Intro: I wrote this story back in 1993, describing some of my time on the road between 1978 and 1980. I had packed up and bugged out after a little run-in with the law.
Something sparked the memory, and I dug out a copy of the publication it appeared in at the time – “Out Your Backdoor.”
I found it fun to look back at my writing style then. Not that much different from today.
I was trying to break into freelance writing and looking for small publications that would pick up an article – payment was usually a couple copies of the newsletter, magazine, or journal, or whatever print media it might have been.
With a few minor edits, here it be . . .
As I pointed the vehicle to the Southeast, I found myself dodging animals of the subfamily Bovinae – commonly referred to as cattle. They were the beef producing species, Angus and Charolais, recognized by most U.S. citizens only in the form of a fast-food patty.
I had to dodge them because, out here, on the open range with no roads, cattle respond to men and women on horses, not little old me in my tin car.
I was looking for the Escalante River and even though I never did find it, I got to enjoy an off-road view of Southern Utah that most never get to experience. Even more, I did it in the comfort of a real “recreational vehicle,” a beat-up, mid-sized automobile.
I’m talking about driving an ordinary car, in my case a 1970 Plymouth Satellite hand painted with navy blue Rustoleum, wherever the urge and no road can carry you.
I know no better way to enjoy the country: no Holiday Inns, no fast-food giants, no waiting in line to be crammed into a campground only to have a supervised view of a natural attraction amidst 10,000 other tourists.
Just yourself, maybe a friend, and the open “no-road.”
This is off-road driving without the four-wheel-drive monster trucks or ATVs cruising over small well-established courses. The purpose, of course, is to experience some of the few untainted spots left in the country.
In fact, I was simply touring some well-known parks when I first ventured off the beaten gray pavement. Actually, I chose the wrong road on the map, an undeveloped road in Utah leading to an unexplored forest. I quickly learned that the only vehicle to tread there before me was a bulldozer and the terrain was so rugged that I had to slow down to five miles per hour. After the initial colorful four-letter expletives, I realized the opportunity awaiting.
No one else would be where I was going – wherever that was.
Four hours later, only twenty miles traveled, I found myself in the middle of one of the most beautiful mountain forests that I had ever seen. Majestic Ponderosa Pines and Aspens served as the night canopy, and the mountain stream next to me provided fresh water and trout! I was hooked! I explored further and found that the open range all around me made for smoother driving.
The only trick was remembering which direction I had come from.
A little preparation is required before trekking off-road in an automobile. First off, you need a beat-up, yet dependable, old car. Dents and bent bumpers? No problem. High ground clearance is nice, but not required. Just bring your toolbox so you can hook your muffler back on (it gets easy with practice) and off you go!
It’s also nice if your vehicle has enough room for sleeping during those cold nights, such as I have experienced in the upper elevations of Utah and Arizona. I’ve done some winter driving too, and there is no greater comfort than running the engine for ten minutes, rocking out on the radio, and warming up with the car heater before drifting off to sleep.
Just be sure to shut it down or you’ll wake up to an empty gas tank – possibly the worst fate in off-road driving.
There are plenty of National Parks, Forests, range lands and even just road-side views where one can pull off to explore, make a meal, and bed down. A map is definitely necessary, as is a watch, to time how far you go in any given direction.
If you know how fast you’re going, how long, and the general direction you’re headed, then you can always make it home.
I became so entranced by my experiences that I invested a couple of years of my life living in this fashion. I would pull into some town about every two months, [pawn some possessions] find some work, earn some money for essentials (food and fuel) and voyage onward.
Now with the responsibilities coming with marriage and a child, it has become an occasional vacation. Each trip provides a new experience, a new insight, a new lesson in making travel simpler, more comfortable, and the discovery of a new would-be destination to which no car has ever traveled before.
Note: While I mentioned marriage and my Kiddo, I wasn’t married at the time the article was published, that was in context with my return to the Midwest and with settling down, before another chain of nuclear reactions occurred. You can read about those in my other posts. 🙂
Attribution: I have no idea if the guy publishing this article is still around or even if his publication is still in print or on-line. I couldn’t find it on the Net, and it’s been many years. Nevertheless, here is an attribution to the publication site:
Stearley, H. E. (1993). Open Range. Out Your Backdoor, Volume 6, pages 8-9.
Also, when published, the editor added the following:
Editor’s Note: “Needless to say, this idea could be really ecologically incorrect, depending on where you go. Of course, if you drive off into a sensitive wetland you are probably going to get what you deserve anyway. Yet we can’t help admiring the fine fearless spirit of doing something totally the ‘wrong’ way . . .”
Ross Signal, Editor
Well Ross, all I can say is that I left a very small footprint wherever I went. It was by design to blend into the wilderness. Be a part of it. Was I really doing it the wrong way??? Well maybe. 🙂
Photos: The feature pic is open range at its finest. The cowboy rounding up the cattle. They had the right-of-way. Below is a shot of that pristine forest in Utah. Obscured to the view of other tourists by the primitive road system.
The quality of the photos for this post is not the best. Photography was a bit different back in the 70’s. I had a 35mm camera, before I pawned it. And you would always have a limited number of exposures. Film cost money so you budgeted your shots. With time, these photos have faded. Then I scanned them into the computer and tried to sharpen the focus. They are what they are. 😉
Keep reading, there’s more below the pic . . .
Side Story: On one of my little excursions in Northern Az, I was headed south on a “regular road.” Traffic was snarled and the folks behind me were extreme tailgaters. They must have thought it was an Olympic sport to see just how close they could ride my rear bumper.
They weren’t paying any attention to the vehicles in front of me. And when those guys were hitting their brakes, and when I spied one of those little scenic pullouts, I decided to get out of the fray. Leave Bumper-boy behind.
Brake lights came on in front of me, but I’d been paying attention, and I had plenty of time to make a left into that overlook. Bumper-boy, however, panicked, slammed on his brakes, and the bus full of passengers behind him followed suit. Only the bus driver lost it, pulled right, and put his bus in the ditch, after clipping Bumper-boy’s rear fender.
Totally silly considering I had just given them a full extra car length to stop.
A few minutes later, I was enjoying a campfire and cooking up some soup. Bumper-boy wandered down to me and started making histrionic accusations about me causing his accident. I guess he thought because he was a foot taller than me and at least 50 pounds heavier than me that he was going to intimidate me. For what purpose, I’m not sure, other than to try to shift the blame of the stranded bus to me, which he was now babbling on about.
I stood up from the fire, locking my steely eyes on his, turned to reveal the S&W on my right hip, and kind of growled at him.
Now Az is kinda fond of open carry. And, I had a bit of trouble acclimating to this at first, but when I asked a Az policeman for clarity once, he told me, “It won’t do you no good unless you can reach it, and it better be loaded.”
Bumper-boy scampered back up the hill to his car. And I enjoyed my soup 🙂