Where the rubber meets the rock: Off-roading in Moab, Utah
I edged the Jeep closer to the lip of the rock, blind to the drop below me. Easing my foot off the brake, the tires gripped the sandstone, and the vehicle slid down with ease. I moved at barely two miles an hour, but my heart raced. Ahead of me, a line of brightly-hued Jeeps hugged a notch in a massive red cliff, climbing with the nimble skill of a mountain goat. A vast stretch of orange desert just outside Moab, Utah spread out below us.
Off-roading is basically a slow motion roller coaster ride: instead of the world whizzing by in a blur, you get to appreciate the scenery — and see exactly what ludicrous heights you're not falling off.
I had no idea something requiring this much finesse and concentration could also be so exhilarating. Each time the Jeep in front of me approached an improbably steep rock, I watched as it clung without slipping or toppling backwards.
My introduction to the sport came courtesy of Cooper Tires, whose excellent all-terrain tires make all the difference in the experience. They partner with company Outlaw Jeep Tours to offer an adventure that's welcoming, safe, and educational. Outlaw's expert act as spotters on difficult sections, instructors, historians, geologists, and paleontologists. If you're going to pick a tour company in Moab, this is the one to go with.
The Nitty Gritty
Moab is known as an off-roading capital, with its vast playgrounds of red rocks that beckon beginners and experts alike. If you're interested in the sport, there are some pretty welcoming entry points in Utah.
Also known as rock crawling, this brand of off-roading involves slow, deliberate movement over rocks, rather than speeding across the terrain. But the precision and effort required lend a sense of accomplishment while not detracting from the adrenaline rush.
With the right vehicle and tires, you can take on just about anything: gravel, mud, wet rocks, steep inclines, and more. Outlaw favors Cooper's Discover STT Pro off-road tires for their incredible durability, resistance to puncture, and traction; all of these properties were readily apparent as we crawled up and down rocks for two days on the trails.
One of my fears before I hit the trail was the environmental impact of the sport. While driving any non-electric vehicle requires the use of gasoline, I was pleasantly surprised at the efforts off-roaders go to protect the fragile ecosystems they traverse. They stick to designated trails and work hard to minimize their impact by practicing Leave No Trace principles, avoiding treading on fragile ground, and even picking up trash left behind by other motorists.
Ways to Ride
Companies like Outlaw offer several tour options for experiencing Moab's off-roading adventures. You can drive yourself (no experience necessary) under the guidance of a professional, through terrain like Hell's Revenge, one of the most famous trails in the area. If you're not into driving yourself, ride along with a pro behind the wheel. Visitors who have their own Jeeps and want some help navigating the local trails can also opt for a guided tour using a personal vehicle.
Regardless of which style you choose, you'll be rewarded with a day of adrenaline-pumping experience in a setting that includes arches, red rock buttes, narrow fins, petrified sand dunes, and even dinosaur footprints.
You can't go wrong: Just bring your guts and your drivers license.
Megan Hill is a freelance adventure travel writer living in Seattle. Read more of her work here.