Last weekend we took Sir Charles to the Kaibab National Forest near Williams, AZ as his first in-the-forest hiking trip. He learned how to ride in the back of the truck (in his kennel of course!) like a big dog.
Most of the time, he’s very polite when he walks on leash. But get him into a huge forest of Ponderosa pine trees and new sounds, smells, and ground textures and our knightly “Sir Charles” falls apart into “Chuck” in about two heart beats.
Since it is late spring after a winter with a TON of snow, we were very careful to drive only on the hard-compacted dirt roads in the Forest. There are a ton of 4-wheel drive roads and trails in Kaibab but the ground was too muddy to use them yet.
Unfortunately, there were a ton of people in the forest over the past few weeks that don’t understand just how damaging driving on wet soil can be.
Now, just so we’re crystal clear: I have nothing against off road vehicles. My issue comes with people driving OFF the road and OFF trails!
Even if the terrain looks like it’s dry, that might only be the first inch or so. Below that, mud! And driving on that delicate soil can cause enormous ruts, destroy vegetation, and ruin the soil quality. Plus, you can damage your vehicle and then get slapped with a large mechanic bill.
Not to mention that if you get caught, you can face hefty fines and even jail time. This article from Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest says that people can receive a fine of up to $5,000 and 6 months in jail.
Yeah, no amount of “mudding” or mud fun is going to be worth THAT!
So, when you’re out enjoying spring in America’s public lands, just how DO you park your vehicle off the road in a non-destructive manner?
1. See if you can find a pull-out or dispersed camping site.
Sometimes, there are wide-spots along the road way that are hard-packed enough to support your vehicle weight. Some dispersed camping sites will work as well, especially if they are close to the side of the road.
2. Pause on the road way and walk where you’re thinking of driving.
When we took Chuck out over the weekend, ESP Boss “parked” the truck in the road while I walked through a dispersed camping site. I was looking to see how damp the ground was, if there were any puddles or muddy areas, and to see if there were any tire tracks where somebody had driven there before it was dry enough.
3. Assume the ground is wetter than it looks.
It was very clear from all the deep ruts along all the roads that most drivers missed this step. Once I got out of the truck, which was parked in a dispersed campsite, and started, I could feel how squishy the ground still was. By assuming that the ground was wetter than it looked (since it didn’t look damp at all) we were able to enjoy the trip and not damage the forest.
4. Park in a developed area.
I know it’s not as much fun as parking in the back woods for a hike or a picnic, but sometimes there’s just no other choice. I’d rather be responsible in a developed area than destroy the forest by driving where I shouldn’t!
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Arizona “damp” is a far cry from the damp of states that REALLY get snow.
What tips do you have for enjoying public lands while not damaging the ground with off-road driving?
By the way, after we parked, ESP Boss took Chuck for a walk and they discovered this snow bank lurking on the north side of a hill. After a few cautious steps, barking at the snow to make sure it didn’t move, Chuck had a great time sliding on his belly!
If you want to see more pics of Chuck in the snow, click here.