18th Annual Parker 4-Wheelers Desert Splash

Dec. 12, 2013 By Jim Brightly, KF7SCT
Arizona wheeling! You won’t see saguaro cacti anywhere else except Arizona. Wandering the canyons and arroyos east of Parker you’ll see many of them.

Everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon, which as we all know was caused by the mighty Colorado River. A few miles down the Colorado from the Big Ditch—and past a few dams along the way—you’ll find Parker, Arizona. (When you think about it, some of the best four wheeling spots in the Western U.S. are along or near the shores of the Colorado River; i.e.: Moab, Glamis, Parker.)

Many of the trails were not only steep but were also off-camber as they hopped over ridges between canyons.

Each billboard was assigned to a specific trail. It displayed photos of that trail, its rating, its requirements, and a sign-up sheet.

Although the area to the east of Parker is arid, when it does rain it all drains into the Colorado. Over the centuries that rain has caused some fantastic arroyos, canyons, and wide-open washes. The Parker 4 Wheelers, each year in November, take full advantage of all this convoluted countryside with an event called Desert Splash. The Parker 4 Wheelers gather at the San Juan County Park, just upriver from the town of Parker, to offer the four-wheeling public trails galore. (Levels of difficulty range from 2 to 5. The No. 5 trails are buggy trails and the difficulty flows down from there—all the photos were taken on No. 4-rated trails.

Everyone lined up behind the trail leader’s vehicle each morning before leaving the county park.

Once we were at the trailhead, a drivers’ meeting was held to let us know what was in store for us and what CB channel we’d be talking on. Most of us would air down at the same time and make sure our hubs were engaged.

You’re going to love the Desert Splash! I guarantee it! That is, if any of the participants’ comments are any indication. From the trails to the event officials, everyone I spoke with had very positive remarks. Club president Harley Kruidhof had plenty of help putting the event on, including club secretary Shane Miller (who also secured most of the $15,000 worth of raffle prizes), and vice president Mike Reeves, plus about 40-45 or so other club members who led trail runs, helped with the raffle, worked the registration desk signing up the 210 participants, and hosted an open-air “drive-in” theater every night with videos of the trails rides and King of the Hammers.

This obstacle on a trail called Deliverance caused everyone trouble and fully extended all the suspensions. Didn’t matter whether your rig had leaf springs or coil springs, it felt like the Jeep was going to lay over on its side. But no one did!

A little further along Deliverance we came to pair of routes. Most of us took the steep slope to the left of this notch, but some went for the challenge. One of our group lost a front axle on this hump.

Each year registration (it was $110 this year for the full registration, which included the runs, dinners, T-shirts, and other extras), camping, and run sign-ups open on Thursday at the San Juan County Park, with a billboard full of photos and a rating for each trail. Each participant picks two trails—one for Friday and one for Saturday—at the favored difficulty level. For instance: Level 4 trails require a lift, at least 35-inch tires, lockers, and the possibility of some scrapes and bruises on your vehicle. Level 3 suggests less, and level 5 trails appear to be just for rock buggies, not full-bodied vehicles. So make your plans early for the 19th Desert Splash in November 2014, and check on the event’s progress at http://www.parker4wheelers.net.

On Saturday we did President’s Choice, which was also a level 4+ trail. President’s Choice is known for this notch called Devil’s Elbow. It gave some people stomach cramps, others got a weak bladder, and this JK Unlimited suffered more than desert pin-striping in the Elbow.

You can see how tight the Elbow’s exit can be, even with this TJ. Its entrance is just as tight, and then you have to make a 90-degree climbing right turn, then a climbing 90-degree left turn. Somewhere in the Elbow a rock the size of an NFL football jumped onto my right-rear spring and lodged itself there against the frame.

Just before the end of President’s Choice we had another choice to make. Most of us climbed out to the right of this rock, while others tried the severely off-camber trail around.

Every run on Saturday ends at the notorious Desert Bar out in the middle of nowhere east of Parker. After toasting the successful trail ride, most of us headed back to camp at the county park.

Sunday saw us on the trail again, although it wasn’t an official Desert Splash event, and many people headed for home that day. Adventure Canyon was a special treat that only a few of us were able to enjoy. The author is winching Duke Booth off a rock so that he doesn’t tear his top to pieces.

Vice-president Mike Reeves led us on Sunday in his custom-made rock buggy. His passenger—a Jeep racer back home—had flown in from Germany for the Desert Splash and the SEMA Show.

Parking was fairly limited at the hosted dinner Saturday night, so people made do.

This final hill climb is one of several exits for President’s Choice. It’s a level 5 but there is a level 3 and a level 4 exit as well.

The banners tell you who the sponsors of the Desert Splash were.

Three front differentials, including a high-center Dana 60, were among the $15,000 in raffle prizes.

Within walking distance just south of the county park we found the Pirate’s Den, an excellent watering hole and restaurant overlooking the Colorado River.

Off-Road.com Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!