SIN­GA­POREAN “MAR­TIAN”

It was a jour­ney of Dis­cov­ery for this jour­nal­is­tic ex­plorer who landed on what ap­peared to be Mars – some­where in Utah, USA.

Torque (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

HHOW do you fly to Mars? On a jet plane, that’s how!

Jour­nal­ists from all four cor­ners of the world were flown to south­ern Utah last year for Land Rover’s Dis­cov­ery World Me­dia Test Drive. The 45th state of Amer­ica of­fers some of the most breath­tak­ing views – from pink sand dunes to snowy pine forests to canyons and flat­lands, all in a day’s drive. Our hosts chose a venue that was sec­ond to none for journos to test­drive their lat­est Land Rover Dis­cov­ery, an all-ter­rain seven-seater that is a highly prac­ti­cal sports util­ity ve­hi­cle. We stopped at Canyon Point for af­ter­noon cof­fee. This was in the mid­dle of nowhere, with a sur­real Mar­tian land­scape of rusty-hued bad­lands and lay­ered cliffs pep­pered with green shrubs. The veg­e­ta­tion re­minded me that I wasn’t re­ally on the Red Planet. The four of us Sin­ga­porean scribes had flown 14,688 kilo­me­tres from Changi Air­port to St. Ge­orge Re­gional Air­port in Utah to com­mence our drive in the new fifth-gen­er­a­tion Disco. By the time we sat in the lux­u­ri­ous 4x4s pow­ered by ei­ther a 3-litre 340hp su­per­charged petrol V6 or a 3-litre 248hp turbo-diesel V6, we were not weary in­ter­na­tional trav­ellers you would ex­pect, hav­ing spent the pre­vi­ous af­ter­noon and evening in Los Angeles.

Fly­ing busi­ness class from Sin­ga­pore to LA for the first leg, and then in a char­tered Boe­ing 777 the next morn­ing to Utah, helped a lit­tle, too!

An ar­ray of Dis­cos in var­i­ous liv­er­ies greeted us when we dis­em­barked on the tar­mac in St. Ge­orge Air­port. The drive from there took us along typ­i­cal Amer­i­can

THE FARM SET­TING OF THE BUF­FALO GRILL RESTAU­RANT WAS REM­I­NIS­CENT OF LIT­TLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.

high­ways – mostly straight and long. Then sud­denly, like Disney magic, we were 4000 feet (1219 me­tres) up in Zion Na­tional Park, in a pic­ture-per­fect scene of wind­ing moun­tain roads flanked by snow-topped pine trees. That soon changed to scenes of the Night Watch’s per­spec­tive from the Wall. The Landie Dis­cos, in both petrol and diesel guises, were in their ele­ment, of­fer­ing sure­footed han­dling in slip­pery con­di­tions and munchin’ up the miles and el­e­va­tion in su­perla­tive com­fort. Our lunch stop was the quaint Buf­falo Grill restau­rant about 12 miles (19 kilo­me­tres) af­ter the win­tery con­di­tions of the na­tional park. The farm set­ting was rem­i­nis­cent of Lit­tle House On The Prairie – a rusty old western horse car­riage laid against a back­drop of a prairie, ac­com­pa­nied by the neigh­ing of a cou­ple of ponies and the bleat­ing from some brown goats.

Af­ter our coun­try lunch, hav­ing hith­erto been a pam­pered front seat pas­sen­ger, I took over the helm of our Far­al­lon Black petrol Dis­cov­ery, sport­ing 21-inch Goodyear F1s. Two hours later, we ar­rived on “Mars” for our cof­fee break at Canyon Point. The good

CANYON POINT’S GREEN SHRUBS RE­MINDED ME THAT I WASN’T RE­ALLY ON THE RED PLANET.

peo­ple at Land Rover had set up a tent to serve var­i­ous brews and cook­ies. We had time to ex­plore the wilder­ness on foot, by which pe­riod the tem­per­a­ture had dipped to 12 de­grees Cel­sius in the late Fe­bru­ary af­ter­noon. Two other journos from Sin­ga­pore de­cided to scale a two-storey-high rock. I re­minded them that it was Navajo land and they could ex­pect float­ing mid­night guests with feather head­dresses in their room should they con­tinue. They beat a hasty re­treat. No Land Rover driv­ing event would be com­plete with­out a demon­stra­tion of its leg­endary off-road ca­pa­bil­i­ties. We scaled boul­ders like moun­tain goats and crawled up steep in­clines at an­gles that as­tro­nauts launch­ing from the Nasa Kennedy Space Cen­tre are fa­mil­iar with. All the stunts were per­formed on street tyres! There was one par­tic­u­larly har­row­ing ex­er­cise in which I thought I was go­ing to bar­rel­roll down a cliff, due to a very tight turn at the edge of the cliff into the en­try point.

For all the lump-inthe-throat mo­ments or­ches­trated by Land Rover’s off-road­ing ex­perts, we were re­warded with a night’s stay at the ex­clu­sive sin­gle-storey Aman­giri Suites, fre­quented by the big­gest names in Hollywood and the mu­sic world. That night, as I wal­lowed in my white linen-draped bed, I won­dered which su­per­star had slept on it. The next morn­ing, we

WE CRAWLED UP STEEP IN­CLINES AT AN­GLES THAT AS­TRO­NAUTS LAUNCH­ING FROM THE NASA KENNEDY SPACE CEN­TRE ARE FA­MIL­IAR WITH.

swopped our petrol-pow­ered Disco for the diesel one. With the InCon­trol Touch Nav­i­ga­tion Sys­tem dis­played on the 10-inch screen re­pro­grammed for a new day’s tour, we trav­elled down south to­wards Ari­zona into Grand Canyon coun­try. En route the diesel Disco sur­prised us au­rally with a sportier note than its petrol brethren. We tra­versed the Glen Canyon Dam, the fourth tallest in the US, and stopped at a lay-by 6000 feet (1828 me­tres) up from the canyons for a cof­fee break. The Land Rover’s now sin­gle tail­gate is com­ple­mented by a fold-out panel, which serves as a mini cof­fee ta­ble. WWF’s King Kong Bundy, who weighs about 200kg, could sit on it with an­other 100kg to spare be­fore the panel starts to protest. We were soon on our way again, let­ting the GPS voice nav­i­ga­tor guide us to our next stop at the Kaibab Plateau Vis­i­tor Cen­tre. This stage was an­other splen­did ex­pe­ri­ence. From rus­tic canyon ter­rain, we de­scended 2000 feet (609 me­tres) within 20 min­utes to flat­lands bathed in sun­shine skirted by moun­tain­ous range in the dis­tance. We then drew closer and closer to a foggy for­est as the el­e­va­tion in­creased again. And be­fore we knew it, we were driv­ing amidst snow­fall in Smokey Bear coun­try in the Grand Canyon Na­tional Park and Kaibab Na­tional For­est. The Kaibab Plateau Vis­i­tor Cen­tre, which is a gate­way to th­ese two na­tional parks, is closed for win­ter be­tween mid-Oc­to­ber and mid-May, but was spe­cially opened to re­ceive us me­dia folks (that was im­pres­sive, Land Rover!). When we re­sumed our jour­ney, the snow had stopped and the sun was out. From white-car­peted for­est, we ar­rived at the Co­ral Pink Sand Dunes desert a cou­ple of hours later. It was an op­por­tu­nity for our test ve­hi­cles to show off their soft-sand climb­ing abil­ity. The tyres were de­flated a lit­tle to en­hance their grip on the ground and it was ex­tra­or­di­nary to see th­ese al­most 2200kg lux­ury 4x4s over­come the slip­pery pink sand dunes on street tyres. The ter­rain was more for dune bug­gies than mid­dle-class SUVs such as the Disco. Af­ter a quick lunch served in a spe­cially erected large te­pee, we made our way back to St. Ge­orge Air­port for our re­turn flight to Los Angeles. It was Amer­i­can high­way driv­ing again and the Disco dis­patched us ex­plor­ers with con­sum­mate ease. If there was to be a vote for the com­plete all-rounder in a Mar­tian land­scape, the Land Rover Dis­cov­ery would cer­tainly be one of the few con­tenders in the list.

The spec­tac­u­lar red-rock scenery and pic­turesque trails such as Seven Mile Rim were na­ture’s great joys dis­cov­ered dur­ing this off-road trip.

Thanks to Navajo Bridge, the Dis­cov­ery didn’t get its Goodyears wet “cross­ing” the Colorado River.

Sur­vival gear for Utah’s “Mars” – satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion, sun­glasses and Land Rover’s ter­rain­con­quer­ing 4x4 sys­tems.

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