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Jeep Wrangler Meets the Steel Bender at Easter Jeep Safari

Extreme off-roading in a showroom-ready Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe

A Wrangler Rubicon 4xe on the Steel Bender trail at the 2024 Easter Jeep Safari
  • We ride along in a Wrangler at the 2024 Easter Jeep Safari.
  • The Safari attracts about 30,000 Jeep enthusiasts to Moab, Utah, each year.
  • Everything on our 2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe is available through a dealership.

It’s one thing to go off-roading in one of the toughest environments in the U.S. It’s another to do it backward.

About two-thirds of the way through Moab’s Steel Bender trail during the 2024 Easter Jeep Safari, we got a call that one of the Jeeps behind us needed to be pulled off an obstacle. Hey, it happens. Ray Murawski, the driver of our 2024 Wrangler Rubicon 4xe and a Jeep Performance Parts engineer, stopped our rig and put it in reverse. Then, primarily using the backup camera, he backed up over a trail complicated enough to require low-range four-wheel drive and a locked rear differential, all while making it look as easy as backing into a Costco parking spot. 

Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised. All day long, Ray had been navigating obstacles that would’ve had me tucking tail and heading home. There was the Slide, a sheer 8-foot drop that looked unnavigable, but Ray tackled it with ease, gingerly approaching the dropoff until gravity dragged us into a controlled crash into the ground below. As our Wrangler's rear end plunked down off the Slide, the only casualty was the loss of the trailer hitch’s rubber cover.

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Jeeps at the Steel Bender trail in Moab

Easter Jeep Safari

It's exactly what I was hoping for when I asked Jeep to ride along on one of its sponsored trails at the 2024 Easter Jeep Safari. This was the 58th year of the Safari, but my first time attending, a newbie among a crowd where off-roading like this happens nearly every weekend.

The Safari was founded in 1968 by the Moab Chamber of Commerce, but by 1983 organization duties were handed off to the Red Rock 4-Wheelers, which remains in charge today. What started as a handful of enthusiasts on a single trail is now a pilgrimage for around 30,000 off-road enthusiasts, with nearly 40 trails to choose from. 

Jeep enthusiast Elizabeth Jordy at the 2024 Easter Jeep Safari

They come from all around the country, like two-time EJS participant Elizabeth Jordy and her husband, Daren, who drove in separate 2023 Wranglers from their Denver home to tackle the trail. Or Cliff and Laura Baker, who drove from San Diego and are part of the San Diego Jeep Club. Mike Abdulla from Hollywood, Florida, drove a very heavily modified ‘06 LJ Wrangler, with a stretched wheelbase, engine swap and tons of other modifications. License plates showed drivers hailing from Wyoming, Idaho, Tennessee and places beyond. 

Steel Bender

EJS trails are rated on a scale of 1 to 10 for difficulty. Steel Bender is rated a 6 as it twists its way through 30 miles of Moab desert, climbing and descending over rocks, fording streams and dazzling drivers with stunning views. That 6 rating means it’s for experienced off-roaders who can tackle it safely. Since I’m closer to maybe a 2 or 3, I was perfectly happy in the passenger seat. 

Besides the Jeeps, the participants all shared the values of keeping the trails in the best possible condition, and following the rules of the Tread Lightly! organization and the Bureau of Land Management. The desert may look stark, but it’s a vibrant and surprisingly delicate ecosystem that could easily be damaged by going off trail. But Red Rock 4-Wheelers helps maintain the trails and keeps them free of trash and debris, encouraging people to clean up their own trash and any they may find on the way. Sure enough, there was very little trash to be found on the trail.

Down the Slide, an 8-foot drop on the Steel Bender trail in Moab

The future of Jeeping?

Our 2024 Wrangler Rubicon 4xe was something you could order from a dealership, making the fact that it kept pace on the toughest challenges with more heavily modified vehicles that much more impressive. In addition to the Rubicon’s standard off-road enhancements like skid plates, rock rails, and front and rear axle lockers, our Wrangler was modified with JPP parts that included a 2-inch lift kit and 35-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires on 17-inch beadlock-ready wheels. Sure, it may have scraped a bit more than some of the other more heavily modified trucks on the trail, but hey, that’s what the rock rails and skid plates are for, right?

Most impressive was when this plug-in hybrid Wrangler would spontaneously slip into all-EV mode. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine would shut off, but the Jeep continued on effortlessly, even on some of the more intense parts of the trail. On a slippery natural rock staircase, the electric motor took over, with only the absence of engine noise indicating we were in EV mode. It was an encouraging look into a future where off-road vehicles are fully electric. 

Jeeps at the 2024 Easter Jeep Safari

Edmunds says

Perhaps the best news is that you don’t need to be a super experienced off-roader to participate in EJS. There are easier trails to follow, and even groups specifically geared toward new drivers that will let you get a feel for the experience without tackling anything so difficult that you’ll question your life choices. The Safari extends for a week, so you could even start small and work your way up to more aggressive trails as the week progresses. 

As for me, may appetite is whetted, and next time, I’ll be behind the wheel.