An Aussie Goes to Moab

Troy Bignell is Overland International’s resident Aussie, and a most valued team member. On loan for an unfortunately short term, his primary function is to entertain us with funny words and cheeky anecdotes from Down Under. A skilled videographer and navigator previously employed by Hema Maps, he is responsible for making sure we never get lost. Although he has a long list of talents––his ability to build a wicked campfire has become legendary. 

This past week has been a big one for me, and certainly one of great and new experiences. I started the week last Friday when I left Prescott and headed to California to drive the famous Mojave Road. Over the course of two days, I had some great fun driving in a Subaru Forester, of all things. While the Mojave Road was excellent, this yarn is about my trip to Moab.

Sunday saw me leave Baker, CA at an early hour to drive back to Prescott, and within minutes of arrival, have a shower, unpack, repack, and hit the road again towards Moab. Just getting there was an adventure in itself. Plodding along in an LR4 with a trailer containing a single mountain bike and a James Baroud roof top tent meant that we were going to get thrown around by the huge winds which were quickly picking up speed. According to the radio, the strongests gusts reached 50 mph (80 kph), windy enough that less than 15 minutes after we went through a particularly bad section of the I-40, they closed it.

 After heading through Tuba City, not somewhere you would want to spend too much time, we pulled into Monument Valley, which made for some amazing views. The beauty of that area is astounding with huge sandstone formations rising out of the ground showing their many layers of different coloured sandstone. The vast cliff faces seemed to go on forever with thousands of different colours interwoven.

(Subaru on Mojave Rd. Credit: Chazz Layne)

Once we eventually got past the Utah border, we started to move up into the mountains.  By this time it was starting to get darker and the sky began to look ominous, with a bank of dark clouds heading our way. One thing I can say for the LR4 is that we didn’t notice the temperature drop, and missed some of the signs that we were about to hit a blizzard. Not long before Monticello we hit some snowfall. At first it was nothing too serious, a bit of snow has never hurt anyone, though it was the first time I had driven in snow. As we continued past, the snow got heavier, and combined with the winds, led to almost white-out conditions. Christophe, who was driving at that point, is familiar with snow driving and even he had to slow down so that we could see where we were going.

After we eventually got through that, it was just a matter of making a B-line for Moab and dinner. After spending close to 13 hours on the road that day I was ready for a margarita, dinner, and bed.

(Wrangler MOJO. Credit: Scott Brady)

The first day in Moab was so full of new experiences that I didn’t know what to do with them all. Firstly, we had a press launch and “first-drive” for all of the Jeep concept cars for the 2014 Easter Jeep Safari. This year the cars were not over-the-top like they have been in past years, but more subdued and hinted to the concept parts to come in the near future. However, before any of this even happened we had to get there. Jumping in the Grand Cherokee they had given us, as we didn’t want the LR4 at a Jeep launch, we motored down to Dripping Springs, a nice area near the Colorado River with a few nice rock formations to serve as backdrop to our images.

(Cherokee Adventure and Dakar. Credit: Scott Brady)

(Cherokee Trailhawk. Credit: Christophe Noel)

(Recording a video review of the Cherokee Dakar Concept with Scott Brady. Credit: Christophe Noel)

The rest of the day was reasonably uneventful, I went for dinner at a place called McStiffs and had my first steak in a while. I also ran across the Utah drinking laws for the first time, meaning that draft beer can only be 3.2% alcohol content. I have subsequently learnt not to drink draft beer in the state. In saying that, they do brew some tasty beverages locally, they just put them in a bottle or can.

(Shaffer Switchbacks, White Rim Trail. Credit: Scott Brady)

Day two in Moab involved me driving a variety of Jeeps around the absolutely stunning White Rim Trail. This was a long day, more than ten hours in total, but so worth it. The views from many sections of the trail were some of the most impressive I have seen in my travels so far. Looking out into the wide canyons below gave me a true sense of how small we really are and how truly magnificent the world is.

(Lone Bike Rider, White Rim Trail. Credit: Troy Bignell)

The latter part of the week rolled around with a leisurely breakfast at the Jailhouse Cafe. I am not a big bacon person, but this place had some of the most amazing bacon I had ever tasted. This would most certainly be on my list of things to do in Moab. We had another press launch around noon for the Jeep Renegade, which turned out to be a nice little car, but probably not what was expected by many. 

The afternoon of day three was what I had been really looking forward to in Moab, some proper 4WDing. So we packed up the LR4 and a Jeep Rubicon and headed for the tracks. The slick rock around Moab is some of the most amazing terrain I have driven on. The way the vehicle just sticks to it seems to defy physics. To get a bit of an idea on what the cars were like on this rock we hit a nice simple trail to start with called Baby Lions Back. Essentially just a hump, albeit an extremely steep one, the Rubicon just crawled up and down it without a care in the world.

(Fins N Things, Moab. Credit: Scott Brady)

(Hell’s Revenge, Moab. Credit: Christophe Noel)

After that, we hit up a more technical trail called Fins N Things. This was another great testing track and really allowed me to get a feel for the Jeep that I was driving off-road for the first time. While most of this track was pretty tame, there were a few sections which made me think and I had to ensure that I had a great deal of car control to avoid causing any damage to the vehicle or terrain.

 Then we went for the fun stuff on a track dubbed, Hell’s Revenge. This was on the next level and many obstacles had to be carefully navigated. The Rubicon performed spectacularly and while I do own a jeep, I am not really a Jeep person. The Rubicon in completely stock form took on this track with gusto, and with so little effort, I may have been converted. Sadly we couldn’t do the full trail as in true Land Rover fashion, the LR4’s air suspension started to play up. It was still a good trip.

Four wheels behind us, thursday was the true test. I went mountain biking in Moab, traversing the world renowned Slick Rock Trail, at least some of it anyway. About two miles in I decided the idea of another 8 was a bad one. So we turned around and headed back. Regardless, I still loved it. I have however been told that riding a 26” hardtail bike through that terrain scores me a few extra points.

(Me on Slick Rock Trail. Credit: Christophe Noel)

(Testing one of only a dozen Salsa Bucksaw fatbikes on Slick Rock. Christophe was stingy and only permitted but a brief ride. Credit: Christophe Noel)

Friday we had to head back to Prescott, however rather than driving the LR4, we got to drive an American Expedition Vehicle (AEV) Jeep Rubicon. For those that don’t know, AEV essentially takes cars and makes them considerably better. So, in this case we had a four door Rubicon with a 6.4L Hemi motor in it, running on 37-inch tyres, plus a few other bells and whistles.

 After writing much more than I had planned, I can safely say that I am pretty hooked on Moab and can’t wait to go back again in another week and bit.