Kent Green of Moab Cowboy Country Offroad Adventures takes visitors on a UTV tour on Hell's Revenge Trail in Sand Flats Recreation Area. [Photo by Travis Holtby / Moab Sun News]

At the end of this month Moab will be hosting the second annual Red Rockin’ Rendezvous, a utility terrain vehicle (UTV) rally. The event is just one indication of UTVs increasing popularity in Grand County, and across the country.

Though there are a large number of trails and areas that are accessible to UTV and all terrain vehicles (ATV) users, there are still many areas that prohibit their use, including both Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

UTVs that conform to regulations can legally drive on most public roads in Grand County.

“I love the convenience. Someone can pick it up right here and just head out,” said Shon Walter, the owner of the Moab Tourism Center, which rents UTVs.

UTVs and ATVs, however, did not start out as recreational vehicles, said Cathy Mattingly, the event organizer for the Red Rockin’ Rendezvous.

“It all started on the farms. ATVs started out as farm workers. They were cheap, they were easy, you could haul stuff. Then farmers just started showing up on trails with them,” she said.

When they first began being widely used for recreation, the vehicles were unsafe; the early versions had no crash protection, and the tricycle models had a propensity for flipping.

This poor safety record meant that the market for such vehicles “took a dip for a while,” Mattingly said.

But with the combination of the economic recession in 2008, and the production of 4-wheeled UTVs with roll cages and side-by-side seats, UTVs sales got a substantial boast. Off-road enthusiasts are now able to explore technical areas in a vehicle with a roll-cage and crash protection, that is far less expensive than a Jeep.

“The Jeep crowd is converting to UTVs,” Walter said. “It is one of the most popular things today. It is just huge.”

Mattingly agreed.

“The market has totally changed,” she said.

This increase in the safety and popularity of UTVs led Utah to amend a statute in 2010, making it legal for the vehicles to drive on some of Utah’s public roads. This change does not apply to populous counties, such as Salt Lake, or municipalities with over 7,500 residents.

“It basically says that a street legal UTV or ATV has to comply with the same requirements as a motorcycle,” said Shawn Judd, a lieutenant in the vehicle safety section of the Utah Highway Patrol.

These requirements include items such as headlights, tail lights, a license plate, and a speedometer. UTVs are also not allowed to exceed 45 miles per hour.

“The issue that we saw before they legalized (UTVs) for the roads was when they were trying to get from location to location,” said Grand County Sheriff Steve White. “We had a few issues with that, but we worked things out and tried to work with them to provide an escort to get them to and from where they need to be. They have been really great to work with.”

Now that UTVs are legal on Moab’s streets, White said that he and his officers have had few issues with them. Legalization has also made UTV use far more convenient in Grand County, as users can now drive from their accommodation or a rental shop directly to the trailhead.

One major exception to the legal use of UTVs on public roads in Grand County is in the national parks; UTVs are not allowed in either Arches or Canyonlands National Parks.

“They are not allowed in the parks, nor have they ever been. They were prohibited by executive order years and years ago,” said Paul Henderson, the assistant superintendant of both Arches and Canyonlands national parks. “Since it has never been a park use, it is not like we are stopping a park use.”

And though there are some mechanisms and processes that the national parks could go through to allow UTV use, Henderson does not see that happening anytime soon.

Walter, at the Moab Tourism Center, sees this as a bit of a double standard.

“Where it gets interesting is that street legal dirt bikes, or dune buggies, or Jeeps are allowed in national parks,” he said. “It seems a little discriminatory to single out the UTV.”

But Henderson said that with all the motorized and non-motorized vehicles allowed in the national parks, there is no pressing need to bring in UTVs as well.

“I don’t know if this represents a double standard or not. I do know that if you mix user groups the more potential conflicts you have,” he said. “I don’t know how many motorized groups you want to put on that same stretch of road. There’s already thousands of miles of road available to the ATV and UTV users.”

There are some in Grand County that feel that the increasing number of UTVs has come at a cost. Although she said she has never had any conflict with a UTV on a trail, Kim Schappert, the director of Moab Trails Alliance, said that she has noticed some negative impacts, including UTVs going off-trail.

“There’s a lot of cross country UTV travel out in the open desert. That’s one of the major contributors to all the dust storms that we see out on I-70 now,” she said. “I think it’s an education thing. There’s not a lot of education on how to behave out in the desert. It would be nice if there was some etiquette class that you needed to take before you could get a license to drive (UTVs).”

The Moab Trails Alliance has recently worked to open dozens of miles of trail specifically for non-motorized recreation.”

“There’s a lot of everybody these days, but they just happen to have a little bit more of an impact,” Schappert said of UTVs.

“UTVs can be as large as a rock crawler, and as fast as a motorcycle,” said Clif Koontz, the director of Ride with Respect.

Ride with Respect is an organization that aims to protect natural resources while accommodating diverse recreation on public land.

“UTV drivers should be particularly considerate upon encounters by slowing down to minimize noise and dust,” Koontz said. “Ride with Respect intends to work with BLM on more educational kiosks. Also we depend on rental companies and event organizers to promote responsibility in recreation.”

As the number of UTV users coming to Grand County grows, so too do the events held for them. Moab now has the Red Rockin’ Rendezvous in the fall, and the larger Rally on the Rocks in the spring.

This year’s Red Rockin’ Rendezvous will be held between Sept. 25-28. Along with the UTVing there will be a concert and cash price drawings. Money will also be donated to the Utah Police Association.

Though still small, Mattingly expects to see higher numbers at this year’s Red Rockin’ Rendezvous. Last year 45 people attended.

“Last year it was very small but everyone out here just loved it,” she said. “So far this year we have 56 people registered. It could jump to three times that we hope.”