Take a dirt road out of Gateway to Utah ... maybe?

The Palisade rises just outside of Gateway and near 4 1/10 Road, which can be taken into Utah.

We may or may not have been in Utah.

I told Melinda Mawdsley I would sense a disturbance in The Force if we were, but however many miles down a rocky dirt road and our initial goal of “Let’s go check out the state border!” stopped mattering.

I’d like to say all that mattered was the soaring, stark red cliffs surrounding us or the green blush of spring on the trees along the river, but what really mattered was me shutting up.

“Hey! We’re pretty much floating on the mud here!” I informed Melinda, twisting the steering wheel back and forth to keep us (mostly) on the road.

“...,” said Melinda. She doesn’t enjoy hearing things like this. I don’t know why I keep saying them.

So, oops, the road had turned out to be a bit damper than we’d figured, on account of we’re kind of dodos sometimes, but isn’t that part of the joy of it? When you make a right onto a red dirt road and head into the unknown?

Neither of us had driven on 
4 1/10 Road before, which starts at Gateway and eventually wends into Utah. Our notions were vague — drive to the state border and then… what? Look at it? — but what seemed like a munificent universe earlier this week blessed us with the ultimate western experience: bouncing along a rough dirt road, the only ones on it, the only people for miles, waaaaaay outside of cellphone range, the blissful recipients of splendor in every direction.

In those moments, it’s easy to believe that this amazing world was created just for me, to stand amid a tumble of boulders that crashed how many eons ago from the sheer cliff rising in a dozen shades of red directly above me. A flock of wild turkeys went about its goofy, busy way and a bluebird darted like paint flung from a brush. The morning’s rain had heightened the breath of sage in the air and…

“Wow,” said Melinda, and that was the only word for it.

That, and: yikes. If we got stuck, it was a loooooong (and very, very grouchy) walk out. That’s the flip side of the gift of being outside cellphone range. But we didn’t get stuck! We’d rented a Toyota Highlander, since we both drive grocery-getters, so we bounced — or floated, when the road was rock-less — happily along.

As usual, neither of us had thought to consult a map for distances, so that we might have an idea if we’d reached the Utah border, and I forgot to check the odometer so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. We found a single cairn beside the road and stopped there, thinking maybe it was Utah? But, eh. Like I’ve ever been in a lather to get there, anyway, especially when there’s stuff to see along the way.

It was such a subtle transition that day, from the smoothness of Colorado Highway 141 through Unaweep Canyon, to the initial groomed surface when we first turned onto the dirt 4 1/10 Road, to the gradual roughening rockiness. Curving along with the undulations of the Dolores River, the road became less of a road and more of a wide trail as the cliffs soared along it.

“Don’t worry,” I told Melinda. “If anything happens, I have AAA.”

“Our cellphones don’t work,” she reminded me.

Oh, yeah.

But at a certain point, it’s possible to stop thinking about that, and about deadlines, and the thing that happened yesterday, and the mortgage, and every other little quibble of daily life. The act of getting away, off the pavement, miles down the rocky road, into unfamiliar vistas, is the spoonful of sherbet after a heavy meal — a palate cleanser, a soul cleaner, a mind clearer, a star aligner.

We were the only people for miles and miles, and nothing against other people, but it’s kind of great to get away from them sometimes. So, the crags and the cliffs, the river and the rapids, the greenly leafing trees, the blooming bushes, the misty sky, the sage and juniper and red, red dirt — it was all ours.

Even when the rear of the SUV indicated it might like to drive ahead of the front as we drifted through a stretch of mud, it was still a wonderful day on 4 1/10 Road.

Get going: To enjoy the wonder that is 4 1/10 Road, take Colorado Highway 141 to Gateway. Across the bridge over the Dolores River, just before Gateway Canyons Resort, turn right. That’s 4.1 Road. This road is appropriate ONLY for vehicles with high clearance with significant tires. DO NOT drive on it in any other kind of vehicle.


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