High Sierra Trekking: Half a Century of Great Wheeling at the 51st Annual Sierra TrekPosted in Features on September 21, 2018
We can thank James W. Marshall, a sawmill operator in Coloma, California, for most of the off-road trails in the American West. It was Marshall’s discovery of gold in 1848 that prompted the flood of people across the Great Plains and over the Rockies to seek their fortunes. In the process, they forged mule and wagon tracks along nearly every canyon and waterway in the Sierra Nevada. As the gold rush waned and the economy ebbed and flowed during the following century, Mother Nature reclaimed most of these byways until all but faint memories of their existence had been erased. It was such a recollection from Jack Enal, the 80-year-old son of a butcher, that became the catalyst for one of the region’s most iconic four-wheel-drive venues.
In the 1890s, Jack’s father delivered meat to the trading post in Cisco Grove, and Jack remembered occasionally climbing aboard the horse-drawn wagon and tagging along for a ride. Around 1964 he shared this tale, and that of an old miner’s track to Meadow Lake, with Ed Dunkley, an avid history buff and member of the Sacramento Jeepers. Meadow Lake held the foundation cornerstones of the rough-and-tumble mining town of Summit City, and it wasn’t long before Ed gathered a few friends to reconnoiter the route. The idea was to create a fundraiser for Cal4Wheel similar to the Jeepers Jamboree, and after several summers of exploratory trips they had reclaimed the long-abandoned byway. The path traced Fordyce Creek, passing relics of yesteryear: rusting stamp mills, hand-riveted water flumes, and ramshackle cabins. They determined the meadow around the lake would be the perfect setting for a base camp, and in the summer of 1967 three local clubs—the Sacramento Jeepers, Camellia City Broncos, and the Sierra Treasure Hunters (STH)—hosted the inaugural Sierra Trek. Another chapter in Summit City’s chronicle began.
A runny-nosed 20-something kid was introduced to Sierra Trek in 1984. It was the 18th annual event, and he’d recently purchased a used 4x4 and had joined STH. The club was one of the official trail committees that year, tasked with guiding participants to Meadow Lake. He had no clue as to what he was doing or how to pick a line through ice chest–sized boulders, and someone had to tell him to air down his tires. He was a rookie along for the ride, both feet shaking on the pedals like leaves in the wind in the tough sections. He had a lot to learn, and the old-timers took him under their wings for a full edification. More on the “kid” in a moment.
The event had grown from a two-day affair with 50 rigs and a Saturday-night barbeque to the full resurrection of Summit City (population 1,200). In the following years, various work projects included drilling a well for potable water and pouring a 50-foot concrete dance floor. Both were made possible via a long-term relationship with the Gleason family, owners of the land around Meadow Lake since the 1800s. By the time the 30th Trek arrived, the addition of a Thursday Fordyce and overnight SUV run around the Tahoe Rim Trail expanded the event to four days. That year more than 2,000 “Trekkies” bellied up to the bar at the Wild West Saloon and kicked up their heels to three nights of live music. While the challenging Fordyce route has always captured the limelight for hard-core guys, new trail rides such as the SUV, historic, and long-wheelbase trips hit the mark for most participants.
During the following decades the vendor show expanded to include dozens of manufacturers and in-camp children’s games were introduced, as well as various attractions such as a climbing wall, dunk tank, and cornhole competition. The raffle, which is on par with any, now hands out more than $30,000 in swag on Saturday night—the young ’uns have a substantial raffle of their own. While Sierra Trek and Fordyce have not achieved the glory of the Jeepers Jamboree and the Rubicon, over the years four-wheelers from all 50 states and dozens of countries have made the pilgrimage to Meadow Lake. In 2008, Fordyce was honored by being inducted into the BFGoodrich Outstanding Trails Program. BFG arrived with a check for $4,000, which was used for various conservation projects along the trail.
Many things in the world have changed since the runny-nosed 20-something’s first Trek. Last year, the event celebrated its 50th anniversary, and now he’s one of the old guys he used to call “old guys.” The Sierra Trek family expanded to nearly 30 volunteer clubs. Eventually, longtime trail coordinator Larry Calkins decided it was time to pass the torch to the new kid. During his tenure at the helm, the River Run, which runs the trail backwards to Fordyce Creek, was added along with a UTV trail ride. After a decade at the post, the kid handed it off to Brett Preble, then-president of Friends of Fordyce. STH has staffed just about every committee, from trash patrol to cooking meals and managing the raffle, and it has had nearly a dozen members chair the event—a fact the kid has always been proud of. [Editor’s note: That “kid” is the author of this story.]
As the venue pushes into its 50s, hundreds of families now earmark the Trek for their annual vacation, many showing up a week early to hike local trails, ply the waters of Meadow Lake, cast a line, and soak in the grandeur of the Sierra Nevada. Ed Dunkley is no longer with us, but we should all be thankful that he took the time to listen to tales of lore shared by the son of a Truckee butcher. For information on next year’s Sierra Trek go to cal4wheel.com.