2023 Easter Jeep Safari: Whitewash Sand Dunes Ride

Updated on Oct 12, 2023

This article is the first in a series of 2023 Easter Jeep Safari trail ride stories contributed by off-roading industry veteran, automotive enthusiast and journalist Verne Simons.

Moab, Utah, is a mecca for Jeeps, but there is plenty of space for fun in other 4x4s as well. This was especially true at the 56th Easter Jeep Safari from April 1-April 9, when everything from Broncos to Toyotas – and even a few full-size trucks and SUVs – hit the trails that were open and ready for enjoyment.

RealTruck Experts Lead Whitewash Sand Dunes Ride

Photo: Verne Simons

For Easter Jeep Safari 2023 in Moab, you can bet that RealTruck, and the company’s off-road and truck experts, were on hand. This type of corporate sponsorship is done to test new products in the real world with the company’s vehicles, interact with media and other brands in the off-road industry, as well as to spend firsthand time with customers who live the off-road lifestyle. As an off-road automotive enthusiast photographer, this writer jumped at the opportunity to join RealTruck to take a few pictures and tell the story of two of the company’s sponsored trail rides. This will be the first of a two-part series covering our exploration and enjoyment of the remote area northwest of Moab known as the Whitewash Sand Dunes.

Trails Everywhere at 2023 EJS in Moab, UT

The Red Rock 4-Wheelers are the legendary off-roading club that has put on the Easter Jeep Safari since its inception in 1967. They have taken a key role in ensuring trails are marked, and monitored with expert guides, and have even helped to expand the trail selection. Sure, some of the trails are reserved for use by RR4W members , but many of the trails are open to the public, with access to tons of backroads, featuring geological and historical points of interest. Exploration of the area can range from tough rock crawling trails with wheels-up obstacles, to simple dirt backroads that explore the vast area making up southeastern Utah. Also, if you are in the know, there are at least a few unique areas and trails with wash driving, creek crossings, and even some significant sand dunes.

Photo: Verne Simons

The Whitewash Sand Dunes, our intended venue for the trail ride, was once one of southeastern Utah’s off-road secrets with its approximately 1400-acre open riding area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Anyone who likes to play in the dunes will feel right at home in the pinkish sand dunes that are not that far from Moab. The area is also surrounded by hundreds of miles of designated routes for anyone to explore if you so choose. Along with the RealTruck team, some industry folks and a few lucky invited customers, we assembled just off highway 191 north of Moab to follow long time Moab guide Clifton Slay across the beautiful countryside to the Whitewash Sand Dunes.

Hitting the Dunes and Swapping Shocks

Photo: Verne Simons

Once at the dunes, about 45 minutes to an hour on dirt north and west of Moab, we shifted to 4-wheel drive, aired down our tires, and followed Clifton into the sand…but not until after our able guide removed a shock from his 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited LJ known as “Tippy”. Many years of off-road use had taken its toll on the upper shock bar-pin, causing its failure. Clifton removed the shock and ran the rest of the day with only 3 shocks. That’s generally not recommended for extended on-road trips, but well worth the compromise to continue the fun for the day’s excitement.

Photo: Verne Simons

Out on the sand, the group snaked through the dunes playing follow the leader. Our aired-down tires helped keep the vehicles on top of the sand by increasing the size of the tires contact patch. This along with some added suspension from the deflated tires gives the feel of floating on the dunes. Turns and hills require a little bit of finesse and the proper application of power at the right moment. These dunes are made up of sand that has eroded from the surrounding sandstone hills which ironically are composed of ancient sand dunes from a near-shore environment formed hundreds of millions of years ago.

A Desert Oasis: Water Crossing with or without Snorkles

Photo: Verne Simons

The next obstacle we faced was a small lake of water trapped in one low lying area of the dunes and underlying sandstone. This lake or pond is usually present during this time of year but was particularly deep after the wet winter of 2022/2023. That water depth would lead to wet floorboards for more than a few participants and unfortunately the end of our pal from Dirt Every Day, Dave Chappelle’s I-6 in his Jeep Wrangler YJ known as “Butter Jeep”. Dave’s Jeep is low slung to keep it stable on tough obstacles, that’s great until you try to drive it through 4-feet of water where the low stance is a liability rather than an asset…maybe it should be known as the Yellow Submarine and Dave should be Captain Soggy-bottoms? One way or the other the well-worn 4.0L took a sip of Whitewash Sand dune water and bent a rod.

Photo: Verne Simons

Splash…drip…drip…drip. Who knew you could end up with soaking wet shoes out here in the desert while inside your nice new Bronco…or at least inside RealTruck’s nice new Bronco! We love seeing companies putting their vehicles and parts through real world abusive testing.

Riding On with Help from Roadkill Team

Photo: Verne Simons

With Dave rescued from the murky depths by none other than David Freiburger from Roadkill, Motor Trend’s eclectic car show, in his iconic Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler the rest of the group continued playing in the sand. David and Dave were filming a Roadkill episode where Mike Cotton was introduced to off-roading, and David’s Jeep via a road-trip to Moab, that culminated in some off-road time at Whitewash Sand Dunes. We can’t wait to see the episode when it comes out! Those guys always know how to have fun even when things go sideways.

Technical Tips for Sand Driving

Photo: Verne Simons

Driving in sand is kind of an acquired taste. It’s definitely fun, but also can be easy to get into trouble. If you miscalculate the amount of speed needed to crest a dune or get offline to one side, you may find yourself in a precarious predicament. That’s exactly what happened to RealTruck customer Mike Rubio at the top of a very tall dune when he ventured a little too close to the edge and the Jeep started sliding down it. 

Winching Experts Getting it Done

Photo: Verne Simons

With Mike in an awkward spot Trail leader Clifton Slay got Trail tail gunner Trent McGee to line up in his eclectic Ultimate Adventure built 1964 Scout 80 for a quick and controlled winch pull to get Mike and his 1994 Jeep Cherokee XJ back on an even keel. Having the right equipment from RealTruck combined with knowledgeable guides and experts makes for a winning combination.

Photo: Verne Simons

After the group stopped for a quick and somewhat sandy lunch on a relatively flat patch of sandstone, we loaded back in our rigs for some more off-road action on the modern and ancient sand dunes. One of the more exciting moments was cresting over this sandstone ridge to a steep slope below. It’s like riding a rollercoaster, but without the rails to tell you where to go. The driver makes suggestions, but gravity and physics set the rules. 

Back Route into Arches National Park

Photo: Verne Simons

After several hours of fun playing in the sand some of the participants headed back to Moab while a few hardy souls decided to continue the adventure with more off-road miles following Clifton Slay on a secret back way into Arches National Park. This very scenic backway into Arches does two things we love, it avoids the crowds waiting to pay the fee at the main entrance and also avoids what we determine to be useless paved roads that most take into the park. 

Photo: Verne Simons

The back way into Arches has a few challenging spots where 4-wheel drive is a must and other upgrades are welcome. The adventure of taking the path less traveled is well worth the extra time and few bumps along the way, the scenery is spectacular and unequaled almost anywhere on earth.

Photo: Verne Simons

Did we mention that since we were in Arches National Park there are at least a few arches to be seen along the way and more that have hiking trails that allow you to visit them up close. The pinnacle of this day’s arch-tastic adventure was Tower Arch. Several of the folks in the group parked up top and took the ¼ mile hike down to inspect the arch up close. This arch, like most of them in the area is stunning from near and far and really gives you a sense of the vastness of time and wonder of the natural world.

Photo: Verne Simons

Clearly, we have just scratched the surface of what Easter Jeep Safari and Southeastern Utah have to offer. For more on the event check out the Red Rock 4-Wheeler’s website, grab a map and set your GPS to Moab, Utah. Please respect the people and places when you are there. They are unspoiled and we sure hope they stay that way. RealTruck is a great resource for all kinds of off-road parts and recovery equipment. Also keep your eyes peeled for our coverage of the RealTruck trail ride on Metal Masher Trail.

Recommendations from the author: 

-OnX Offroad has most of the trails outlined on their phone-based GPS service which will work without cell service as long as you remember to download the app and the maps of the areas you plan on visiting before you lose cell service. 

-FunTreks Guide to Moab UT Back Roads & 4-Wheel-Drive Trails is also a huge resource for anyone who wants to explore Southeast Utah. 

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