The annual Easter Jeep Safari is in full swing in Moab, with events taking place through Sunday, April 1. The week attracts hundreds of participants in Red Rock 4-wheelers’ guide-led trail rides and hosts a number of manufacturers and prominent figures in the Jeep world — who temporarily dominate the town and surrounding area.
Costing participants $50 per day to attend scheduled trail rides, the event takes advantage of Moab’s reputation as a mecca for off-road adventures. One participant, John Brownwood, said, “I’m a retired, disabled veteran out traveling full time in the RV with my bride of 33 years ... towing our Jeep around and going to events.” Brownwood continued, “We have 25 events planned for 2018. Most of those will have some veteran events ... and we have five extra events to attend that will be specifically for veterans and off-road veterans groups like Warrior Jeeps USA. We also attend Trail Hero and Hero off-road events where we take disabled participants out on trail rides.”
For Brownwood and many others, 4-wheeling represents a means to give others access to natural landscape.
“I like 4-wheeling because I can take my kids and their grandparents. It’s multigenerational,” said Clifton Slay, a 4-wheeling guide who has been working in Moab since 1990. Slay formerly worked for Red Rock 4-wheelers, and this year returned to the event to lead a ride organized by Skyjacker Suspensions. Slay continued, “It allows people to access areas they wouldn’t be able to get to otherwise. But it also sometimes brings people to areas where maybe they shouldn’t be.”
This is a point of contention, especially during massive events such as Easter Jeep Safari.
“There’s so much overuse of an area in such a short amount of time that it needs some kind of regulation,” BLM employee Jordan Matson said. Matson works special events on BLM land, including a number of Jeep photo shoots during the week of the Red Rock 4-wheeling event. “The people I was working for were actually great. They cleaned up stuff that wasn’t even left by them. It was the others out there, the onlookers, that were creating an issue in my eyes.”
Matson said she picked up large amounts of trash throughout her day as she worked with the 4-wheelers.
“When they were cleaning it restored my faith, but I saw an onlooker let some trash fly away, and someone just said, ‘it’s not worth it just leave it,’” she explained. “Someone actually looked at me and said, ‘well she works for the BLM why doesn’t she go down and pick it up?’ I just want people to please respect this place.”
While Easter Jeep Safari becomes associated with negative events like the one Matson describes, she does not want to specifically target the 4-wheelers. “I want to facilitate collaboration rather than pointing fingers,” she said. “We have a lot of people that either aren’t aware of or don’t care what their actual impact is, but I want to find a way to create that care.” Slay echoed this sentiment, saying, “I think a lot of the hikers and mountain bikers think the Jeepers are leavers of trash and destroyers of the land, but I know mountain bikers do quite a bit too. People are people through and through.”
It is difficult to estimate the actual impact of an event like this because Red Rock 4-wheelers will not release official numbers of attendance. “Attendance is fine, we don’t give out any numbers,” Rex Holman of Red Rock 4-wheelers said. He declined to comment further on the event, saying, “The guides aren’t allowed to talk to the media. We don’t want the publicity, we don’t need the publicity.”
There have been efforts to encourage Jeepers to pick up trash during the event. Desert Rat Off Road placed representatives at the Old Spanish Trail Arena to hand out burlap trash bags to participants at registration. The company also created a contest in which anyone who posts a picture on the trail with their trash bag is entered to win a $100 gift certificate to be spent with Desert Rat Off Road.
“We need to have a better way in the future,” said Matson, who is attempting to create wider awareness of this issue through social media and other outlets. “And it’s not just trash. I was just looking down and seeing the oil and knowing it’s going to have an impact on the plants and animals in the area.”
Since the 1990s, the event has expanded rapidly, increasing its impact.
“It was so small that we used to meet in the Eddie McStiff’s parking lot,” said Slay. “It was really small back then but now it’s gargantuan. The biggest group I ever led had 89 vehicles, and we were spread out over four miles.”
Easter Jeep Safari continues to provide a unique and important space for those who love 4-wheeling to gather, Slay explained, saying, “The camaraderie between the people here is special. We don’t see anything new after all these years, but it’s all about the people.”
The event culminates this Saturday, March 31 in what organizers call, “the largest ever single trail ride.” Thirty different groups of Jeepers will assemble downtown at 9 a.m. to leave for 30 different trail rides.
For more information visit rr4w.com.