Owens Lake 2020

Friday afternoon we set up base camp at the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns. In attendance were Kirk, Bobbie and Joe, George and Pam, Bryan Tiffany and Kacey, Art Norma Diego and Aldo and myself. Also camping with us were my daughter Jessica and her family and friends from Atascadero. We had 7 vehicles on the trail including the entire Slattery fleet. 

Friday night weather was the typical Owens Valley wind but not too cold. The rest of the weekend was perfect with mild temperatures and no wind. We had campfires each night and fireworks displays. 

Saturday morning I herded up the group and we headed for Swansea on the eastern shore of Owens Lake. At the trailhead we aired down and started up the mountain. The trail goes from 3600ft to over 9500ft and passes through several ecological zones. Along the way we passed several towers that are remains of the salt tram. The trail is fairly easy except for a couple of rock ledges that need to be climbed. No one had any trouble except Chub Chub overheated and we had to take a cool down break. 

Near the top we stopped in a shaded area for lunch and a bathroom break. From there we went to the Burgess mine at the top of the mountain. The only thing there are a run down cabin and several holes in the ground. This is on the ridge of the Inyo Mountains and has spectacular views of Owens Valley and Mt Whitney to the west and the Saline Valley to the east. 

Next we set off to the south along the ridge to the Salt Tram Transfer Station. This structure was built around 1910 to bring salt from the Saline Valley to the Owens Valley. It’s amazing that they could haul all this construction material to the top of the mountain and also build all the towers. For more information check out this site (www.owensvalleyhistory.com/saline_tramway1/page50a.html). 

From there we went to Cerro Gordo ghost town. The town was closed to tours that weekend but we stopped and looked around a little. We helped a couple in a IH Scout that was stuck in drive low range. It had a new Chevy LS conversion and the transmission linkage was too close to the exhaust and had melted. We unhooked the cable and showed them how to move the selector from under the vehicle. I hope they made it home. Check out (https://cerrogordomines.com) for more Cerro Gordo information. 

Sunday morning we headed up to Horseshoe Meadows in the Sierras directly above our base camp. This was all paved road but is considered one of the steepest and highest altitude maintained roads in the country. Chub Chub again over heated so the Slatterys turned around. The campground was closed due to COVID but the views were great. We stopped at a view spot to watch a hang glider launch but he chickened out. 

We then headed down the mountain and drove through the Alabama Hills to the Reward mine on the eastern side of the valley. The Reward Mine is an abandoned gold mine with tunnels large enough to drive into. Bobbie, George and myself with Kirk ridding with Bobbie drove in about a 1/4 mile. Turning around was the hardest part but it was fun. 

We went back to basecamp for dinner, target shooting and a campfire. The younger ones were let loose on the trails in the area to work on their driving skills and Joe got to use Bobbies new winch to pull Kacey out of the mud. Kacey blamed it on her navigator (Bryan). 

Monday we broke camp and drove home. It was a great weekend and I was to thank all who attended. I’ll probably do it again next year.

Written By: Dick

Staying active while maintaining social distancing

The COVID-19 virus and social distancing has affected everybody.. thankfully, club members have found ways to stay together and stay active! Below are some of the stuff that we have been up to recently.

One of our members — Brent, his wife, and dog — took the opportunity early on to escape and take social distancing to the extreme with a trip to Carrizo Plains. Other than a few Colorado ZR2s with roof top tents that they saw on the road in, they never saw another vehicle or human being from Friday through Sunday.  Lots of wild life, though – including a family of coyotes with 5 pups that they were able to watch with binoculars for about 45 minutes.  The pups and Dad were playing raucously while Mom kept a watchful eye on a large Golden Eagle that was perched near by.  It had them wishing for their DSLR camera and a big lens….

Like many others, the club had their first with a virtual meeting for the April club meeting. We met at the same time, and went through the typical agenda.. as expected there was multiple comments of, “how we wish we could be together.” There was one unexpected perk of the virtual format though; people were setting their background of campsites or popular 4wd areas, and we had fun with that for quiet a while. We don’t normally have the ability to share all the photos from our computers to everybody, and we definitely took advantage of the moment!

Shortly after the club meeting in April — what initially started as a conditions check-in over the club e-mail list about West Camino Cielo, turned into a real run for a small group. The plan was to drive West Camino Cielo from the 154 to Refugio Rd. The road meanders around the mountain-top, with spectacular ocean views along the way. A group of 3 rigs ended up meeting up near the Winchester Gun Club Shotgun Range at 9:30am, and headed over all the way to Refugio pass road. Total moving time was 1h40min at a slow, easy pace.

It began to rain lightly just at 9:15 and a light rain continued the entire time with a foggy/drizzly wind blowing in from the SE obscuring the views, especially at the ridge tops.

Early on, the group stopped while they checked in with a guy in a disabled VW crossover. He had damaged his trans and couldn’t move forward. Thankfully, he had a friend coming with a truck so we left him there to wait, since it wasn’t practical for one of us to try to tow him out (and unnecessary). It was weird not being able to say “hop in and I’ll drive you up to the road head” though.

The streams of water washing the trail made for extra interest, and there were enough washouts that they said the road could deserve a “high clearance vehicles recommended” sign.

It was rocky, so for comfort most aired down but 4WD wasn’t really necessary. At the time, the entire road probably could have been done in 2wd.. even in the mud and rain. All in all, the group enjoyed the day out on the road.

Last, but certainly not least… we have a new rig in the club. Bryan and Tiffany added a Jeep Wrangler JKU to their garage, and affectionately named it “Chub Chub”. They wasted no time getting the “trail rated” certification with a lift, 37″ tires, some big rocks, and mud.

During these strange times, we are grateful for each other and we’re grateful to still have the ability to stay social and active. We are looking forward to some sort of normality and the first club trip after all this, but until then we are making the best of the situation. From our family to yours, stay safe.. we’re alone together.

Randsburg 2019

The Santa Barbara 4×4 club made its annual Randsburg run out to the Mojave desert during the recent Veterans day weekend.   Some members arrived on Thursday to secure our club’s favorite location and everyone else flowed in on Friday. We had a good mixture of club rigs including Jeep J K’s, a new J L, T J’s, CJ’s and even a Samurai.  Many of our club members take advantage of motorhomes, truck campers as well as there were even a couple of ground tents to round everything out.   The weather was fantastic night and day, high 70’s during the day and low 40’s at night.  We even had the added benefit of a full moon, incredible campfires (expertly built and tended by our club’s resident bond fire builder/extraordinaire Jeff )  and as an unexpected bonus we even received multi-night  repetitive visits from a family of kit foxes which we thought found us all very entertaining.

     The Desert is always beautiful in its own way and this trip did not disappoint.  Our runs were guided by our most experienced “trail boss” Dick Hoppe.  As an expert on the Randsburg area from many years of club excursions to the desert, even the club “Newbees” all felt like we were being guided by a true pro’s pro.  He kept us all in check, made sure we had fun but didn’t get lost or separated and was always checking to see that we had everybody in line when we were making course change’s.  Our tail gunners for this weekend’s outing were Bryan and Jeff.  They are also two more very experienced members of the club and have been out to these areas many times.  They covered our “6“ and were there to help spot and watch out for problems.

Saturday morning after airing down and getting some chow and packing a lunch we all headed out; members included, Dick, Bryan and family, Tiffany, Casey, Brian, Jeff, Bobby & her son Joe, Kirk, George and his wife Pam & Ken as well as a guest and prospective new member Ben. 

We were all excited for a great day wheeling, exploring & sightseeing with lots of fun and adventure mixed in.  We had a FULL DAY of 4 X 4 fun as many interesting, educational and almost unbelievable “pit stops” including the abandoned open “Old Dutch Cleanse Borax Mine” in the back country near Black Mountain which we all enjoyed exploring.  Next we went to see the old Rock house built in the Randsburg mining heydays.  After a relaxing lunch with an incredible view to boot at the Rock house we headed over to the Bonanza trail to Last Chance canyon and Bickle Camp.  Walter Bickle spent 2/3’s of his life beginning in 1934 in this area prospecting, mining & was known as quite the “Renaissance man” and was also affectionately know as a “true-life desert-rat miner”.  

     It was eye-opening to consider the incredible struggles of the people of those times trying to eeeek out an existence in such remote and tough location with incredible tough hot & inhospitable terrain. After seeing all that was there we headed for the Burro Schmidt Tunnel, another popular sight to see by 4 x 4 in the Mojave desert.  It took Burro Schmidt 38 years to hand dig through the mountain.  It was by all accounts a story of will, determination and persistence.  The goal was to create a way to transport the mined oar more easily as it created a shortcut straight through the mountain.  It was incredible to see.  A few club members were adventurous enough to make the nearly ½ mile trek down the tunnel to the other side.  

After gathering all our members, we all headed back to camp via Goler Gulch and the Narrows for a fun evening around a roaring bond fire while cooking up our dinners for the night.  Many shared special treats that they had cooked or prepared specially for the trip while we all shared stories from the day and what we had seen. What a great day. 

Sunday, the plan was to head to Government peak.  It is the highest mountain in the area with an elevation of 4,573’.  Dick again expertly guided a group of us up the mountain through changing various terrain including bouldered riverbeds, narrow rocky canyons and even several challenging dry waterfalls of various difficulty.  We snaked our way all the way to the top.  All club members on the run made it up to the top without issue and had a great time especially with the anticipation of ice cream and lunch in the little town of Randsburg at the general store afterwards.  After spending some time at the top of Government Peak and enjoying a 360 degree view of the Mojave Desert, we all headed down the mountain past the East side of the Yellow Aster tailings on our way to Randsburg.  Well, unfortunately, because of the long holiday weekend the little mining town of Randsburg was inundated and overflowing with off roaders of every conceivable type.  It appeared we all had the same idea. So, while we didn’t get a cold treat we all enjoyed a nice break in the shade where we had some snacks and did a little people and rig watching; it was a packed house.

         While most of us had to head back to “civilization” on Sunday a few us diehards stayed one more night and enjoyed the amazing desert evening, another full moon, some good food, conversation and we made sure we burned up the rest of the wood that was so generously provided by club members.  We left a spotless camp when we were all done and I’m sure everybody is looking forward to next year’s trip. 

Shaver Lake – Labor Day Weekend 2019

After all the hard work preparing for Fiesta and the work from the day of Fiesta, we were due for a good off-roading trip. During the August meeting a trip to Shaver Lake was scheduled the weekend of Labor Day. The plan was to do runs on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was going to be the more difficult Coyote Lake trail, and Sunday was to be determined, but Bald Mountain was a suggestion. The Cal4Wheel High Sierra Poker Run was also in the same area, so we were attempting to avoid the holiday traffic and large groups on the trail.

Most of the group made it to camp Friday night and the last rig made it just before 9am Saturday morning, the group helped unload their camp stuff and we were headed to the Coyote Lake trailhead by 9:15am.

We arrived at the Red Lake / Coyote Lake trailhead with 9 total rigs – Mark & Avery, Buddy & Jamie, Dick, Bryan S., Rob & Dorothy, Bryan & Kristina, John & Mia in the 2 Willy’s, and Larry. After airing down we set off towards Coyote Lake.

The beginning of the trail is pretty easy and everybody knew what line their rig should take but unfortunately we did have some issues early on. About an hour in, a third of the way in one of the rigs was having vapor lock issues. After cooling down the fuel pump and engine compartment we continued moving forward.

We made it to Red Lake, had a quick stop for water and bathroom break before continuing on towards Coyote Lake. This second part of the trail is much more difficult than the first in general, and immediately after passing the Coyote Lake gate entrance is one of the harder obstacles. All in all everybody made it up on their own and we continued onward.

After an hour or so we made it to Coyote Lake. There was plenty of people there with most of the camp sites filled up. We found our spot in the shade, had some lunch lunch, but most of were eager to hop back in the rigs and head back out so we did just that!

The way out from Coyote Lake was much quicker than the way in; partially because it was mostly down hill, as well as a gain in confidence making it to the end already. At one spot the tail end rig got high centered, and we used the Hi-Lift and some excellent rock placement to safely get them over. Aside from a bunch of dust and the wind not in our favor this direction, everybody knew the lines to take and we made steady progress towards the trail head, and took the highway back to camp.

Sunday was an amazing morning — beautiful 70 degree weather and a sudden rain shower. The previous night around the camp fire we all decided that the run for the day was going to be a bit more relaxed, and likely involve some time by the lake side relaxing. Everybody packed their coolers, chairs, towels and swim suits and we hit the trail. The plan was to stop at Mckinley Grove and check out the grove of Giant Sequoia, do the beginning of the Dusy Trail — Voyager Rock [aka “Chicken Rock”], and then head back to Shaver Lake and relax for a bit before heading back to camp which is close by.

Mckinley Grove Sequoia

The Mckinley Grove was the first stop, and it was amazing! The trees had to be 30 feet in diameter or more and thousands of years old [which is young for a Sequoia!]. After some photos and reading the fun facts about the treats we continued towards the Courtright Reservoir and Dusy trailhead.

To get to the Dusy trailhead you need to cross the Courtright Reservoir dam, which can be intimidating if you are afraid of heights. There was lots to see, and the terrain in this area is very different than the terrain around Coyote Lake. There is a lot more granite rock and slaps of granite, somewhat akin to the Rubicon Trail.

We get to the Dusy trailhead with no issues. The Dusy starts immediately off with a small rock garden, and then leads to a massive 100yard – 45 degree incline on a granite rock slope. It’s not necessarily a difficult obstacle if done right, but the slope can be intimidating the first time you drive it. After watching a few people go up we get in line and almost immediately there’s some action.

The first rig, Dick in his white Willy’s Jeep gets half way up the hill and starts having fuel delivery issues, the engine cuts off, and he’s forced to hold the brake on the slope while we get him hooked up on a strap and pulled up to the top. The second rig, Bryan and Kristina in the Black Jeep, get over the rock garden but as you can see in the video there is immediately an issue, and it leads to an exciting moment.

Breakdown on Voyager Rock

The rear track bar / pan-hard bar mount had torn off from the axle from the bind and forces, which caused the rear axle to become extremely offset towards the passenger side, which caused the tire to rub the frame and suspension mounts and pop the rear drive side tire. This was supposed to be the easy day, so we were all at full air pressure which is why it was such a big bang.

The first step was to get the rig out of the way and to a place we could work on it. We got the Jeep strapped to another and secured on the 45 degree slope to change the tire. We then used ratchet straps to pull and align the axle as best we could so that we could move the rig towards a flat spot which was somewhat in the shade. There was lots of jokes being made, and plenty to watch but more importantly there was plenty of hands helping out and we got the Jeep moved safely.

Once in the “workshop by the trees” we needed to get the broken mount and original mounting point as closely aligned so we could re-weld it and get back to the road or ideally back to camp. We decided to work smart not hard and hooked one winch up to the passenger side rock rail, and from behind to the rear axle. Through some precision winching we got it in place and Buddy and Mark started to work their magic with the welder. After some “oh yeahhh!” , “yeah baby!” and “mmmm” comments during inspection by the welder, we felt comfortable to pack everything up start heading back to camp.

There were no issues on the way out. We did add one more stop before camp — the local store to pick up some stronger IPAs — but besides that the trip to camp was uneventful. We all had plenty of stories from the day and especially enjoyed sitting around the camp fire that night.

We had two long days on the trail, but all in all everybody had a GREAT time still. We did not run into any big groups or traffic on the trail which was awesome. We had some, it was their first time offroading on big rocks and we even had a rig get their first scratch! Most others have done the trails before, but would agree it was still a good weekend of wheeling. Everybody got home safe and came the next day [Tuesday] to the monthly club meeting!

Santa Barbara Fiesta Parade Float Build

The SB4WD Club has towed floats in the Santa Barbara Fiesta Parade — [El Desfile Histórico] for decades. The floats that our rigs pulled were built in the 60’s and over time, the wooden platforms and running gear made from Model A axles have fatigued and were starting to fail. Because we are so familiar with the floats, and have the tools and experience to take on such a job — the SB4WD Club volunteered to rebuild the floats.

It was a multi-year project but through hard work by volunteers, good food, and dedication we feel that we built floats that will last generations just like the ones they replaced. There was two phases to the project, and below are notes and plenty of pictures from along the way. Hope you enjoy!

Phase 1 – Rebuild Float Platforms

The existing platforms and underlying structure built in the 1950s and 1960s, used — to the full extent of the word — every year, and have over time become less reliable.

Rebuilding the floats was a big project and going into it we planed for it to be a multi-year project. The first year, 2018, was focused on rebuilding the float platforms. These platforms are 12′ wide and 20′ long [12’x20′] and need to be extremely resilient to whatever happens to get mounted [or danced] on in the next 50 years.

After a lot of work the platforms were put completely together and painted. They were used in the Fiesta Parade mounted ontop of the old running gear and axles.

Tim giving some words of motivation on the first day
VP doing the hard work — supervising
The long beams that supported the float platforms were hollow and rotten from termites and living a block away from the beach

Phase 2 – Replace Running Gear

The second phase of the float rebuild project involves replacing the running gear for the floats. The near running gear includes two custom made, heavy duty front and rear axles designed for the float platforms that would mount to them.

Building the new running gear was a multi-weekend and required hundreds of man-hours. The axles were built from raw materials — square steel tube for the beams, new heavy duty bearings and joints for the steering axle. Everything had to be moved, cut, welded, cleaned, painted, and put together by hand — thankfully we had many willing and able!

Historically, the floats have been disassembled — the wooden platform separated from the running gear — and the platforms stacked for storage until they are needed in August. The stacking and un-stacking of the floats is a lot of extra work and can sometimes cause damage to the platforms. As part of the design, the float platforms and running gear will be able to be stacked together, and do not need to be disassembled each year which should hopefully prolong their life.

The final product looks AMAZING!

After lots of hard work from lots volunteers the new floats were completed. They were built to last many years, and we hope that these live even longer than the last ones!! The floats should also be much easier to pull out from storage due to the easier stacking/unstacking and no need to reattach/unattach the side skirts every year. when they need to be used each year.

The floats are stacked on custom stands so that the side skirts and running gear do not need to be removed when they are moved to or from storage.