Mike Ortega’s eyes light up as he lets the air out of his Jeep tires. Once he gets the air pressure down to about 8 pounds per square inch, he knows his rig is ready for a little bit of rock crawling.

On Aug. 12 Ortega and a small group of avid rock crawlers rode the John Bull Run, one of Big Bear’s most famous routes for off-road enthusiasts. Letting the air out of those big knobby tires, something rock hounds call airing down, gives drivers the best traction over big boulders on the trail.

“This is one of the hardest trails in these mountains,” Ortega says as he leads the group of five Jeeps through the Gatekeeper, the western entrance to John Bull. You need the right vehicle to successfully maneuver over the big rocks and boulders that cover the road. Ortega’s 11-year-old son, Stone, remembers a time when they encountered a group in Hummers stuck at the Gatekeeper. “They had a hard time so we had to help them,” Stone says.

“Hummers are great for the desert,” Mike says. “They’re too wide (for the mountains). It took them around eight hours to do the whole trail. Usually it takes, even if you have a little bit of problems, around four hours max.”

“It was nice entertainment, though,” Stone says about the Hummer encounter.

Those going west on John Bull can figure out quickly if their rigs can manage the ride, Mike says. “If you get stuck at the Gatekeeper, you need to turn around and go back. The trail doesn’t get any nicer after that.”

Rock crawling is not a high-speed sport. Smart drivers take their time, examine the trail and find their lines over the rocks. When they say crawling, they mean it.

At the Gatekeeper the Ortega group stops and gets out, taking a close look at the trail. Rain during the weekend altered the course, moving rocks and dirt. “It’s never the same,” says Roger Campbell, Mike’s Big Bear Off-road Racing team partner. Once the line is determined, the drivers get back in their Jeeps and go through one at a time. Once a Jeep makes it to the top, the driver stops to help direct the next Jeep through the course.

“The key to rock crawling is finesse,” Mike says. “When you race something like the Hammer, you do push it a little more. But here, (rocks) bite if you don’t do it right.”

Another thing off-road groups such as Bear Valley 4x4 do right is take care of the trails they ride. They pick up trash, help other off-roaders who encounter problems and help the U.S. Forest Service maintain the designated off-road trails. What they don’t do, is go off the trail. “Sometime we go up there and put up trees, rocks or fences to block (illegal trails),” Ortega says. “That’s our responsibility. That’s our trail. Our job is to keep people on the road, and to keep the roads maintained and safe. It’s a good feeling that we’re part of it. We want everyone to enjoy it and to respect the forest.”

Rock on.

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To set the record straight and let a little more light on this article, yes John Bull, forest road 3N10, is one of the tougher trails here in Big Bear, and for a point of information there are 48- 4X4 , ATV, Motorcycle , snow mobile clubs that are a part of the San Bernardino National Forest (SBNF) Adopt-A- Trail (AAT) program and also 250 + volunteers in the SBNF Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) Volunteer program that work directly with the SBNF Rangers to not only help maintain these roads and trails but also patrol the same educating the public about Staying On the Trails. As far as the John Bull trail is concerned there are 2 AAT clubs that are responsible for both the east and west ends of John Bull, the west end is maintained by the WayWeGoes a Jeep club, and the east end is maintained by So Cal Broncos, an early Ford Bronco Club of Southern California, which I am their liaison , and also the Big Bear Co-Coordinator for the SBNFA OHV Volunteer program. Bear Valley 4X4 has done a great job on their trail Gold Mountain forest road 3N93 maintaining it trying to keep it open for all of us responsible off roaders to enjoy. If there is any interest in either of these programs you can find information on the SBNF web site or the AAT site http://sbnf-adopt-a-trail.com/sbnffriends.html


Hummers don't belong on the mountain? Mr. Ortega you need a serious lesson in trail etiquette. I guarantee that there are very few places that my Hummer can't go that your Jeep can go. It's all about the driver, not the vehicle. Should I mention the wonderful show I've witnessed with brand new Rubicons stuck everywhere on Holcomb Creek.

And I think you failed to mention that there a couple a different groups that keep John Bull maintained, like maybe the Bronco guys....


Gina I never stated that Hummers dont belong in the Mountain. I said that Hummers dont belong on John Bull, John Bull is a narrow rocky terrian with alot of large boulders and very tight obsticals. Now unless you really enjoy "bashing" your Hummer on these obsticals (most of my Hummer friends prefer not too) i would not recommend this trail.

Now to answer your remark about trail etiquette, I am very active in the 4 wheel drive world, mainly in our local mountains. Active in 2 Offroad Clubs (one of which I am the VP) and heavily involved in our Adopt-A-Trail program which I partake twice a month maintaining our trails for YOU to enjoy...