Getting to go to Moab for Easter Jeep Safari (EJS) is without a doubt one of the perks to an off-road magazine tech editor’s job. Why this is true really ought to be totally obvious to anyone out there in Four Wheeler land, but if it’s not, allow us to clarify: Generally our job is a fun one. Many of us in the industry have converted a hobby into a career, and that has good sides and bad. On the good side, you almost always get to do something you enjoy. On the bad side, you find yourself “working” way more than anyone should work. Of course it’s mostly fun work, but it’s still work and it can be easy to get burned out on doing what you love. Also, the folks that send a check usually know that they’ve got you hooked. You’d be doing this if they send a paycheck or not (please keep sending paychecks, it makes buying parts much easier (…err, we mean it’s really for Verne’s kids’ sake, so they can eat food and not just gnaw on 4x4 parts).
One time of the year when it’s really easy to wake up, rush to get ready to work, and work all day until you can hardly stand up anymore is when we are in Moab for EJS. At its worst, this job during EJS means using a camera to watch someone else in a cool 4x4 hit some of the world’s best off-road trails. Or maybe the worst thing is writing about that exact thing late at night after a long day and an early morning. All in all, it’s not too shabby of a gig if you can get it and keep enough money to eat (instead of buying more off-road parts). At its best, this job during EJS involves wheeling your own rig with friends on some of the world’s best off-road trails. Sometimes you get stuck, sometimes you break, but either way you are still in Moab, the weather is (typically) great, friends are close by, and if you can’t fix your rig chances are you can get it off the trail and hop in with a buddy.
Now that we’ve told you the perks of being a magazine tech editor during EJS, how about we delve a bit farther into the adventure that is one tech editor’s trip to this iconic off-road event in this iconic off-road town? Four Wheeler Tech Editor Verne Simons first went to Moab in 2001 as a young and excited feature editor working for our sister book, the Jeep-only Jp magazine. Since then, Verne has been back many times both during EJS and on other trips to Moab (including one where he eloped to Moab and was married to his beautiful wife in Moab’s town hall). One way or another Verne always manages to have an adventure in Moab, and in 2017 he hauled his eclectic ’49 Willys pickup to Moab for EJS and had a fairly mechanical failure-free trip. The Jeep is a Jp Magazine project vehicle (Google; Jp magazine Wicked Willys) with 1-ton axles, a stretched ’97 Wrangler frame, 42-inch BFGoodrich tires, an NP435 granny-geared transmission, dual transfer cases, a fire-breathing 505ci stroker Dodge big-block engine, and so on and so forth. Want to see what adventures Verne had? Want to live vicariously through him and imagine the fun he had at EJS 2017? Read on loyal reader, read on.
We, as magazine employees, usually get snide remarks when we trailer our rigs to off-road events, and we understand why. Verne generally likes driving all of his project vehicles as much as possible, and a very thirsty high-compression big-block might be what would keep most from driving this Jeep the distance, but that’s not the case. Unfortunately for the folks in accounting, Verne could expense the high-octane fuel for the trip (although he may not have a job for long afterwards), but the big Willys also wears hard to find and expensive 42-inch BFGoodrich Krawler T/A KX tires designed to stick to rocks and not provide the best tread wear for long road trips. So, on the trailer Wicked Willys went.
The drive to Moab was uneventful (which was just fine with Verne). Day Two started with Verne itching to get some slickrock under the tires of the Willys truck. Up first, he headed to Poison Spider Mesa, an awesome trail just up Potash Road on the north end of Moab. Poison Spider Mesa is a long trail, but folks frequently do the first part from the road to the top of the mesa. This part of the trail has a few fun obstacles but can be done in a nearly stock 4x4 with a competent driver. Lockers, big tires, and flexy suspension allow the harder lines to be attempted.
Near the top of the mesa the Dodge big-block stuttered and stalled on a climb and wouldn’t start. It seemed like vapor lock. The truck has fuel injection, so this isn’t supposed to happen, but the FI is fed with fuel via the engine-driven fuel pump, and also the fuel filter was pretty jammed up with junk. So with a new fuel filter installed and the truck a bit cooler (from being off for 10-15 minutes), the 505 cubes fired back up and carried the Jeep and Verne to the top of the mesa.
The top of the mesa on Poison Spider Mesa trail is an amazing place with incredible views. We especially love the red sandy rocks visible between the mesa and the La Sal Mountains. These rocks look like something from another world.
Day three took Verne and the big Willys up Moab’s most famous off-road trail, Hell’s Revenge. Just up the hill from downtown Moab, Hell’s Revenge is in the Sand Flats Recreation Area. The trail is unlike almost any other trail in the world. It’s basically a skate park for 4x4s. Right off the bat, just beyond the parking lot at the head of the trail, you have to drive up this sandstone fin. From there, there are several steep climbs that give this trail its unique rollercoaster feel.
Photo by Hunter Amaya
The big Willys truck is just right for all but the hardest obstacles on Hell’s Revenge. With a long wheelbase, wide axles, a relatively low center of gravity, and huge tires that grab the rocks with abandon, the only hard obstacle we didn’t try was the big hot tub known as the Car Wash. Hells Gate, Mickey’s Hot Tub, The Escalator, and Tip Over Challenge are all a breeze in the big dumb truck.
And of course the big dumb truck got hot and did its vapor lock after climbing Escalator. It’s all part of the ambiance of driving a powerful, capable, yet vintage, 4x4 on some of America’s finest off-road trails. Your new JK may seem nice, but this is what four-wheeling is all about.
By the next day Verne was all off kilter because nothing on the Willys had broken. Fixing stuff in the parking lot at Moab is a long-honored tradition, so when nothing needed to be fixed Verne called up the folks at Premier Power Welder and talked them into helping him disable an otherwise mostly functional rig. The Willys has always suffered from a low amp alternator and Premier Power Welder had the perfect solution that only required a little backyard fabrication and modification to fit. With the new Premier Power Welder alternator the electric fans can more than keep up with the hot engine, fuel injection, winch, and more.
Photo by Brooke Smith at Quadratec
One of the tasks that the tech editor at a magazine like Four Wheeler undertakes at an event like Moab is to go on corporate-sponsored runs to kiss hands and shake babies. It’s a great time to check out new parts, new rigs, and get to know folks in the industry better. Our next day was spent on a super-secret trail north of Moab with the folks from Skyjacker Suspensions. The trail was awesome with cool slickrock climbs and descents intermixed with sand dunes.
Photo by Mary Hamilton
This optional line was big and silly, much like Verne’s Willys truck. Why not attack it with reckless abandon? Verne was one of two people to try this descent along with our trail guide and buddy Clifton Slay who also did this drop-in his nice blue LJ. Both left a little paint on the rocks.
Day Five (or was it Day Six?) was the 4 Wheel Parts corporate run on Cliffhanger trail and Verne jumped at the chance. Cliffhanger is a fun trail just off Kane Creek Road outside of Moab. The trail gets fun fast and climbs up to an amazing cliff that you have to drive over. It’s not for the faint of heart, or anyone afraid of heights because the heights on this trail “ain’t no joke.”
Photo by Clifton Slay
Verne, you four-wheeling fool.
Wednesday morning, Verne’s friend and the former editorial director of Four Wheeler, Cole Quinnell, conned Verne into re-welding an anti-wrap bar onto his flatfender’s fluted Dynatrac rear axle. Having a friend with a garage and welder in Moab is awesome, Danny “Grandpa” Grimes is that friend for many folks in the off-road industry. When Danny isn’t hosting an industry party at Grandpa’s Garage he’s helping out-of-towners with broken rigs get fixed. Verne and Cole owe Danny a great big thank you! If you don’t know Danny, the folks at Moab 4x4 Outpost (M4O) are also extremely helpful when something breaks down.
Verne’s last day in Moab was spent shooting features and goofing off out at Area BFE, a privately owned off-road park just south of Moab. The area is home to some big rocks and some awesome trails such as Green Day, Blackout, Britney Speer, and the famous Helldorado trail. Also just inside the park entrance is the comp area where anyone in just about any 4x4 can have fun. Area BFE charges no fees to use the property but donations are always welcome.
Did we mention that Verne got to goof off a bit at Area BFE? The big Willys is a ball of fun in the comp area at the park. There are a ton of different lines to try.
Photo by Trent McGee
Moab is also a great place to grab some food. That may be because were always working hard in Moab, but from the food truck “Hey You Hungry” at Area BFE to Milt’s Stop & Eat, the Moab Diner, Moab Brewery, and many others, is a ton of good food to be had in this awesome vacation town.