Chick’s Corner: The Moab Experience At EJS 2019

What is Moab? Strictly speaking, it’s a town in Southwest Utah that’s home to about 5,000 people along with a few blocks of bike rental stores, good eats, and gas stations that border on snack food restaurants. But the open secret about Moab is that it is the mecca of rock crawling and by extension, a home away from home for Jeep enthusiasts.

Ever since I started writing for Off Road Xtreme, I’ve had a dream of visiting Moab and see why it’s the off-road magnet that it’s purported to be. And there’s no better time to check out this town and the surrounding area than during Easter Jeep Safari, a week-long celebration of off-road, Jeep, and finding peace in a place that remains beautiful and untouched by overzealous land development or mindless governmental intrusion. This year, I had my opportunity and I took it.

While planning the trip to Moab, I naively thought that Easter Jeep Safari meant that the big, awesome blowout finale to the event was on none other than Easter Sunday. It’s a holiday, a lot of businesses are closed, the family gets together—these were all reasons to think Easter was the big day. Alas, I was wrong, but I was determined to make the most of two days of Moab, the final Saturday and Sunday of the event.

Even if I did flub the days attending, I didn’t flub on getting there. Something I’ll definitely be repeating next year was the flight into Grand Junction, Colorado, as opposed to flying into Salt Lake City, Utah. In terms of time costs, Grand Junction was the clear winner, being  a drive of just over an hour-and-a-half to Moab.

The rental car—a 2016 Nissan Rogue—wouldn’t cut it in the slopes and slick rock of Moab, but that was why I made plans. I didn’t come all the way to these glorious red mountains with no way of checking them out in person. I wanted the full experience, or as close as I could get to it, and Yokohama Tire came in to help me out.

Between these two vehicles – David Hartman's 4800 Class race rig and Troy Hatch's 2010 Jeep Wrangler JK – there was plenty of adrenaline in Moab!

I spoke with Yokohama’s Product Marketing Specialist Paul Algarin, who shared that he would be attending the Easter Jeep Safari as well, and could put me in touch with experienced drivers. These turned out to be Ultra4 racer David Hartman and Troy Hatch, two friends and experienced off-road drivers who knew the area well and could make sure I got the “Moab Experience.”

While meeting everybody for the first time at the Friday dinner, I started formulating what I was in for. It was explained to me that drivers could either opt to do official trail rides through Red Rock 4×4 (the organization that puts on EJS), or go their own way and find trails that were free and clear. The latter was the way to go, as it would allow us to do our own thing and not be beholden to newbies taking their first joy ride in a Rubicon JL. We could avoid logjams and just take in the splendors of Moab the way we wanted to.

The trails surrounding Moab spread far and wide.

I asked Dave during dinner, where are all the trails? Does it just start somewhere and then split into a million paths? From my drive in from Grand Junction, nothing really pointed me in any particular direction, so I was somewhat bewildered.

Dave just smiled and said, “The way to think of Moab is like Disney World. You start in the center, pick a direction, and you’ll find a trail.”

The Moab Experience Is Something Else

We were to meet at a house southeast of town and head on from there. Dave, Troy and his wife Shelly, their grandson Trent, and Clint, a mutual friend, would be our party as we rolled out. Our first destination was Behind The Rocks. Dave took his Jimmy’s 4×4-built buggy, Troy’s family took a modified JK, and Clint and I rode in a 2018 RZR 1000, equipped with all the latest bells and whistles, including Fox electronic shocks. It was amazing to see the sort of terrain it could soak up, as we mobbed our way to the destination.

Speaking of which, it was here that we found a nice little dune section, free and clear of others, and got to see Dave go a little crazy. A wide banking dune with a soft decline on its backside was the perfect candidate.

Dave took his Ultra4 rig out for some high-speed fun in the dunes south of Moab.

Dave took his Ultra4 4800 buggy, a machine built to race King of the Hammers and Baja, and hucked several times over to our delight. Soon, it was to others’ delight as well, as more and more people became drawn to this high-class 4×4 “sendin’ it” over and over. One fellow in an upgraded Jeep-style tube chassis 4×4 felt the itch too, and showed he could jump in style; just nowhere near as far as Dave’s ultimate day record setter of nearly 60-70 feet.

Forget biking, we’re here to seek some revenge!

Once we wrapped up there, we returned to the trucks and trailers and set up to head to another hotspot—Hell’s Revenge. This was the quintessential off-road trail, to quote Dave and Troy, mixing amazing vistas with white-knuckle drives over sheer-drop rocks. Mixed in with these were rocky ravines and heavily sloped inclines, all of which were two-way paths. Off-road etiquette saved us from awkward situations, and thankfully there was never an instance where a blind curve on either side led to two vehicles trying to avoid each other as they went opposite directions.

“The way to think of Moab is like Disney World. You start in the center, pick a direction, and you’ll find a trail.” – Dave Hartman

We made our way through, as I sat in the passenger seat of Troy’s well-equipped JK (one that Dave had originally built and later sold to Troy). Troy was always in control, and made us feel at ease as we went down 60-degree slopes or up near-vertical inclines. He drove us up the Dragon’s Tail to the Hot Tub obstacle—a deep bowl-shaped hole in the rock. It was big enough to fit a 4×4, and easy to get into, but difficult to drive out of. I sat ringside and watched several vehicles attempt it—even Troy—and it was indeed tricky. The driver had to have the right suspension setup, driving line, momentum, and steering input to pull it off, and only one that I saw managed all four feats.

The Hot Tub – a deep hole with an easy entrance yet difficult exit – is a fun one to go through. Novices and experts alike make the way up the top of a mountain to reach this awkward obstacle.

Afterwards, we made our way to Escalator. No one in our party was daring enough to try this one; shaped like a staircase, there were two “steps” to take on, and the driver had to position his vehicle carefully to make it out without smacking his rear end on hard rock. He could only do this by coming out of the first step correctly. A friendly driver in a gray GMC truck did it, despite it seeming like his rig was too large to fit. It just went to show that skill mattered for an obstacle like this.

We rounded out our day by checking out the most popular spot in the area—Potato Salad Hill. Here, the crowd was large and having a blast. The hill was akin to Escalator in its staircase-style layout, but the steps were much shorter—no sooner would the driver have his rear tires on flat ground than the fronts were up on the next step. Momentum and driving line were key here, and it was a thrill to ride along with Troy as he pulled it off in the JK. As a side note, Troy had had a particularly hairy experience with this obstacle before while driving a Samurai. I won’t share the details, but you can find it on YouTube if you type in “Rollover At Potato Salad Hill.” It’s a hoot.

Troy's JK was well-equipped to deal with Potato Salad Hill. Troy picked good lines and made it up without fuss.

So ended my trip to Moab. Out of it, I came away with a few lessons:

  • Come during the week (Monday to Friday), not during the final weekend.
  • Hitch along with an experienced driver, or take a 4×4 of your own.
  • Stay friendly and patient with your fellow drivers.
  • Have confidence and have fun!

I want to thank Yokohama Tire for pairing me up with Dave, Troy, Clint, and the others. Without them, I would have been a babe in the woods in Moab. And to Dave, Troy, and Clint, you guys are awesome! I recommend you follow Dave on his Instagram page, and check out Jimmy’s 4×4 to see some radical 4×4 builds and maybe find one that suits your needs. In the meantime, this is Chick, signing off and saying—“Go to Moab. You will never regret it.”

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About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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