Author: Joshua Lowenstein
The Avalanche Ranch
A square mile of fun, sun, and extreme potential...
Steve and Jen Rumore of Avalanche Engineering fame went and did it. They bought a whole valley; with rocks, rocks and more rocks... did I mention rocks?
When you first drive into the ranch you think, yeah right -- where are those rocks? Trust me, pick any black diamond trail and the rocks will find you. Prior to Steve and Jen buying the property last September, the area was a working ranch-cattle, horses as well as growing watermelons and garlic, and winter wheat.
Since the Rumores bought it, rocks have been the prime crop. "What do you do for a living Mr. Rumore?" ... "I grow big healthy axle breaking BOULDERS." So far, the Rumores have held several world-class rock crawling competitions on the ranch including Steve's brain- child prototype: The Rock Race.
More about The Rock Race when I cover the first official one in October... The Avalanche Ranch web site travel info and directions got us there directly and with no missed turns. As we rolled in we saw the Sidewinder trail on our right; it was marked with a black diamond symbol. Yeah boy, I thought, a black diamond that's calling me, all right.
We met up with my cousin Jeff and his wife Lyn. Jeff and I grew up together, he and my dad bought 4x4s in the late 60's and we had many four wheeling adventures. My dad with an old Wagoneer, Jeff with a bone stock CJ2A. Jeff had several jeeps over the years and he and I went camping several times before he moved away to go to college (those were some of my best childhood memories), but Jeff being 9 years older and hundreds of miles apart made it so we never wheeled together. When I built my current jeep a '51 CJ3A 4 years ago, Jeff asked if my built '73 CJ5 would be up for sale... Thus, an opportunity for Jeff and I to go wheeling together for the first time ever. We tried to plan trips for the last few years but scheduling has not worked out.
|Avalanche Ranch, entrance to heaven, back to hell!
Photo by: Joshua Lowenstein
350 miles later... We rolled into the Avalanche Ranch and 95+ degree temps mid July temps. We set up camp and relaxed for a couple of minutes, then headed out to hit some trails: Alien, Freefall, and later that night, Deuces Wild. Alien is marked with a Black Diamond and the others are marked with blue squares (Moderate).
Alien was a short warm up with a few optional competition level climbs that were clearly beyond the wheel base level for both of us. Fortunately for Jeff and I, Steve and Avalanche Engineering general manager Mike Weaver, created blue level bypasses. Alien, like the movie, has a sequel called- you guessed it- Aliens,a double Black Diamond. With Steve's go-rounds, we were able to go into the trail and view the monster obstacles that, for our rigs would have sunk those acid dripping fangs deep into our jeeps.
Next up was Freefall. After a climb to the area called the 'lookout' on a trail rated 'easy,' we found the entrance to the trail. As you go about 30 yards into gives one the feeling similar to Black Bear road -- a steep drop off without being able to see just how steep. I trusted Steve, and so far, his ratings seemed pretty accurate, so we took the drop off without getting out to look. Jeff in granny low and me with both feet on the brake, we found the trail to be a place for a green rookie to get into trouble. Steep with off camber turns made for a bit of a pucker factor when descending 200 feet vertical in less than an eight mile. No problems... Open/open.
|The Assassin ascends one of the bigger breakover skid plate grabbers on the Ranch.
Photo by: Lisa Lowenstein
Dinner, then Deuces Wild
Back at camp for dinner, we explored the campsite a bit. A bit buggy and no running water (yet), camping was primitive, but Steve and Jen have plans for electricity and running water to most of the sites. After a nice dinner, another guest of the Ranch from Phoenix dropped by to see if we wanted to try a night run on Deuces Wild, we happily agreed to join him. One really nice thing about the Ranch is nothing is very far away, so after a drive of a whole minute or so, we were headed into the trail. This trail is mostly dirt with a few short steep climbs that get your attention particularly in the dark. It winds and crosses itself a few times making this a fun but quick trail-ride. Daytime, Blue Square? should be marked “easy”. Now if a few boulders were dropped in... that would be a real fun trail. As it was Open/open.
Short but sweet! When we are used to running moderate/hard trails like Golden Spike, Holy Cross, Die Trying ,and 21 Road, Avalance Ranch trails seem short. Remember the whole Ranch is roughly a square mile or so, so finding really long moderate trails just isn't possible here. We found that running 2-3 or more trails in a day was easy, provided no breakdowns and a small group. Running with just two-three rigs made for quicker runs, too. Bring a group (4-12) with drivers of varied degrees of skill and rigs commonly found in clubs, and full days could be spent running a Black Diamond trail and nights running Blue Square trails.
Short and close together and not far from help and camp is nice, you know, all those spare parts and tools you carry in your rig... well you could leave most back at camp. No worries if you had to leave your rig on a trail to fetch them, no psycho tree hugger/ hikers here. At the ranch we are all part of the same group, so lighten up your rig and enjoy running these trails like your 4x4 is a competition level buggy. But, don't leave those spare parts at home, these trails will beat and break your rig with the best trails in the country.
The night before Jeff's wife Lyn who does not drive their CJ5 on anything hard proclaimed, "I would drive any trail out here if I could do it in the Assassin."
When I saw my old friend (old buddy old pal) Steve Rumore in the morning, I told him of Lyn's proclamation, he said, "Sure! Being as you guys are GPS-ing the whole place for me." So, here was Lyn driving a world-class buggy on a black diamond trail for the first time.
|Lyn Driving the assassin like a pro.
Photo by: Joshua Lowenstein
I got to drive my old CJ5 which was no mystery, the only riddle was how does one after 4 years of being spoiled by driving a automatic trail rig get back in and drive a 4 speed manual? Easy, first gear and let the jeep do the rest? Not! That was the way... now I found myself taking many types of obstacles in second gear for the wheel speed.
|Jeff and Lyn’s 50 cents worth|
Lyn and I recently had the opportunity to map the trail system at Avalanche Ranch. By using GPS units, a couple of modified rigs, and a borrowed Assassin, we were able to cover the entire set of trails. Lyn had the first crack at Enigma (or was that the other way around?), and I had the second. Try keeping up with the Assassin with a couple of pretty well modified rigs (no competition). That’s when bypasses become important. Steve showed up later in the day to see how we all were doing. We were all cooling down, and I believe that included the vehicles as well. At that point I was driving the Assassin, and adventure was yet to come from some of the members of our small group.
Eventually, we were able to map all of the currently established trails. Even having done that, the trail network still provides plenty of opportunity to try different lines and varying levels of difficulty. It became apparent that the Ranch is an ideal location for events such as club gatherings and the like, with trails from mild to wild, and something for just about every skill level. Groups on the trails are great as they can help each other as needed, and wheeling a group of rigs over the trails really extends the fun.
Lyn and I are members of the Rock Garden 4 Wheelers, who a short time ago hosted the Southwest Four Wheel Drive Association’s Quarterly Meeting at the Ranch. While the national ProRock Womens Competition was taking place at the same time, there was plenty of room for all event participants and everyone had a great time, despite some trail breakages. We could take turns staffing the SFWDA tent and also check out the action at the competition, which was way cool.
Lisa, my wife was driving the flatty. Enigma is a trail Steve calls a 'club' run, A) because by Ranch standards it is long, B) it is wide in many places to allow for stops and repairs and if needed, bypassing other rigs to rescue another C) it has bypasses that are BS rated and the BD obstacles are not so huge that a well built rig with lockers F & R can't work there way through. Lisa drove all the BD sections but did not pick the craziest lines. Except for one spot... Just as we were making the final climb out of the trail, we had gotten a bit bunched up, so we could watch each other, Lisa was in the lead.
|Steve Rumore helps Josh get the 'bitch' back on all 4.
Photo by: Lisa Lowenstein
The last assent is wide with multiple lines thru a steep hill of boulders, and Steve was attempting to spot Lisa thru the lower part of the hill. I was walking up to see that Lisa was struggling to hear what Steve was saying, so I told Lisa to stop back up and start over, as she began to find her new line and put the hammer down, I leaned to Steve (who was very impressed with Lisa's driving up to this point) and said "When she sees her line watch out, she will drive anything." As I was speaking too soon, Lisa did the classic maneuver of climbing a 4-foot high ledge at an angle, with her left front climbing the wall, and right rear in a hole at speed... The result? A spectacular flip onto her passenger side.
After pulling the spark plugs out to drain a bit of oil, she started back up with no problem. No body damage that wasn’t already there.
After getting the wife's rig back to camp we kicked back and had some dinner and straight to bed.
The next morning I started the jeep and it was running terrible, no power and would cut in and out of rough and extremely rough (odd-fire 225 Buick) I tried pulling the plugs that had gotten oil soaked in the rollover and they were dry, but sooty. It seem like I was losing fuel, so rather than cracking into the fuel system in the field and not being able to have access to spare parts, we, opted to head back to Jeff and Lyn's house near Farmington, NM about 1.5 hours away. A shower sounded pretty good too, or at so I was told I needed one.
Jeff's garage is huge 28'x60' or so, working on the jeep was more like home. The fuel filters were ok, the pump pressure OK, replacing all the plugs made no difference... Look at the injector spray... Sure enough, first time I’ve ever had a Holley injector ever fail. Then, did I pack that spare that literally has been kicking around in the bottom of 5 different tool boxes wrapped up in electrical tape? YES! Will it work? YES! Back in business! After spending a day and half eating Lyn’s great cooking and watching Jeff work his GPS magic on his computer, carefully stitching the Colorado and New Mexico maps together and laying out the trails way and track points.
|Just starting into Sidewinder.
Photo by: Lisa Lowenstein
Back for More...
We headed back to the Ranch for some more fun! This time I was my turn to have a crack at driving Sidewinder in the Assassin! Jeff and Lyn were busy GPS ing more trails so Lisa driving our flatty and me in the Assassin, the first few obstacles I took with the same lines I would take in my own rig. Cake! Try getting crazier, no problem! What a machine! Rather, what was I thinking, I’m driving one of the most high tech rigs ever built, High-mark portals, Klune-v, Atlas tcase, rear steer. The Avalanche Engineering guys built one heck of a machine in this ride. BFG sticky Krawlers rounded out the tires. Sticky does not even begin to describe how good those tires bite and cling.
Sidewinder is a trail built for longer wheel based rigs with 'brody' cutting brakes or rear steer or both! Where I was taking the ultra hairpin turns with no back-ups, Lisa in our short tight turning flatty was taking 2-5 jigs to make each corner. The boulders in between ranged from tight and very technical (some I had to drive for Lisa) to short wall climbs and very tight squeezes. Because of the sidewinder shaped turns Lisa could easily skip certain sections by crossing to the next section. On this trail also, if you get in and find it is way over your head, each lower side of the trail allows for an emergency bail -out to the main road leading into the ranch. Several obstacles had major break-over angle issues, oh yeah, I’m in the Assassin, wait, will even it clear without getting high centered? Not straight over by any means, with some serious tire placement and the perfect line even this world class buggy set down hard on its belly and if not for the hook up of those Krawlers I could see even this rig getting stuck. Lisa would have gotten extremely hosed on any one of these. What a ride, what a trail, man o howdy I'm still dreaming about driving that rig. Besides, wink wink, how else could I write a review of one of Avalanche Ranch's nastiest trails?
|Josh gets the Assassin twisted up on Sidewinder.
Photo by: Lisa Lowenstein
Steve's Trail Rating System and Vehicle Recommendations
I know a guy who drives the double whammy in Moab with a stock CJ3A with only 33" tall tires and a Buick V6, no lockers, SUA suspension, the same guy drove Holy Cross backwards because his fuel pump went bad and gravity helped by pointing the rig down hill. This guy could most likely drive “Die Trying” with his eyes closed, get the picture? Rating vehicles, driver skill levels and trail difficulty is all a best guess. Yes, Steve’s system at the ranch can be second-guessed, go ahead! But as in everything Steve does, he tries with the best intentions. So rather than worrying about “well I don't have lockers front and rear and I don't have 38" tall tires, and, and, and ... Go to the Ranch for a 4 wheeling experience that will leave you wanting to return again and again.
I'm itching to see more of the Judgement Day trail I have been hearing about. Steve says it will be the extremest of the extreme, with obstacle stacked on obstacle, a non-stop thrash-fest guaranteed to challenge the most-built vehicles even with the most-experienced drivers.
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