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Birthday Bash: Running Rocks With The Arizona K5 Club

Posted in Features on May 4, 2017
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To hear his friends talk, Christian Zeitler is a Chevy nut and owns a small stable of older GM four-wheel drives. So, in 2008, he created the Arizona K5 club because he knew there were other Blazer nuts like himself. It started as a website and forums dedicated to those wheelers who retain a fondness to these vintage 4WDs. It’s since gravitated to a Facebook page with a large group of members and the local group has family oriented gatherings a number of times each year. One of those events is the club’s annual birthday bash as a way to celebrate what started nearly a decade ago. As usual, in 2017 a bunch of the members headed out to the desert for a weekend of camping, wheeling, and camaraderie.

On the one hand, building a K5 for desert play is fairly formulaic. Take a fullsize GM 4WD, add a 4- to 6-inch lift, larger tires, beefier axles, and some goodies in the differentials. But spend some time amongst these guys and you’ll see a variety of paths taken by their builders. Many have addressed the limitations of the stock push-pull steering with a swap to crossover steering and swapped in Dana 60 and/or Corporate 14-bolt axles to run tires upward of 37 inches and beyond. So, in the end, K5 is just a generic starting point as most of these guys have added their own mods and touches to put them in, shall we say, higher K categories.

We spent the weekend camping and running some desert trails with a great group of folks and some classic GM iron. We were on the Florence area trails, about an hour east of Phoenix. This area is popular and riddled with a variety of rock and wash trails, including some interesting narrow canyons, old mine areas, and some awesome remote camping sites. For more information on the club and its activities, which are open to all square-body Chevy and GMC trucks, look them up on Facebook at Arizona K5 Club.

Jason Larsen was one of the first rigs to start up the first main obstacle on the Elvis trail. His ’77 GMC Jimmy was surefooted on 37-inch Mastercraft Courser MXT tires with the help of a spooled 10-bolt front axle and rear Corporate 14-bolt fit with a Grizzly locker.
The first challenge on the upstream trail was a series of stepped ledges, followed by several rocky paths that each put vehicles back into a sandy wash.
This well-built ’80 Blazer is the creation of Bryan Crawford. Under the hood is a McClure Racing 383ci V-8 bolted to an SM465 transmission and an NP205 transfer case. Heavy-duty running gear includes a Dana 60 front axle with ARB Air Locker and hydro-assist steering, plus a rear 14-bolt with 4:88 gears and a Detroit locker. A custom cage and roof rack make this a great weekend camping and wheeling rig.
There was a sizeable group of K5 enthusiasts on the trail on Saturday as we worked our way over rocks and wash sand.
Carl Wolfe spent the last few years working on his ’83 GMC Jimmy project. He cleanly swapped in an LT1 fuel-injected V-8 from a ’96 Chevy Caprice. It feeds power to a TH400 automatic transmission and NP208 transfer case. Treads are 33-inch BFGoodrich A-T tires on the front 10-bolt and rear 14-bolt axles running 4.10 gearing.
Eleven years ago, Chad Stanfill bought this ’87 K5 Blazer that serves as both daily driver and weekend exploring vehicle for his family. It retains the common 5.7L V-8, 700R4 automatic transmission, and NP208 transfer case, but the front 10-bolt axle has been upgraded with 3/4-ton outer components and a 14-bolt rear axle swapped into place. The alloy wheels came from an ’07 GMC 2500 pickup.
Daniel Martinez has a beefed-up front 10-bolt and a full-float Dana 60 rear axle on his ’85 Blazer, but both differentials are open. He wasn’t afraid to put his foot in the throttle to get his General Tires spinning to quickly launch him up this rocky ledge.
In the wider area of the Elvis trail there were multiple lines up through the rock ledges. There were also some easier bypasses for those that choose them. Loren Lehrman relied on his 35-inch Goodyear MT/R treads on locked axles to pull his ’85 K5 Blazer up this waterfall.
Wyatt Hansgaard had the lone Bronco on the trail during the event. He sometimes spends trail time with the K5 club in his ’95 Ford. He gets ribbed a little for his choice of brand, but his competent trail rig leaves less to joke about in the end.
It’s pretty impressive when you can buy a $1,100 truck and wheel like this. Christian Zeitler picked up his ’86 Navy Seabee K30 pickup at a government auction. The former troop carrier came equipped with a 6.2L diesel engine, TH400 automatic transmission, and NP208 transfer case. The gold underneath includes a Dana 60 front axle and full-float 14-bolt rear axle with a Detroit locker. Factory axle gearing is 4.56:1.
Jon Williams brought out his ’84 Blazer to do some wash crawling. He popped a front locking hub on one of the ledge climbs but managed to finish the trail in three-wheel drive. We dig the old-school Centerline alloys on this vintage K5.
Most of the waterfall and ledge obstacles on Elvis had a nearby bypass that was somewhat easier and more body friendly. Some were loose climbs up out of the wash, followed by a descent back into the sandy bottom.
With the wash trail behind us, we climbed to a bit higher elevation following a dusty trail bordered by saguaro, cholla, and ocotillo cacti.
Our group continued over and down a small mountain headed to Box Canyon in the distance.
Box Canyon, as the name implies, was a narrow wash that turned into a deep desert carving. As is often in the winter and spring, we found shallow water flowing across much of the canyon floor.
The canyon narrowed a good bit and the walls grew above us. It’s not a difficult trail but the scenery was awesome, and the shadows and colors changed throughout much of the day as the sun moved across the sky.
We had a night run group that ventured back up and down Box Canyon again once the sun disappeared. The trail was a different experience in the dark. Another group ventured out further in the evening, choosing to run Woodpecker Mine trail.
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