Monday, March 27, 2023


Do you know what you’re getting into on a dirt road?

By Barry Zander
How many spouses of RV pilots have questioned the decision to ignore good sense by veering off onto a dirt road? “What a fine kettle of fish you got us into this time,” as Laurel would often say to Hardy.

I’m sure you know NOT to stray off a blacktop highway onto a dirt road, unless: 1) you know where the road leads, 2) you know the condition of the road, 3) you have a truck camper with mud tires, and 4) you’re lookin’ for trouble.

The torment caused by turning onto unpaved roads was the first lesson my wife and I learned as rookie RVers. On our very first RV excursion, we cruised down Utah 24 alongside the sheer striated cliffs of Capitol Reef National Park, “Oohing” and “Aahing” at the jagged rich-red sheer walls until our necks ached.

If there had been a service station with diesel on Hwy. 24 or Utah 95, we missed it, too focused on the spectacular surroundings. When the yellow low fuel light lit up while we were in the middle of nowhere, we were still miles from our goal for the night, Blanding, Utah. Naturally, I was nervous.

Rescue seemed at hand for the evening when we saw a faded tiny brown sign indicating a U.S. Forest Service campground down the road to the left. I turned our 45 feet of GMC truck and trailer onto the dirt road.

After about 75 feet of kicking up dust, we came to the proverbial “fork in the road” with no sign of a campground. Choosing the path with more tire tracks, we veered onto a narrow dusty road, creeping along for two miles between roadside ditches that wouldn’t allow us to turn around.

I got out and walked ahead until I found a possible clearing, judging by my limited level of expertise. The sun was setting across the prairie surrounding us when I managed to back the trailer into a tight clearing. Unfortunately, the front of the truck was jutting into the dirt road, so getting back to the fork was still a challenge.

That’s when, with terror in my eyes and adrenaline pumping through my veins, I jumped out of the truck, ran to the back of the trailer where a pine limb was pushing against the trailer, and snapped it off. The three feet of space it gave us was enough leeway to back up.

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Shaking from the tension, I thrust the GMC into 4-wheel-drive-low and churned forward. A low boulder that tried to stop us was no match for the gear ratio and away we went. Back at the fork, a young lady heading for a hiking expedition appeared in a pickup truck. She told us that the campground on the other side of the fork had been abandoned 10 years earlier, guarded by a trench to stop vehicles from entering. She also let us know that we had experienced “The Old Mormon Road” used by timber haulers.

Back on Hwy. 95 as the sky turned from gray to black, we drove two miles further … into a Shell station with welcoming yellow diesel pumps … and a campground behind the store. Our mantra after that was “Never, never choose the unknown of a dirt road, no matter what desperation tells you.”

Have you had a similar experience? When you see a dirt road ahead of you, do you continue going or turn back around?




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Mary Ann
2 years ago

Travelling on I-70 heading toward Colorado in our Class A with a tow, we ran into dense fog with zero visibility. My husband slowed down but a semi was riding our bumper. With a rest area just 2 miles ahead, my husband decides to take the next exit thinking a service station is there and an opportunity to shake to the semi. Nothing. Couldn’t even see the stop sign until we were on top of it. We turned left what turned out to be a hard pack dirt road with ditches filled to near capacity with water on both sides. Our marriage of 51 years flashed before my eyes. Still in dense fog, we inched down that road. We got glimpes of crops. We were on a farm road. Eventually the fog broke and we got back to a paved road. Well, we are still married and take fog reports very seriously. Lesson learned is to focus on what is in front of you and not be distracted with what is behind you.

Bene and Ann Davis
2 years ago

My wife and I were headed to a campground in SE Oklahoma and Google Maps said to turn right on to a dirt road. I dutifully obeyed the bossy woman in my phone. My bride began to shift nervously in her seat. I should have taken her physical cues as a clue to not proceed, but i was certain that my GPS knew the way. Within two miles, we crossed a cattle guard and rolled up to a Union Pacific main line with no crossing in the road. Evidently at one time, the road crossed the tracks at that point. There wasn’t a sign indicating the road was a dead end, but it certainly was. My wife said, “I knew you shouldn’t have gone down this road.” 😉

We finally made it out of that sticky situation unscathed but needless to say, I don’t use Google Maps for navigation any more.

2 years ago

Leaving Arkansas Crater of Diamonds State Park, our GPS said left and then right on Radio Tower Road. As this was not the way we had come in in our new ACE motor home, I was sure we needed to turn right out of the park. DH thought GPS was merely routing us away from the construction. Radio Tower Rd soon became a narrow dirt road winding up a mountain with no place to turn. Branches brushed each side of us. I was in tears as we had just started our trip to the west coast. Suddenly the road ended in a POND!!! Being from WV helped, as my DH deftly backed up 200 yards or so of mountain dirt road to a literal hiking path, and carefully turned us around in the tiny space available. We will never forget this adventure!

2 years ago

Reminds me of “The Long, Long Trailer”! Great movie with Lucy & Desi.

2 years ago

Been there, done that. . Here in WI they have tons of National forest campgrounds. Turn off the main highway and take your chances. The campground may be abandoned like yours was. It may be 10 miles down a VERY POOR road. Or it may really be full and its so far off the main road they won’t bother to go back and put up a sign saying Full. And if you’re lucky you will be able to turn around.

2 years ago

Wow! Glad your story had a happy ending.

I’m a firm believer that GPS only shows you “where you are”. Paper maps and these Road and Recreation Atlas books can show you “where not to be”. : )

My wife and I like to “take the road less traveled”. I have backed our trailer out a few times…once the better part of a half-mile. Not fun, but it gives us a good camping memory.

2 years ago

You can run into problems on smooth, paved roads sometimes too. In 2010, when gps’s weren’t yet very reliable, ours directed us in the back way to Smoky Mountain NP. We climbed over 5 miles up a steep, narrow, paved mountain road with our 34ft 5er, until we came to a sharp 90 deg turn, entering onto a bridge that wasn’t even close to being able to handle our 28K lbs. A ranger came along & went back down the road a half mile to the first two track pull-out to block traffic so I could then back the 5er down a half mile of sharp winding, narrow road to back in & turn around. We now look back on that as just one of our many exciting adventures over the last 10 years of fulltiming.

Tommy Molnar
2 years ago

While cruising Idaho and using the “Ultimate Campground” app, we found our way to a ‘campground’ (loose description!) that had a dirt road leading into it. We pulled onto the one lane dirt road and immediately stopped. We got out and walked up the road to see what we were getting into. All looked fairly good, except that one of the two campsites listed had washed away in the nearby river a few years ago. We drove the rest of the way in always making sure I could back out if necessary. With considerable jockying, i was able to back into the remaining campsite and enjoyed a great site for three days.No one around the entire time. The river right behind us provided the ultimate ‘white noise”. This was one of those golden finds that we are always in search of.

2 years ago

Oh yeah, we did that, but in a sedan, not towing a camper. This was from a “I think Walmart is down this road” idea, which ended up becoming a dirt road in the Pine Barrens of NJ. We got to experience the ditches on either side of the road, wondering which one was going to get us stuck. And of course we were in her sedan, not my Forester with AWD and a higher clearance. BUT, fortunately I had a cell phone signal so Google Maps (and blind luck) got us out there safely. Not doing that again!

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