We have lift off. Only for a moment, and without the aid of wings, rotor blades or propellers, but in this moment, we’re flying.
My foot is grinding the gas pedal into the cabin floor and, as we reach the crest of a hill, a sudden burst of acceleration flings our cockpit heavenward. Our ‘side-by-side’ (SxS), is a four-seater, all-terrain, utility task vehicle (UTV), which resembles a monster truck-dune buggy hybrid.
The UTV’s long-legged sports suspension stretches out massive, chunky tyres towards the receding earth, like an airborne rollerskating bulldog. It’s thrill ride, yes, but this is more edifying than any roller coaster.
You might think you know Utah, but you don’t. You’ve likely seen images of its inimitable red rocks, the improbable natural stone arches, the burnt sand that slathers the mental canvas with umbers, and the gritty, brick-coloured swathes, which have indelibly scorched the public imagination with dry-heat deserts and baking, sandstone playgrounds. But you’ve not seen the bigger picture, not until you’ve laid eyes on this sweeping panorama from the extreme off-road perspective of a UTV.
Far from the state’s numerous scenic highways and tourist-thronged Big Five national parks, our route through Wasatch Mountain State Park and Uinta National Forest has been winding and tight. We’ve bounced through narrow, sylvan trails — tree trunks flitting past the limbs of our roll cage like a zoetrope, with just inches to spare. Open to the elements, we’ve slid down sharp, soggy drops into trenches 3ft deep with water, which envelops our calves as we power through it as if riding a jet ski. We’ve torn up mossy, emerald banks, mown down ditches of straw-colored grasses and pastel wildflowers, and turned 180-degree hairpin corners at full throttle with our rear wheels spewing glistening gravel in our wake.
In this moment, though, in mid-air, high above all of this, we’re looking out across the rolling verdure of northern Utah’s Heber Valley in still-frame serenity. It’s a scene redolent of alpine Austria. Wooden chalets dot a lush, green landscape backed by snow-capped, blue-black mountains. Foothills are clad in malachite pine, and auburn leaves on silver aspen limbs. And there’s mud! Dark-chocolate, gooey, rich, wet soil that you simply don’t see amid the crimson crags and salmon-pink landscapes of the south. It’s thrilling.
Slamming back down onto the ground, the whole vehicle bounces and crashes around wildly on shock absorbers and loose rocks. The flight is over; the thrills continue.