Day 2 of the 2015 West Coast JK Experience
Part of what makes Nitto Tire’s JK Experience such a thrill for participants is the fact that only the event coordinator knows what’s going to happen next. While all of the ‘wheeling destinations, scenic stops and even potty breaks have been strategically planned out in advance, the group is only given small bits of information throughout the day. So, when the group learned that our first stop out of the parking lot was a trail, everyone is on heightened alert. Sure, tackling a trail for the first time is always exciting, but you never know on JKX just how intense of a trail you’ll encounter.
To get to our first official stop of the day on time, we took an early morning exit out of Deadwood, which threaded us through the site of the annual biker mecca that is Sturgis, South Dakota. Despite being home to the world’s largest biker rally, if you blink, you’ll all but miss the small hill-side town. Shooting into the countryside, we end up in small gravel road on the outskirts of twisty two-lane. Meeting up with us are two members of the Black Hills 4 Wheelers, Ryan Stulc and Jim Sebert.
The local Black Hill 4 Wheelers would use their well-used and modified Jeep Wrangler TJ to navigate the group down a trail simply known as Icehouse (more on that name later in article). The dead-end, boulder-lined trail is only a few miles, but it quickly got the groups attention.
In fact, one of the trees at the start of the trail forced a few of the taller JKs to sit out the trail. Despite being on 40-inch-tall Nitto Trail Grapplers, the Hemi-powered 2007 Wrangler Unlimited piloted by Nitto Tire’s Chris Corbett managed to narrowly squeeze by.
Once the group made it past the first downed tree, they began working their way through the rock gardens. Saint Robert, Missouri-native Erick Salzman put the EVO Mfg. rocker sliders to work on his 2012 Wrangler Unlimited almost immediately. This trail is well-suited for low slung rigs, but belly protection is highly recommended.
Many of the larger rocks on the trail were actually loose. This made for a constantly changing trail throughout the day. Nothing seemed to give Trail Jeep’s 2014 Wrangler Unlimited much of a challenge. Piloted by Weston Blackie from Arvada, Colorado, Blackie is no stranger to JKX as he completed the East Coast and Middle America JKX trips earlier this year.
Randy Byers is the only JKX alumni to have participated in every JK Experience trip to date. Over the years, his Hemi-powered JK Unlimited has changed greatly, but the Texas native has remained one of the most consistent and talented drivers we’ve seen.
JKX creator Mel Wade used his 2013 10th Anniversary Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon to guide this year’s field. The modified JK known as the EVO-Lander is a great example of how capable the four-door platform is with just a few key modifications. Not only was this the JK Wade pre-ran the trip in, but it’s also a daily driver.
The four-door Unlimited models greatly outnumbered the two-door JKs on this trip, but that doesn’t mean they out-maneuvered them. The shorter wheelbase of the two-door Wrangler platform proved to be a great advantage on this day as the tight turns and rock outcropping caused a few of the JKUs a bit of trouble.
We recently wrote an article about protecting your Wrangler’s EVAP canister with a skidplate (you can read it by clicking here). Pete Williamson of JKS Manufacturing will likely be investing in one for the company JK after this trip. While the mangled emissions equipment didn’t leave him stranded, it did present him with a gas cap dash warning for the remainder of the trip.
The Iceman trail gets its name from the cave that you can access near the start of the trail. The windy underground maze is large enough for a man to search around and goes deep enough below the surface where a few have claimed to see ice hanging below even in the warmer months. It’s not the most sure-footed place to explore, but it’s very cool for those who dared to check it out.
Leaving the trail head, we quickly learned that our day was far from over. Not long after hitting the highway, we found ourselves into Custer Sate Park. Beyond the epic scenery, the narrow tunnels were also a sight to see.
Eventually, we made the transition to Iron Mountain Road, which is a twisty jaunt filled with pigtail bridges and three tunnels that not by accident frame one of the country’s most famous and large national monuments.
You guessed it, we’re talking about none other than South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore. Once we all grouped up, we posed for a must-have group photo and set out to the monument from a closer vantage point.
Fun Fact: Over the 14-year-stretch it took to complete Mount Rushmore, workers removed over 450,000 tons of rock.