A Return to Easter Jeep Safari

This year marked a return to the Moab Easter Jeep Safari after six years away for me. I cut my teeth on 4-wheeling at the age of 11 when my Dad took me down to the 1993 edition. Back then, in his stock Samurai with big 215/70/15 all season tires, we ran Gold Bar Rim and Fin’s-n-Thing’s. I was terrified and intrigued all at the same time.

Fast forward 21 years, and I’ve spent the majority of my life dedicated to 4WDing across Utah. I attended every EJS from 1993 until 2008. At which point I had decided that it had gotten too crowded and lost some of the charm I had remembered from the “Good Old Days”, so I decided to venture off and find other corners of the state to explore during the week of EJS.

This year, though, I got my Jeep Safari paper and I thought, “Well, it might be fun to go back and see if it’s changed.” So my Dad and I signed up for two trails first weekend, Hell’s Revenge and Jax Trax. In addition to it being the first time back in a number of years, this would be the first time running trials in something other than a Samurai.

Our first trail was the perennial favorite, Hell’s Revenge. Led by Bart Jacobs and gunned by Marc Bryson and Brett “I’m running late” Davis. I was very excited to run this trail with these guys and test out the Trooper on a true, slick rock crawling trail

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As you can see from the pictures, there were a bunch of Troopers and a few JK’s… I mean, a bunch of JK’s and a few Troopers. It was interesting, of the 40 vehicles on the trail, 37 were Jeeps, with the majority being JK’s or JKU’s. Which is cool and all, but one of the things I loved about EJS in the past was the variety of vehicles on the trail. But with the JK being such a great rig right out of the box, I can’t blame people.

My Dad and I got a ton of attention at the trailhead for the Troopers. Which was fun and very throwback to the first few years with the Samurai in the mid 90’s when my Dad would get questions like, “Are you sure you’re at the right place?” for trails like Pritchett Canyon.

After airing down and the driver’s meeting, off we went.

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It was great to be out on the slickrock again, and my the Trooper with it’s factory 4.56 diff gears and my new Revolution 3.07:1 t-case gears just crawls!

So we plodded along the beautiful slickrock fins until we finally got to the always stunning lunch spot with it’s overlook of the Colorado River.

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And looking south east towards the La Sal’s.

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After a rather windy lunch, the trail continued on towards Hell’s Gate. This optional obstacle is where Hell’s Revenge begins to get interesting from a technical driving perspective.

Marc Bryson in his Chevy-Jeep buggy made it looks easy.

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The loan Cherokee on the trail gave a good show.

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The best, though, was this guy in a rental Wrangler. With some expert spotting, he got through, but he put on a great show!

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After Hell’s Gate we inched our way towards the next point of interest, the Escalator to Hell. Along the way, though, Brett Davis popped a bead so the whole trail stopped for a minute, allowing me to grab a great Trooper shot.

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And my friend Eric who joined us from Phoenix snapped a nice picture of my Dad and I.

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Before we made it to Escalator, a gentleman decided to take a dip into Mickey’s Hot Tub, which as usual, led to much noise, smoke and not being able to make it out without a tug.

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He did manage to redeem himself on the Escalator, though.

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Escalator is much similar to Hell’s Gate, but much more technical. So we had a few good tire lifts.

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But, Marc made it look easy again.

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It’s pictures like this one that always remind me of how much fun EJS people. A bunch of people, socializing and having fun watching people test their rigs out. Good times.

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Though I wanted to give Hell’s Gate a try, I opted against it because I only have the factory rear LSD. So the first real obstacle on the trail that I tried was Tip Over Challenge. Now, in my Samurai, I always make short work of it. Sometimes you get a little off camber as the name suggests, but then you just scoot on up.

I was hoping with the Trooper, I’d just buzz up because of the longer wheelbase, but I just couldn’t find the right line. Even with Bart’s stellar spotting skills after a few tries, I opted to back down and give the next guy a chance.

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After everyone made it up or around Tip Over Challenge, the clouds gathered and rain started to come down a bit. Which was fine, because we were back off the slickrock, which gets its name because of how little traction it has in the wet, and on to the dirt road leading back to the highway.

It was a great trail, and I was very pleased with the Troopers performance.

Sunday started with rain. Lots and lots of rain. From the meeting point all the way to the trail head 25 miles south of town, it was nothing but heavy rain. But hey, that’s April in Moab.

Our trail for Sunday was Jax Trax, which is a new one for the Jeep Safari, and I was excited to give it a try. Located in the South Cameo area near the Hook and Ladder OHV area it skirts the edges of Dry and Lisbon Valley’s. Nothing really challenging about this trail, but a fun, dirt and slickrock road.

Again, the trail was full at 40 vehicles, 38 of them Jeeps and mostly JK’s. As we waited in the rain at the meeting point, and again as we sloshed around the mud airing down at the trailhead, many people came by to ask about the Troopers. Surprised to see them on the trail, glad we were there to offer up some diversity. This is one reason I love having a different kind of vehicle from a Jeep or Toyota. Maybe I should rebadge it as a Holden Jackaroo to really mix things up!

While we slogged through the mud of the first portion of the trail, our leader Bill Dean provided us with a significant amount of history on the region and the roads. As with most of the trails in the area, they are tied to uranium prospecting and mining. Especially down in the Lisbon Valley area, because that is where some of the largest and most profitable mines in Utah where; such as Charlie Steen’s Mi Vida mine.

As you can see from our tires and the slickrock, we had to negotiate some pretty muddy roads.

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Though it rained most of the day, we did occasionally get some clear moments that offers spectacular vista out into Dry Valley to the west.

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We puttered along with our windshield wipers on and negotiated a few ledges made a little interesting by the rain until we finally got to a spot called Top Notch for lunch. The weather, working with us for once, agreed that this was a good time for a break as well.

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As the clouds gathered again, we packed up lunch and continued on our way. Finally we made it to the only named obstacle on the trail, El Diablo Dome. A short slickrock climb with a mild bump in the middle of it. Now, as I mentioned there were 38 Jeeps on the trail, most of them JK Rubicon’s, and most of them with a mild lift and 35” tires. I was the 35th vehicle on the trail only four Jeeps ahead of me tried this climb and none after me. As you can see from the video below, it really was easy. I don’t mean to speak ill of others, but all the way down the trail people in these very capable rigs were saying, “Gee… I dunno. That looks a little sketchy to me. I think I’ll take the bypass.” No offense, but have Jeep drivers just gotten timid?

El Diablo Dome Climb

Anyway, after ol’ El Diablo we sauntered on for a bit longer with sporadic rain before we finished the loop back at the trail head. And right as the trail finished… blue skies! Oh, Moab in April.

It was a great return to EJS. My Dad said it best, “It felt vintage.” And he’s right I felt like this trip was much more like the first few years that we went down in. Quieter, more mellow. I’ll definitely be signing up again in 2015.

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