Off-roaders from everywhere descend on the little southeastern Utah town of Moab the week before Easter to enjoy spectacular scenery and trail challenges. This is also the week of the annual Easter Jeep Safari put on by the Red Rock 4-Wheelers (RR4W), where club members guide organized trail rides throughout the week. Because of the sheer number of off-roaders in the area, the Red Rock 4-Wheelers and the BLM closed some of the trails nearer the town to everyone except those signed up for the organized run. There are so many vehicles in the backcountry during Easter week that the RR4W were running into traffic jams that blocked their organized run, ruining it for the participants.
Although the Red Rock 4-Wheelers are, in my opinion, justified to protect the popular, close-to-town trails they are using during Easter week, they aren't justified in trying to keep everyone off all the trails on public land anywhere they may be. Many off-roaders during the week reported that members of the RR4W in their red jackets were running up to vehicles, stating that this was THEIR trail and that no others were allowed. Kevin Hawkins and Ned Bacon ran into a club member who told them (in a loud and obnoxious manner) that the trail they were on was one-way (it wasn't) and that it was closed to everyone (it wasn't). When Kevin didn't respond, the RR4W member spun around, yelling over his shoulder that he hoped the BLM rangers gave them a ticket (they didn't). This has been a problem with some members of the RR4W for years. They feel that Moab and the surrounding public lands belong to them and no one else is welcome.
We need to remember that not all members of the Red Rock 4-Wheelers are like this, but a vocal few seem to have infected many, even some associate members from out-of-town. This attitude has carried over to the BLM, where some (not all) rangers feel they can do anything to hassle people on the trails because they have the support of the local off-road-vehicle club. I went out to photograph my new vehicle on a rock fin we have used for years called Little Lion's Back. The Little Lion's Back route has a tricky crack to cross to get over to the next fin directly west, which then drops onto the Hell's Revenge Trail past Lake Michigan, a sometimes vehicle-swallowing hole filled with water. Now, Little Lion's Back has white dots painted all the way over the top, bypassing the original trail through the crack, dropping off the back side into the campground there. For many years, the white dots have designated the Slickrock Bike Trail, a world-class mountain-bike route, and motorized vehicles are supposed to stay off them except when the mountain-bike and motorized trails converge. We went to the crack at the top of this fin and were stopped taking photos when two BLM rangers walked up and proceeded to ticket me for being off a designated trail in an OHV.
The attitude of these rangers never lightened up. They had a confrontational attitude from start to finish and were making ridiculous statements such as "tire marks stay forever on the slickrock." Yeah, right. Look at the now-closed Lion's Back. For years that was a popular fin and had black tire marks on it after Easter Week. It is now pristine, black marks washed away by the rain. Neither ranger was from Moab. When I told them that we were on an existing trail and were at the same place we filmed Four Wheeler TV the year before with the BLM's blessing, the ticket writer said, "Well, you just didn't get caught by a ranger last year."
He also said that we had to stay on the white dots. WHAT? After years of BLM personnel telling and yelling at us to stay off the white dots, they ticket us for not being on them? This place is crazy. They not only have too many rules, but they change them yearly, don't tell anyone, and ticket you for following earlier versions of those rules. As for tire marks being on the rocks, what about the PAINT the RR4W have painted on slickrock? That's right, 3-foot-high letters stating "No Route" and "No." There are also dots, flames, spikes, and other trail markers to help people find trails (we managed to "find" trails for decades with no paint). These markings are truly there to stay and destroy the environment.
The Nazi-like law enforcement extended into town too. Law enforcement was everywhere, with impromptu checkpoints set up on the roads with off-road-equipped vehicles (and even unmodified trucks and Jeeps) stopped again and again. Many of these were street-legal in the state they were from, yet were ticketed for not complying with Utah law. The feds won't give highway funds to states that enforce their own laws on out-of-state vehicles that comply in their home state. If every state did this, interstate transportation would come to a halt. Can you see your federal highway funds drying up, Utah? One of my friends was stopped and the officer said, "You should put your Jeep on the trailer and go home. We don't need your money, you're not wanted here, and you're not welcome."
A restaurant manager in town told me that most people in Moab want the Easter business and to not let a vocal minority wreck things. Well then, the Silent Majority needs to speak up and vote the idiots who allow these actions out of office and put pro-multiple-use people in office. It's not enough to sit around and say, "We don't like this either." Members of the Red Rock 4-Wheelers also need to voice their concern that some members of their club have become part of the problem and "counsel" with those members.
About 58 miles south of Moab is the town of Monticello, the center of San Juan County, Utah. San Juan County welcomes motorized recreation and has scenery that's just as spectacular as Moab. Monticello would make a great destination for off-roaders and their tourist dollars. We'll do features showing some of the trail opportunities there in upcoming issues of Off-Road.
I'm going to the federal magistrate to fight my ticket and will let you know the outcome. Win or lose, at least I will let a pair of BLM rangers in Moab know that some people won't lay down and let them enforce arbitrary rules that no one knows about.
Silly Moab. Rocks are for off-roaders.