Flash Fiction: Off Road

An old Ford Ranger pickup was climbing up a road in the Owyhees, a mountain range in Southwestern Idaho that stretches into Oregon.“Blue Side of the Mountain” by The Steeldrivers was playing in the cab, two middle-aged men listening along and “shooting the shit” as they drove. The Owyhees didn’t look like much from Boise and even up close the first handful of ridges looked like most high desert terrain in the area: rocks and sagebrush. Once you got past those first initial ridges, the beauty of the Owyhees started to unfold: granite and volcanic rock jutting out of the earth, canyons, a natural waterfall or two, evergreens, beautiful aspens, grasses, more sagebrush and more rocks. Although the name Owyhee has some sort of relation to Hawaii, it wasn’t a paradise, but given the terrain in the interior, you could see why the elk and mule deer preferred being back in here.

There are old roads all over the mountain ranges in Idaho, the Owyhees were no exception. Hell, there were tons of mountain ranges throughout the states like this, Idaho seemed unique, but probably wasn’t. Service roads, logging roads, public access roads, forgotten roads, horse trails, off-road trails that connected together old mining sites, ghost towns, acres of cattle ranches and grazing lands, farmland, private and public lands, as well as dropping down out of the ranges to populated areas. These marked and unmarked roads and trails were adorned with cattle guards and old school barbed wire and wood gates. Sure, there’d be signs, too: Private Property, No Trespassing, No Hunting and the occassional No Hunting without Permission sign, markers for Watersheds, Mountain trails and the occassional popular site. Humorously, if you venture down toward a well known waterfall in the Owyhees, you’ll pass by a gentleman’s property who got tired of people asking him where it was due to bad GPS coordinates. Among the signs adorning the gate to his property as you pass by is one in particular:


The men were many miles in the opposite direction from that understandably preturbed property. Coming around a switchback on the trail, the two men drove by an abandoned logger’s cabin, smaller than a studio apartment, in what was now barely a small clearing, if you could call it that. Nature was slowly reclaiming what was hers and in a way dishing out the only recompense she could, using time and the elements, her most valuable assets. The wood of the cabin was grayed; split, cracked, rotted in some places and just dried out in others. Over half of the roof was collapsed, windows missing it’s glass, and a tree growing up the side of one exterior wall, its branches over time finding its way through some of the boards and parts of the roof. As if the tree itself was holding the cabin up in some grave warning.

There was rusted out machinery nearby, too. Looked like an old log splitter and a hauler of some sort, but it was hard to decipher after years of salvaging, rust and eventually, neglect. The driver shook his head, wondering how they even got something that big up here way back when. But they did. Probably the same reason they abandoned it here, too, just too damn big and heavy to haul back out. The passenger wondered out loud what kinds of stories the old cabin held in its timbers. “Ghosts of Mississippi” by same the band was playing now as they passed by, Chris Stapleton’s vocals wailing out the chorus, “Ohhh Lord why have you forsaken me?”… Almost fitting. A few miles passed the cabin that came out into a patch of grasslands and sage, the truck came to a stop a few yards in front of a new, bright yellow metal gate with a chain keeping it closed. A metal sign, bolted to the gate, read:


The two got out to inspect the chained gate. The gate itself was new, held by metal posts driven deep in the ground. New barbed wire and posts strung out on either side for about fifty yards before joining the old fence, stretching out over acres on different sides of the clearing. The old cattle guard was still on the road. There are many gates along roads like this, usually kept closed to keep cattle in or out, but people passing through can easily get in and out. Usually the gate is just an extension of the actual barbed wire fencing, kept closed by a loop of barbed wire attaching the “gate” to the post on one side, simply lift up the barbed wire, open the gate and close it back up with said wire keeping the gate closed. Sometimes there would be a chain, and it would loop around a post and hook back into the gate. This gate and chain was padlocked. The journey ended here.

“The fuck. This isn’t a private road!” The driver spat. “Un-fuckin-believable…”

They weren’t lost, they knew this road and a handful of others that connected for miles in the Owyhees. They’d taken this particular road many times over multiple hunting seasons, as well as accessing other points for hikes and camping, or even further out for shooting practice. Private lands have been increasingly bought up by wealthy people from out of state. By and large, these out of staters usually came from California or Texas, and almost always caused some sort of beef. Usually by blocking the roads that lead to public land. Nevermind that the roads are public right-of-way with longstanding legal easements. Local landowners who understand this have signs posted along the roads every so often, reminding passersby when they are passing through private property. These new folks, however, just block people. There are millions of blocked acres across the state like this now. And don’t get the local ranchers started on how much land the Federal Government “manages” across the state.

Unfortunately, even though blocking access like this is illegal to do. The current law doesn’t offer much as far as penalties go. Citations and fines, really. And the fines are pathetically small. It’s easier for the owners pay the fine and flip the bird to the locals. Current legislation being argued over with the powers that be would actually open up these private property owners to serious litigation if passed, but it wasn’t close to being passed into law yet and the rich owners had lawyers and the money to spend to slow the process down.

The driver looked back towards the truck, thinking about the heavy duty bolt cutters he had store in the tool box in the bed of his truck.


The two men walked back to the truck and got in.

“So what now? Should we hit the other route?”

About a mile before the old logger’s cabin there was a trail, barely big enough for the pickup and very rarely used by anyone anymore. It took them about thirty minutes out of the way, but it circled around the property they were trying to pass through and would get them back on the road a few miles past this property.

“Doesn’t look like we got much of a choice. We told Jimmy we’d help him out, so we’ll have to circle back and take that old logging road. An extra thirty minutes or so when it would’ve taken us maybe ten to pass through on the main road. Fuckin’ hate these rich assholes…”

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