Mike was surprised about two things. He was surprised at how much precision their driver and tour guide, Richard Mick, used when piloting a Jeep full of Mike and his family out across the rugged, steep, hazardous, and beautiful terrain of Moab, Utah. And he was surprised at the capability of the Jeep itself. It was a modded JK, but Richard also drives a TJ with very minimal modification. The grades were insane, so steep they don’t really make sense to your brain. A machine shouldn’t be able to scale that. Or a mountain goat. But Richard drove up and down the rocks with ease and aplomb.
Mike captains the good ship StreetsideAuto.com, and earlier this summer, he got a chance to escape the madness for a while and explore the great American interior with his wife and two kids. They had to make a stop in Moab, but thought that once out on the advanced trails, the driving itself was best left to the experts. Thankfully, they came across Dan Mick’s Guided Jeep Tours, one of the most respected and knowledgeable Jeep tour companies in the Southwest. Dan has been Jeeping since the ’70s and leading professional Moab Jeep tours since the early ’90s. He pioneered some of the most popular Moab trails on the map. When his son, Richard, was old enough, he began leading tours, as well. Later, as their customer base grew and grew, Dan added his brother-in-law, Curtis, and his daughter, Lacy Ann Shepherd, to the drivers roster.
Mike and Richard spent the afternoon talking Jeeps and Jeep mods, and before long, they had scheduled an interview. I shot Richard a call and learned a ton:
Andy Sheehan (AS): “So it’s you, your dad, your uncle, and your sister, and you all lead Jeep tours?”
Richard Mick (RM): “We never thought that we would be so big to have four drivers. It’s alot more information to store. We have a booking system on our website… I get about 8-10 [tour requests] every night.”
AS: “How long has your family been Jeeping, and how long have you been leading the tours professionally?”
RM: “My dad pulled into town in the late ’70s in a Pontiac GTO. We still have it sitting in our yard. We need to put alot of TLC into it, but that’s a wintertime project. The GTO blew a head gasket coming into town. As he was getting it fixed, a couple of the auto body shops offered him jobs, and (later) he decided to take them up on it. So he started living here, and he was an auto body mechanic for the local uranium miners. He had an old CJ Jeep come in, and its owner sold it to him. He fixed it up with flames going down the sides. He just drove it as a hobby. Back then, you could drive wherever you wanted to. That’s when he pioneered the Golden Spike trail and alot of the obstacles on Hell’s Revenge. In an old CJ with carburetors and leaf springs. He started doing professional tours. He would rent the Jeeps out and they would follow him on sunset tours. I believe the very first year he did that was ’91. It was called ‘GR8 GPN.’ He was a little bit ahead of his time.”
AS: “That’s text message language these days.”
RM: “But back in the early ’90s, nobody would get it, so he just changed it to his name, and it’s worked out really well to build up his and the family’s reputation in the Jeeping community. And I’ve been professionally doing tours since I was about 17.”
AS: “So he started with CJs. What vehicles are in the fleet now?”
RM: “We actually have a pretty special arrangement as far as collector’s items. We have a prototype TJ Rubicon. We do alot of testing with Chrysler, and they sold us one of their prototypes for a dollar. Right before they went bankrupt and sold to Fiat. I still have that one today. It’s the main one I drove when I was little. Our TJs aren’t super modified. They still have 35s and a 3 inch lift. Nothing serious. The stock lockers work really well. We don’t need to change those. We call it the Little TJ.
“Then we have the Red TJ. It’s a Rubicon Unlimited with a short arm kit, where the little TJ had the long arm kit. See, we want to keep everything we can stock on that one, because it’s the last TJ Rubicon Unlimited off the assembly line before they started making JKs. We have the last TJ Rubicon and the last TJ Unlimited.”
AS: “I’d want to store those away. I’d almost be afraid to take them out on the trails, but you guys do.”
RM: “Oh, we beat them to pieces. Jeeps will last forever. It just depends on how much effort you want to put in.”
AS: “And you guys have some JKs as well?”
RM: “Yes, we have two 4-door JKs that we use. They’re obviously heaven sent for our little tour operation. More legroom, more doors. We even put a third row seat in ours so we could seat four adults and two kids. We were just talking yesterday about buying a couple more 4-door JKs and retiring the TJs.
AS: “Obviously the 4-doors are great for passengers, but is there any other advantage to having the longer wheelbase of the Unlimited?”
RM: “Yes, of course. Think about them as basketball players. A short basketball player has a disadvantage because he has to jump higher to dunk. The taller guy is that much closer already to grabbing the rim. Once you get up on a rock, the longer wheelbase is already up the obstacle, where the shorter wheelbase has to jump that much further to get up on top. You get more reach. The only problem there is that you bottom out more, but you can just put a taller lift on it.”
AS: “What kind of mods do you have on the JKs?”
RM: “The JKs we have a little beefier than the TJs. With the TJs, it’s a little lift, a little tire, and we beefed up the steering a little. We go all out with the JKs. We have TeraFlex‘s Dana 60s underneath. Spicer’s Super 60 gears. It’s a Dana 70 gearset inside a Dana 70 housing. RCV axle shafts that just don’t break, since failure’s not an option out here. Heavier bars all around. Hydraulic steering assist from PSC. That helps out alot. Falken tires work really well for us off-road. They’re very sticky but still last long enough. We love Raceline wheels because they’re easy to work on. When a [beadlock] bolt breaks off on alot of these other wheels, you have to get a left handed thread out. But with the Raceline wheels, they’re inserts, so you just pop them out and pop another insert in.”
AS: “What size wheels and tires are you running?”
RM: “My dad has 38s, I have 37s. Just to try out the different compounds in each for Falken tires. The 38s have a stickier compound, and we’re showing Falken how much we like each set. 37 inch tires work really well out here. My dad has a 5.7 Hemi in his [Jeep], so he can push the 38s easier. And I believe they’re just standard 16 inch rims.”
AS: “What are the beginning mods that you would recommend to really increase the capability of the JK out in Moab?”
RM: “For the weekend warrior, I would stick with the short arm kit, and only raise it about 2 or 3 inches. TeraFlex makes really good short arm kits. They make all the brackets and everything a little bit beefier, but you don’t have to cut all the brackets and reweld them, and you actually get a little bit more clearance in front of the wheel. If you do alot of driving like we do, you definitely want a long arm kit to keep the stability. Lockers are a must out here. You get one tire in a pothole and another in a rut, and you’re just spinning all day. We like ARB lockers because we can turn them on and off when we want them. We have so much traction out here that when they are engaged, there’s no turning at all. Just very straight up the obstacle, then you turn them off. The ARB lockers give you such versatility, because they’re not just lockers. If you get the right setup, you can have a whole air compressor unit and you can air up all your tires.
“I would also suggest RCV axle shafts. Backing up in a Jeep, especially with the wheels turned, is actually really hard on those U-joints. They don’t last long out on the trail. But we’ve never had any problem with the RCV axle shafts. Body armor in general. You don’t want a big, huge bumper, just big enough to protect the frame. That way you won’t get it hung up on stuff. Rock sliders, definitely. We plan on bottoming out. We use that to help us Jeep. We just slide around the obstacles rather than have a huge lift. We only have 4 inch lifts, and that works out really well for us out here.
AS: “You guys are pretty busy this summer. Do you still have tour spots open later on in the summer for our readers if they want to head out to Moab?”
RM: “Oh yeah. Definitely.”
If you want to book a tour with Dan Mick’s Guided Jeep tours, check out their website or their Facebook page, or just give them a call at 435.259.4567. Their rates are extremely reasonable, and the experience is unforgettable. The Micks love community, too, and they’re happy to let you follow along in your own Jeep once you feel you’re ready.
We added some links up there to some of the Jeep mods Richard mentioned, so you can get started on your own Moab-ready machine, but keep in mind that Jeep parts fitment can be very specific and specialized, so remember to check fitment before purchasing. If you’re not sure what you have or what you need, drop a note in the comments or give us a call at 877.787.8989 and our expert American techs will make sure you’re getting the right stuff.
Often when we picture a Moab-ready Jeep, we think of a purpose-built, heavily-caged rock crawler with tires taller than most horses and suspension travel best measured in yards. But even in stock form, a Wrangler can get started out in a place like Moab, and after a few JK mods, you can start hitting the more advanced trails.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.