It's still as clear in memory as the skies were above Idyllwild the day we rolled up in a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon for a coupla days of hiking, fishing and log-cabin living that refreshed the soul as much as the first glass of Chataeuneuf de Pape at dusk in the excellent Gastro-gnome eatery downtown.
Downtown Idyllwild, in the San Jacinto mountains, is merely a higher concentration of log cabin buidings than its immediate surrounds, ie, the area is perfect terrain for putting one of the most recognizable and vehicles on the road today through its paces on dirt, track and undergrowth.
Best thing is that Idyllwild's only about 100 miles from Downtown L.A., a quick hop along the 10 to Barstow and then start climbing from there, before you know it you're passing the 5,000 feet marker with a fantastic view of the Mojave on one side and the Jacintas on the other, the most impressive sight I've seen since taking in Lake Mead at dusk from the cabin of a Volvo S80 on the 215 to the Hoover Dam.
So there wasn't much snow on the roads to fully test the Rubicon's prowess - though there's a good bit up there now - but it performed perfectly in some of the 10-day old ice and sludge that lined the weaving forest roads on the way to Hemet lake and a nearby walking trail that passes through four distinct climate zones, which distinctly thrilled the wife while I swiftly developed a sore leg.
I couldn't shake the feeling it was two townies out in the wilderness, you know, always in search of a decent latte, and waited for storm clouds to emerge on the horizon before trapping us up the hill with just a couple of Twixes for a ten-day snow-hole survival. So I made sure that the local ranger station knew we were going on the treck -- I was in experienced woodsman mode by this time -- and in the event of a snowstorm, I figured we could always send out the dog to track down some prey. Or not.
Our three-bedroom wood-fireplace cabin, part of Woodland Park Manors a short walk outside town, was excellent at a price that roasted anything available in Big Bear and is one that I would recommend to anyone with family or not: it had two enclosed sun decks, an enclosed yard for the dog, a massive open-plan living/kitchen area which was superbly equipped; it's been a long time since I've been in any log cabin that had two ovens.
Our Jeep was not out of place at all in these conditions, and we saw more than our share making their way on terrain that could get nightmarish very, very quickly. It's called the Rubicon, after all, named after a trail in the Sierras. Thinking ahead, and of the cold, I had requested a hard-top but the soft-top was perfectly sufficient, the top firmly attached allowing in little wind rush or blasts of cold air.
The 2007 model year Wranglers waved goodbye to the long-used TJ platform and sits on the longer JK platform, which principally allowed Jeep to build a four-door Wrangler to the horror of enthusiasts but the delight of those who felt just a little cramped up in the new two-door, which bizarrely is two inches shorter than the old one. Riddle me that.
And I'd really recommend stepping into the four-door Wrangler, which we'll hopefully do in the coming months, as this one was just a little small for taking to the mountains with a fat load of hiking and fishing gear, winter clothes, and food and drink. Access to the back seats is not great, and the trunkspace is tiny - the dog gave us the saddest look when she knew she had to be cooped up in the back when the rear seats were filled with rucksacks and fishing rods. Then again, it's served US forces pretty for the past 60 years, so most heavy equipment ain't no thing.
But if you need to go to the mountains, or occasionally just need to traverse little ones, the Rubicon's probably as suited a car as you'll get. It's also perfectly suited for the beach or rolling farmland. It's got good enough kick to it courtesy of its 4-liter PowerTech engine for downlow manuevers with a ratio of 4:1 on its RockTrac four-wheel-drive system (just when did sticking names together and capitalizing the joining letter become popular? When did the void go out of style?) bolstered by Quadra-Coil suspension and four-wheel disc brakes.
And have no fear if the dog gets a bit messy and leaves most of it on the seats and floor, you can simply hose off the area, courtesy of Jeep's splendid patented flooring. You've also got all electric doors and windows, rare for Wranglers.
This one will set you back just north of $30,000 on the road, all the dibbings included, a small price to pay for a world of wilderness.