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Nissan Xterras Take on Moab during Easter Jeep Safari

Front Passenger Side View Trucks On Hill
Jon Thompson | Writer
Posted August 1, 2002

Attacking Hardcore Territory in Stock Vehicles. And Living to Talk About It

Step By Step

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  • Led by trail boss Ian Firth, who has just driven out of this picture, members of the Xterra Owners’ Club were ready to tackle anything they found themselves peering at through their Nissan windshields.

  • Al Paloma has his 2000 Xterra equipped with lots of electronic gear, including GPS equipment and a dash-mounted video camera, which recorded his passage over one of Moab’s most challenging trails.

  • When you do Hell’s Revenge, you cannot help but encounter the hot tubs. This one, known as the Belly Button, called Steve Kramer’s name. Kramer easily drove through this obstacle in his ’01 Frontier, which is equipped with a lift and front and rear limited-slips.

  • Richard Miller, a Nissan project engineer from Stanfield, Arizona, came along for the ride in a modified Xterra called “Project X.” It possessed lockers front and rear, a lift, great tires, and a secret engine we promised to not talk about. The fact that this vehicle exists is proof that Nissan engineers are very serious indeed about answering the needs of the four-wheeling market.

  • If you argued that stock vehicles always can use more articulation, you wouldn’t be wrong, as illustrated here by Cary Anderson’s Xterra during his passage through one of Hell’s Revenge’s hot tubs.

  • Serious tires help, as Cary Anderson learned as he crawled his 2000 Xterra over one of Hell’s Revenge’s obstacles.

  • Travis Gill coaxes his stock 2000 Xterra over a sharp outcrop of sandstone near the Hell’s Revenge Overlook.

  • For obvious reasons this obstacle, the final one on Hell’s Revenge, is called “The Squeeze.” Here Rich Miller takes the proper line, easily negotiating this difficult section.

  • The Xterra Owner’s Club took great care on this challenging trail, working to stay together, especially over the more challenging sections where spotting help might be required.

  • Tip-Over Challenge, a very challenging obstacle found toward the end of Hell’s Revenge, is one of those that wants lockers at both ends. Rob Logan made it only this far in his stock Frontier, avoiding the disaster that was looking for him by deciding to back down and take the bypass.

Here’s a question for you to chew on: Do you have to have a hardcore rig and lots of experience to be a hardcore four-wheeler?

We suspect that there are lots of folks who might answer that question in the affirmative, holding that one’s rig, and one’s experience, are marks of a ’wheeler’s commitment to our sport.

Something we saw during this most recent Moab Easter Jeep Safari causes us to question that, however. We spent Tuesday of Safari Week out on Hell’s Revenge—this is Moab’s most famous slickrock trail, 8.5 miles of “4,” or “difficult” trail, with nine members of the Xterra Owners’ Club. What we saw there suggests that enthusiasm, and a willingness to learn and to work together, are at least as important as preparation and experience.

This merry band, consisting of a mix of Xterras and Frontier pickups, was led by Ian Firth, of Aurora, Colorado, organizer and majordomo of the club. Like most of the other rigs on this run, Firth’s Xterra is mostly stock. But he made up for that with some hard-acquired driving skill, and he was more than willing to share his expertise with the others on this ride, most of whom possessed more enthusiasm for ’wheeling than they did experience. One exception to this was Steve Kramer, of Calmini in Bakersfield, California, driving an ’01 Frontier, which benefited not only from a 3-inch Calmini lift, but also a factory limited-slip rear diff, a modified Nissan 300ZX limited-slip diff up front, plus Calmini skidplates and bumper, a prototype Calmini 3.6:1 low-range T-case gear reduction set, and 32-inch BFG tires. This was a truck that worked very well indeed.

Still, the stockers showed themselves off to good advantage, proving that you can do Moab in a stock vehicle. Sure, discretion and exemplary trail sense cause those stockers to take bypasses around the most difficult obstacles—that’s what most of this bunch did when we came to Tip-Over Challenge, which isn’t to be tackled without lockers in both ends. But even at that, everybody had fun, nobody broke anything, and everybody ended the day convinced that coming to Moab in nearly stock Xterras was a perfectly logical, perfectly rational thing to do.

Interested in joining the Xterra Owners’ Club? Contact club president Ian Firth at or visit the club’s Web site,