EXPEDITION CAMPING TRIP: PART 2
If you’re following along from part one you’ll know I had left my fulltime job, equipped a small pop-top camper, put it on the back of my Chevy, and hit the road with a very basic itinerary and a wish to see some of the untouched corners of the United States as I travelled from off-road event to event. With one to two weeks in between events, I had a ton of freedom to choose my path. The route would take me towards Colorado for a
W.E. Rock and Dirt Riot Event, through Utah, Nevada and California, for an Ultra4 race, then back north through Oregon and Washington for another W.E. Rock event. Along the way I planned to hit as many National Parks as I could, but because of my tight budget, I tried to find free camping every night of the trip (which turned out to be easy once I learned a few tricks on the road.)
Setting off from home base in Victoria, BC, every road trip starts with a ferry ride, which costs you around $80 for one person and a vehicle one way. After first travelling south through the Peace Arch border crossing, I started heading east with eight days to get to Rangely, Colorado. After a long day of driving and getting all the way to Spokane, I had the fantastic luck of starting the first night of my trip in a fender bender while listening to the GPS. We exchanged numbers and no one was hurt, but I learned a valuable lesson, if you’re not in a hurry don’t drive for 11 hours straight! Wal-Mart allows camping in their parking lots, and while it was great in a pinch, it wasn’t really what this trip was all about, so I vowed to leave myself more time each afternoon to find a place to camp.
I started to learn that if I really wanted to see anything (and not burn a ton of fuel at 65-80MPH) I should stay off the Interstate and look more for the smaller State Highways. I stuck to mostly two lane roads so that I could go through the backroads and small towns that I was looking for. The other benefit of the smaller highways was a much better chance of finding some backcountry to camp. My number one tip for backcountry camping in the States is to keep an eye out for “National Forest” not National Park. If you pick a highway that travels close to these forests, you’ll find small brown signs that say National Forest Access and they
are ungated roads into the backcountry of the National Forest. Sometimes driving a few kilometres down a gravel road allowed me to find a small campsite with fire ring that had been created by a previous traveller, allowing me to camp for free in some of the most beautiful places on earth with nothing more than a 4x4 pickup.
Figuring this out as I travelled from Washington, through Idaho and into Montana, I began to get a daily routine. Getting up early for breakfast, and on the road in time for the morning stop at a nearby gas station, allowed me to survive quite well without a washroom in my camper. I also learned that buying a Wi-Fi range extending antenna is invaluable with all the free Wi-Fi offered these days. I could park in the back corner of the Starbucks parking lot (faster free Wi-Fi than McDonalds) and update my daily blog, staying connected with the world. Next I would drive for 3 to 6 hrs, depending on stops, and in the early afternoon I would start looking for a camping spot. On sunny days I would toss my sun-shower on the roof of the camper to warm up and take Axel (my dog) for a bike ride to explore and take photos.
Entering Yellowstone National Park at the north entrance I learned that a 12 month National Parks pass for $80 would grant me access for the next year at all National Parks and save the $10 to 25 daily fee. If you plan on visiting more than four National Parks in the next year, the pass is a fantastic investment! With all the camping in the park booked up (and packed with people), I explored for the day then headed out of the park to set up camp in Wyoming. This let me cross back into the park the next day (with my new pass) and see more of the sights.
On to Colorado and my first off-road event of the trip. After the Dirt Riot race
I headed into the Rockies, camping for free near glacial streams and hiking at over 4200 metres near Independence Pass. I then worked my way out of the mountains and into Utah, passing through Moab (often referred to as the mecca of off-roading). Free camping options were slim near Moab, but some searching on www.freecampsites.net found me a place to stay for the night, allowing me to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, a must-see if you’re in Moab. Continuing southwest towards Nevada I stopped by Bryce Canyon and Zion, before heading across the desert to California and my only paid night of camping on my entire trip at Joshua Tree National Park. Summer being the “off-season” the park is quiet and fantastic for exploring, hiking and night photography.
Next up was an Ultra4 race at Glen Helen Raceway. After the race I continued north through California, finding a lot of great camping on US395 as I travelled along the Sierra Nevada’s, and the east entrance to Yosemite National Park.
Heading west I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time in 47 days, but I also found a lot less free camping as I made my way through the Redwoods and up the Pacific Coast Highway to Goldendale for my last off-road event of the trip. Leaving Goldendale, it was a single day drive back to the Canadian border after travelling 18,000 km over 63 days, hitting 11 states, 13 National Parks, 4 Offroad events and countless photos. Check out the entire story at www.pathmakerphotography.com/blog.
Axel checking out the moonscape at the Alabama Hills. Brandy Southall does a huge drop in her custom moon buggy at WERock. Camping in the Grand Tetons.
A bison at Yellowstone.
Kicking up dust at Dirt RIOT Agate.
Axel and Brady taking a minute to enjoy the sights in Yosemite National Park.
Jason Blanton at Ultra4 Glen Helen Race.
Sun hangs in the sky over Canyon Lands National Park Moab.