You've heard of four-wheeling and ATVing, but have you heard of Jeeping? Off-roading enthusiasts are taking modified Jeeps out to the desert and driving around and on top of giant boulders. It might sound like fun, but what is this doing to the landscape?
"I just like the peace, looking at the beautiful scenery that's out here," said avid Jeeper Chris Radoccia. "It's kind of just a way to recharge." Radoccia is serious about his recreation. He's apart of a group called Arizona Off Highway Vehicle Coalition and they said Jeeping is blowing up.
"We're seeing more of it in our local areas because going far away costs too much money," Radoccia said. He took us our on a trail on Table Mesa Road north of the Valley to show us what these jeeps can do. It's called rock crawling, and there are several trails all over Arizona that allow it.
"One thing you can't do is get this excitement, this feeling and this thrill at a desk at work," said Jeeper Robert VanSickle.
Sometimes the Jeeps suffer some bumps and bruises, but for people like Nena Barlow, who owns Barlow Jeep Rental in Sedona, it's not an issue.
"I'm in the rental business, so I'm really good at hiding damage," Barlow said, laughing.
Radoccia said they go out on weekends and make it a family affair. And while he says they do everything by the book to stay safe, not everyone is driving in the same lane.
"There's always a percentage of people that just don't feel like the rules apply to them," Radoccia said.
Oftentimes people go out without wearing seatbelts and go off-trail.
"The injuries that I've come upon, there's usually alcohol involved," Barlow said.
They also see a lot of littering and even dumping.
"People come out here and dump refrigerators, they'll drop treadmills, recliners," Radoccia said.
So while these Jeeps are modified to endure this rough-and-tumble ride, what about the land?
"We see a lot of damaged saguaro and cactus and desert vegetation that are damaged and some of these areas are sensitive to desert tortoise habitat," said Bill Gibson with the Arizona branch of the Bureau of Land Management. He said Jeeping is only allowed on designated trails - trails that were washes, or used for mining and ranching. If not, you're treading on rough terrain.
"These are areas where's there's endangered fish species and sensitive vegetation," Gibson said.
Gibson said during droughts it can take years for these areas to recover, so they are pretty big on enforcing the trail uses. And Radoccia said they're sticklers for the rules, too, because they want to be able to continue doing what they love.
"I just love seeing it grow," Radoccia said. "I hope it continues. It's a lot of fun and I hope more people get the chance to experience it."
The Bureau of Land Management and the Game and Fish Department have people patrolling the public lands and say you'll be cited if you're littering, dumping or riding off-trail.
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