Gizmag traveled to last week's Overland Expo West in Northern Arizona to explore the latest in 4x4s and adventure campers. In contrast to last year's warm, beautiful weather, this year was cold and rainy with a touch of snow, creating tire-swallowing, ego-crushing mud that left many a vehicle grinding its gears fruitlessly. It wasn't ideal weather for a camping trip, but it proved the perfect backdrop for showcasing rugged four-wheelers with specialized chassis and powertrain components.
As we prepared to venture off to Overland Expo West, we were really excited for a repeat of last year's escape to balmy Arizona weather and stories of far-flung adventure. The weather had other ideas, however. Mother Nature smothered Southern Utah and Northern Arizona in wet, bone-chilling gray during both of our travel days. The first two nights of camping were spent hiding out under the tailgate, slogging through ankle-high mud and fighting to keep the fire going in the face of a steady onslaught of rain showers. And on both nights, the rain transformed rather abruptly into dumping, mid-winter-like snow, sticking to the ground just enough to create light coverage – and more mud.
We made it to Overland Expo on Saturday morning to find that two days (and counting) of rain and snow had left a cold, muddy stew bowl in place of the field parking lot. An untimely 4WD operator error left us boating around the swamp with only two driven wheels, sending us to a screaming, sinking stop. Thankfully, a quick restart of the ignition reset the 4WD system and gave us the traction we needed to escape the tire-sucking field for the dry, hard dependability of roadside parking – an extra 10 minutes of walking was well worth the peace of mind that comes with knowing you'd definitely be able to leave at day's end. We later heard that dozens of vehicles got stuck in the mud at what could be described as both the best (plenty of rugged 4x4 and 6x6 vehicles to tow you out) and worst (kind of embarrassing to be that guy or gal at a gathering of off-road aficionados) place in the world to be spinning your tires in the slop.
The rough weather didn't do much for anyone's camping plans or overall comfort level, but it did set the perfect stage on which oversized, mud tire-equipped jeeps, trailers and expedition vehicles could strut their stuff. As one 4x4 camper van retailer told us, the mud was bad for attendees but great for business – he was selling six-figure camper vans like they were being liquidated. It didn't hurt the photography, either. Our Overland Expo West photo gallery shows the world's most extreme off-road machines in their natural element, battling it out with the mud and grime.