by Sarah N
Awesome family, friends, Jeeps, dogs, and finding adventure is my passion in life! I have lived in northwest Phoenix, AZ for the past four years and previously in Tucson, AZ since 2009. Prior to moving to Arizona, I grew up in a very small town in southern Maine. Growing up there my opinion and concept of offroading was not a positive one. It involved exposure to obnoxious muddy trucks and irresponsible people trashing the beautiful areas in Maine and New Hampshire. There was no “treading lightly” from what I observed. I have always been an explorer at heart but preferred to hike or do my exploring on horseback. It wasn’t until I moved to Arizona and got together with a responsible 4x4 group that my opinion dramatically changed.
Upon moving to Arizona, I fell in love with the wide open vistas, incredible outdoor opportunities, and excellent weather. I married my husband in 2010 and we started exploring Arizona, Utah, and California together. We initially took our passenger cars on dirt roads that they had no business being on. He still teases me to this day that my navigation choices can bring us on some “interesting” dirt roads. It was clear that we needed a better off-road capable vehicle and better navigation resources! He suggested that we looked for an older used Jeep. I was hesitant at first as my opinion of offroading wasn’t great. He lobbied that we would be able to see all these amazing ghost towns, out-of-the-way places, and back roads together. He was smart and appealed to my wanderlust and adventurous side.
In 2011, we purchased a stock 2002 Grand Cherokee Overland. He did some minor things to it and then we took it to our first offroad adventure. We joined up with a group called Offroad Passport. They were hosting a multi-day trail run in the Calico, CA area. It was advertised as an easy stock friendly trip. However, the trail turned out to be moderate in some areas since Mother Nature had her way with the trails. We were climbing up small dry waterfalls and rock steps. We even managed to rip our muffler off but my husband quickly jumped out and hammered it back into place. That was our first impression to the group!! They were impressed with our positive attitudes and over the years with them we have made many awesome friendships.
After this trip, I wanted to explore the trails in the Sedona, AZ area. We ran Broken Arrow and coming down the “Devil’s Staircase” we banged hard onto the skid plates on every single rock ledge. I made the innocent remark of “how do we fix that?” My husband grinned at me and that is when I got a whole new education on what it takes to make a Jeep more off-road capable. I also learned how many overtime hours I could work for many years!!
We then upgraded our Jeep Grand Cherokee to a 6” Clayton Long Arm Lift, 33” Cooper STT Pro Tires, rock rails, custom Protofab bumpers, a Warn winch, and lots of armor underneath. My husband did all of the work in our home garage. It served us this way for many years but began to show its weaknesses when the bearings started to fail and the front axle bent from being overloaded. Just recently we upgraded to one-ton Ford axles, ADS Reservoir Shocks, Yukon lockers, new 5.38 gearing, and 37” Cooper STT Pro tires. For our overlanding and moderate rock climbing needs, we needed lockers and wanted to make her more reliable. We hope that this vehicle serves us for many more years.
In 2018, we added a second Jeep to our garage. Yes a second money pit!! She is a 1991 Jeep Cherokee Briarwood. When we got her she was disgusting on the inside; the smell was overwhelming! Thankfully my husband was able to rip out the interior down to the metal. He put in a new headliner, new carpet and newer seats out of a Grand Cherokee. We then added a 4.5” Rubicon Express lift and 33” Cooper STT Pro tires to this along with necessary bumpers, skid plates, and rock sliders. I am thankful we worked hard to get this ready as our back-up Jeep had to serve as our trail rig on our recent week long trip to Sand Hollow, UT. She performed well on some very rocky terrain. I enjoyed driving this Jeep on the Back Door to Babylon trail and worked more on my tire placement and confidence. As you off-road ladies know, there will likely be more upgrades in the future to this rig as well!
Some of my favorite experiences with our Jeep were on the Rubicon Trail in 2014, Monument Valley in 2016, a week in Death Valley in 2017, and Anza Borrego area in 2018. We ran the Rubicon trail with Offroad Passport on 33” tires and no lockers. It was a workout for our rig but worth it to see such an amazing area. Nothing like swimming each night at the end of a long day! These were week long experiences in the wilderness that really recharged me. The views were incredible and the memories made with my husband and friends - priceless.
I find myself yearning to explore new places and I love the history that comes along with these adventures. It might not surprise you that I am also a book nerd who loves to read up on the history of the sites we are visiting or learn about the cultures that lived in the desert Southwest before us. To connect the history to our trips makes it more meaningful to me. I found a passion for planning small group offroad day-runs or multiday trips into new areas. So far I have organized a few group runs for Offroad Passport and other groups. Upcoming this September, in the Tucson, AZ area, I am leading a multi-day trip for the Offroad Passport group. Planning a trip is a fun combination of my nerdy organizational skills and love for exploration.
The past few years my confidence is increasing and I have started to drive more often. My husband is the calmest coach and co-driver thankfully. I tease that I would be about to drive off a cliff and he would still be calmly saying, “Now Sarah, you need to go more driver or we are going to roll off this cliff and die”. All in his NPR soothing voice. He has been a great teacher and is inspiring me to drive the more moderate trails. I am working still on choosing the correct line on the harder challenges, two footed driving skill, and learning to deal with the inevitable off camber situation. I really enjoy these new challenges and experiences!!
My opinion of offroading and overlanding has completely changed since I left Maine. I wheel with wonderfully responsible people who believe and honor the Tread Lightly Principles. We leave areas cleaner than we found them and are active in the off-road community through trail clean-ups, education for ourselves and others, and land-use advocacy meetings. I think the key for me was finding a group of wheelers that I connected with. People I could enjoy long road trips with and be able to depend on in the wilderness. As I write this, I reflect that even with the awesome adventures; it is the people in my life that make it so valuable to me. These experiences have given me not only wonderful memories but strong friendships. It is thanks to me stepping out of my comfort zone, trusting my husband, finding the right offroad people that have brought me the greatest joy and growth in life.
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas