Owyhee Canyonlands Adventure
Meet Gladis. Ready for Your Next Expedition.
When you think of flying somewhere and renting an overland-outfitted 4×4, images of the African Serengeti or Australian Outback flood the imagination. While well-equipped iconic off-road rentals have been available at those destinations for decades, it’s been a bit more recent that such vehicles could be rented closer to home. RV, van, and overland adventuremobile rentals have exploded in popularity during the travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic, so we figured we’d give it a try to see what all the fuss is about.
Arrive & Drive
I stretched out in my sleeping bag and took a moment to enjoy the warmth radiating off the propane heater inside the AT Atlas Camper Topper. Pulling back the corner of the insulated tent liner to peek at the outside world confirmed my suspicions, our remote camp along the Owyhee River had been turned white from a dusting of overnight snow. It’s early November in Southeast Oregon and I’m on a three-day off-road camping adventure with my cousin in a rented adventure rig.
“The old ‘drive it like you stole it’ rental adage probably isn’t one you should use here. Know your limits and skill sets, and plan your route accordingly.”
It doesn’t get much more socially distanced than traversing the remote trails in far eastern Oregon in a fully built Jeep Gladiator. My cousin met me in Bend, Oregon, where we got the keys and rundown of all the features and equipment on our rental.
The truck, owned by the seasoned overland pros Brent Baker and Aaron Wirth at Oregon Adventure Trucks, is available for rent for very reasonable rates through Outdoorsy. Oregon AT is located just outside of Bend, near the Redmond airport, which not only provides an insanely diverse range of adventurous areas to explore but also convenience.
Gladis the Gladiator
Oregon AT has named their shop truck/rental ’20 Jeep Gladiator “Gladis.” She’s a very proper girl that is sure to show you a good time. Gladis is not just any rental 4×4 but rather a fully kitted-out overland adventure machine.
The first, and probably most important, modification on this rig is the AT Overland Atlas camper topper. This setup turns the shallow 5-foot truck bed of the Gladiator into a full featured camper with sleeping quarters for two and lots of room to stand up inside and move around out of the weather.
Inside, the truck bed is fitted with a carpeted deck with storage compartments, water storage, a drawer, and a 50-liter fridge/freezer on a combo slide. Of course, this setup also houses all the essentials you’ll need around camp: two chairs, collapsible table, stove, cookware set, coffee press and mugs, a bush toilet, a basic shower setup, and other essentials.
“This adventure vehicle rental offered up an unforgettable world-class overland experience that required little more effort than showing up and providing a credit card.”
Besides the camping/overland equipment, Gladis is also fully sorted for off-pavement adventures. Big 34.36-inch Falken AT tires along with Fox 2.5 Series Shocks and IVD Progressive Springs ensure the ride is smooth as butter no matter how rough the terrain. Teraflex hydraulic bumpstops ensure complete control even if you hit an obstacle a bit too fast. A Hellwig rear sway bar keeps the camper and extra weight in complete control on- and off-road.
A Warn Crawler Front Bumper houses a Zeon 12-S winch, just in case you get really stuck or need to clear the trail of debris. A full host of Ironman 4×4 off-road recovery tools ensure you’re prepared for whatever the road less traveled has in store for you. The finishing touch on this well-sorted Gladiator is a host of Vision X Lighting products that light up the trail as well as camp.
Setting Out For Adventure
Not only did we get an awesome, well-sorted vehicle with all the camping gear we’d need, but also a ton of local knowledge and route suggestions to maximize our tight time frame. We wanted remote and beautiful, and that is exactly what we got.
Oregon AT offers a ton of pre-routed trip suggestions to little known places in Southeast Oregon and Northwest Nevada. While I’ve explored this area a good bit, I somehow had never before visited the Owyhee Canyonlands, so that is where we pointed the Gladiator.
Oregon AT routed us to some truly impressive vistas, roads, and campsites. The only downside to the Owyhee mission was the four hours of pavement each way from Bend to access to the goods. Totally worth it though, as our route was 99 percent off-pavement once we got the highway slog out of the way.
We aired down to about 20 psi, with the included deflator tool, and didn’t air back up until we hit the highway again at the end of the trip. To be clear, the highways out in this area are two-lane roads that traverse great expanses of rural rugged terrain and offer up vistas worthy of experiencing in their own right.
Once we hit dirt we experienced so much diverse terrain. First up was some wide-open fast dusty dirt that quickly narrowed to rocky two track and eventually a narrow shelf road as we got near the first night’s camp in a place called Chalk Basin. If you enjoy unique geology, you’ll love this place. It is full of colorful layers and contrasting black basalt.
After arriving at the pin Oregon AT provided on the GPS we set up camp, which took only a few seconds. We leveled the truck, popped the AT Overland Atlas topper, and set out the camp chairs. With only the one rugged road in and out we had little doubt that we’d have the place all to ourselves for the night.
We snuck in a quick hike down a rocky side canyon and soaked in the last rays of sunshine as we took in the impressive vistas out over the Owyhee Canyonlands. After a few cold Ninkasi Oregon microbrews out of the fridge, a hot meal, and some stories around the campfire, the desert winds had us retreat to the comforts of the camper.
Standing atop the carpeted platform in the camper we were able to relax out of the wind. With double-pane windows, an insulation kit for the tent, and a small propane heater, the Atlas camper is a cozy place year-round. The integrated LED lighting in the skylight offers great illumination for playing card games, reading a book, and getting ready for bed.
A Trip to Rome
On the morning of day two we got a leisurely start as we climbed out of Chalk Basin and toward the tiny town of Rome. On the way, we saw lots of grazing cows and huge herds of fast-moving antelope. Antelope sprinting across vast plains is truly something to behold!
We also stopped to check out the “Pillars of Rome,” fossil-bearing clay formations nearly 100 feet tall, 2 miles wide, and 5 miles long that reminded early travelers on the Oregon Trail of ancient Roman structures.
The tiny town of Rome has one fuel station/restaurant/store combo and is a great place to grab a few basic supplies and fuel up. Rolling out of town we hit the highway for a few miles before turning off onto the dirt on the east side of river.
We followed the canyon rim trail south for nearly 40 miles as the river canyon got deeper and narrower, offering up breathtaking overlooks. We dropped into the canyon, down some steep switchbacks that required 4-Lo, into the Three Forks area.
On a rocky shoal along the river, we set up camp steps from the water. The weather had turned and a mix of rain and snow was falling as the sun dipped below the horizon. We called it another early night, retreating again to the warmth and comfort of the camper.
Watch the Weather
Awaking in the morning brings us back to where this story started, staring out the camper window at a white wintery landscape. We got an early start, as the snow was melting fast, creating some seriously slippery rocky terrain and tire-clogging mud on the trail.
The technical retreat up and out of this deep river canyon was some of the best off-road travel I’ve done in years. Once up and out of the canyon we traversed many miles of rocky, muddy two track before intersecting with the highway. After airing up we hit the cruise control and rolled back to Bend to hand over the keys to Gladis, our reliable comfortable adventure partner for the past three days.
Rent Gladis for Your Next Adventure
This adventure vehicle rental offered up an unforgettable world-class overland experience that required little more effort than showing up and providing a credit card. The experience cost less than what you’d spend on a hotel and cheap rental car for three days, and offered up so much more of an experience with so many less hassles than even driving your own vehicle.
Adventure is calling, and an overland vehicle rental is a convenient way to answer that call.
Read the Small Print
The rental agreement basically lays out that if a stock 4×4 can easily traverse the terrain then it’s fine to take this adventure machine down that route during your rental. This means that you should not go rock crawling with this rental, but remote BLM and Forest Service routes are just fine. These are places that you wouldn’t want to take a vehicle without recovery gear, but places that are unlikely to cause real damage to the vehicle if driven with care and a bit of mechanical sympathy.
“It doesn’t get much more socially distanced than traversing the remote trails in far eastern Oregon in a fully built Jeep Gladiator.”
The old “drive it like you stole it” rental adage probably isn’t one you should use here. Know your limits and skill sets, and plan your route accordingly. The good people at Oregon AT can help you make a plan that is sure to be adventure filled no matter your skill level or time constraints.
Be sure to check out oregonat.com if you want to rent Gladis the Gladiator for an adventure of your own.
“Not only did we get an awesome, well-sorted vehicle with all the camping gear we’d need, but also a ton of local knowledge and route suggestions to maximize our tight time frame.”
’20 Jeep Gladiator “Gladis”
Suspension: Fox 2.5-inch struts, Icon Vehicle Dynamics Progressive springs, Teraflex hydraulic bumpstops, Hellwig rear sway bar
Wheel and Tires: Dirty Life Mesa Wheels (17×12.5), Falken Wildpeak A/T3W tires (LT315/70R17)
Accessories: Warn Crawler front bumper; Warn Zeon 12-S winch; Ironman 4×4; Air Champ compressor, tire deflator, recovery kit, three-piece shovel, and tire repair kit; Vision X Lighting: 4.7-inch Light Cannon CG2 Ditch Lights, 6.7-inch ADV Light Cannon, 2.75-inch Dura Mini Reverse Lights; AT Overland Atlas Topper; Ironman 4×4 storage drawer; Goose Gear fridge/stove slider; Ironman 4×4 50L fridge/freezer; SnowPeak Baja Burner camp stove; Ironman 4×4 13-gallon (50L) water tank with hand pump; Sunflare 105-watt solar panel with Renogy MPPT controller; Last US Bag Storage Compartments; (two) Ironman 4×4 camp chairs, Beckworth & Co. SmartFlip Bamboo Table; Kelty Deluxe cookware kit; BruTrek coffee press and tumblers; Ironman 4×4 Bush toilet; Ironman 4×4 Eco-Shower