When we pictured ourselves journeying through the harsh open desert of the Wild West, our presumed ride had four legs and a fondness for apples. It shouldn't surprise, though, that a 2013 Range Rover Sport HSE is a far more exhilarating option, as we learned during a recent, late-summer Land Rover Adventure – a four- or eight-day off-road driving course that starts in Grand Junction, Colorado and ends in Moab, Utah – where we had the car commercial experience of driving luxury Land Rover vehicles through impossibly steep canyons and mesas. The idea for Land Rover is to reestablish the legendary brand's off-roading bona fides in light of its modern association with less rugged customers (read: hip-hop stars and Wall Street bachelors).
Even so, the brand at its heart is luxury, and the company is keenly aware of it. "The Land Rover Adventure is like a cruise on wheels," says instructor Rick Serraro, who drove us (in a Range Rover, of course) from Moab's barely there airport (we joined mid-trip) to our cabin at the five-star Sorrell River Ranch, a resort and spa that's located on the banks of the Colorado River and shadowed by massive, stunning red buttes. There, we relaxed in a Jacuzzi until a hot meal (a chicken wrap and particularly tasty hand-cut fries tossed in truffle oil and local asiago) arrived at our door. Even with the faint smell of manure that was emanating from the nearby stables, we couldn't help feeling spoiled.
The adventure began each day at sunrise, and after a suitably top-shelf breakfast – eggs with aged cheddar, pecan-encrusted French toast, Applewood-smoked bacon, and a selection of fruits and juices – we immediately headed to the trails for over seven hours of alternately thrilling and terrifying off-road driving. This, despite speed never entering the equation. "This is a finesse-based activity, but it's the most fun you'll ever have driving at one mile per hour," says Serraro, whose skilled instruction from the passenger's seat helped reassure us that we weren't going to flip our vehicle, which is a very real concern. We took on two different trails during the trip. The first was Poison Spider Mesa, where we got our bearings during the first day on some challenging cruxes, such as a half-pipe-shaped crossing that required us to balance a wheel on each lip. Then came Hell's Revenge (subtlety is apparently not a requirement in the trail naming process), a slick-rock trail of extreme inclines and declines that featured obstacles such as Death Row – a downhill so steep, it felt as though we were driving straight off of a cliff. We quickly learned that instincts come second to engineering when off-roading in a Land Rover: Instructed to remove our feet from the pedals, our jaw dropped as the Rover automatically kicked into Hill Descent mode and proceeded to ease down the treacherous decline as capably as a burro.
At about the midpoint of each day, our convoy would head to a picturesque vista and pause for a lunch break and conversation with the other drivers and instructors. Then, back to the grind for a few more hours of driving before hitting either a local restaurant (for us, the Desert Bistro, for a Kobe-style New York strip), or a meal back at the ranch (free-range Muscovy Duck with various side dishes, the best being the Utah Mac and Cheese), followed by an early night. To say full days of breakneck intense trail driving is extremely exhausting would be an understatement, but it's a rare treat, a definitive pilgrimage for Land Rover fans, and one-of-a-kind luxury off-roading experience for driving enthusiasts.
More information: The 2012 programs are finished, but for details on next year's program, sign up for updates at the Land Rover site. [From approx $9,000, single rider (prices vary by season); landrover.com]