I recently received a message from long-time Moab resident Frank Mendonca. Here’s a portion:
Moab is getting a bad rap. Too many people are getting the idea that it requires a heavily modified vehicle to enjoy our local trails.
In some of the online forums recently, I’ve run across several comments like this one: “I’m not going to Moab. There’s no way a stock Rubicon would do those trails.” Another person asked what modifications were required to his new Moab Edition JK before he could take his young family to Moab.
In your March 4Word, you mentioned that even the easy trails are worth taking and that your readers will be seeing more on backcountry exploring. Most magazine articles about Moab feature the difficult trails. Moab’s scenery is secondary. I’ve lived in Moab for almost 40 years. When I moved here, it was not a tourist mecca. It was a sleepy little mining town. Virtually every business closed by 6 p.m. and there was only one small store on an out-of-the-way side street where you could buy limited groceries after dark. I’ve seen Jeeping evolve from simply a way to get to incredible and remote backcountry locations into a gonzo adventure sport where conquering the rocks is more important than the destination. For me, it is still all about the destination. If there is a bypass to an obstacle, I usually take it. Yes, I’ve done some of the difficult trails. But, it is the more moderate trails that lead to the most awe-inspiring views.
We’ve probably done our readers, especially readers new to the sport, a disservice by running photos of the most radical obstacles and trails in Moab and other areas. Photos of vehicles with tires in the air, articulated to the max, and rolled over don’t instill confidence in those who own stock or lightly modified 4x4s.
The four-wheeling available in the St. George/Hurricane area of southwestern Utah is as diverse and beautiful as it is on the other side of the state. While they mention that area trail difficulties range from easy to hard, a local club’s website has videos of buggies and highly modified 4x4s attempting tough obstacles and either making them or not. I’m sure these are on the website for the same reason we run photos of vehicles doing radical things— because they’re exciting. The general impression conveyed, though, is that this area is so tough for the average vehicle and driver that they shouldn’t bother to visit.
Moab, southwestern Utah, and (almost) every other off-road destination have trails and roads available for every level of experience and vehicle. Going to Moab for only the most insane obstacles negates the reason to go. It’s worth seeing the beauty there and, as Frank mentioned, much of that beauty is accessed by easy to moderate roads and trails. Visiting my stomping grounds here in southwestern Utah/northwestern Arizona/southeastern Nevada and not taking advantage of the hundreds of miles of easy roads and trails means that visitors miss most of what’s available.
If you own a stock or mildly equipped 4x4, don’t let media images of an interesting area make you afraid to go there. Usually you’ll find that you’ll be just fine on other roads and trails in the same area and will have a great time exploring places that extreme 4x4s seldom visit. The owner of the Moab Edition JK mentioned in Frank’s message will find that his Jeep can travel most of the Easter Jeep Safari trails as-is.
A stock 4x4 can go many places, but modifications will allow it to go even farther. It doesn’t have to be lifted to the sky and have no fenders to work. I’ve been spending time detuning the looks of the TrailRunner JK. It now has OE flares, 2.5-inch coils, and 35-inch tires on OE Rubicon wheels. While it looks mild, a glance underneath shows it has a few modifications. The frame is notched up front for more uptravel, and there’s a Dynatrac frontend, TeraFlex Pro LCG long-arm suspension, aluminum armor, etc. These modifications help the TrailRunner work well everywhere except the most radical trails.
Mild to wild, there’s a place in our hobby for everyone. If you, your vehicle, or both fit into the milder side, don’t be intimidated. Get into the backcountry. Your 4x4 is a passport to adventures you’ll remember the rest of your life.