Calico Run

Desert Side Tracs 4X4 Club 2006 Annual Calico Run

Jun. 01, 2006 By Gary Blackman

Calico Run, February 2006

The Desert Side Tracs 4X4 Club made their annual trek to Odessa and Doran trails at Calico California. For those unfamiliar with Calico, it is an old mining town now run by Knotts Berry Farm, with gift shops, candy stores, a coffee house, a mine shaft you can walk through, and other attractions. It is located a few miles east of Barstow on I-15. Take the Ghost Town Exit north till you see the Calico turn off. To find Odessa and Doran trails continue past Calico to the first dirt road heading north up a valley.  Take this dirt road north until it narrows into a single, narrow, high walled trail. This is the beginning of Odessa. 

The run probably really began on Friday night and Saturday morning at Rich and Debbie Motts’ house in Landers, which is in the high desert above Palm Springs. Chris Allworth, a Marine stationed at Twentynine Palms, had blown the ring and pinion out of his front differential, so he, Chris Jasper, and Rich Motts were feverishly trying to get a new ring and pinion installed in time for the Saturday morning Calico trip. Some people will do anything to make a run, and they made it with a few hours to spare. (When repairs need to be made, Chris Jasper and Rich Motts are always there)

Some of us arrived on Friday and set up camp at the KOA near Calico. Everyone pulled into KOA by 9:00 Saturday morning, and we loaded up and headed for the trails, airing down in the canyon just east of Calico. I was elected to lead the run, which bothered my wife Sherry because she "knows" I cant find my way without her help, and she didn't know the trail. I thought we would try it anyway, I figured the worst that would happen would be a massive search and rescue effort later in the week that would only find our bleached bones and empty gas tanks.

Odessa and Doran trails north east of Calico are my favorite. They are very narrow in spots, with sheer walls towering high overhead. I never tire of the hills, which are dotted with the remains of numerous old silver and borate mines, and are brightly colored from the different ore deposits.

Having been down Odessa trail twice, I wanted to try it going uphill. As we began climbing I was amazed how much things had changed during the past year. The rains had dislodged a lot of rocks from the steep canyon walls and piled them up in the middle of the trail. Some deep drop-offs had been completely filled in, while new ones were created. The end result is that every year it’s a brand new trail, that I would usually rate at about a 3. As soon as we entered the trail, numerous large new boulders demanded some tricky driving and Motts had to spot everyone (Rich Motts is the best spotter in the world, having been 4wheeling since about the time the wheel was invented). Once past this point things weren't too bad for a while. We climbed some good water falls, which had a very rough surface and gave plenty of traction.

About the middle of the trail we hit a narrow, steep walled, off camber choke-point that has a little ribbon of asphalt along the east edge. Believe it or not, this trail was once paved, back when some of the mines were in operation. When I went through, I was too far to the west side and managed to put yet another scrape on the corner of the hard top of my once pristine Rubicon. Chris Jasper, who was behind me in his open diff Cherokee, got his right side tires on the asphalt and just sat there smoking them. He backed off and adjusted his right side tires so that they were on the rocks, just off of the asphalt. Unfortunately this put him too close to the wall on the other side and the sounds of his mirror shattering and being ripped off his door soon filled the gully. Allworth followed him on the same line and scraped his mirror a little. I believe the rest made it ok with their mirrors folded in. It is always a tight fit at this spot.

We climbed a few more waterfalls, then broke out on top and had lunch. The weather was beautiful, lots of sun and a cool breeze.

After eating we headed west over to Doran trail, dropping down some small water falls and dodging rocks until we reached a huge 4 foot drop off that had put scratches on my right rear fender flare when I had climbed it the previous year. After looking at the water fall, I put out the call for Rich. He picked the best line, and a bunch of us piled up rocks at the bottom of the waterfall to soften the landing a little. I went down first leaving just a little paint from my gas tank skid plate. Everyone made it down in good shape, although Chris Jasper thought he was going to kiss the wall as he straightened out on the bottom.

My CB started squealing really bad, annoying one and all. The high pitched scream could be heard up and down the gully every time I keyed the mike. Everyone was giving advice about checking connections and the like, but electronics wizard Chris Allworth came up and deduced that the problem was in the microphone. He quickly took it apart and fixed it for me. It’s great having people in the club that can fix almost anything.

It was slow going down the rest of the trail because of the rocks. We reached a point where there was an easy bypass to the right while the trail continued down. I thought this might be the point where one of our club members, Darrell Turner, had bent his tie rod two years earlier, so I hiked down for a look-see. First there was a 2 foot drop off that wasn't too bad, then around the bend was the mother of all Jeep Eaters. It consisted of two large rocks with a wedge shaped gap between them that got wider the further you went, dropping off 4 to 5 feet onto slightly smaller rocks, with a couple of holes thrown in to keep it interesting. If you got through this, there was a second pair of smaller, sharply angled, wedge shaped rocks that tended to eat tie rods faster than donuts at a police station. It was indeed the place Darrell had met his match two years ago. I went back to tell the group that Sherry and I had decided not to destroy our Rubicon that day, and would take the bypass. Not knowing exactly what was ahead, the group was saying brave things like, "I’m taking the hard part", and "I’m going for it". Who was I to tell them what to do, I figured they could star in a few episodes of "funniest home videos".

Sherry and I took the bypass around to the base of the trail followed by a couple of the more intelligent members. Chris Jasper started down the trail followed by the rest of the club, who were chomping at the bit to take on the obstacle. Chris dropped down the small waterfall OK, but stopped short of the Jeep Eater when he finally saw what he was up against. Just then, another group of Jeeps pulled up at the bottom and I went to meet them. They were soldiers just back from Iraq, and "said" they went up and down this obstacle all the time. (Being a retired cop, I lived by the motto, "if their lips are moving, they’re lying", and these boys lips were definitely moving). The decision was wisely made for our club to back out and let the other group show us how it was done. Chris Jasper couldn’t back up the waterfall, and had to be strapped out backwards.


The other groups first try at the Jeep Eater was with a brand new, black, fully tricked out 06 Rubicon Unlimited with long arm suspension, tires, wheels, bumpers, etc, and this was its first trail run. It was extremely painful seeing that new Jeep stuck sideways in the wedge, scraping body parts and fender flares, and busting side markers out, but he did make it (Hello, State Farm?). An old V8 powered yellow CJ made it look easy, then a Toyota truck got jammed in the slot sideways for hours, breaking out the side glass, blowing two tires, and completely rearranging the sheet metal on the passenger side of his rig. Eventually he was winched out by Chris Allworth (Marines rescue the Army once again).



A Rubicon then went in, got hung up, and broke his rear axle shaft. At this point we had had all the fun we could stand, so we headed back to camp without any of our club venturing into the trap.

Earlier, as the other group was trying to climb the obstacle, my wife Sherry was relaxing in our Jeep around a group of people at the bottom of the trail, when a brand new bone stock Chev truck pulled up. The driver asked the group how the trail was up ahead. Someone answered that his truck couldn't make it, to which the driver stuffily replied that he "could" make it. Someone again told him, "no, no, you cant make it", and the driver replied "want to bet". Sherry was very upset that she had left her purse back in the motor home, she loves to bet on a sure thing. Later, as our club was leaving, we had a conversation with the same driver of the Chev truck. The driver was once again proclaiming that he could make it up the obstacle, to which Rich Motts replied "yeah, you could roll up your windows and your hot air would lift you right over the rocks". Now that’s entertainment.

That evening most of us went to Peggy Sues Restaurant for dinner, which is just across the highway from the KOA, then headed off to bed. Saturday was a wheeling day for the guys, but Sunday was Calico shopping day for the ladies. Sherry had a coupon allowing free entry into Calico for "everyone" in one vehicle. It didn't mention a minimum size for the vehicle, so we stuffed everyone into our motor home and all got in for free.

Once again a wonderful run with great people.

Gary Blackman

The Desert Side Tracs is a family oriented 4X4 club based out of Palm Springs, CA. You can find out more about us at Newsletter
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