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40th Annual Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari
March 1-3, 2002

Story and photos by Tony Bothwell

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Tierra Del Solepic
Pronunciation: 'e-pik
Function: adjective
Extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope

TDSThere are few, if any, four wheel drive events that bring the word epic to mind, save for Tierra del Sol's Annual Desert Safari. With an incredible 1,223 registered vehicles and an amazing 850 of those pre-registered, it is certainly one of the largest four wheel drive events in the world, if not the largest. On top of the enormous registered vehicle count, there are an additional 4-500 unregistered vehicles that do not participate in the raffle or the main run, with the total number of trucks approaching roughly 1,800 and the total number of people in attendance somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-6,000! If you were to look at Truckhaven from the sky at night, you could easily mistake it for a small city.

The magnitude of coordinating an event such as this is almost incomprehensible, and the TDS club deserves all the praise that we can give. Every aspect of a huge sporting event is covered; registration, shirt sales, food, toilets, trash bins, an enormous vendor row, an on-site doctor, paramedics, sheriffs, maps, and checkpoints. They even have an ambulance on standby. You name it - every base has been covered. They are setup to handle just about anything that can (and does) happen.

TDS
Mike Duncan (FourXDoctor) showing off his Raceline Monster 17" wheels and his prototype BFG 37" tires

The long and winding road
The terrain in the desert of the Truckhaven hills where the Desert Safari is held is quite varied and makes it possible for every type of four-wheeler to have fun. The official run will take you through places that will range from twisty suspension workouts to wide-open throttle hill climbs.

The main run is divided into three difficulty levels through the use of stakes that have green, red and blue arrows on them. The green arrows point towards the trail that ranges from easy to medium difficulty, one that most stock vehicles can finesse while the red flagged trails are difficult, requiring more driving experience and a better equipped vehicle. The blue trails are in their own category, with some of them requiring an extremely twisty suspension and super-high clearance, while others require the ability to deal with very off-camber situations without losing your cool.

The event starts Friday with registration and safety check beginning promptly at 2PM. People start arriving for this event as early as the weekend before with most showing up at some point on Friday. The official run takes place on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. and runs until the course has been completed by every driver, but the action isn't just on the main course. Although it is a coordinated trip with a designated run, the desert has much to offer as far as diversity is concerned. For the desert racer there are sand washes that run for miles letting you get up some pretty serious speed. For the rockcrawler there are very twisty and off-camber canyons. For the throttle jockeys there are twisty, dusty hill climbs that take not just lockers front and rear, but a heavy foot to boot.

With as many drivers as there are, there is a lot of off-roading aside from the main run. Friday is spent four-wheeling by day and night with the many side day runs Saturday consisting of drivers splitting off from the main run only to jump back into it later on in the day. With the action running all day Friday and Saturday late into the night, this event will have you doing more four-wheeling in three days than some people can get in a whole year.

TDSWhere does he get those wonderful toys?
Not only do you see just about every possible clever innovation you could homebrew for an off-road vehicle, an event of this magnitude also brings out all the big names with their featured products. Just about every west coast four wheel drive company has representatives there in a booth or out on the trail.

Ever wanted to meet the Curries? Swing by and get advice from the Four X Doctor. Maybe go chat with Dynatrac about their axles or talk with Kilby Enterprises about your onboard air. This is the place to be. With vendor booths galore, the main concourse is essentially a toy store for adults.

And the vendor row isn't the only way you can bring home goodies for your truck. The Saturday night raffle held at 7PM rivals any other. With a total value of $63,000 in prizes from over 100 vendors and the fact that the only way to get a raffle ticket is to register, your odds of winning something are relatively high. The prizes are much more than just off-road videos and t-shirts. When you're talking $63k in prizes you get the toys to help you run with the big dogs. We're talking tire sets, winches, axles, welders, onboard air and more.

TDS
Mike Duncan works on his carnage.

Break it and they will come
Maybe it's the fact that to get to the event you're on a freeway named 86 South. Maybe the fact that you forgot to bring socks was a bad omen. Perhaps it was the scent of the Salton Sea as you approached Truckhaven that had you distracted. Or maybe one too many people just got a little heavy on the go pedal.

When you've got over 1500 off-roaders in one place, you're bound to have some carnage. Everything from yokes to u-joints, axle shafts to transfer cases, you name it, just about anything that can break, did. And it wasn't just the stockers breaking those little Dana 30 u-joints. Even the big dogs have to pay to play eventually, as seen here by Mike Duncan's (Four X Doctor) broken yoke.

Time is on my side
One of the great things about the TDS Desert Safari is that it isn't just about coordinating a huge four wheel drive event. It brings the people closer to the companies, and it reminds us how small the four wheel drive industry really is. You realize that the same guys selling you products are out there wheeling right along side you year after year. And beyond simply bringing you closer to the industry, the Desert Safari actually goes a step further by assisting the Blue Ribbon coalition.

To help preserve our rights, the event also raised $3,628.83 for the Blue Ribbon Coalition legal defense fund, which is helping to keep our lands open for us to have this great sport. To quote the coalition, they work hard "preserving our natural resources for the public, instead of from the public." The TDS Desert Safari is helping make sure they have the money they need to keep defending us. For more information on the Blue Ribbon Coalition please visit their website at www.sharetrails.org.

TDSIf you're close enough to make it to next year's event, I highly encourage you to do so. Do the main run, go to the raffle and cross your fingers hoping for a welder, and get in some good night-wheeling with your friends or the new ones you'll make on the trail. The Annual TDS Desert Safari is truly an epic four wheel drive event that I think everyone should experience at least once.

For more information on the TDS Desert Safari and future events, please visit their website at www.tds4x4.com.

On a few final notes, if you're wondering what a Tierra del Sol is, it means "land of the sun," which is quite appropriate for the Truckhaven desert area.

I would also like to personally thank John Stewart from TDS for his continued assistance throughout the weekend. I was in good hands.

And now, on to the
[ PHOTO GALLERY ]

 

Tony Bothwell is a photojournalist for rockcrawler.com and resides in Los Angeles California. You can contact him at tonyb@rockcrawler.com.

 

 
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