The BLM website describes Coyote Canyon as "An extreme trail specifically designated for rock crawler-type vehicles only.. although it is only 0.65 miles long, it can easily take all day to navigate as refrigerator-sized boulders must be traversed. Only HEAVILY modified vehicles can make it through." The sign at the trailhead lists the difficulty as a 9.5 on a scale of 10 and warns that body and mechanical damage are essentially guaranteed. Welcome to a weekend in Moab.
I don't have much (any) experience with off-roading at this level. My typical terrain challenges are more along the lines of muddy forest roads, or a sandy wash or two. As a rule, if there is anything that can be described as "refrigerator-sized" in the road, we call in the heavy equipment to relocate it.
Since this trip is all about expanding our horizons (and because driving over stuff is awesome) we felt that an invitation by our friends Melissa and Gary to ride along with their rock crawling club followed by a local's tour of Moab was impossible to pass up. The promise of hot showers and wifi didn't hurt either..
Before meeting up with our local guides, we camped next to a squiggly line on the map that lead into Arches National Park. In Utah, when the sign says "High Clearance 4wd Required", they aren't kidding. The Willow Springs road might not have been a quicker way into the park, but it was certainly more dramatic. Testing the truck and camper out on the slickrock was pretty fun too.
While our truck has "big" tires when compared to the ordinary passenger car on the road, they pale in comparison to the rubber on a dedicated rock rig. Though most start life as a standard production 4x4 like a Jeep Wrangler, Suzuki Samari, or Toyota truck- the modifications necessary to safely complete a route like Coyote Canyon leave little of the original vehicle in place. Tires 39"+, additional transfer cases, incredibly low gearing, and locker's all around are essentially pre-requisites. Most vehicles have undergone extensive fabrication work as well, with custom built tube frames, roll cages, and incredibly flexy suspensions.
While we had planned to simply ride along on the run through Coyote Canyon, Gary kindly offered to let me drive his Samaurai. Even though I had never done anything like that before, I couldn't turn down the opportunity to pilot the little Suzuki. She's a sweet rig.
Driving a rock crawler is a lot like driving a tractor. They're slow, loud, and nearly unstoppable. Assuming you don't get caught on anything, and you can keep it rubber side down, there really are no other limits to what they'll do. Picking a line that keeps the hard parts from catching rocks and doesn't tilt you beyond the grip of gravity is a constant puzzle. Each section of a trail like Coyote Canyon is another question that requires a new equation, based on conditions, skill, and equipment, to solve.
The following day we were given the insider's tour of a few Moab highlights. The infamous Shafer switchbacks, Long Canyon, and a local's only petrified forest. Moab is a perfect desert playground, establishing itself as a mecca for multiple disciplines of outdoor sport.
We can't say how glad we were to be invited by our friends, and definitely intend to return for a longer length of time once we've made it back to the states.