Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Some High Desert Fun Piloting Range Rovers Around Utah

Even as a writer -- of sorts -- attempting to describe the stunning beauty that is America's Southwest is simply beyond my limited talents. I'm going to give it a go anyway.

During my days with the TV series "Discover America," I was lucky enough to honcho a number of shoots in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. Covering the automotive beat and attending carmaker events for nearly 25 years added to the depth of my Southwest experience. Of course, that's in addition to visiting family in New Mexico, and friends in Arizona.

In other words: I've been there a lot.

Here's the thing, no matter how often one might get to that area, it's never enough. The beauty is nothing short of spectacular -- numbingly spectacular, in fact.

So I was very excited when Land Rover included me among its guests at the media launch of its redesigned Range Rover in Utah recently. Only the fourth generation Range Rover in the four decades since its U.S. introduction, its arrival is no small matter for Land Rover nor those who love off roading in high style.

This is my driving partner driving some of the off-road trail. Yes, his head really is that big! You should see it in person.
The price of admission isn't for the feint of heart. A vanilla, base version will set you back $83,500. During the highway portion of our six-hour drive, my driving partner and I were in a $99,950 Range Rover Supercharged.

When we attacked the off-road trails after lunch, we did it in a $130,950 Range Rover Supercharged Autobiography. No wonder the Land Rover off-road instructor assigned to us kept telling me to slow down as we bumped over terrain that would stroke out a mountain goat.

Land Rover somehow managed to scrub about 700 pounds from the mass of last year's model. Taking cues from the Jaguar XJ, this was achieved mostly through the liberal use of aluminum in the unibody skeleton and other areas. The cabin, though, is larger, incorporating nearly five inches of additional rear-seat legroom.

White knuckling his way through our afternoon's driving was Land Rover's head of platform, capability and refinement overview Mike Gallery. He managed to smile through most of the ordeal, which wasn't easy. PR staff for auto companies are trained to deal with the media fools who turnout for such events. Heads of production departments aren't. Mike received a baptism of fire, but adapted quite well.

I'm not exactly sure what "platform, capability and refinement" overviewing consists of, but the new Range Rover gets high marks for all three. How a vehicle can overcome the challenging terrain that is almost child's play for Range Rover and still deliver dizzying levels of ride comfort must involve magic, voodoo or some other form of black arts.

At the risk of wading too far into the details, I'll tell you two engines power the different trim levels. Both are hardy and surprisingly efficient. A 375-horsepower 5-liter V8, and a 510-horsepower 5-liter supercharged V8 are each bolted to an eight-speed, driver-shiftable automatic transmission. Land Rover claims the naturally aspirated V8 takes the Range Rover from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds; while the supercharged engine accomplishes that sprint in 5.1 seconds. Holy cow!

The suspension is all-new and the full-time four-wheel-drive system is the next-generation Terrain Response 2. It still has manual settings for "general," "grass/gravel/snow," "mud/ruts," "sand" and "rock crawl." The big advancement is that there is also an automatic setting the lets the Range Rover's computer pick the appropriate setting based on ever-changing conditions.

Here I am taking my turn at the wheel. You'll notice that my head is normal size.
If you are a believer in "getting there is half the fun," then Range Rover is your kind of ride. What a performer.

We flew into Phoenix where Land Rover gathered us into a charter-plane facility for lunch before our one-hour charter flight to Page, Ariz. As good as the scenery looks on the ground, it's astonishing at 12,000 feet. Flying over parts of the Grand Canyon, we gained an appreciation of its sprawling size.

After landing in Page, we were whisked in Range Rovers to the Amangiri Resort just north of the border in Utah, and about a 20-minute drive from Page.

Yes, beauty is everywhere at Amangiri. This is what I gazed upon as I sat on the can in my room. No kidding; it's opposite the toilet.

I'd tell you that Amangiri is exclusive, but that doesn't do it justice. It features 34 suites; the least expensive of which will set you back $1,050 a night. Most cost less than $2,000 per night, but a couple run well over $3,000 a night. The good news is that the bottled water in your room is free.

Amangiri's front entrance: If the Apocalypse comes, I'm spending the grand to stay here. It can probably withstand a nuclear blast.

All I can tell you about the architecture is that it's what one might imagine Hitler's bunker would have looked like had it been constructed above ground. There is enough concrete in this place to build a two-lane highway from Philadelphia to Chicago.

Having said that, the beds are decadent in their comfort; the staff is friendly and professional; and the food is outrageously good.

I loved the open kitchen. If you decide not to enroll your kid in college, choosing instead to spend a night or two at Amangiri, try the wood-fire pizza.

Those of us who like bellying up to a bar at the end of a hard day of tennis, massages, and canyon hiking, are out of luck here. There is no bar nor lounge. But don't despair; they have a butler's pantry from which mixed drinks, wine and beer appear. The hotel staff calls it a service bar; but in an attempt to class up the joint, I'm calling it a butler's pantry.

The view from my room: Just another night in the desert.

No matter in which direction you turn or view you choose throughout the resort, the vistas are extraordinary.

What attracted the owner to this particular site for the hotel was the idea of placing the pool around an existing sandstone rock formation. It's the resort's signature feature.

Upon returning to the hotel after our day of driving, we were greeted by an open bar. Nothing cuts the trail dust like a cold micro brew. Several were among the bar's offerings. My favorite was "The Devastator" from the Wasatch Brewing Company. It was deep, rich and tasty.

I was pleased to see Don Julio Reposado among the liquor choices. We coaxed them into adding a couple of Utah-sourced spirits from the High West Distillery in Park City. I didn't try the Rye, but the White was unique and delicious.

It was the ideal finish to a great trip.

Utah, Arizona and Range Rover: It doesn't get much better than that.

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