Ultra4s Rock King of the Hammers: One Year Later, Legislative Accord Preserves OHV Recreation

By SEMA Washington, D.C., Staff

The 9th annual “King of the Hammers” was held last week in California’s Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Recreational Area. More than 430 teams in four vehicle classes competed during a week-long event witnessed by at least 55,000 spectators and more than 750,000 online viewers. The event culminated in the one-day “Ultra4” race in which vehicles constructed for their speed and rock-climbing abilities raced across a 215-mile course of open desert and steep ravines.

Johnson Valley is a unique setting north of Palm Springs, California, that combines open desert, dry lake beds and extreme rock-crawling trails. It offers riding opportunities for every skill level. The area was originally set aside in 1980 for OHV recreation by the State of California on land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

However, until recently, the future of Johnson Valley was in doubt. For nearly six years, access to the land had been debated in California and in congressional offices in Washington, D.C. At issue was a need for additional lands to train Marines at the Twentynine Palms combat center. In a compromise supported by the OHV community, Congress passed legislation to provide permanent federal protection to 96,000 acres of land for OHV activities while transferring 79,000 acres to the U.S. Marine Corps facility. The net effect was a win for both sides.

During the congressional debates, SEMA joined with the Off-Road Business Association (ORBA) and a coalition of other land-use advocacy organizations to propose solutions for protecting military training needs and off-roading. All of the interested parties are now working together to implement the 2013 agreement.

There is still one important goal to be achieved—including the word “National” within the Johnson Valley title. Although the area is already the only federally recognized OHV area, the new designation would acknowledge the land’s national significance. U.S. Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA), a former Marine Corps colonel himself, represents the area in Congress and played a critical role in reaching the 2013 accord with the U.S. Marines. He will lead the charge in 2015 on behalf of this special recognition. SEMA will climb over boulders in Washington in support.

Ultra4 racer navigating a rock formation at “Chocolate Thunder.”
Spectators take in the race at the “Jackhammer” viewing area.
Roadblock as racers try to climb Jackhammer.
Aerial view of the spectator parking lot at Jackhammer.
kohAn Ultra4 racer descending the “Backdoor” course.  koh
Charging across a dry lake at Johnson Valley.
Randy Slawson crossing the finish line to win King of the Hammers 2015. Only 17 teams in the Ultra4 division completed the grueling 215-mile course with open desert and steep ravines.
Patriotic spectator leaving Chocolate Thunder.