Wild Lands of the West | The BLM, National Geographic Magazine: Wild West Riders

Faces covered with hand kerchiefs, four people sit on four-wheelers in a canyon.

Bandit-style bandannas shield law abiders from dust on a well-worn trail in the Fisher Towers region of the Castle Valley near Moab, Utah.

Off-road vehicle riders who stick to the Bureau of Land Management’s loosely enforced straight-and-narrow rules are plentiful, but thousands more disregard the rules, answering the call of their combustion engines to chart new paths through roadless areas. The resulting degradation has growing environmental consequences—the vehicles crisscross delicate ecosystems, cutting through the dry soil and disturbing fragile plants—in areas that take years to recover from disturbances.