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Overland Coast Range Adventure – Happy Holiday Run


ZUKIWORLD Happy Holiday Run

Editor: Eric Bewley Story/Photo: Stasi Vaillancourt

Corvallis, OR -Tommy’s Restaurant, rumored to have “killer omelets.”   Five Samurai with eight enthusiasts met for a leisurely, low key run into the nearby Coast Range Mountains.  The idea was started earlier in the month when the editor and a few Zukiworld participants realized they would all be on vacation between Christmas and New Year’s.  Why not get together and get some fresh air sometime during the week?  Turned out to be good planning.  Everyone met for breakfast and agreed to having had enough presents, egg nog, relatives, and other indoor holiday festivities that result in cabin fever.

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While enjoying the great breakfasts Tommy’s has to offer (I recommend getting country fries and gravy with your order, mmmmm!)  we started planning the day’s route.  It was decided to keep things light as this group all had Samurais with light to intermediate modifications and all are used as daily drivers.  Plus, several of the participants had just made some upgrades and wanted to test them out in more of a gravel road environment.  We chose a route that would offer easy going off pavement roads with opportunities to branch off and get more technical if desired, plus plenty of great sight seeing and fresh air along the way.

Jonald Gradwhol and his stepdaughter had bragging rights for biggest mod in the group. He had just finished installing a VW diesel in his Samurai.  It was interesting following a Samurai that made that “putt putt” diesel sound and had a darker exhaust with a smell that had you looking around for log trucks.  This was the first real run for this motor, and other than an electric cooling fan and loose belt issues (both adjusted on the spot) the motor ran great and was reported to have good torque giving good pulling power up the hills.

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Next in line was Dennis and Sue Snook.  Dennis is quite the backyard fabricator, and showed up with his latest creation, a sharp looking roof rack.  Others of us had “rack envy,” imagining all the benefits these simple additions bring to our extended adventures.  I don’t have the equipment or skills for a creation like this, but I do have a Calmini catalogue that now has the page bent open on “roof racks.”  Dennis was also testing some new 4.16 Trail Tough gears that were just installed.  He was anxious to find a nice long hill for break-in.

Gene Fourier and Stasi Vaillancourt (with passenger Nita Sudyka) Are pretty new to the 4×4 scene and still continue to be amazed at the Samurai’s capabilities while following veterans and learning new skills.  They have similar rides, mostly stock but each having added the Calmini 2” lift, both liking the smoother ride, and better clearance without having a rig that you have to jump to get into.  Gene has the trusty little white hardtop that has graced the top of Zukiworld’s homepage for the past year.

The Editor showed up with his very capable army green “G I Jane,” which you can read about elsewhere on this web magazine.

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Our destination would be Prairie Peak, one of the higher points in the Coast Range, where you have a great view of Oregon’s mountains in all directions and a glimpse of the ocean on a clear day.  On the way, we wandered through part of the William Finley Bird Refuge south of Corvallis.  This is a good time of year to see thousands of migratory birds doing what they do in the Wetlands of the Willamette.  Our route then went through Bellfountain and Hull Oaks Lumber, one of the oldest saw mills in the Northwest.   This Historic, working mill is still able to process some of the larger logs, while most others have converted to smaller diameters.  There are 2 parks we know of in the area with 100 foot long picnic tables, all one piece that came out of this mill.  They give tours if you ask, and one of these days we hope to stop in.

The road up to Prairie Peak is always fun, with many switchbacks and a quick climb to the first series of ridges.  We did find a few patches of snow to remind us of the season and leave some tire marks.  We ventured off on some of the less used roads, some became more like deer trials.  But our narrow, capable Samurai’s snuck through only touching a few pine needles here and there.  The rewards were some wonderful little meadows and scenic mountains below.

A rock quarry was found and all got the chance to do some mild climbing with a few rocks to traverse.  Dennis found his new gears to be a worthwhile upgrade, giving him a nice slow crawling speed without much compromise on the Highway.  Lunch near the top was a chance for everyone to chat more about how good it felt to get out, how great our Samurais work.  Gene, ever the resourceful Mt. Man even built a nice little fire for us to warm up by and swap a few stories.

We then headed down the other side of the mountain, stopping in a few places to practice skills on hills and obstacles.  A gravel pile  became a steep, challenging climb with a high center point at the top.  Continuing downhill, we ended up at Horton, a small little community that’s definitely off the beaten path.  Horton was the location of a thriving saw mill, but now what is left is a nice mill pond that has been converted to a park like setting, having some of the group thinking of fishing opportunities.  Horton also has its original country store, complete with gas pumps and ice cream freezer.

From Horton, you can head for Hwy 36, and then back to the Willamette Valley.  We chose to try the infamous “short cut” and head up over an old road called “high pass.”   Sometimes this road is closed but luck was with us, and we were able to cut off some time and miles on the return trip, and continue our back road scenic tour.  High Pass road cuts through a once popular OHV area called “Low Pass” (named by the lower route through the area).  Low pass has been added to the Oregon OHV list of active areas, and the local clubs are working with the BLM to bring it back into an active status.

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Dropping out of the trees, we were treated to a beautiful panoramic view of the entire Willamette Valley, Cascade Mountain Range to the east, all back lit by the setting sun.  Each party started splitting off, heading to their respective homes.  All agreed it was a great day.  Everyone felt the fresh air, great views, and travels of the day completely cured any cabin fever that had built up over the Christmas Weekend.  Everyone spoke  the usual “we need to do this more often,” which I hope we do.  But even if it doesn’t happen as often as we might want, those words are usually a compliment to the good times had. 

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