Here’s Dust in Your Eye

Rules of the (dirt) road.

It’s a bluebird summer afternoon, hot and dry. As you jog down the dirt road to Beartrap Canyon, every passing car slows to a crawl and gives you the standard Montana wave—and all remains right with the world. But then you hear it: around a bend, the roaring crunch of gravel. As you pull your shirt up over your mouth and brace for the worst, an Audi with out-of-state plates rallies around the corner, coating you in a thick haze of dust as it blows by at 30 mph. The offending party blasts by several campers and a fisherman and you yearn for Montana’s good ol’ days of vigilante justice. Because lynch mobs, hangings, and tarring & feathering are no longer viable options, we old-timers have a few suggestions for newbies who have moved to these parts in the last few years and are clearly clueless about dirt-road rules.

Slow Down. If you just moved into the neighborhood or are simply a visitor, remember that living on a dirt road requires a little more time to get from home base to desired points beyond and back. Simply put: slow down and give yourself a few more minutes to arrive at your destination. You’ll be glad you did, and your neighbors won’t plot your demise on the next stormy night.

Pay Attention. Be conscious of the direction your dust is blowing, and the size of the cloud billowing out behind you. Check your rearview mirror often as wind changes speed and direction often. Predict how that dust cloud will affect houses, livestock, and people.

No Tailgate Parties. Use shoulders and turnouts. If a driver behind you wants to pass, pull over and let him get past. If you’re the one with the hot date, keep a safe distance until the driver ahead moves to the shoulder, then pass slowly. Don’t tempt karma by splattering gravel on your neighbor’s vehicle, lest you find yourself stranded at midnight with a dead battery and no cell coverage.

Respect the Road. Speeding causes that loathsome washboard effect that you may tolerate only occasionally, but area residents deal with all season long. Minimize washboards, road erosion, and potholes by driving evenly and avoiding rapid acceleration/deceleration. Larger rigs pulling boats, dirt bikes, ATVs, or horses should slow down and drive even more carefully.

Pack it Out. Irrigation ditches are not public landfills. If you brought it in, take it out—even if you find a public garbage can. If you’re fishing or hunting, don’t leave the entrails or carcasses behind. It may be convenient for you, but it certainly is not pleasant for anyone else if you leave smelly, blood-soaked body parts behind.

Don’t Be a Jerk. Show respect for walkers, runners, and bikers whose outing will be ruined by a face full of dust. Remember that residents may have health issues aggravated by the blowing dust (allergies, sinus irritations and asthma to name a few) and livestock inhaling road dust may experience such afflictions as pinkeye or breathing hacks.

Be Efficient. If you’re planning a shuttle, don’t waste trips—make the car-swap in as few trips as possible. You wouldn’t want the same loud-ass diesel driving by your house eight times a day, so try not to dust out residents any more than you have to. Put yourself in their shoes and treat them as you would want to be treated.