Step By Step
Paul Sinclair has driven damn near every trail in Johnson Valley, California, and many of them multiple times in his sleeper white 96 XJ. Despite all of the time this Jeep has spent on the Johnson Valley trails, Paul has almost no body damage. His XJ carries the factory AX15 five-speed transmission, an Atlas II, and a Dana 44 rear axle. Cant wait for the full feature? Too bad. Youll have to.
Matt and Jennifer Andrew from Madera, California, came along for the trip in their super-nice 92 Cherokee Laredo. The Jeep runs a set of 71 Bronco axles and custom-mounted Ford radius arms up front. Look for a feature of this XJ in an upcoming issue of Jp. By the way, Matts a fairly good driver, but Jennifer can spot and drive better than most people we know.
Check out the corner guards on this XJ, which is owned by Kevin and Felycia Marcus of Camarillo, California. Apparently, Cross Enterprises made them as one-off prototype pieces, but perhaps if there are enough interested parties more could be made? Other Features of the XJ are around 7 1/2 inches of custom lift, 4.56 ring-and-pinions, CTM U-joints in the factory high-pinion Dana 30 front, a rear Dana 44, and 35-inch Goodyear MT/Rs.
Richard Gauthier, president of the North American XJ Association (NAXJA) has been wheeling his Yellow 88 Cherokee for years. Richard uses tons of tricks to make his XJ better off-road including a Tera 60R rear axle, a custom-built three-link front suspension built by Richard himself, and a very flat belly thanks to a Richard-built crossmember. Richard was our unofficial trail leader on most of the trails.
The one exception to the XJ-only rule was Dan Bousquets very trick MJ. This truck started life in 89 as a longbed. It now has a 99-inch wheelbase. Youll have to wait for the Jp Magazine feature on this Jeep for all of the fine details, but as a teaser the MJ sports a 6-inch Tomken Machine lift, a Dana 30 front, a Dana 44 rear, and some 33-inch TSLs.
The Johnson Valley trails were possibly the toughest trails we hit with the XJ crew. More than one fender was uglied, and the winches came out a few times. Johnson Valleys Outer Limits trail on the last day seemed to be the toughest. Apparently last winters rains have washed the trail out a bit more than usual.
Nice flex. The Lower Woodpecker Trail near Florence Junction, Arizona, is basically a play area, and after fooling around for a few minutes Andy Fecko named the days events Dumb Fest 2002, where we all could try to out-dumb each other by trying difficult lines. Andys 88 XJ has a NV4500 transmission, and uses a customized Rubicon Express Long Arm Kit from a TJ to locate the high-pinion Dana 44 front axle. As for Dumb Fest 02, it may still be going on as we speak.
Brent Orton drove all the way from West Jordan, Utah. His 91 Cheromanche (a Cherokee where the back has been converted to a pickup) turns a set of 35-inch Super Swamper SSRs via two ARB Air Lockd Dana 44s. It sports 41/2 inches of lift, as well as some severe fender hacking. The 106 1/2-inch wheelbased XJ climbed like a champ.
Driving any Jeep on a week-long 1,500-mile road trip is not normally an easy task. Then toss in the fact that you will be living out of the back of your Jeep for the whole trip, add in about seven extreme Southwestern rock trails ranging from Sledge Hammer in Johnson Valley, California, to Axle Alley near Florence Junction, Arizona, and you my friends have one hell of a challenging week-long wheeling fest. Oh, did we forget to mention that non-unibody Jeeps need not apply. Thats rightthis is an XJ-only (plus one MJ) two-state Southwest rocktrail wheeling fest where durability, driveability, and endurance will all be put to the test.
After hearing about this trip, we knew we had to tag along to get into some of the action so we caught up with Richard Gauthier, our unofficial trail leader, and a few of North American XJ Associations (NAXJA) Southwestern best near Florence Junction. The rest of the group had been driving and wheeling trails near Black Canyon City, Arizona, for the previous three days before we caught up with them. A few tires had fallen prey to the jagged rocks on trails like Predator and Judgment Day, but everyone was still in one piece and ready for more. The next day would bring Axle Alley, and our start of the week-long Best In The West XJ rock trail tour. Check out the XJ action
and XJ carnage.