A 4th of July to Remember

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(Photo by Lynette White)

Lava rocks sound different than other rocks under your tires.

I have put my Jeep tires on lots of rocks in lots of places, but Rim Butte OHV Park has rocks that sound almost hollow. When they roll out from under you unexpectedly, they sound like they have space inside of them and almost echo as they chew up all the money you spent on tires.

Despite, or maybe because of the rock’s different sound, I will be going back to Rim Butte. I spent five days and nights there and still haven’t seen it all.

I have been camping on the 4th of July for most of my life. My wife and I have been making our kids Red, White, and Blueberry pancakes for most of their lives on the Fourth. Strawberries, whip cream, and blueberries dress up a boring flapjack, so this 2020 Fourth of July found us eating this creation in a campground in Central Oregon.

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My son, Brock, and I eating Red, White, and Blueberry pancakes (Photo by Lynette White)

Rim Butte is a new OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) park in Oregon that the Deschutes County Four Wheelers have worked extremely hard to get off the ground. Rim Butte should be counted as a success because it is world-class rock crawling and some awesome camping.

Getting There

Getting to Rim Butte is a tough deal. For me, it was a six-hour drive with a Class C motorhome towing a Jeep. Rim Butte is in the middle of nowhere, literally, between La Pine, Bend, and Burns. The directions I had to the campground were solid, but the 18 miles of dirt road and multiple turns took well over an hour to complete.

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Expect almost 20 miles of rough dirt road, with your wife looking at you like you have lost your mind. (Photo by the author)

The washboard on the access road was complete and non-stop. Most of the trip was 10 miles an hour or under, otherwise dishes in the cupboards would be shattered. To testify to the road’s toughness, once I got to camp, I found out that I had broken a weld on a spring hanger on my trailer. That is one rough road.

The road was so rough, I also lost the plug on my Yeti cooler from the washboard vibrations. Once I got to Ponderosa Staging Area, I found water on my trailer and realized with horror it was gone. I had finally bought a big-kid, cool-guy cooler that would keep ice for a week, but lost the plug, making my cool cooler, not so cool.

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My cooler drain plug exactly where I found it, after unloading everything from the trip at home. I accused my family of playing a trick on me. (Photo by the author)

However, six days later while unloading my Jeep at home, I looked at the deck of my trailer and found the cooler plug. There it was, after taking everything off my flatbed trailer. How could it possibly not have bounced off the trailer on a 600-mile trip?

I have nothing but guesses for how this happened. I think it was under my front Jeep tire on the trailer. My best guess is it somehow fell on the ground behind my trailer at the start of the week and when I loaded my Jeep it lodged in a Pitbull tire lug, got parked on, and then came out when I started unloading my Jeep.

Inquiring minds want to know, but I sure am glad to have my cooler plug back.

Camping

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The first night. (Photo by the author)

The Ponderosa Staging area we stayed at is awesome. The OHV park was built in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The new pit toilet has a date of August 2016 stamped on it. Everything has the look of new, especially the informative kiosk providing information and trail maps. The camp is a wide, well-graveled, fairly level area with several isolated camp spots out in the trees. There are BLM fire pits at most spaces. Wood is plentiful for campfires.

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The Kiosk, complete with maps for the first-timer. (Photo by the author)

We set up our camp and proceeded to have a day of camping before the rest of our group showed up. We entertained ourselves with Family Craft Night, where we dot painted some glasses. Lots of hikes and dirt road drives helped the teenagers fill in the rest of the time with no or limited cell service.

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Family craft night. (Photo by the author)

Speaking of cell service, we figured out that a short hike up Trail 11 found some. Several times a day, the teenagers would hike up the hill to check in to the Snap Gram, Instagirl world. Lynette and I found humor in the teen cell phone zone, conveniently located several hundred yards away.

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A red buggy, visible from camp on Trail 11. This is also the teenage cell phone zone. (Photo by the author)

One of the camping highlights were the four does who came to visit us each day. Around dinner time and well into sitting-around-the-fire time, four deer would feed around our camp. They would circle just outside the tree line, taking turns poking their heads at us and seeing what we, and especially the dogs, were up to. Every night they showed up and said hi.

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One of the deer, on her nightly cruise. (Photo by the author)

Wheeling

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The entrance to the trails, within a pistol shot from our camp. (Photo by the author)

The real reason Gabe and I were at Rim Butte was to run some rock trails. Rim Butte has 23 miles of trails and in three days of wheeling hard, we didn’t cover even a third of them.

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The trail system. (Photo by the author)

We ran Trail 10 and Trail 11, mostly. The entrance to these trails is 30 yards from our campers. One of the highlights of this trail system is you can get into a trail, run it for a couple of hours to an exit, get back on a dirt road, and buzz back to camp in 10 minutes. The entire OHV is laid out extremely well and is wheeler-friendly. This makes it so that we could go out for a couple of hours, come back to camp and eat, wheel the afternoon, head back to camp and eat dinner, and then run back out for a short evening run. This allowed people who wanted to be back at camp a break, people who wanted to go could go, and I could drive my Jeep all day long, which is all I ever want to do.

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Gabe in a tight spot. Rim Butte requires a lot of technical driving (Photo by the author)

The rocks are technical and awesome. Trees bear the scars of rigs who didn’t do it right. Much of my time was spent backing up to get a better line up the rocks between the trees. Lots of off-camber spots pitched my roll cage into trees and I even ripped my brand new bikini top in one particular tight spot.

Rim Butte has a ton of variety in the trails. There are lots of vertical trail changes. You can run the trail either direction, so there are lots of rocky climbs and nose-first descents. There are spots where you wheel for 500 yards over dead trees, some as big as a foot and half in diameter. Some spots are a dirt road that crossed a few hundred yards to another trail. Some places are lava tubes, crawling down through them like a tunnel. Other spots, you climb to the top of a lava piles, with 20 feet of air on either side of you while you wiggle between trees and rocks. The terrain variety and the views are incredible.

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Square headlights (Photo by the author)

The work that the Deschutes County Four Wheelers has done on the trail system is evident to the first time visitor. I was worried about going to Rim Butte the first time and not having anybody to show me the way. I shouldn’t have worried. Trails are well-marked with flagging to show the way: Blue for Buggy lines, Green on one side of the trail, and Pink on the other side. My wife loved the “flag hunt.” I would pull to the top of an obstacle, blind by my hood, and she would have her head hung out the door, scouting flags to tell me which way to go. This was one of her favorite parts of the trip. In several days of wheeling, we never lost the trail for more than a minute. The trails are explicitly marked.

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Most Difficult and Extreme Difficulty: choices, choices (Photo by author)

The Most Difficult and Extreme Difficulty signs are a nice touch for the trail system. For each buggy line, there is a stake pointing the way to the blue flags. The Extreme Difficulty lines taunted me all week. Each time, I had to get out to go walk the trail and find out how Extreme it was. About half the time, we went that way. Gabe and I only avoided the ones with the steep vertical drops that were not stock-Jeep length-friendly. My Jeep and I smiled a lot on the Extreme lines.

My Jeep and I smiling on an Extreme line (Photo by Lynette White)

And that is the cool part of these trails: even though we ran them one direction and took some of the Extreme lines, it could be a different trail the other direction and by taking other Extreme lines. The potential for new obstacles is mathematically high and each trail could be considered new again.

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(Photo by Lynette White)

Cinder Butte

One of the highlights for everybody was the Cinder Butte. The teenagers liked it because it had cell service at the top, but going to the top required horsepower and wheel speed, which appealed to the drivers. We went there each night after dinner and watched the sunset.

The cinder appears to be from old mine tailings and is loosely packed into a pseudo-sand dune. Once on top, one could see all the way to Fort Rock and Christmas Valley.

Cinder Butte is kind of like Potato Salad Hill in Moab. It is a great spot to park, watch, have a beer, and think about life. It makes the perfect way to end a day before heading back to camp.

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From the top of Cinder Butte. Gabe’s Jeep is visible at the bottom as he starts up the hill. (Photo by the author)

Conclusion

Despite my trailer’s broken spring hanger and the missing Yeti cooler plug which hadn’t shown up for me yet, I did not want to leave. I love this place to camp and wheel. The weather was a mild 80 degrees, the deer cruised, the sun shone, and the birds sang.

It dropped to almost freezing every night, so when Lynette and I got up and drank our coffee in the morning and waited for teenagers, it was crisp and our chairs needed to chase the sun around our campsite. These were some of the best mornings I have had in a long time. The solitude and the beauty drowned out words like COVID, school re-openings, and masks that seem to be dominating our world and dragging people down.

Rim Butte gave us an awesome 4th of July and we will go back.

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Lynette and I in our 4th of July cloth. (Photo by Joyce Miller)

Written by: Nathan White