All that stood between us and our chosen camping spot was 100 yards of loose rock – Precambrian granite that formed slippery masses of pebbles and shards, which ranged in size from as small as a quarter to larger hunks resembling a freshly sharpened axe head. It's difficult to walk on with hiking boots, let alone drive across.
Did we mention we had no intentions of pitching a tent? No, what we had in mind was a fire, a few hot dogs and a nice warm bed with a roof over our heads. There are only a few vehicles in the world that we would trust with the success or failure of our weekend getaway, and the Jeep Wrangler happens to be one of them.
Better still, we were piloting one of Jeep's shiny new Trail Edition Campers, which was firmly attached to the trailer hitch of a Deep Water Blue 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. This, boys and girls, is how camping is done properly.
Photos copyright ©2010 Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL
First, it deserves noting that our Wrangler was fitted with a number of accessories from the Mopar catalog, all of which can be purchased and installed at your local dealership. The most important bits included a two-inch lift kit, which added $2,150 (including eight hours of installation) to the cost of a Wrangler Unlimited, and four 35-inch tires. The treads [Update: the treads themselves don't match, but the size does] match those fitted to the Extreme Edition Camper, providing an impressive 15 inches of ground clearance that would soon come in handy.
After dismounting from the Wrangler, we scouted out the terrain that lie ahead and decided to give it a go. The lever connected to the Wrangler's two-speed transfer case requires a solid yank to change between 2 High, 4 High and 4 Low, and after a quick assessment of the terrain, we opted for 4 Low. Given the undulating nature of the rocks and divots, we hit the button on the dash that electronically disconnects the Wrangler's sway bars to allow for maximum articulation of the solid-axle suspension.
Right about then, our biggest concern centered around the camper at the rear. Based on our previous experience behind the wheel of Jeep's legendary off-roader, we were confident the Rubicon would scamper up the steep grade... the camper, on the other hand, was an unknown variable.
We needn't have worried. The Wrangler and its Extreme Camper caboose scampered forward with the faintest press of the accelerator pedal. The front wheels began their skyward quest first, followed by the Wrangler's rear pair of BFGs. At that point, the camper was still on the lower level, its 360-degree axis pintle hitch clanking and groaning with the stresses being placed on it by the Jeep ahead and the 1,150-pounds of trailer behind.
Once moving in 4 Low range, the accelerator became largely superfluous – the gearing is so low that the Wrangler could yank the Queen Mary from her moorings, and any meaningful amount of throttle just sends the tires on a wild goose chase to find traction on the slippery surface. And so our chariot climbed slowly but surely, Jeep in the lead, closely followed by our accommodations for the evening.
We made it to the top with a minimum of drama and finally set up camp. After some back-and-forth to position the camper, we flipped down the wheeled support jack at the front of the camper and cranked the lever until things leveled out. Then it was time time to erect our mobile five-star resort.
Setting up the Jeep Camper is rather straightforward, and you can follow along in our handy-dandy photo gallery (which was snapped at a more tripod-friendly location). To begin, release all the flat black latches that keep the cantilevered top firmly attached to the body of the trailer. Next, fold out the twin jack-stand legs so that they are sticking straight up. The rest is easier with a partner, but we were able to finish the job with a single person in a pinch. Lift up the hinged platform and fold it out so that the two legs are firmly on the ground, then adjust the legs so that everything is level and evenly supported. That's about it.
The rest is just like any other pop-up camper. Swing up the interior metal bars (there are two), extend the attached inner support bars and lock everything into place. We found that, with a little practice, the process takes about 15 minutes. Naturally, you'll spend some time sorting the inside as well – situating sleeping bags, plugging in electrical accessories (standard outlets can be found at the base of the folding sofa and on the outside wall facing the hitch) and unzipping the windows, which include sun shades and weather-resistant mesh screens.
Less time setting up camp means more time to enjoy the finer things, and after enjoying the great outdoors, it was time to turn in for the night. This is when we fully began to appreciate Jeep's Extreme Edition Camper. There's a queen-sized bed on one side, cantilevered over the ground and supported on a set of sturdy metal stands. Additional sleeping spots are provided by the sofa, which converts to another, slightly more cramped bed. We also emptied our pockets into the aluminum storage locker for safe keeping.
We fell asleep to the sounds of the howling coyotes and enjoyed a solid night's sleep – certainly much better than what we'd have managed in any kind of tent. In the morning, stowing the camper back into its all-aluminum trailer base was simple: we just reversed the steps we used to erect it, in a matching 15 minutes or so.
Our chairs and cooking utensils packed back into the Wrangler, we took a few moments to reflect on the previous day's activities. Perhaps the single most important reason we had such an enjoyable night was that we were able to find a spot to camp that would be virtually impossible to access without the off-road capabilities of a vehicle like the Wrangler. Add in the comfort and usefulness of Mopar's Extreme Edition Camper and you've got the makings of an off-the-beaten-path adventure as far away from the hustle and bustle of city life as you dare to tread.
Naturally, all of this baked-in goodness comes at a price. In the case of our Extreme Edition, that equals an eye-opening $11,995. Even dropping down to the standard Trail Edition Camper will cost you a steep $9,995, though you'd be giving up a good bit of off-road readiness with three fewer inches of ground clearance and a somewhat less beefy aluminum frame. If you're truly serious about your all-terrain camping – and let's face it, if you are actually considering a Jeep-certified pop-up camper, you're clearly serious about your all-terrain camping – we suggest going straight for the Extreme Edition.
Jeep's official Camper accessory does exactly what it claims. That is to say, anywhere you can fit a Wrangler, you can now camp in relative comfort. For some, that may be reason enough to purchase one. For the rest of us... well, see you at the closest KOA, tent stakes in hand.
Photos copyright ©2010 Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL