Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Life-Long Jeeper Earns His Trail-Rating at Moab

I always find it refreshing when an automotive journalist who isn't an offroader gets to experience the fun and adventure of real 4-wheeling.  Road & Track Magazine recently published an editorial on the Jeep/Mopar media run at Moab, Utah's 2014 Easter Jeep Safari during which their editor David Gluckman, who has been a lifelong Jeep fan but who has never actually gone offroading, wrote about his excitement and enjoyment of Moab's trails and the 4-wheeling culture.

Every year at the Easter Jeep Safari, Jeep and Mopar reveal several concept vehicles upgraded for offroad performance; this year was no different.  As offroading has become increasingly mainstream, broader coverage of major events such as this by more diverse media outlets has given the traditionally sports-car-oriented Road & Track Magazine the opportunity to provide their unique perspective on the vehicles, the trails, and the offroad motorsport in general.  This article is an entertaining read, with the author's impressions of the vehicles and his amazement at their capabilities.

The final conclusion after the Moab adventure: the author is dying to return to explore more trails, but next time with his own Jeep.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ecoterrorists Continue to Attack OHV Recreationists

Ecoterrorism is an ongoing tactic used by the anti-access faux-environmentalist groups to discourage legal motorized and equestrian recreation in multiple-use areas.  From burning down ski lodges and vandalizing SUVs on dealership lots to attacking fishing boats and setting crude booby traps in the woods, environazis show no respect for private property and human life.  You can read about their horrific tactics yourself, as found in Earth First!'s Death Manual.

It's usually only the big instances of ecoterrorism that make the news, but little incidents happen all the time.  As someone who partakes in a variety of forms of mechanized recreation that are frequently the focus of ecoterror attacks (4-wheeling, ATVing, motorcycling, mountain biking, river rafting) I run across little-known incidents quite regularly.  Here are just two examples from the last week:

An OHV trail outside of Flagstaff, AZ has been booby-trapped with at least 5 pieces of spiked rebar in an effort to disable vehicles and injure trail users.  From the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Facebook page:
Law Enforcement needs your help! Someone has been purposely placing sharpened rebar on and near forest roads in the Happy Jack area. Spiked pieces of rebar slashed at least eight tires over the weekend. It appears the rebar is being placed in areas frequented by off-highway vehicles (OHV). If you have any info about who may be doing this, contact Forest Service law enforcement at 928-527-3511.
Trail spike concealed in an OHV trail
“The end of the rebar has been flattened and sharpened to a point and the exposed point has been painted to blend in with the road surface,” said Mogollon Rim District Ranger Linda Wadleigh. “The objects pose a serious threat to everyone, and that doesn’t just mean people recreating on a motorcycle or OHV, it includes people walking, hiking and even wildlife. We are taking this very seriously and asking the public to keep an eye out and report suspicious activity in the area.”
Trail spikes extracted from an OHV trail

Ecoterrorism is a real problem with real victims.  In this week's second news story, outdoorsman Shane Hamilton and his family are the innocent victims of malicious intent to murder.  Instead of trail spikes, Shane was killed by a cable or piano wire strung between trees across an ATV trail, another common booby trap that the anti-access faux-environmentalists commonly employ.  From their Visit Key West Facebook page:
Karrissa Hamilton . . .  is part of the team that brings you this page, and the website associated with it.

She and her husband Shane were on vacation with their two children over #July4th weekend in Bryson City, Swain County, North Carolina. They had JUST arrived at their lodge that day. Shane took their 10 year old son to go ATV riding (they chose the lodge singly on their ability to be able to do this, so this was permitted), but something terrible happened. Someone with malicious intent had strung a metal cable across one of the trails. Shane did not see it. Thankfully, their son, who was riding on the back behind him, was not injured.

Shane, however, did not make it. He died from his injuries.

To add further insult to injury, we are told that the Swain County Sheriff's Office will not take any action, and will conduct no investigation. The property owner is being uncooperative, and whatever bubba system they have in place is keeping even the very STORY of the incident at bay. No news articles, no coverage, nothing.

Besides the devastating loss of her one true love, with whom she has been since they were high-school sweethearts, Karrissa must now deal with the financial and legal struggles that come with an event like this. 

The "environmental" movement is a good cause, but when crazy activists with a malicious agenda use it as personal justification for injuring and murdering innocent people, it hurts their cause even more so than the general anti-mechanized access movement does.  For people who believe our natural resources should be protected FOR public enjoyment rather than FROM the public, the Blue Ribbon Coalition is the world's premiere environmentalist organization.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Top 10 Used Overland Vehicles

Overland Journal's own Expedition JK

Expedition Portal is the go-to website for all things overlanding.  It is the online companion to their publication Overland Journal.  Their editor recently published an article covering what he believes are the Top 10 Used Overland Vehicles, and the Jeep Wrangler JK ranks third on the list.

From the article:
The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited JK was a game-changer for Jeep as an overland vehicle. These vehicles have proven to be reliable, supremely capable and easily modifiable. More so than any other vehicle on this list, you could take a stock Jeep Rubicon Unlimited and drive nearly any road, anywhere in the world, without modification. From the Rubicon Trail to the jungles in Guatemala (I have done both with them). They are simple, robust and have considerable interior storage space. They are also available on most continents now, including South America, Australia and Africa, so service infrastructure is improving. However, the Jeep Wrangler is a bit harsh and unrefined, so driver fatigue will be higher and NVH will take its toll on longer road sections.

    Class-leading capability
    Simple design and highly modifiable
    Ready for a round-the-world, right from the factory (Rubicon trim)

    Rough and tumble nature results in more driver fatigue
    Limited payload (about 1,000 pounds)
    Difficult to mount roof loads

Summary: Jeep surprised us all with this runaway hit. It is the real deal.

Editor’s Field Experience: Editor has owned or long-term tested a half-dozen variants of the JK Unlimited.  One was owned for two years and driven the length of Mexico and Central America to the Darien Gap.  Current fleet includes the long-term test Overland JK.  Overland Journal had an 18 month long-term test JK.  We have yet to experience a single warranty claim with any of these vehicles.
The Jeep JK is bettered by only the 100-Series Toyota Land Cruiser and the Toyota Tacoma due to their broader use in obscure countries and their higher payload and cargo capacities.  Given those two vehicles' intended purpose as overlanding vehicles in contrast to the Jeep's intended focus on rockcrawling capability, this assessment makes perfect sense.  But as Jeep has expanded the capabilities of their signature open-top vehicle to include the long-wheelbase 4-door Unlimited and much-improved suspension, drivetrain, and interior comfort, the Wrangler has become much more suited to overlanding in its current iteration.  As prices for used models continue to drop, the overlanding community will further refine this platform.

Be sure to read the rest of the article, as it provides some helpful insight into what makes the Jeep Wrangler and other world-class vehicles so appreciated by overlanders.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

2014 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition

Car and Driver's awe-inspiring Willys illustration
Jeep is known for producing special editions of their vehicles, and the 2014 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition is amongst the most distinctive.  The current car enthusiast magazines have really taken a liking to the Willys, with Motor Trend comparing it to the Toyota FJ Cruiser and now Car and Driver writing a standalone review.

The Willys Wheeler Edition is essentially a basic Sport model with some blacked-out Sahara model trim pieces, the Rubicon's BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain tires and rock sliders, and some unique decals.  It is available as either a 2-door Wrangler or a 4-door Wrangler Unlimited.  It is not as much a high-performance version of the vehicle as it is a tribute to the model's storied past.

From the Car and Driver article:
So why is it great? As in the war, the current Jeep has an improvisational quality—pitching in wherever needed, filling many roles besides the one for which it was designed. The Wrangler is a great off-roader, sure, but despite its antiquated dynamics, it proffers its own kind of sportiness. Unzip the rear windows, peel back the top, and unhook the doors, and you’ve just converted the Wrangler from a winter safety cell to a carefree summer cruiser, ready to bomb down either a beach or a two-track with the same messy kind of joy.
As I wrote in an earlier blog entry, the Jeep Wrangler is one of the most fun and expressive vehicles you can own.  Special edition Jeeps add to the fun of ownership of such popular vehicles by differentiating them and enhancing their personalities.  The Willys Wheeler Edition honors the past of its predecessors and our servicemen.

Basic Wranglers Are Simple Fun

As a 4wheeler, I am obviously a big fan of the Rubicon model of the Jeep Wrangler JK.  The Rubicon's upgraded offroad equipment (stronger front axle, different locks front and rear, deeper transfer case and differential gearing, rock sliders, sway bar disconnect, etc.) versus the lesser models adds cost but returns big gains in trail capability, but that doesn't mean a bare-bones Wrangler isn't a fantastic vehicle in its own right. has reviewed a 2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport S and come to the same conclusion.  From the article:
Like the Mazda Miata, the Wrangler is an unlimited fun machine. It’s a vehicle everyone needs to drive at least once in their lives. Nothing on the market gives the same raw, utilitarian feeling. I’ve driven several versions of the Jeepiest Jeep and one thing is always true: I feel like a kid again within minutes of getting behind the wheel.
In a world of ever-more-homogenized cars, the Wrangler is one of the last holdouts of fun.  Of course there will always be the stale criticism (and oftentimes slander) from oblivious and condescending publications such as Consumer Reports, but we can mock their drivel along with the rest of the automotive enthusiasts as we enjoy unique and expressive vehicles.  AutoGuide agrees:
And it may be that youthful feeling that has given this Jeep one of the largest diehard fan bases in the entire automotive world. Owners of Wranglers live and breathe Jeeps. They’re part of secret society that gives each other the “Jeep wave” as they pass by on the street.

Everyone knows what makes a Wrangler Rubicon awesome, but the article makes a great argument in favor of the basic Wrangler Sport, either as a basic and fun street vehicle, an entry-level 4wheeler, or as a platform for an extensively modified Rubicon-shaming extreme offroader.  Regardless, the Wrangler is a personality-laden funmachine for people who enjoy life to the fullest.  The article's verdict:
The Wrangler is especially quirky and that’s a big part of what makes it appealing. Jeep owners are proud to mount stickers on their rides declaring “it’s a jeep thing you wouldn't understand”. Even though I’m not an owner, I fully understand the affection people have for these unrefined off-roaders. They’re unique vehicles with go anywhere capabilities that promise freedom and a good time.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Jeep Beach 2014 - Daytona Beach, Florida

Jeep Beach has become one of the biggest 4x4 gatherings in the world.  Held annually in Daytona Beach, Florida, the event attracts Jeepers from all across the country.  A huge Jeep show, a man-made obstacle course, and an epic beach cruise are all part of the event.

Rebel Off Road made this great video showing their cross-country road trip from their home in California along with the event's activities.  There's some great obstacle course action along with a lot of great aerial views of the beach parade taken with a DJI Phantom drone:

Jeep Wrangler JKs at the 2014 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab

I've written about the annual Easter Jeep Safari before, but the number of great videos that people have put together from the 2014 event are definitely worth some attention.  For anyone unfamiliar with the event, it's a nine-day gathering of 4wheelers from across the country and all around the world in the small town of Moab, Utah for one of the most famous 4x4 events.  The sandstone rock, terrific people, and incredible desert vistas make for a perfect environment to enjoy your Jeep.

If you haven't been to Moab before, you would be wise to consider contacting one of the numerous trail guide companies.  Regardless of your prior experience exploring these trails, the Guide to Moab, UT Backroads & 4-Wheel-Drive Trails and Utah Byways: 65 of Utah's Best Backcountry Drives are the area's two best 4x4 trail books that you should bring with you to make the most of your experience.  The following videos will also give you a good idea of what to expect, but remember that Moab has trails that cater to the full spectrum of driver and vehicular capabilities.

These first three videos are from 4WD Hardware:

ARB USA put together a fantastic video of their sponsored run on the Fins & Things trail, which includes some aerial views of the Jeeps on the trails taken with a DJI Phantom drone.  This video definitely shows that an experience Moab 4wheeling truly is:

Here's another look at that incredible aerial shot from the video:

My friend Fred Williams from Petersen's 4-Wheel & Offroad Magazine devoted one of the recent episodes of his Dirt Every Day web 4wheeling show to his adventure to Moab, in a Jeep Wrangler TJ that he started building only two weeks before the trip.  Definitely an entertaining show!

Rebel Off Road has been putting out a lot of videos lately, and the following four videos of their experience at Easter Jeep Safari are great:

Of course the edge-of-your-seat action from the extreme trails the most frequently videoed, but if you're interested in some easier, more relaxing trails, don't worry - Moab has plenty to offer.  Even a 2-wheel-drive car can access much of Moab, as shown in this video:

Moab exploration isn't limited to the Easter Jeep Safari - in addition to the two books I recommend for self-guided tours, you can also utilize the expertise of several offroad tour guides any time of year.  Another option (especially if you don't have a Jeep of your own) is to contact one of the many Jeep rental companies in Moab who can guarantee a lifetime of memories.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

News Report on Off-Roading

Off-roading featured in the NBC nightly news!

It's not very often that 4-wheeling is featured by the mainstream media, but WMTV out of Madison, Wisconsin recently aired the following 2-minute feature on a local Jeep club.  The video was shot on private land and presented off-roading as the fun, family activity that we all know it to be. 

A group of 4x4s featured in the news report

The story can be found on WMTV's website.  While I don't particularly like the inexperienced reporter's use of the term "ripping through the narrow trees" to inaccurately describe the experience, she still portrays 4wheeling in a positive manner.  One shot shows the 4-wheelers and some equestrians happily sharing the same trail; other shots focus on a happy dog and grinning children enjoying the adventure in their families' Jeeps.  I'm especially fond of the "endangered species" Jeep t-shirt that is worn by one of the 4wheelers who was interviewed in the report.  The video can be viewed here:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Jeep Legend and Hero: Mark A. Smith

Jeep Legend and Hero: Mark A. Smith
The offroad community has just lost a true off-road icon: 87-year-old Mark A. Smith. 

I had the pleasure of finally meeting Mark at Rubicon Springs during the 60th Jeepers Jamboree between interviews and countless "hellos" from others.  Every time I saw him, he was surrounded by admiring Jeepers awaiting their chance to speak with him.  It seems that everyone but the trail-closure faux-environmentalists loved and admired Mark A. Smith.

Mark has many titles to his credit.  He was a miner, a Marine, a sheriff's deputy, the owner of a lumber company, an airport manager, a real estate developer, and a devoted husband.  He was the founder of Jeep Jamboree USA in 1982 after inventing the sport of "Jeeping" and founding the Jeeper's Jamboree back in 1953 and its first-ever organized Jeep trip on the Rubicon Trail.  He organized and headed the 1987 Camel Trophy in Madagascar.  He was a consultant for Jeep, seemingly the only thing to go unchanged as the brand's ownership transferred from Willys to Kaiser, American Motors, Chrysler, Daimler, and finally Fiat.  He was an offroad test facility engineer for Jeep, the Marine Corps, and countless others.  He was inducted into the Offroad Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1980, and a board member of the Rubicon Trail Foundation.  He even had "JEEP" tattooed on his butt.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

AEV Customer Jeep Tour: Anza Borrego Desert

American Expedition Vehicles has been organizing offroad tours with their customers to various spectacular places in America.  Their latest expedition was to California's Anza Borrego Desert.  The two following videos will definitely give you an appreciation of the AEV Jeeps and the beauty and ruggedness of the desert: