“This year is going to blow your mind,” the promotion proclaimed.

And they weren’t wrong. My mind was completely blown after the Sands family rolled into Moab two weeks ago, right at the same time as the 2nd Annual Moab UTV Rally.

“There is truly something for everyone here in Moab, Utah,” the organizers boasted. “That is why it is referred to so often as the Mecca of four-wheeling! A few trails are nearly accessible for two-wheel drive vehicles, while the most difficult runs require seriously modified vehicles.”

My own “seriously modified vehicle” happens to be a pedal-powered piece of aluminum with 4 inches of suspension and 29-inch hoops. Unlike the organizers, I’ve always looked upon Moab as a Mecca of two-wheeling and have been drawn to the bicycle burg in everything from 26 to 103 degrees on the F scale.

But Moab is most aptly described as “Mormon lite, motor heavy.” And so it came as no surprise when my better half asked “So what’s a UTV anyway?” moments after entering the town and spying rally headquarters. “Imagine a golf cart jacked up on bovine growth hormone,” I replied. “Think go-cart turned Frankenstein’s monster.”

UTV is short for utility terrain vehicle. The four-wheeled, two-seaters are also known as s (you can squeeze in side by side with Uncle Irv, Throttle the dog or the motorized enthusiast of your choice). The go-anywhere vehicles are equipped with roll bars, big knobby tires, 1,000-cubic-centimeter engines and mini-truck beds capable of hauling hundreds of pounds of cargo, canned beverage and pulled pork picnic. The little trucks boast names like Rhino, Mule and Ranger, and there’s even a Ducks Unlimited version for “total side-by-side domination!”

I got my first real taste of side-by-side the day after my wife spied that banner. First contact hit as I was pedaling out the long, dusty grind south from Moab out to Hurrah Pass. Bent on finally finding a vanishing connection and linking up a new ride, I was happily rolling down that canyon of Wingate sandstone. And all seemed right with the world for a few, steady moments.

Then the far-off chatter of pipes hit. As the sound drew closer, I discovered exactly what the ancient Egyptians heard when Moses made his swarm of locusts order. No fewer than 20 UTVs, decked in camos, bright yellows and army greens rapidly motored by. Several of the drivers and passengers were equipped with dark driving goggles, some wore helmets, a couple UTVs boasted Old Glory flapping from their rear ends, and one had a stereo system that just happened to be blaring Hank Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends are Comin’ Over Tonight.” With nary a wave or a hint of deceleration for their fellow multiple user, the paraders blazed off into the distance leaving only a dusty contrail in their wake.

“Wow,” I said aloud. “Those things make four-wheelers and ATVs seem almost athletic.”

And it was true. Those goofy little off-roaders had set a new standard for easy backcountry access. That motorized promenade was effortlessly blazing off into the fragile desertscape, where we can only hope they were sticking to “designated routes.” Gas it up and go Fred, just be sure to hold the steering wheel with both hands.

Three hours after that run-in, I was again channeling Moses – now wandering aimlessly in the desert in search of my fabled singletrack. I’d been without water for the better part of the afternoon, the temperatures were hovering around the 90-degree mark, and I’d finally labeled myself as lost. Delirium had set in when something resembling gunshots sounded in the distance.

Putting the mirage behind me, I labored down the rutted remnant of a road, crested a hill and saw a bleary vision of two UTVs pulled off the side of the track and enjoying a little desert splendor. Outside of their vehicles, four recreationists were happily taking turns with a .357 and blasting holes in the sandstone. They stopped abruptly as I approached, but made no effort to conceal the firearm.

The apparent leader – a tall man with a gray handlebar and straw cowboy hat – took one look at me in my distressed state and muttered, “Brutal, eh?” He then reached into the Styrofoam cooler sitting in the back of his camouflaged beast of burden. But instead of passing me a jug of ice-cold water, he produced a can of Coors Light, which he cracked open and promptly drained in a single monster gulp.

“Enjoy the long ride back to town,” he belched my way as his buddies doubled over in laughter. I could only give him a grin, clip back into my pedals and mutter a quick, “Hey, thanks for blowing my mind,” in reply.

– Will Sands