I have to admit that Nena is not what I expected, either. Straw cowgirl hat, six-shooter on the hip, rattlesnake boots, and a pair of long horns on the hood is what I was prepared for. Instead, a ponytail, hiking shoes, pleasant smile, and Columbia convertible pants—a modern outdoorswoman, cut from the latest REI catalog.
At our fist stop along the trail, she set the precedent. “Look at all of these bullet casings. Let’s pick these up. Get that beer can, too.”
Nena opened up Sedona Jeep School four years ago as an annex to a Jeep rental business, Farabee’s. You may have seen this rental outfit in Moab, Utah; Ouray, Colorado; and lovely Sedona, Arizona. Sedona Jeep School is successful, in part, because of the nature of Sedona’s tourism economy. The Coconino National Forest surrounds the town, as do the famous red rock spires and vortices that bring vacationers and pilgrims alike – they’ve all come for the scenery. Local tour businesses have fleets of Jeeps modified to carry up to 10 sightseers. The nearby roller coaster-like trails draw in the tours as well as individuals renting Jeeps, and Jeep owners looking for a suspension-testing thrill. The “Jeep thing” is in the air here, but not everyone is satisfied with a tour or rental.
And how does one get into this business? Maybe the destroyed ring and pinion displayed on the rental counter answered it well: a solo green driver behind the wheel of a rental on a rocky trail is often disastrous. Being in the rental business, Farabee’s has seen countless folks come to Sedona, rent a Jeep, and then proceed to twist the drive train into a Christmas tree ornament with amateur antics; or they’ve met folks who fear putting the first scratch on their new Jeep. It seems a natural progression then: personal off-highway training, debunking the myth that successful off-highway driving is in the throttle.
That’s what I was thinking, anyway.
I had to find out, “What’s your experience, Nena? Where did you learn to handle a Jeep on the trails? And what birthed Sedona Jeep School?”
“I started in the tourism industry as a Jeep tour guide. But every week, it seemed, we’d get several inquiries from people wanting off road training. Every once in a while I’d agree to spend a few hours coaching techniques to a friend, or something like that. Then I got approached by some of the tour businesses to help train their new guides. It just grew.”
As with most business ventures, Nena realized the demand existed and came up with the supply. She now trains new hires for the Jeep tour companies, forest service, and—whom she admits to be the most rewarding and most fun to train—regular folks looking to use their four-wheel-drive for a little recreation.