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South of Moab on Highway 191, just as the last branches of civilization fade into total desert, Grandpa’s Garage perches on the rim of Spanish Valley, Utah. Part clubhouse, part tool library, part off-road summer camp for adults, it’s a place of many contradictions. It’s not an auto shop, but you can come by to work on your car. It’s not a campground, but you can park your RV and stay awhile. It’s a local landmark, present in tourist guides and on travel blogs. But also, it’s a private residence.
If you had to put it simply, Grandpa’s Garage is the home of a wise and generous Jeeper — one with enough tools to rebuild Rome — who’d love to have you over to talk about your rig.
Part of the mystique surrounding Grandpa’s Garage is its lack of a presence online. Danny Grimes, aka “Grandpa,” is revered by the Jeep community in Moab. He and his garage are pretty well-known, but almost entirely by word-of-mouth. Danny is intentionally offline. No website. No Instagram page, either. That’s just not his style.
A Texas native, Danny started coming out to Moab with his Jeep club each year for the Easter Jeep Safari back in 1977. The trails they rode back then were old uranium mining roads. Aside from an informal rating system (trails were marked on a scale of one to ten based on difficulty), trail information was sparse.
The 1970s Jeep scene was small but mighty. Clubs were absolutely vital because knowledge was something that had to be shared on a person-to-person basis. The vast infrastructure around the community we know and enjoy today — the many forums, publications, brands, resources, and public events — was all in its infancy. The greatest resource off-roaders had was one another.
“But back in the day, if you wanted something different than a stock Jeep, you had to do the alteration work yourself. You couldn’t order aftermarket parts from a magazine either. You had to build your own.” – Danny Grimes, aka “Grandpa”
The tight-knit, DIY spirit of the 70s is central to how Grandpa’s Garage operates today. The whole project started after the city passed ordinances making it illegal to perform work on cars in certain areas. It all began when a shop in town sold an automatic transmission to a customer. And when he went out in the parking lot to change his transmission, he inadvertently let the oil go down the storm drain.
In response, the city of Moab swiftly made it illegal to work on cars in parking lots. And when they heard about the ban in one area, the camp rangers around Moab — who were tired and concerned with drivers making repairs and leaving broken gears and things around the campgrounds — moved to ban vehicle work in the parks, too.
“There are campgrounds in Moab where you can't even raise your hood to check the oil.”
These actions left off-roaders in Moab in a tight spot. Many of them knew how to perform needed repairs on their vehicles, but they found themselves unable to without breaking the law. For a while, people were paying auto shops to do work they knew how to perform, just to have a place to easily get it done without incurring a fine.
That’s where Grandpa came in.
Following the bans on personal vehicle work in town, Danny opened his doors to those who needed a place to wrench. At first, it was just his friends in town. Then, they told their friends. And on and on. Today, there are “Grandpa’s Garage” stickers, adorning off-road rigs across the globe. All with drivers who are grateful for Grandpa’s hospitality and wisdom, made available to those who need it.
Walking through the workspaces on Danny’s property, you can see that his guests have left their own mark on the place in return. Covering every inch of the garages on Danny’s property are photos, bumpers, hubcaps, gears, stickers, and signatures from decades of builds, visitors, brands, and friends.
Scan Danny’s walls, and you can see why he might not feel the need for a social media presence. He’s got all the photographs, comments, and mementos he needs to amble down memory lane whenever he chooses. It’s a personal archive of Danny’s life, and one of Moab’s off-roading community, too.
“It looks like a damn museum in here. Everybody wants to tag the place. They put their stickers up and they write on the walls. I had a girlfriend one year that was a photo buff. She took a lot of photos and developed them. I’ve got 'em scattered all over the garage, too. Everything is signed and dated for posterity.”
As the off-roading scene in Moab has exploded over the years, Grandpa’s Garage has risen to meet the needs of drivers seasoned and green, playing an important role in the off-roading ecosystem around the city. The garage offers a safe space to perform work on your car, but it’s also become a basecamp for off-roaders new in town who want to learn from others before they head out on the trails.
“I feel kind of slighted if I don't make at least 10 or 15 new acquaintances every year.”
Grandpa is full of cautionary tales about his own cautionary tales — because some people listen to them, and some don’t. Name any off-road situation under the sun, and he’s been through it himself or knows someone who has. After decades of exploring Moab and working on his own builds, calling Danny a “wealth of knowledge” feels like an understatement.
He could write the off-roading book. But instead, he lives it. Just stop by and spend an hour on his porch to take some of it in.
Because even in 2022, the greatest resource off-roaders have is one another.
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