The inaugural Southern California Toyota Fest took place in Calico Ghost Town in the hills near Yermo, California, on September 22-24. On Friday morning, Toyotas invaded the ghost town campground, where they were greeted by a large tent and social space graciously provided by Demello Offroad and Icon Vehicle Dynamics.
As people began to finish setting up their campsite, a few runs to explore the surrounding desert were organized, starting with a trip over to lower Odessa Doran to drive through the spectacular natural arches, and the slot canyon that marks the entrance to Odessa Canyon.
After turning around at the entrance to Odessa Canyon our group set their sights on East Phillips trail. What starts out as an easy scenic drive slowly becomes more and more difficult. The first obstacle is a steep rutted-out climb thanks to fault lines in the area. This road was paved a few years ago, now all that remains is some occasional asphalt chunks and potholes bigger than tires. After getting everyone to the top with some careful guidance and the assistance of ATRAC at a rather tricky hole, the group continued onward to the next obstacle 100 yards down the road. A 10-foot-tall slick rock wall greets the group, but with careful line choice, even the stock fifth-generation 4Runner with bald tires makes its way to the top with ease.
After a quick stop for lunch and exploring some of the countless silver mines in the area, the group packed up and slowly approached West Phillips trail. West Phillips starts with a very steep descent over a three-foot drop with a turn in the middle of it, one of the most challenging obstacles of the day, with the risk of a dangerous rollover.
Continuing onward the group was faced with a series of waterfalls that required a little trail work to prevent bumper damage on the last drop. After careful negotiation everyone made it through unscathed and began the relatively easy albeit picturesque trip back to camp.
The rest of the day was spent making new friends and reminiscing with old ones by the fire. Many more Toyotas arrived to the campsite overnight.
The next morning began officially at 8 in the Demello Offroad and Icon tents, where donuts and coffee were served, and drivers split into groups to attack various trails surrounding the ghost town. A group of truggies and few brave 4Runners would attempt the Doran Odessa loop, the vast majority would go up West Phillips, and a smaller group would go out of Mule Canyon then go to a viewpoint high up on a cliffside. Luckily, this area provides a trail for every skill level.
First on the agenda for the day was a trip back to the arches for those who missed them. Here, well over 50 Toyotas lined the wash with everything from a first-generation 4Runner to brand-new Tundras and everything from stock to custom truggies.
After a quick group photo, the West Phillips trail group made its way over to the start, where everyone faced their first obstacle of the day. With some drivers brand new to off-roading, this two-foot ledge and four-foot waterfall directly after got their blood pumping, but after getting everyone through safely with no damage the group headed up to the next obstacle, the steep climb with a three-foot ledge in the middle that everyone came down the day before.
Everyone braved this obstacle despite there being an easy bypass right next to it. Even a 2WD 4Runner bounced its way to the top.
Here half of the group decided to head to the viewpoint, while the rest stopped for lunch in the sandy wash that marks the easy part of Doran Canyon. After rearranging all the trucks and eating a quick lunch, the group drove toward the Calico Mines and explored the abandoned silver mines.
Next on the agenda was to head down Bismark’s Hairpiece and Stray Hair, positioning the group to head down Vodkaberry, one of the harder trails in the area featuring a double three-foot waterfall and a 10-foot-tall waterfall. Some careful rock stacking was necessary to get down the three-foot waterfalls with the fifith-generation 4Runners running at stock height. Luckily someone walked ahead during the rock stacking as a new obstacle had formed during the recent rains, one that was impassable to assortment of trucks. A tight slot canyon required both wheels to be on the canyon walls and incorporated tight turns at the end.
Following this discovery, the few who had made it through the obstacles turned around and the group retreated back up the canyon, making their way over to Wall Street Canyon and back to camp, through a scenic drive with steep hills.
The smell of carne asada on the grill greeted the group upon their arrival. Demello Off-road and Icon sponsored a free and delicious burrito dinner for all in attendance.
All the sponsors hosted a raffle including prizes, such as sliders, skidplates, tires, Toyota art pieces, and more. Afterward, everyone gathered around the fire and told tall tales of the day’s adventures. The next morning the group gathered at 9 to take a group photo outside the ghost town, said their goodbyes, and went their separate ways, concluding an excellent weekend of off-roading in the beautiful, desolate Southern California desert. Toyotafest was a resounding success, and we cannot wait to see what the sponsors will have in store for us next year.