Exploring Dirt Roads

How many people can honestly say they’ve had the privilege (or horror) of driving on a dirt road? It’s hard to come across roads such as these in our paved and urban society. Let’s assume you have a car and want to go on a day trip out of the city, how would you encounter a dirt road? To find such a road, we must drive out of civilization and into the wilderness just for a chance to find a dirt road, which isn’t someone’s driveway.

No, you can’t drive into the first town 20-30 miles out of civilization with the expectation of being able to drive down a dirt road. Just because these people live so far outside the loop[1], it doesn’t make them savages. You’ll need to drive a little further out to be sure you can encounter a dirt road. I’d recommend driving as far as 50 miles, and then get off the main interstate or highway.

Don’t bother searching the nearest town for a dirt road because they tend to have enough money to build paved roads. Instead, start driving on the side roads between towns, through the county[2]. Use the green city and mile directional signs to guide you to a village you’ve never heard of. You’ll almost certainly find a dirt road to drive down around one of those small villages, and you may even find something interesting or unique inside one of these tiny communities. Villages tend to have flea markets, which are large outdoor resale malls and may have rare treasures or hard to find items. You may also encounter a historical marker in your travels.

Wherever you may encounter such a road, be sure to drive safely:

  • Don’t drive on dirt roads marked as private property or designated as a construction site. These roads are clearly marked. Trespassing aside, driving into a construction site or other privately owned property can be hazardous for you, your vehicle, and the owner’s property. You will be responsible for any and all damages.
  • Slow down and don’t drive like you’re on a freeway, even if it seems fun. Your dust can make it hard for other drivers to see. People tend to live off dirt roads and it’s not a neighborly thing to zoom by so fast your dust covers those homes. Also consider the possibility that the road comes to a dead end, and you may have to drive back and have an angry asthmatic granny shaking her head and wagging her finger at you in disappointment as you drive by her house again.
  • If you happen to find yourself in a “Road Runner’s” dust trail, turn on your lights so oncoming traffic can see you.
  • Dirt roads tend to be narrow, so be prepared to stop for oncoming traffic.
  • Watch for pot holes, dips, humps, bumps, and large rocks. The road is made of dirt, and will easily get weathered away by rain or fast cars.

I happen to enjoy going on road trips, just for the fun of it. I’ll turn on an audiobook and drive out to a random destination to discover what that small town or village has to offer. Oftentimes, I’ll need to drive down a dirt road to get to my destination. I guess I’m weird like that, which is why I don’t recommend you go on a road trip solely to find a dirt road to drive on. That’d be pretty boring. However, I do recommend that you pick a general area to explore, and just be aware of the different kinds of roads you take to get there.

It’s a cool feeling when you notice you’re doing something you don’t normally do. It’s refreshing to see the beautiful landscape of a dusty road cutting into the woodlands. Fans of horror films may laugh nervously as they continue to drive past mobile home after mobile home after trailer, and notice the country people staring at the outsiders driving a city-car as they sit on their front porches. Thrill-seekers may enjoy encountering a flooded creek and feeling that rush of panic as you see a local forge through and decide to risk it (I personally like the relief in deciding to “turn around, don’t drown”).

The thought of driving on a dirt road may not sound very appealing to most people, but I hope this story helps motivate you to step out of your normal routine and go explore someplace outside of your city. Who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with going on road trips. Maybe you’ll make a hobby out of it as a historical marker pilgrim. Or maybe you could be a successful American flea market “picker”.

You never know unless you get out there and explore.


[1] “Inside/Outside the loop” is a common phrase used by city snobs. The act of leaving the innermost zones of a major metropolis is akin to leaving civilization itself. The distance a location may be from the heart of the city can be classified as the following:

  • Civilization = Everywhere within a freeway “loop”, that typically surrounds the inner core of a major city (like Loop 610 in Houston, Texas). Almost every major city or metropolis has such a loop.
  • The Fringe = Everywhere outside of the freeway “loop”, but inside any outer “loop” some major metropolises have (Houston’s Beltway 8 is an example of an outer “loop”).
  • The Wilderness, also known as “The Middle of [Fucking] Nowhere” = Anywhere outside of the outer “loop”. If the city doesn’t have an outer loop, the middle of nowhere pretty much starts 15 miles outside of the heart of that city’s downtown.
  • Might as well be on another planet! = Located in another city, or at least 30+ miles away from a major metropolis.

[2] County – Some people who’ve lived in a metropolis their entire live don’t actually know what a county is. If they live in a city as huge as Houston, which basically takes up all of Harris County and spills over into some of the neighboring counties, then it’s understandable that these people wouldn’t know the difference. To them, the county courthouse is just another name for a courthouse in the “Law” district of the metropolis.

A county is a large region in a state, which serves several administrative functions. Depending on how poor the county is, those services may be the bare minimum of recording marriages, deaths, and property transactions. Or if it’s a rich county, it may administer recreation centers, hospitals, and even airports (mostly small non-commercial airports). There normally are several villages, towns, and cities within a county.

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