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Moab Easter Jeep Safari 2018

Posted in Moab Experience: 2018 on April 18, 2018
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Contributors: Trenton McGee
Photographers: Verne SimonsTrenton McGee

Let’s get this out of the way right out of the gate. In some ways Easter Jeep Safari is not the best time to visit Moab. The town is crowded, the traffic in town and on the trails can suck, and the price of everything mysteriously skyrockets when all the Jeeps come to town. Yet year after year, tens of thousands of off-roaders descend on Moab for the largest trail ride event in the country, and quite possibly the world. While many would argue that there are better times to come to Moab, the truth is that the best way to experience Moab is to come to Easter Jeep Safari at least once. It doesn’t matter if you drive something with seven slots in the grille or not. If it has low-range, you are more than welcome and can have a ball. Seeing the town completely overrun with 4x4s, checking out all of the unique off-road creations that are seemingly everywhere, and just being at Easter Jeep is something every red-blooded off-road enthusiast ought to do at least once. Seriously.

Despite Easter coming early this year, the event benefitted from surprisingly good weather all week. Other than some wind, the days were sunny, contradictory to early forecasts of a fairly wet event. As a result, the turnout was great. Yes, more than a fair share of JKs were represented this year, just like the previous five years or so, but we’re seeing more and more of a trend towards older Jeep iron and even non-Jeep platforms pop up at EJS. This is something we wholeheartedly welcome and encourage.

New and old vehicles alike gathered for dozens of official and unofficial trail rides. The groups varied from just a few vehicles to more than 50 in some cases. Despite the large number of Jeeps in town, we didn’t get caught in much trail traffic, and we didn’t hear about many traffic snarls either. This is thanks in part to the Red Rock 4-Wheelers, the official club that organizes the Easter Jeep Safari. The club has exclusive use permits on several of the popular trails on certain days of the week. Though controversial to some people, these permits keep traffic snarls down and enables the organized Red Rock runs to enjoy the trails without getting stuck behind other groups. The Red Rock schedule is published in a newspaper that is widely distributed throughout town, so those who want to go out on their own can simply consult the paper and find out what trails are open on what days. It’s a system that works out pretty well for everyone.

Enjoy our event coverage here, and we think you’ll see why we say every off-roader should make the pilgrimage and come experience the Easter Jeep Safari at least once. Check out just a small sample of what we saw throughout the week and make plans to attend a future one. For more information, check out fourwheeler.com or visit the Red Rock 4-Wheelers website at rr4w.com.

We joined Warn, ARB, and Skyjacker on one of the lesser-known trails and dune areas northwest of town. The trail is called Crystal Geyser and isn’t terribly hard, but the terrain is varied with lots of optional hard lines. It’s a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of the more popular trails closer to town.
A big bonus of the Mashed Potatoes trail is that it winds its way to the White Wash Sand Dunes. The area is lesser known and not well traveled due in part to the distance from Moab (and everywhere else, for that matter). The dunes gave people a chance to open up the throttle and kick up some sand. Skyjacker’s new JL Wrangler was impressive here, with a spanking-new suspension system that soaked up the whoops in a way that left some JK owners (and others for that matter) a little envious.
We’re suckers for older iron, and Jeep Safari offers one of the greatest opportunities to check out some oldies, many of which benefit from modern technology. Andrew Hoit’s stretched CJ-5 is one example. It still sports leaf springs in the front, but a linked rear combined with good shocks at all four corners made this Jeep just right.
Moab is one of the few places where you can put your Jeep through its paces without having to worry about body damage a lot of the time. One of the exceptions is the squeeze rock on the Kane Creek trail, which loves to eat JK passenger-rear corners, along with other vehicles with a similar JKU wheelbase. Careful spotting usually prevents exchanging paint for rock rash.
We tagged along with the Big Tire Garage crew along with about 25 other vehicles and ran Kane Creek, one of our favorite trails. There are at least 40 water crossings that vary from small, like this one, to hub-deep or better depending on when and where it last rained.
An alumnus of our Ultimate Adventure, Cooper Rasmussen, tackled Moab in Howitzer, the highly customized Ram 2500 that the Diesel Power Products crew built for the 2017 UA. Sporting a new front axle housing to replace the one that spun the axle tubes on UA, the big truck had no issues on the slick rock throughout the week.
Moab isn’t just about four-wheeling—there’s also lots of cool history. We followed a geologist friend for a day to learn more about the mining history of the area. This man-made tunnel was dug by early uranium miners to extract a petrified tree from the sandstone. The tree’s carbon content would have attracted uranium particles and was highly desirable to early miners as a result. Most of the trails in and around Moab are the result or uranium mining exploration and operations.
Our geologist friend also took us to this giant boulder that had fallen from a nearby mesa and then split almost perfectly in two, with just enough space between the halves to walk through. Geological wonders and oddities like this abound in the area.
Although Jeeps understandably dominate the Safari, there is a strong showing of fullsize vehicles as well. The trend of big tires and low lift continues to grow among the fullsize trucks. This Blazer sports 40s with less than 6 inches of lift. We kinda dig the Mad Max tube fenders in a way, which the owner says he did after he mangled the stock square-body sheetmetal.
Would you take your brand new Ford through a Jeep trail? You do if it’s a company truck and suspension development is part of your job! Ryan Kennelly from Pro Comp suspension led a company-sponsored trail ride in the long Ford and looked good doing it. Some side steps might have gotten rearranged, but the sheetmetal stayed pristine.
We bumped into a group of crazy Norwegians who had shipped five CJs and a YJ in a container all the way from Oslo to San Francisco a year ago and who have been wheeling all over the Southwest. Obviously not scared of a challenge, these guys didn’t back down from anything all week and were a lot of fun to watch. Look for an upcoming feature that tells their story.
If one make is predominant after Jeeps during the Easter Jeep Safari, it’s Toyotas. Late-model Tacomas are no slouches on the trails, but nothing says style like an old-school 4Runner complete with a bulletproof 22RE. Bruce Szember’s solid-axle 4Runner was able to keep up with the JKs and the rest of the Jeeps without issue.
Moab has a way of sneaking up on you if you’re not careful, even on obstacles that you’ve overcome a dozen times or more. That’s especially true on the optional Escalator obstacle on Hell’s Revenge. It’s a deceptively demanding obstacle, requiring exact tire placement. Failing that, big air and a possible tumble to the bottom are the rewards for not keeping your sidewalls right up on the right-hand wall.
It seems like the number of side-by-sides has tripled in a year. We ran across this one in the bottom of one of the Carwash hot tubs with the occupants nowhere to be found. If you look closely you’ll notice the rental sticker. We ran across the company truck sent to retrieve the rig a little while later. Needless to say the rider had signed paperwork that stated the hot tubs were off-limits, and he won’t be getting his deposit back.
You run across all kinds of vehicles in Moab. This doorless square-body Chevy dualie was powered by a 5.9L Cummins and driven by a guy with little regard for vehicle damage. It was pretty awesome to watch him manhandle the big beast up the Escalator.
Moab is also one of the few places you’ll find an older British 4x4 moving under its own power. This Disco is doing so in part because it has been repowered with a Cummins 2.8L crate engine under the bonnet. The engine is a good fit for the size and weight of a Discovery, and these vehicles have become dirt cheap while possessing fairly good suspension under them. Ideas, anyone?

Jeep Concept Vehicles

Every year at Easter Jeep Safari, Jeep unveils a handful of concept vehicles to keep everyone interested and on their toes. The Jeep Underground, an officially unofficial group of engineers and design team members within FCA, and Mopar’s aftermarket division are turned loose to build some really neat stuff. We’ve seen cleverly disguised sneak peeks at future design elements in several past concept vehicles, and the concepts themselves are usually pretty cool. Editor Hazel had a chance to get up close and personal with this year’s concepts, and here is his take on each one.

4Speed
It’s super-lightweight. That’s awesome. The lighter a 4x4 is, the better it usually wheels in my opinion. When you’re driving a lighter vehicle you feel more like part of the machinery and less like you’re on a worn-out trampoline with a dead elephant on your back. The 4Speed achieves its lifted status not by spacers or longer springs, but by simply shedding weight, relieving the stock springs of roughly 900 pounds of bulk to deal with. This lets the little turbo 2.0L feel like it has much more power than it does. The clipped frame is right in line with Verne Simons’ Shrink Ray TJ that we built at Jp magazine many years ago, so that’s obviously something we are in tune with. And while I’m not a huge fan of the snowboard jacket seat cover material, the minimalist rollcage, lack of carpet, see-through tailgate, and carabineer clips on the rear downbars are right on point.

Wagoneer Roadtrip
I absolutely love it when the Underground takes a vintage Jeep that has such a strong connection with the brand’s heritage and does a modern take on the design. They are masters of this. You look at the Wagoneer Roadtrip with an untrained eye and you might just think it’s a nicely restored Wagoneer that somehow looks way better than any restored Wagoneer you’ve seen before. Until you realize that the wheelbase was pushed back 5 inches in the rear, both improving the rear wheelwell opening and reducing the exaggerated Kardashianesque factory overhang. The contour of the fender flares was reconfigured, the rocker shape tweaked, and several Ford replica bumpers flipped upside-down, cut, and rewelded to achieve the classic one-piece front bumper look instead of the traditional FSJ three-piece bumper. The boxed factory Wagoneer frame was treated to a front and rear coilover suspension.

There are so many over-the-top design “fixes” to the classic FSJ styling that we can’t cover them here, and the same holds true for the rest of the build. Examples: a 5.7L Mopar crate Hemi and a four-speed auto that’s toggled by the vague factory column-shifter, Dana 44 crate axles with electric lockers actuated by extra light switches mounted in the dash, oxblood-vinyl bench seating for six, a beachy headliner, campy road-trip maps, a leather luggage cooler, and a Tornado valve-cover toolbox. This build is just too damn cool for Jeep school!

For me, without a doubt, this is one of the sweetest vehicles to come out of any Jeep plant in several decades and underscores in screaming avocado-colored letters that the connection to Jeep’s heritage, which made the brand what it is today, is still alive and well within the halls of the corporate headquarters.

Jeepster
Wait—the Mopar folks are chopping and raking back windshields and modifying hard tops to pay homage to iconic Jeeps of the past? Watch out, Underground! Seriously, though, the Mopar Jeepster really does conjure up visions of the late 1960s/early 1970s C-101 Jeepster that is so beloved by most. The swooped white-on-red paint scheme, fastback-styled hard top, custom rollcage, and laid-back cargo-mounted tire carrier freeing up the tailgate are the icing on what is an otherwise really nice 2.0L-powered two-door JL Sport cake. Even though the Jeepster is sans lockers, its 2-inch lift, 37-inch tires, stubby Mopar winch bumper, and twin fluid container-holding tailgate would be welcome additions for a long day on the trail. I really like this one and tip my hat to the Mopar folks for going the extra mile on this vintage-vibe build. Nailed it.

Sandstorm
If you want a modern Wrangler to have upper-level capabilities in the rocks, many suspensions will more than fit the bill. But if you want it to excel in the rarified world of high-speed rock racing, combining prerunning with desert racing, Mel Wade at Offroad Evolution is your man. Underground dropped off a bare chassis at Offroad Evolution to have a rolling chassis built, complete with chromoly long-arms, bypass shocks, and coilovers at each corner to achieve 14 inches of front and 18 inches of rear travel as well as a massive pair of Dynatrac ProRock axles. Then the Underground took it back home and finished up with racy body bits, a stupid-powerful 6.4L Mopar crate Hemi backed by . . . wait for it . . . a six-speed manual transmission, and all the other go-fast stuff. Sandstorm is one seriously fun go-fast machine—and I kinda got the vibe that Jeep plans to enter it in the 2019 King of the Hammers. We’ll see.

B-Ute
The Renegade isn’t for our hardcore market, but it has a place in the Jeep lineup. Unfortunately, during our media day that place was broken down halfway through our trail loop. The hood treatment of the B-Ute gave it a more serious expression than the “Hi guys, wanna play?” look of the normal Renegade. We found it a welcome improvement. Put it in the next-gen Renegade. I can see equipping one of these things the way B-Ute was configured, with the roof rack and other light-overlandy elements, but the military-themed Lt. Jenkins reference is a bit hackneyed. I guess it’s a vehicle for millennials, and things like that appeal to millennials, but I’d rather see a Tide Pod dispenser than a silly video game reference that has to be explained to a majority of the off-roading community who don’t live in their parents’ basement.

Nacho
LED lights inside the windshield? I don’t really think I’m about that, but I’m sure future JL will get all gooey inside at the prospect. However, the other Mopar accessories adorned to this little two-door JL are right in step with hardcore off-road use, from the stubby Mopar winch bumper and true beadlock wheels to the super-solid tube doors, tailgate-mounted tray, and even the rear backup CHMSL-mounted LED light. The Nacho was as capable as it was nacho-colored.

J-Wagon
Remember the Sahara JK concept from a few years ago? It had a Land Rover Discovery–style popped-up roof with windows, a diesel engine, and other African-overlandy themed elements to it. The J-Wagon kind of reminds me of that. With its snorkel, roof rack, and bronze accents, it smacks of a night out on the town as much as a day exploring the Sahara. Components like the rocker guards, hood latches, and even bronze-colored towhooks are a slam-dunk. Who says off-road can’t be classy?

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