Doug McElhaney, beside his trusty Jeep, shows off the newsletter for the 1983 Jeep Safari. This was the last newsletter the Moab Area Chamber of Commerce produced before Red Rock 4-Wheelers began managing it. [Photo by Travis Holtby/ Moab Sun News]

Doug McElhaney can trace the catalyst for Moab’s 4-wheeling celebrity back to a single, foldout Jeep ad in a 1988 magazine. And he should be able to remember. The ad, which featured the photo of an old CJ5 and the new Jeep facing off on top of Poison Spider Mesa, was taken from the bed of his pickup.

The annual Jeep Safari, which began in 1967, had already been held for 21 years, four of those years run by the Red Rock 4-Wheelers club. But it wasn’t until that ad hit the shelves in magazines that Moab became the 4-Wheeling Mecca that it is today.

“Now Jeep Safari is the largest 4-wheeling event in the USA,” McElhaney said. McElhaney is a Moab native who has been either president or vice president of the Red Rock 4-Wheelers club for the last 21 years.

The club was originally started by uranium geologist George Shultz in 1983. Shultz was concerned with the way that he saw Moab changing at the end of the uranium boom. He wanted to create a platform to influence the direction the city was heading.

“George put an ad in the Advertiser for meeting up for fun, family 4-wheeling. The club started from there,” said Dan Mick, the longest standing member of Red Rock 4-Wheelers.

Jeep Safari was started by the Moab Area Chamber of Commerce in 1967, 16 years before the Red Rock 4-Wheelers existed. In 1983 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) started requiring licenses, permits and leaders for the Safari.

Red Rock 4-Wheelers stepped up to help manage the event.

The Chamber asked the club to take over the event the next year.

They accepted.

“Back then it was only 11 or 12 trails and we had enough members to lead those,” McElhaney said. “(The whole event) was under 600 people and it was just one day; the Saturday before Easter.”

The event has grown since then. In 2012 there were 1,700 people on more than 30 trails over a nine day stretch.

And the whole event is run by volunteers.

“It still amazes me that someone would drive 2,000-miles to come volunteer on a trail in Moab,” McElhaney said.

The volunteers and registration are also necessary to help keep the number of people on the trails down.

“The BLM tells us how many people we can have on the trail, then we set limits ourselves, which are usually lower than the BLM’s,” said Ron Brewer, the club’s information officer.

Those limits can mean competition to register for the dozen or so favorite trails. Registrations for Cliff Hanger and Hell’s Revenge, can be fierce, with the slots filling up within two weeks of opening.

Outside of the Jeep Safari, Red Rock 4-Wheelers provide a number of other events and services. There are monthly trail rides as well as clean up and marking trips for the trails they use.

“We stress that everything you take out, you take back,” Mick said. “And if we see someone going off the trails we yell at them.”

Not forgetting where they come from, the club makes donations to the Moab Area Chamber of Commerce, and the police and Search and Rescue in both Grand and San Juan counties. Through the years they have also donated to the hospital as well as providing a $2000 scholarship to Moab high school students.

The club also works to defend 4-wheel access to the backcountry by staying involved in the discussions surrounding the use of public lands. Red Rock 4-Wheelers also puts a portion of the money from Jeep Safari and private donations into a multi-use fund for things like hiring an attorney to contest land-use decisions, if the need arises.

“It’s a lot easier to effect change if you’re in the process than it is to take them to court after it’s done,” McElhaney said.

As far as the Red Rock 4-Wheelers are concerned, 4-wheeling in Moab is here to stay. In the future they hope to keep spreading their message of responsible riding and to see more families enjoying the trails they maintain.

“Ouray (Colorado) calls itself the Jeep capital of the world,” Mick said. “But we are the Jeep capital of the universe!”