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Moab • As the thick tread on the oversized tires rolled over red rocks and dirt, we sat in our four-wheel drive, slowed it and pondered whether to stop to see Gemini Bridges.

"This is about four-wheeling," said Rob Covert, my old college roommate from suburban St. Louis, "not sightseeing."

With that, Rob pressed the accelerator and the silver Jeep Wrangler bounced up the trail. Looking past Rob's shoulders, I saw only the top of the twin wonders that is Gemini Bridges.

When traveling around Moab by four-wheel drive, the journey is the thing. And with all of the area's Jeep trails, the off-road journey can appear never-ending — but it does require some planning.

Rob and I took our trip the first Saturday in October. Since tourist season was withering, we had no problem reserving a four-wheel drive just a week in advance.

Rob and I rented a two-door Jeep Rubicon modified for an extra 2.5 inches of ground clearance and fitted with oversized tires. We could have had a less expensive Jeep with less ground clearance or a more expensive Jeep with more room and bigger suspension, but our Jeep proved more than sufficient for a day's fun. Tribune photographer Djamila Grossman joined us and we picked up the Jeep at 8 a.m.

This was my first time Jeeping. Rob has done some off-roading in Missouri's Ozark Mountains, but this was his first visit to Utah. So we decided to start gently and take the beginner's trail to Gemini Bridges. I was driving as we left the paved road and started up the trail.

The Jeep bounced as if someone put their hands under my rear end and started doing bench presses. My instinct was to drive slowly. I reminded myself this vehicle was designed for these trails and I began betraying what I learned in driver's ed and drove faster than what was comfortable.

We went over a hill, then around a curve. My confidence grew and I shouted my first "Neeehaw!" of the day.

Rob took a turn driving. As if to remind us that we were still just learning, we passed a sign directing off-roaders to a trail called Metal Masher. The trail is rated difficult, which implies how it earned its name. We bypassed it, and after passing Gemini Bridges, we made a loop by going through Long Canyon.

Long Canyon is awash with views of redrock plateaus and fins. Rob had been indifferent to the day's scenery up to this point, but offered some compliments here. The weather was warm. The sun was shining, and we retracted the top covering of the Jeep's roof.

As the trail neared its end, we met a family of four standing outside a white, standard Ford Explorer. The father had an accent and said they were from Italy. They had started on the other side of the trail and were deciding whether to continue. The Explorer was almost stuck on the jagged rocks that peek out from the dirt and form the trail. We encouraged the family to turn around.

The trail ended on State Road 279, also known as Potash Road, along the Colorado River. Djamila also had been assigned that day to photograph a new ATV trailhead in the La Sal Mountains. So we drove south through Moab and into the mountains.

Somewhere up the mountain, the paved road turned into gravel. While the conventional passenger vehicles we saw slowed to keep traction and save their bodies from flying pebbles, the Jeep kept its speed. The Jeep had now taken us out of the red rocks and into the aspen forest of the La Sals. On the mountain, we stopped to eat the lunch we packed. Then we returned to Moab.

In the center of town, we turned east and drove about three miles to Sand Flats Recreation Area. After paying the $5 admission fee, it was on to Fins and Things.

Fins and Things is a 10-mile loop trail. The inclines and descents just don't seem to stop.

If you laid a roller coaster on the trail, you'd spend all 10 miles feeling your intestines bounce between your throat and your gallbladder.

In the Jeep, we had to drive slowly enough on the grades to not scrape our bumpers — and to not roll. Even slow the grades intimidated, but we never came close to a disaster. Meanwhile, the red rocks provided their standard spectacular views.

Rob was driving when we entered Fins and Things, and after just a few seconds, he smiled, looked at me and said, "This is what I'm about, Nate. I'm driving the rest of the day." That was fine with me. I was enjoying the ride.

Djamila was laughing and smiling, too. But later I looked at my notebook and found this quote from her: "Are you guys getting seasick?"

I didn't write down when or where she asked that, but it could have been at any point of the trip. Only the rocks outnumbered the bounces during the day.

Soon the sun moved into the west. We had to clean and gas the Jeep and return it by 6 p.m. After a day of driving, we finally stopped for a picture. Looking north from Fins and Things, I could see the valley and Negro Bill Canyon.

The Jeep journey was over and the sights had been great.

Tips for the journey

Be prepared to spend $150 to $200 plus tax and a tank of gas for a one-day rental.

In the warm seasons, a lot of rental companies remove the sides from the Jeep tops, thus giving you an easy way to get in and out of the backseat. This can save you from having to pay more to rent a four-door vehicle if you're traveling with more than two people.

However, rent something with more ground clearance than your standard Jeep. Make sure your Jeep has at least a 2-inch lift kit. If nothing else, this buys you peace of mind as you drive over pointed, jagged rocks.

Do you purchase the rental company's insurance when you rent a car? If so, purchase the company insurance for your Jeep. Otherwise, skip it.

Before you pick up your Jeep, decide where you want to go. You don't want to waste your rental time deciding or arguing. Pay attention to the difficulty ratings on the trails. If it's your first time Jeeping or first visit to Moab, you can have plenty of fun on the easy trails.

Pack a lunch. You may find yourself hungry miles from a restaurant. Besides, you don't want to waste your rental time waiting for meal service. Some rental companies provide a cooler and bottled water. Bring extra water.

Even if your Jeep has a roof cover or an enclosed top, pack a bag as though you will be outside all day.

Leave yourself some time at the end. Rental companies require you return the Jeep fueled and cleaned. Late in the day, Jeeps start forming lines at Moab's gas stations and car washes. —

Some Moab Jeep rental companies

Canyonlands Jeep Adventures • 435-259-4413;

Cliffhanger Jeep Rental • 435-259-0889;

Farabee's Jeep Rentals • 435-259-7494;

Moab Adventure Center • 435-259-7019;

Moab Tour Company • 435-259-4080;