How To: Moab For First-Timers

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on

Moab. You hear the name whispered in reverence throughout the Jeep world. If you are planning a wheeling trip Moab for the first time, there are some things you should know about visiting and driving the trails there.

First, there are some driving techniques that are specific to red rock country. The sandstone offers some amazing traction —we call it “sticky.” This exceptional traction means you will be able to climb surreal inclines and hang off of heart-pounding sidehills, but it also means that horse-powering your way up an obstacle is more likely to snap axles and grenade differentials than other terrain types that allow more wheel spin. It takes a lot more torque to break traction here, so slow and steady is usually the best first approach.

That said, the “Moab bump” is a technique with which you will want to familiarize yourself. The Moab bump is used to get up and over any number of Moab’s famous short, steep obstacles, only after a slow and easy crawl has failed, and the challenge is not approach or breakover clearance. Creep your front tires up the obstacle, and then about two- to three-feet before your back tires get to the obstacle, apply a slight blip of the throttle to create a little momentum before your back tires get to the resistance. This is a very slight application of throttle at just the right moment. At the first couple of attempts, most people will make the mistake of waiting until the back tires touch the obstacle before they bump the throttle, and this will just cause tires to spin. The bump starts before your tires touch the obstacle. Then the momentum carries the back tires up and over it. Remember, it is a very slight blip, not full throttle, and not all the way to the top of a long, steep climb. If you are attempting the bump, back off if you just start bouncing. Bouncing is bad. You usually get three bounces before something breaks—we call it the “snap, crackle, pop” effect.

Not recommended at home. Few places on the planet are blessed with such high traction rock as to allow crawling up and down such steep inclines.

The next thing you need to know is the desert is very delicate. Most people think of the desert as very tough and rugged. Though you need to be to survive there, it is because everything is just barely clinging to existence. The desert doesn’t get enough regular rain to have a deep and resilient soil base, so when you drive off trail, you leave those tracks for decades, whereas a wetter climate will just grow right back. When we do get rain, it comes in torrential downpours, which can create flash floods—a phenomenon which is not to be taken lightly. People die needlessly every year in flash floods when they should have just hunkered down on higher ground for an hour or so, rather than try to cross temporarily flooded low spots in the trail. We don’t go “muddin’” here because as fast as it gets muddy, it will dry out again, and those deep and hard ruts you carved will stay for weeks, months, or years.

Finally, understand that Moab is a small town. With a population of only 5,000 residents, local businesses have a tough time pulling in a workforce large enough to meet the demands of a few busy weeks a year. So, if you come during April or any number of busy event weekends, expect dinner lines to be an hour or more, expect the grocery store to run out of pretzels, and expect morning coffee to be a leisurely affair, not a grab and go. Be patient and generous with the local wait staff, and remember that in small towns, unlike the anonymity of big cities, everyone knows everyone and you don’t want to be “the guy in the silver JK who was rude” because they will recognize you.

Bottom line on visiting Moab: don’t be in a hurry! Take your time dealing with obstacles, getting around each other in town or on the trail, dealing with weather or breakdowns, and even getting a bite to eat. What’s the hurry anyway—appreciate the slow pace to give you the chance to take in all of the stunning scenery.

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About the Author
Nena Barlow
Nena Barlow

Barlow Adventures owner, Nena Barlow grew up in the Southwest, exploring the back roads by Jeep, horse, and hiking boots. She has been in the Jeep business since 1996, providing tours, 4wd instruction, location scouting, offroad event planning, trail mapping & photography, and recovery.

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