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Jeeps, Sand, Sky: Crossing 1,100 dunes and dodging wombats in the Australian Outback

The Jeeps set off across Australia to cross the Simpson Desert.

Photo by Chris Collard

In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of its coastal towns, Australia's Outback remains a mostly desolate and barren landscape. Tumbleweeds blow about and flies swarm. Temperatures soar during the day and plummet at night.

Fifty years ago, the Simpson Desert was first crossed by an expedition group led by Ian McDonald in two Jeep Overlanders and a Jeep J300. The adventure was half journey, half marketing scheme, designed to promote the abilities of the Brisbane-built Jeep Overlander.

1969 East West Expedition Jeep When the team set off in 1969, the Simpson Desert was more barren than it is today, though just barely.Image courtesy of Seven Slot Expeditions

Fast forward to July 2019. After a year of planning by Australian Vaughn Becker, a Jeep history buff, a group that included Becker, Michael Bowen, Chris Collard, Ben Davidson, Paul Graham, Justin He, Alan McMullen, Karen McMullen, Rick Péwé, Sue Mead, and Derek Redmond set off to recreate the 6,000-km trek, dubbed the 2019 BFGoodrich East-West Australia Jeep Expedition.

Another essential member of the cast was an Australian affectionately known as "Emu". Emu, whom Mead says is well-known in the Australian Outback, was the team's fueler. He traveled with the team from the eastern coast of Australia to the edge of the Simpson Desert, then met the team in the middle of the desert and again at the western edge of the desert for refueling.

Warakurna Road House sign 30km The roadhouse is a classic Australian fixture and the only place to source petrol in the Outback.Photo by Chris Collard

Two members of the original journey, McDonald and photographer John Eggleston, joined the team for stages of the trip.

The route would take the crew through cities and aboriginal lands, small towns and desert outposts. The plotted points started at Byron Bay, the easternmost point in Australia. The plan was to trace the original adventure's route through Birdsville and Alice Springs, near Uluru and Kata Tjuta. The group would then travel on through the Simpson Desert, which has the most north-south facing sand dunes in the world, to Steep Point, the westernmost point of Australia.

The team traveled in five modern-day Jeep vehicles, referred to by nicknames: El Jefe (a 2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Overland), PoPo the Mule (a 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited), Oz JK (a 2013 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Overland), Big Red TJ (a 1997 Jeep Wrangler), and Outback JK8 (a 2009 Jeep Wrangler JK-8).

Alice Springs sign Australia Outback When the BFGoodrich East-West Australia Jeep Expedition reached Old Andado Station, they turned north toward Alice Springs.Photo by Chris Collard

Each Jeep was unique but included some assortment of the following: BFGoodrich KM3 mud-terrain tires, Warn Zeon winch and bumper, a TeraFlex suspension, axle lockers, MaxTrax, and Factor55 and Bestop products.

Jeep Outback Australia East West Expedition Simpson Desert 2019 The Jeeps on the expedition were kitted out with a variety of off-roading products including BFGoodrich KM3 mud-terrain tires, Warn Zeon winch and bumper, a TeraFlex suspension, axle lockers, and MaxTrax.Photo by Chris Collard

With decades of off-road racing and adventuring under her belt, Mead, 68, had felt that it was time to begin phasing down her career to make time for volunteering. Mead had not sought to go on another expedition, yet the honor of being asked and the fact that this trip would use so many of her skills convinced Mead to take the plunge.

"I feel like I've been so blessed and there are so many people that have so little," said Mead. "One of my goals is helping out after natural disasters using my four-wheel drive skills. I would like to help out more as my career comes to a close. When I was one of three journalists from the U.S. that was asked, I was so honored and I felt like: 'Woah! I still have a lot of stamina to do something tough. I really was so thrilled to be asked to go on this expedition."

Jeep Outback Australia East West Expedition Simpson Desert 2019 During the journey, the team camped most nights and had to carry their own food and find firewood.Photo by Chris Collard

The 20-day journey tested the team's mettle. They camped most nights and had to carry their own food and find firewood. Mead is quick to point out that this was an expedition, not a race. Rather than competing, the participants were working together, "against the clock of danger [and the potential of] running out of water, running out of fuel." The Jeeps' technology, which had come a long way since the original expedition, played a crucial role in the team's success.

We Conquered the Simpson article Ian McDonald told the story of the Simpson Desert crossing in this 1969 magazine article.Image courtesy of Seven Slot Expeditions

"Our GPS units enabled us to meet up with our refueler in the middle of the desert. It wasn't perfect, but we had hundreds of miles around us with nothing. We were able to find him and pinpoint his location and then radio to him, 'We're here, coming over the ridge we think.'"

This precision was not only a feat, but a necessity. Running out of fuel would be deadly.

Jeep Outback Australia East West Expedition Simpson Desert 2019 The Simpson Desert is a desolate space.Photo by Chris Collard

The Simpson Desert is vast and treacherous. The east-west route the team took is tougher than the west-east route due to wind patterns.

"You not only have the tallest dunes in the world, we had 1,100 of them – 1,100 – to cross," Mead recounts. "It's rough terrain; very few dunes had any kind of smooth path. Most of them had a lot of a ground plant called spinifex. It's really gnarly and not fun or easy to cross over. The dunes in that area are really difficult. People wouldn't take the route we did if they weren't explorers or didn't want an expedition."

Australia is notorious for its wildlife and the group encountered many of its native species along the way. The team had to be wary of deadly spiders and twenty-one venomous (ten of those lethal) snakes. The winter timing of their trip meant that temperatures dropped sharply at night, yet it did provide some benefits.

Tjukarusu Road sign Jeep East West Expedition The 1,000-kilometer long dirt road to the Tjukaruru Roadhouse, the most remote roadhouse in Australia, is home to thousands of feral camels, which roam freely across the majority of Western Australia.Photo by Chris Collard

"One of the Australian guys slept under the stars every night," Mead shared. "He kept trying to get me to sleep under the stars. At first, I was really paranoid about leaving the tent in the dark with a headlamp, thinking that I was going to run into snakes or spiders. Australia is pretty raw."

The going wasn't easy – the team faced hazards such as animal crossings and poor roads. The team wasn't alone on the road, which was strewn with reminders of these threats. "There are a lot of kangaroos and wombats that run across the road kind, of like deer in the United States, and people sometimes drive too fast on these dirt roads," Mead continued. "Vehicles laid rolled over, most abandoned."

Jeep Outback Australia East West Expedition Simpson Desert 2019 Australia installed a telegraph line across the continent in the 1860s. The BFGoodrich East-West Australia team utilized one near Eucla for a basecamp one night during their return to Melbourne. Photo by Chris Collard

While deep in the Outback, the group came upon one set of travelers whose Skoda vehicle had rolled over and injured one of its occupants. The team called the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, who flew in and landed on one of the dirt highways before taking the injured man to get the medical care he needed.

It as a reminder to be careful. Thankfully, the team stayed safe and healthy overall, save for one brief scare.

"We did have a team member collapse when we were remote," Mead recollected. "It was dusk and we wouldn't have been able to get a helicopter in to pick him up. He was dehydrated. There were two of us who immediately responded to him and were able to revive him pretty quickly. It was confidence-inspiring for me to know the right things to do."

Jeep Outback Australia East West Expedition Simpson Desert 2019 After 15 days and nearly 6,000 kilometers, the BFGoodrich East-West Jeep Expedition team celebrated reaching Steep Point, the westernmost point on the continent.Photo by Chris Collard

In late July, 15 days after they had embarked, the team arrived in Steep Point, ready to take a hot shower and sleep in a proper bed.

Though she has just returned from Australia, Mead already wants to go back. She took great joy in both the place and the people and adored seeing the beautiful, diverse landscape change as they crossed the continent. Mead especially enjoyed hearing the stories from McDonald and Eggleston about their trip experience 50 years ago.

Although this trek across Australia was certainly an epic journey, Mead notes, "It's not all about the big adventures, sometimes it's just about the small places of the heart that can reshape and change our lives, and for me… vehicles have done that, cars have done that."

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Jeep is adding the 2021 Cherokee Limited Lux to its lineup this year.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC
The Cherokee Latitude is the base grade model and the Cherokee Latitude Plus is one step up from that. For 2021, Jeep is offering the Cherokee Latitude Lux. Think of it as Latitude Plus+. It takes many of the desirable features Jeep offers and combines them with a wallet-friendly price tag.

"The new 2021 Cherokee Latitude LUX truly enhances the Jeep lineup and is a direct reflection of what our customers want and value the most in their vehicle – everyday practicality, exceptional comfort, with outstanding ride and handling characteristics," said Jim Morrison, Head of Jeep Brand – FCA North America. "As the most capable midsize sport-utility vehicle, the Jeep Cherokee continues to offer consumers the ultimate blend of all-weather 4x4 capability and even more standard amenities at an incredible value."

2021 Jeep Cherokee Limited Lux The model features a roster of desirable features.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

The Latitude Lux sits in the compact SUV's stable between the mid-grade Latitude Plus and Limited trim levels. Latitude is the company's base model and Trailhawk tops out the Cherokee lineup.

It is powered by Jeep's 3.2-liter V6 engine that is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. It delivers 29 mpg on the highway and has best-in-class towing capability (4,500 pounds). Buyers can choose to change to a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.

It features a roster of premium features including Nappa leather seats, power front seats with power lumbar adjuster, heated front seats, premium-wrapped heated steering wheel, remote start, windshield wiper deicer, and the latest Uconnect system with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Additionally, the model is eligible to have the Comfort and Convenience Group (security alarm, power liftgate, auto-dimming rearview mirror, air conditioning with dual-zone automatic temperature control, universal garage door opener, 115-volt power outlet, 8.4-in. touchscreen radio, and seven-inch driver information display) added on. The available Sun and Sound Group includes a dual-pane panoramic sunroof and nine-speaker Alpine sound system. Jeep's Trailer Tow Group package is available only on 4x4 models and includes heavy-duty engine cooling, transmission auxiliary oil cooler, Class III hitch receiver, four- and seven-pin trailer-tow wiring harness, and full-size spare tire.

Each Cherokee Latitude Lux comes with a long list of standard safety features including full-speed forward collision warning with active braking, LED lighting, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with assist, a rearview camera with grid lines, and rain-sensing wipers.

The new model has a starting MSRP of $30,145 for the 4x2 model and the 4x4 comes in at $31,645. There is an added $1,495 destination fee on each model. The Cherokee Latitude Lux is on sale now.

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Jeep has debuted a lineup of models that celebrate the company's 80th anniversary.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

The 2021 Jeep 80th Anniversary Editions are a special lineup of models that celebrate a birthday few nameplates reach. The 80th Anniversary Edition grade adds a host of equipment with commemorative enhancements to each model in the Jeep lineup.

2021 Jeep Wrangler 80th Anniversary Edition

2021 Jeep Wrangler 80th Anniversary Edition

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Jeep is making the Wrangler 80th Anniversary Edition available in Granite Crystal, Bright White, Hella Yella, Black, Firecracker Red, Sting Gray, Sarge, and Snazzberry paint colors.

The exterior enhancements to the model include Neutral Grey Metallic grille bezels, headlamp rings, and fog lamp bezels as well as body-color fender flares, and 80th Anniversary commemorative badging. Each 80th Anniversary model rides on 18-inch Granite Crystal-painted wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Dueler 255/70R18 all-terrain tires.

Inside, the model has black diamond embossed cloth seats with an 80th anniversary tag. Light Tungsten interior accent stitching, Anodized Gunmetal dash mid-bolsters, and Light Tungsten accent stitching on the Berber floor mats add color to the model.

The Wrangler has remote start, an 8.4-inch infotainment touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and satellite radio.

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 80th Anniversary Edition has a starting price of $35,990 for two-door models and $39,490 for four-door SUVs. Each comes with an additional $1,495 destination charge.

​2021 Jeep Gladiator 80th Anniversary Edition

2021 Jeep Gladiator 80th Anniversary Edition

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Buyers can get their special edition Gladiator with a Granite Crystal, Bright White, Black, Firecracker Red, Hydro Blue, Sarge, or Snazzberry paint job.

It has a similar features list to the Wrangler, which includes 18-inch wheels painted in Granite Crystal and Bridgestone Dueler 255/70R18 all-terrain tires. Neutral Grey Metallic grille bezels, headlamp rings, and fog lamp bezels sit at the front while body-color fender flares grace the sides of the truck. Each model comes with 80th Anniversary commemorative badging.

The interior features list is the same too. It has black diamond embossed cloth seats with an 80th anniversary tag, light Tungsten interior accent stitching, Anodized Gunmetal dash mid-bolsters, and Light Tungsten accent stitching on the berber floor mats.

The Gladiator has remote start, an 8.4-inch infotainment touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and satellite radio.

The starting MSRP of the Jeep Gladiator 80th Anniversary edition is $41,740. Each model also comes with a $1,495 destination fee.

​2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee 80th Anniversary Edition

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee 80th Anniversary Edition

The Jeep Grand Cherokee 80th Anniversary Edition will only be sold as a 4x4. It is priced at $44,335 plus a $1,495 destination fee.

The model is available in Granite Crystal, Walnut Brown, Bright White, Diamond Black, Slate Blue, Sangria, and Velvet Red paint jobs. it rides on 20-inch wheels that have a Granite Crystal finish. The exterior also features 80th Anniversary commemorative badge.

Each Grand Cherokee 80th Anniversary Edition model features leather seats and Light Tungsten interior accents. The SUV has an 8.4-inch infotainment touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and satellite radio.

It also gets Jeep's ProTech II Package, which includes full-speed forward collision warning with active braking, ParkSense Parallel/Perpendicular Park Assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, LaneSense Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and advanced brake assist.

2021 Jeep Cherokee 80th Anniversary Edition

Like the Jeep Grand Cherokee 80th Anniversary Edition, the Jeep Cherokee 80th Anniversary Edition will be sold just in a 4x4 drivetrain. It will be priced at $33,805 plus a $1,495 destination charge.

Jeep will sell the model in the buyer's choice of Granite Crystal, Slate Blue, Hydro Blue, Olive Green, Spitfire Orange, Sangria, Velvet Red, Light Brownstone, Bright White, and Diamond Black paint colors. 80th Anniversary commemorative badging is on the SUV.

Each special edition Cherokee rides on 19-inch wheels with a Granite Crystal finish.

The cabin features premium leather seats with Light Tungsten accent stitching, power front seats with lumbar, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, 8.4-inch infotainment touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, and a dual-pane sunroof. Anodized Gun Metal interior accents, a black headliner, and berber floor mats complete the look.

2021 Jeep 80th Anniversary Edition model full lineup

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

2021 Jeep Compass 80th Anniversary Edition

The Jeep Compass 80th Anniversary Edition is also available just as a 4x4. Its $29,695 price tag is lower than that of the same edition of the Cherokee. It too has a $1,495 destination charge.

Jeep is selling the SUV in Granite Crystal, Laser Blue, Jazz Blue, Olive Green, Redline, White, Diamond Black, and Velvet Red paint colors. It has 19-inch Granite Crystal-colored wheels and 80th Anniversary commemorative badging.

The interior of the Compass has leather seats with Light Tungsten accent stitching, a power driver's seat with lumbar, automatically dimming rearview mirror, remote start, 8.4-inch infotainment touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, and navigation. It also includes Piano Black and Anodized Gun Metal interior accents, black headliner, and berber floor mats.

​2021 Jeep Renegade 80th Anniversary Edition

2021 Jeep Renegade 80th Anniversary Edition

The smallest Jeep, the Renegade, also comes in an 80th Anniversary Edition variant. It has a starting MSRP of $27,595 and only comes in a 4x4 configuration. A $1,495 destination charge is also applicable.

Jeep is offering the model in Granite Crystal, Alpine White, Bikini, Black, Colorado Red, Jetset Blue, Omaha Orange, and Slate Blue paint colors. It rides on 19-inch wheels with a Granite Crystal finish and has 80th Anniversary commemorative badging.

Dual-zone automatic climate control, Anodized Gun Metal interior accents, black headliner, and berber floor mats come standard on the model. It also has an 8.4-inch infotainment touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, and navigation.

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