Thrashing! Bashing! Flipping! Rolling! Air! Near death! And that's just us trying to photograph the events! The following photos relive some of the biggest races, the most infamous trails in rockcrawling and mud, and even some ne'er-before-trounced backwoods spots that made our pages breathe.
4-Wheel & Off-Road 4xFun Fest
This traveling show has been east, west, and in between, but the common threads have been the Extreme Truck Challenge, the mud bogs, the manufacturers' midway, and the most impressive show'n'shine on the planet. Each Extreme track has been different, so drivers and spectators never know what to expect-other than airborne trucks, the possibility of a vehicle rolling, and body parts a-dragging and a-dropping.
Every Type of Racing
This particular pileup was snapped at the HDRA Jeep Desert Championships at Willow Springs International Raceway. Through the years we've brought you the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 (be sure to check out the Baja anniversary story elsewhere in this issue), the Off-Road Sportsman Challenge, the Safari Triathlon, SCORE, SODA, the Mickey Thompson Series, Riverside, the Frontier 500, the Mint 400, the Parker 400, Brush Run 101, the Nevada 500, tough trucks, and other edge-of-your-seat off-road racing.
Dakota Territory Challenge
This South Dakota event turns 15 in 1998 and is becoming more and more popular with twisted rockcrawlers everywhere. We say that because it has an optional near-vertical waterfall on the 5-plus Hal Johns Trail, which nearly everyone opts for. Depending on how Mother Nature is feeling, she could turn Lower Buzzworm into a how-to on waterproofing. People love it. So do photographers. But don't be discouraged-the Challenge does run far less challenging trails, and they're far from dull.
The annual Panamint Valley Days five-waterfall climb is thrown by the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs near Death Valley in November. Those who have driven (and watched) it say it's more scary than difficult, as there are no easy routes and it requires winching. We've yet to see a fullsize make it through.
The biggest four-day competitive event in the eastern U.S. is Gravelrama. Started by the Indiana-Ohio-Kentucky Four Wheelers (I-O-Kers) in 1971 and held the weekend before Labor Day each year, it has provided the best an event can offer in the shape of sand, dirt, and hill drags and obstacle-course romping. We've covered it plenty of times because it keeps getting bigger and better.
Here's an event that'll put hair on the bottom of your feet-Camel Trophy. Two-man teams compete with one another against the backdrop of a jungle (read: leeches, deadly snakes, and no potable water) in a circumnavigation to the finish. It's a race against the clock to do such tasks as retrieve a spare gearbox from the opposite bank of a river; make it over a log obstacle course with deep mud; recover wheels from a swift river; and build a raft to get from one end of a river to the other. Whew! We're wimps!
Fun in the Desert
Sledgehammer. Jackhammer. Aftershock. Hell's Gate. Sunbonnet Pass. Outer Limits. Clawhammer. We've broadcast from all of them, and nearly all of them are rated 5 out of 5, with a plus thrown in for good measure. The trail-building came courtesy of the Victor Valley 4 Wheelers, who have made visiting California's Johnson Valley ORV Area during October a necessity. The roll factor is ever present on the savage Jackhammer and Sledgehammer Trails (Jack even more so). So, if you own a fullsize, don't act shocked if you get bashed on any of the abovementioned trails.
It's known as the granddaddy of all difficult four-wheel-drive trails. Part of its charm stems from the fact that the terrain remains a mystery each year depending on how the snow melts. Located between Placerville and South Lake Tahoe in California, it's less than 15 miles end to end, but can take three days to complete. The Jeepers Jamboree has held an annual event there since 1953. If you're new to 'wheeling you'll probably find it exhilarating and super-challenging, while seasoned drivers with properly equipped rigs will be a little more relaxed and able to take in the view.