While planning a trip to Arizona I found an outfit that rents out near-new Jeeps for self guided tours of the Sedona area. Having never driven a Jeep on the road, much less off-road, I decided to make that part of the itinerary, and dear fiancee was on-board.
4 hours of rental was about $200 so as long as you’re not doing it on your own, it was roughly equal to paying someone else to drive you, which is much less fun.
Our Jeep was a bright red Rubicon with the soft top. While we walked around the vehicle our rental person obligingly opened the soft top for us so we could enjoy the perfectly blue sky and 20 degree weather.
After a quick explanation of the self-guided route and how to use the 2H, 4H, and 4L modes we were off.
With the slightly lifted suspension we were looking clear over the top of mere road vehicles as we rolled down the state route toward the trail head. Although the 21 psi tires (For traction) didn’t do much for the handling, being one of the biggest and tallest vehicles on the road certainly tempted a primal urge to simply drive over everything in a straight line.
Our first trail was wide and bumpy although that didn’t stop a Subaru Outback and a Toyota Tundra (With a kayak strapped to the top) from also going up the trail.
The trail was roughly two Jeep-widths wide with a packed dirt surface studded with rocks of various sizes. As advised I kept it under 10 mph although there were a few occasions where I wished I had checked the ground clearance under the Jeep before straddling some rocks. Fortunately the rocks were much smaller and overall the Jeep was spared any “three dimensional” damage. Every once in a while there was a patch punctuated by flat rocks set in ruts with maybe 1 foot steps that I had to inch over.
Apart from the Outback, the big lumbering kayak+Tundra, we only encountered a few other Jeeps operated by the local Pink Jeep tour company. They went much faster than we did over the roads, and also took time to exchange the “Jeep wave” with me.
Since we were driving ourselves we could stop, look at the pretty views, and enjoy the silence basically anytime. Dear fiancee was having fun to so didn’t need to rush.
At the top we did a 180 and turned back down the mountain, faster this time, with a new sense of what terrain could be driven over at 8-10 mph, and what needed to be inched over slowly, although following the Outback (Which got away from me) I suspected that I was being way more conservative that I needed to be.
The second trail was much different, only about one Jeep width wide, and required use of 4L to crawl over everything. Driving wise this was much less interesting – manoeuvring a large vehicle through spaces and trails that were big enough for the dimensions of the vehicle, and no more. In fact it kinda felt like moving a dresser in through a house. For a trail like that, a dirtbike, ATV, or even mountain bike probably would have been much more fun.
However, the second trail, with the large rocks, steep climbs and descents, and narrow trails, did provide a good opportunity for the Jeep to impress me with its off-roading abilities. Although it had no inclinometer on one occasion I was sure the whole thing was just going to flip over its end, leaving us strapped in with the seatbelt. (Which it didn’t)
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the whole endeavor was that we could do it at all, on our own. With zero off-road experience I was given the keys to a Jeep and sent off to climb trails with steep drop-offs into the void, or alternatively, inch through trails where a a twitch would send a tree to test your folding mirrors.
On the way back we tried out the satellite radio and “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun promptly came on.