Seventeen years is a long time for an automobile manufacturer to produce the same model of vehicle, yet that's exactly how long Jeep has been producing the Cherokee XJ. And while some manufacturers have swapped successful nameplates to new vehicles in order to stimulate sales, the Cherokee name still resides on what is basically still the same vehicle. Of course, the Cherokee has evolved with changing automotive technology, and it now features things unheard of in 1984, such as keyless entry and airbags. But for all that, it is still a major player in the SUV war. The Cherokee is a capable off-roader too, and the truck has spawned its own fan clubs, such as the North American XJ Association (NAXJA). And it isn't shy about its loyalty to its trucks or its willingness to take them off road and show off their capabilities.
What Is NAXJA?The North American XJ Association is a national club that owes its existence to a device that wasn't even invented when the first Cherokees rolled off the assembly line in 1984 - the Internet. It began a few years ago as an XJ forum where owners could share tech information, build up ideas, and gather general vehicle facts online. Much of the conversation was about trail riding, which led to someone suggesting that they all get together and actually go trail riding instead of just talking about it. Hence, the first organized trailrun for Cherokees was born, and it was aptly named Forum Fest. The event brought scores of Cherokees to Moab, Utah, in 1998, and this rousing turnout became the catalyst for the formation of NAXJA. Today, the club has grown to more than 100 families nationwide, and it sponsors several trailruns yearly at locations all over the U.S.SUVs on the Trail
One of NAXJA's annual trail rides takes places at the Badlands Off Road Park in Attica, Indiana. This year's event was sans snow (which is pretty typical for the area in mid-February), but it was not without frigid temperatures and a lot of challenges. The two-day event drew almost 30 NAXJA members from surrounding states, including Alabama, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Missouri, Kansas, and Kentucky.
Each day, the trucks were split into three groups representing different challenge levels. The variety of Cherokees in attendance was impressive and included everything from stock grocery-getters to heavily modified rockcrawlers. We jumped from ride to ride to experience each level of difficulty, and to see how the diverse collection of Cherokees handled the terrain. The groups took full advantage of the Badlands' complex trail system, and they encountered gnarly uphill climbs, white-knuckle off-camber hills, difficult rockclimbs, and, as the temperatures climbed above freezing, slippery mud and deep-water crossings. One of the things we learned about Cherokee owners is that they are definitely part of the Jeep Brotherhood, and many have owned CJs, YJs, and TJs in the past. Some of the reasons they have embraced Cherokees are growing families, their easy modification potential (thanks to solid axles), protection from the elements (for both passengers and gear), and the wide availability of parts.
After a full day of trail riding on Saturday, the three trail ride groups assembled in a sand bowl in the late afternoon for an impromptu raffle that awarded a number of cool prizes from Rusty's Off Road Products, Warn Industries, Tom Wood's Custom Drive Shafts, and the Badlands. From here, most of the group called it a day and disappeared to thaw out in motel rooms, while a few hard-core Cherokee owners set up camp at the local campground and either slept in tents or their trucks in preparation for Sunday's full day of scheduled runs.
NAXJA sponsors a number of trailruns each year, and it tries to keep them as centrally located as possible so club members have an opportunity to attend without excessive travel time. However, based on what we saw at this run, the dedicated members would probably drive to Guatemala, if that's where the run was being held.
Further FactsIf you'd like to learn more about the North American XJ Association, contact the club at P.O. Box 914, Robbins, NC 27325, www.naxja.org.