47th Annual TDS Safari

4x4 Fun in Truckhaven, CA

Mar. 11, 2009 By Jaime Hernandez and Justin Fort

Back to Truckhaven—Hallelujah!  The TDS Safari is back on track for 2009 with the return to their old stomping grounds in the northeastern part of Ocotillo Wells, CA.  The TDS Safari is the largest 4-wheel-drive event in the West Coast, bringing together over 15,000 Off-Road enthusiasts for a single weekend of 4x4 fun.

Truckhaven is one of the most scenic and challenging areas at Ocotillo Wells SVRA.  Sand, rocks, dirt, off-camber inclines and steep descents—you’ll find it here (Photo JH).

The return to Truckhaven Hill was a big deal since the last two years the San Diego, Calif.-based 4 Wheel Drive Club had been prevented from using this location due to brewing land issues and lack of permits. The Tierra Del Sol gang has been in these hills since 1962, so they aren’t ready to give up just yet.  The proceeds from the Safari benefit the fight to keep Ocotillo Wells and areas like Truckhaven open.


The three-day event kicked off Friday March 6th with registration, vehicle inspection and a music performance by Honkatonk. With over 1,300 registered vehicles expected, Truckhaven was a happening place.

This 3rd Gen Toyota pickup truck with a nicely executed exoskeleton was spotted at TDS.  It almost brought tears to our eyes when we saw his Off-Road.com sticker.  Don, you make us proud (Photo JH).

Hundreds of 4 Wheel Drive vehicles lined up at the staging area on Saturday morning—leaving to the trail by 8 a.m.  Some people actually lined up as early as 6 a.m. to be at the front of the pack.

The organized run leads through a 20-mile trail consisting of sand, rock, hills, climbs and ridges—all part of the scenic tapestry that makes Truckhaven such a special place.

Some sections of the trail are very tight and require a short wheelbase vehicle. This type of four wheelin’ isn’t for the faint of heart—your pretty paint job will get scratched (Photo JH).



We found arches big enough to fit a Jeep in the Truckhaven Hills (Photo JH).

The crew from Fletcher Hills that we trailed with on Saturday proceeded to abuse us all over the northern end of Truckhaven. The opportunities for excellent, high-pucker trail action abound here, with a very eroded, sandy landscape of washes and desert flats connected by ridge after high-centering ridge. Several man-made openings through stone and dirt walls made once dead-end trails thoroughfares (though calling them arches is a stretch), but the delight of stuffing a rig through the opening was undeniable nonetheless. 

Rock Racing at Rollover Hill, Jeep vs. Chevy. . . the Jeep actually won (Photo JH).

After two hours of "where’s-that-go" and "look-what-I-can-do," we found ourselves at the base of Rollover Hill, something like Glamis’s Oldsmobile Hill but with fewer burning couches and more knobs on the tires. The crew parked for a semi-picnic while we watched several of the hundreds of rigs gathered take a run at a loose, dusty 45-degree hill made up primarily of fine sand, gravel and the corpses of dead trucks. Exotic cutaway diesel and big-block powered full-size stuff kept things entertaining as they clawed away at the hillside until we realized that one of our crew had lined up in his simple little trail Jeep. Bill Jr. proceeded to climb the hill without any drama, and he didn’t contribute to the pile of sheared off driveshafts piled up at the bottom of the run (though two other guys did, while we watched). Then all the other Jeepers got into the action, and as we pulled away a classic Cherokee was making its third run up.

This behemoth of a 6x6 camper pulled out the TDS water truck that had spent nearly 4hrs in a ditch (Photo JH).

Our picnic was only partially satisfying – red ants saw to that – so we gorged ourselves with a brief visit to the non-profit event-sanctioned hotdog and hotlinks vendor. Shortly thereafter, we were treated to the incredible sight of a fully loaded water truck, buried to the frame, being pulled out of the heavy sand by a military-based 6x6 that must have weighed 10 tons. Every axle turning, the 6x6 pulled so hard the front tires actually left the ground and, according to NASA, the earth’s rotation slowed momentarily. Once the 6x6 had the water truck free, it dragged the water truck about 20 yards further – with the tanker’s brakes locked. Staggering.

DESERT SIGHTING: This hand built Sidewinder rock buggy captured an audience with its rear-steer and hydraulic length adjustable frame. The thing would collapse and expand like an accordion with the push of a button (Photo JH).



ORW, Master Craft and Fox Shox teamed up in a mega-desert booth (Photo JH).

The vendor area is the center hub for the weekend event.  Both retail and manufacturers are on hand with the latest 4 Wheel Drive parts and accessories for Jeep and 4WDs alike.  This year there were over 80 participants, which was great considering the economy. 

The flex-ramp competition at TDS brings out many 4x4 rigs for a chance to win a set of Goodyear Wrangler MT/R tires (Photo JH).

The vendor area is also the main stage for the famous TDS raffle that takes place on Saturday night.  This year the raffle yielded over $100,000 in off-road parts donated by leading companies like 4 Wheel Parts, ARB, Goodyear, Superior Axle, Warn, Rubicon Express, Advanced Adapters and Off Road Warehouse to name a few (full list at www.tdsdesertsafari.com).


The 47th Annual Tierra Del Sol Safari was once again the best in the west.  We had a great time and survived a weekend of 4x4 action. 

We’re not sure if the Safari will be held next year with so many land issues at hand. One thing is for sure, the TDS 4 Wheel Drive Club will be doing everything they can to keep land open for off-road use.
Someone once said that history is choked with the complacency of good men. Don’t stand still and do nothing when your voice is all that stands between your rights and those who would take them from you.

If you’d like an easy start at public agitation and grassroots action, take a run at TDS’s website for more info on preserving your rights to public lands: www.tds4x4.com

Off-Road.com Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!