‘Car Camping’ To Explore The South West…
Despite our love of walking, it’s obviously necessary to take the car sometimes, especially when you want to visit as many places as possible in a short amount of time.
So after completing the John Muir Trail, to maximise our remaining funds, as well as our 90 day allowance in the USA (and to avoid going home and getting jobs for a while), we picked up a hire car and set forth on a 50 day road trip, with the intention of camping in different ‘National’ and ‘State Parks’ covering the south-western states.
Excited to be behind the wheel again and ready to embark on a 50 day road trip in the USA!
After 27 days in the wilderness it felt quite strange to jump behind the steering wheel again. But as I’ve found out previously, it’s just like riding a bike. All the skills come back naturally and it’s even easier when the vehicle is an automatic. This being our second road trip across the USA, I had some confidence with driving on the right hand side of the road, as well as a little knowledge of the strange traffic rules – such as you can make a right turn on a red light. (Well this is only true in some states, so I spent most of my time dithering at the red light, should I turn or not, until the impatient driver behind me honked his horn and I had my signal that it was OK to go!)
We collected our hire car from Lancaster, California. It was much cheaper than renting from a depot located near to an airport.
I was even happier knowing that I could both reverse and park without a shaking knee or a huge knot in the pit of my stomach and without the need for Wayne to guide me in, which used to make me even more anxious – him being the ‘non driver’. The sheer terror I had experienced back in 2011 when we had hired a 23 feet long RV for 78 days was thankfully abated as this time I was simply driving a ‘car’. That’s not to say that my palms didn’t get sweaty when driving past a state trooper as I was constantly checking my speed and position on the road to make sure I wasn’t breaking any laws. I certainly didn’t want to get a citation, tasered or even shot for that matter!
Feeling more confident driving on the right hand side of the road!
If you didn’t know already, I am the sole driver in our partnership as Wayne has never really had the urge to pass his driving test. (Especially since he’s had a personal chauffeur for years!) So just as on the trail, Wayne is the chef, whilst I am the pot washer, we have our defined roles on the road – me being the designated driver, Wayne being the navigator. At times we’ve been known to want to throttle one another, but usually that suits us fine, otherwise I think we’d just end up going round in circles, especially as I’ve been known to wonder which way to go on a ‘one way’ campsite!
Another camp food masterpiece – Wayne’s ‘famous’ homemade goulash! (And yes, the portions were certainly bigger than what we had on the John Muir Trail!)
A camp fire feast! We were working hard to banish the ‘hiker hunger’!
Yes I did cook once or twice!
Having collected the car, with the intention of driving straight to Arizona and the Grand Canyon, we decided on picking up a few other luxuries to make our ‘car camping’ a bit more enjoyable. After all, we didn’t need to worry about the grams any more now that we weren’t carrying everything on our backs!
After collecting the hire car and stocking up with a few ‘car camping’ luxuries, we headed straight to Arizona and the Grand Canyon.
So to start with we purchased a new tent! (Probably to the horror of our family and friends who think we’re overburdened with ‘gear’ as it is! Our parents’ loft space can attest to that. I’m sure the ceiling is beginning to sag with the weight of our numerous backpacks alone. But a hiker can never have enough backpacks as a woman can never have enough shoes!)
Voila! Our new tent, which now takes our tally to four.
We also added Kindles to our shopping list!
Car camping meant we were able to have a lot more ‘stuff’! The backpacks were banished to the boot for a while.
Our backpacking tent is perfect for just that – backpacking. But if we were to spend 50 further nights in it whilst car camping I’m sure we would have got fed up. We just needed a bit more space so we could sit up, lounge out, spread our things out and even stand up on occasions. So we opted for a Coleman 4-man 9x7ft tent (available in Target for around $80) that said on the packaging it’s a 10 minute set up. We effectively got the timing down to around 5 minutes with Wayne’s expert tent put up skills! It’s a cheap and cheerful tent that does what it says on the tin, apart from hold up and keep the rain out in anything more than a passing shower. Cue Wayne attempting another tent rescue mission by seam sealing the corners. Hopefully we’ll have no more rain to test his skills or the supposed water-proof quality of the tent!
The perfect camp spot! We woke up to one of the most scenic views from our tent at Monument Valley.
Hiring the car enabled us to visit lots of places we couldn’t have reached using public transport.
We also bought a larger single stove burner, a large all-in-one cook pot, plates, bowls, a chopping board, a washing up bowl and even a tea-towel. (No more flapping pots about and air drying. Yes, slowly but surely we are filtering back into civilisation!) Next on the shopping list were 2 camp chairs (we had dearly missed sitting on a chair whilst hiking the JMT), 2 pillows (after we finally binned our travel pillows courtesy of Delta because they were simply too grubby), a cool box, and a whole assortment of condiments to ensure our meals would be as good as from a home kitchen! (I didn’t doubt that anyway with Wayne doing all the cooking!)
Starting the day off right! Putting our new cooking equipment to good use making a traditional ‘English breakfast’.
Finally, we put our redundant bear canisters to good use, one to contain all of our cleaning products, (washing up liquid, disinfectant wipes, cloths, scrubbers, mini dustpan & brush) and the other to be used for cosmetic products (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, moisturiser, deodorant, toothpaste, dental floss etc.) Exactly how I coped on the JMT without most of these things I’m not sure! Anyway, we stocked up with a variety of food, several gas canisters, not forgetting a few alcoholic beverages, then finally felt ready to head off!
Anything scented or used for cooking had to be kept in a bear locker when National Parks provided them.
Just one of the many never ending roads we travelled on during our 3,700 mile trip.
Unlike our first road trip that was planned and scheduled to the nth degree, with each day’s map and route neatly printed off to follow to the letter (largely as our RV came with mileage restrictions and hefty penalties), this time we simply had a rough route in mind. Our only fixed date was that we needed to be in Albuquerque for the ‘opening day’ of the ‘Balloon Fiesta’ (which coincided with my birthday) as we’d pre-booked a motel for 3 nights.
‘Hamburger Rock’ – A fantastic campsite we stumbled upon purely by chance, close to Canyonlands National Park.
Enjoying sunset from the top of ‘Hamburger Rock’.
Another great off-the-beaten path campsite – Sand Flats Recreation Area, Moab, Utah.
For some people, such as Wayne, driving into the ‘unknown’ offers immense freedom and the ultimate feeling of adventure. Me on the other hand, I’m an intrinsic ‘planner’. (I’m the sort of person that would love to spend a day alphabetically categorising your home library or music collection and would take great pleasure from the end result!) I like working to a schedule and am not really one for spontaneity. So not knowing exactly where we were going to be on a particular date, or not knowing how many miles I’d have to drive that day, I found to be quite stressful at times, as well as frustrating. But I tried to look at it positively – at least with not having a solid plan we could move with the weather, stay longer if we found that ‘amazing’ campsite somewhere, and it allowed us the chance of finding those unexpected little gems by taking roads less travelled. (As opposed to sticking to the interstates to get from A to B). I still would have liked an itinerary and would have preferred to have had daily routes and mileage at hand, but that’s life sometimes. I still have to remind myself that I can’t plan literally everything!
An unexpected stop-off and great campsite at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.
Campsites in the USA usually come with a picnic table and fire pit as standard. Sometimes a shelter was also provided.
So with a full tank of petrol, a newly purchased ‘USA Road Atlas’ and a bit of trepidation, I put the gear stick into ‘drive’ and my foot down on the accelerator… And we were on our way!
Driving through this tunnel on the way to Bryce Canyon National Park wasn’t nearly half as nerve-wracking in a car compared to last time in an RV!
We had decided on visiting the four south-western states – Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. Remarkably, these are the only states in the USA to intersect at one point, which is now known as the ‘Four Corners Monument’. (Of course, much like the rest of America, this is now a huge tourist attraction!)
More scenic driving…
Some days we felt like we were the only car on the road!
Driving often presented us with perfect time lapse opportunities.
Having visited them before, Arizona and Utah were like two old friends, whereas New Mexico and Colorado were completely new territory for us. That being said, wherever you are in the USA, there are the same motels, fast-food restaurants and chain stores that line the main streets of every large town, housed in the same characterless brown buildings. (Which despite my negative undertone is actually a good thing when you need internet on the go to upload a blog post. You can always rely on there being free wi-fi in a McDonalds or Starbucks (other wi-fi providers are available!)
Crossing over the state line from Arizona into Utah.
Being surrounded by monster trucks, huge fifth wheelers and giant RVs (that in England would be considered a ‘bus’ by any normal person’s standards) we quickly realised that in a car we were a mere insignificance on the road, so I started to relax a little and feel more at ease with the task of driving. (Those impatient drivers who just had to overtake were obviously transporting a kidney for a sick child or something!)
The shelter offered us the perfect respite when it rained for a couple of days.
We treated ourselves to the ‘National Parks’ edition of Monopoly. Great to keep us occupied on those rainy days!
Our first attempt at toasting ‘S’mores’ over the camp fire!
That’s not to say it was a problem free journey. Like the first night we parked at a motel to find that someone had puked all over the car! (Not the best present to wake up to!) Or the time I had unwittingly left the car boot open (or trunk as they would say state side) with all of our electronics inside, in a public car park. Whether the fob had been pressed accidentally in my pocket I’m not sure – but the boot wasn’t just unlocked, it was wide open, inviting anyone to help themselves! Luckily nothing had been taken to my immense relief. (I couldn’t even remotely blame Wayne for this one as being the ‘driver’ I’m always in charge of the keys!) Karma was definitely paying us back in kind that day!
We had to navigate icy roads as we drove north into Colorado.
Trying to keep out the cold in Colorado! We soon made our way to Utah where is was at least 10 degrees warmer.
Yes, there were definitely a few hiccups and frayed nerves along the way, compounded because of the fact that I was completely reliant on Wayne each day to plan our route and relay directions. But we did it as a team. We travelled 3,723 miles and lived to tell the tale, which we’ll be sharing with you on the blog over the next month in our short ‘road trip’ series.
A road trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Vegas!
We’ll be giving a round up of our journey through each state, which will include where we stayed, places we camped, trails we hiked, what we saw and enjoyed, tips for road tripping on a budget, along with a few observations of the USA from an English perspective.
So come along for the ride!