What’s it like to drive a new Land Rover on slick rock in Moab?
Land Rover have started offering drive experiences the in the USA on Moab’s slick rock, something Aussies don’t get to experience.
AUSTRALIA may well be the world’s 4×4 capital, but we don’t have every type of surface the planet can offer. We’ve got sand, but not sand like the Sahara. We’ve got mud, but there is New Zealand. We’ve got snow, but not like Iceland, and our rock is loose and shaley, not the vast expanses of monolithic slick rock you find in the USA…so how different is that to Aussie terrain?
John Eggenhuizen and Shaun Johnson are two highly experienced instructors from Land Rover Australia who visited Moab to find out, and we asked them what they thought of offroading, USA style:
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Where and what did you drive ?
John: We drove in the vicinity of Moab, tracks included; back tracks through Arches NP, Fins and Things, Seven Mile Rim, Hells Revenge and Poison Spider trail. We drove all new Discovery, Discovery 4, and a Range Rover Sport.
Shaun: The Moab Desert is the ultimate world location for rock driving as it is all done on what they call slick rock. The name is a little misleading as it was named slick rock by the early explorers because the steel horse shoes could not grip on them, but they are perfect for rubber tyres. We started the adventure in Salt Lake City driving 6 brand new 2017 all new Land Rover Discovery’s in convoy 4 hours south to Moab and our first off road track in the Arches National Park. This was the introduction to the next 5 days. The Arches National park look very similar to the Simpson Dessert in places but has snow capped mountains on the horizon. The Moab Desert has the Colorado River running through its centre and at an elevation 1,227 metres (half the hight of Mt Kosiciuszko) it snows in winter and gets up to 38 Celsius in summer.
What sort of terrain was it?
John: A combination of slick rock, and rocky trails (with tiny amounts of sand) mostly. Through Arches the track was mainly gravel, sand and a little bit of slick rock.
Shaun: Our intro tracks where your fairly standard rocky tracks as in the Victorian High Country but had stretches of soft sand and large boulders with rock steps. And this was the intro day…wow! We also learned to set up the vehicle. Seat position, low range, Terrain Response to rock crawl, suspension raised. I went to lower the tyre pressures as I would normally do and the instructor said “don’t do that. You will need to be able to use the side edges of the tyre and you will need full pressure for ground clearance”. And after an afternoon of learning how to read and understand this US desert, we ended up at the Red Cliffs Range which would be our base camp for the week.
We drove a little track called Hells Revenge. This track winds its way up and over massive boulders made from fossilised sand dunes. The track is well defined with tyre marks and painted arrows but when you are on top of the rock there is only enough width for one vehicle with sharp drop offs either side and very steep climes and descents…oh and lets throw in some side angles as well! It can make the most confident driver a little nervous. At this point over the radio I hear “oncoming vehicle, please move over to let them through” WHAT!!
Didn’t they call this slick rock? Our Land Rover Experience instructors said ‘that what we have learned over the past couple of days will help us for what they have in store for us next.”
We also drove Poison Spider Mesa track. At the start of the track was a loose rock stepped trail cut up into a cliff face. Did I mention it was loose rock? This trail was very challenging to say the least with up to one-metre ledges to climb. Not letting the tyre pressures down became instantly apparent as you would need the very edge of the tread to inch your way up and over all the obstacles on the track. And the extra ground clearance was needed as you only needed to clear an by millimetres to be successful. One obstacle on the track was called The Waterfall, a two metre climb at a very steep angle with at most times only three wheels in contact for the ground. Thank God, or should I say Land Rover for Traction Control!
I have always been told that you can’t beat cross-axle differential locks for ultimate traction. But diff locks would not give you the precise manoeuvrability you need to position each wheel.
Then we again came to another obstacle called The Wedgy, a V shaped section that we had to evenly and precisely position the Discovery so it did not drop in and WEDGE itself. Using the edges of the tyres to drive through – I am glad I didn’t drop those tyre pressures! In fact the easy part was driving. Don’t get me wrong you needed very smooth and precise use of the steering and throttle but all the pressure was on the guide. I ended up walking the complete track and loving every step. But then it was my turn to drive under the guidance of someone else. Following their every precise hand gesture and ultimately giving them control of the vehicle like its an RC car.
What new skills did you have to learn?
John: Not so much new skills, but a heightened state of existing skills. Absolutely precise vehicle positioning, and I do mean precise. honing of vehicle throttle techniques, making sure our guiding skills and signals were very clear.
Shaun: The next day we ventured along the Seven Mile Rim track this enabled us to to learn track building and vehicle guiding. It became apparent very quickly that getting out of the Discovery and guiding my fellow off roaders was going to be a very big part of the adventure. It is very difficult to see every corner of a 4WD so a guide is essential on these tracks. But it is not all bad as being out of the drivers seat as it helps you to learn more of how the vehicle behaves and responds which you just get to fully see from the driver seat, plus the views are spectacular.
On the final day the 4 hour drive back to Salt Lake City gave me time to contemplate what I had experienced and learnt over the past few days. 4WDing is more than just picking the correct gear and throttle control. It is about understanding what your 4WD’s capabilities are and how your 4WD is reacting to the terrain and that there is more than one line to pick for any one obstacle. Getting out of the driver’s seat and guiding also helped me to understand this which will help me to hone my driving skills as well.
The new Land Rover Discovery I had been driving was out off the showroom floor with standard tyres and pressures and it did everything I asked of it, in and out of the drivers seat. It was a fantastic experience driving in such an iconic part of the world, learning about a great 4WD, new driving skills and picturesque scenery.
What skills you learned in Australia came in useful in the USA?
John: We are very lucky in Australia as we have a huge variety of terrain available to us. We were able to display confidence whilst driving in these conditions, and were able to show and teach other international instructors the correct way to guide, how to read terrain, what Terrain Response program to be in and why.
Shaun: Years of driving in the Victorian High Country helped me a lot. Learning how to read the track and pick a line , wheel position and guiding from outside the vehicle. But Moab took it all to the next level.
You have to be so precise on the wheel position and this can only be done from the outside of the vehicle and only with hand gestures, no radios. Radios can be too slow and confusing to respond if you need to change the position on the fly. I have guided many times before but with this experience I was able to hone my hand gestures to be able to let the driver know whether to turn the steering a little or full lock.
Is there anything you had to unlearn?
John: I was surprised when the instructors mentioned that the tyre pressures had been increased from standard by 6psi. But when you consider that we were driving on solid rock, with no loose areas on 20” 21” & 22” rims, and a lot of the vehicle’s weight could be balanced on one wheel then it made sense to increase the tyre pressures to reduce the likelihood of pinching a tyre on the constant array of sharp edges that were presented to us on each trail.
Shaun: That you do not have to lower tyre pressures to be able to drive off the bitumen in this terrain. This was not 100s of kms of soft sand dune or soft muddy trails, so lowering the tyres was not needed. In fact a good firm road pressure was just what was needed to do the trick. All the Land Rovers had low profile tyres not your traditional 15 and 16 inch all terrains so a lower pressure could have compromised the tyre side wall.
Oh and none of the Land Rover got a flat all week, so that just helps to back the theory.
What are the three main differences between Aussie 4X4ing and the USA experience?
John: The offroading culture, obviously Moab is the centre of the rock crawling universe and it attracts an insane amount of dedicated offroaders in a variety of vehicles, from our brand new Discoverys to heavily modified Jeeps, through to modified side by sides. But everyone was friendly. The other thing that was very obvious was the respect for the environment, Tread Lightly is a way of life over there. I was really impressed by the adherence to the tread lightly principles. It appeared that no-one wanted to be that idiot that spoiled it for everyone else.
Shaun: America like Australia has many different places to explore with a 4WD with many different types terrain. And like us their vehicles range from the stock, like the Land Rovers we drove, to highly modified machines like Jeeps, buggies and side by sides. So everything was set up for rock crawling.
For us to go away for the weekend we would drive our 4WD from home to the bush, go offroad, then drive home. But unlike us, most of them would trailer their offroaders to the rock trails, then at the end of the day trailer them back home.
They are very keen to promote responsible 4WDing. They respect both the flora and fauna knowing that by sticking to the tracks it is possible to have your recreation and respect for the bush, after all they come up with Tread Lightly.
Driving on the wrong, um, right side of the road can seem a little daunting but the main thing is the offroad principles remain the same no matter what side the steering wheel is on.
All this the people are friendly and were very impressed to see the Land Rovers on the trails. And most of them were keen to talk to these crazy Aussies driving them. Just goes to show that even on the other side of the world that friendly 4WD culture is the same.
Want to have a crack yourself? Read more about the Land Rover Experiences in Utah.