Off-Roading

Lexus and Blackberrry Mountain team up for new off-road adventure

Lexus GX SUVs take to the trails at Blackberry Mountain, a luxury resort in the Great Smokey Mountains.

Photo courtesy of Lexus

Blackberry Mountain in Walland, Tennessee is the newest home of the Lexus Off-Road Adventure. The 5,200-acre Relais & Châteaux-designated resort will now offer the 90-minute program to guests.

Located in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, the Lexus Off-Road Adventure at Blackberry Mountain puts guests behind the wheel of a Lexus GX on a course designed to hone their off-roading skills. Participants are offered instruction on six off-road challenges: Rock Crawl, Side Tilt, Hill Climb and Descent, Balance Beams, Log Crawl and Axle Twist.

In addition to the obstacles, the scenery of the resort envelops drivers as they're shown landmarks and waypoints of the mountains and Tennessee Valley.

"Lexus and Blackberry Mountain are a terrific fit as we're both passionate about delivering amazing experiences for our guests," said Lisa Materazzo, vice president of Lexus marketing. "Our GX 460 has off-road capabilities that few luxury SUVs can match, and there's no better way to experience them than a drive on this rugged and scenic trail."

Blackbery Mountain joins sister resort Blackberry Farm in offering the program, which also includes a complimentary two-hour test-drive of Lexus vehicles for all guests of the resort.

Each Lexus Off-Road Adventure has a maximum of three guests. Drivers must be 21 years old or older and passengers much be 10 years old or older.

To find out more about the program and to reserve your stay to take part in the Lexus Off-Road Adventure, contact Blackberry Mountain directly.

At the end of the Rebelle Rally, participants drove their vehicles to Broadway Pier in San Diego for a public car show and their awards ceremony.

Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

The recipe for a Rebelle Rally team is straightforward. Take two adventurous women and combine them with analog navigation skills, basic emergency vehicle rescue techniques, and an off-roading-worthy vehicle. Add in a dash of hardiness, good communication skills, and a sense of humor. Marinate for 10 days in California and Nevada's forests, mountains, and deserts. On the last day, bake in the heat of the sun.

The journey itself is anything but simple. Rebelle Rally founder Emily Miller and her team spent months discovering and plotting the course for the navigation challenge, which had its beginning at Lake Tahoe and its end at the Imperial Sand Dunes near the U.S.-Mexico border. Desolate wasteland, tight corners, bulging dunes, craggy trails, and flats were all on the menu. Though the teams likely didn't take the time to stop and enjoy the views, Miller joked during the end-of-event celebration in San Diego on Saturday, the scenery was spectacular.

2019 Rebelle Rally team navigation Rebelle Rally participants were unable to use modern technology to help guide them on the course.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

At the beginning of the journey, temperatures hovered near freezing. By the time the teams reached the dunes, it topped 100 degrees in the abundant sunshine.

The course consisted of a number of check points which garnered the teams points. Green check points, all of which were mandatory, were the easiest and marked by flags. Blue were harder to find with only a few of them marked by flags while the rest were designated by posts. Black check points proved the most difficult with no official markings indicating that the team had arrived at the destination.

2019 Rebelle Rally Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Team 207 ran a Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross in the event and ended up with second place in the Crossover category.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

How many points the teams earned depended on how close they were to the correct coordinate positioning when they signaled in that they had arrived. They competed in two classes – 4x4 and Crossover. At the end of the race, the team in each category with the most points would leave the desert as the winner.

The 2019 Rebelle Rally ran 1,700 miles and featured 76 women paired up in 38 teams from 67 cities in 20 states/provinces in six countries. The vehicles were as diverse as the drivers themselves, with everything from stock vehicles to specially modified rigs.

None of the going was particularly easy. Team 200, driving a Rolls-Royce Cullinan, suffered during the Johnson Valley stage getting three flat tires. They could only carry two spares, so the teammates had to patch one of the punctures and hope for the best heading to Glamis, California and the final day of the competition. Taking on an extra tire would have resulted in a 50-point penalty and the standings were tight.

2019 Rebelle Rally Land Rover LR4 Team 164 had to be towed back to Base Camp after rolling their Land Rover LR4.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Team 210, driving a 2017 Subaru Crosstrek, lost their clutch during that stage, putting them out of the competition, but the event's mechanics were able to replace the clutch overnight making them able to complete the event though they no longer were eligible for points.

On the last day of competition, Team 164 rolled their 2013 Land Rover LR4 in the Glamis dunes, causing multiple windows to break, the windshield to crack, and airbags to go off. The Rebelle Rally support team was able to rescue the team quickly and towed their Land Rover back to base camp.

Later that evening at dinner, longtime Rebelle Rally competitor and 35-year Army Veteran Rachel Ridenour presented the Land Rover team with a large sticker featuring the image of a rolled over SUV and a phrase favorited by Forrest Gump. In front of the Rebelles, as term Miller uses to refer to the competitors, Ridenour reminded the group of a favorite saying of hers, "There are two types of off-roaders. Those that have rolled and those that haven't rolled yet." The crowd roared with laughter and applause.

2019 Rebelle Rally End Day Stage Glamis Rebelle crossed the finish line at the end of each day not knowing how many points they had earned. They would be told several hours later.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

The Rebelle spirit of survival and overcoming obstacles is something that Miller doesn't just promote. She lives it as well. As a respected off-road racer and adventurer in her own right, the competition is just as personal for her as it is for the competitors.

Though Toyotas, Jeeps, and Land Rovers are often thought of as the champions of the off-roading space, the teams piloting them did not come out on top in the Rebelle Rally results.

When all was said and done, Team 190 driving a stock 2019 Lexus GX 460 took top honors in the 4x4 category. The Crossover class was won by Team 200 in their 6,000-pound Sapphire Blue Rolls-Royce Cullinan.

"This Cullinan is a hundred percent more capable than I thought it would be," said Team 200 driver Emme Hall during the awards ceremony Saturday at Broadway Pier in San Diego. "I thought we were going to have to go really slow through a lot of things. I thought we were going to have problems in the dunes. I thought it was going to be too heavy … Every single time, every day, it proved me wrong."

Each year, the Rebelles prove a lot of people wrong, including themselves, by rising to the challenge and pushing themselves and their vehicles to the limits.

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We don't know what the Ford Bronco (officially) looks like yet, but a source has told AutomotiveMap that an off road racing-ready variant is already planned.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

A well-placed source within the off-road racing community has tipped off AutomotiveMap that Ford is planning to debut a specialized off road racing-ready version of the Bronco shortly after the model debuts next year.

There's some heritage in the Bronco being an off road racer. The first-generation Ford Bronco (1966-1977) is a popular off-roader even today and the internet is full of pictures and stories that tell the tale of championship rides.

Recently revealed patents for the Ford Bronco, first reported by AutoGuide, show numerous model configurations including two- and four-door trucks that could have a bed, with looks similar to the Jeep Gladiator. This style Bronco, with a bed, could compete directly with the Jeep Gladiator and, in racing, with the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2.

Chevrolet is far ahead of Ford when it comes to their truck racing program. The GM division worked with Hall Racing and suppliers like Multimatic to develop and test Chevrolet Performance parts that can be sold to off-roading enthusiasts. With these modifications Hall Racing has blown past the 100 mph mark on their Colorado ZR2 race truck and given the truck the parts it needs to remain planted when cornering, even at high speed.

1974 Ford Bronco side profile The first generation Ford Bronco, including 1974 models like this, remain popular in the off-roading community.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Chevrolet division recently introduced a desert racing version of the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Custom Trail Boss, which the company will test during the Desert Racing Series using a similar process. Expectations are that this testing will lead to a Ford F-150 Raptor-fighter model of the Silverado. Insiders are referring to it as the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ZR2.

But what about the Ford Ranger Raptor? The source was quick to point out to AutomotiveMap that the prospective off road racing-ready Ford Bronco model is not the Ford Ranger Raptor. Currently sold only in overseas markets, it is likely that the Ranger Raptor will debut when the next-generation Ranger comes to market in a few years.

Ford has confirmed that the Bronco will share a platform with the next-gen Ranger, and so it would make sense that a Bronco with Ranger Raptor characteristics would be on tap. Ford could easily test the underpinnings of a future off-roading Bronco model while wearing Ranger camouflage.

When approached for comment, Ford responded, "We don't comment on speculation about future products."