Sitting roughly equidistant between Tucson to its north and Nogales, Mexico to its south, Overland Expo – now in its third year – is perfectly positioned to reinforce its mantra of overlanding, where the journey is the purpose. Despite Amado's proximity to both a major airport and this country's southern border, one develops the distinct impression you're in the middle of nowhere. And for Overland Expo founders Roseann and Jonathan Hanson, they wouldn't want it any other way.
On a spit of land adjacent to I-19, the Overland Expo site is populated over one long weekend a year by the adventure traveler – and those products, services and vendors dedicated (to paraphrase the Hansons) to his or her outfitting, training and inspiration. And to suggest these products and services run the gamut is to understate; the Hydro Flask, an insulated water bottle drawing huge raves in Amado's 90-degree heat, runs about $25, while the Global Expedition Vehicle – designed to cross continents with what is essentially its own infrastructure – can command literally hundreds of thousands of your hard-earned dollars. In between these two extremes are fortified Jeeps, off-road training and more lectures and seminars in a weekend than you'd typically corral into a semester.
For the off-road enthusiast, overlanding takes your typical 4X4 hardware and renders it more independent. Jeep was there with its Wrangler Unlimited (fitted with some $12K of Mopar accessories). Sharing the Jeep display area was Montana-based American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), with Wrangler suspension mods enhanced by a HEMI V8 swap. ARB USA, whose home office is closer to Sydney than Sonora, came with two of its own Wranglers, both upfitted with ARB's locking differentials, onboard compressors and rooftop tents. And before we leave Jeep, execs from the company hosted a listen-and-learn seminar, bringing Jeep owners up-to-date on recent product moves while soliciting from the audience ideas for new vehicles – and ways to improve the existing lineup. A hint of what might be coming was a diesel-equipped, Euro-spec Liberty – dubbed Cherokee for the European market – parked within the ARB area.
For those looking for an economical getaway (our oh-so-capable Ram Power Wagon, used for the drive from Los Angeles, now costs $120+ to fillup), Ursa Minor Vehicles provides a rooftop camper conversion for the Honda Element. Based near San Diego, you provide the company with a donor Element and $5,000; one week later you've got an absolutely great rig for self-contained exploration. The Honda won't, to be sure, leap boulders in a single bound, but would be the perfect, economical basecamp for your next hiking or biking adventure.
Should you want training for that adventure – especially if it takes you off the beaten path – Land Rover brought an entire team with off-road expertise, along with a specially built course on which to demonstrate those techniques essential to the offroad expedition. Participants could drive their own off-roaders, or rove behind the wheel of a company Rover.
Well-supported by vendors, and well attended by the overland enthusiast, the weekend was so much more than just the hardware. In a relatively short period of time, the Overland Expo has tapped into a community whose enthusiasm for global adventure is contagious. At an after-hours happy hour Charles Nordstrom, a 20-something staffer for the Overland Journal, was describing his participation in the Mongolian Rally. Charles and his publisher, Scott Brady, were entered in the trans-continental event aboard a Suzuki Jimny, a 1.3 liter 4X4 that could fit in the bed of the aforementioned Ram.
On overhearing the conversation, a couple in the same drink line – who had traveled from Connecticut specifically for the Expo – spent the next hour pelting the youngish Mr. Nordstrom with questions. Now retired from Manhattan-based careers, they couldn't wait to get trained – and get going. For them, the Expo proved to be more than an introduction; it was – in a very real sense – a higher calling.