WILD WEST

SNOW-CLAD MOUNTAINS, DESERT DUNES, RUGGED RED SANDSTONE TORS ? WELCOME TO THE WILD WEST OF MOAB, UTAH, THE VENUE FOR THE LONG-RUNNING EASTER JEEP SAFARI.

WORDS AND PHOTOS CHRIS COLLARD

WITH roots dating back more than five decades and firmly implanted in the psyche of the planet’s off-road adherents, there is little argument that the Easter Jeep Safari is here to stay.

From humble beginnings as a one-day trail ride back in 1967, which wrapped up with a Boy Scout barbecue fundraiser, it has matured into a global phenomenon attracting tens of thousands each year – a literal spring gathering of the who’s who of off-road. Today, the event utilises 35 of the region’s most iconic routes over a span of eight days, and relies on a volunteer staff of hundreds. The vendor show, which started in the early ’90s with just a dozen manufacturers, now occupies 10 acres and has a lengthy waiting list.

As the Easter Jeep Safari pushes into its sixth decade, we wanted to take you to some of its iconic mild-to-wild trails, hunt for new swag at the manufacturer show, and, as is tradition, check out Jeep and Mopar’s current batch of concept vehicles. While the numbers have increased in the past 52 years, the common denominators remain: trail camaraderie, good fun and heaps of Jeeps.

MILD TO WILD IN MOAB’S BACKCOUNTRY

THE Red Rock 4-Wheelers, the organising club, rates trail difficulty on a scale of 1 (put your kid on your lap for their first 4x4 experience) to 10 (update your insurance policy before you lock in the hubs).

Most on this list are sanctioned trail rides, but a few, such as the axle-snapping Upper Helldorado Canyon, are on private land (but open to the public). Each of the official EJS trails are marked with painted-stenciled icons along the centre line, as it is easy to lose your way through the slickrock without them. If you find yourself in Moab, here are our top picks.

TRAIL RATING 4.0

FINS AND THINGS

This trail, along with its sister route Hell’s Revenge, traverses a vast region of ancient sand dunes, petrified by intense pressure from tectonic movement and sculpted by wind and rain through the epoch of time. Fins and Things is not exceptionally difficult, but the views of the La Sal Mountains in the background are worth writing home about.

TRAIL RATING 6.0

HELL’S REVENGE

Hell’s Revenge, located just a stone’s toss from town, is one of Moab’s most popular trails. Its slickrock climbs and descents will reveal any white knuckles you may have. On the flip side, despite a fairly high rating, most tougher obstacles have bypasses.

TRAIL RATING 4-10

THE HOT TUBS

Throughout Southeast Utah are natural depressions in the sandstone known as ephemeral pools or “hot tubs”. When water evaporates, those found along Hell’s Revenge become a thrillseeker’s playground. Mickey’s is difficult and the scene of many a rubber-side-up affair.

TRAIL RATING 10

ESCALATOR

The Escalator, a steep white-knuckle side route on Hell’s Revenge, is not for the faint of heart. It can be tackled by moderately equipped vehicles, but the driver had better be on his/her game.

TRAIL RATING 8.0

POTATO SALAD HILL

Spectators go wild if you toss your Esky. While not a sanctioned trail, Potato Salad Hill, a 50m series of steep off-camber ledges, gathers huge crowds. It is unforgiving if you choose the wrong line, and has been the “undisclosed” location of many insurance claims.

TRAIL RATING 4.0

DOME PLATEAU

Some 20 miles up the Colorado River from town, the Dome Plateau Trail is great for a scenic day’s cruising. About 25 miles long, it offers Moab’s epic sandstone, river views, and is the site of many petroglyphs from America’s pioneer days of the late 1800s.

TRAIL RATING 5-9

THE SAND DUNES

About 15 miles south of town lay a good-sized field of red sand dunes. Carving a few crescents is a must-do before continuing on to the Behind the Rocks Trail.

TRAIL RATING 2.0

HURRAH PASS

The gateway to the Lockhart Basin and Chicken Corners Trails, Hurrah Pass, while suitable for any fourwheel drive, is one of the most picturesque drives in the area.

You are likely to see local wildlife, including herds of big horn sheep and coyotes, while making your way to an overlook above the Colorado River.

TRAIL RATING 10

UPPER HELLDORADO

Carnage guaranteed. Experiencing Upper Helldorado is better done as a spectator if you value your sheetmetal and axles. Its crevasses and near-vertical waterfalls (dry) are rock buggy terrain, and while less than a kilometre in length it may take all day to complete … or get towed back to town for repairs.

TRAIL RATING 2.0

THE GEOLOGY RUN

For the past few years we’ve joined professional geologist John Mears for the Lost River Off-road Geology Run. Nearly all trails in the Moab region are the byproduct of the Cold War hunt for uranium, and this year Mears took us to the place it all began. In 1952, unemployed oil geologist Charles Steen discovered high-grade uranium ore in this ledge. It would become known as “Steen’s Folly” and ignited a flood of freelance prospectors to the region.

TRAIL RATING 7.0

MOAB RIM

Climbing from the Colorado River to nearly 1000 metres over the town of Moab, “The Rim,” as it is called by Safari regulars, was one of the first trails used in the 1960s. Back in the day (before the era of 12-Volt fridge/freezers), the Red Rock 4-Wheelers would have a small plane fly over the lunch stop and air-drop ice cream for participants.

SAFARI SWAG

TRAIL OVEN

The guys at Black Forest, a subsidiary of Webasto, got tired of eating cold meals on the trail and created this handy trail oven.

It easily mounts on Jeeps with the 3.6-litre V6 (other applications forthcoming) and is perfect for heating snags or burritos.

CAMP KITCHEN

For the Jeep-driving outback gourmet, MORryde developed a slide-out camp kitchen and rear gate storage. The stove tray folds into the fridge slider and the storage cubby provides additional workspace and a place to store recovery gear or a mess kit.

TYRE RACK

The Bugoutrack tyre-mounted rack attaches with a ratchet strap and is handy for securing quickly needed items such as recovery straps (or an Esky full of coldies).

ATLAS NEW KIT

The Atlas transfer case, by Advanced Adapters, has long been the go-to solution for bulletproof gear reduction. The company tells us they are near completion on a version for the ZF 850RE 8-speed automatic, standard transmission on the Wrangler JL.

SHOCKS

Leading the charge on Jeep-specific adjustable shocks, Falcon (a subsidiary of Teraflex) recently introduced its 2.5-inch Series 3 Piggyback. A large aluminium dial allows for 10 damping settings in two ranges and the 0.75-inch shafts should hold up to any trail abuse.

SIDE TANKS

If your extended outback travel requires heaps of fuel, MORryde has a side-mount jerry can tray to help boost range. Available for driver or passenger side applications, the tray will provide an extra 20 litres close at hand.

ROCK JOCKS

Currie Enterprises began in the drag racing scene but developed into a premier purveyor of bulletproof axles. Their Rock Jock Series (Dana 44, 60, and 70 equivalent) is standard equipment for many Moab Jeepers.

SLIDING TRAY

This aluminium sliding tray, a prototype from CargoGlide, has promise. It pulls out and locks in place for easy access to gear, and the company states it will mount to most aftermarket roof racks.

POP-UP TENT

Ursa Minor Vehicles has adapted its pop-up rooftop abode to the Jeep Wrangler JK. With a comfortable bed and direct access to the driver’s seat, it offers many advantages over a standard roof tent. We’re told a version is in the works for the new JL as well.

JEEP CONCEPT HIGHLIGHTS

4SPEED WRANGLER

ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder

TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed automatic

AXLES: Dana 44 w/4.1:1 gears

FENDERS AND HOOD: Custom carbon-fibre SEATS: Refitted with snowboard jacket material CAGE: Custom sweep-back

WHEELBASE: Shortened 22 inches

WHEELS/TYRES: Forgeline, BFGoodrich KM2 FAVOURITE FEATURE: 408kg lighter than stock

SANDSTORM WRANGLER

ENGINE: 6.4-litre HEMI V8

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual

AXLES: Dynatrac Dana 60s, 5.68:1 gears

LOCKERS: ARB Air Lockers

SUS: Off Road Evolution coil-over long-arm, King shocks

CAGE/TYRE SPARE TYRE MOUNT: Custom

WHEELS/TYRES: Method monoblock alloy, BFGoodrich 39.5-inch Krawler

EXTRAS: Stretched six inches, ARB twin compressor, Lowrance GPS FAVOURITE FEATURE: 6.4 litres of HEMI fun

B-UTE RENEGADE

ENGINE: 2.4-litre Tigershark

TRANSMISSION: Nine-speed automatic

SUSPENSION: 1.5-inch lift

BODY ARMOUR, HOOD, AND FENDERS: Jeep Performance Parts (JPP) REAR DECK: MOLLIE-attached emergency gear

WHEELS/TYRES: 17-inch JPP alloy, BFGoodrich KO2

FAVOURITE FEATURE: Drives like a go-cart

ROADTRIP WAGONEER

BASE VEHICLE: 1965 Jeep Wagoneer

ENGINE: 5.7-litre HEMI

TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic

AXLES: Dana 44, Rubicon locking differential

SUSPENSION: Custom 4 link

REAR DECK: Luggage icebox, Tornado 260cdi I6 valve cover toolbox WHEELS/TYRES: OEM, BFGoodrich 33-inch KM2

FAVOURITE FEATURE: Cruising the backcountry

JEEPSTER WRANGLER

ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder

TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed automatic

AXLES: Dana 44, electric locking differentials

SUSPENSION: two-inch JPP suspension, 2.5-inch shocks

ARMOUR: Rubicon bumper, rock rails, and Warn winch

EXTRAS: Half doors, custom seats, interior cage WHEELS/TYRES: JPP 17-inch alloys, BFGoodrich 37-inch KO2 FAVOURITE FEATURE: Retro chop top

NACHO WRANGLER

ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder

TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed automatic

AXLES: Dana 44, electric locking differentials

SUSPENSION: JPP two-inch lift

ARMOUR: Rubicon bumpers, JPP rock rails, Warn winch

EXTRAS: JPP tube doors, Katzkin leather seats, Magneti Marelli LED lights

WHEELS/TYRES: 17-inch JPP alloy, BFGoodrich 37-inch KM2

FAVOURITE FEATURE: Carving turns in the sand

J-WAGON WRANGLER

ENGINE: 3.6-litre Pentastar V6

TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed automatic

AXLES: Dana 44, electric locking differentials

ARMOUR: JPP rock sliders, Sahara premium bumpers

INTERIOR: Camel-coloured and Brass Monkey trim accents EXTRAS: Katzkin leather seats, JPP LED lights, snorkel, and roof rack

WHEELS/TYRES: JPP 17-inch alloys, BFGoodrich KM3

FAVOURITE FEATURE: Perfect for extended overland travel

SHOW STOP

Walking the Jeep Safari vendor show, which features hundreds of manufacturers from the world over, is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.