Off-Road Driving: A Dirty, Mud-Spattered Primer

Sam Smith
Courtesy of Land Rover Sam Smith

This is the kind of America that inspired the creation of our national park system. This is what most people only see in pictures. Standing by yourself in the middle of nowhere, you're struck by how amazing nature is. And how flat-out awesome your Jeep/Land Rover/Toyota/mud rig looks parked in it.

And so you get into the car, turn on the stereo, and amble off toward the forest, which means going downhill, because you're thousands of feet above where trees stop growing. You tickle the throttle and inch past a steep cliff, your right front tire sending a few pebbles skittering off into a ravine. The road is rough and bony enough that you rarely climb above 5 mph. (At one point, you encounter a particularly smooth stretch of tundra and crank things up to an eye-watering 11 mph, arm on the windowsill. It feels vaguely reckless, like riding a bicycle through traffic with no hands.) You are presented with impossibly blue skies, undisturbed vistas.

At the end of the day, eighty miles down and one mountain tackled, you climb out of the car tired, satisfied, and thrilled to be alive. If there's a better way to spend a four-wheeled day in the wilderness, we don't know what it is.

Grow up in the world of coffee chains and paid servants, or just hate camping? Picture the above environment with a decent hotel at the end of each day. If you want, you can roll from ski town to ski town in places like Colorado and Utah, never driving on pavement, and still sleep on fresh linens every night. Because of the speeds involved -- 4 to 10 mph driving instead of 1 to 3 walking -- off-roading is like tranquil adventure hiking without the sacrifice. What's not to love?

Why? Because it's Fun, That's Why
Like any other motorsport, off-roading is what you make it. It doesn't satisfy some primal urge for speed, and it requires patience and forethought, qualities a lot of people don't look for in hobbies. You can enjoy it without any training, but to do it well requires years of practice.

The appeal, then, is obvious: Immersing yourself in nature while spending time with friends and refining a skill related to machinery. The illusion of uncharted territory. Comfort and convenience paired with the feeling of being separated from the teeming throngs of humanity. All in all, it's difficult to drive off into the woods, come back in one piece, and not have a good time. Us, we've found a new hobby.

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If you are interested in even more fantastic destinations and 4x4 info, a great site to visit is
Just a minor correction: Telluride is in South Western Colorado, not South Eastern Colorado. Otherwise great article!

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