cactus and the left to Cactus 2. Cactus is shorter but more difficult with a big climb at the top of the canyon.
George Belinski got a little out of shape following buggies up Cactus 2 and had to put his Warn winch into service. The Belinski family CJ-6 has leaf springs up front for stability and is linked in the rear to eliminate any hopping due to axlewrap.
The custom coilover front suspension and coil rear suspension on John Hembel’s FJ40 Land Cruiser help to keep the tires on the ground. Inside the Dana 60 front axle, RCV CV axles withstand the leverage of 42-inch Maxxis Trepadors.
The exit to Die Trying in Montrose is widely considered a winch-only affair for most vehicles. But Jon Springer was able to drive out unassisted in his super-stable buggy on 39-inch BFGoodrich Krawlers and TrailReady beadlock rims.
We like to try crawling obstacles, but sometimes that just doesn’t work. Some 42-inch BFGoodrich Krawlers and a healthy LS engine to provide wheel speed can be critical when trying to climb really big ledges.