Appetizer & Tax Collector

It was the end of October and Arizona had been having some unexpected rain storms.  Some parts of the state had seen enough rain to cause flooding to the point of receiving federal disaster classification.  We wanted to go wheelin’, but not at the expense of getting caught in a flash flood.  This happened to some of the folks who had attended the Jamboree on the previous weekend.

The regular group of Steve, Dion, Larry, and myself were joined by Chip, YJ John, and CJ John for a run in the southern end of the White Tank Mountains.  Mesa, another of our regular group, was not able to make this run (maybe next time).  We met up at the Miller Road Exit on I-10 for a late Burger King breakfast and some time to discuss just where we wanted to go.

After killing a half hour or so, we headed under the freeway where we aired down and the TJs disconnected their front sway bars.  From there, we followed the dirt road that runs parallel to the freeway east to Watson Road.  A left turn onto Watson and a mile or so of travel takes us to the beginning of Appetizer.  Appetizer is an appropriate name as it is a short little trail that starts and ends in a wash and provides three good obstacles to get warmed up on.

The first obstacle is a sharp right had turn which forces you to climb the bedrock with your passenger rear tire.  About the time you are coming off of that rock, your driver front tire his going up another rock.  It is not terribly difficult, but easy enough to get a front fender or bumper into the rock while trying to navigate through.  Here is Dion doing a good job getting his YJ through.

Here is Larry going through the first obstacle.  His rear tire just came down off the rock and his front is climbing.  We keep asking Larry why he doesn’t have any cable on his winch.  Seems like it would work a lot better if he had a little something to unwind when the going gets tough!  

Here I am just clearing the rock with my front tire.  As soon as my back one is over, I’ll be done with that obstacle.  From this camera angle, it looks like there is no reason to have even gone over that rock in the first place. (unless you are Dion….he just likes going over rocks because they are there)

Appetizer & Tax Collector

Just a bit farther down the trail is the second obstacle, a little “V” notch that is fun to straddle.  You can completely avoid it by just driving past it on the right, but then that would take all of the fun out of being there, right?

Here is Steve getting lined up for the V.  I ran ahead of the group so I could snap a couple of shots as they all came across this spot.  The last time through here (which was also the first time for me), I opted not to do this one.  Although it is difficult to tell, the rock in the center of the shot drops quickly once you are over it and it likes to eat the gas tanks on the TJs.  I found this time that if you take it easy, you can lay the gas tank skid on it and just kind of slide yourself off of the rock.  It sounds bad, but it doesn’t hurt anything.

Dion starts up the V notch.  Did I mention you get a bit of air once you are almost on top of it with your front end?  We kid Dion some because his YJ doesn’t flex too much.  He knows that and says that it really makes things more interesting when you don’t always have all four tires on the ground.  (I think he is part pilot and likes to get airborne every once in a while.)

I thought I would toss this shot in since it gives a really good contrast between Dion’s and my Jeep on the same obstacle.  A little bit of difference in the line we are both taking can be seen when you look at the passenger front tire and its location on the rock.  This goes to prove that just a few inches difference on the line you get you on your way to a rollover.  Of course, there is a difference between our suspensions, and that too can and should be taken into consideration when picking your line.  Leaf sprung Jeeps and coil spring Jeeps behave differently on the trail when going over obstacles.  I learned in Moab this year, while following my Joe Ruby’s CJ-7 (my good Jeepin’ buddy), that his lines were not always the best ones for Lady and me.

Here is CJ John getting his front end over the rock and coming down.  Check out the position of those spring shackles.  His CJ does a pretty good job of flexing through these trails.  It can get a little tippy here if you not on the optimum line….John was, no problem.  Now, if we could get him to squelch that squeaky fan belt of his, he would have the prefect CJ!  [GRIN]

Appetizer & Tax Collector

The third and final obstacle is a fairly steep rock shelf that you have to climb up to get out of the wash.  There is an optional way out, but after watching another Jeep try it the on my previous run, I think the shelf is the easier of the two.  By the way, this is the shelf that YJ John blew his rear drive shaft u-joint on.  I only snapped a couple of photos of this little trail fix, but it was a good learning experience for all that were there.

Here is the entrance into the last obstacle on Appetizer.  I am just starting a right hand turn to climb the shelf.  As you can see, the it is about even with the top of my roofline.  Although not mandatory, it is nice to have a locker when doing this obstacle.  A couple of the guys are locked in the front and running a limited slip diff in the rear.


Here is Chip taking a line to the top.  We were really ragging on him during the run because we could never get more than 1 or 2 pictures of him on any one obstacle.  He would just kind of zip right through them.  We kept telling him he needed less of the “skinny” pedal so we could snap a few more photos.

You can see Dion’s passenger rear tire deforming very nicely as it contacts what looks like a step on the shelf.  What makes this obstacle a bit more challenging is the rock that you can not see.  At the same time you are just getting up to the shelf with your rears, the driver’s front is going up on a big rock with almost a straight approach angle on the side you are hitting.  Toss in some overburden and the fact that some of the rock was breaking off under the torque of the tires….well, it makes for an interesting obstacle.

Appetizer & Tax Collector

There is always the risk of having something on your vehicle fail when running a trail.  Keeping your Jeep in good repair can go a long way in helping to ensure you don’t break down out in the middle of nowhere.  YJ John took an almost impossible line up the third obstacle.  I am not sure it was impossible, but I can tell you that his rear drive shaft u-joint decided it was.  It blew while he was attempting to get up on the shelf.  I snapped a couple of photos of it before we started fixing it.  I should say that between all of us there, we had more than enough tools and spare u-joint parts to put a good one back together.  You see, there is a good reason to always take your Jeepin’ buddies with you on the trail!

Here is a shot of John’s rear drive shaft.  This is one of those views that you hope you never have to see.  John was lucky when this one went.  The caps on the u-joint failed.  When everything came apart, the pinion yoke on the differential was not damaged.  So, it was just a matter of taking the old u-joint out of the

I told John to turn around and smile, so he did!  Actually, he was pretty much smiling all during the u-joint swap out.  John is an excellent driver and a great spotter.  He took me through an obstacle on Tax Collector and I came out with all of my paint, body panels, etc.  

Appetizer & Tax Collector

After we cleared Appetizer, YJ John took over the lead from Steve and we headed out for Tax Collector.  This trail got its name around the same time the Arizona Virtual Jeep Club first ran it on April 15, 2000….TAX DAY!  Tax collector will take everything you got if you are not careful, just like the IRS.  I think the name that those first folks that ran it came up with was quite fitting.

Here is Chip making his way up the wash.  This is pretty much what the easy part of the trail looks like.  Do you see that rock outcropping just off the passenger side door of Chip’s CJ?  Well, the next picture has Steve up on top of that little ledge.

Here is Steve on top of that outcropping.  YJ John is checking to see what he is hung up on (t-case skid) while Dion looks on, not quite believing that Steve is driving his YJ up there.  Someone borrowed Steve’s camera and took a 10 shot series of him getting up there and then back down.  At times, there was better than 3 feet of air under his left front tire while his right front sidewall was running up the rock.

Here is Dion’s YJ just existing the waterfall.  CJ John watches as YJ John spots Dion.  Dion commented later that his was the scariest situation he had been in.  Easy to tip over right in here.  During the April 15th run, one person laid their Jeep on its side just a few yards before this spot.  As I mentioned earlier, YJ John is an excellent spotter and everyone was most grateful for his work on this day.

Here is Steve just after clearing the entrance to the waterfalls.  Those jagged rocks on the lower right part of the photo have claimed a number of sidewalls since this trail has become more popular.  With the recent rains we have had, there was a bit of mud right at the start.  It was impossible to keep your line with this mud here.  As soon as the front end started climbing, the Jeep’s weight was transferred to the rear axle and the additional weight and mud caused everything to slide right and directly into those two rocks.  Steve’s rear rim got tangled up in it and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  It finally let go with a bang and he got up on better footing and was able to continue up the waterfalls.

Appetizer & Tax Collector

This sequence of pictures were taken of me going through the squeeze rock on Tax Collector.  You can either opt to get squeezed and risk body damage on the driver side or you can take the high ledge obstacle that is just a few feet off the driver’s side.  I was the only one that opted for the squeeze.  I didn’t think I would have enough break over clearance (some of the guys found out they did not) to make the high ledge.  Either one is a good test for proper tire placement and it sure helps to have a good spotter….thanks again YJ John!

John is spotting me out front.  Steve watches as I get lined up for the squeeze rock.  I should probably comment that I had more problems getting to this spot than I did getting going through the obstacle.  I kept catching my front or rear diffs on one thing or another.  Maybe I should have ran Tax Collector with my tires at full street pressure!  LOL!  That would have gotten me an extra inch or so below the axle!

You can tell everyone is completely concerned about how well I am doing here.  I can see three of the party sitting back there on the rocks.  (truth be told, I think they were all tired out from stacking rocks so I could get to this stupid obstacle!)

Well, I am just about committed by now (or should I say that maybe I should be committed?).  I kept my eyes on John and kept Lady on the line he was directing me over.  As you can see, there is nowhere near enough room to squeeze the Jeep through without riding one bank of the other.  The rock on the driver’s side was not going to make for a useful line, so my only option was to ride the passenger tire up the bank and maintain enough clearance between the driver’s side and the rock so it wouldn’t redo my door when Lady was leaning over.

OK Lady, suck it in and keep those tires right where I got them.  In this case, the flex afforded by the coil springs really does help.  The front tires are stuffed pretty hard on one side and drooping well on the other.  Being able to maintain this suspension stance helps the body stay level with the world, and that means it won’t be pitching over a lot and getting into the rock.

The back tires are up on the rock, the front is coming down, the body is back to being square with the world again, and I am breathing one more time!  The photos don’t quite do it justice.  Trust me that this was a good squeeze for Lady and myself!