A Day at the Bronco Off-Roadeo near Austin, Texas
Updated: Jun 14, 2022
I am in the cab of a Ford Bronco staring up at the blue Texas Hill Country sky.
My heart pounds quickly in my chest as the two-and-a-half ton piece of machinery that is the new Bronco 4x4 slowly scales an impossibly steep rock embankment.
I can feel that several of my 35-inch Sasquatch tires are off the ground.
My jaw is clenched as my hands grip the steering wheel, and a nervous sweat pours down the side of my face.
I am at the day-long Bronco Off-Roadeo experience near Horseshoe Bay, Texas, and it is a day I will never forget.
What is the Bronco Off-Roadeo?
According to its website, the Bronco Off-Roadeo is A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME EXPERIENCE, and the website continues to state:
Bronco Off-Roadeo is the essence of the Bronco brand. It's an off-roading and outdoor adventure playground — located at four epic destinations across the United States — with experiences that will build your confidence, expand your skills, and encourage you to get out into the wild for years to come. Designed to challenge and excite both novices and experts, Bronco Off-Roadeo will welcome you into the world of Bronco, celebrate the great outdoors and adventure-seeking lifestyle that comes with it, and ultimately, inspire you to Learn It, Love It and Live It.
There are four Bronco Off-Roadeo locations: this first one in Texas near Austin, one in Moab, Utah, another in Gilford, New Hampshire and the fourth in Las Vegas, Nevada.
My brother and I are part of eight pairs of Bronco enthusiasts who have chosen to experience this exclusive event at the Texas location on a Tuesday in March 2022.
At the current time, only the approximately 40,000+ people who have ordered a Ford Bronco, Bronco Sport Badlands or Bronco Sport First Edition can actually participate in the Bronco Off-Roadeo, although there are rumors that non-Bronco owners may be able to purchase a day pass at some point in the future.
Having received an email with the details of the Bronco Off-Roadeo’s location and other logistical details, we set off from Austin, Texas early in the morning. Armed with breakfast tacos, coffee, sunscreen, and our courage, we made the hour and a half drive to the somewhat secretive location in the Texas Hill Country.
The Bronco Off-Roadeo in Texas is located six miles away from the Horseshoe Bay Resort on the Grey Wolf Ranch, which is the 360 acre ranch of the Resort’s owner Douglas Jaffe.
My brother and I arrived at 8am, as we were instructed in the email we received a few days prior to our experience.
Here is the itinerary from the email:
Arrival & Check-in
Orientation & Introduction 30 Minutes
Ground School & Sluice Box 30 Minutes
ORX Training Course 1 hour
Trail Drive & Journey Essentials 2 hours
Lunch 30 minutes
Trail Drive, Recovery Demo 4 hours
Cookout Dinner 1.5 hours
TOTAL DURATION: 10 HOURS
I must admit that I had some trepidation about the day. I am not normally a danger seeker, and ten hours of off-roading through treacherous terrain would not usually be my idea of fun.
Yet I steeled myself to try to survive the day.
As we check in at base camp (as the main area is called), we receive a bag with Bronco schwag including a white Yeti thermos with the Off-Roadeo’s logo.
We receive a waiver to complete as well as the choice to purchase insurance on the vehicle in case anything happens (we do, although some do not - more to come on that later). If you read the fine print in the insurance contract, you realize that you are liable for the first $3,000 of damage to any vehicle, a detail which has me concerned as I am accident prone.
Along the wall I notice a map of the United States and Canada with pins stuck into locations, each of which represent the hometown of every Off-Roadeo participant and which in total comprise the so-called “Bronco Nation.”
Unsurprisingly, the state of Texas has the lion’s share of the pins; however, the pins stretch from Maine to California and up to British Columbia and Alberta.
After perusing the small on-site gift shop where I purchase a long-sleeve T-shirt, the day’s 16 participants congregate outside for the initial orientation. We meet our two guides for the day - Daryl and Doc - and we are asked to introduce ourselves by telling each other our name, which Bronco model we ordered and the make and model of our first automobile.
The group is mostly white, male and middle-aged; although, a few women have also come to participate in the day, including a self-described “soccer mom” from St. Louis, Missouri who bought her Bronco to stand out in the carpool line (a feat she certainly will achieve). Most of us are from Texas, yet one couple has come all the way from Detroit for the day.
Many in the group have 4x4 experience; There is a teenager who is an accomplished off-roader who has brought his mom along for the ride as well as an avid 4x4 collector from Austin.
After this brief get-to-know-each-other session, we walk over to the Ground School & Sluice Box where we review the basics of off-roading and the Ford Bronco itself.
Armed with this additional knowledge, we then head to the obstacle course adjacent to base camp to interactively participate in the ORX Training Course. Each of us is given the opportunity to volunteer to be the guinea pig drivers for each obstacle.
These obstacles include driving in deep water and sand as well as traversing up and down rocky embankments. The obstacles are designed to highlight different technological features of the new Ford Bronco including but not limited to Trail 1-Pedal Drive, 4x4 operation and G.O.A.T. Modes.
The obstacle course is our first preview of what is to come - tires off the ground, steep inclines and other situations which a normal driver would be terrified to experience.
We also learn how to be a guide to our fellow drivers, with hand signals to indicate increase or decrease speed, turn right or left, and drive forward or backward. These hand signals will be absolutely essential when we are navigating the difficult terrain.
Around 10am we finish with the obstacle course, and we proceed to pick out the Bronco which will be our vehicle to use for the day. Out of a lineup of eight Broncos, my brother and I selected a yellow, four-door Badlands package with a soft top.
We have a walkie-talkie in the console of the vehicle so that our guides can give instruction as we trek through the purpose-built, off-road courses.
We line up one by one in convoy fashion, and our Bronco ends up being the last in line, which is called the “tailgunner" position. Luckily, one of the guides, Doc, hops into our back seat, which gives me some much needed confidence as we start to climb the rocky trails into the rugged Texas Hill Country terrain.
We are advised to allow for two car-lengths in between each Bronco, and we climb Goodyear Hill (ignominiously named for an unlucky prior driver’s punctured Goodyear tire), weaving in and out of cedar trees. The vehicle sways back and forth violently as we drive across the rugged and uneven terrain.
It is a beautiful spring day in the Texas Hill Country, and we stop for pictures in front of our Broncos at the top of a cliff. The sky is a brilliant blue with puffy white clouds low along the horizon, and I quickly post the epic shot to Instagram.
After the morning trail drive, we gathered back together at base camp for a lunch of salad, Italian submarine sandwich and tomato soup, which is catered by the Horseshoe Bay resort.
After lunch, my brother and I sit out in the Adirondack chairs near the base camp and enjoyed some sunshine before the afternoon session. I post some more videos to my Instagram story.
Doc then yells at the group: “Regulators! Mount up!,” and we all proceed to load back into our Bronco convoy for the four-hour afternoon trail drive.
The sun is shining brightly, and we decide to take the top off our Bronco to take in the fresh air and get some sun on our faces.
As we drive through the rocky terrain, we arrive at various obstacle courses along the trail which highlight the capabilities of the new Ford Bronco. As the Bronco slowly works its way up and down rocky inclines and declines, our guides direct us using the hand signals we learned in the morning.
Halfway through the afternoon tour, we pull into a crescent-shaped watering hole below the weekend home of Douglas Jaffe, the owner of Horseshoe Bay.
We stop for pictures and a water break and get to know our fellow guests a bit better, then it is off again to the top of a hill where we take another break and watch a recovery demonstration of how to use the Bronco’s tools to assist stranded vehicles in difficult terrain.
As we make our way up Goodyear Hill again, disaster strikes for the couple in the vehicle in front of us.
Halfway up the steep climb, I hear a loud snap, and the Bronco in front of us grinds to a halt, straddling a rocky ravine.
They have somehow broken their rear axle. Doc hops out from the back of our tailgunner Bronco to inspect the situation. The vehicle is beyond repair and is stuck in position ahead of us, meaning that the only way forward for us is to reverse down Goodyear Hill.
The unlucky couple, who happen to be the couple from St. Louis, climb into the back of our Bronco. They relay to us that they did not purchase the insurance at the beginning of the day, and they are clearly concerned that they will be held liable for the damage.
Our guides radio Base Camp and within 10 minutes, another Bronco arrives so that they can finish the day. After some tense moments, the staff determine that they will waive the damage fees.
The final part of the off-road experience is a Baja-style road race track where you get the Bronco up to speeds of 30 miles an hour racing around dusty curves.
At 5pm, we arrive back at base camp for a BBQ dinner. Bonfires are burning, and the guests are encouraged to stick around and enjoy their evening in the Texas Hill Country.
As soon as we got settled back in at Base Camp, participants were AirDropping each other their pictures and videos from the day.
After the photo swapping, we enjoyed our barbecue - a full plate of brisket, sausage and chicken, along with all the sides.
Those who needed to leave straight away to get back to Austin are given three to-go boxes each - one for the meat, one for the sides, and one for the sauces.
As I kicked back in the Adirondack chair next to the firepit after a satisfying barbecue meal, I looked West to watch the Texas Hill Country sunset.
Replays of the day were going through my mind.
I definitely had some concerns coming to the Bronco Off-Roadeo. I was worried I wouldn't be able to cut it or that I would wreck my vehicle and cost myself thousands of dollars.
Yet thanks to our great instructors and the amazing vehicle, I had persevered and succeeded.
As the colors in the sunset sky changed through all of the different shades of Ford Broncos available, I thought to myself:
"Life is pretty great."
Note To Readers: I wanted to share this day with you so that you too could experience the Bronco Off-Roadeo whether you have the means and desire to purchase a new Ford Bronco or not. Life is for everyone to share and enjoy.
In case you missed it, please check out my latest episode of the Social Musings by Austin podcast on Apple Podcasts.
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Have a great rest of your week.