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Texas Off Road - Thrill Ride

Posted in Features on August 1, 2001
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Brewster County, Texas, is one of the last bastions of truly wide-open space. It sits in the southwest portion of the state, and while it's larger than the entire state of Connecticut, it contains only six small towns. It's here, near the town of Terlingua, that the Texas Superlift 4xAdventure made its re-appearance in 2001 after a four-year hiatus, drawing almost 100 4x4s to the proverbial middle of nowhere for some of the most rugged, scenic, and challenging four-wheeling available.

Untamed, Rugged, and Isolated
The terrain in this area consists of sand, rock, and an amazing variety of thorn-bearing plants and shrubs. Summers boast furnace-like heat as temps hover in the 100-degree range, although 70- to 80-degree days are the norm in March when the 4xAdventure is held. Event headquarters was the Longhorn Motel, which resembles an oasis in the desert and features a restaurant, pool, and comfy (but telephone-less) rooms. Existence in this area is fragile and high-maintenance, and water is a precious commodity that is trucked to the motel on a regular basis. Cell phone service is non-existent in the area, gas stations are limited, and you can forget about listening to the radio. The nearest major town is Alpine, and that's an 80-mile drive on two-lane Route 118, with virtually nothing but desert in between. As you can imagine, living out here requires a very reliable vehicle.

We're not trying to scare you by telling you this; we're just making sure you understand the remoteness of the region before you throw a sleeping bag and pillow in the back of your truck and make tracks to the area. The upside is that this part of Texas is stunningly beautiful, with a total lack of heavy traffic, urban sprawl or noise, which explains why people endure the inconveniences of living out here.

Trail rides during the Superlift 4xAdventure take place on a private 12,000-acre ranch that features an unbelievable amount of varied terrain, including deep gorges and mountains. The event registration fee includes your choice of daily trail rides, from a schedule of eight, that vary in difficulty level. Additionally, the event includes a Superlift Tech Talk on Friday evening and a Saturday evening all-you-can-eat BBQ dinner and Superlift 4xRaffle. Throughout the event, Superlift Suspension staff is on hand to answer questions about its product line as well. Since four-wheeling and breakage sometimes go hand-in-hand, the Texas 4xAdventure was lucky to have the Jeep doctor Keith Marchand from Huntsville, Alabama, throughout the weekend with a trailer full of parts and accessories. His foresight prevented many participants from having to endure the three-hour round-trip drive to Alpine for parts, and he even had plenty U-joints available so folks could continue and not miss out on any of the action.

Stairway to Heaven
The toughest trailrun on the schedule was the Stairway to Heaven trail, and it was led by Homer Van Zandt, who actually helped build the trail several years ago. It was so named because of its steady climb up Pack Saddle Mountain. As you ascend the mountain, the views of the surrounding landscape become better and better, revealing mountain ranges almost 75 miles away. The trail is for extremely modified vehicles only, and that means a lot of ground clearance, tall tires, and lockers. The trail is only about a mile long, but it snakes through a small canyon following a dry creek bed, making it seem much longer. As you reach the top, you can see numerous shell fossils in the limestone left from when the mountaintop was an ancient seabed. The trail was a blast, and it challenged even the most hard-core rigs and drivers. It took us all day to traverse its 1-mile length. The most challenging aspect was the absolutely brutal dry waterfalls that are tall and steep and required winching from almost every vehicle to conquer. Stairway to Heaven is a must-do if you are a hard-core jeeper.

Creek Run
Still breathing hard from the Stairway to Heaven trail, we chose to do the 3-rated Creek Run on Saturday, which was led by Alan Dowdy. It's the direct opposite of Stairway to Heaven, because it takes place in mostly low, dry riverbeds, and you're at the mercy of Mother Nature and how she chose to move rocks during the last flash flood. This run was open to vehicles without lockers, and we had more than 15 vehicles ranging from Jeeps to an early Bronco in our entourage. There were places where the open-diff trucks had to get a tug over some rocks, but overall, this is a great trail for any mildly built 4x4. You'll test your driving skills and truck capabilities on sand and rocks, and there are a number of optional obstacles for the adventurous.

2002 Texas Superlift 4xAdventurePlans are already underway for the 2002 Texas Superlift 4xAdventure, which will return to the wide-open, challenging area around Terlingua, Texas, in March. For more information, contact: Sports-In-The-Rough, Dept. 4WDSU, P.O. Box 717, Ketchum, OR 74349, (800) 556-2801,

Cover Shot
Leading the way on our cover this month is Homer Van Zandt in his '74 CJ-5. In addition to being an ardent four-wheeler, this retired army engineer is currently the president of the Southwest Four Wheel Drive Association and is a leader in the fight to prevent further closure of public lands. Van Zandt hangs his hat in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Homer's CJ runs a stout drivetrain setup with an AMC 360, a TorqueFlite 999 tranny, and an Atlas II transfer case. Up front you'll find a Dana 44 that was scavenged from a '76 Cherokee Chief, while an International Scout donated another 44 for the rear. Both are equipped with ARB lockers and 5.89 gears. Homer tells us that the rear 44 is only temporary and will soon be replaced by a full-floating Dana 60.

If you're curious about the coil spring suspension, Homer designed it himself and built it in collaboration with Jim Huff at HyTech 4x4 in Las Cruces. The custom setup serves him well. In fact, Terlingua didn't throw anything at him that the CJ couldn't handle.

Should he need to pull himself or anyone else out of a tight spot, Homer runs a Warn 16,000-pound hydraulic winch. And to meet various needs on the trail, he has an air system comprised of a York compressor that's driven by a Warn winch motor.

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