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.
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?