Skip to main content

We Join Land Rover at Destination Defender 2023

A weekend of kind grub, kind hearts and kinda camping

2023 Land Rover Defender front
  • It's a three-day festival for all things Defender.
  • Off-road trails, live music, amazing food and so many outdoor activities.
  • Defender Service Awards recognize nonprofit organizations for their service.

From November 10 to 12, the Iron Horse Ranch in Somerville, Texas, hosted the second of what Land Rover hopes to make an annual gathering: Destination Defender. The event has a genuine festival atmosphere with live music, a multitude of food options, and more activities than one person can do in three days. On its surface, the weekend promotes the active, outdoor lifestyle of the Defender brand. Underneath, it acts as a philanthropic platform for Land Rover to give back.

Leaving the city behind

The engine of our Boeing 737 roars outside my window and we begin our ascent out of Los Angeles. In three hours we will land in Austin and I will drive another two hours to the ranch. But from the seats beside me I overhear a conversation between father and son. "Let's sign up to shoot skeet on Saturday after we drive the off-road course," the father says. "Yeah," the son agrees, "and afterward I want to go fly fishing." We are heading to the same place. I learn that they owned a Defender 90 until it gave up the ghost, but they remain enthusiasts of the badge. We chat about the coming days.

2023 Land Rover Defender front three-quarters

According to plan, the drive indeed takes two hours. I pull my three-row Defender 130 through the gate at Iron Horse and check in. Temps are in the 50s. A persistent mist falls from the sky and there is mud abound, but neither dampens the spirits of those already in attendance. This evening I have a chance to meet representatives from the nonprofit organizations nominated for the Defender Service Awards. These are humble folks doing incredible things for their communities.

Roughing it. Sort of

I crawl from my tent to find a campfire already in progress. Fanning the flames is Biju Thomas, a chef making a name with his outdoor cooking prowess, and he's serving anybody who wanders up. Sweet potato and chorizo breakfast burritos are on the menu and the water is boiling, so grab a pack of freeze-dried coffee and take a seat. Half of the people here just returned from a morning trail run. Two dogs sniff around. A kid is sitting beside his parents. There is a vibe here: Do it your own way, as long as you get outside and do something. It's a theme prevalent throughout the event.

Overnighters wake all across the 2,400-acre ranch. Some emerge from the traditional cabanas. Others from glamping tents. The daring slept in cars and tents. And day visitors drive in from their lodgings off-property to join the rest. In an hour the line will start to drive on purpose-built off-road courses. The same trail that takes you to those spots also runs to the mountain bike track, the vehicle recovery training sessions, and any number of other experiences where you can get dirt under your fingernails. If you prefer the softer side of the outdoors, tackle options like a round of golf with the family, practice your slackline skills, sit back and listen to panels on off-roading and photo composition, or schedule a massage. Don't waste time, because at lunch live music starts on the main stage. By sundown it's time for the Defender Service Awards.

2023 Land Rover Defender front

A gala-style dinner serves as the backdrop for the award ceremony. It's a celebration of humans going incredible lengths to make our world a better place. Their inspirational stories leave me feeling both amazed and inadequate. Six winners from the North American market are awarded with a new Defender and $25,000 toward their organizations. Runners-up receive $15,000 in support. It is impressive to be in the presence of these volunteers and also heartwarming to see their reactions to the generosity of Land Rover and its partners. The awards wrap and we walk outside to a personalized drone show overhead. Behind me, headliner Donavon Frankenreiter and his band start an acoustic set by the pool. It's been a long day and I'm beat.

2023 Land Rover Defender profile

City slicker returns home

Things move slower on the last day. Attendees filter out slowly even though the activities remain in full swing. I get another pass around the off-road course and perimeter trail. Dry conditions Saturday mean the path is now mostly recognizable as solid earth. I aim for the remaining mud patches just because. The Defender remains sure-footed.

Back on the road to Austin-Bergstrom, I appreciate the Defender a little more. Its ride comfort and supportive driver's seat are especially welcoming right now. The navigation system reels me in, past grazing longhorn, horses in raincoats, and an inflatable gorilla wearing sunglasses. Traffic slows for a farmer on the road. His pink button-down shirt and crisp white Stetson tell me he didn't expect to be kicking escaped hay bales from the road today. A trooper pulls over to help. I cross paths with my former plane-mates again in the airport terminal. They had a fun weekend, too. If the opportunity arose, we'd all welcome the chance to do it again.

Edmunds says

If you enjoy being active outdoors, Destination Defender is geared for you. Defender owners and enthusiasts will enjoy it that much more. But this isn't only about play. It's also a celebration of community and an opportunity to recognize those going above and beyond to help others.