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More Traction & Action at the 2017 Superstition Run

Soaking wet isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the Southern California desert. Thanks to truckloads of downpours, however, conditions at the 2017 Superstition Run (put on by San Diego 4-Wheelers since 1999) were not the norm. The moisture made Superstition Mountain an engaging combination of silt sand and grippy rock — a different kind of adventure for hundreds of SoCal 'froaders.

Heavy on light sand (which piles up all year), the 759-foot Superstition Mountain is a partially buried ridge of craggy black volcanic stuff rising out of the desert southeast of Ocotillo Wells. Superstition is one of the cornerstone events in Southern California’s off-road winter, with ‘crawlers and sand rigs wandering the two-faced terrain of trail, dune, bombing range and truck preserve that makes up the Superstition Mountain OHV Area. While it’s a hoot to watch the Blue Angels practice overhead — right overhead, as the Superstition Hills area is their winter test/bombing range and usually off-limits to civilians — it’s the terrain that brings people back.

The rock is high on traction but low on forgiveness, and soft sand invades many high-articulation crevasses, forcing four-wheelers to use sand and rock techniques in tandem. For 2017, the damp sand meant more traction, and soggy rocks meant more action. With this bipolar rockscape, the event attracted a range of vehicles. Here’s a glimpse into some of the action we witnessed at this year’s run. 

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Big sand goes well with power. Sand Dam (located centrally in the Superstition Hills) is a singular terrain feature that brings fans back every year. This Subaru-powered four-seat buggy gave joy rides up the wall all day, and the dampness meant he could dial back the boost.

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As seen from the big chair (another mountain and a big lens, technically), Sand Dam stretches out. Don’t let the camera angle fool you — it’s not an easy stretch of sand if you can't offer up any horsepower or traction. Our Nitto Trail Grapplers worked effectively at 12psi on the wet sand.

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Narrow gullies of overhanging conglomerate wind all over the Superstition Hills. Recent torrential rains have reshaped the terrain, choking rocky canyons with soft sand and baring boulders in turns once passable. A tight turning radius and limber axles rendered most passable.

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The wheelbase of this Jeep CJ-7 Renegade is ideal for the tight crevasses that loop the Superstitions. A V8 under the hood and free-moving BDS leaf springs let the axles work, while a hand throttle on the stick permitted clean throttle control. Poor thing popped a Dana 30 late in the day, however.

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While not well-suited for ‘climbing Sand Dam, solid-axle 4Runners like these make ready work of Superstition’s trails. The longer wheelbase helps stabilize them in heavy sand, too.

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This $1,000 4Runner project was seen at Superstition. A legitimate e-locked gen-three had rear-ended a Prius and in turn needed some work. The build has thus far totaled less than $2,000, including the OE-Toyota frankenlift (Tundra and FJ-based). Plus, it rammed a Prius.

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Everyone at Superstition has a way of ending up at the top of the peaks and ridgelines in the area, as many of the lower trails spiral upwards. In addition, the natural shape of the Superstitions’ sand dunes direct vehicles towards the same high ridges.

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One of the special features of the annual Superstition Run is the greeting committee. These bad boys practice day-in and day-out, and will sometimes pass just hundreds of feet above the hilltops. And, yes, they know you’re there.

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The unique conditions at this year’s Superstition Run (i.e., damp, tractable sand) meant vehicles that don’t typically have the mustard to get to the peaks were able to trundle their way deep into the hills. This Deuce-and-a-Half’s six-driven wheels and turbodiesel awesomeness help.

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Both Deuce-and-a-Halfs roaming the land not only climbed to the base of the antennas at Superstition’s peak, but they also dropped in at Sand Dam. All that brass must’ve been something. The trenches these big fatties dug in the dunes stretched down to bedrock.

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Smaller rigs, like the aforementioned CJ-7, were literally sucked into the depressions left behind and drawn downhill the face of Sand Dam like the log flume ride at Mickey Mouse’s house. The drop-in is not for chickens.

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Spectating at the Sand Dam means you’ll see everything but a motorhome. Some folks spend their day here, while others pass through en route elsewhere. Most of the trails interconnect at this point, and the sand to the south and west overlaps the mountain rocks here.

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Ignore the skinny pedal at your own risk. This Jeeper had to do the dreaded back-back-down routine, which is hairy on the best of days, and on a rutted Sand Dam with buggies and quads shooting past you, steering backwards downhill is a high-pucker moment.

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Some guys don’t understand why everyone cares so much about trucks and tires when there’s a huge sandbox to play in.

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The rocky terrain at Superstition is not forgiving. Whether you’re pouring on power in the sand or looking for bite in the sharp, traction-friendly rocks, breakage happens — some of it more extreme than others.

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As dusk crowds daylight off your watch, the obligatory night runs begin at The Cross (which is close enough to Superstition Mud Lake for a decent shot of the campsites). It’s a good jumping-off point for evening crawling. The weekend’s big moon didn’t hurt the late-night action, either.

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As folks congregated at the Sand Dam Lounge and launch pad, the same chat-run-shop talk that goes on all day here is punctuated by more glowing turbos, more fancy candlepower, more saucy adventurers and a little more bravado. Drivers work this hill into the wee hours.

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Explore more of the amazing off-roading opportunities the Anza-Borrego Desert has to offer.

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