The first Jeep Safari was in 1967. It was a one-day event with one trail: Pritchett Canyon.
It was initiated as “an experiment in a non-commercial, good-will activity,” wrote H.L. Gaither, the Moab Chamber of Commerce president in a welcome letter for the second annual Jeep Safari.
Doug McElhaney, president of the Red Rock 4-Wheelers which organizes and runs the annual event, now in it’s 47th year, found the one-page flyer used for the second Jeep Safari. It featured a map with three trails to choose from for the one-day event: Cane Springs Canyon, Behind the Rocks and Onion Creek Trip.
The Jeep Safari is the largest 4-wheeling event in the United States, McElhaney said. It has 30 trails to try over nine days. Over 1700 people were on the trails in 2012.
“We limited the growth,” McElhaney said. To preserve a family-friendly atmosphere and increase camaraderie, trails are limited to specific numbers of vehicles. “Unless you add a trail, you can’t add more people.”
Ron Brewer, the Red Rock 4-Wheeler membership chairman, said that even though registration began in January, there may be a few spots available on some of the trails.
“We have registration clear through the event. Just come out to the arena and see what is available,” Brewer said.
Saturday morning is the Jeep Safari Lineup, which is reminiscent of when it was a one-day event. 4-wheel vehicles will line-up for 28 different trails on Main Street and side streets for a grand take-off at 9 a.m.
Red Rock 4-Wheelers has been organizing and running the Jeep Safari since 1984, all through volunteers.
“Nobody gets paid,” McElhaney said. “If it were a business, it would cease to exist.”
The Red Rock 4-Wheelers club began in 1983, when uranium geologist George Schultz realized that mining wasn’t coming back.
“Back then we only had a three-month (tourist) season,” McElhaney said.
The idea was to use 4-wheeling to expand the tourism season into the “shoulder months.”
“George put an ad in the Advertiser for meeting up for fun, family 4-wheeling,” said Dan Mick, the longest standing member of Red Rock 4-Wheelers. “The club started from there.”
The club began with a handful of locals, and has now expanded to 680 members worldwide. Only 60 live in the Moab-area.
“With all the growth and changes over 47 years, the Safari is still a volunteer event with well over 250 helpers from every state and a few foreign countries,” McElhaney said.
Some of those volunteers traveled from Liechtenstein, France and Israel to work during the events this year.
“It still amazes me that someone would drive 2000 miles to come to volunteer on a trail in Moab,” McElhaney said.
Jeep Safari was held the first week of April last year, with the final day on Easter, as per custom. Grand County and Moab collected $245,869 dollars in Transient Room Tax and $185,009 in sales tax for the month.
“The Jeep Safari is an important event for us,” said Ken Davey, Moab’s economic development specialist. “Much of it because of the good publicity and marketing potential that the various stories have.”
He said however, the week of Jeep Safari may be bustling, it doesn’t translate into the busiest month of the year.
“Most people think that April is the real busy month, but over the years it shows that May is our busiest tourist month,” Ken Davey.
McElhaney has worked as a president or vice-president of the Red Rock 4-Wheelers for the last 21 years. He has participated in 30 Jeep Safaris, as has his son Jeremy who is now 35. His wife Carma has done one more – 31. Her extra trip was the original in 1967.
The Red Rock 4-Wheelers have been working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to make sure that there is responsible use on the trails. The BLM began requiring permits in 1984 when the Red Rock 4-Wheelers began organizing the event.
This year, the Red Rock 4-Wheelers paid $42,391 for use of the trails.
“We’re pretty good partners with the local BLM,” said McElhaney. “Most of their requirements are common sense.”
Brewer said that when the Red Rock 4-Wheelers meet for monthly trips they try to be good stewards.
“We clean up the trails and maintain the trails as best we can. It’s a good way to serve the public to keep the roads open to the general public,” Brewer said.
While some may believe that Jeep Safari is for experienced 4-wheelers, Jeep Safari also provides First Timers and Sophomore packages for new drivers in stock vehicles. These packages feature three trails with the same trail leader to help build confidence for those learning skills.
“These fill up pretty fast. They’ve gotten pretty popular in the last few years,” Brewer said. “Jeep Safari is geared toward family event. It’s not a hard-core event. We want to get families out here to teach them to four-wheel drive.”
Red Rock 4-Wheelers also host the Labor Day Campout in September, a three-day event that is similar to the Jeep Safari, “just a lot smaller,” McElhaney said.
It is geared to working with smaller groups.
“We rent a campground. The event fee includes camping,” McElhaney said. “It keeps everyone together. We go on trails together. We camp together. It’s a lot of fun.”