WITH the nose of the car high in the air, every inch of the windscreen is filled with bright blue sky.
I’m pushed back on the driver’s seat, in a reclined position, ready to nap — but, really, I’m far from relaxed right now.
Somewhere over the bonnet is Phil, my designated “spotter” – or guide.
“Give it some welly, Warren!” comes the instruction in a Brummie accent.
And so I push a little harder on the accelerator. And a little more. And, nervously, even more.
Pushing hard on the “gas” really is disconcerting when you’re behind the wheel of a 5-litre, V8, supercharged beast of a motor with someone standing, somewhere, just a few feet in front.
But we’re heading up a ridiculously steep rockface.
I’ve set the Range Rover Sport’s automatic gearbox into low-ratio mode, and now I am indeed giving it a bit of welly.
As the power increases, the car eases over the obstructive, jagged rocks, and then steadily up until we finally reach the summit.
“Good job, Warren!,” says Phil, now thankfully back in view.
Annnnnd relax. Relieved, I get out of the car and watch as each of my fellow novice off-roaders completes the challenge.
This is a Land Rover Experience. One of several dozen the manufacturer runs around the world.
It’s big business with more than a million undertaken every year.
Every new owner gets a basic, half-day experience for free, but this four-day/three-night experience is very much at the “bucket list” end of the range.
We’re driving over red cliffs in Moab, Utah — bona fide John Wayne territory, in the western USA.
A movie museum hidden away at Red Cliffs Lodge, our traditional, ranch-style accommodation, proudly promotes the fact that several of the Duke’s films were made locally.
But it’s also where Thelma & Louise was shot — including the infamous final scene on the clifftops. Of course, I try not to think of that as I’m driving…
Barely 5,000 folk call Moab their home, but in the summer the population swells with thrill-seekers — including climbers and mountain bikers — lured by the challenges set by the otherworldly landscape.
The modest town may be barely 100 years old, but dinosaur prints in the rocks are a reminder that the jagged, awe-inspiring terrain has a somewhat longer history.
I was concentrating on driving, but I’m sure an instructor said the nearby Colorado River was formed by just one inch every 450 years.
Our progress feels almost as slow. At the end of day one, my co-driver and I have completed just 12 miles in seven or so hours.
But, really, this is about as much fun as you can have driving at 1mph.
Other vehicles look better suited to the terrain, especially the raspy, buggies with their huge tyres.
But we’re travelling in luxury, cocooned in padded leather with the benefit of sophisticated air suspension, air conditioning and a sound system.
The Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover Sport cars at our disposal are the same models you might find taking one to four spaces in your local car park, with some worth in excess of £100,000.
At the beginning of each day, they’re presented polished and showroom ready. And the challenge is keeping them that way.
The second morning begins with another sharp ascent, at the start of a trail called, ominously, Hell’s Revenge.
It’s a smooth track but the path is only a couple of feet wider than the car, with drops of up to 100ft or so on either side.
But with several hours of off-roading now under my belt, I tackle it with confidence.
GETTING THERE: Flights from London to Salt Lake City are about £500 return.
STAYING THERE: The Rock Crawl, a four day/three-night Land Rover Experience in Moab, is from £3,945pp based on two sharing. Includes driving activities, accommodation at Red Cliffs Lodge, meals and airport transfers. Flights not included. Land Rover offers Experience Drives at nine UK centres, from £225pp. See Land Rover or call 0800 655 6465.
Our tour party is guided every inch of the way by a team of Land Rover experts.
Phil is in his 40th year with the company. He’s been there and done that in a Land Rover — and, quite possibly, written the manual. I should have asked.
Further down the trail, the display shows the car is leaning 30 degrees.
“You’ll bottle it before the car does,” says Phil, which is kind of assuring.
Later, during a 32-degree descent, he suggests I switch off the automated Hill Descent Control.
Sure enough, my own braking proves smoother than the…
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