As cliché as it might sound, the oftentimes overused phrase, “It’s a Jeep thing, you wouldn’t understand!” is so true, you either get it, or you don’t. Trying to explain the “Jeep thing” to someone who doesn’t get it can be as painful as banging a nail into the wall with your head. Admittedly, there are varying degrees of having the “Jeep thing”, some people just want to own a Jeep either for the freedom, or adventure, or whatever they envision changing in their life by their Jeep ownership. Others begin to modify their vehicles, so they can go and explore farther, longer, and more extreme. Then there’s a whole class of people, myself included, who have gone beyond just the simple “Jeep thing”, to more of a “Jeep lifestyle”. If we’re not in our Jeep, we are thinking about our Jeep; if we’re not on the trail, we’re thinking about the last trail we went on, or making plans for our next outing; if we’re not working on our Jeep, we are looking up parts online which can help make our Jeep more capable. We also know, that no matter how much we do to our Jeep, it will never be “finished”, there will always be something else we want or need to do to it to make it “just right”.
Building up a Jeep from a stock configuration takes a lot of time, and a LOT of money. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely can be done, and I’ve done it on several vehicles. But in a lot of ways, it’s much easier, both for your peace of mind, and oftentimes for your checkbook, to just buy someone else’s finished product. You can oftentimes get a vehicle which will do exactly what you want to do for a fraction of the cost of building one yourself. This is the situation where my good friend Mike recently found himself in. He has a VERY capable four-door JK, with a 4” lift, 37” tires, chrome-moly axle shafts with superstrong RCV front axle shafts, winch, aftermarket bumpers, body armor, etc. It really is a great Jeep, and it can go just about anywhere that Mike wanted to go. But after I took him on Pritchett Canyon a few weeks ago (here’s the blog about it: http://moabdave.com/2014/03/17/a-beautiful-spring-day-on-pritchett-canyon/ ) he decided that he needed a more capable rig, something that if he were to roll it over on its side, it would not destroy it.
After hours of Internet searching, he finally found a rig which he thought would work for him, and next thing I know, he and I were on our way to Salt Lake to pick it up. This new vehicle is a completely custom creation, it has a CJ front clip, YJ tub, Vortex 4.3 V6, Turbo 350 transmission, Atlas 4.3 transfer case, Dana 60s front and rear with Detroit lockers and 4.88 gears, all attached to a completely custom built frame. For suspension, the rear is set up with a triangulated 4 link with solid aluminum control arms, and 16″ Fox coil overs; the front is sprung under with double military wrap leaf springs and 16″ Fox remote reservoir shocks. The wheelbase has been stretched to 104” and is set up with 39” BFGoodrich competition compound (a.k.a. stickies) Krawler tires on 17″ beadlocks. The Jeep is set up with all kinds of little extra add-ons which make it such a wonderful vehicle. Understandably so, Mike was quite giddy when we picked it up, and couldn’t wait to get back to Moab and out on the rocks.
His first opportunity to take it out came just a few days after purchasing it. Nena Barlow, owner/operator of both Barlow Jeep Rental in Sedona, Arizona and Barlow Jeep School (http://www.barlows.us), which does trainings throughout Arizona, as well as in Moab, and on the Rubicon. Nena is also the only female certified by the International 4WD Trainers Association. On top of all that, she is one heck of a great lady, and a lot of fun to hang out with. Anyway, back to my story, Nena invited me to go along on one of her pre-Jeep Safari scouting trips of one of the lesser popular trails in Moab, Flat Iron Mesa. Even living in Moab, this is not a trail I have done very often, and the last time I was on it was several years ago. So I looked forward to this opportunity to go re-familiarize myself with the trail. This also would be a great trail for Mike to take out his new Jeep buggy.
After meeting in town, we headed about 20 miles South of town to where the trail ended, Nena and 2 of her friends in a second Jeep, and Mike trailering his buggy. I chose not to drive my Jeep, so I could ride with Mike, and help him familiarize himself with his new rig. After unloading the buggy off the trailer, we then had to drive about 2 miles down the highway to the trailhead. This was quite a cold 2 miles as Mike buggy didn’t have a windshield, and the ambient temperature was only about 45 degrees, add to that the 40+ mile an hour wind chill created by us driving, and it was downright freezing! The cold air blowing on our exposed for heads gave us a major case of brain freeze which lasted about 10 minutes, it was not much fun.
Except for a little bit loose steering, the Jeep drove and perform virtually flawless. It had no problem going over the numerous bumps, rocks, and ledges we went through as we traversed Flat Iron Mesa trail. The trail starts out fairly mildly, with nothing to extreme, but definitely some nice small obstacles to keep you paying attention. Eventually we reached The Chute, an optional steep, slightly challenging climb. Mike’s Jeep climbed it with no problem, not even spinning a tire. After The Chute there is another optional waterfall to climb, so of course Mike decided to try it. After having to reposition himself a couple times, he eventually made it up with little difficulty. Here is a video Nena took of Mike going up the waterfall, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=776944195652158&set=vb.100000097548839&type=3&theater (I’m sure there’s some way to embed it from Facebook, but I can’t figure out how, sorry)
The trail is bisected by the County road, giving you a northern section, and a southern section. We completed the northern section fairly quick, and headed off down the County road to begin the southern, and more difficult section. We soon reached Tilt a Whirl, an interesting obstacle which you have to drop down while turning fairly sharp to the passenger side, and dropping down a series of ledges. Other than providing a good opportunity to flex the suspension, everybody made it down without any issues.
A little further down the trail we decided it would be a perfect spot to stop and have some lunch, as we were provided with a beautiful view of Hatch Wash, a several hundred foot deep Canyon we had been paralleling for most of the southern section of the trail. It was still fairly cool out, but with the sun shining, and the wind staying at bay, it ended up being a very pleasant spring day.
The next obstacle which we came to is known as Easter Egg Hill. Here you have to go up and over a rock on your driver side, while your passenger side dropped down and to the right, this causes your Jeep to lean precariously to the passenger side, where hopefully you don’t make contact with the Easter Egg Rock, which is called that because all of the lines of paint from Jeeps rubbing across the rock making it look like an Easter egg. All 3 Jeeps made it through unscathed, and without touching the rock, but it was close, definitely.
Right after Easter Egg Hill, is the appropriately named Intimidator. For this obstacle you have to squeeze between a very narrow spot, with a wall on your left, and a several hundred foot drop on your right. It wouldn’t be too bad, except you are leaning, pretty dramatically, towards the downhill side, making it feel incredibly uncomfortable to drive. While it feels like you are going to roll off into a bottomless abyss, I actually have never heard of anybody rolling in that spot. Nena wanted an extra set of eyes, so had Mike get out and spot her around the corner; for me this is one of the funniest part of the day as the professional four-wheel-drive instructor screamed like a little girl, and not only ignored her spotter, but argued with him! With the appropriate rush of adrenaline, we all made it through the obstacle unhurt and alive.
From there the rest of the trail is fairly easy, before eventually meeting back up to the County road, which we followed back to Mike’s truck and trailer. It really was an amazing day, with great friends, magnificent scenery, good drivers, and a fun trail. Mike fell more deeply in love with his newly acquired buggy, learned some of its capabilities, and we all just had a heck of a wonderful day.