D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e   December 2005


Running on Empty
Peak oil globally inspires sustainability efforts locally.

Silver and Bells
Does the name
"Salvation Army"
ring a bell?

Church Potluck
Inside the 1st Church of What's Happening.

Flexing the Faith Muscle
Battling Juárez' poverty and disease—
and a land grab.

Making Water
Run Uphill

Gene Simon has
done it all.

Living and Dreaming in the American West
Blame our stories for the confusion that is the modern West.

Getaways: Dude, That's My Horse
Visit a dude ranch in winter? Absolutely.


Columns & Departments
Editor's Note
Desert Diary
Road Trip
Seeing Stars
Tumbleweeds in Brief
Top 10
Celestial Cycles
The Starry Dome
Ramblin' Outdoors
People's Law
40 Days & 40 Nights
Clubs Guide
Guides to Go
Henry Lightcap's Journal
Continental Divide

Special Section
Arts Exposure:
Arts News
Gallery Guide

Body, Mind & Spirit
Stinging Nettles
Paying Attention to ADD

Red or Green?
Restaurant Guide

Dining Guide


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Off the Beaten Track

The pros and cons of cross-country driving.


I just finished looking at an ad in one of my hunting magazines; it made me mad. It depicts two passengers riding in a UTV (utility terrain vehicle) and going across country, and there were no dead animals in the back. They were just going for a joy ride.

The current public furor over our national lands being abused by the ever-growing off-highway sector of outdoor sports is well founded, but I believe that the ATV/UTV/4wd-truck and SUV owners/drivers are only partially to blame.

I think that most of the blame should rest squarely on the shoulders of the manufacturers of such vehicles and their marketing reps.

Almost every photo-ad portrays these vehicles being driven with abandon cross-country without benefit of trail or road. If you watch the Outdoor Channel or men's channel you see the same thing.

Then there's that ad of a certain SUV sitting atop a desert butte. The implication is that the SUV could go anywhere and would and should.

This type of advertisement is simply wrong. It leaves the impression that the buyer of those machines has the right to go wherever they wish. The term "offroad" has become passe. Today the more accepted term is "off-highway," implying that vehicles made for such use are to drive on dirt roads, primitive two-tracks and trails where it is legal to do so.

Let me say, though, that not every trail is made for, or open to vehicle usage. An example of such would be our own Continental Divide Trail.


Now, I've just shot myself in my foot, because I do believe that there are legitimate reasons for driving cross-country, and the foremost of those is to retrieve dead game while hunting.

I bring to mind one such incident that occurred to me a little over a year ago. I had shot a large buck and it was quite a way from the dirt road where my truck sat. I could barely move the carcass but four feet and it was pure labor.

I was in a pickle. A snowstorm was expected to hit that night and I had to get the deer out before it came or the real possibility was there that I wouldn't get back to the deer in the morning. I wasn't about to leave it for cougar or coyote bait—I had worked too hard to get a deer, and besides, I love lean venison!

So I hiked back to retrieve Ol' White and I drove it across country to the buck. By the way, it took some doing to just get that 269-pound deer onto my tailgate! By the time I hit the road, I had but an hour's worth of daylight left and the sky was already clouded over. Oh, yeah, it did indeed snow that night and I wouldn't have gotten back in.

Back when I was in my forties, I probably woulda tried dragging that deer out, or at least cut it up and carried it out, but now I'm entering my sixties and that simply ain't gonna happen any more. I need my vehicles in the form of my ATV and truck and SUV!

Another fella, named Jim, informed me just today that he still loves to hunt but he has asthma in a bad way; he can no longer hike very far. He relies on his ATV to get about in the woods. So poor health and old age are legitimate reasons for going across country.

Then there is the woodcutting issue. I'll bet at least half of you readers use either wood or pellets to heat your house with. Even if you don't cut the wood yourself, someone had to, and they had to go through the woods and go off-road to do so. And those tiny pellets? They are made from wood byproducts!

Even if all of the wood could be found next to a highway or road open to public traffic, it is illegal to cut trees within 50 yards of such thoroughfares. Woodcutters must go cross-country, or you and I will freeze to death! Of course, we could all switch to oil or gas and then ask for more drilling to fulfill the increased demands of such!

Ranchers need to travel cross-country. How else would they check water sources, find lost calves, fix fences or whatever? Yeah, they could do it the old-fashioned way and ride horses, but have you ever carried a load of salt blocks or a bunch of barbed wire on a horse? And in these days of high costs, an ATV is much cheaper to run than a horse, even with the price of petrol.

The Forest Service is a big owner of off-highway vehicles, from ATVs to big pickups, as are the state game and fish boys. They too are guilty of cross-country driving to fulfill their duties. Do you get my point?

It is impractical to think we can and should keep all "legitimate" traffic off of the hills and mountains. But we must voice strong disapproval of those illegal activities that ruin the forest for everyone, and we must ardently protest to the manufacturers, urging them to utilize more ethical advertisements.

We must also educate our youth about the responsibilities of driving off-highway and the consequences that bring legal ramifications to those who choose to break the law.

Oh, yeah, we gotta start "eating cheese" on those we see violating common sense and reason by abusing our national lands. Just make sure of your facts before you decide to do so!

As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you out there!


Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors monthly for Desert Exposure.


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