The roar of motorcycle engines echoed through the Moab Valley this weekend as the Bandidos motorcycle club thundered into town for a rally at a private Kane Creek campground. But despite rumors and worries that the presence of the group would threaten public safety, the Bandidos annual business gathering was uneventful, and even provided a financial boon to the area economy, some business owners said.
Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland and Moab City Police Chief Mike Navarre had made careful preparations for the event, bringing in additional law enforcement officers from seven counties and four cities, the FBI, Homeland Security, and the Utah Attorney General’s Office, to help keep the peace.
In the aftermath of last weekend’s visit to Moab by about 500 Bandidos, Navarre said, “It went exactly as we predicted. I think we gave them the room they needed and allowed them to do what they came to do. No problems. They were cool.”
From Friday through Sunday, police made two DUI arrests and one arrest for a weapons offense. There were 72 traffic warnings, seven traffic citations were issued, and law enforcement recorded 784 “contacts” with Bandidos, according to Navarre.
During the same time, Navarre said, there were 445 “contacts,” 32 traffic warnings, and three citations issued to people who were not Bandidos.
The Bandidos are a tightly knit, disciplined motorcycle club, or gang, as some prefer to call them. They decline to discuss their business with strangers, but in websites posted by various chapters they portray themselves as tough and unforgiving. Sometimes fatal clashes with other motorcycle clubs have been reported over the years. The club’s motto is, “we are the people our parents warned us about.”
Nyland was out of his office this week, but prior to the event both he and Navarre said that if they were successful in keeping the peace there would be questions about whether local law enforcement showed too much force.
This week, Navarre said he believes just the right number of police were brought to town for the event. “There was no risk of losing control,” he said.
Sarah Bauman, director of the Moab Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Moab City Council, said law enforcement learned from similar Bandidos gatherings in other communities, such as last year’s gathering in Flagstaff, Ariz.
“They learned from history,” Bauman said. “Preparations were sensible and may have assured a positive experience for everyone.”
Some of the Bandidos camped at the private campground on Kane Creek Road. They had a large tent set up for meals and their business meeting on Saturday afternoon. Members of the group were observed sight-seeing, eating, and shopping just like other tourists, and many stayed in local motels. The universal response of business people was, that the Bandidos who frequented their establishments were “nice and polite.”
Britnie Ellis, manager of the Bighorn Lodge where 90 percent of the weekend guests were Bandidos, said there were no problems or complaints from other guests. Some Bandidos members stayed over Sunday night to go river rafting, she said.
Ellis said she was pleased with the presence of many law officials. “[The Bandidos] have chosen their reputation, so no matter where they go the law enforcement is going to be there,” she said. “When you have all of your staff working it is important that we do our part and that the law enforcement does its part to keep everyone safe.”
She said that while the rooms the group rented looked like they “had been lived in” the Bandidos caused no problems or damage. She said she was pleased that one of the Bandidos told her, “If anyone in our group gets out of hand you let me know.”
John Keyser, proprietor of the Lone Rider motorcycle shop said he had a good weekend. “They were more well behaved than my average customer,” he said. “If you are tough you don’t need to act tough.”
“[But on the other hand] I agree that law enforcement would be crazy not to consider them organized crime,” Keyser said. He said he heard opinions about law enforcement overkill but he believes the Bandidos are used to it and that the police handled the situation well.
Recalling rumors that the Hells Angels or another gang might show up, Keyser said he knows there are loose cannons and bad attitudes among the Bandidos despite their military-like discipline.
“If the police did not do what they did do, then it very easily could escalate,” Keyser said. “There could have been an incident very easily.”
Some of the Bandidos joined Canyon Voyages Adventure Co. for raft trips on Monday. “They said ‘Everybody has been so nice to us,’” Canyon Voygages owner Denise Oblak said. “I think they were wonderful, really polite, friendly and nice. It is almost like they’re trying to prove us wrong.”
Regarding the stepped-up presence of law enforcement, Oblak said, “Based on [the Bandidos’] reputation I think it was better to be prepared. It made me, as a Moab citizen, feel a little wary.”
Frank Dudenhofer, proprietor of Frankie D’s welcomed bikers and hired a band for the weekend. It was his biggest weekend ever, he said, full of Bandidos and local residents who came to play pool and visit with them. “I was very impressed because they acted very well,” Dudenhofer said. “I can’t say enough good about them.”
Dudenhofer said there were no problems, no complaints in his establishment. The Bandidos alternated drinks with glasses of water, he said. “I believe that Navarre and Nyland and the [visiting] officers did a good job. I think the Bandidos did a good job.” Dudenhofer said, adding that he believed the increased presence of law enforcement was appropriate in case problems arose. “You’ve gotta protect the public,” he said.