'Mars' Expedition: Ford Bronco Off-roading in Utah

The Off-Roadeo is designed to demonstrate the Bronco’s off-road capabilities, regardless of the driver’s experience. They couldn’t have found anybody with less off-road experience than me.

Jim Irwin, Associate Editor

January 5, 2024

4 Min Read
Moab 2a
Negotiating Kokopelli Trail outside Moab, UT.Tanya Gazdik

MOAB, Utah – You‘ve seen the commercials: SUVs plowing through snowdrifts, clambering over sand dunes, bouncing across rock formations, plowing along two-track dirt paths and splashing in the mud, mud, mud.

Ford offers you a chance to be an off-road star at the wheel of a Bronco.

The automaker has staged the Bronco Off-Roadeo in four locations around the U.S. since reintroducing the SUV in 2021: Moab, UT; Gilmore, NH; Horseshoe Bay, TX; and Mount Potosi outside Las Vegas (https://wardsintelligence.informa.com/WI966168/AutoTech-Check-21-Ford-Bronco-and-22-Maverick).

The daylong or half-day drives are designed to demonstrate the Bronco’s off-road capabilities, regardless of the driver’s experience off-pavement. They couldn’t have found anybody with less experience than me when I climbed into an Outer Banks Edition Bronco and took on the Kokopelli Trail outside Moab. Fortunately, I had help along the way from Tyler Israel, my savvy backcountry guide (pictured, below), and Tanya, my wife and driving partner with many off-road excursions under her belt.

Bronco 5 picture.jpg

Bronco 5 picture


The Off-Roadeo actually is included in the price of the Bronco, should you buy one, but you also can take part as a one-off participant, as I did (broncooffroadeo.com).

After an orientation talk our caravan of five Broncos left the Red Cliffs Lodge, our staging area, and followed Highway 128 along the Colorado River until the soaring canyon walls gave way to rolling hills bordering Arches National Park and the trailhead.

I was comfortable at the wheel as we jounced along, but the first test would come soon. We approached essentially a trench and Tyler, giving advice and offering local color via walkie-talkie, had me bring the Bronco to a stop. A gauge showed the SUV was tilting 25 degrees to the left and I was getting anxious, but the idea – at least for newbies like me – was to show we were planted firmly and could trust the Bronco to maintain its footing on all angles of the terrain.

Tyler offered more instructions before we got going in earnest: Sometimes the best way to navigate the rock pile looming ahead of you is to drive across it, not around it. It’s easier on the sidewalls of the tires, which you want to protect as much as possible.

Tyler did more than bark instructions to us. Standing 30 feet (10 m) or so in front of our Bronco, he spotted me while I drove over and away from a jagged pile of rocks while watching him and nothing else the entire time; counterintuitive, for sure, but one errant turn of the steering wheel and I could have found myself literally hung up on those rocks – and awaiting rescue from a Bronco equipped with a winch.

Our caravan of Broncos stayed within sight of each other (pictured, below) as we bumped and bounded along through mud puddles, over expansive rock formations and those trenches we’d been shown how to negotiate, the otherworldly landscape of eastern Utah (“Might as well be driving on Mars,“ as the Off-Roadeo website puts it) distracting me from my driving more than I should have allowed it to. We averaged 15-20 mph (24-32 km/h) most of the time, but at one point a quarter-mile stretch of straight, dry trail opened up in front of us and Tyler encouraged us to floor it. Wrenching our way up rockpiles and hills with all four wheels engaged was a kick, but so was zipping along at 50 mph (80 km/h)!

Moab 4 picture.jpg

Moab 4 picture

We stopped for lunch at the base of a 300-foot (100 m) cliff near a couple of the sandstone arches that give the national park its name. We’d been on the trail for three hours and would be on it for three more (although Ford offers half-day Off-Roadeo excursions for non-owners of Broncos).

The afternoon presented us with more mud and the occasional patch of snow to negotiate. Our Bronco’s turbocharged 3.0L Ecoboost 6-cyl., complemented by five G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any type of Terrain) modes – Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Sand/Snow – was more than up to the task. Offroad Trail Control, similar in principle to on-road cruise control, not only was fun but also gave me a chance to relax from making the second-by-second decisions that off-road driving demands.   

The sun was setting as we followed Tyler back to Highway 128, made our way back to Red Cliffs Lodge and had dinner together as the newest members of Bronco Nation (thebronconation.com). My Bronco steed was none the worse for the wear, but I was slightly sore from the steady jostling of what must have been 30 miles (48 km) of off-roading. But it was a good sore.

Moab 1 picture.jpg

Moab 1 picture_0

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