It’s funny how perception can change. Since 2008, I have lived on 25 acres of land reached by an uneven road featuring numerous potholes, protruding rocks and a mixture of dirt and gravel. I thought that was off-roading – until last week, that is. Last month, the Jeep brand invited me to experience the 47th Annual Moab Easter Jeep Safari. Of course, the answer was yes. To truly appreciate something, you have to experience it for yourself. Knowing something in practice is much different from theory.
As someone involved in the automotive industry, the Safari is something I’ve learned about from afar, seeing the various concepts that have come out at the event over the past few years. The fact that such a large event has sprouted up is a testament to the power of the Jeep brand. As far as iconic brands go, the Jeep brand is up there with the most recognizable. The fact that it is the 47th anniversary of the Safari should tell you all you need to know about how dedicated Jeep fans are. 1966 is a long time for an event like this – before the internet, smart phones, social media…or myself. I know people who own Jeep vehicles; and it really is a way of life.
This year’s Safari event was bigger than ever, with Jeep fans gathering from all over the country (and even from Canada) for days of off-roading adventures. Jeep brand executives come out every year to take part in the event, bringing cars and employees to listen and spend time with fans. Some companies talk the talk about listening, others walk the walk. It was clear that the Jeep brand does the latter. As someone who observed it all first hand, I saw Jeep brand executives on-site interacting with customers and sharing in the love of off-roading and Jeep brand culture. This isn’t a manufacturer-run event – it is instead the purest form of customer outreach and focus grouping.
The drivers for the first day were Dave and John, platform engineers for body-on-frame vehicles from the Jeep and RAM brands. They referred to myself and Greg Brown, a Jeep Brand Community Manager, as “the bloggers.” I can live with that. We started off bright and early (At 6:30 AM, coming from Pacific to Mountain time) and met up with our vehicle for the day; a pre-production 2013 Jeep Wrangler 4-door Rubicon 10th Anniversary Edition (say that a few times fast). I instantly fell in love with the 10th Anniversary’s striking Anvil exterior and Red leather interior combination. As a preproduction unit, the 10th Anniversary was fitted with oversized tires and a 2’ inch lift versus the stock model. The first production unit was built two weeks ago, meaning our Anvil 10th anniversary was the first anyone there has seen out in the wild. As expected, it garnered a lot of attention along the trail.
After registering and stopping to eat, we met up with the group. It was there that you could see the diversity of the models assembled; it really runs the gamut. New Jeep vehicles, classics, two-doors, four-doors, Rubicons, heavily modified examples and bone stock representations – you name it. Nearly every type of Wrangler (and even a Cherokee) was represented here, and the message was that each of these was capable of tackling the trail. At the end of the day, we all made it through. After a quick meeting with the trail guide, who informed us that he has been president of the Club since 1996, we began our day.
As I mentioned earlier, our ride was a four-door. The number of four-doors on the trail was impressive. It’s hard to believe that the four-door Wrangler has only been around since 2007. It was such a natural addition to the line, and it has helped propel Wrangler sales to new heights since its arrival. The reasons are obvious; the four-door opens up the off-roading experience to more people (at least comfortably; the extra back-seat legroom was appreciated). The longer wheelbase actually proves to be a benefit in certain situations as well.
Remember the part about perception? Trail riding completely changes your perception of what an obstacle really is. Jagged rocks, stairsteps, smooth surfaces, walls, rock passes, sand – we tackled it all. At around noon, we stopped for lunch. There, Jeep fans mingled with one other, swapping stories and talking about their vehicles.
On the second day, the rookies were put together in a stock blue 2013 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon four-door. Kyle, an engineer, drove for the bulk of the trip and we switched off after a few hours. The experience isn’t the same behind the wheel; when piloting it yourself you know the bumps are coming and what to expect. Thankfully, I had the advantage of watching what to do and what not to do for two days. In off-roading, it is all about your “line” – the way you approach an obstacle goes a long way in determining if you can get over it, and how easy it will be. Kind of like life, huh? The idea is to come in at an angle, having each tire make contact at different times. For the most extreme sections of the trail, there are spotters that can help you navigate your way through.
One thing the Wrangler never lacked was power; as Dave explained, there never was a need to jet through a difficult portion. Once the tires made contact, the torque was there to pull the Wrangler up. Poison Spider Trail, a Jeep Badge of Honor Trail, took us through some breathtaking scenery, juxtaposing high desert rock formations with snow-covered mountains. At the height of a trail was a vista overlooking the town of Moab. The cars on the road below looked like specks. Our second day came to a close with a look at the 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, which proudly sported its Official Badges of Honor for completing some of the same trails we did. We’re looking forward to testing it more later, but it’s safe to say it proved its off-roading prowess. You may disagree with the styling, but one thing is indisputable at this point: no one else in the segment offers that kind of capability.
The amazing thing about the whole event is its origins as an enthusiast-driven event. Marketing is a huge industry; billions are spent each year to try to present a compelling brand image, with the goal of gaining new customers. Despite all of that spending, there is no dispute about word-of-mouth being the strongest form of advertising. As Moab proved, that isn’t a problem for the Jeep brand. For many, Jeep vehicle ownership is a way of life. For people looking to get into off-roading with their Jeep vehicle, the good news is that it is very accessible – you just need a trail and a bit of common sense. It really is that easy. For first timers, I recommend attending an event like the Moab Easter Jeep Safari (Jeepjamboreeusa.com) or checking out Jeep Badge of Honor on Jeep.com. You’ll experience a sense of camaraderie and community along with getting the benefit of some expert guidance. Happy trails!