Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 21, 2016

Dragging the roads

Filed under: wilderness life,wildlife — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:05 am
Tags: , , ,
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Typical sight on your last 46 miles to the Hans Flat ranger station. The road in this photo is in good shape. The cow always stands her ground.

Dirt roads are a portal to wilderness. [See: 12 reasons I prefer dirt roads.] They are not always comfortable to drive on, as maintaining them is nobody’s first priority. It doesn’t take long for major washboarding to occur; if you drive too many miles of badly corrugated roads it can truly steal your joy.

Enter the IGD — Improvised Grading Device — a shining example of Park Service resourcefulness. It’s an old cattle guard removed a decade ago during a road improvement project, tricked out with a salvaged cut-down grader blade welded on, extra weights added. We attach it at an angle with two chains to the maintenance pick-up, and pull it at <10 mph over the rough roads. With enough passes, the stutterbumps are reduced to mere ripples or deliciously smooth flat sections. It’s satisfying work, because the “before” and “after” are resoundingly different.

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Re-purposed modified cattle guard smoothes the roads — unless you catch a rock in the grate.

Added bonus: working at these slow speeds, we find and collect what folks are tossing out their windows. Latest haul was five beer cans (loser: Coors Light), a Smirnoff and a Dasani and two beer bottles, Cheetos bag, rifle shell, a rusty 1-gallon gas can (1960s) and an empty cologne bottle.

I’ll leave it to my readers to invent a story about the cheap cologne found with the rifle shell in a BLM fire ring. (Leave a comment!) What’s inarguable is that alcohol appears to be the drink of choice. Maybe it’s the washboarding… or maybe it’s the other critters that share the road with you.

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None-too-happy Midget Faded Rattlesnake on the road into the Maze.

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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?

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