Take Time to Smell the Flowers (on the ATV Trail)
August 1, 2017
Every spring, as the snow begins to melt off of the mountains, I get excited to get my UTV tires rolling along the dusty mountain roads where I live and explore the beauties of a fresh, new season. Perhaps the thing I like to admire most is the fragrant and colorful wildflowers growing so abundantly alongside the ATV trails that I enjoy riding all season long. It seems that all throughout the summer I get so caught up in keeping my 4 wheeler tires from bouncing out of control on the rocky trails that I forget to stop and smell the flowers. That's why I make it a point each spring to go on a wildflower sightseeing ride.
Just like any other ride, it's important to take along all the essential safety gear like a full-face helmet, goggles, water, toolkit, map, and the like. Safety is a key factor in every ride, no matter what the purpose. Another never-leave-at-home item is my digital camera, and when you're out looking at wildflowers, it's a must. The trail can get awfully dusty, especially in a UTV, because the roof limits airflow, thus trapping dirt and dust inside the cockpit. To protect valuables, like my lunch, I have a few UTV accessories, such as storage bags, to keep them secure and dust-free. Once all my gear is ready to go, I have the luxury of being able to leave right from my driveway and head up the canyon road that is only a few minutes from my home.
The first time I started paying attention to cactus roses was when I saw John Wayne give one to Vera Miles in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. From that point on, I've enjoyed watching the pink, red, and yellow roses blooming in the hills and meadows here in central Utah. They have always seemed a bit of a contradiction to me – the soft and beautiful flowers growing in the midst of sharp, prickly cactus quills; a sort of natural barbed wire to protect them from ravenous herbivores (humans included) that are attracted by their bright colors and sweet fragrance.
Prickly pear cactus grows in abundance in these parts and the vibrant flowers stand as a beautiful contrast in the landscape. Most quad tires, even those in the worst shape, cannot be punctured by the small quills on these desert dwellers, but I hope most people think that it's possible so they will leave them alone.
A couple of summers ago, I rode alongside a high mountain field that, like an artist's canvas, gleamed with thousands of bright yellow brown-eyed Susans as if it had been decorated for a special occasion. So breathtaking was this scene, that after we crested a hill, all of the riders in our group stopped to admire the scene before us. Then we noticed several sets of ATV tire tracks zigzagging randomly through the flowers leaving behind scars of destruction. I couldn't bring myself to keep the pictures I took that day. In fact, I wish we would have caught the thoughtless fools who did this damage.
There are many other brightly colored and hard-to-locate wildflowers in the mountains in springtime. The brilliant white of sego lilies as they cluster in bunches close to the ground and the soft orange petals of globe mallow flittering in the wind at the end of long, wispy stems always remind of the fact that both of these plants provided food to Native Americans for centuries. Indian paintbrush was also an edible used by Native Americans, but the thought of ancient peoples using this plant to paint a colorful mosaic on an animal hide is far more idealistic to imagine.
The annual wildflower ride usually takes me a few hours, so I like to park my UTV under the shade of a sprawling pine tree and have lunch. This is when I come across the picturesque cliffrose poking out in dazzling contrast to the waxy green of a greasewood bush.
Making sure to keep my Carlisle ATV tires fully on the trail, I walk the fifty yards to this serene setting while a gentle breeze allows both flowers and bush to wave at me like an old friend. On my walk back to finish lunch, the radiant hues of violet that emanate from a low-growing bunch of phlox catch my gaze.
After lunch, the return trip rewards me with views of mountain snowberries, Queen Anne's Lace, sunflowers, blazing stars and crimson red penstemons dangling like miniature baubles from brilliant green stems.
This isn't my typical guys ATV blog, but everyone, no matter why you ride, should take a moment to enjoy the beauties of nature. For me it's flowers in the springtime and wildlife in the fall. For others, it might be a golden sunrise, the salmon tones of a cloud-filtered sunset, or even solemnity of a single tree growing atop a cliff. So, the next time you gear up and put those well-used ATV tires on the trail for a day of riding, don't forget to pay attention to the wonders that are all around you.