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Tackling Superstition Mountain Open OHV Area by Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco: OTT

If you've ever dreamed of off-roading next to a military gunnery range, we have just the place for you. In this edition of On the Trail, we take to Superstition Mountain OHV in the Colorado Desert near San Diego, California. And yes, it's close to the Chocolate Mountain gunnery range used by the US Navy and the Marine Corps; albeit a safe enough distance away. Jump to the video.

2021 Ford Bronco desert surfing on Nitto Recon Grapplers


Superstition Mountain OHV is not to be confused with Arizona's Superstition Mountains, which are legendary for the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. Those are a tad further away. As in, across the California-Arizona state line, east of Phoenix. Lost gold mine legends aren't exactly limited to one little ol' mountain range, however. The Peg Leg Gold Mine legend calls this area home in some versions of the tale.

Driving Lineup

Host Matt Moghaddam and guests Sarah Morosan (Baja Forged) and Chuck Dempsey (Baja Kits) were our three lab rats for tackling the mix of sand and rock that is Superstition Mountain OHV.

off road planning at superstition mountain ohv

Sarah being a veteran conqueror of nearby (and much more famous) Glamis, her experience proved to be a big asset out here in the SoCal desert.

Driver's Seat

We brought three different flavors of tire to bear on the challenge. Matt's 2014 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with 35-inch Nitto Ridge Grapplers (35x12.50R17LT), Sarah's 2021 Ford Bronco with 37-inch Recon Grapplers (37x12.50R20LT), and Chuck's 2021 Ford Bronco with 37-inch Trail Grapplers (37x12.50R17LT).

jeep wrangler and ford broncos off roading on nitto tires

All three target different types of drivers and off-road conditions. It will be interesting to see how each performed in this blend of sand dunes and rock climbing.

Day of the Dammed

With the tires set to the proper air level and all the preparations made, the trio got down to business and took off. At right around six miles long and a mile wide, this area isn't very big but it is packed full with a variety of desert conditions. Think of it as desert concentrate in a can. Our crew started off in the dunes along the south side of the mountains. The group's first challenge was straight out of a Star Wars film with a name to match: the Sand Dam. That's a cool way of referring to a gigantic dune in the middle of the Southern California desert and a pretty apt description, all rolled into one. Matt notes that the Jeep isn't exactly the best sand runner around and he's not the most experienced dune jockey around; he found the trip up the Sand Dam to be a little bit unpredictable. This is where Sarah's Glamis experience really helped; all of her lessons learned at its dunes came in quite handy. She also knows that in the sand, keeping your RPMs up in that stuff can be the difference between getting stuck and having fun. Chuck added that wind can create a cliff effect in the dunes, too. If you can't see where you're going at the edge of a dune, veer another way and once you are at the top of a dune, get out and scout it on foot a bit like they did.

navigating sand dam with jeep wrangler and ford broncos on nitto tires

Razorback dunes like the Sand Dam form when wind hits the sand from more than one direction, forging a razor's edge at the top of the dune. You also get a nice, steep drop-off in the bargain sometimes, so you'll want to keep an eye out for that. And if you decide to hit the dunes, make sure you call a friend or relative to make sure someone knows where you are and when you'll be back, just to be safe. Pro tip: Be sure that this is a relative who actually likes you and not the one that glares at you every Thanksgiving during drunken political discourse.

Food for Thought

After conquering the Sand Dam, our heroes moved north into some rockier terrain. It was also time for some reflection and a lunch break. This is also when Matt noticed some coil binding on his Jeep. It was also a good time to take note of the various jacks you can bring along for off-roading. Your standard scissor or bottle jack isn't the best choice in an unstable surface situation like the desert.

jeep rubicon desert off roading on nitto trail grapplers

Obviously, this was also a good time to look over the Jeep and two Broncos for any issues after taking on a big obstacle like the Sand Dam. After that and covering the proper use for a jack, it was back to the next leg of the trip.  

nitto trail grappler tire rock climbing in southern california

Lockin' and Rockin'

Moving on to the back half of the day, the team ran into the rockier parts of Superstition Mountain. The terrain wasn't always rocky or sandy; in some spots it's a messy combo plate of both. Our team had to adjust for that as they made their way through this leg of the journey. Matt pulled spotter duty as needed. As you'll see in the video, lockers may not be vital for the whole trip but having them (like we did on the blue Bronco) for the rock climbing part can be pretty useful.

ford bronco rock climbing on nitto tires

At this point the group had to make a decision: take the Mine Trail or take the bypass. Having gatekeepers at the entrance to each option gave us an idea of what we could expect on each route. After some observation, Matt opted for the easier bypass trail. Superstition offers up a wide range of obstacles for an equally wide range of skill levels. Those gatekeepers let you know how difficult each one is before you get into real trouble. What ensued next was an array of switchbacks over rock-strewn terrain, like driving upstream in a river of stones.

Livin' It Up When We're Going Down

Having conquered that, it was on to a rather large razorback dune. Everything went downhill from there. No, really. This wasn't a climb up a dune, it was more of a controlled race to the bottom.

Bronco Sport on Nitto Recon Grappler A/T Tires

Like Sarah advises in the video, you want to roll over the lip without stopping and keep up enough RPM going down that you don't get stuck. Once everyone made it to the bottom, it was smooth sailing through the rest of the sand to the finish. See for yourself just how much fun we had in this edition of On the Trail.


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