"America," Henry Ford once said, "is a gorgeous, vast, and monumentally impressive kind of place. Now hold my beer while I build an industry that'll let us crap it all up."
OK, so Ford didn't say that. But when you're trundling across the unpaved American West, trying to figure out where the road goes and watching some of the most beautiful scenery on earth pass beneath your wheels, the mind gets to wandering. And one of the first things that pops into your head is, "This country is amazing. God help us if we ever ruin it."
We like cars. Chances are, if you're reading this, you like cars. A common belief among environmentalists is that driving across unspoiled America -- the unpaved roads and trails that reach deep into the interior of this great nation -- somehow desecrates it or trashes things for future generations. As if. The automobile remains one of the best ways to see some of the world's prettiest places, and these days, it's possible to cover large amounts of land without putting a scratch on Ma Nature's pretty face.
To help prove that point, we accompanied a handful of journalists and off-road experts on a Land Rover-sponsored "teaching" expedition into the wilds of southwestern Colorado. We drove 2011 Land Rover LR4s and Range Rovers across the edge of the earth, teetering past thousand-foot drops and climbing, goatlike, up the sides of mountains. It was an amazing experience, one that you can replicate without a lot of effort. Here's what we learned.
The Stuff You Need, the Stuff You Don't
The most common misconception about off-road driving is that it requires serious machinery. Hardly. America's unpaved roads run the gamut from interstate-smooth gravel paths to bony, boulder-strewn two-tracks that are difficult to walk on. With the right amount of skill and training, you can tackle a large percentage of them in something as pedestrian as your grandmother's all-wheel-drive crossover. (You know, the one with the doilies draped over the headrests. Just try not to get mud on her Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass tapes.)