When we left off last time our motley crew of wheeling enthusiasts was cooling off at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park in northern Arizona. Before they could even leave the parking lot, though, things were already starting to go south. Wayne Lambert lost the rear output seal in his NP241 transfer case, forcing him to return to nearby Payson for parts. This was a harbinger of things to come, as multiple vehicles would succumb to damage by the end of the day.
Trail leader Trent McGee expected the group to complete Pyeatt Draw in an hour, but that was not to be. Whether it was because of the participants’ enthusiasm to get back into the rocks or the toll of multiple days running down dirt roads, vehicles began dropping like flies in Pyeatt Draw. We ran this trail in 2015 as part of our Cheap Truck Challenge event with similar results—everyone broke (http://www.fourwheeler.com/events/1509-cheap-truck-challenge-2015). The trail itself is not overly difficult, with one notable exception. The Filter is a huge rock ledge that was deliberately avoided during CTC. On the Ultimate Adventure everyone attempted the Filter, with a rate around 50 percent of getting to the top unassisted.
Instead of an hour, the trail took all day, causing McGee to scrap the rest of his plans for the day and leading the group to an amazing campsite on the Mogollon Rim. The Rim is an escarpment marked by cliffs that make up the southern end of the Colorado Plateau. Arriving after dark, all that could be seen below were the lights of Payson. Once the sun came up, though, the group was treated to one of the most breathtaking views imaginable.
From there it was north to Flagstaff and the Cinder Hills OHV Area. This 13,500-acre area was similar to sand dunes, except that instead of small grains of sand the landscape was made up of pea-sized pieces of pumice and basalt deposited by a cinder cone that was active as recently as 100 years ago. The steep black hills allowed participants with healthy engines to blast up and down them, while others required a tug from a VooDoo Rope when they didn’t have the necessary horsepower.
Continuing north, the group crossed the Grand Canyon at Marble Bridge before climbing in elevation to Jacob Lake. After getting some rest, it was a short drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon the next morning. After playing tourist, the group bounced along the Utah-Arizona border through Kanab and Fredonia before returning to the Grand Canyon along dirt roads. The Arizona Strip, the small section of the state north of the Grand Canyon, is one of the most remote locations in the Lower 48. Trent McGee felt that it was only fitting that the Ultimate Adventure explore the area near the Bar 10 Ranch. From the cliffs above we could see unsuspecting rafters on the Colorado River below.
By this time it was late afternoon and the group had covered north of 150 miles of rough washboard road, but McGee had more in store for the readers, sponsors, and cronies. What came next was a virtual “UA 1000” of silt beds, rocky canyons, and endless dirt roads. It was well after midnight before our very dusty band of adventure seekers arrived in Hurricane, Utah, for the final hurrah of Ultimate Adventure 2017.
On the last morning, Rich Klein of Trail Hero and Brian Swearingen of IH8MUD gave us a taste of the trails that can be found at Sand Hollow State Park. “We are just scratching the surface of the 20,000 acres of OHV area here,” Klein explained. “The local BLM office and state park officials have been wonderful to deal with and share our vision of making Sand Hollow the premier destination for rockcrawling.”
Mission accomplished, we say. Every participant of UA stated that they want to come back to Sand Hollow for more wheeling. Insane traction, sand dunes, gorgeous views, a nearby lake—Sand Hollow does indeed seem to have it all.
As the trip came to an inevitable end, new and old friends reflected on the 2017 Ultimate Adventure. Chris Durham described it as his annual family reunion. Returning reader Wayne Lambert summed up the UA nicely: “More than the wheeling, my favorite part of the trip is the positive can-do attitude of the group and the collective knowledge to fix or overcome just about anything. Steering box messed up? No worries. We’ll pull apart and fix it in camp tonight. Destroyed driveline? No worries. We’ll head to town get a new one and see you tomorrow. Axletubes broke free of centersection? Let’s weld that up while we wait for everyone to climb that rock. The list of issues goes on and on, but so does the list of solutions.”
Day 4: Pyeatt Draw
Pyeatt Draw isn’t an extreme trail, but it was hard enough to expose all of the weaknesses caused by three days of driving down rough backroads. The group experienced more breakage here than anywhere else on the trip.
Most trails have a “gatekeeper” obstacle at the beginning, but the hardest obstacle on Pyeatt Draw is at the end. Nick LeBlanc had no problem overcoming the Filter in his 1-ton XJ. He daily drives his Cherokee, which is a smart move when preparing for a long trip like the UA.
While the UA involves long days and covering a lot of ground, there is also downtime along the way when participants get to hang out. After getting to the top of the Filter, people were cheering on drivers and helping spot and pull winch line.
We have seen a multitude of different parts break on the Ultimate Adventure, but this might be the first motor mount. Trent McGee’s well-used TJ buggy cracked the cast motor bracket and sheared off the bolts in the process. Chris Durham came to the rescue once again, extracting the snapped bolts from inside the engine block and welding the cast steel bracket back together.
Driving a tube car on the UA means you have to pack light and endure loud, hot road days. The upside is that you can try crazy lines like this one on Pyeatt Draw. Sam Gillis was the only one who pulled up to this ledge, but when his transfer case started leaking he had to back down. We still had a long way to go.
Chris Paul broke a hub on his Dana 70 front axle on Pyeatt Draw and then lost a tire bead on the same obstacle, but in a matter of minutes he had the spare swapped on and the tire aired up. While drive flanges are stronger than hubs, the number of miles covered in 2WD on UA make selectable hubs a better option.
Damon Haas said that the UA is a week full of all his favorite things about wheeling. “Challenging yourself and your rig while making new friends and visiting new places.” We could not agree more.
Day 5: Cinders
Fred Williams’ TJ, Tube Sock, is running the same Cummins R2.8 Turbo Diesel crate engine as Christian Hazel’s UACJ-6D. These engines never got hot, they sipped fuel, and they made plenty of power to blast around such trails as the Cinders.
The “angle of repose” refers to how steep a material can naturally settle without crumbling. Rick Péwé explained that the angle of repose for cinders is 35 degrees, far steeper than the 20 degrees seen in sand dunes. Lonnie McCurry wasn’t worried about the angle when he pointed the Hemi-powered Skyjacker JK toward the top of the hill.
Verne Simons put in long hours getting ready for UA 2017. In addition to building the UACJ-6D for this year’s trip, he swapped a new remanufactured engine into his S-10 Blazer just days before the trip. The rig performed flawlessly, and the Blazer platform nicely supported the weeklong off-road trip with plenty of cargo capacity for gear, spares, and supplies.
Mark Turner bolted a Sprintex supercharger on to the 3.6L engine in his CJ-10 and didn’t want that power to go to waste. The screw-type supercharger boosts horsepower and torque north of 300 at the tires from the Pentastar engine. Bonus: It sounds like a Screaming Mimi when it’s making full-throttle hillclimb attacks.
Wayne Lambert was our returning reader for 2017, and just like last year he handled everything the trip threw at him without batting an eye. “Try to address small issues like noises or vibrations,” he recommended to anyone considering a similar hardcore wheeling trip. “Compared to most average wheeling trips, the UA is really long. That little noise or leak could become a major issue before the end of the trip.” Lambert took his own advice, and aside from having to replace the NP241’s output seal, he had no issues of consequence the whole week.
Day 6: Grand Canyon
The first stop on Day 6 was the Visitor Center for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This side of the park is far less crowded than the South Rim since it is so much more difficult to get to. Difficulty and remoteness have never been a deterrent on UA.
The Arizona Strip is one of the most remote locations in the continental United States. The Grand Canyon separates this part of Arizona from the rest of the state, and civilization as a whole, requiring access through Utah or across the bridge at Marble Canyon.
Even more remote than the North Rim Visitor Center was this Grand Canyon overlook near the Bar 10 Ranch. It is not on the way to anywhere, but the views to the Colorado River below made the detour well worth the effort.
Keith Bailey is the undisputed fuel consumption champion of the Ultimate Adventure. Whether his blue Bruiser tube car or his beige CJ-7, his rigs always win the drinking contest. Fortunately, he brought plenty of spare fuel in the Daystar Cam Cans mounted on the tailgate. When those ran out, his credit was good with the other participants who loaned him some of their spare fuel.
Burning Man or Ultimate Adventure? Day 6 was the longest of the trip, with over 200 miles of two-track driving. Clifton Slay and Tom Boyd were running near the back of the pack and ended up wearing, ingesting, and inhaling a lot of dirt.
Day 7: Sand Hollow
Our time at Sand Hollow started with a trip up Joint Effort. The trail might get renamed Lord of the Ring (Gear Bolts), though, after the Ford 8.8 in the back of Trent McGee’s buggy spit out all of the bolts on the first obstacle, punching a hole in the diff cover in the process. McGee parked the buggy to let everybody pass and drove it back to the hotel on the front axle. He wound up sealing the hole, reinstalling the ring gear bolts, and driving the vehicle home to Arizona after UA.
The rocks at Sand Hollow offered amazing traction, similar to the slickrock of Moab. This made climbs that would otherwise be impossible an option, as demonstrated by Chris Paul. He has a knack for finding that sweet spot between crawling and carrying enough momentum to get to the top of steep climbs.
Keith Bailey broke a couple of teeth of the ring gear in his high-pinion Dana 60 rear axle early in the trip, but somehow he managed to make it all the way to Hurricane (and back to Phoenix) without having to change the gearset. Sometimes on the UA it is better to be lucky than good.
Cooper Rasmussen did an amazing job piloting Diesel Power Products’ Ram 2500 through tight trails. Dubbed the Howitzer, DPP built a single-cab longbed into a shortbed equipped with Ram Boxes on a shortened frame and outfitted it with just about every part the company offers. And that’s a lot of parts!
This Bronco was Dan Strubbe’s first vehicle. He has owned it for half of his life now and upgraded it with 1-ton parts as the smaller components failed, but he hasn’t been tempted to turn it into a buggy. “There is something cool about wheeling some tough trails and then unlocking the hubs and cruising on the pavement,” he said.
If you haven’t already heard, Sand Hollow is the next big thing in rockcrawling. Look out, Moab! Look out, Rubicon! This is the hottest destination for everything from Jeeps and UTVs to full-blown rock buggies. This is Christian Hazel’s favorite type of wheeling. The Cummins-powered UACJ-6D was in its element with a slinky Skyjacker LeDuc-series coilover and ultralow SM420/Offroad Design Magnum Box Doubler T-case setup. Just stab it in the right gear, engage the Ultimate Dana 60 ELockers, and steer into the right line!
Both Dana and Skyjacker representatives brought four-door JKs with V-8 swaps and 1-ton axles. That didn’t stop them from wheeling the snot out of the rigs, though, as Randall Speir demonstrates here with a little three-wheel motion. He was Dana’s best endorsement of the strength of the Ultimate Dana 60 axles, routinely putting all 525 hp from the swapped-in LS3 to spectacular use.
Tom Boyd beat on Verne Simons’ Shrink Ray TJ like . . . (wait for it) a rental. Despite having the least horsepower, or maybe because it had the least horsepower, the Wrangler made the entire trip without a single issue.
After riding with Skyjacker head honcho Lonnie McCurry last year, Dillard De La Salle returned this year as Mark Turner’s co-driver in the VooDoo Offroad CJ-10. De La Salle is one of the best spotters we have ever met, and he put McCurry on the perfect line to climb the Chute. And to his credit, even without the expert spotting, McCurry is a fiercely good driver to begin with, always cleanly piloting the Hemi-powered show Jeep through the hardest lines.
The Chute is the perfect example of the level of traction available in Sand Hollow. This obstacle is nearly straight up and down, but with calm driving and the right line it is possible to climb to the top. More wheelbase definitely helps with the pucker factor here.
If the 3.8L V-6 has a bad reputation, apparently no one bothered to tell Chris Durham. He flogged his JK all week long and it never missed a beat. Durham really enjoyed the opportunity to put his Skyjacker LeDuc Series coilover suspension to the test in the sand dunes.
Stephen Watson was all too happy to air out his square-body Chevy in the sand dunes. The Offroad Design suspension is inspired by Ultra4 cars and uses huge remote-reservoir coilovers front and rear. Stephen and his father, James, drove the Chevy from their home in Carbondale, Colorado, to the UA and back without issue. The engine is a swapped-in L92 with a MAST motorsports cam upgrade for an estimated 525 hp. Naturally, an Offroad Design Magnum Box Doubler T-case setup lies aft of the built 4L80E transmission.
Editor Hazel felt that the UA just wasn’t the same last year without Rick Péwé’s ubiquitous “Drivers meeting!” holler each morning to get the group going, so he offered Péwé a crony position as the official UA tailgunner, which Péwé took to like a duck to water. We lost count of how many fixes, saves, and tows he doled out all week, but he wound up helping out with just about every malady. Péwé and co-driver Alan Huber (4WOR’s longtime art director) were blasting through the dunes in the 2012 UA JK. It was all fun and games until a steering line came loose, but that was the only issue the Jeep had all week.