Walking some of these high desert trails in winter can be eerie. There are hardly any people, only the occasional bird, and (thankfully) no obvious flies or other insects. Along one of Arches trails we spotted our first lone wolf. It looked to be a bit skinny, and we wondered what on earth it could possibly find to eat at this time of year. Perhaps the hands of tourists?
As we headed back into town we noticed a custom-built, 4-door Jeep Wrangler parked at Farabee’s Jeep Rentals. It looked great, so we pulled up to have a closer inspection. Farabee’s seemed to be the only 4WD rental place open at this time of year. In the warmer months there is an incredible range of vehicles, bikes, canoes and camping equipment for hire from the specialist businesses in Moab. You can also join tag-along tours, or just go as a passenger in everything from a 1970s Landcruiser, the 4-door Wrangler, Chevy Suburbans, or even massive H1 Hummers.
|Renting a Wrangler from Farrabee’s was tempting. It would be good to get out on some of the better-known trails. The rental agreement on the Montero didn’t allow us to take it off paved roads. Although, when I questioned this at the time of booking, I was assured that we could travel on un-paved roads - provided they were roads used by normal cars. |
At Farrabee’s you can rent a stock TJ, or one modified by them to handle the tougher off-road trails. We were prepared to pay the day’s rental of USD145, but insurance was a problem. A US resident, with their own vehicle, is usually covered while they are using a rental. In our case, we would have to bear the first USD2000 of any damage incurred out of our own pocket. For us, that was too risky. Knowing our luck, we would probably get side-swiped by a bus on the way out of town. But the main deterrent was the fact that, if we got stuck on a very remote trail, it could be days before another vehicle came along.
On the way back from a scenic drive in the Canyonlands, we spotted a sign that said ‘Gemini Bridges Road’. From reading American off-road magazines, I knew Gemini Bridges was a popular destination for 4-wheelers.
Best of all though, the sign said it was a 'Road'. So, technically and legally, my biased mind told me we must be able to get there in the rented Mitsubishi.
From the highway, we crossed a railway line and headed only a stony road. Up in the hills, the road transformed into a slippery, icy mush. However, we were soon down into a wide, open valley and the occasional marker beside the trail told us we were headed in the right direction. On the other side of the valley, things got more difficult. The trail that wound it way up into hills definitely wasn’t a ‘road’. But we were getting close. And if I drove very cautiously, we should make it to Gemini Bridges without any major drama.
Driving over rough ground in your own 4WD can be fun. Doing it in a rented (uninsured?) vehicle can cause you to sweat from pores you didn't know existed..
We were in low-range now, and driving ultra-carefully to avoid trees scraping the paint and rocks tearing at the down-under bits. Even so, the screeches from the panels, the shuddering from the molded splashguards, and the occasional thud from underneath reminded us that we were a long way outside the conditions of the contract. Our Jeep Wrangler, or our modified Cherokee - both parked safely on the other side of the world - would have handled this track easily. But, of course, our vehicles wouldn’t have had to carry a full load of guilt.
Finally, we were there; the famous Gemini Bridges, consisting of two massive sandstone arches spanning a narrow canyon. Keen 4-wheelers drive across one of the arches to get to a camping spot on the other side. It’s not for the faint-hearted. In recent years a Jeep went over the side and the driver was killed. On another occasion, a teenager tried to jump the ten foot space between the arches and fell to his death.
At the bridges, we got talking to three guys on holiday from New Mexico. They had had rented a Wrangler from Farabee’s and were really enjoying their drive. So much so, they decided to take a longer trail back to Moab, and asked us if we wanted to tag along. It sounded great, but we couldn’t risk it. The Montero had coped with the trail to this point, but what lay beyond was unknown to any of us.
We turned around and headed back. At least we knew what to expect, and going downhill should be a lot easier. However, a few miles after leaving Gemini Bridges I had an uneasy feeling that we were on the wrong trail. This fear was confirmed when we came to a rock ledge across the trail that was topped with an unbroken band of frost. Damn!
A tight six-point turn and we were headed back. But we when we came to a huge area of flat sandstone, I had my first ‘senior moment’. None of the sandy tracks running away from the top of the rock area displayed any recent tire marks; let alone ones with a mild pattern like the Montero was wearing. This was crazy. I had been concentrating so much on studying the ground (to prevent scratches and damage from rocks), I had forgotten an important back-country rule: always keep ‘reading’ the territory.