People gather on Main Street for Jeep Safari in 1970. [Moab Museum Collection]

Off-road vehicle tourism has boomed in recent years, solidifying Moab’s reputation as a four-wheeling capitol of the world. How did Moab become such a renowned off-road vehicle destination?

Southeastern Utah’s scenic landscape, of course, played an essential part in establishing all facets of the region’s tourism industry. The unique driving conditions and beautiful terrain are an essential part of what lures visitors to Moab’s rugged driving trails today. However, additional factors beyond the scenery contributed to Moab’s development as a four-wheeling destination: notably existing roads and economic forces.

Moab has famously rugged roads, luring adventurous drivers. Many of these remote roads traveling deep into canyon country were built during the uranium mining boom as prospectors and miners explored the far reaches of the region to extract ore. As the boom turned to a bust in the 1960s, the roads remained- positioning the next boom, tourism, to take advantage of them. Today, many popular scenic roads like the White Rim Road can be traced back to uranium mining.

Another factor contributing to the rise of off-road vehicle tourism included Moab’s economy. During the uranium mining bust, the community found itself with no major industry and Moab’s population dipped precipitously. Ultimately, tourism began to take a foothold, including scenic driving tours of the backcountry in Jeeps. Eager to propel economic development, Moab’s Chamber of Commerce attempted to boost this sort of tourism, launching Moab’s first Jeep Safari in 1967.

Today, off-road vehicle tourism has become a major part of Moab’s economy and the culture of the region’s tourism. As is common with history, the roots of today’s reality is entwined with the region’s history and geography.

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