The 2013 Off Road Evolution Jeep JK-Experience
Take a ride to the wild side
Back on the road again, we continued our long journey west and to our home for the night at the beautifully restored Mitzpah Hotel in Tonopah, Nevada. Built in 1907, the Mitzpah once stood as the tallest building in the State of Nevada, holding that title until 1929. True or not, legend has it that Wyatt Earp kept the saloon, Jack Dempsey was the bouncer, and Howard Hughes was married in it. Today, its biggest celebrity is a ghost known only as The Lady in Red. Local stories say she was a call girl murdered on the 5th floor by a jealous ex-boyfriend, and apparently, she still walks the halls at night.
Day five of the JK-Experience was for the most part a road day, except for the 20 miles we got to run on the 2013 Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno racecourse. While we had a great time blasting through the desert, it was hard not to ponder where we were heading and which trails we were starting to get close to. The closer we came to Tahoe, the more everyone started to think about one thing, and one thing alone, the Rubicon! Seeing as most of the guys in our group had never run it before, it was all they could talk about. Sure enough, before we made the final climb up to the lake, Mel confirmed as much.
The Rubicon Trail
Used for centuries as an Indian trail connecting the area around Georgetown to Lake Tahoe, the Rubicon Trail really didn’t see significant use until the 1860s when efforts were made to bottle and sell water from Rubicon Springs. By the late 1880s, a large 16-room, 2-1/2 story resort was built, complete with curtain glass and a parlor with a foot-pedal organ. Guests would come in from McKinney on a four-horse, six-passenger coach. It wasn’t until 1953 when the residents of Georgetown decided to lead a group of 55 Jeeps on what is now known as the Jeepers Jamboree that the trail would gain the reputation it is today.
Without question, the Rubicon is one of the most well-known and highly revered trails you can run, bar none. It’s a bucket list trail every jeeper hopes to run at least once in his life. How exciting that this is how we would be wrapping up the end of an awesome week. Getting an early start on day six, we made our way down from Tahoe to Loon Lake where we aired down and were ready to roll by 9 a.m. The plan was to make it all the way to Rubicon Springs in a day, which left a lot of ground to cover and no time to waste. Despite the pace we needed to keep, Mel still took time to allow multiple people to take a stab at obstacles like the Soup Bowl and encouraged everyone to tackle the revised Little Sluice. The only time we split up was at the Old Sluice, where a handful of people decided to take it on. After a quick stop at Buck Island Lake to regroup, we pushed on to Rubicon Springs and had no trouble making it to camp well before 5 p.m.
Thanks to a long night of revelry, everyone was glad to have a more leisurely start to our final morning on the JK-Experience. We packed up and made sure we were leaving things cleaner and better than when we got there, and started up Cadillac Hill with visions of a hot shower and cold drinks back in Tahoe. That is, until we all heard a big bang coming from Dale McCray’s Jeep. It turned out, the truss holding the upper link to his rear axle had torn. As soon as that went, nothing was left to keep the axle from rotating, which in turn took the driveshaft out of action. Getting right into repair mode, we broke out a welder and the support crew started doing what they could to fix the truss. When the welder’s battery finally gave out, ratchet straps were used to help make up whatever difference they could.
About half an hour later, we were ready to try moving forward again. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to happen. As soon as Dale gave it a bit of gas, the whole thing came undone again. At this point, Mel decided to make the call and abandon the Jeep for now. The priority needed to be getting everyone off the trail and back to town.
The original plan had been to come back in the morning to recover Dale’s Jeep, but once we got to the top of Cadillac Hill, Mel decided it might be a lot easier to get it done now. After some discussion, it was decided that Jim McGean of Dyantrac would lead everyone back to Tahoe, while a handful of us stayed behind to perform the recovery.
Back at the bottom of the hill, it became clear the second break was a lot worse than the first. This time around, the pinion yoke was jammed tightly up against the gas tank. Three winches, two Hi-Lift Jacks, and a lot of stick welding later, we were finally able to get the axle straightened out and secured enough to prevent it from flopping around. Running in front-wheel drive only, we strapped Dale’s Jeep to Mel’s EVO 1 JK and were on our way again. Make no mistake, it still took a lot of effort, but we did manage to get off the trail without any additional carnage, with plenty of time to make it to our big survivors’ dinner. No one left behind!
Over the course of seven days, the 2013 Off Road Evolution JK-Experience took us across four states, racking up almost 1,000 miles with about half of those over-landing on off-road trails. Along the way, we ’wheeled some of the most challenging trails you can find anywhere and visited amazing historical and geological wonders that can only be found in America’s wild west. But, what really makes a trip like this an experience of a lifetime is the fact that you get to help, encourage, celebrate, and share it all with good friends old and new.
Originally designed by Mel Wade to showcase the Jeep JK Wrangler and all the great aftermarket products made for it, the Off Road Evolution JK-Experience has quickly become a premier ’wheeling event that manufacturers and Jeep enthusiasts alike all want to be a part of. Although no one knows where the event will take place, hundreds of people from across the country and around the world still sign up for it each year hoping to be one of the select few chosen attendees. Without question, the JK-Experience always provides the experience of a lifetime. For 2013, that experience would take them on an overlanding expedition across America’s Wild West.
This event was presented by Nitto Tire for the second year in a row and sponsored by companies that included Discount Tire, Dynatrac, ATX Wheels, King, Mastercraft Safety, Impact, Northridge4x4, Trail Jeeps, Warn, Ad Art, EVO Mfg., WAYALIFE, Grub Hub, Trasharoo, Truck-Lite, and ARB. Our adventures this year would begin in the town of Hurricane, Utah. Located in the southwest corner of the state, Hurricane sits at a geological division between the Colorado plateau and the Great Basin Desert. It is surrounded by dramatic cliffs formed by a fault that bears the town’s name. Most people come through here to visit attractions like Zion National Park, but we spent our first day of the JK-Experience taking on the dunes and slickrock out in the Sand Mountain OHV Area.
Sand Mountain OHV Area
Led by Bryce Thompson of Dixie 4 Wheel Drive and Phil Howell of 4Wheel Drive & Sport Utility Magazine, we started our day in some easy dunes, but quickly found ourselves on slickrock and having a good time. The locals call the route we were following Milt’s Mile, and it’s a trail filled with big ledges that need to be climbed, cracks to work through, notches to traverse, and soft red sand thrown into the mix just to make things interesting. By the time we got to our lunch spot, there were a few new scratches on rigs here and there, a broken taillight, a smashed fender, and even one broken rear window, but overall, most everyone got through without too much fuss.
For the second half of our day, Bryce decided to take us to an area called The Maze. Situated along the edge of a cliff, The Maze is essentially a big slickrock playground that meanders through massive wind-sculpted rock formations. You literally could lose yourself in them. We were all glad to have a guide who knew his way around. In no time at all, Bryce had us climbing up tall ledges, descending scary steep drops, and twisting our way through narrow tight turns. About halfway through, a really nasty double ledge required a pretty good bump to get you up and over it. When we say bump, there’s literally a moment where both your front tires get pretty high off the ground and your Jeep stands tall in the air. After seeing two or three rigs do this, we really started to wonder how nobody had broken on it yet. Of course, we said as much out loud, and sure enough, the very next guy did just that—in epic fashion. To add insult to injury, the guy who broke was Chris Bader, a member of the JK-Experience crew. If anything, it was his job to help others to not to do what he just did. The good news, he didn’t end-over like we all thought he was going to. The bad news, when his tires returned to earth, both front and rear driveshafts decided to call it quits and his tie-rod snapped clean in half.
When you’re leading a group as big as ours and on a trail as tough as this, one person down could easily ruin the day for everyone. But, thanks to the experienced crew Off Road Evolution brings along, the remaining Jeeps behind the break were quickly routed around it. Repairs were well underway before the last one passed by. After replacing U-joints on both shafts and doing some creative welding on the tie-rod, we were all on the move again and on our way to our dinner destination. Of course, seeing as it was only day one of the JK-Experience, we think everyone spent some quality time under their rigs before calling it a night. You never knew what was next.
The Honeymoon Trail
Picking up dirt again at the south end of town, we started our second day of the JK-Experience on what is known as the Honeymoon Trail. Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was a vital wagon road that connected Mormon settlers in Arizona to goods and services in southern Utah. Starting in 1877, newlyweds in these settlements used this road to visit the newly constructed temple in St. George and to have their marriage vows solemnized. And, as we’re sure you can guess, that’s how the trail got its name.
The Grand Canyon
Two wide-open valleys and over 120 miles later, we finally reached a point where we could go no farther, the Grand Canyon! This area is called Toroweap by the indigenous people, meaning “dry or barren valley.” It is a little-known part of the Grand Canyon National Park, and this section can only really be visited by high-clearance vehicles or better. In fact, the park service makes it a point to warn people that 25 percent of people who visit here receive at least one flat tire. They also stress you must be properly equipped to make the trip and prepared to spend the night, as assistance is not guaranteed. The benefit to all this: Even during peak seasons, very few people make the trip out, which helps keep the area looking like it has for thousands of years. Of course, the main reason to visit here is to stand on the edge of the Toroweap Overlook. At only 4 miles across at the rim and at points, only 80 feet across at the base, this is the narrowest point along the Grand Canyon. If you’re brave enough, you can look straight down to the Colorado River 3,000 feet below. What a rush!
After taking in the breathtaking views and enjoying a nice lunch, we headed up north and to the west, over the Uinkaret Mountains to our destination for the day, the Bar 10 Ranch. Established back in the early 1970s as a remote cattle ranch, the Bar 10 decided to expand its services to the handful of people who started floating their way down the Colorado River in rubber rafts. Although it is still a working cattle ranch today, the Bar 10 has since become a premier vacation destination that sees well over 13,000 visitors a year, offering activities like hiking, skeet shooting, and ATV and helicopter tours. During our stay, a few in our group decided to take advantage of the horseback riding and I think we all enjoyed the delicious home-cooked meals, live music, cowboy poetry, and line-dancing lessons provided by the friendly staff.
One thing Mel couldn’t stress enough to every participant of the JK-Experience, even weeks before it started, was the need to carry plenty of extra gas. It took us 140 miles of hard and fast driving across the desert and up and over a 7,000-foot mountain range to get to where we were. Even after dumping in every last drop of the gas they had, a few in our group still had gotten down to about a quarter tank or less. Clearly, everyone had a different idea of what “plenty” was. With 120 miles still ahead of us before hitting pavement, many were concerned as to how they would get there. Fortunately, we discovered the Bar 10 had a store of gas, which they were kind enough to sell us at a rate of $7 a gallon. Given the circumstances, it was a real steal. The catch was they would only sell a maximum of 10 gallons per vehicle. Perhaps it was just enough to get the job done? On the way out, we stopped at some great overlooks and even made one to the historic Mt. Trumble Schoolhouse, but I think everyone was too preoccupied with how long their gas light had been on or how much gas they might really have left to enjoy them. Luckily, a better part of the last 10 miles was all downhill, and I’m pretty sure everyone was coasting their way down in neutral.
Logandale Trail System
Back on pavement for the first time in over 250 miles, we refilled our dry tanks, checked into our hotel, and then got right back on the road again. Our destination would be Logandale, specifically, a trail known as The Matterhorn. For the most part, it’s an easy trail that follows the base of the Muddy Mountains down in the Weiser Valley. However, two obstacles along the way can make it a real challenge. The first of these obstacles requires you to climb a narrow, steep dry fall that ultimately gets you up into an area called The Bowl. At a glance, it looks easy enough. But the base of the first ledge is undercut on the passenger side, and the ground beneath is soft and gravely sand. Even with a set of 40-inch tires, a bit of bump is needed to get yourself up it. The second obstacle is called The S-Turn, and as its name implies, is essentially a smooth dry fall that cuts its way through a large section of pink sedimentary rock. Roughly shaped in the form of a tight letter S, a two-door JK will have an easier time getting through it. A four-door can do it, too, if you’re willing to risk doing a little body damage. Thanks to the great spotting from Mel, everyone who gave it a shot made it through without any problems.
Before calling it a day, Mel took a few of us on one more run before dinner up a trail called Bronco Falls. Situated within large red sandstone formations that dominate the area, this trail is really what most people envision when talking about Logandale. Created from giant sand dunes that existed here over 150 million years ago, the terrain is a lot like what you would find out in Moab or Hurricane, a lot of big slickrock with some steep and technical enough to make it a real challenge. In other words, we all had a great time!
For a lot of the guys who came out from places like Illinois, Indiana, or Ohio, this was about as far west as any of them had ever been. Their idea of ’wheeling consisted of off-road parks measured in acres and with specific color-coded trails. As you can imagine, the idea of driving hard and fast in a desert wash for miles on end was hard to comprehend, but something they were all eager to take on. For the first part of our fourth day, that’s exactly what we got to do as we made our way from Mesquite to Caliente, over 160 miles to the north. As much as we love rockcrawling, there really are few things more exciting than flying through the desert, drifting through turns, and testing your reflexes as you try to avoid washouts, ruts, and boulders. And, for all the breaks you’ll ever see while playing on the rocks, nothing will ever compare to the ones caused by speed. About 40 miles in, Dave Elhers decided to put the pedal to the metal as he hit a really big roller. When he landed, his rear axle let him know just how hard he had hit. While it didn’t actually break in half, it was visibly smiling, enough so his gears were now chewing themselves apart. Looking at the maps, there really wasn’t any quick or easy way to get him back to pavement, so Mel decided to strap him up to EVO 1 and tow him the rest of the way to Caliente. From there, they were able to load up his Jeep on to a support trailer and tow him to our next destination.
The second half of our day would be all on pavement, but on a highway barren enough you could just as easily be on the moon. Its official designation is Nevada State Highway 375, but the road is more affectionately known as The Extraterrestrial Highway. This is where you would find Area 51, if the government actually acknowledged its existence. Aside from a couple of roadside tourist attractions, there really is a whole lot of nothing out there. In fact, even though we were on a highway, gas was still a concern being that we wouldn’t see another station for 190 miles. Our first stop along the way was at a place called the Alien Research Center. At least, that’s what the owner calls it. It’s really just a fancy alien-themed gift shop with a huge silver alien sculpture standing out front. Definitely a stop worth making, but the real place we wanted to see was 20 miles farther to the west in the town of Rachel. This is the home of the Little A’ Le’ Inn, a great saloon out in the middle of nowhere Nevada, and where films such as Independence Day and Paul were filmed.