Moab has a rich history of Indians, outlaws, Spaniards, and slaves. Battles between the settlers and Utes forced ranchers and Mormon pioneers to flee. It wasn't until the skirmishes ended that the land was finally settled, and in 1880 the town of Moab was officially established.
Agriculture ruled the area until the 1940s when uranium was discovered along the Colorado Plateau. The U.S. Government offered miners cash incentives to find new sources of uranium, and surplus military Jeeps filled the streets. Bulldozers created roads through the canyons to the mines, and Jeeps took to the red rock hills. Prospectors continued to fill the land until the 1950s, when the government stopped paying for uranium sources.
Tailings were cleaned up, and the mining roads became a challenge to the locals as erosion took its effect, making them more and more difficult to pass. The sport of four-wheeling was born. It became so popular that the mayor decided to create a Jeep Safari to bring more tourists to town.
The first Easter Jeep Safari took place in 1967 on one day and on just one trail. It grew from there. With the Easter Jeep Safari now lasting nine days, each trail has a limited number of Jeepers, and the slots get filled very quickly. Many participants are experienced Jeepers, others are new to the sport.
"Four-wheeling is a slower sport, and if you do it right it's fun. If you do it wrong, you end up breaking something and that's not fun. You'll be stuck out on the trail with a broken rig," says Brad Knight of Cliffhanger Jeep Rental. "The main mistake is people don't know their limitations."
Often, limits are learned on the first trip out when one Jeeper sees another take an obstacle and decides he can't be outdone.
"Jeeper see, Jeeper do most of the time as long as you've got a guy in front of you who's reasonable and sensible and who's got a vehicle equivalent to yours," says Dan Mick, a professional guide based in Moab. "But just because you see somebody do something that you don't feel comfortable with, you don't have to go do that. You can ask for an alternate or a bypass and they'll always point them out to you."
It often takes unnecessary damage to learn that lesson. On Knight's first Jeep Safari, he rolled his Jeep when he tried to take a hill in two-wheel drive. Many people roll their Jeeps because they go too fast or are unfamiliar with the terrain or the vehicle, he says.
Professional rockcrawler Troy Bailey learned his lesson the first time he took his stock Jeep Cherokee up Pritchet Canyon Trail six years ago. He ripped his rear bumper off right away and took out the entire rocker panel on the right side. The Dump Bump later claimed his front axle, but he and his family also had the time of their lives.
On our latest trip to Moab we witnessed a similar fate. Standing on the rocks above Dump Bump, Mick, Knight, and I watched as first-time Jeeper John Forsythe broke his driveline.
"Instead of using a little bit of 'Moab Bump' to get the rear tires up on the rock and carry him to the top with a little momentum, he came up, kissed it, dropped the clutch, hit the throttle, did about three bumps and jumps and took out the rear driveline," explains Mick. "I like to tell people that are first-timers out here that speed is the enemy and momentum is your friend. The difference between the two is the void your credit card will fill when you go to town to get your vehicle repaired so you can go on the trail the next day."
John jumped in with Mick and we headed up Hell's Revenge. On the trail, Mick taught us all the proper way to do the Moab Bump. You pull your front tires onto the rock, and just before your back tires "kiss" the rock, you give it about one-third of the throttle and take it smooth to the top, letting the momentum, not the speed, carry you. The advice was well received, and there were no more accidents on the trail that day.
Having a guide is an excellent way to start your Jeep'n experience. They can direct you on the trail and be your spotter on the obstacles, all while keeping you at ease and building confidence in you and your vehicle.
"If you're not going to go with a guide, make sure you have a map and be prepared to four-wheel," says Knight. "A lot of people think, 'if I can drive on the road I can drive anywhere.'"
Moab's terrain is unique, with slickrock and sand. It takes time to become familiar and learn the limits of your vehicle in those conditions.
"Start easy and work your way to the more difficult trails. It's hard to set limits when you don't know your limits," continues Knight. "If you just go, you can get in trouble really quickly. A lot of people just go too fast, not knowing their limitations."
The trails in Moab are rated from one to five, with five being the hardest. Knight recommends starting off on Shafer Trail, a switchback dirt road, if you've never driven a Jeep before, and then moving on to a beginner trail like Gemini Bridges. Gemini Bridges isn't much worse than the Shafer Trail, and it's fairly short. Rated at a two, it provides an incredible view when you make it to the natural land bridges.
If you've driven a Jeep before, Fins and Things and Hell's Revenge are good trails to take. Though they have the second to the highest rating in difficulty because of their obstacles, there are alternate routes on nearly every one, so if you don't feel comfortable trying the obstacle, you don't have to. The trails can be steep enough that all you see is hood and sky, but once you get the hang of things, the moves come natural and the experience is unbelievable. And with the proper guide, tackling the obstacles your first time out is not unrealistic.
You also want to be sure you have a vehicle that can handle the obstacle. The '06 Jeep Rubicon we got from Cliffhanger Jeep Rentals made us look like pros. The extra lift and large tires gave us excellent clearance, and the lockers were essential to easy crawls over the toughest of the Hell's Revenge obstacles. But as we learned when Forsythe broke his driveline, a short wheelbase was not meant to climb all things, and we kept that in mind when gauging lines for our climbs. On many of these obstacles, wheelbase makes the difference.
Marked by the Red Rock 4-Wheelers, each trail has different symbols on the rocks every 20 to 30 feet to help Jeepers stay on the right path. Having a good guidebook can also help you from getting lost.
"There are so many trails out here that you want to make sure you're on the right trail going the right way so you don't end up on a different trail that's going to be too hard on your Jeep or too hard on you," says Knight.
Starting out on the right trail is essential as well, since some of them don't have alternate routes. Some are also off-limits to rental Jeeps. The Pritchet Canyon Trail is one of these. Rated at a five, the trail has become increasingly harder over the years, and there's no way to bypass any of the obstacles.
It's the extreme of what makes most of these trails hard," says Ber Knight, information officer for the Red Rock 4-Wheelers. "It's the sedimentary rock. You get hard layers and you get soft layers. The hard layers break away into vertical steps, and the soft layers get undercut, break away, and give you poor traction... I think the users have eroded it a lot, realistically."
Pritchet seems to change more than the other trails for that very reason, but it's always a good idea to ask around town and get a feel for other changes that may have occurred if it's been a while since you've been on a trail.
Many "bump wimps," as Ber calls them, like to avoid bumps by driving into the desert and creating new trails, but this is ruining the existing trails and causing trouble with the environmentalists, who would like nothing more than to shut the area off to Jeeping for good. Therefore, Ber advises users to be aware of the trails and pay attention to signs warning you to stay off certain rocks or out of particular areas. So, if you take a trail with no alternate routes, be prepared to conquer!
The best thing about Moab? No matter what kind of 4x4 you drive, there's a trail for you. From the most basic, stock 4x4 to the heavily modified, you can take an easy, scenic stroll or test your rig to the limits. And there are always locals who would love to help with any adventure you want to experience. We also learned that a common experience at Moab often invloves sharing expertise, spotting for people you've never met before, and sharing water on the trail.
Tourists and Jeeps are the livelihood of Moab and it shows in the friendly, accepting attitude of the locals. Coming from as far away as Georgia, the Galloway family were very impressed with the way they were treated around town, not only while Jeeping but while shopping and checking out the sights.
Bailey Galloway states that he's been able to walk up to people on the street and ask for help, only to have them offer to show him the way. The courteous reception of the locals keeps Jeepers and others coming back time and again.