1997 Moab Easter Jeep Safari

I was fortunate enough to make it to the 31st Annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah this year. I finally finished the trip report, and will be putting up photos as soon as I have time to scan them in. I’m a busy guy, don’t ya know.

A group of about 20, mostly from the college group at my church, went out to Moab for spring break this year. The main goal was mountain biking and rock climbing, but the EJS just happened to be out there that same week. Though I’m out of school, I tagged along because it sounded like fun.

Friday, 21 Mar 97

I had a brief scare early on in the 16-hour drive out. I’d fallen a few minutes behind our convoy to disconnect my radio antenna (swivel/ spring mounts bang against the window at high speed), and had the pedal to the floor for about 15 minutes trying to catch up. My 4-cyl engine computer apparently thought this was a Bad Thing, so it turned on my Check Engine light. My passenger searched my factory service manual and found that fuel system problems usually caused that light, so I just ignored it. After stopping for gas later, the light turned itself off.

Saturday, 22 Mar 97

We arrived in Moab mid-afternoon Saturday, 22 Mar 97. After unpacking at our cabin in the foothills of the La Sal mountains, I dismantled the jeep to prepare it for wheeling. This amounted to removing the hard top and doors and disconnecting the rear track bar and sway bar. I was amazed at how well the YJ handled on the twisty mountain roads without those bars, so I removed the track bar for good when I got back to Lincoln. Only once did I three-wheel on the trail, and that was going down hill, so it didn’t matter. Gotta love that extra articulation!

Palm Sunday, 23 Mar 97

We mountain biked at a place 17 miles north of town (whose name I forget) on Sunday. Great fun, and an awesome view from the top of the rock uprising. We had one tacoed bike rim and one girl who became one with the mountain, but nothing too serious. The weather was sunny with highs in the upper 70’s, and was forecast to stay that way all week, except for Monday.

Monday, 24 Mar 97

The real fun began Monday, when I’d signed up to run Poison Spider Mesa (earlier photos from Golden Spike Trail also apply, since The Spike follows Poison Spider as far as the rim overlook). My passenger, Brian Steele, was an amateur photographer with a nice camera, so every time we hit an obstacle, it was a toss up whether to have a spotter or to get photos. I usually opted for the photos.

The first real obstacle was the only one I had to bypass. It was a steep (maybe 50-60 degree) incline about six feet long. Many in the group made it, but my front shackles hung to low for me to even make an approach. This was the first of many times my front shackles would kiss the rock. My receiver hitch and T-case skid plate would meet their share of rock, too.

Just beyond that first incline were two rocky-ledged inclines. Some of the larger vehicles, especially the Blazer in front of me, had quite a bit of trouble on this trail, and left a fair amount of rubber on many of the obstacles, including these inclines. With the extra articulation afforded by my sway and track bar removal, even my low-hanging stock YJ “just walked right up that thing,” as Brian put it. I was quite pleased by the Jeep’s performance on this trip, even though a few more inches of ground clearance sure would have been nice at times.

(I forget the order of many of the obstacles, and will have to consult my photo album to fill in details.)

One of the better obstacles is known as “The Wedgie.” It’s a V-shaped crevice that starts nearly flat and gets about five feet tall at the end. I missed this one on the way up because the blowing sand hid it from view. We blindly followed the CJ in front of us, which took the bypass. I hit the wedgie on the way down, though. It had been raining a bit, and the rock was a little slick. I wondered part way down if having Brian take pictures rather than spot my right tires was really a good idea, but all turned out well. About half way down, my left side slipped down into the crevice, proving (much to my relief) that the V-shape isn’t quite 90 degrees (more like 100 or 110), and that my roll-over point is a bit higher than the 40 degree side slope of the right edge. I’m really glad my side mirrors were sitting at home on the porch, otherwise they’d be toast right now. The CJ in front of me wasn’t so lucky, and had to make three runs to make it down cleanly. I’ll have to go back again some time and try this on the way up.


There were several obstacles on Poison Spider that involved short, steep up- and down-hill inclines. I banged my T-case skid plate on the top end of many of them, and my shackles and receiver hitch on the lower end (I still need to repaint my hitch so it doesn’t rust away to nothing). The full-size rigs had to either be very careful or bypass these obstacles entirely.

The lunch stop was atop a large hill of slickrock. Getting up to it required an off-camber ascent that had Brian gripping his seat belt for dear life. The stop was 100 yards from a small arch that overlooked the Colorado River and the town of Moab. Just past the lunch stop was a hill called the “Launching Pad.” It’s a steep drop down and an even steeper, 50-foot long climb back up to the top of a slickrock hill. Immediately after cresting the top, you encounter what our leader called “a small pothole,” otherwise known as the hot tub. It’s a hot-tub-shaped hole in the rock about the size of a full-size rig. If you chose the wrong line up the launching pad, you’d fall right into the hot tub when you reached the top, so following the marked trail was important.

The weather was cloudy and threatening rain all day, and it started to sprinkle lightly by the time we got to the lookout point. This stop put us right at the edge of the rim overlooking the Colorado River valley and Moab a couple thousand feet below. You can see Arches National Park across the valley, and could have seen the La Sal mountains had it not been for the low-lying clouds. It was an awesome view, but would have looked better with sunshine.

From there, we made a small loop near some sand dunes and then reversed our tracks home. The deep sand was fun to play in, and the steep inclines allowed some otherwise-stuck vehicles to back down and take another run up the hills. We had to hurry out of there, though, in an unsuccessful effort to beat the rain and snow. Somehow, the obstacles look a lot different when you approach them from the other direction. We had to strap a full-size Yukon up one of the steep inclines which was now wet, but otherwise had no problems.

Of the 36 or so vehicles we started with, we lost one to a bad starter (stalled and then refused to restart) and three more to the cold weather. I was the only vehicle without some form of covering to brave the entire trail. <GRUNT!, GRUNT!> Of course, just as we hit the trail head going home, the sun reappeared.

Tuesday, 25 Mar 97

Tuesday was a bit chilly, but returned to the sunny weather we had been praying for. We spent the morning biking down to Gemini Bridges, a smallish arch with a slice running lengthwise down it, effectively making two bridges. The arch was cool, but the real fun was the bike trail. The first 9 miles were all downhill. The best way to do it is to have someone drop you off at the top of the trail and then go wait for you at the bottom by Hwy 191. The terrain was similar to most of the Poison Spider trail, but without the big obstacles– small, rocky ledges of slickrock interspersed with red dirt. This was by far the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike. Unfortunately, once you hit the bottom, you’ve got two miles of very steep uphill dirt road. There’s an awesome overlook at the top, and then another two miles of equally steep downhill to the parking lot.

One of our bunch, namely Eric Bergstrom, fell behind, thinking he was waiting for others who had unknowingly passed him. We had loaded up the trucks and were about to leave the lot when I realized he wasn’t with us. I took off back up the trail in my Jeep on my first rescue mission! Fortunately, though it killed the excitement of the moment, I found him safe and sound just a quarter mile from the parking lot.

Some spent the afternoon rock climbing on Wall Street, while the rest of us cruised around in Arches National Park. I opted to drive my topless Jeep in rather than join the others in the van. That was definitely the right choice! Warm sunny day, clear blue sky, unhindered view of the majestic rock formations … it’s no wonder there was a waiting line to ride in the Jeep with me. I’m continually amazed by the beauty and the shear enormity of those formations. Man, we have a creative God! Unfortunately, we only had time to explore the southern half of the park, which gives me yet another reason to go back to Moab some day.

Wednesday, 26 Mar 97

Spring Canyon

I had signed up to run Kane Creek Canyon on Wednesday. I was really looking forward to all the water crossings along that creek bed, but the creek was hood-deep that day, so we had to run Hey Joe Canyon instead. My passenger for the day was Steven Eichelberger. These runs were the first four-wheeling experiences for both Steve and Brian.

I’d been emailing with Scott Rozman of Wisconsin before the Safari, and we met that morning to run the trail that day. (Read Scott’s trail report here Scott had stopped by the BFG semi at the registration center that morning, and had gotten some loaner 30×9.50 AT’s for his 2″-lifted XJ for the day. They looked sweet, although they did rub a bit in the front without the sway bar.

Green River

I was a bit disappointed from the start about doing Hey Joe. The description in the registration paper made it sound a bit boring, and threatened that the branches on either side of the narrow trail would likely send you home with custom pin-striping. Well, I’d like to congratulate the writers on an accurate description of the trail. It was very dusty, mostly flat, and the brush was constantly scraping both sides of my narrow little YJ. I wish we’d had a Hummer at the front of the line to widen things out a bit, but it never would have fit along such a narrow trail. The scenery in Spring Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon along the Green River was pretty, but didn’t justify the rest of the ride in my opinion.

Obi-Wan at lunch

The drive from Moab to the trail head is about 20 miles of pavement plus another 10 of very dusty dirt roads. The descent into Spring Canyon was actually fun. There were no major obstacles on the trail. Most of Spring Canyon was a narrow path with rocky stair-steps on the trail and sheer rock faces going strait up and down on either side. The canyon itself was a couple hundred feet deep. Neither Steven nor I was wild about heights, but it wasn’t too bad. Most of the ledge was just one big rock field, which made picking a good path important if you didn’t want to bang anything. This portion of the trail was fun going both directions. The biggest obstacle was the rock stair step closest to the trail head. Going down, many a rear tire reached for the sky. Going up, it required that an open front end run the right tire along an 8″-wide ledge of rocks right next to the edge of the drop-off. It would be virtually impossible without a spotter.

Mining equipment

The small creek crossing at the bottom of the canyon signals the end of most of the interesting terrain. After that, it’s mostly a flat dirt road with lots of brush and an occasional gully or rock to cross. After Spring Canyon meets Labyrinth Canyon, the trail follows just a few feet to the side of the Green River. It’s a beautiful canyon, and we even passed and talked with some canoers on the return trip.

At the end of the trail (the lunch stop), there’s an abandoned uranium mine (the reason the road was built in the first place). I took a fair number of pictures here and on the rest of the trail, but I lost most of them when either my crappy camera or the photo shop ate half of that roll of film. I was bummed. Thanks go to Scott for letting me use some of his photos on my page.


I felt the organization of this particular trail run was a bit lacking as well. First, the trail leader missed the highway turnoff for the trail. Then, as we approached the lunch stop, people near the front of the group fell behind, and the trail leader lost us. It’s not like we could have made a wrong turn anywhere, but it was disconcerting that the person in charge of getting us there and back in one piece managed to get himself out of CB range from the better part of the group.  The ride back from the lunch stop was completely unorganized. The leader headed back with some people before some of the group had surfaced from the mine. Scott and I left together (good thing, since we spotted each other several times) and never saw another vehicle til we hit the trail head. In contrast, the Poison Spider run was run very professionally, as I would hope most of the Safari trails are.

Later that night, fifteen of us from the Jeep-L and Offroad mailing lists got together for dinner at a local microbrewery. I had a picture of us, but it was lost on the aforementioned roll of film. It was fun to put faces with several of the names I’ve gotten to know, especially Joe Maleski, who’s a fellow sysadmin.

Thursday, 27 Mar 97

Thursday morning, we packed up and headed out. We’d managed to avoid serious injuries all week, but long after the medical supplies had been packed away, Steven managed to sprain his ankle while playing frisbee. We handed him some ice and told him to grit his teeth till we got to Lincoln. We made a quick stop to take some photos along the Colorado River by Hwy 128, and then made our way back home. The return trip was uneventful, except that our three-vehicle convoy got separated by several miles at one point.

All in all, the trip was a blast, and I definitely plan to go back with Stacy at some point in the not-to-distant future. (For the fulfillment of this statement, see our Moab ’98 trip report.)

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