The red cliffs of Moab and powerful UTVs make for an awesome combination
The Discount Tire Rally on the Rocks (ROTR) should be a bucket list item for every true off-road jammer. If you have a Side-by-Side like an Arctic Cat Wildcat, Polaris RZR, Can-Am Maverick, John Deere Gator or Yamaha YXZ1000R, and rock crawling is a passion or an activity you want to experience, then ROTR in Moab, Utah is your venue.
There are a few media staples we rely on for our yearly dose of fun and ROTR is one, just like the High Lifter Mud Nationals. Like a prepper relies on a good stash of .223 rounds, we rely on these events to get us through.
This year’s ROTR, May 10-14, gave us some new experiences.
May 11 was our travel day, which involved an 8.5-hour drive from Idaho Falls, Idaho to Moab, Utah. While traveling there, Arctic Cat sponsored a ride for some military vets in supporting Patriots and Heroes Outdoors, a non-profit organization that promotes “morale by providing hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreational activities with a primary focus on military with service-related injuries and their families.”
Day 1, May 12
Our first day on the rocks was spent with Arctic Cat and many of its corporate ATV/UTV developers and media and marketing pros. This Wildcat ride took place on the 8+ rated trail, “Behind the Rocks.” Behind the Rocks is described as having… “obstacles that most drivers with good sense would avoid. Breakdowns are to be expected and roll-overs are not uncommon.”
That is true.
Whatever happens behind the rocks stays behind the rocks.
No. It gets published.
Our guide for the day was seasoned backcountry rock crawling artist, Dean Bulloch, from Cedar City, Utah, who did not joke about “Behind the Rocks,” but did joke with us about carnage. In our opinion, since Arctic Cat sponsored the trail ride and provided the Wildcats, then what was there to worry about?
The day began rather uneventful, moving up a mountainside trail to some exposed rocks that thrusted from the trail like stair steps. These are not steps like at local country courthouse, but steps that are whacked out, uneven, sharp, tall, short, slick, cracked, tilted, and basically messed up like stairs in a fun house that doubles as haunted castle.
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ATV.com guest/test rider, Danny Stowell of Rigby, Idaho, drove the four-seat Wildcat Limited up over the obstacles as I took pictures. But, if he wadded up the Wildcat, then then he, Patriots and Heroes Outdoors, and Arctic Cat would have a religious meeting. Fortunately, he didn’t.
This was Stowell’s second Rally on the Rocks event as an ATV.com driver and second in a Wildcat, and he knew the giddy up maneuvers: tranny in low, 4WD set in differential lock, right foot on throttle lever with left foot on the brake pedal. Easy…. easy… throttle up… stab it… easy… easy… throttle… brake… throttle… brake… small turns on the wheel… right… left… throttle… there, up and over.
As we slowly moved along on the trail, we came up on a drop called “Cliff Diver.” Here, drivers had no choice but to descend down into an old dry creek bed where the route up and out included a difficult rock crawl to the left, or an unspeakable more-than difficult scratch, claw and bite up out. Choices.
With ropes latched to roll cages and front crash bars, the guides with other drivers, began assisting lone UTV pilots up the opposite side of Cliff Diver to the trail’s top. Some were lucky, one was not; others chose the not-as-difficult (but very-difficult-still) left side escape route. One Wildcat Limited subjected to forces of gravity, slowly rolled over to its left side and when rock, plastic, roll cage and windshield met, the crunch was like grunge band’s lead guitarist busting up his Fender in front of 10,000 screaming fans.
After assessing the smashed up Wildcat and fixing what could be fixed, we all moved on to the trail’s mid-point for lunch, provided by Camp Chef. Yumm.
After departing Camp Chef, we found some red sand, sand dunes and began playing like runt pigs in mud. Here, some official Arctic Cat test drivers took to the air performing some big hair jumps in either a Wildcat Sport or Wildcat Trail.
Arctic Cat’s Wildcat line, even is stock form, is adept to Moab rock crawling. The narrow Wildcat Trail requires some guts-and-glory and skill when maneuvering it on an 8+ rated trail; those who do are Type-A built, confident and comfortable with their equipment.
The Sport is right at home and is capable of performing well on the rocks. The long four-seat X and Limited are our favorite Cat crawlers due to their long wheelbases, long travel suspension and superb 4WD lock system. Read about our Wildcat X Limited review from Moab 2015.
Day 2, Friday the 13th
With the new ATV.com Polaris RZR 1000 Turbo 4-seat with EPS all prepped for “Cliffhanger,” the same 8+ rated trail we drove last year, we set out with the Discount Tire media and marketing folks, and Discount Tire‘s UTV tire development engineers to experience the trail where looking down is not wise for those who fear heights.
Knowing we were no longer Cliffhanger virgins, Stowell and I dropped the RZR’s tire pressure to 8.5 PSI. After dropping off the trail head into a creek, Stowell, knowing the outside temps were climbing, and the fist rock wall was facing him, he dropped the RZR’s tire pressure another two-pounds to 6.5 PSI. It was worth it.
Like the day before with Arctic Cat, ropes were tied to front bumpers and roll cages and the rope pulls began – to balance the UTV thus allowing as much tire surface as possible to grip the rocks.
The first half dozen crawlers broke a front drive axle or tie rod. Our RZR 4 1000 made it up over the first wall without breaking a leg, but it did take some finesse. Good RZR.
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The trail pack began to thin, as 20 vehicles did make it over the first wall, and we made our way to the second and third walls. More tie rods and axles met their demise and the herd thinned again as crawlers started the slow crawl back to the trailhead. This was only a lucky day for parts suppliers.
Cliffhanger is a trail where small steering wheel rotations are needed. Packing a tire’s sidewall against a rock and throttling up is not smart driving; eighth-turn rotations make big differences when positioning and driving a UTV up over a rock or wall.
As we journeyed to the mid-point, stopped, took in the vistas, Stowell and I made our return. As I drove the RZR, Stowell hung his nose over the passenger side door guiding me through every drop, turn and hit. Prior to the trailhead, a rocky and steep staircase ascends to the road. Here, with undercarriages scraping the rocks and tires hitting the stairs, more axels and tie rods broke. A driver from Texas, in a modified Polaris RZR 1000 Highlifter, using his front- and rear-mounted winches, began pulling the sick and weary up the staircase. When on Cliffhanger, everyone is family.
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Spend enough time in Moab and you will realize tire pressure and tire height are wildly important to rock crawling; as important as parents having patience with their children. Our RZR with its stock tires performed well, but as mentioned, taller tires with a soft compound and low air pressure saves axles and tie rods. Driver experience is needed as well, but knowing where to place sticky, low PSI front tires is, perhaps, more important than Superman-level loads of horsepower.
The 2016 Polaris 4 1000 Turbo loaned to ATV.com was flawless. We liked its turbo power. In the case for all non-boosted motors, when the air is thin, motor power drops, but turbocharged motors maintain sea-level horsepower up to 9,000 feet. Our RZR never wavered, keeping its RPMs fat and juicy.
We mentioned above, “When on Cliffhanger, everyone is family.” At Rally on the Rocks, this is true, but also true, are the families and couples who make this family or couple’s excursion.
Trevor VanHorn from Payson, Ariz. said he has been rock crawling for about 10 years, and “this how I like to spend my retirement time.” He said he found Cliffhanger not that difficult, provided, “you go slow and pick the right track (line). He said, “Young guys like to go fast and tear ‘em up, but for me, I go slow, creep up on ‘em and pass ‘em.” This was VanHorn’s 10th UTV rally, spread across many western states, and his first on an Arctic Cat Wildcat; his previous nine years were on a RZR.
Perry and Melissa Perry Mahanay from Grand Prairie, Texas attend Rally on the Rocks for the “rush and adrenaline of it.” This year, the husband and wife duo brought their children, a son and daughter, so they could experience the same rush as well. Perry said he likes the rush of making it “up things that no one can or will.” It was Perry Mahanay who pulled many wounded UTVs up over the last ascent to the trail head.
Mel Jensen from Plain City, Utah (near Ogden) was one who broke a front axle, but continued on; he brought a spare. “I actually changed the axle on the trail; I brought an extra one with me.” He said, on Cliffhanger, “You break stuff.” He completed his RZR 1000 with Z-Broz front and rear suspension components and 31-inch MotoHammer tires. Jensen said, to ride Moab, it is all about safety and clearance as his RZR had custom harness seats, roll cage and roof.