I know how you feel as far as riding stricktly offroad.. I sold my heavily modded KDX200 and bought a KLR.. Many thought it was a bad decision, but I've been happy with my 2002 KLR since I bought it in 2004..
As far as a 1996 model, it's really no different than a 2007, except for color and the fact that your bike was assembled in Japan at Kawasaki, rather than in Thailand..
If the 1996 was cared for, chances are it will treat you well for years to come..
Hell, I've got over 20K on my 2002 and I'm kicking around riding it to Colorado and Utah next summer.. That's 1000 miles each way, just to get there, here from the IL/WI state line.
Got any other info on the KLR?? Miles, condition, service, was the Doohickey done?