Just a few miles north of Southern California’s Salton Sea is a place called Truck Haven. For 49 years thousands of Jeep and 4X4 enthusiasts have descended on this dusty landscape for an event called the Desert Safari. Organized by a San Diego area jeep club known as Tierra Del Sol, this one weekend event is a must attend event for anyone in the Western United States that loves to crawl over obstacles and twist through slot canyons.
Although originally slated as a Jeep event, in the past few years UTVs have become quite popular. While not allowed to participate in the organized route laid out by the Tierra Del Sol 4X4 Club of San Diego, there is plenty of action for the UTV owner at the Desert Safari. A crew from MotoUSA decided to check out the event on our way home from the track test portion of our Superbike Smackdown VIII. It just so happened that we had a Kawasaki Teryx on loan as a pit vehicle for the superbike test, and as our resident desert-rat, I had friends that were already attending the event. The opportunity was too good to pass up as our Editorial Director Hutch needed to get some dust in his lungs after his latest street stints. So with that we haphazardly loaded the toyhauler after the street testing had concluded and set our sights on Truck Haven.
Arriving late in the afternoon to a perfectly situated camp near all the best hills, we quickly unloaded our borrowed 2011 Kawasaki Teryx 750 LE. As we finished setting up camp, the sun was setting into the dusty horizon, and it was time to
The Teryx is a great machine for places like Truck Haven thanks to its excellent suspension and stability.
cook some dinner. While eating we watched as headlights popped up over hills, taillights dropped into darkness and overzealous drivers buried themselves into the sides of the hills near our camp. With our bellies full of my famous gourmet tacos we geared up to make our way over to the vendor area to take in the evening’s activities.
Once underway we got out first taste of what Truck Haven had to offer besides an insane amount of dust. We found ourselves atop a 150-foot plateau above the vendor area looking for a way down. In the darkness every option for decent looked to be a sure fire way to induce an end-over-end tumble. Finally we sacked up and choose our path down a ridiculously steep slot filled with rocks as big as Chevy engine blocks. The engine breaking system of the Teryx combined with some use of the locking front differential made the decent over the jumbled piles of rocks and boulders simple and drama free. We figured the darkness must have made it look worse than it really was.
Down in the vendor area every major Jeep and 4X4 company had a booth or display to show off the latest and greatest they had to offer. Row upon row of tricked out off-road machines lined the outskirts of the main area. As we wandered the displays and took in the scene that is the Off-Road Safari, we couldn’t help but wonder if we were outgunned and underprepared with our stock Teryx. Some of the machines looked they could climb straight over a house!
After we got our fill of the vendor area we headed for a place called the Notch. Every big off-road gathering has its hang
Ken got more and more comfortable on the walls of “The Notch” as we took turns experimenting with the capabilities of the Teryx.
out spot, and the Notch was the place to be by all accounts. On our way we crawled through the cracks and crevasses of Truck Haven, steadily becoming more confident in the Teryx’s ability to handle anything we could get it into. The feeling of have only three or fewer wheels in contact with terra firma became easier to deal with, although not totally comfortable as we climbed through the more technical sections.
Once at the Notch we were absolutely blown away with the amount of people gathered to watch the bravest (or most foolish) drivers attempt to conquer the steep walls of hard packed dirt. Every inch of above the walls was lined with spectators looking down at the action. Armed with flashlights and their beverage of choice, the crowd coaxed and cheered drivers to attempt more and more difficult maneuvers. And the drivers obliged. And rolled. And flipped. And even sometimes made it over the top. One crazy Yamaha Rhino driver got into the act, and almost made a couple of sections that more than a few Jeeps got hung up on. Eventually the Rhino snapped an axle, and the crowd cheered for more. So the Rhino continued to go for it until a second snapped axle ended the fun.
Ken commented on the scene at the Notch, “When we first talked about going to this event, I figured it would be pretty cool. I’m from Oregon so a mob of mullets doing crazy stuff in oversized 4x4s is in my DNA. What I was surprised to see was how many people are there – man oh man that was bad-ass! Then you have the Notch, which has to be seen to fully grasp the crazy nature of that place at night.” With that it was time to head back to the campfire and a good night’s sleep in the desert.
After a breakfast of steak and eggs (food is an important part of any desert adventure) we headed out to the Notch to check it out in the daylight. After a few attempts at some of the smaller wall sections Ken began to go for the harder stuff. Just a few tries and he was up the wall that had snapped the Rhino’s axles the night before. Was the Teryx that good or the Rhino driver that bad?
It turns out the Teryx is that good. Throughout the day we just kept pushing for more and more difficult obstacles, and only once did Ken get so struck that he had to be winched out by a Jeep. The power of the Teryx combined with the locking front diff made doing work on some of the more technical sections easier that it should be. We found that the Kawasaki can go almost anywhere a fully built rock-crawler Jeep can go as long as it has enough traction to pull it over the top. The Teryx will also cover the terrain faster than a 4X4, as momentum is key to the success or failure of a section. More than a few times we would pull so far ahead of our group of Jeeps that we would have time for a snack while waiting for them to catch up.
The gripes we had with the Teryx after crawling all over Truck Haven were few but noteworthy. Our biggest issue was with the automotive-style seatbelts. Although easy and familiar to use, we would have preferred to have a more robust
We spent part of the day hanging out with Team Gen Right. Ken couldn’t help but wonder how much power the Teryx would need to get the same amount of airtime.
4-point harness system to hold us in our seats as we bounced over obstacles. As we scraped our way over rocks we began to tear the plastic skid plates up pretty bad and would think that one more day on the trail could be the death of them. We understand the plastic units are less expensive and lighter and would be sufficient in most circumstances. If we were to build up our own Teryx, aftermarket aluminum chassis protection would be a must. Last but not least, power steering would have been nice to have in the tighter sections and notches that would put a considerable strain on our arms as we muscled through.
After spending the day absolutely punishing the Teryx at the Desert Safari we heading back to camp to fuel up the machines and our bodies for another night of crawling and hanging out at the notch. As we looked back on the day we couldn’t help be feel that as the popularity of UTVs grow we will see the amount of participants grow at the Tierra Del Sol event, and maybe some of the Jeepers will actually swap their street legal machines for a UTV. With less paint to scratch and sheet metal to bend it makes perfect sense to get into a Teryx and save the Jeep for profiling at the beach.