Once, the California desert was considered a place to be traveled through quickly; a place so remote and inhospitable that the unwary traveler could all too easily fall prey to the sweltering heat while dreaming of water and shade where neither were to be found. And with plummeting temperatures that rob the ground of its warmth, nightfall offers no relief. It is thousands of square miles of sand and rock, broken intermittently by sagebrush and stray cactus.
It would seem an unlikely playground, yet for thousands of four-wheelers in Southern California and the Southwest, it has become a haven. In one corner of this wild country is the Johnson Valley Off Highway Vehicle Area, home to the now-famous hammer trails: Jackhammer, Sledge-hammer, Clawhammer, and a handful of others. The irregular rock outcroppings that pose as trails here exploded to the surface millennia ago and offer no reprieve to those who come to test their metal. Bypasses? Don't even ask. Scenic views? Some, but they don't come easily. Vehicle damage? Depend on it.
Calling this area home is the Victor Valley 4-Wheelers, and for the ninth consecutive year its members descended on Johnson Valley to host the annual Fun In the Desert event. Aside from access to world-class four-wheeling, this area offers nearly unlimited room for campers, who can stretch out liberally across the expanse of Meanes dry lake bed. In all, more than 100 participants came out this year to experience the kind of carnage these trails have become famous for.
Beyond the three hammer trails for which this region is notorious, participants this year also had the option of running Sunbonnet Pass, Aftershock, Outer Limits, Wrecking Ball, and the Master's Course, which was used in the Warn Rock Crawling Championship series this past season. Even though the VV4W rates all of its trails on a scale of 1 to 5, there is not a single one that is rated at less than 4+, which should give potential drivers an idea of just how hard-core Fun In the Desert really is. If further proof is necessary, a few minutes surveying the rigs as they begin staging each morning will leave no doubt that they have been built with one purpose in mind: conquering big, bruising, metal-crushing, axle-snapping rocks. There is nothing soft about them and not a trailer queen in the bunch. Thirty-three-inch tires (minimum), bead locks, ultra-low gearing, front and rear lockers, extensive suspension modifications, and skidplates are the basic building blocks of these vehicles.
Even with experienced drivers and well-prepped rigs, it always pays to have local spotters on the trail who are familiar with the area, and this is where the Victor Valley 4-Wheelers always excel. In addition to their own members, the club also calls on the expertise of the Inland Empire 4-Wheelers to lead some of these rather large groups into the rocks. When you have more than 25 rigs on a trip, and you're the leader, you spend more time running up and down the trail than you do actually traversing any obstacles. Keeping the mood light and everyone happy takes real commitment, and the clubs involved did a great job.
Back at base camp, even more volunteers worked at preparing breakfast and dinner, answering endless questions, and getting ready for the big raffle. Because the Victor Valley 4-Wheelers go to great lengths to make Fun In the Desert a real family event, there were also a lot of activities for kids, including hay rides. For those who 'crawled back out of the rocks come sunset, they found a congenial atmosphere with plenty of campfires and people ready to discuss the day's adventures.
The California desert is still hot and dusty, and in many ways it is still as unforgiving as it ever was. But if this kind of adventure appeals to you, and the thrill of radical rockcrawling makes your pulse quicken, consider joining the Victor Valley 4-Wheelers next year for Fun In the Desert X.
For More InformationIf you would like to know more about Fun In the Desert, please contact: Victor Valley 4-Wheelers, Dept. 4WDSU, P.O. Box 401733, Hesperia, CA 92340, www.mscomm.com/~emwick/vv4w04.html
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The original trail. It is non-stop technical rockcrawling from beginning to end, with some steep hillclimbs and off-camber sections. The VV4Wdescribes coming back down the canyon as "an experience all its own." It ca be run in fullsize vehicles.
Considered by many to be the toughest of the hammers, it is a string of narrow, off-camber sections that offer no relief until the very top. The rock formations demand tight turns and a lot of finesse. The downhill segment is very steep and replete with drop-offs that score high on the pucker factor. It is not recommended for fullsize vehicles.
Some call this the baby of the hammers, but only because it is slightly shorter than its siblings. At the top is an optional 5+ canyon that is very loose and very steep. It's a demanding trail, but a fullsize vehicle can run it.
A more traditional trail in the sense that it is not all rock from beginning to end; there are actually sections that run through sand and dirt. However, the rocks that are there force the trail to twist constantly back and forth and up and down. It is a difficult run for fullsize vehicles.
This trail is actually two narrow canyons that are fully equipped with a series of tight squeezes with names such as Hell's Gate and Devil's Slide. It is not fullsize friendly. Even short-wheelbase vehicles will find that the walls quickly close in. Drivers will find plenty of sharp turns and steep climbs.
One of the newest trails, this one is replete with twisting, rocky ascents and three very tight, off-camber squeezes that nearly always take their toll on sheetmetal as drivers snake through. This trail is not for fullsize vehicles.
The name says it all. One of the toughest trails in the Johnson Valley OHVA, it is certainly the tightest and most technical. All rock from the very start, this trail is unrelenting in its demands of the driver and the vehicle. Body damage is almost a certainty and probably the least of the carnage you can expect. It is not recommended for fullsize vehicles.
The Master's Course
This trail was used in the Warn Rock Crawling Championship series last season and is a technical driver's dream. No rock stacking allowed. Fullsize vehicles are strictly prohibited.