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On the Trail: Cinder Hills OHV Area with Mel Wade & Three Evo Manufacturing Custom Jeeps

Sure, we could have given you the usual trail overview for this month's On the Trail video in Arizona's Cinder Hills, just outside of Flagstaff. But we're not. More on that in a moment.

On the Trail: Cinder Hills, AZ with three Jeeps on Nitto Trail Grappler Tires

Cinder Hills gets its moniker from the cinder cones and volcanic craters dotting the area like some sort of alien landscape. It's surrounded by a ponderosa pine forest; add all of that up and you get a pretty unique area for off-roading. About 13,500 acres of the place are designated for off-road use. In general, unrestricted use takes place in areas of lacking or limited vegetation, without archaeological sites, critical wildlife habitat, excessively steep slopes, or visually sensitive areas.

On the Trail: Cinder Hills, AZ scenery

Not only do the volcanic pebbles make for a different take on terrain (think sand, only chunkier), but there's ready access to RV camping in the area as well. Overall, Cinder Hills is a killer backdrop for the schooling Mel Wade doled out to us in this month's OTT.

On the Trail: Cinder Hills, AZ volcanic pebbles scenic photo

Jeepers Creepers

Mel Wade of Evo Manufacturing lead the group, consisting of himself, Harley Wade of Off Road Evolution (the custom install and shop side of Evo), and Randy Wilcox of Driving Line.

Harley Wade, Mel Wade, and Randy Wilcox in On the Trail: Cinder Hills, AZ

They brought out three Jeeps in Rubicon trim and Nitto Trail Grapplers to tackle the Cinder Hills. One being a Jeep Wrangler JK with an Evo Manufacturing long-arm coilover kit on 40-inch Trail Grapplers. The second, a Wrangler JL also with an Evo Manufacturing long-arm coilover kit rolling 37-inch tires. And lastly, a Jeep Gladiator JT Diesel with Evo coilover kit and 42-inch Trail Grapplers (on a 20-inch KMC beadlock). Seeing as how these tires tackle off-roading just as easily as they do pavement, they were an ideal choice for getting here and then hitting the soft volcanic hills and dunes.

On the Trail: Cinder Hills, AZ EVO custom  Jeeps on Nitto Trail Grappler Tires

Suspense Thriller

The first order of business for this edition of OTT was a focus on suspension and using it to go fast, rather than taking it slow. As Mel iterates in the video, perfect suspension varies by terrain and the type of driving you're doing. Out here, since it's similar to desert terrain, we emphasized cutting loose and going fast—the right way. For this kind of driving you want more up travel; if you only have two inches of up travel, you'll bottom out on any bump larger than that. And you don't want to do that at speed. "You want enough space so that the shock can control that bounce," he told us. Another big difference between this sort of desert running versus, say, rock crawling lies with LCG. A low center of gravity is a huge help tackling boulders but it also minimizes up travel, which is the opposite of what you want out here. Coilover setups like the Evo kits on our Jeeps let you adjust ride height in about an hour in your garage. That way you get the best of both worlds for wherever you're playing.

On the Trail: Cinder Hills, AZ  Nitto Trail Grappler Tire

Tire sizes also came into play. The larger tires roll more easily than the smaller ones. Because of that, smaller tires make your suspension work harder in rough terrain than larger tires do. That said, when you get into the larger of the large tire sizes you run into cost issues with changing axles and so on to accommodate the bigger donuts on your vehicle.

Whoop, There it Is

After covering suspension setup, Mel got Harley started on a few high speed passes and hitting the whoops, putting the suspension theory into practice. That grin on her face wasn't just for show; she really seemed to be loving it. Everything did what it was supposed to and afterward Harley observed that you'll want to watch out for overcorrecting when steering out here.

On the Trail: Cinder Hills, AZ  Evo Jeep driving fast

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Once lunch was in the rearview mirror the group moved on to conquering some hills. Or rather, big mounds of loose dune-esque pebblery. Some of which get super steep, others not so much. It's all about taking on whatever you feel comfortable climbing. After talking about it with Randy and Harley, Mel lead them through straight climbing with no off-camber surprises. As Harley observed, having a lot of suspension travel isn't necessarily a good thing in that situation. Best to take it straightforward this go around. Time to pick a line and get to it!

On the Trail: Cinder Hills, AZ three Jeeps on a dirt Trail

There are three basic things to remember when hill climbing in this environment. First, you've got to keep your momentum going. Second, be mindful of what's on the other side of the hill. And third, head straight up to avoid any chance of a rollover. Traction was pretty good that day and Mel opted to scout the area a bit first to find not just the best choice of hills to tackle but also to get an idea of what's on the other sides of them. 

Randy Wilcox pointing in Cinders OHV Area next to two Jeeps

And once they'd hit the summit the views didn't disappoint, either. Randy was struck by how the "chunky sand" nature of the pebbles allowed the tires to get more bite than they would in finer-grained dune sand.

On the Trail: Cinder Hills, AZ 3 Jeeps on Nitto Trail Grappler Tires

Towin' the Line

The next leg of the journey took us to some rather pretty red dunes for some recovery drills. Look, everyone gets stuck. Mel, Harley, and, well, Randy says he's been stuck more times than he can count. Seeing as how he has all of his fingers and toes, that's probably a lot.

Mel Wade assisting with Recovery of a Jeep On the Trail Cinders

Harley put her Jeep in two-wheel drive to get all dug in for getting dug out. First she showed how to use four-wheel drive to slowly via feathering the throttle and cutting the steering wheel one way once she'd gained enough elevation to steering out of ruts.

Harley Wade fastening tow line for recovery of a jeep at Cinders OHV area

The second way to get a vehicle clear, of course, is with a snatch strap and a tow kit. Recovery points, shackles, traction boards, and a snatch strap make up the basics of a good kit for this. Mel jerked her Jeep out while having Harley give it a bit of throttle at the same time to get unstuck.

Harley Wade driving her EVO Manufacturing custom Jeep

Peak Performance

After taking the opportunity to work on these off-road basic skills in the OHV with no one else around, the trio drove on to Humphrey's Peak, the highest point in Arizona, where the view rewarded them accordingly. But don't take my word for it. Go watch the video on our YouTube channel and see for yourself.


Jeep Gladiator and two Jeep Wranglers On Nitto Tires at Cinders OHV area

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