Don’t Forget “Mom and Pop” and the Local Economy
Every year I attend the King of the Hammers race, there are several places that are mandatory stops for me before driving down Boone road into Hammertown. While many people will load up on groceries at a Costco or similar store in their hometown before even heading to the Hammers, I save all my grocery shopping for a place in Lucerne Valley: Lucerne Valley Market and Hardware. It may be a little more expensive, but it is a great little small-town store that is filled with really friendly people.
Despite my wife complaining that gas was cheaper at other stations, I then top off my tanks at the Sinclair or Valero gas station in Lucerne Valley and make a point to go into the gas station and buy a bag of chips, a soda and a couple of cans of Skoal.
Lucerne Valley Market is an awesome store, and a “must stop” for KOH attendees.
While on the lakebed for the race, if I need anything like more fuel or snacks, I always drive down Old Woman Springs road towards Yucca Valley and get that at the Mobile gas station in Flamingo Heights. That gas station also has a pizza place, which is a great break from the camp food I normally stuff my face with while in Johnson Valley. If a rig breaks down and I need parts? Napa auto parts in Yucca Valley is the spot to go.
My Wagon seems to love auto parts stores more than trails
There are several things I always do at these places. First, I am normally wearing “wheeling” clothes, maybe a King of the Hammers T-shirt and a hat. The race car and trailer are posted up right in front of the store, and I take my time shopping and loading up. If the entire race team is with me, we will often hang out in the parking lot for a few talking with each other before we head off. We make sure we are visible to as many people as possible.
Even more importantly: I go out of my way to talk to EVERYONE — the employees at the store, other customers, the random family in the parking lot, etc.
You can’t do a traditional Rubicon run without stopping at Uncle Tom’s
This behavior is not just reserved for the King of the Hammers. I do it on every wheeling trip. If I running the Rubicon traditionally and going through Georgetown, I gas up there, eat lunch at the Georgetown Hotel, and make damned sure I do an Uncle Tom’s Cabin stop. If I am heading into the trail the other way up Icehouse road, I buy groceries and get gas in Pollock Pines.
The historic Georgetown Hotel is a great lunch stop before running the Rubicon
Wheeling Decisions and Our Access
So why pay more and do all this? To simplify all of it into just one word: politics. When most politicians make decisions, those decisions are almost always based on money. They are thinking “Will this decision bring money into my district and make my constituents happy?” Every move they make is carefully weighed against the economic impact of that decision.
The biggest factor that leads to our continued access to Johnson Valley in Southern California, is the economic impact of the King of the Hammers and the Johnson Valley OHV area. Small towns with fragile economies like Yucca Valley, Lucerne Valley, and the entire surrounding area, get a much needed economic boost from thousands of 4×4 people from out of town spending their money in that area. In turn, this means more jobs and more prosperity for them.
When Johnson Valley was in danger of being closed, it was not just the offroad crowd that was worried, it was the entire community. They spoke up, and politicians listened. Money makes the world go around, and money helps keep public lands open to the public.
I am SO stopping here!
Whenever you go wheeling, don’t just shop local, also be vocal. Talk to the employees in the stores and the people in line. It is one thing for them to just read a dollar figure about the economic impact the off-road community brings to their area in the newspaper or online, and another if they have actually seen it first hand.
For example, every time I am in the Lucerne Valley Market, I ask the cashier and other people in line if they are going to watch the race. I also make it VERY clear that I live more than 300 miles away and drove a long way just to spend my money in their community. When people near trails truly understand that there is something in their community that attracts people and money from out of town, they will see those local trails as something positive, even if they do not wheel. If that local trail is in danger of being closed, they will be some of the first people to grab the pitchforks and fight for it.
Try to support local Mom and Pop stops as much as possible
If you are running a trail with your club or a group of other vehicles, make sure you are visible to the locals. A group of modified rigs all parked together in front of a restaurant or in a gas station often turns heads. While many locals in smaller communities may at first go through the traditional “complaining about out-of-towners” stage, the fact that you are spending money in their community is not lost on them.
While several of the places that I listed are bigger “corporate” types of stores, to make a bigger impact you should try to spend your money and small “mom and pop” types stores and restaurants. Those types of local business owners tend to appreciate the patronage more and will be more vocal if your local wheeling area is suddenly in danger. We are all ambassadors for our jeeping lifestyle, and by supporting the local community near your favorite trail, you will be helping to secure your access for many years to come.