Desert Safari is an annual event that draws thousands of people to the Southern California desert near the Salton Sea. March 4-6 marked the 54th year the local Southern California Club, Tierra Del Sol, hosted the gathering of off-road enthusiasts for a weekend of exploration, camaraderie, and to meet off-road industry manufacturers.
The organization is a group of family-orientated off-roaders that are passionate about keeping public lands open for everyone to enjoy long into the future. They have been around for over 60 years and started with a humble beginning and today it is evident by the groups dedication to the sport.
Fun For Everyone
This year, the annual Desert Safari event attracted more than 1,600 registrations, and a midway that included dozens of industry manufactures showcasing aftermarket products and offering killer deals. Big companies such as 4 Wheel Parts were on hand selling tools, parts, and trail gear. GenRight had its full display set up with beautifully built Jeeps showcasing high quality products and staff ready to answer questions.
No need worry if you do not drive a an off-road vehicle because there was a plethora of large and small manufacturers on the midway to provide any gear needed to take your vehicle to the next level or items for out on the trail.
MetalCloak had a specialized trailer, the Corner Travel Index (CTI) that put a vehicles’ suspension to a cross-corner twist test to determine how well it performed. After positioning the vehicle on four individual lift tables, opposing corners were raised until a tire lifted off the ground, then calculate your CTI score. This twisting action is very similar to driving over large rocks or through narrow dirt notches much like those found at Truck Haven at Ocotillo Wells State Vehicle Recreation Area, where this event took place.
During the days, far away from registration and the vendor midway, hundreds of vehicles were negotiating the seemingly endless trails and washes of Truck Haven Hills. There were no official organized trail rides this year due to pending lawsuits regarding the flat tailed horned lizards that live in the area, but that did not stop people making their own runs.
More fun could had just around the corner from the main stage at the mud pit and mini rock garden, where people could test their rigs over giant piles of rocks. Many hours were spent watching 4×4’s of all sizes crawl, scrape, bang, and smash the mercilessly placed rocks.
Tierra Del Sol had two very special treats this year: A mud pit and an exciting raffle. The crew dug a long, deep, sticky, smelly mud pit great for stopping the best equipped vehicles of any size instantly in their tracks. Some heavy-footed and skilled, or rather lucky, drivers made it all the way to the end and did not suffer the heckling of the bystanders.At the mud pit, the familiar sound of metal dragging against rocks was almost barely heard over the roar of engines just 100 yards away. For those unable to escape the mud pits grip, luckily there was plenty of help close by to extricate the unfortunate. Not even a military five-ton wrecker was able to escape becoming stuck in the muck and requiring three other five ton-trucks to winch it free.
The incredible raffle rewarded attendees with more than $160,00 in prizes, with each goodie package valued at a minimum of $1,000. Prizes included everything from off-road DVD’s to the giveaway of a Polaris UTV. Following the raffle, an awesome fireworks display by Fireworks and Stage FX America was choreographed to rock music.
Off-road clubs from far and near were lined up in countless camps early Saturday morning making last-minute vehicle preparations, double-checking tools, spare parts, and packing liquid refreshments before heading out. The weather was simply phenomenal with recent rains moistening the ground enough to keep the majority of lung-filling dust at bay. Those who had windows could keep them open, and those who did not have windshields did not spend the day suffocating as in drier years prior. Desert explorations were pleasant with day temperatures in the mid-80s, and evenings in the upper 60s.
Desert trail rides are very unique from woodland and mountain trails as they afford incredible vista views atop plateaus, allowing you to see for miles. Looking around in any direction offered up numerous options to which you could take. The most extreme drivers, of course, took the most extreme trails consisting of the tightest, narrowest, notches, and hills out there — or they tried to conquer one of the obstacles at the various gatherings.
One such area consisted of a relatively low hill, about 80 yards long, with very steep stair step ledges which people drove up. This dry waterfall looking, stair step, slick rock show-off hill drew many types of vehicles. Once cresting the top there is only enough space to park about one dozen vehicles. The fun doesn’t stop once at the top though, as those who are parked can claim the earned title of ‘king of the hill,’ looking below on those too afraid to try the climb.
Now, don’t be fooled, because this hill crowned many kings during the day and night, but it also created many a poor pauper from those who tried, and broke down.
One poor soul attempted the climb in what looked like an old Ford Explorer, with what appeared to be a mild lift, was running 33-inch mismatched bald street and mud terrain tires, and sheetmetal that had met the side of a canyon or rock wall close enough to reshape all the body lines. He approached the hill slowly and aimed the front wheels in the direction of the rock ledge. After a dramatic pause, he revved the engine, announcing to the couple of thousands spectators, that he was ready to go.
With the familiar high RPM sound, the engine tried to go fast, but was held back by the low gearing of a transfer case. He lurched forward at the hill, only to make a loud bang as the front end bounced as his tires crested a few feet of the first ledge. The crowd cringed in unison knowing he had just broken his rig. Rolling backwards away from the ledge in defeat, he exited the vehicle and walked to the front, and even though he knew what happened, looked down to confirm a twisted and broken front driveshaft.
Another driver pulled forward, but this time it was a classic — mostly stock-looking flat fender Jeep. Without any showmanship the driver aimed his vehicle at the same ledge. He slowly approached and began to climb up the ledge, expertly applying the throttle to encourage this seemingly underdog vehicle to bounce and climb up to the top. The crowd erupted in cheers watching a skilled driver conquer the most intimidating of the lines, and made it appear effortless to boot.
As night approached, the hotspot of activity relocated to what the regulars call The Nachos, a relatively small set of deep notches that have many, very steep 15 to 20 foot dirt drops and ledges along with tight turns all crammed together.
This was the cruising spot where lines of Jeeps, massively large trucks, side-by-sides, and anyone else paraded through for the thousands of spectators standing a few feet away. This was definitely a spectator area where everyone was waiting for one of the show-offs to try a crazy line or full wall climb.
No one was disappointed, but out of the darkness, a UTV over-throttled a ledge climb and launched all four wheels off the ground, landing into the crowd on top the ledge. No one was injured as those at the top of the ledge knew to keep a vigil watch on everything around them as drivers attempted to take the high throttle approach.
The crowd was rewarded with many sights, including a sky-high lifted truck painted like a crash test vehicle that decided to show off by making a sudden right hand turn, hitting the throttled hard, and driving straight up a 10-foot ledge. As the crowd scattered, he was forced to stop one foot before the 15-foot vertical ledge laid in front of him.
He looked out the driver window, and asked to crowd if he could make it down the other side. The crowd, wanting excitement, and since it was not their vehicle, encouraged him to try. Try he did; pointing the truck forward and easing the front tires over the edge as he tapped the skinny pedal, making the headlights disappear into the dirt, and lighting the sky with taillights. A second later, all fours were rubber side down and he was past the crowds. As the early morning crept up the weary crowd began to disperse and head back to camp for the night.
The 54th Annual Desert Safari is in the books, and plans for next year are already made. This is an exceptional event put on by an exceptional group of volunteers that cannot receive enough praise and thanks for many incredible memories. Be sure to check out the full gallery of images below!