Odessa Canyon Trail Run

Funny how when you take the time and plan out a trip weeks or sometimes even months in advance, nobody comes.  And, when you decide to pick up and head out to the trail on a whim, you can get 4-5 rigs to come along with ease.  At least, that’s how our last trip up to Monache Meadow and Sherman Pass went and as I’m sure you’ve probably guessed by now, that’s how things worked again this past weekend.

For whatever it’s worth, I had originally planned to spend my weekend taking it easy and tackling a few of simple projects around the house that I had been meaning to do forever.  But, as luck would have it, I got a PM from Tim (JeepCacher) the Friday before asking if we had “any last minute run plans for the weekend” as he and wife Jana were “itchin to get out there with us” and had nothing going on.  And, not wanting to let good friend down in a time of need, I let him know that I would make a few calls and put something together even if it meant just the two of us would be going.  Of course, it wasn’t until 8:00 PM on Saturday night that we finalized plans to do a run up Odessa Canyon the following morning and much to my surprise, we still were able to get a total of five rigs to do the run including Jason, Jennifer’s (toad) 2-door X and Doug’s (Trail Bud) 4-door Rubicon.

On Sunday morning, everyone met up in Barstow, CA at about 9:00 AM where we had a nice hot breakfast at the local Coco’s Restaurant (a tradition of ours), gassed up at the Valero next door and then picked up some last minute provisions at the Vons Supermarket across the street.  From there, we hopped back on to the I-15, headed north for a few short miles and then got back off on Ghost Town Road which took us up to the foot of the Calico Mountains, past the famous Calico Ghost Town and ultimately to our trail for the day – Odessa Canyon.

Now, I should point out that the Odessa Canyon trail is only one half of a longer loop called Doran Scenic Drive.  Built back in the 1930’s, this scenic drive was once a popular tourist destination and for a period of time, was actually paved from beginning to end.  In fact, if you look carefully, you can still find some random patches of pavement scattered throughout the canyon.  Fortunately for us, the destruction of this road from time, neglect and erosion has created for us one of the most beautiful, historically interesting and “difficult” rated trails in the Mojave Desert.

By the time we got to the trailhead, it was already a little past 10:00 AM and with the exception of a couple of white fluffy clouds, we had crystal clear blue skies overhead and temps in the low 60’s – in other words, the weather was perfect. To top it off, the staging area was unusually devoid of any other rigs, RVs, trailers or anything and we pretty much had the trail all to ourselves.  After airing down our tires and disconnecting our sway bar links, we decided to have a little fun before heading up to the main trail and did a quick run through a pair of cool earthen tunnels that have been bored out of the hill side and are just big enough to drive through.  From there, we made our way into the mouth of Odessa Canyon and then down its vertical walled, narrow and windy throat.  At about a quarter mile in, the canyon walls opened a bit and the smooth dirt road we were on ended at the foot of a boulder field with a really tight squeeze towards the end of it.  Of course, for any other vehicle, this would have been the end of the line but for us, this is where the fun just began.

Being in a Full Traction 3″ Ultimate lifted JK Rubicon Unlimited sitting on 35″ Pro Comp Xtreme M/T’s and taking the most logical line, I apparently made the first obstacle on the trail look too simple for Jason so he decided to take a much tougher line up and over a pair of boulders to put his new Currie Enterprises Rock Jock lifted 2-door JK Rubicon sitting on 35″ Cooper M/T’s to the test.  And, with the help of some spotting, his short wheel base JK Rubicon was able to clear it with only moderate effort applied.  Being in a JK X Unlimited with a 2.5″ TeraFlex Budget Boost and sitting on 33″ A/T’s, Tim decided to take the same line I did and did an impressive job of showing everyone just how capable a fully open X really is.  Now Jennifer in her 2-door JK X may have been the smallest JK in our group with it sitting on just a Pro Comp 2″ Budget Boost and running factory 32″ BFG M/T’s, but it still was more than enough to conquer this first obstacle.  Yes, she did get hung up a bit right from the start but after getting pulled off with a little help from Doug, she was able to pick a better line and made it through this section on her own.  Seeing Jason make it over the harder line got Doug thinking he could do the same in his Full Traction 3″ Ultimate lifted JK Rubicon Unlimited sitting on 33″ BFG M/T’s.  And, after half a dozen close and valiant attempts, it was clear that he simply did not have the break-over angles required to clear this line, swallowed his pride, backed off the boulders and proceeded to make his way up with ease on a similar but slightly harder line than what the rest of us took.

On our way over to the dry water fall, we came across an optional route which requires you to cross over two very large boulders and against my better judgment, I decided to give it shot anyway.   Of course, I ran into the same problem that Doug ran into earlier and ended up straddling the rocks on my PUREJEEP rocker guards and with all four tires in the air.  After multiple attempts to wiggle my way off, stacking rocks and some pushing from Doug and Jason, we finally broke out the Hi-Lift jack, placed some strategic rocks under the tires for a sure grip and then used Tim’s JK (who had since pulled around me with Jennifer on the main trail) as an anchor point to pull myself off this dumb mistake with my WARN PowerPlant winch.  With tall lift, big tires and a short wheel base JK Rubicon, Jason figured he should be able to clear this obstacle with ease and so he decided to give it a shot as well.  However, he too got high centered on these rocks just as I had and required some strapping to get him off.  Now, in spite of all that he just witnessed, you would think that Doug would have figured out by now that he wouldn’t be able to clear this obstacle but sure enough, he decided that he was going to give it a stab as well.  Unfortunately, stabbing or should I say ramming is about all he ended up doing.  As it turned out, his prototype Jeeperman front bumper was just a little too big and little too wide to allow a decent approach and he simply could not get a tire on the rocks to even begin a climb. 

Pushing ahead once again, we finally reached the first dry water fall (which is essentially a rock ledge about 5 feet tall) and with the help of front and rear lockers, all the Rubicons basically walked up and over it without hardly a wheel spin if any at all.  As for the two X’s, both Tim and Jennifer made multiple great attempts and both almost made it up several times.  And, while I do think that they might have been able to eventually make it up with some patience and a good amount of work, we decided that the risk of breaking something like an axle wasn’t worth it on this trip and so Tim used his WARN M8000 winch for the very first time to pull him up and over the ledge while Jennifer got a little strapping help from Jason.

The last big obstacle of the day was a section of canyon that I know some people to refer to as the “50/50 Slot”.  As the name suggests, this is a section of trail that narrows down to a very tight squeeze and to make things a little more interesting, half of it is still some what paved and the other half is a washed out rocky rut.  Need I say, this forces your Jeep to be in a significant off camber angle as you make your way up and if you aren’t careful, the possibility of tipping your Jeep into the canyon wall is very possible.  In fact, on his way up, Tim’s driver side front tire slipped off part of the ledge he needed to be on and came very close to doing just that.  Fortunately, everybody else made it through without incident and for the most part, without too much trouble.

Just beyond the 50/50 Slot, we made our way up and past the last dry water fall (which at about 3 feet was considerably smaller than the first and a lot easier for everyone to do) and then ran into a group of about 5 rigs making their way down into the canyon.  After figuring out that I knew some of these guys from the 4 Wheel Parts store in Laguna Hills, CA, we decided to have lunch here and watch a few guys make several attempts at climbing up a loose, rocky and steep face leading to the top of the ridge above.  Replenished with food and with the entertainment over, the group we ran into headed down into Odessa Canyon and we carefully climbed up and out of it on what I think was the hardest part of the trail.  At least, it was psychologically the hardest part for me as the narrow shelf road out of the canyon was missing a good 10 foot chunk along the ledge side from a recent collapse.  Need I say, what’s left of the road causes your tires to dip down putting your Jeep off camber for a bit and in the direction of the steep ravine below.  No joke, while crossing this thing, you can look out your window and NOT see the road below.  The funny thing is, I think spotting people across this thing was worse than driving over it and I think I only started breathing again once everyone was safely on the other side.

Due to all the harder lines we took as well as all the strapping and winching we needed to do to in order to get us out of them, we decided to not finish the Doran Scenic Drive by making our way back down Bismark Canyon.  Instead, we chose to head back out through Phillips Canyon which is still pretty but much easier to do.  In fact, what took us about 4 hours to come up Odessa Canyon probably only took us about 1/2 an hour to get back down to Mule Canyon where we aired up and reconnected our sway bar links for the long drive home.

By far this is one of the harder trail runs that we’ve done in a while and have to say that I’m always amazed to see what a Jeep JK Wrangler X can do with just a little bit of help.  For sure, my hat is off to both Tim and Jennifer for their excellent driving skills which have come a long way since I first met them (total newbies).  I’d also like to thank Tim for giving us a reason to get out of the house and out into the desert for the first time since spring and I’d like to thank Jason, Jennifer and Doug for being so cool as to come out to play even though you had very little notice.  You guys are great and it’s always a real pleasure to go out wheeling with you.

Until the next time,

If you would like to see pics from our last minute trail run up Odessa Canyon, simply click on the banner above or on the link below:   

Odessa Canyon Trail Run Pics



  1. Damn! Excellent shots! I had the whole “pucker factor” going again. I can’t believe we actually DROVE thru that! It was definately an experience and…ALWAYS AN ADVENTURE! 🙂

  2. Thanks toad, you did an excellent job of driving this trail especially considering the fact that you just have an X with open diffs. Glad you could join us – it was definitely an adventure 🙂


  3. Nice write up,it tells a good story. Lot’s of good pictures too.
    One of the best parts of the trip was listening for Toads(Jennifer’s) high pitched screams as she would drop off of a rock or ledge. After awhile we knew when to anticipate them.
    Until the next one!

  4. Nice pics looks like alot of fun.

    What are the specs on the RED 4DR on this run?

    I like the tires size /lift , and front bumper alot. Looks like maybe an LoD front W/O fog lights?

  5. The red 4-door is an X that has a TeraFlex 2.5″ BB and is running 33×12.50’s on 16×8 Crager Soft 8 wheels. It also has LoD front and rear bumpers.


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