Graduates on the Run Part 3: Land of the Free, Moab

Categories: Jeep® Life 

By: Nick Oxender

Graduates on the Run Part 1: Building the Ultimate Toy Hauler

Graduates on the Run Part 2: Colorado or Bust

jeep vehicles off-roading
Always drive within your ability and experience level and consistent with conditions. Always off-road responsibly in appropriate areas.

We Aren’t in Indiana Anymore

My buddy Grant and I have driven from Indiana to Colorado on a nonexistent timeline or schedule. After Colorado, it just so happens we’re heading to Moab at the same time as a couple friends. This works out great because they’re western veterans while we have never ventured past Midwest trails. To meet up with everyone, we drive until midnight in our school bus, carrying my 1940s Willys Jeep® 4×4 and towing Grant’s 2015 Jeep® Wrangler. The next morning, we happily turn off our GPS and begin to follow our crew. Our minds begin to race. Is Moab going to be a huge town in the middle of nowhere? Will other off-road enthusiasts pack the trails? As we continue driving, there are fewer and fewer vehicles on the road. All of a sudden, we follow our group off the highway and onto a dirt road. We’re in the desert.

nature landscape

Playing on Hard Mode

Our school bus plows its way through the sandy paths as we find a spot to unload our trail vehicles. We jump out and greet everyone, then begin unloading and packing our coolers. Although a few of our friends are driving vintage Willys 4x4s, I do have some explaining to do. Mine is not a simple restoration. Rather, I decided to bring “The Submarine”, a fully submersible, waterproof trail rig* that took me about three years to build. We won’t mention I “finished” building this project in the passenger seat of our school bus on the way to Colorado. I figure the desert is the perfect place to test such a machine. Hey, it is painted desert tan.

jeep vehicle

With everything ready to go, we head off into the blazing Utah sun. I’m smiling. Grant is smiling. We’ve driven all the way from Indiana to tame the unknown. Not even a quarter-mile into the trail, my trusty Submarine begins to spit and sputter. Until I have a chance to retune the engine for the climate, I decide to ride along with Grant and enjoy the scenery.

nature landscape through a jeep vehicle window

Top of the World

As we trek further into the desert, the trails become rougher. Sand turns into stone. Soon enough, we reach a staircase of rocks that doesn’t look passable. I jump out and grab my camera. Before I can find that perfect filming spot, everyone else has already bounced their way over and headed off to the next section. It is absolutely amazing! Coming from the land of saturated mud and fallen leaves, the amount of traction in Utah trails is nearly unbelievable. Sure enough, Grant passes the obstacle with ease as well. Our amazement is the center of conversation as we reach an iconic end to the road: Top of the World. Ladies and gentlemen, if you have a strong stomach and aren’t afraid of heights, you too may park your Jeep® 4×4 and take a picture at this infamous location. I would love to show you myself standing next to the ledge with Grant, but there is no way I can walk within 10 feet of his Wrangler sitting on the edge of this mountain. I call it natural instinct.

man with a jeep vehicle overlooking a nature scene

After heading back down the trail, we come across a group with a broken pickup truck. Our crew is quick to offer welding and wrenching abilities. Everyone in the desert works together like a finely tuned machine. Soon enough, the truck is repaired and we make it back to our tow vehicles. It’s still early in the evening, but everyone wants to set up their camping spots and eat a steak dinner. Being the incredibly proactive planners we are, Grant and I do not have a camping spot reserved. In the name of free-spirited adventure, I figure, how hard can it be?

jeep vehicle

A Campsite in Paradise

We head into the beautiful town of Moab. It’s a picture-perfect town just like you’d see on a postcard. It’s filled with hometown storefronts, decorations and an uplifting atmosphere. I look like an excited dog whipping my head back and forth trying to see everything. I spot a parts store, and we pull over to grab some supplies to fix the Sub. While I’m gathering miscellaneous parts, I provide Grant the wonderful task of finding a camping spot for our tow setup that’s as long as a semi. He calls a place and gets put on hold. That one is a bust. We’re simply too big to fit in a normal location.

nature landscape

After a few understandable denials, we have a lead. This campground tells us to come on over and they’ll see what can be done. Great! I punch it into the GPS and we drive a few minutes outside of town. As the buildings get further and further apart, I spot their sign and pull in with the yellow monstrosity. There’s a small office building. We get out and nervously walk in. The kind lady and gentleman running the place ask if we needed a power hookup. Nah! This bus doesn’t even have air conditioning, I say while holding back tears. Great. Is it alright if we’re placed away from the other campers? Secluded camping sounds wonderful. Count us in. Soon enough, we find out the gentleman used to build school bus conversions and live in them while working at farms. In their retirement, this couple travel across the country working at jobs such as this to meet new people and see new places. In other words, we found the coolest campsite around.

jeep vehicle rock crawling

I Can See for Miles and Miles

This gentleman hops on a golf cart and motions to follow. We’re taken behind the office building away from the other campers and popup tents. What we find is a vast open area with an uninterrupted view of the beautiful landscape that is Moab, Utah. And the best part: there’s an off-road vehicle trail that starts right outside the campsite. While setting up the campsite, the gentleman even brings over a fire pit. Soon enough, I begin working on The Submarine. I discover the only tuning I’ll need to do is to remove the engine intake to make it breathe more air. To test this theory, we definitely needed to check out the trail currently in view.

jeep vehicle driving on a trail

Grant and I hop in our Jeep® 4x4s and head off into the sunset. This trail is awesome. We’re climbing up steep hills, plowing through soft sand and having the time of our lives. I steer The Submarine this way, and steer it that way. I am finally driving my custom-built vehicle in the heart of Utah.

To finish off the evening, we drive the Wrangler into town for our first authentic, proper dinner since leaving Indiana. No more days of ham sandwiches, but rather fine cuisine. Have you ever yearned for a good meal so bad that you could almost cry? Folks, we are on the verge of waterworks in this establishment. I will admit it’s hard to walk after this, as no food goes to waste. We strive through our pains to walk the downtown Moab area and visit all the small shops to retrieve our souvenirs.

jeep vehicle

The Astonishing Personality of Moab

Our second day in Moab is filled with terrain similar to our previous desert adventure. The third, however, changes my life. We meet just outside of Moab at a Hell’s Revenge trail head in Grant’s Wrangler. Everyone lets some air out of their tires to provide better traction on the rocks. Soon enough, we’re off. I consider myself pretty experienced in off-road trails that would make others uneasy. Ladies and gentleman, Midwest wheeling did not prepare me for what Moab has to offer. My stomach clenches the moment we leave pavement and face a steep incline made of smooth rock formations. It looks like hardened cream. I begin to question my life choices as the Wrangler points to the sky and starts to climb towards the clouds. My grip on the passenger handle is unbreakable, and I begin to wonder how we’re getting out of this mess. Before I finish my thought, the Wrangler effortlessly climbs this grade as if it was a curb at the local mall.

jeep vehicle off-roading

This is the Moab we’ve seen in videos. This is exactly why we’re here. We follow our friends in their two vintage Willys vehicles through the most unusual and beautiful landscape on this solid mountain. Knowing where to drive is the easiest part, as tires from travelers gone by have left black marks across the rocks. It looks just like a road, albeit an uneven one. I watch in amazement as every Jeep® 4×4 climbs and crawls over obstacles that simply seem impossible. I’m in a dream.

Carnivore Sideshow

Not too far into this trail, our friends purposely stop to show us a side attraction. There’s a sign in the middle of nowhere. We walk up and our jaws drop. Right in the middle of this trail, on the top of a mountain, are dinosaur tracks. This sign explains just how happy I am that dinosaurs no longer roam the earth. For scale, I step into the footprint and snap a picture.

man with his foot in a dinosaur track

Later in the day, we stop for a lunch break. I have the most memorable peanut butter and jelly sandwich of my life. No, the food isn’t that great. It’s the view. There is nothing but unaltered Mother Nature for miles. Pure rock, standing tall and powerful. At this moment I realize how insignificant the worries of daily life truly are.

nature landscape

Full of Opportunities

On our final day in Moab, our friend acts as a personal tour guide. We traverse through trails much further outside of town. One destination includes a rock with historic drawings from a native tribe. These are the wonderful surprises of a trip. Never did we plan on this, or stepping in dinosaur tracks, eating lunch in a secluded canyon or even camping right off a trail head. Jeep® 4x4s are great for their off-road capabilities, allowing owners to travel where others cannot. And thus, more adventures arise from reaching remote locations. Had I never built my Jeep® 4×4, I would never even have heard of Moab. Moab is more than the sum of its off-road trails; it is a place where people travel from around the nation to enjoy everything the west has to offer. When people ask why I’m addicted to everything related to vehicles, I tell them about this trip.

rock with drawings on in

*Do not attempt water fording unless depth is known to be less than 19-30 inches. Water depth varies depending on model. Traversing water can cause damage that may not be covered by the new vehicle warranty. Always off-road responsibly in approved areas.

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