Stereotyping, jumping to conclusions, making assumptions -- call it what you want, we all do it. So, when you hear 52 years, you might think a lot of things, but consecutive years for a Jeep event likely isn’t at the top of that list. But that’s just the event we went to the first weekend of March 2014 to the 52nd annual Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari, or TDS for short. For years it was held in the Truckhaven Hills near the Salton Sea in Southern California, and while many still camp and wheel in that area, the official event is now held just a few miles south of there at the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area.
Don’t get too hung up on the dates if you want to go; just look at your calendar and find the first weekend in March (not counting Friday) of pretty much any year -- just like it has been for the last 52 years. Then mark off Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as the official days of the event. While some come in as early as the Monday before, it really isn’t until Thursday that many come in, and many stay until Monday.
Uncharacteristically, Southern California was blanketed in a storm system this year that threatened to drop rain Thursday through Saturday and turned some people away. But those of us that braved the weather saw almost zero precipitation. While the mountains to the east blocked the rain, they didn’t block the wind, and Friday was among the windiest days we’ve seen out there at TDS, with Friday afternoon being especially brutal. That said, as is normal for Southern California, it was in the 70s during the day, and when the wind slowed down, it was a great time for all.
Here’s how the weekend shakes down for most people who attend:
Friday: If you showed up on Thursday for the Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari, it’s wheeling time! If you just got in on Friday, it’s time to set up camp. At the same time, there is tech inspection until 10 p.m., registration and raffle materials to pick up, and you can even walk around the vendor’s area -- that is, if you aren’t too busy wheeling.
Saturday: Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari Tech inspection opens back up at 5 a.m., and the official run kicks off at 8 a.m., so you should be in line and ready to go before then. The official runs obviously feature wheeling, but there are also cool points of interest pointed out such as where movies filmed certain scenes, what outlaws hung out there, strange things like phone booths and pumpkin patches, and more. Saturday night brings the raffle where about $102,000 worth of prizes were given away and is capped off with a fireworks spectacular.
Sunday: Most people take off Sunday, but if you do stay, the obstacle course is open, there is a smaller run for more hardcore vehicles, and of course, wheeling anywhere in Ocotillo is still open. Plenty of people stay through Monday up in the Truckhaven Hills too.
This year, the club had over 1,500 registered attendees, which is up from last year’s 1,404. By comparison, the 50th anniversary of the Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari had 1,768 registered attendees, and until bad weather was forecast, this year was on track to beat even that.