After Hours: Off-Roading at the Easter Jeep Safari
It all began over 20 years ago at an off-road shop in Orem, Utah, where Quinn Mortensen was doing mechanical work. One day, he and his coworkers heard about an event called the Easter Jeep Safari in scenic Moab and figured they should go see what it was all about.
The beautiful red rocks draw in thousands of visitors yearly and provide quite the exhilarating experience when those oversized tires grip their surface. After one trip, Mortensen was hooked and hasn’t missed the event since. Sometimes he goes back to Moab in his customized ‘88 Jeep YJ multiple times per year simply because he can’t stay away.
The Jeep Safari was started in 1967 by the Moab Chamber of Commerce. It began with one trail and now has 40 different trails of varying difficulty levels. The event currently lasts nine days.
Each morning drivers meet up at a decided point in the city and then drive out to the trails. The trail leader checks for proper safety equipment such as seatbelts and working lights. Most drivers will bring a CB radio, because that’s how the leader communicates and lets those behind him know what’s coming up, whether it’s a scenic point or an obstacle.
For interested parties wanting to try out the Jeep Safari, Mortensen recommended going online or getting the Red Rock 4-Wheelers paper and reading about the different trails and what the event entails. The different trail descriptions let drivers know what equipment is recommended for each specific trail. For instance, a level-two trail might recommend slightly larger tires that have been depressurized to get a better grip on the rocks. As the level of difficulty increases, the more modifications are necessary.
Some people will camp each night out on the rocks, but most attendees will head into town for a shower and experience the restaurants and nightlife Moab has to offer.
“It’s not like you’re on a highway, you’re traveling slowly, passing one another on paths and talking with other Jeep’s occupants,” Mortensen said. “The Safari is a great way to meet people.”
The atmosphere and the beauty of the Jeep Safari is infectious, and more people attend the event every year. Throughout his many years experiencing the Easter Jeep Safari, Mortensen’s met people from all over the world: Europe, Asia, Canada and Central and South America.
Over the years, Mortensen has put a lot of work into his modified Jeep.
“It has a Chevrolet 4.3L V6 engine and sports a 700R4 transmission,” Mortensen said. “I stretched the wheelbase three inches with a spring over front suspension, shackle reversal and high steer kit to create a fun ride. The axles are fitted with 4:88 gears and lockers to provide the right amount of torque to get around those large, slick rock surfaces with 14-inch wheel travel in the front and 12-inch in the rear.”
These modifications allow Mortensen to get through some of the more difficult and extreme trails on the Safari like Poison Spider, Cane Creek Canyon trail, Cliffhanger and Pritchett Canyon. Novice off-road drivers without a modified vehicle are ill-advised to attempt some of the more challenging trails, as even expert drivers can sometimes tip over and damage their specialized machines. It’s all in good fun, but safety is the No. 1 priority. Mortensen has done a few tricks of his own, resulting in tipping his Jeep on its side.
“I’ve tipped my Jeep several times, but I can generally just give it more power and it will tip itself back over,” said Mortensen, who is currently a supervisor at Tire Factory Point S. “There are several secondary obstacles throughout the trails that you can try if you think your vehicle can handle it. I’ve seen people break drive shafts, axles and other parts, but those drivers generally carry spare parts with them for occasions just like that.”
Mortensen is certainly daring, but also loves the scenic routes.
“Shafer trail is a great scenic route. It’s below Dead Horse Point and runs along the Colorado River with sights of mesmerizing vistas to take in,” Mortensen said.
He also mentioned Chicken Corners trail as a special treat, because it allows viewers to see many different rock layers and even ancient petroglyphs.
“Every trip brings more memories, and what I find most rewarding is taking first-timers who have never been to Moab or off-roading before,” Mortensen said. “When I take someone to do something they have never experienced before, it brings that same excitement back to me and reminds me of my first trip to Moab.”
He’s recently gotten his friend’s daughter hooked on off-roading.
“She was only about 13 at the time,” when Mortensen took her on her first Safari and let her drive, he explained. “The jeep was in a very low gear, and we were in a wide open spot, so she couldn’t hurt anything, but she loved the experience. This last year, she drove about 75 percent of the time. In fact, her father just bought her her own ‘99 Jeep TJ, and the first thing she wanted to know was when we were going down to the Jeep Safari.”
Mortensen described the scenery of Moab as “something you’ve never seen before. You can’t find this scenery anywhere else, and it’s amazing to take someone and see it all again, fresh, through their eyes.”
Mortensen doesn’t just want you to take his word for it. He encourages anyone who enjoys the outdoors to give it a go.
Mortensen hopes to see you on the trails at the Jeep Safari next year. The scenery is unforgettable, and the experience is sure to leave you longing for more.
“You just might catch the bug,” Mortensen said.
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