Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 27, 2011

Twelve reasons why I prefer dirt roads

Dirt road from Horseshoe Canyon to Hwy 24 — Henry Mtns in background

Paved road heading toward Goblin Valley State Park, UT

Not having driven on a paved road for nine days, it was a bit disheartening to return to smooth surfaces as I exited Horseshoe Canyon. I found myself surprised at my new preference for dirt roads; what about them attracted me? It certainly wasn’t the washboard bumps or the frustrating unmarked forks. Here’s what I have come up with so far:

Driving dirt roads keeps me more attentive. Watching for rocks, washouts, cows, or encroaching sand dunes in my path makes driving more engaging.

Dirt roads take me places that paved ones can’t. I cross streams by getting the tires wet instead of using a bridge. I get to cool trailheads that most of the populace won’t.

Dirt roads aren’t as environmentally jarring. Not only are there fewer (or no) signs telling me how and where to drive, but the natural surface is the same color as the surroundings.

Dirt roads allow me to be more in touch with the earth. It’s like going barefoot, in a vehicular sense. I can sense the lay of the land better, as huge earth-moving machines haven’t altered the contours or sliced through hills.

Speed limits are self-imposed instead of sign-imposed. This is not an invitation to recklessness but to increased awareness of my vehicle’s handling and the road’s condition.

Dirt roads have little traffic. It’s rare to meet another car or truck. Most of the time, I’ve got the road to myself.

Dirt road sights are more interesting. Calves and cows, blooming plants, kangaroo rats, decrepit old buildings, hawks, tornado-twisted trees… all up close and personal.

Dirt roads demand more personal responsibility. Only some of these roads are on the map, so it’s up to me to prepare myself for travel in an unknown area. This feels right, as well as keeping me sharp.

Dirt roads embody a certain sense of adventure. I don’t feel this on paved roads, usually, but dirt roads are the equivalent of question marks: Where will it lead? Does my vehicle have high enough clearance? Will I be able to turn around? Is there any gas?

Dirt roads keep the riff-raff out. I mean, you’ve got to want to be going somewhere if you’re on dirt. People who drive dirt drive it with purpose. Not a lot of sight-seers, and only a few hooligans with Jeeps/OHVs. Lots of local ranchers and other colorful types.

Dirt roads invite me to be aware of the weather. Precipitation in any form alters the road surface. High winds can deposit deep sand drifts. The local municipalities care for the paved roads, but on dirt I need to be aware so I won’t get stuck.

Dirt roads invite interaction with other drivers. When I encounter another vehicle we always acknowledge one other — it’s that “wave without lifting your hand from the steering wheel” motion. This never happens on paved roads.

Feel free to add anything I’ve forgotten. Did you know I love your comments?


  1. Dirt roads are the result of a synergistic relationship between vehicle and nature – a sort of quid pro quo. Paved roads are always imposed on nature.

    Comment by leroque — March 27, 2011 @ 3:26 pm | Reply

  2. I think the road to heaven sounds more like a dirt road than a paved one.

    Comment by Amy Riley — March 27, 2011 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

    • Thirteen months later, Amy, I am agreeing with you wholeheartedly. Thanks for a thought-provoking comment.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — April 27, 2012 @ 11:07 pm | Reply

  3. Kathryn, this was awesome! How you could come up with so many reasons to love dirt roads…took a lot of thought. I’ve always thought dirt roads were something to be avoided! They get my car dirty, can be hard on the shocks, might get dings in the paint, I have to go slower, when another car passes I get their dust…

    Comment by kathy lewis — March 28, 2011 @ 11:44 am | Reply

    • Sounds like another post waiting to be written… “the other side of the story.” You know me and my always-half-full glass. I must be biased.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — March 29, 2011 @ 8:22 am | Reply

  4. I thought of a couple of other dirt road attributes. Dirt roads test the limits of driver and machine. Also, dirt roads are frequently the avenue to privacy, seclusion and _________. One can fill in the blank with what ever one wants.

    Comment by Dave — March 30, 2011 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

    • Picnicking — picnicking is what you meant, I’m sure. And testing the limits of driver/machine — definitely. You should see the gnarly stuff out here that scares the dickens out of me.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — March 31, 2011 @ 8:49 am | Reply

  5. My vote for best line: “…dirt roads are the equivalent of question marks…”

    A few years ago I owned a 4-Runner and a Prius; today it’s just the Prius. But the older I get, the more I miss the 4-Runner. Guess that means I’m spending too much time on paved roads.

    Comment by Ron Carroll — April 1, 2012 @ 9:38 am | Reply

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