trail tips

What Every Desert Rat Must Know

The basics are easy as 1, 2, 3...

1 - STAY ON THE TRAIL means following the beaten path (turning around or passing only on slickrock or wash bottoms).

2 - RESPECT OTHER USERS means slowing down and minimizing dust (also lowering the RPMs if you're motorized).

3 - PLAY IT SAFE means bringing plenty of water (daytime is hot) and knowing your intended route (nighttime is cold).

But to really understand the nitty-gritty, consider our editorial featured in Dirt Rider magazine:

Walk the Walk (and Ride the Ride)

Griping about trail closures is a popular pastime for motorcyclists, ATVers, rock crawlers, and even some mountain bikers. It seems like legal places to ride always shrink, and never grow. But it would be hypocritical to whine about restrictions if you were just adding fuel to the fire. So I devised a simple checklist to ensure that your land ethic is up to par. This list also serves as a way to evaluate others you encounter. If you affirmatively answer all the following questions, then you can protest with righteousness. Otherwise, you need to shape up. Happy trails!


01 Do I use a well-maintained vehicle and proper riding gear, while bringing along a rain jacket, map, extra food and water, tool kit, and first aid supplies? (don't forget the TP)

02 Do I use proper riding technique and stay in control? (saving the beer for afterwards)

03 Do I look out for others in my group? (instead of playing your own episode of Survivor)


04 Does my muffler emit less than 96 decibels from 20 inches away? (and no sparks)

05 Do I properly register my equipment? (including the OHV sticker that funds trail work and education programs, not just Johnny Law)

06 Do I follow all applicable rules from federal, state, and local agencies? (no trespassing, either)

07 Do I stay on designated or established trails, where travel is restricted to them? (not just the "trail" made by the guy in front of you)

08 To ride off-trail, do I choose areas specifically set aside for unrestricted use? (not just any place without a closed sign)


09 Is my machine EPA compliant? (closed-course models put global warming on a fast track)

10 Do I stage in previously-used sites, and practice minimum-impact camping? (the desert doesn't generate enough wood for personal fires)

11 Do I stay precisely on trails that are wider than my vehicle, following the most established path? (four wheels don't fit on singletrack)

12 Do I park or turn around within the confines of the trail, on slickrock or in active wash bottoms? (U-turns and singletrack don't mix)

13 Do I avoid sensitive conditions, such as mountains or clay-based soil when wet? (wheel spin and hills don't mix)

14 Do I yield to wildlife/livestock, viewing them only from a distance? (they need no help getting exercise)


15 Am I respectful to other land users, in the staging area and on the trail? (they're not impressed by wheelies)

16 When passing, do I slow down, minimize dust, lower RPMs, say "hello," and give others room? (without leaving the trail bed, smarty pants)

17 If encountering a horseman, do I shut off my engine and ask the rider for instructions? (instead of reenacting your favorite western-film chase)


18 Do I educate others to "tread lightly"? (or let them continue to ruin your image)

19 Do I pitch in with trail maintenance? ("I pay my taxes" is not enough)

20 Do I support organizations that promote responsible recreation? ("THEY should do something")

21 Do I exercise my democratic voice in the management of public lands? (or blame the "dang bureaucrats" you've never even met)

For activity-specific tips, check out Tread Lightly!.