Just as the month of March winds down each year, the vernal equinox ushers in the season of recreation for most Americans. Some head south for warm weather and white sand; others turn north for pristine snow and backwoods splendor. Then there's a growing number of people, who, like us, travel inland, towards red rock arches, natural bridges, spires, fins, and of course, the unparalleled slickrock. Moab, Utah is ground zero for a weeklong convergence quite unlike any other in the world: Easter Jeep Safari. This sleepy little town, nestled just south of the Colorado River, explodes in population for a week as this yearly exodus of trail-prepped 4x4s floods in from all over the country. While some residents quietly withdraw in their wake, others, especially business owners, feast on the invasion while visitors indulge in all things Jeep.
Characterized by most as the Mecca of the 4WD world, Moab features some 30 or so trails, many within a stone's throw from the main drag. Covering some of the most interesting terrain in the country, Moab's slickrock is both challenging and stunningly beautiful. The trail ratings range from easy to nearly impossible, ensuring satisfaction for every driver. Whether you line up with the event's official host, the Red Rock Four Wheelers, or just meet a couple of friends out on the trail, Moab during Easter Jeep Week is the place to be if you love four-wheeling.
Testing vehicles is a rough job but someone has to do it. This Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited, occupied by two anonymous engineers from an unnamed vehicle manufacturer (okay, we'll give you a hint: rhymes with weep), went wheels-up on an obstacle on the Flat Iron Mesa trail. This time Tech Editor Sean P. Holman was ecstatic because he had always wanted to stand on an upside-down Jeep and point north. Kidding aside, Holman exercised one of the most important rules of vehicle recovery and that's to designate one person as the recovery leader. Nothing's worse than too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
OK, we know what some of you are thinking: You don't own a Jeep, or you're not set up for rocks, or Moab's too far from where you live, or you just don't have the time to trailer your rig cross-country. But Moab, as we've said, is unlike any other four-wheeling destination we know of, and that also extends to the options you have when it comes to piloting a 4x4.
In short, if you can't get your own vehicle here, you can rent one instead.
Now before you start laughing at the thought of a Buick LeSabre attempting Devils' Crack (a tempting idea, we'll admit), we're talking rental Jeeps here. And built Jeeps at that. A number of rental agencies in Moab have Jeeps available for rent (not to mention mountain bikes, kayaks, hang gliders, and other outdoor conveyances), and while the daily rates aren't dirt-cheap, they're not exorbitant either, and as long as you've got a driver's license, proof of insurance, and a major credit card, you can play in the backcountry in your very own Jeep.
During Easter Jeep Week, we had the opportunity to pick up a Wrangler Rubicon from an agency in Moab called Cliffhanger Jeep Rental. Besides sporting all the usual good stuff-Rock-Trac transfer case with 4:1 low range, and electronic lockers front and rear-the Jeeps from Cliffhanger come outfitted with 3-inch TeraFlex suspension lifts, 33x12.50 Goodyear MTRs, Safari soft-tops or hardtops, and rocker-panel guards. Our brand-new rental only sported 220 miles on it, but had already seen combat: The previous renter had rolled it, we were told, and scratches on the rollbar and a crunched rear quarter panel attested to it.
After performing a brief exorcism (purging the beast of any residual Bad Trail Karma), we headed out for the slick hills and bowls of Hell's Revenge on a cold and rainy day. Unfazed by the taunts of locals ("Who rolled the rental?"), we spent a leisurely afternoon traversing one of our all-time favorite trails, enjoying our rig's great gearing, extra ground clearance, and wider-then-stock footprint on rain-soaked, now-very-slickrock. Out of deference to the rental agency-not to mention Primedia's insurance deductibles-we bypassed some of the trickier obstacles, but this in no way detracted from a great day in the backcountry. For us, renting a Jeep was an easy and stress-free way to enjoy Moab without the time-consuming rituals of trailering, towing, and all-nighter drives.
So now you have no excuses. Everyone knows that Moab is Mecca, and if you're among the four-by faithful, you must make the hajj at least once in your lifetime. And now, you don't even need to bring your own rig.
Wheeling in mountainous terrain has inherent risks. The terrain in the Moab area can be especially perilous due in part to the excellent traction provided by the sandstone, which can cause us to momentarily lose our perspective on the limits of our vehicles. This is why safety is critically important when 'wheeling in Moab. The following rollover illustrates that when proper safety gear is utilized, your chances of walking away unhurt are vastly improved.
This driver did everything right, even after everything went wrong. While attempting to ascend Potato Salad Hill, the front end of his TJ slid left, throwing the rig into an inescapable roll. As the TJ spiraled to the bottom of the hill, the belted-in driver kept his hands firmly attached to the steering wheel and he kept his legs tucked into the footwell. Even after rolling over in excess of three times, the driver walked away and even helped to coordinate the vehicle's recovery.
No, it wasn't Top Truck Challenge '04 all over again, but it sure looked like it. Seven of the 10 competitors from last year's TTC came to Moab for the Easter Jeep Safari, and together they ran a few of the area's legendary trails during the course of the week. This is notably the first such reunion of TTC competitors that we know of. Stan Prueitt, the owner of the 6x10 Dodge Ram, spearheaded the reunion, spurred by the friendships made during the weeklong competition at the Hollister, California-based event. In addition to TTC competitors, the reunion also included some of the co-drivers and even a few family members. Most of the group camped at the Pack Creek Campground outside of Moab. Highlights from their week included Howard Jacques flipping "JeepZilla" end over end on the Escalator obstacle; Robb Rutledge bidding adieu to the internals of "UltraCruiser's" 6.5L diesel engine; TTC winner Brad Austin smoking the "Blue Beast's" alternator, forcing him to drive Hell's Revenge at night with no headlights; and Robin Brisebois' losing battle with gravity in the Hot Tub obstacle.
A group of lucky editorial staffers and media personnel were invited out to Area BFE, the new private 4x4 Reserve Park from BFE Films, for a lighthearted rockcrawling competition. For many, it was a chance to get behind the wheel of one of those purpose-built rock buggies for an afternoon of fun. For others, the competition simply set the pace for the full-throttle week to come. Representing Four Wheeler was Feature Editor Robin Stover in a brand-spankin'-new Rhino RTV two-seater buggy. Even though winning the event might have added to Robin's growing reputation in competitive motorsports, he claims the weather failed to cooperate with his plans, and the duties that go along with making magazines required his presence elsewhere during the actual competition. Yeah, right.