Bend, Oregon, is enjoying a resurgence as a tourist destination, and it’s easy to see why. Seemingly endless sunshine (eat your heart out, Portland), snow-covered mountains, and rivers that offer floating and fly fishing are abundant. Things were not always flourishing around central Oregon though. The area enjoyed a boom a century ago as timber from its forest was used to build cities up and down the west coast (and beyond). As interest rates climbed in the 1980s and the economy cooled, the sawmills closed and the boom turned into a bust as the area’s chief source of income was gone.
This isn’t Field and Stream— it’s Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road—so you can probably guess what else you can find in central Oregon: wheeling! We recently joined members of the Central Oregon OHV Association (COOHVA) on the Rim Butte Trail. Located in the Deschutes National Forest to the south of Bend, Rim Butte is a shining example of what is possible when that same pioneering spirit that revitalized Bend is applied to OHV use. Graeme Tydeman and members of COOHVA worked with the US Forest Service to create over 18 miles of hardcore rockcrawling trails that weave their way through the pine trees of the Deschutes National Forest.
We only scratched the surface of this trail system—but they scratched back! Comprised of sharp, loose volcanic rock, the trails at Rim Butte are brutal and unforgiving. The upside is that a series of small loops ties into the existing road system, making it easy to run as many or as few obstacles as you want. And when you have had enough, it is an easy drive back to the staging areas at Ponderosa and Lodge Pole camps. Originally built as hunting camps, these two locations offer free primitive camping, pit toilets, and plenty of room to park your tow rig and pitch a tent. If there were a parts store at the camp, we might never leave.
Cameron McGillivray’s Toyota pickup looks like an RC car with its huge 42-inch Super Swamper Iroks mounted on 15-inch wheels. The original 22R four-cylinder engine pushes the whole thing down the trail, but dual transfer cases and 1-ton axles have been added to offset the big Swampers.
We brought our lightweight Tracker project up to Oregon, but we barely got into the trail before an undercut ledge claimed one of our axleshafts. The nice thing about the trails at Rim Butte is that there’s an access road parallel to the trails so it’s easy to limp back to camp if you break something.
This was the maiden voyage for Chris Bradford’s new Jeep buggy, and he was all smiles. Power comes from a 5.3L V-8 mated to a TH350 and NP205 with a 3:1 LoMax kit from JB Conversions. While it looks like a Jeep, the narrowed YJ tub is placed on a full tube chassis and fitted with a modified JK hood.
We wheeled with Alec Koch last summer at Tillamook State Forest when he lived up near Portland, and he has since moved to Bend to be closer to family (and good wheeling). The 22R in his truck has been converted to propane, which allow it to run at any angle.
The lava rock at Rim Butte reminded us of the rock you would find in the bottom of a natural gas fireplace or grill. It was sharp, loose, and deadly to tires. The entire area has experienced recent (geologically speaking) volcanic activity and is made up of basalt. Central Oregon has been shaped by numerous and varied volcanic events that began millions of years ago and continue to the present.
Shawn Wiles left his leaf sprung “barnyard” buggy at home in favor of his new coilover tube buggy. Unlike the Toyota-based buggy, this one has a full tube frame, a V-8 engine, and an automatic transmission. Both rigs use 1-ton axles and 39-inch BFGoodrich Krawlers.
Cody Reems spent much of the day on the rev limiter, but he didn’t scatter any parts in his Toyota. The factory Toyota components are legendary for their strength, so Cody didn’t have to add much more than some tube and lockers to make it up any climb at Rim Butte.
Will Bradford recently upgraded the tires on his buggy to 41.5-inch Pit Bull Rockers. The big meats are definitely testing the limits of the Toyota-based Trail-Gear axles, but the ground clearance is amazing. Bradford’s buggy is lightweight and powered by a turbocharged 1.6L engine, which helps keep breakage to a minimum.
Mark Schultz has the formula for a functional Oregon rockcrawler. A turbocharged 22R is mated to a manual transmission and dual transfer cases. From there, air shocks and links locate locked 1-ton axles capped with 40-inch Maxxis Trepadors. With a skilled driver like Schultz behind the wheel this is an incredibly capable combination.
Cody Reems was taking high lines over obstacles all day long. How do you know where the limits are if you never find them? While he didn’t break anything on the trail, Reems did flop his truck on its side at one point in the day. A quick tug was all that was necessary to get him moving again.
Trever and Bo Jolly had just returned from Costa Rica, and despite jet lag they didn’t want to miss a day on the trail. Their Toyota 4Runner has seen the sheetmetal slowly go away in favor of tube, but it still has enough seats for the entire family. A 22RE and leaf springs provide simplicity, 1-ton axles were added for strength, and 42-inch Pit Bull Rockers deliver the ground clearance.
The Rim Butte Trail has numerous legs that cover 18 miles of trail. The trail is marked with flagging ribbon of different colors to denote the difficulty of the given route. Many obstacles are optional and can be bypassed, allowing vehicles and drivers of varying capabilities to spend the day together on the same trail.
Kaitlin Tyde’s well-used Samurai buggy has front- and rear-steering 9-inch axles with Dana 60 knuckles. A turbo 1.6L is lightweight yet makes enough power to spin the sticky 39-inch BFGoodrich Krawlers on Trail-Gear Creeper wheels.