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Calico 2023

Calico, CA is a great place to go wheeling — plenty of mining history, mild to wild offroad terrain, and also the Calico Ghost Town within a few miles from camp. We had 5 rigs in total — Rob & Dorothy, Doug, Dick, Richard & Christina (and family), Bryan K. Everybody arrived Friday afternoon and evening before dark. It was a pretty mellow night but before sunset went and explored one of the nearby washes to west of camp. That night there was some sounds of thunderstorms and a bit of pitter patter rain.

Saturday was the main day for offroading. The original goal for the day was to complete the “Phillips Road Loop” which would lead us back to our camp where we started. There were some obstacles that were harder than expected, but we all stayed in 2Hi/4Hi most the day. The canyons around Calico are very cool, with varying rock formations, and LOTS of mines everywhere to explore (or drive you vehicle into by accident).

The first stop was at the Kramer Arch. This is natural rock/sand arch that can be driven under but is harder than others in the area — nobody decided to attempt it this trip. After that stop, we were lead into a very cool looking red rock canyon with high walls on both sides. That canyon and road after led us up to Bismark Mine.  While at the Mine we spent some time exploring and got a group photo.

SB4WD at Bismark Mine in 2023
Group visiting Bismark Mine

From Bismark Mine we decided to finish the loop, which led us clockwise east and then south back towards camp. At least in it’s current condition, this loop is something that most/all 4WD could do as long as vehicle has decent ground clearance.

GPS Stats
    11.7 mi            Distance
    3 hrs 35 min  Total Time
    2 hrs 17 min  Moving Time
    1 hrs 18 min  Stopped Time
Continue reading Calico 2023

Tierra Del Sol 2023

Written by our club member Jeff W.

Hello fellow Off-Roaders

Well, the 2023 TDS Desert Safari week is over, and although not many of us made it, those that did had a blast!!

Here is the wrap-up:

Ken got there first on Wednesday afternoon followed by Steve and Trevor that evening and Renee arriving just before midnight. Paul got there Thursday afternoon and Austin and Dylan got to camp on Friday.  Bryan Slattery showed up Friday night and wheeled with everybody Saturday and came back to Santa Barbara Saturday night.  Bryan took some nice pictures and videos that he has shared on the club website.

The weather was great every day, T-shirts, and shorts once the sun warmed things up a bit. 

There was a slight breeze every day, but almost unnoticeable, and the only time the wind came up was Saturday night, about 6 o’clock, but it wasn’t unbearable.  The guys that left for a night run at about 8 o’clock that night, said that once they got into the back country, they couldn’t feel much of a wind at all. 

For the most part, everybody’s wheeled together, mostly in the north part of the Truckhaven area…. Farther out into that northern area than we normally go. And according to Steve, they never even headed over to the Ocotillo area at all.

Steve, Trevor, Renee, Austin, and Dylan went on night runs Friday night and Saturday night…. Getting back to camp about three in the morning each night.

There were way fewer attendees to this TDS event week than normal, maybe even half as many, which made it really easy to get around and find areas where hardly anyone was.

The T-shirt vendor was set up in the store on the opposite side of S86 from the Am/Pm gas station. And although it was advertised that there would be about 50 vendors, there were only about 15 and those vendors weren’t very interesting according to our group.

Also, this year, the groups that were camped on either side of us the last couple years did not show up and the closest music was about a half a mile away, and they quit playing their music about 9 o’clock at night. So things were quite enjoyable from that perspective.

Our folks brought plenty of firewood and so the time to sitting around campfires was good. Also, good, was that nobody got hurt and everybody had fun. The only mishap was on Saturday night when Dylan attempted to climb the right hand side of the ash cliffs on the front side of telephone booth hill, and he ended up flopping his 4-Runner on its side. Due to where it was, it was almost impossible to get any proper winching points, and it was in such a position that in an attempt to winch it upright, it ended up rolling completely over. It broke out all the windows, and of course he’ll have to decide whether to rebuild it or take the goodies off it and put them on another rig. Again, and fortunately, he did not get hurt, and it was on the last night of the weekend, so he didn’t miss any wheeling and everybody got back to camp safely.

All in all a good time was had by everybody, and we hope that more people will join up next year for the fun!!  

Happy trails

Carrizo Plains

This was a solo “scouting” trip, so post written in first person by Brent C.

I spent a nice couple of nights at Carrizo Plains. It is still very much “winter season” there, but things are greening up nicely.  I had to go in from the north off the 58 from San Luis Obispo since the 166 is still closed in multiple places, which added about 45 minutes to my travel time.  Got there around 8pm Friday night and set up camp in ~40 degree weather and got a hearty dinner going…. (Danish sausages from Solvang)

I elected to stay at Selby Camp rather than attempt some of my more remote “disbursed” spots because I wasn’t sure about how muddy things would be (more on that below)

Woke up on Saturday morning to a brisk 38º but no wind at all.  Went for a pre-dawn walk and got to see the sunrise from the top of a ridge.

The hillsides are starting to green up, and there are signs of wildflower plants, like the lupine, starting to emerge

Visited a couple of my favorite spots and saw that the brine shrimp are already hatching from the rains in a couple of spots where they only emerge every few years.

Soda Lake has a lot of water in it!  I can’t remember ever seeing it this full…

Did some scouting in the Jeep on the Eastern (Elkhorn) side of the valley and came across a big badger about 80 yards from me.   He did not care AT ALL about me!  I wish I’d had a camera and telephoto lens – he was a big boy!

One thing about Carrizo Plain – the mud here can be TREACHEROUS.   It’s one of the few places that scares me when it starts raining.   I have been caught several times in the back country here in a downpour and immediately headed back to the main road, BARELY making it out.  And if you get stuck out here in some spots no one is going to find you and it will be a 10+ mile walk back to find another vehicle.     

There are two main roads that cross the plain – Simmler and Panorama (both just dirt roads).  Both of them are submerged during heavy rains and the superfine clay is incredibly hard in the summer months, but has a legendary ability to swallow vehicles when wet.  It’s the kind of stuff that looks like it has dried out, but then you venture onto it a few feet, break through the crust and are immediately stuck.

After exploring the far side of the plain I decided to see if I could save an hour on my trip back to camp by cutting across Panorama Rd.   I headed down and got to about the middle when I saw a group of vehicles about 150 yards off in the distance.  This time of year the area is popular with hunters from Bakersfield and central California, and I figured I’d go see if I could help if they were stuck, since I had all my recovery gear (including traction boards).

I put the Jeep in 4H, locked the rear axle, and turned off the traction control (I’d already aired down to about 18 psi).   I continued onward at about 20 mph as the road became more and more deeply rutted and more and more wet.  On either side of the road is the typical ground cover you find in the desert – low weeds and clumps of rabbit brush.

Within about 20 yards, I felt the Jeep bog down HARD – I immediately knew I was in trouble, as the killer when driving in mud is stopping – you stop and the vehicle settles into the mud and develops strong suction that is almost impossible to break.  To get more horsepower I depressed the clutch, revving the engine to near redline and feathered it in and out enough to force a few feet of progress, but not allowing the engine to stall.  I HAD to keep moving – stopping would mean being stuck!   I could not stop and reverse because I knew I’d instantly be sucked into the mud.  Intermittently revving the engine to 60000 rpms and fanning the clutch, I managed to pull a wide u-turn, cutting into the fresh ground on either side of the road and munching through the rabbit bush.    I could smell burning clutch, see steam rising from the wet mud splattering the exhaust system, and smell the burning rabbit brush on the catalytic converter as I desperately tried to avoid stalling the engine and keeping momentum.     Being in mud like that feels like a giant is holding on to you – you’re fighting to overcome immense forces.   The “fresh” ground on either side of the road was even worse than the main road, so it was a tense battle for a minute or so until I got turned around.

I finally managed to make it back to terra firma and literally jumped out of the Jeep to calm my nerves and also to wave a “sorry, can’t help you” wave to the poor souls stuck in the muck.   It reminded me of one of those terrible stories you hear where one person is in trouble and everyone that goes in to help befalls the same fate.   I considered myself lucky for excaping without any damage other than a few year’s less life on my clutch….  lol

I went the long way around back to camp (north of the Soda Lake) and set about scraping the alkaline mud off the fenders and undercarriage as best as I could with a stick.  I was probably carrying 500 lbs of mud!

The rest of the afternoon was uneventful with some relaxing at camp and soaking up some of the winter sunshine, and early dinner and a nice camp fire with a good book and a thick down jacket.  

Sunday morning I woke to a cold and foggy morning with a 15mph gusty wind that told me weather was coming….  When the sun came up, it was obvious that something was brewing…

I decided to start packing things up before any rain started, so I skipped my morning hike and folded everything up, hoping for a little sunshine to dry things out…

On my drive out I stopped at a couple of spots to have a last look at the beauty of Carrizo Plain and some of the vestiges of life here in earlier years…

Mojave Road Trail

We had a great time! 

We left about 8AM Friday morning and got out Tuesday afternoon with a lot of hard driving in between.  There was a lot of erosion in places and a lot of deep “whoop-de-doos”.  I did it 3 times many years ago and we would not see a soul out there.  Now lots of other vehicles and trails going every which way, making navigation very difficult.  Kim did a great job keeping us on the correct trail, mainly using GAIA MAPS downloaded to a tablet with built-in GPS for moving map capability. It did not show one of the historic springs, but otherwise was very helpful. 

We encountered the very steep hill with the deep spin-outs late in the day, so we took the bailout route.  We were all tired by then.  We had great campsites all 3 nights, however the second night was very cold!  It was 36 F when I got up, so likely about 30 at 5 am. 

The terrain included lots of deep sand, a few steep hills, some big rocks that washed down onto the trail at an alluvial fan crossing, two deep water crossings, and some deep erosion issues.  But no problems!

By finishing Monday we beat the rain.  But those of us who stayed to visit Calico “Ghost Town” had lots of wind (and maybe the others also) on the drive home.  On the first full day of the trail we all stopped to visit Fort Piute, built in the mid 1800’s.  It now has interpretive signs. We also did a hike at the end of the trail to see the scant remains of Camp Cady.  It was very hard to find and not much was left, but two of us did find it, but only after a long search. 

Written by Gary V.

Kern River – Fall “Recon” Trip

This was a small “recon” exploration along the Kern River above and below Lake Isabella in mid October.  The purpose was to: Enjoy to Mid 70’s daytime weather, scout out potential sites for a group meet, evaluate water levels and fishing opportunities in the Kern River, evaluate if the area would be a good base camp for trail runs in the surrounding Sequoia National Forest. 

We found most of the public lands below Lake Isabella restricted from the usage of overland style camping.  There are a couple reservation/fee campgrounds but they offer little for larger groups

Above Isabella/Kernville we found an abundance of campsite options along the Kern River.   We selected the Lower Springhill Campground.  This site is at 3500 feet of elevation. We experienced no wind the first night and moderate winds the second as storms blew over the higher elevations of the valley.  Nothing above 12 mph winds

We found the fishing in this area very accessible with no results in the catching.  We did discuss with other anglers who had great results as recent as February

We found the village of Johsondale to be spared by the 2021 wildfires and while it seemed active around the lodge, there is no public fuel station.   

The burn scar area along Mountain Highway 50 is currently being logged to salvage the numerous old growth trees which were killed in the fire but not burnt beyond usage.  The salvage period is set to expire going into 2023 so there would be trail possibilities both east and west in elevations around 5k-8k. 

This upper Kern River shows promise as a base camp for trail runs such as the Sherman Pass 4X4 trail; Poison Creek Trail; Cherry Hill trail;

Owens Lake / Cerro Gordo 2022

This is a regularly planned trip which is usually around the Memorial Day holiday. We had a decent size group camping, and a smaller group for the offroad run on Saturday.

There were 3 rigs in total for the run, and it was a great day on the trail. We started being a group at the trailhead, but they had a dual-sport bike which was having some issues with the terrain and hills and the group let us pass by. After that, we ran into only 1 other vehicle the whole day and no trail traffic at all.

Trip Details
Distance 55.0 mi
Total Time 5h 35m
Moving Time 3h 25m
Stopped Time 2h 10m

Elevation Details
Ascent 8,644 ft
Descent 8,575 ft
Max Elevation 9,577 ft
Min Elevation 3,557 ft

West Camino Cielo Day Run

Six off road vehicles from SB4WD enjoyed a leisurely stroll across West Camino Cielo to the towers and then on to Refugio road.  Nice views and warm (ok, HOT) temperatures greeted us along the way.  The group then split at Refugio Rd with three taking the faster way back down to the 101 while the other three headed down the North side to The El Rancho Market for a nice lunch to go.  A great way to spend a Sunday morning!

Cougar Buttes 2021

A small group headed to the west end of Johnson Valley to try a new location for the club.  Mark and I arrived in camp midday on Thursday and setup in a location that was away from others, at that time. The valley did fill up with campsites as the weekend progressed. Bryan Slattery arrived as Mark and I took a quick scouting spin around the camp. Dick arrived later and had to be retrieved from the darkness.

Friday morning we started full of confidence and headed straight to Cakewalk trail.  The first five minutes went well until I charged into a v-notch without looking for the best line.  I pivoted on the rocks and slid into a large rock on the drivers side (twice).  I sadly placed some red paint on the rocks and could not get out without Mark and his winch.  I later reviewed many You-tube videos and discovered that I approached this area exactly opposite from the preferred line.

We continued bouncing around the east end of the buttes to find a nice high view of the valley.  We then played at the east end for a while and Dick found a rock to high center his flat fender.  After using the High lift jack, Dick had a wild ride getting off the rock. We all determined it was time to head back to camp to eat lunch and decompress.

We took a cruise on Friday afternoon and found a trail that started easy and then proved to be more difficult than expected.  We pushed through with minimal damage and then sat and watched others create more damage. Once again I checked the you-tube videos and identified this trail as Hammerdown in reverse.

Darrell and Emily arrived Saturday morning and we all headed out for a quick spin around the entire Butte area.  That afternoon a few went for a tour of the valley and headed north-east to review the open sections of the King of the Hammers race course.  

After we returned home I watched more You-tube videos and recognized a number of locations that we stumbled upon and did not know.  We drove around Chicken Rock a few times and probably should have started there to build confidence and check off a requisite trail. There are also a number of V notches that we drove past without checking off the standard tourist list.  I had fun and will go back again in the future. Next time I will consult the internet to determine which are the “really important” rocks, prior to arrival.

Written by Tim G., SB4WD Club 2021 Club President