Month 3 on the Road – Best Hidden Places in Utah for your Bucket List

I think we are finally starting to get the hang of vanlife and living on the road. We have slowly fine-tuned our daily and weekly routines, and while we could always exercise more, eat healthier, and be more productive on the blog, those were all things that we struggled with before – some things never change!

Welcome to our third monthly update on our overlanding adventure! This month is filled with hidden places in Utah, Utah bucket list places we were finally able to check off, exploring Nevada, and an abrupt ending!

 

Sunset at Utah Badlands - Hidden Places in Utah

 

May brought excitement and anticipation related to COVID-19 as almost all Utah state parks opened up, restaurants re-opened, and many National Parks began opening as well. We would finally be able to visit all the hidden places in Utah we have been wanting to see since crossing into Utah in March!

 

Bettina Twirling at Cathedral Valley Capitol Reef State Park

 

On the other hand, Bettina was fast approaching the 90-day expiration of her tourist visa to stay in the United States, which brought back a lot of the stress and anxiety that we were trying to avoid!

 

Clucking Along the Chicken Corners Trail – Moab, Utah

 

Moab is one of the most famous Utah towns for adventure, though in our case restaurants weren’t quite open, the nearby Arches and Canyonlands National Parks were very much closed, and you couldn’t even camp anywhere in the county. Moab has been on our “must visit” list for so long that we decided to find a way around the COVID-19 restrictions.

We decided to camp on BLM land just outside the county, spend the day exploring, and make sure to leave the county again every night.

 

Camping during Supermoon at Chicken Corners Utah

 

Not wanting to miss out on all the hidden places in Utah and what Moab area has to offer, I decided that we should tackle one of the most famous off-road trails in the area, The Chicken Corners Trail. This trail is about 20 miles (32 km) one-way and has some spectacular views of the Colorado River. Across the river is Deadhorse State Park and Thelma & Louise Point, made famous from the ending scene of Thelma & Louise.

 

View from Chicken Corners Utah

 

The 20-mile road took us about 4 hours as we tackled the various rock obstacles and sections of deep sand along the way. I should probably add at this point that Bettina is not a huge fan of off-roading but I thoroughly enjoyed the excitement and thrill to explore uncharted territory and discover more hidden places in Utah. We were rewarded with an incredible view at the end and nobody else around us for miles – a perfect place to spend the night.

 

Super Moon at Chicken Corners Moab, Utah

 

The next morning, we woke up early to take in the sunrise, and then tackle the same 20 miles back to civilization. It was just as bumpy as the day before but luckily we were able to shave off a half hour this time through!

 

Driving Chicken Corners Off-Road Trail, Moab Utah

 

We weren’t done with Moab just yet though! While on the Chicken Corners Trail we could see the brilliant blue lakes on the other side of the Colorado River. Bettina was immediately intrigued, as these days any hidden place in Utah with blue is a photo shoot opportunity. We learned that they were the evaporation ponds of a nearby potash mine. We were able to get decently close to the ponds, and the blue colors were even more vivid up close!

 

Blue Pools Potash Mine Moab Utah

 

One of the places we wanted to explore around Moab was Arches National Park. Unfortunately, the national park was still closed and we had to search for hidden places in Utah with arches that we could visit.

 

Wilson Arch Moab, Utah

 

As luck would have it, Corona Arch, came to our rescue (ironic name in this case). Getting to Corona Arch was a relatively easy hike and well worth the incredible view of the arch.

 

Hike Across Railway Tracks to Corona Arch in Utah

 

View of Corona Arch in Utah at Sunset

 

Walking Amongst Goblins

 

We thought we had seen it all when it comes to unique rock formations in Utah, but we had yet to visit Goblin Valley State Park. This beautiful state park has a field of goblins, all waiting to be explored. We spent the day hiking amongst the goblins and even venturing deep into the goblin’s lair.

 

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

 

If it looks familiar, Goblin Valley State Park was featured heavily in the movie Galaxy Quest. The intriguing looking rocks, or goblins, are formed from sandstone that has existed for 165 million years. The rock has unevenly fractured and eroded over time to form what we can see today.

 

Sitting on Goblins at Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

 

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

 

On of the Best Hidden Places in Utah - The Utah Badlands

 

After spending over a month in Utah, we have become very used to orange-colored rock. It has become our new normal, and the resulting orange dust has found its way into every crack and crevice in Swifty. This is why we were so excited to see some exotic grey rocks in the Utah Badlands. The Utah Badlands are definitely one of those hidden places in Utah that nobody would think of visiting but they are well worth seeing.

 

View over Utah Badlands

 

In fact, the Utah Badlands would not look out of place on another planet, and apparently NASA agrees because there is a Mars Desert Research Station nearby. However, for us – the sight was quite unique!

 

Kyle at Utah Badlands

 

The skyline of the Utah Badlands is dominated by Factory Butte, a massive flat-topped sandstone peak, surrounded by desert nothingness.

 

Factory Butte at Utah Badlands

 

We explored the Utah Badlands, coming across all sorts of rock formations and colors before finding another epic place to set up camp for the night at the edge of a very steep drop-off.

And if you are feeling adventurous, there is a lone spire of rock begging to be climbed for the perfect photo. It was actually quite safe to get there, and appeared incredibly strong and sturdy, though that did not stop Bettina from, understandably, freaking out a bit.

 

View of Utah Badlands

 

The Utah Badlands were an incredible place to see, and even better place to camp! It is a completely hidden place in Utah as we hardly saw anyone around. There is almost no light pollution which makes for a great opportunity for star gazing.

 

Finally, Open! Capitol Reef National Park

 

It seems like we have been dreaming of this day ever since we arrived in Utah. The day that we would finally be able to visit one of Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks: Capitol Reef National Park.

Only the remote backcountry of Capitol Reef National Park was open at this time, but that was okay with us. We set off on the remote backcountry byway, battling some of the dustiest and driest sand we had seen yet. If you have ever baked with large quantities of flour, then you can imagine how dusty this area was.

 

Back country drive through Capitol Reef National Park

 

We made it to the famous Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon in good time, but a storm was rolling in and our time there consisted of intense blowing sand and a bit of rain. We barely remembered to snap a picture before continuing on our way.

 

Temple of the Sun Capitol Reef National Park

 

We saw a few other really unique sights, such as a massive sinkhole and a striking line of vertical stone that ran across the desert floor, up the mountain, and continued as far as we could see. We reached the nearby campground and had one of our roughest nights of the trip as Swifty was pummeled by rain and intense wind gusts throughout the night.

 

View of Cathedral Valley at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

 

We needed a lot of coffee to get going the next morning, but rewarded with stunning views of Cathedral Valley, the highlight of the backcountry area of Capitol Reef National Park and another of our favorite hidden places in Utah.

 

Best Views at Bryce Canyon National Park

 

With parks now opening, we weren’t going to waste any time to see the next park on our list: Bryce Canyon. Again, after a month of staring at the various rock formations in Utah, you would think that we become a bit jaded and unimpressed by rocks. It’s true, we now have a higher standard of what we deem “impressive” but apparently, we weren’t yet “rocked out” as Bryce Canyon blew us away!

 

Sunset Point at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

 

The area is so unique and surprisingly large. As a point of comparison, Goblin Valley State Park also had a fairly large area of densely placed unique rock formations, but Bryce Canyon was easily ten times larger.

 

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

 

Even more incredible than the size and shape of the rock formations, is the intense orange color. Bryce Canyon has a large number of relatively easily accessible viewpoints along the main road. We started at Sunset Point for the most impressive view.

 

Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

 

We would have loved to complete the Navajo Loop hiking trail, however it was closed due to constructions, so we will have to wait to go back at some point! Another great nearby viewpoint is Inspiration Point with similar views but a slightly different perspective which will blow you away as well.

 

Bryce Canyon National Park

 

We followed the road to the very end at Rainbow Point, but were still most impressed by the Sunset Point view. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually stay here until sunset, but had to hit the road, returning back to Cedar City.

 

 

Toquerville Falls - A Must Add to Your Utah Bucket List

 

While Bettina and I generally get along quite well, especially when we are traveling, there is an added level of difficulty when you have had no outside social interaction for the past three months.

When we were camping at Alstrom Point, which you can read about on our first monthly update, we met another couple camping who happened to be from Utah! Bettina kept in contact with them as we traveled around Utah, and as we were in the area where they lived, we decided to meet up for some appropriate social-distancing socializing. We were sure glad that we did!

We had never heard of Toquerville Falls but our Utah friends suggested we go there for a day trip. It is one of those stunning hidden places in Utah which is not known to tourists like us but very popular with the locals.

 

Twirling at Toquerville Falls, Utah

 

We all decided to make the trek out to the falls for some swimming, eating, and drinking. The road to the falls is very rough, and should only be attempted in high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle. The drive was totally worth it for us though as we were rewarded with these beautiful waterfalls.

What makes Toquerville Falls unique is that you can drive across the river just above the upper falls…

 

Driving Through Toquerville Falls, Utah

 

…and jump into the river below from the lower falls.

 

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The water was refreshing and clean, which made Toquerville Falls one of our favorite afternoons of our trip!

 

Midwest Detour

 

The start of our overlanding adventure was initially delayed a couple months due to my health, and while when we began our trip, I was in a pretty good spot, we were really looking forward to getting additional treatment at a specialty clinic in St. Louis. This treatment was originally scheduled for the end of March, but COVID-19 caused it to be rescheduled to the end of May.

Additionally, we initially planned and booked flights to fly from Salt Lake City to St. Louis, but with the elevated risk of flying (and the exorbitant cost) we decided to make the 24-hour, 1,500 mile (2,400 km) drive to St. Louis.

 

While our Toyota Tacoma with Swifty is pretty easy to drive, it is not by any stretch of the imagination, very speedy. We figured that we could drive at least 25% faster in a rental car compared to Swifty, and would save a lot in gas along the way. So we packed up Swifty and left her safely parked in St. George, Utah while we embarked on a few days of non-stop driving.

 

The drive was long, but uneventful, and our time in St. Louis was relaxing as we celebrated Bettina’s birthday and I completed a few days of treatment.

 

To spice things up on the return 24-hour journey we decided to take a more southerly route through southwest Missouri, across Oklahoma, a small portion of Texas, a very large portion of New Mexico, and all of Arizona. This contrasted nicely with our route on the way there through central Utah, all of Colorado, all of Kansas, and 99% of Missouri.

 

In the end we drove just shy of 3,300 miles (5,300 km) in the span of a week, which was, a lot.

 

Oppressive Heat in the Valley of Fire

 

We were very glad to get back to Swifty and our “home” after a week away. After hanging around St. George for a day or two we set out further south, leaving our favorite hidden places in Utah and ready to explore Nevada.

 

Greetings from Valley of Fire State Park Sign

 

Our goal was to visit Valley of Fire State Park in southern Nevada, but as usual I wanted to take a more indirect and adventurous route to get there. We drove the Bitter Springs Trail to position ourselves near Valley of Fire for a sunrise photoshoot the next morning. The road was rough, but we got a nice taste of the scenery in Nevada, and found a great place to camp in a wash close to the trail.

 

Driving Through Valley of Fire Nevada

 

The area was so beautiful and quiet, and we even saw some wild horses nearby.

 

We surprised ourselves and were able to get up early – hitting the road before sunrise on a mission to explore Valley of Fire State Park. Luckily, Valley of Fire State Park is not an overly large park, which makes seeing it all in one day very attainable.

 

Bettina Sitting on Street at Valley of Fire Nevada

 

Bettina’s heart was set on getting the iconic Valley of Fire shot from the main road, and as we were there so early, we had more than enough time with the road all to ourselves to take as many photos as we liked. The temperature at this point was quite comfortable, and so we also decided to go on a short hike to rainbow vista.

 

Bettina Sitting on Rainbow Rock at Valley of Fire Nevada

 

Temperatures that day were projected to climb over 100F / 40C, so we were on a time-sensitive mission to check off all our bucket list place before it would get to hot. The hike to rainbow vista was not very long, because we had a few more that we wanted to do before it go too hot. However, it was not even 8:00 AM yet and it was already 90F / 32C.

The north end of the park has two great short hikes, one is called the White Domes Loop, and the other is The Fire Wave. Both hikes are relatively short and the views are incredible, making it very much worth your effort.

 

Wave of Fire at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

 

Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

 

If it wasn’t for the heat we would have spent a lot longer out exploring. As lunchtime approached, the temperature was fast approaching the high for the day, 108F / 42C. That was a bit too warm for us, so we headed for some shade to make lunch before stopping by elephant rock on the way out.

 

Melting Away in Las Vegas

 

As we drove into Las Vegas, we were filled with mixed emotions. This was our first properly big city in a long time, but also where we were supposed to fly to Europe from over a month earlier. Not only that, we now knew that our original plan to continue our vanlife journey to Mexico was in imminent danger as the US-Mexico border closures had both been extended by an additional month.

 

Welcome to Las Vegas Sign

 

Our first day in Las Vegas was spent trying to avoid the heat. Normally, we could park close to a Starbucks or McDonald’s and work in Swifty while on wi-fi, but it was far too hot to do so, and indoor seating was still closed. As a result we walked into some stores to cool down, then back to Swifty to work, and then back inside to cool down. Not the best solution, but it worked temporarily.

 

For the evening we drove south to camp near one of Bettina’s most anticipated locations: The Seven Magic Mountains.

 

Bettina at Seven Magic Mountains in Las Vegas, Nevada

 

After a restless sleep in the heat, we dragged ourselves out of bed and were still able to make it to Seven Magic Mountains as the sun was rising. If you haven’t been there yourself, surely you are familiar with the brightly colored towers of stacked rocks in the middle of the desert.

An unusual sight, but very interesting and also very popular. We were not the only ones there and around 6am, there were already well over 20 people walking amongst the rock towers. If you want the perfect picture, make sure to arrive very early!

 

The Long Drive Home

 

At this point we had tried to extend Bettina’s ESTA visa in the United States, but learned that it was not possible. We had also called the Canadian Border and Canadian Embassy in the United States to see if I could bring her into Canada, but that was also not possible. With plan A, B, and C out the window, she would have to fly back to Switzerland, and I would drive back to Canada.

 

Bettina Leaning Out of a Car

 

We left Las Vegas late on a Friday night, aiming to reach Seattle on Sunday night before her early flight on Monday morning. It was another few long days of driving as we had 1,200 miles (1,900 km) to cover over the next two days. The journey was mostly uneventful, but we did get rather rudely woken up while camping at a highway rest stop in Idaho by a hailstorm.

 

Flower field in Washington State

 

Arriving in Seattle, we had quite literally come full circle from where we began our journey just three months before. When we started in early March, the thought of our adventure ending like this so soon was not even a possibility in our minds.

The Stats – Month Three

 

Miles driven: 2,574

Nights in Swifty: 19

US States crossed: Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington

Number of Wild Horses Spotted: 3

In-N-Out Burgers Consumed: 10 (there’s two of us but Kyle had more than half!)

Number of Sunrise Photoshoots: 5

Number of Nights Hailed On: 1

Days over 35C / 95F: 8

Favorite Meal: Burgers at In-N-Out in St. George, Utah

Favorite Campsite: Utah Badlands

 

In Summary

 

Just as we were really starting to get a hang of the whole #vanlife thing, we’ve been forced to cut our trip short. It is disappointing, and made harder by not only having to stop, but be separated halfway across the world. At this point it is hard to know what the future will hold. I am not able to enter Europe to visit Bettina in Swizterland, and Bettina is not able to enter Canada.

With COVID-19 impacting so many countries around the world, especially Latin America at the moment, the future does look uncertain. However, we are remaining optimistic that borders will re-open at some point this year and we can continue an amended version of our trip. We are fully aware that our situation is still far better than many people who have had their lives impacted by COVID-19.

 

Bettina Walking on Street in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

 

As a result of having to put our #vanlife adventure on hold, this will also put a temporary hold on these monthly updates. At the moment, the hardest part is the uncertainty of when borders will re-open and it will be safe again to travel. Our travel adventures are not completely on hold as Bettina will be sharing much of her Switzerland stay on her Instagram. Make sure to stop by every once in a while to see the magic of Swiss summers.

 

Save this pin in our road trip Pinterest board for when your next road trip across the US!

Best Hidden Places in Utah to Explore on a Road Trip

 

Utah Badlands - Best Hidden Places in Utah to Explore on a Road Trip

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Month 2 on the Road – Best Slot Canyons of Utah and Self-Isolating

How have we been on the road for two months already? On the one hand vanlife feels like our normal life now, as we explore the best slot canyons of Utah and watch as many sunrises and sunsets as we can. On the other this is still all crazy and new. Welcome to our second monthly update on our overlanding adventure!

 

Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper Swift Model at Sunset

 

April was a difficult month on the COVID-19 front. Many states were (and are still) in complete lock-down. Even in Utah, many National and State Parks closed due to COVID-19 which made vanlife incredibly difficult. Our daily tasks involved checking the news and doing a lot of research on where we were going to camp and what we were going to see and do.

Luckily for us, there is one thing Utah has plenty of and it’s called BLM Lands. BLM stands for the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the public lands where it is free for anyone to camp and explore. So that is exactly what we did!

 

Couple Walking Towards Monument Valley at Forest Gump Hill Utah

 

 

Hole in the Rock Road - Walking Amongst Dinosaurs

 

We started our second month on the road in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which has over 1 million acres of BLM land to explore. Hole in the Rock Road is a historic Mormon trail, which has great outdoor activities all along it and as it turns out, the best slot canyons in Utah!

 

While we like to do the occasional hike, here we did 3 hikes in 3 days, all with unique sights. We made an attempt at hiking Zebra Slot Canyon. I say attempt, as when we reached the slot canyon it was partially filled with water. We waded in up to our knees, but it got deep fast and we couldn’t see the bottom anymore after a few feet in. It didn’t help that the water was incredibly cold! We decided to turn back and admit defeat. Luckily, Tunnel Slot Canyon is close-by which saved the hike from being a failure!

 

Bettina Hiking to Golden Cathedral Utah

 

Our second hike was the longest, over 9 miles (15 km) including a few river crossings. The day was a bit overcast which was a very welcome change given that we trekked across the desert with nobody else around. We made it to the Golden Cathedral as another hiker was ending a spontaneous concert. The acoustics of the Golden Cathedral were incredible, and her voice was amplified throughout the slot canyon which sounded incredible.

 

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Bettina at Golden Cathedral Utah

 

Hole in the Rock Road also offers some other incredible sights, which are much easier to access and worthy of exploring if you are in the area. Devils Garden is full of hoodoos and rock formations, just waiting to be explored. In case you are not familiar with the term, hoodoos are columns of weathered rock and while a pile of rock doesn’t sound overly exciting by itself, these piles are a lot of fun!

 

Bettina at Devil's Garden Escalante Staircase Utah

 

Bettina at Devil's Garden Escalante Staircase Utah

 

For any ancient history and dinosaur lovers, exploring 20 Mile Dinosaur Tracks is a must! The area has over 350 individual dinosaur tracks created by plant eating sauropods over 150 million years ago. The footprints have been preserved over time as they are pressed in sandstone. It was incredible to think that we were walking in the exact same spot as these creatures from so long ago.

 

20 Mile Dinosaur Tracks in Escalante Staircase Utah

 

Our third hike along the Hole in the Rock Road was our favorite as it includes some of the best slot canyons of Utah. The hike led us to Spooky Slot Canyon and Peekaboo Slot Canyon.

 

The Best Slot Canyons of Utah - Spooky Slot Canyon and Peekaboo Slot Canyon

 

With names like Spooky and Peekaboo, these slot canyons better be good - spoiler alert, we think these are the best slot canyons of Utah! And no, we are not making this up! You start the hike into a dry canyon where access to the slot canyons is relatively quick and easy. We read online that the best route is to start with Peekaboo and end with Spooky, travelling in a loop, so that is exactly what we did.

 

Overlook of Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyon Utah

 

Peekaboo starts with a 12 foot (4 meter) climb up the slick rock to the entrance, which is fairly manageable due to multiple footholds and handholds. Once you find yourself in the canyon, you quickly see where Peekaboo gets its name from! The slot canyon is a compilation of very curvy twists and turns with smooth sandstone.

 

Peekaboo Best Slot Canyons of Utah

 

These curves allow you to play a quick game of peekaboo along the way. We spent at least an hour hiking through the canyon and taking tons of photos along the way.

 

Bettina Twirling at Peekaboo Slot Canyon Utah

 

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Once out of Peekaboo, it was a relatively short hike cross-country to the entrance of Spooky Slot Canyon. Spooky is definitely not for the faint of heart. It was incredibly narrow in spots (we had to take off our backpacks, and shuffle sideways as there wasn’t even enough space to turn our hiking boots sideways). Spooky also has rougher rock and is much deeper and darker than Peekaboo.

 

Bettina in Peekaboo Slot Canyon Utah

 

The piece-de-resistance is a massive car-size boulder that you need to climb up and over while in the slot canyon, and then proceed to climb back underneath it, and then crawl through a passageway to continue. The fact that we saw a random shoe stuck in a crevice here definitely added to the spookiness!

 

Kyle in Peekaboo Slot Canyon - Best Slot Canyons of Utah

 

All in all, this was one of our favorite hikes and both Spooky and Peekaboo live up to their names! The canyons made it one of our favorite days this month and they are easily some of the best slot canyons of Utah.

 

Big City Living in St. George, Utah

 

After a few days spent in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, we headed to Cedar City for some rest and relaxation at an Airbnb for a few days. Pizzas were baked, movies were downloaded, and clothes were washed. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and rainy, so we again hit the road to somewhere warm. We headed further south to St. George, Utah, the largest city we had been to in a long time. We were looking for some of the best things to do in St. George, Utah so we hit up In-N-Out take-out for delicious burgers (more than once), indulged in Sugar Cookies take-out (more than once), and went a bit nuts at Costco – all while social distancing of course.

 

One thing we haven’t really talked about yet is Wal-Mart, the savior of all overlanders and vanlifers in the US. Most Wal-Marts allow overnight camping in their parking lots for free, which is a great way to keep costs down in cities, where camping options are few and far between. Since most campgrounds are closed due to COVID-19, we were even more grateful to have the option to camp at Wal-Mart. We spent a couple nights at the Wal-Mart in St. George, but don’t have any photos to share as it is just a parking lot and not as exciting as hiking the best slot canyons of Utah!

 

Mountain View in Yant Flats Utah

 

We wanted to explore the area around St. George and drove to the surrounding forests. One of the great things to do in St. George is taking a quick drive to hike to Yant Flat Cliffs. The Yant Flats are an area with beautiful swirling sandstone and very much reminded us of White Pocket, which we explored just a few weeks ago and which you can read about here.

 

View of Yant Flats Utah

 

Getting to the Yant Flats is an easy 3.4-mile hike from the parking lot (return) and you are rewarded with incredible views, peculiar rock formations, and vibrant orange wavy sand stone. If you are in the area, seeing Yant Flats is one of the best things to do in St. George, Utah.

 

Bettina at Yant Flats Utah

 

Run Forrest Run to Monument Valley

 

Monument Valley was one of the destinations we were most looking forward to in Utah. But once again, COVID-19 forced us to change our plans as Monument Valley closed. We held off going here as long as possible, hoping the Monument Valley loop would re-open. However after a bit more research we realized that some of the most famous views are actually just from the main highway near Monument Valley, so off we went!

 

Girl looking at Monument Valley Utah

 

Toyota Tacome at Forest Gump Hill Monument Valley Utah

 

The most famous of all is the Forrest Gump Hill, where Forrest Gump ended his cross-country run in the movie with Monument Valley in the background. We were fortunate to have this famous area almost to ourselves. We spoke with one other traveler who had been here before, and said that there are usually tour buses and tons of other travelers at this exact spot.

 

Bettina at Monument Valley Utah

 

Luckily there isn’t much traffic on this road as we took our time taking a lot of photos, although we did have to run to save the tripod more than once as a semi-truck barreled down the highway.

 

Bettina and Kyle at Forest Gump Hill Monument Valley Utah

 

We spent the night camping at nearby Mexican Hat. We’ll let you take a wild guess where this town got its name from.

 

Bettina Twirling at Mexican Hat Utah

 

Campsite at Mexican Hat Utah

 

And while we were in the area, we checked out Goosenecks State Park, also aptly named. Goosenecks State Park seems like a few Horseshoe Bends all in a row. In case you haven’t seen Horseshoe Bend, make sure you read up on it as it is one of our favorite road trip destinations in the Southwest US.

 

Goosenecks State Park at Sunset

 

Here at Goosenecks, the San Juan River flows over 6 miles, but only travels about 1.5 miles from East to West as the crow flies, not exactly the most direct route.

 

Bettina Overlooking Goosenecks State Park at Sunset

 

 

Unearthly Views at Valley of the Gods

 

Valley of the Gods is the lesser known, slightly smaller version of Monument Valley, but we would have to say that it is almost even more impressive. That is because it is far less popular, and you can enjoy this incredible area with just a few others off in the distance. In addition, there is a ton of Valley of the Gods camping spots, allowing you to choose your favorite view. The valley is made up of many monuments, each towering higher than the last!

 

Drive Through Valley of the Gods Utah

 

Driving along the Valley of the Gods road, each monument has a specific name, and story to tell. Some of our favorites were Santa and Rudolph Butte…

 

Santa and Rudolph Butte at Valley of the Gods Utah

 

…Lady in a Tub Butte…

 

Lady in a Tub Butte Valley of the Gods Utah

 

… and the suspiciously shaped Castle Butte.

 

Castle Butte in Valley of the Gods Utah

 

We dragged ourselves out of bed before sunrise and scrambled up the slope above our campsite to take in the sunrise as the sun rays reached each of the monument towers. It was an unearthly sight and definitely worth waking up early for!

 

View of Valley of the Gods Utah

 

Kyle at Valley of the Gods Viewpoint Utah

 

We can highly recommend spending a night or two in Valley of the Gods camping. As a bonus it is also super close to another one of our other favorite camping spots, Muley Point!

 

Best Camping Views and Muley Point

 

We learned about Muley Point a few weeks prior when talking to some other travelers who highly recommended it. Once we saw the pictures of their campsite, we immediately added it to our list. To get there from our Valley of the Gods camping spot, we needed to drive up the twists and turns of the Moki Dugway, which is a road that has been cut into the cliffside and zig-zags to the top near Muley Point.

 

Campsite at Muley Point Utah

 

Once at the top of the plateau, the road to Muley Point is easy and smooth. There are a number of dispersed camping sites here, and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. We picked our favorite and set up for the night, enjoying an incredible sunset.

 

Bettina Sitting on Cliff at Muley Point Utah

 

The views from Muley Point are unbelievable. You can see out over the valley with the San Juan River snaking in the foreground and Monument Valley in the background.

 

Sunset at Muley Point Overlooking Monument Valley Utah

 

A Taste of Moab

 

We continued our travels through Southeast Utah up to Moab, known for its location next to the famous Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and incredible scenery. Unfortunately, the National Parks are still closed due to COVID-19, and it is actually illegal to camp anywhere in this county at the moment. To avoid breaking the law, we drove out of the county each night to camp.

 

Bettina Sitting on Cliff at Needles Overlook Utah

 

Fortunately, we were able to look out at Canyonlands National Park in the distance, and we found a few other arches nearby. Stay tuned and on the look-out for the next monthly update to see some of our favorite spots around Moab!

 

The Stats – Month Two

 

We created a map and compiled stats so that you can follow along our trip easier and which you can use to plan your own adventure!

 

 

Miles driven: 1,188

Nights in Swifty: 28

US States crossed: Utah, Arizona (but we did cross this border 8 times)

Number of Slot Canyons of Utah Hiked: 6

Sugar Cookies Consumed: 12

Number of Nights the Police Woke Us Up and Told Us to Move: 1

Number of Nights We Had to Use the Furnace: 6

Days of Sunshine: 25

Favorite Meal: Burgers at In-N-Out in St. George, Utah

Favorite Campsite: Valley of the Gods, Utah

 

In Summary

 

We are now getting settled in to life on the road, but yearning to experience the full freedom of vanlife. As the COVID-19 closures are gradually re-opened, we have been able to see a few more new sights while still primarily living off the grid and self-isolating. The weather has been spectacularly warm for what we are typically used to for April, which has definitely kept our spirits high. And hiking some of the best slot canyons of Utah was a great highlight!

We are looking forward to the next month on the road as news of Utah’s National Parks gradually reopening are being announced, giving us a hint as to what is to come.

 

Tacoma and Swift Camper At Utah Sign at Monument Valley Utah

 

 

The Night the Police Woke Us Up

 

Oh, and if you are wondering about the stat of the number of nights the police woke us up and told us to move: here it is. We were camping in a park near a city. The spot was well known online and there were many reviews of people camping here, as recently as one week prior, without any issues. There were no “No Camping” signs in the area, and we didn’t think twice about camping there as we set up and went to bed. However, at 12:30AM there was a loud knock on the door and a man yelling “Police.”

 

Campsite at Valley of the Gods Utah

 

We were jolted awake, jumped out of bed immediately, and had flashlights shone in our faces. The policeman was very nice and apologized for waking us up. He told us it was a city park and that we couldn’t camp there, but there was public land a few miles down the road where we could go. So we packed up Swifty and made our way over to another campsite with our hearts still racing. It was fair to say that Bettina almost had a heart attack because of the entire situation. Overall, it was not a big deal, but definitely a night to remember!

 

Save this pin in our road trip Pinterest board for when your next road trip across the US!

 

VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!

 

VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!

 

VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!
VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!
VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!
VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!
VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!

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How To Best Prepare for Full Time Camper Living

Planning for a multi-year overlanding trip results in a long list of pretty much everything you can imagine. Decisions, decisions, decisions on what to buy, bring, sell or modify before you even begin your adventure. The biggest decision by far is what vehicle you will drive and how you will sleep. These are all of our thoughts and considerations for the ‘perfect for us’ home on wheels for full time camper living.

 

If you are wondering why we are taking this trip and adventure into full time camper living and tackling the Pan-American Highway, you can read all about our transition from corporate America to living in a camper. The decision of pursuing Van Life or living in a camper is certainly not an easy one to make but it has been fully worth it for us. If you're wondering if you should try full time camper living, this article on Van Lifer's Comments might help with your decision making.

 

Love Where You Live Mural in North Park, San Diego

 

What Vehicle Should I Choose For Full Time Camper Living?

 

The vehicle you choose to tackle the Pan-American Highway with is obviously one of the biggest decisions to make. For us, it was a relatively easy decision, but still well thought out. When we moved to Chicago in 2015, we purchased our 2011 Toyota Tacoma, knowing in the back of our minds that it might be used for this adventure.

 

Unmodified Toyota Tacoma

 

The main requirements in a vehicle to go on such an adventure are for it to be reliable, durable, capable, and relatively fuel efficient. The Toyota Tacoma is one of the most popular trucks in North America due to its well-known Toyota reliability and durability, as well as being quite capable off-road. Fuel efficiency is not its strong-point, but when driven with care it is manageable. All of these factors, make it an excellent choice for full time camper living.

 

Do I Need To Modify My Vehicle? 

 

Depending on what vehicle you pick and what type of home you are planning to live in (think rooftop tent, van, camper, pop-up camper, etc), you may need to do some modifications to your vehicle. Also, if you are planning on doing a lot of off-roading, stock tires and suspension might not get you everywhere you want to go. In our case, we had to put some work into our Toyota Tacoma for it to be able to safely support our pop-up camper called "Swifty" (more on it below). We made the following modifications to get ready for the road.

 

  • Old Man Emu Heavy Duty 3” Lift Kit and rear airbags (for extra ground clearance and to support the weight of Swifty) - after our first month on the road, we are already super happy we have a lift.
  • 33” BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2’s (for better traction off-road and to support the weight of Swifty)
  • RCI Off Road engine skid plate (to protect the engine if we don’t see a rock that is too big to drive over!)
  • RCI Off Road rock sliders (to protect the underside of the truck and provide an appropriate jack point for the now higher truck)
  • New brakes, a full-size spare tire, spark plugs, and fresh fluids all around (for overall better driveability and reliability)

 

Toyota Tacoma Being Modified at Performance Rovers in Charlotte

 

A special thanks to Performance Rovers (Charlotte, North Carolina), MULE Expedition Outfitters (Issaquah, Washington), and Overland Outfitters (Cloverdale, British Columbia) for completing the modifications and helping us along the way! We can highly recommend all of them for quality work and excellent customer service.

 

The list of modifications you could make to your overland vehicle is endless, especially for full time camper living. With what we chose we hope to strike the right balance of increased capability, maintaining stock reliability, and keeping overall weight down.

 

What's The Best Camper For Full Time Camper Living?

 

Finding the best camper for full time camper living highly depends on your preferred lifestyle. If you are looking to live a minimal lifestyle, don't mind being exposed to the weather, and are wanting to keep the overall vehicle cost and weight down to explore places, a rooftop tent might be a great option for you!

 

Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper Swift Model at Performance Rovers in Charlotte

 

If you are the opposite and are looking for a tiny house which is comfortable but can still get you places, you might like getting a camper or a van. Campers or vans are really great but restrict where you can go as they don't perform as well off road. This doesn't mean that you couldn't do a minivan camper conversion and take it overlanding. If you are somewhere in the middle though and want a comfortable home but also don't like to be restricted in where you go, a pop-up camper might be your best option for full time camper living.

 

Bettina in Front of an Ocean View in San Diego

 

Why We Chose A Pop-Up Camper

 

Our initial plan was to complete this trip with a roof-top tent, however after a two-week long camping trip to Colorado in 2017, we realized that tenting wasn’t going to work for such a long trip. We needed to have a complete indoor place to work, relax, and cook when the weather turned sour, to be able to enjoy full time camper living.

 

Bettina looking at a crashing wave in Hawaii

 

While getting a full RV, camper, or Sprinter van would provide a comfortable tiny home, we wouldn't be able to go and explore all the places on our lists. This left us with the third option: a pop-up camper.

 

Which Pop-Up Camper Is Right For Me?

 

The decision of getting the right pop-up camper very much depends on your vehicle. Given that we have a Toyota Tacoma, our options were very limited, as there are not a lot of pop-up campers on the market to fit a short-bed.

 

Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper Swift Model Drifting in the Snow

 

The Four Wheel Campers Swift model is specifically designed for the short-bed Toyota Tacoma and was thus perfect for us. This pop-up camper is designed to be strong (to withstand flex and tension when driving off-road), relatively lightweight (given the Toyota Tacoma’s poor payload capacity), relatively compact (so we can still fit in a shipping container) and to include just about everything you need to live indoors.

 

Buying a Four-Wheel Campers Pop-Up Camper

 

Four-Wheel Campers are not cheap, and get snapped up quickly on the used market. I began actively searching for a pop-up truck camper about a year before we planned on leaving Chicago, and over the next nine months, it became apparent that 1) the campers are listed and sold within days 2) there are virtually no campers available east of Colorado.

 

Camp Set-Up for full time camper living

 

If you are looking to buy a Four-Wheel Campers pop-up camper, but prefer to get a used version to save some money, prepare to wait or fly west. Because of their unique features, the pop-up camper is very popular and doesn't stay on the secondary market very long. I found our Swift model on Expedition Portal and immediately got in contact with the seller who had received multiple requests the day he listed his camper.

 

Toyota Tacoma off-roading in the sand in Utah

 

Because camping and off-roading is more popular in the western half of the U.S., your chances of finding a used pop-up camper are much higher there. If you have the option of researching and purchasing one in the western states, it will make your search easier and shorter.

 

Four-Wheel Campers Pop-Up Camper Interior

 

Our Four Wheel Campers Swift model (which Bettina calls Swifty) is complete with a refrigerator and freezer, two-burner propane stove, 20 gallon water tank with sink, hot water heater with outdoor shower head, propane furnace, two solar panels and two batteries, and a massive 270-degree awning.

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Pre Modifications

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Pre Modifications

 

The original look of our used Swift model was not exactly what Bettina had in mind for full time camper living. The kitchen counter top and table were a darker brown granite lookalike and the couch cushion fabric was very camp-chic. Given that the Swift model is not overly spacious, she decided to redecorate the interior and include brighter colors to visually enlarge the space.

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Pre Modifications

 

For the counter tops, she ordered a white marble counter top sticker. This was by far the cheapest option to upgrade the look of the counter top. The installation was a bit tedious and took a few hours but the final look is definitely worth it. After a full month on the road and cooking inside Swifty, the sticker has held up nicely and still looks great.

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Post Modifications

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Post Modifications

 

To upgrade the couch cushion covers, Bettina decided to go with a light grey durable fabric that would go well with the marble and add a clean look to the camper. She took all the old cushions apart and sewed new ones herself to save some money.

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Post Modifications

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Post Modifications for full time camper living

 

Lastly, we added a carpet to the camper floor which would make it more comfortable to walk around barefoot. The end result is a clean, bright, and cohesive interior, perfect for us to enjoy full time camper living.

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Post Modifications

 

5 Other Camping Essentials

 

If you made it this far and decide to give the full time camper living a go, there are a few camping essentials you shouldn't leave without! We compiled a list of our top 5 things you should consider getting before embarking on your adventure.

 

1. Portable Bathroom: From the list above, you can see that Swifty has just about everything we could possibly need, with the one glaring exception being a toilet. We decided to purchase a collapsible toilet seat, sanitary bags, and a privacy tent to make up for the missing bathroom. The set-up works perfectly and the tent does double-duty as a shower tent using our outdoor shower head.

2. Outdoor Kitchen: If you're looking into living the camper life, it's safe to assume you like to be outdoors. And since cooking takes up a lot of time on the road, you might as well do so in your outdoor kitchen! Having a camp table and camp chairs is essential to us as we like to sit and eat outside. If you are looking to fully cook outside, like we do, adding a camp stove to your inventory is essential. We got the Coleman camp stove and can highly recommend it so far as it works great and can function on either Coleman camp fuel or unleaded gasoline.

3. Recovery Gear: The last thing you want to do while living on the road is get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no help in sight. If you are traveling alone (without a second vehicle), we highly recommend you invest in some recovery gear. We are traveling with multiple tow-ropes, a Hi-Lift Jack, two MAXTRAX, a shovel, a saw, a portable air compressor, and a tire repair kit. Carrying a spare fuel can with you is also extremely helpful and can save you when gas stations are few and far between.

4. Packing Cubes: Space comes at a premium on the road - especially closet space. If you have been following us for a bit, you know that Bettina loves her flowy dresses and an extensive wardrobe. To solve our closet space solution, we use the Genius Pack compression packing cubes to store our everyday clothes underneath the couch in Swifty. The compression cubes help greatly when it comes to packing efficiently. Bettina also has a carry-on size suitcase in the back of the truck to store all of her dresses and shoes.

 

Packing Cubes Under Seat Storage Four Wheel Camper Swift Model

 

5. Portable Battery Pack: With your cell phone being your main communication, internet, and entertainment device it will always be running low on battery. We recommend bringing at least one portable battery pack to recharge your phone on the go when you don't have an electrical outlet. We are using the Revel Gear Day Tripper Solar Pack (get 15% off using THENEXTTRIP15 at check-out) which comes with a solar panel to charge up your battery pack. It also has an integrated LED light! Needless to say, it is one of our most used gadgets on the road as we use it to charge our phones, the portable speaker, and power our camp lights.

 

Looking Ahead - Full Time Camper Living

 

The adventure that lies ahead will no doubt change who you are and your views on life. We find ourselves at a bit of a mid-life crisis, unsure how to navigate the world. There will be too many ups and downs to count along the way, but the goal is to explore new places and cultures, try new foods and experiences, and grow even closer together, with an overarching theme of adventure. One quote that really resonates with us and helps define our journey is that “Adventure is the pursuit of oneself.” We don’t know what we will find or discover, but are ready for the challenge.

 

Bettina and Kyle at White Sands Monument

 

Bettina and Kyle at White Sands Monument

 

Save this pin to your adventure travel or vanlife Pinterest board for when you are ready to hit the road!

 

How To Best Prepare for Full Time Camper Living 19

 

How To Best Prepare for Full Time Camper Living 20

 

You want to try full time camper living but don't know where to begin? Here is everything you should know, how we prepared, and our essentials for the road.
You want to try full time camper living but don't know where to begin? Here is everything you should know, how we prepared, and our essentials for the road.

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Corporate Careers to Living in a Camper for 1 Year – Our Crazy Transformation

If you have been following us for a while, you know by now that we quit our jobs in corporate America and decided to pursue living in a camper for the foreseeable future. Our goal was not to be living in a camper to save money, but to explore areas of the world that we wouldn't be able to get to otherwise. How our journey came to be is a long story. Let me start from the very beginning.

 

Bettina and Kyle at a Corporate Holiday Party

 

The Trigger

 

It was almost a decade ago that it hit me. I’m not sure exactly when it was, or what the exact trigger was, but I had stumbled upon a blog of a couple that quit their jobs and were driving the Pan-American Highway. I instantly jumped headfirst down the proverbial rabbit hole and read every blog post they wrote along the way from Alaska to Patagonia. The weekly posts included my kind of exploration: remote mountain ranges, beautiful colonial towns, camping on secluded beaches, eating as many tacos as they could, and basically doing whatever they pleased.

 

Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper Swift in the Sand

 

Over the next year I poured over as many overlanding blogs and forums I could find. Everyone wrote about their experiences with such enthusiasm and zest for life, and not one person regretted their choice to hit the road. This is when I knew this was something that I wanted to do.

 

The Wait

 

Having just started a career in accounting, and Bettina still studying for her Masters, it was not the ideal time to drop everything and travel the world. As we progressed in our careers and started to earn a living wage, we were soon able to start saving away for this future adventure. A move to Chicago brought enough new adventure opportunities that we decided to stay twice as long as we initially planned.

 

Bettina and Kyle in front of the Chicago Mural

Bettina's Top / Bettina's Jeans / Bettina's Shoes

 

It is truly one of our favorite cities, and if you haven’t been, we can highly recommend it. These our our favorite things to do in Chicago, even if you're only there for a few days. Corporate America does have some perks, but after five years we were ready for a change.

 

Kyle and Bettina at Magnificent Mile in Chicago

Bettina's Dress / Bettina's Shoes 

 

With no new city calling our names, this was the perfect opportunity to live our dreams. Or perhaps live my dream. When I initially proposed this trip to Bettina years ago, it was absolutely out of the question for her. A few years of stressful work and a new passion for travel blogging quickly turned her around.

 

Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper Swift Model and Chicago Skyline - Living in a Camper

 

 

Why Overlanding

 

“Overlanding” is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal.  Overlanding typically involves off-road capable transportation and often lasts for extended periods of time (months to years). It is not an expedition, as an expedition is a defined journey with a purpose, whereas with overlanding the journey is the purpose.

We could certainly pack a few bags in a car and hit the road, and that is exactly what some others do. However, I have a yearning for exploring places off the beaten track and that generally requires a vehicle that is more capable and the ability to be self-sufficient while “off the grid” for days at a time. Our trip will have a diverse mixture of remote backcountry travel and stopping off in every major city along the way.

 

View from White Pocket Arizona

Bettina's Dress

 

 

The Pan-American Highway

 

The Pan-American Highway is the longest motorable road in the world. It stretches from the very north at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and travels 19,000 miles (30,000 kilometers) to the very south in Ushuaia, Argentina. It is, in short, a very long way.

Our route, will loosely follow the Pan-American Highway, in our quest to reach Ushuaia. The first half of the route spans Canada, the United States, Mexico, Belize (not officially), Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. There are no roads between Panama and Colombia thanks to the infamously dangerous Darién Gap, which means you must organize your vehicle to be shipped via container ship to Colombia, one of the major hurdles of the Pan-American Highway. Once in Colombia, it is on to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina.

 

Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper in the Snow

 

The Preparation

 

Planning for a trip such as this is daunting, even for self-proclaimed planners and list-makers like ourselves. We had an ongoing destinations list that we updated over the years, as we saw new “must-see” destinations. However, about a year and a half before our intended departure we got a little bit more serious. Meetings were had, lists were made, and a schedule was created.

Over the next few months, life took its own course and we fell seriously behind on our planning goals. Nevertheless, we tediously researched and acquired the gear we would need, and eventually came to the conclusion that no matter how much you prepare, you will never truly be “ready” to leave. We embraced that spirit, and hit the road on March 5, 2020.

 

Four Wheel Camper in Front of Arizona State Sign

Bettina's Dress

 

Living in a Camper - Swifty

 

What we hit the road with was our Toyota Tacoma, sprouting a few more modifications than before, and our Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper Swift, affectionately known as “Swifty.” Swifty had been beautified by Bettina, to bring the interior aesthetics up to her standards. We also spent a large amount of time on camper organization so that every nook and cranny of the Tacoma and Swifty were filled with what we thought we might need over the next year or so for living in a camper.

 

Living in a Camper - Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior

 

We put together an in-depth explanation and tour of Tacoma and Swifty, in case you are curious to learn more about our home on wheels. We also included some before and after Swifty beautification photos - you can't miss out on those original seat cushion covers!

 

On the Road

 

The morning that we left, we still had a huge to-do list of things we wanted to complete, but that had no hope of being accomplished over the next few hours. Nevertheless, we packed up our remaining belongings and set-off from home, only a few hours behind schedule. Border crossings can be one of the main headaches when completing the Pan-American Highway, and as we were unemployed and living in a camper, we didn’t know what the border agent would think of us.

 

Living in a Camper - View from Camper of Alstrom Point, Utah

Bettina's Dress / Bettina's Shoes / String Lights (get 15% off the string lights with THENEXTTRIP15)

 

However, we are happy to report that the first border crossing, only 10 minutes into our journey, went off without a hitch. Hitting the road south, we didn’t really know how to feel or what to expect of this trip and living in a camper, but we knew that great adventures lie ahead. If you're curious to know how we are doing on the road so far, check out our post about our first month on the road.

 

Save this post to your road trip Pinterest boards for when the travel bug bites and you are looking to get away for a few months as well!

 

From Corporate America to VanLife! How we made the crazy transition and decided to live a life on the road!

 

From Corporate America to VanLife! How we made the crazy transition and decided to live a life on the road!

From Corporate America to VanLife! How we made the crazy transition and decided to live a life on the road!

 

From Corporate America to VanLife! How we made the crazy transition and decided to live a life on the road!

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Month 1 On The Road – Now Hitting The Road

Welcome to our new monthly update series! This is where we will share everything that we've been up to since hitting the road. While we still plan to create blog posts on specific destinations and topics, this series is more like a diary for you to follow along on our trip. Stay tuned each month for new updates on what we’ve been up to along the way!

 

Girl Sitting on Top of Horseshoe Bend

 

Sleepless in Seattle

 

To be fair, the title here doesn’t accurately describe our time in Seattle as we slept in every day, but were desperate for a catchy title. After leaving home and hitting the road a few hours late, we were lucky that the border wait was short and the friendly agent only asked us a few questions before wishing us the best on our adventure. This border crossing was certainly unlike any other we have experienced in the past.

 

Twirling in Front of Space Needle in Seattle

 

We were on a mission to catch the last factory tour of the day at the Boeing Factory in Everett. It was already passed lunch and the last tours start at 4pm! We pushed through and arrived, only a few minutes after the tour started, with Bettina running to the entrance while Kyle parked Swifty. They literally held the bus for us, and we are very grateful!

 

The Boeing Factory in Everett is absolutely immense. Our jaws dropped when we walked into the main building, the largest building in the world by volume (472 million cubic feet / 13.3 million cubic metres). Seeing the gigantic 747’s moving along the production line was a special avgeek moment for Kyle. Unfortunately, pictures are prohibited so you will just have to take our word for it for how cool it really was!

 

Hitting the Road in Seattle

 

The next few days we toured around Seattle, catching up with friends, and indulging more than once at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, which has THE BEST pastries that we have tried on this side of the Atlantic. COVID-19 was on our minds, as we kept our distance and practiced better hand washing than usual, but we still went out to drink and eat, and there was only a mild level of concern in the city.

 

Waterfalls – Oregon vs. Iceland

 

Soon enough it was time that we were really hitting the road. As we have been to Seattle multiple times before and we were staying with friends, it didn’t really feel like we had truly started our trip yet. Heading South into Oregon, we were off to new places and our first night in Swifty. Our first night actually turned out to be one of our worst nights as the campground we stayed at had freight trains rolling by on the hour throughout the night. We were right next to the tracks and every time a train passed, Swifty would shake and we would wake up from the noise.

 

Multnomah Falls in Oregon

 

Luckily it was sunshine and blue skies the next day as we quickly toured Multnomah Falls, stocked up on supplies in Portland, and headed into the mountains to find Abiqua Falls.

 

Abiqua Falls Oregon - The Next Trip

 

The hike to the falls was steep and muddy, but didn’t take too long. The reward at the end was breathtaking and totally worth the hike. Abiqua Falls is set in an amphitheater like setting of basalt columns.

 

Abiqua Falls Oregon - The Next Trip

 

Abiqua Falls Oregon - The Next Trip

 

Our waterfall tour of Oregon continued with a visit to Silver Falls State Park, an undiscovered gem. Here you can complete the Trail of Ten Falls, featuring the famous South Falls. A 177 feet (54 meter) curtain of water falls over the cliff, and you are invited to walk behind the falls. It was at this point we had a bit of deja-vu without our previous trips to Iceland. Abiqua Falls had us thinking of Svartifoss, and South Falls of Seljalandfoss. Who knew you could see so much so close to home. You can read up on our Iceland adventures here.

 

Silver Falls in Silver Falls State Park Oregon - The Next Trip

 

We weren’t done with Oregon though. A trip through Umpqua National Forest on our water to Crater Lake allowed us to take a relaxing dip at Umpqua Hot Spings, and take in Toketee and Watson Falls. Umpqua Hot Springs can be very popular and crowded at times, so we were lucky to have a pool to ourselves for most of the time, though we thought it was a bit busy for a random Tuesday morning in March.

 

Umpqua Hot Springs Oregon - The Next Trip

 

The next day we made it to Crater Lake and were instantly rewarded with amazing views of this fascinating lake. Did you know that Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States?

 

Crater Lake - The Next Trip

 

Interestingly there are no inlets to fill Crater Lake, so it is completely filled via rain and snow. Even more interesting is that there are also no outlets, and nobody really knows where the water goes!

 

Crater Lake - The Next Trip

 

Twirling at Crater Lake - The Next Trip

 

 

Spelunking in Lava Beds National Monument

 

We planned to camp at Lava Beds National Monument for only one night on our way South to Nevada.

 

Hitting the Road for Sunset at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge - The Next Trip

 

Sunset at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge - The Next Trip

 

Once we arrived though, we were loving the (new to us) warm weather and took the day to relax. The next day, we hid out underground and explored some of the many caves in the park. Exploring these caves gave us a new appreciation for true darkness, as we walked far underground in the cave system.

 

Spelunking at Lava Beds National Monument - The Next Trip

 

Our favorite cave was Golden Dome. It was clear once we were inside where the cave got it's name from as the ceiling shimmered in gold. When you looked closely though, the gold color comes from tiny water droplets that form on bacteria on the cave rock.

 

Golden Dome Cave at Lava Beds National Monument - The Next Trip

 

Deer at Lava Beds National Monument - The Next Trip

 

Dramatic Sunset at Lava Beds National Monument - The Next Trip

 

Winter weather was fast approaching, so we continued on to Reno, having to hunker down in Susanville for a few hours as the highway was closed due to high winds for over-height vehicles, and Swifty counted as an over-height vehicle! We made it to the Biggest Little City in the World in the evening and spent a few nights in hotels, our first hotels since hitting the road.

 

Uncertain Times in Reno

 

Our time in Reno was great in that we got to ride out the Winter storm from inside a hotel room, but it created a lot of anxiety and stress for us as the COVID-19 situation dramatically worsened in the United States during this time. We were bombarded with daily news updates, panic on social media, and messages urging us to stop traveling. We went back and forth for days on what we should be doing, with our situation being more complex than may first meet the eye. We passed these days, with our newly rekindled love of red wine and dark chocolate, which helped us get through the worst times.

 

Biggest Little City in the World Sign in Reno - The Next Trip

 

Solitude on The Loneliest Road in America

 

We decided to continue our adventure as we would be safest camping in the countryside, automatically self-isolating.We set off on the Loneliest Road in America, which cuts straight across Nevada from the California to the Utah border. The name dates back to a Life magazine article from 1986, which the state re-purposed as a marketing slogan.We were thoroughly impressed by the diverse sights along the way.

 

Sand Dunes on the Loneliest Road in America - The Next Trip

 

We had two more refreshing dips in some of the many natural hot springs near the road, and experienced true solitude away from everything.

 

Spencer Hot Springs in Nevada - The Next Trip

 

Bartene Hot Springs Nevada - The Next Trip

 

Although, surprisingly, cell reception was great the entire way and we were able to keep everyone updated about our adventures on Instagram. We didn't have any real expectations for the Loneliest Road in America, which caused us to be surprised by the dramatic mountain ranges, old ghost towns, and everything in between.

 

Ghost Town Austin in Nevada - The Next Trip

 

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument – A Relatively Undiscovered Gem

 

The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is not well-known, but contains some very well-known natural attractions like The Wave. You need to have a permit to visit the Wave, however you either have to apply four months in advance online, or enter the daily lottery at the Ranger Station. Since the station was closed due to COVID-19, we didn’t get a chance to see The Wave, but we saw so much more instead.

 

White Pocket, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

Deep in the National Monument is White Pocket, accessible by a 4x4 only road with deep sand and ruts. We made it without issue and were in total shock about the craziness of this place.

 

White Pocket, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

It is a huge area of very diverse natural rock formations, with hardly anyone around. We were blown away by its beauty and spent a few days there, camping and taking it all in. There aren't any facilities at White Pocket and it remains protected by its relative inaccessibility.

 

White Pocket, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

Four Wheel Camper at White Pocket, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

Nearby Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch slot canyons were the other highlights of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The day we hiked the slot canyons, it was a relatively balmy 39 F (4 C) but was a mix of on-and-off snow and sun all day. We somehow managed to time our hike mostly in the sun, and were well rewarded! We had these canyons all to ourselves, and marveled at how these must have been formed over generations.

 

Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch Slot Canyon - The Next Trip

 

Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch - The Next Trip

 

Petroglyphs at Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch

 

The entrance into Wire Pass presents an interesting challenge, as there is an 8 foot (2.5 metre) drop in one of the narrowest parts of the canyon. There is a make-shift "ladder" which is just a tree stump, and it looks very intimidating from the top. However, after a little bit of patience and sliding slowly down, it really wasn't that bad!

 

Horseshoe Bend - Arizona

 

Having been to Horseshoe Bend in 2017, we more or less knew what to expect. What we didn't think of is that in the meantime, Horseshoe Bend would turn into a commercialized tourist attraction! Entrance fee to the attraction is $10 which we paid to see the bend again. The parking lot was quite empty as COVID-19 has gotten worse in the last couple of days. From the parking lot, it is only a short 0.2 miles walk to the viewpoint. The viewpoint was everything we remembered it being - stunning, breathtaking, incredible, and a bit scary!

 

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

Since we almost had the entire Horseshoe Bend to ourselves, we decided to take a lot of photos to remember this rare moment. (We were told that this attraction is usually incredibly busy and we can see why.)

 

Guy Overlooking Horseshoe Bend, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

After spending the morning here, we headed into Page, Arizona, to spend a few days at an AirBnB. We desperately needed to catch up on laundry and all things online.

 

 

Utah – Saving the Best for Last

 

Our goal when we moved to Chicago in 2015 was to see all 50 states before we left the United States. We *almost* achieved this, reaching 49 by the time we returned to Canada. We weren’t too concerned though as we knew we would be spending a ton of time in Utah on this trip. We finally made it though and had our own mini-celebration, as we don’t feel like travel milestones are appropriate to boast about at this time.

 

Utah Sign Highway 89 - The Next Trip

 

So far, Utah has not disappointed at all. We are currently waiting out park closures, and taking in the some of the Southern sights (i.e. warmer weather).

 

Turning a Page at Alstrom Point

 

We planned a few recharge days at an apartment in Page, Arizona, and completed a full clean out of Tacoma and Swifty, washed all laundry, baked pizzas in an oven, and caught up with everything online. This was exactly what we needed, and also allowed us to refill our water tank, propane tanks, fuel tanks, and fridge before hitting the road again, to Alstrom Point.

 

View from Alstrom Point, Utah - The Next Trip

 

The road in to Alstrom Point is not long, but it is slow. 4x4 and high clearance are recommended, and we would highly recommend both. The vast majority of the route is a maintained gravel road, but the last few miles are where the going gets rough. The road travels over slickrock with quite a few more technical areas.

 

Camp at Alstrom Point - The Next Trip

 

We made it without issue but it took us quite a while to navigate the at times non-existent road. We were definitely rewarded with the best campsite we have every had the pleasure of staying at.

 

Girl Overlooking Alstrom Point - The Next Trip

 

The views from Alstrom Point are almost other-worldly, with Lake Powell and surrounding cliffs dominating the horizon. You are perched high above the lake with steep drop offs on all sides.

 

Camp at Alstrom Point, Utah - The Next Trip

 

Four Wheel Camper at Alstrom Point at Night - The Next Trip

 

Sitting here watching the sunset we both had the realization that this is exactly one of the moments that what we were looking for when we set out on this trip. Quiet, peaceful solitude, and viewing awe-inspiring nature in epic proportions.

 

Sunrise at Alstrom Point, Utah - The Next Trip

 

Alstrom Point at Night - The Next Trip

 

The Stats – Month One Hitting the Road

 

We created a map and compiled stats so that you can follow along our trip easier and which you can use to plan your own adventure!

 

 

Miles driven: 2,058 miles

Nights in Swifty: 18

US States crossed: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona

Bottles of Red Wine Consumed: 12

Bars of Chocolate Consumed: 22

Number of Nights the Propane Tank Ran Out and Furnace Turned Off: 1

Number of Nights Too Windy To Sleep: 3

Days of Snow: 7

Favorite Meal: Homemade pizza at an Airbnb in Page, Arizona

Favorite Campsite: Alstrom Point, Utah

 

White Pocket, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

In Summary

 

The trip so far has been full of ups and downs. Since hitting the road, we are still getting used to living full-time in Swifty, and Bettina really struggled with the endless nights where the temperature was below freezing. COVID-19 dominates the headlines and we realize that our situation is unique.

 

We have no true home other than Swifty, and are practicing appropriate hygiene and social distancing everywhere we go. We realize we are fortunate to be able to continue our adventure for the time being while chaos ensues around the world. We see vanlife and camping as one of the best options to stay safe, mentally and physically, and it is moments like this that reminds us how important it is to be out in nature.

 

Save this pin in our road trip Pinterest board for when your next road trip across the US!

 

Our first month living the vanlife. These were our favorite sights from Seattle to Utah.

Our first month living the vanlife. These were our favorite sights from Seattle to Utah.

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Happy Camper Farewell and Why We Left Chicago

So Kyle and I did a thing – a big thing! We decided to completely change our lives, take what we learned and experienced, and follow our dreams. If you follow us on Instagram, you probably already know what I’m talking about. Kyle and I decided to quit our jobs, leave Chicago, and travel the world! No, we’re not kidding!! But let me back up a bit and share the entire story with you.

 

Happy Camper Farewell and Why We Left Chicago 35

 

 

Our Story and Why We Left Chicago

 

A couple of years ago, 8.5 years to be exact, Kyle and I met studying abroad in Finland, fell in love, and started travelling around Europe. You can read our full story in the About Us section. That’s when the travel bug bit us. And as they say, there is no cure for it! Fast forward a few years, Kyle started reading a few overland blogs and that’s where he got the idea of travelling through South America in a car and tent. It took him a few years to convince me that this was a great idea but after I spent a few years working on my career in finance, I was also dreaming of exploring the world.

 

Other than the tent thing. I couldn’t envision myself sleeping in a tent for more than 5 days (we tried that in Colorado, read about our scary bear situation), so we decided on a pop-up camper instead, which we call Swifty (it's the Four Wheel Campers Swift Model).

 

Happy Camper Farewell and Why We Left Chicago 36

 

In September 2019, we sold our apartment in Chicago, bought a pop-up camper for our truck, and set sail to spend some time with Kyle’s family in Vancouver, Canada before we would venture to South America in our camper. If you want to follow along our trip, make sure you follow us on Instagram and sign up for The Next Trip newsletter!

Of course, leaving Chicago was not an easy task. During the 4.5 years we lived there, we met amazing people and made wonderful connections. Saying goodbye to our friends would require an adequate goodbye party!

 

The Farewell Party at Happy Camper

 

I was dreaming of having a party and inviting all the amazing girls I met in Chicago over the years. And no place would be more fitting than having the party at Happy Camper – a really cool restaurant with an airy and super cute decorated rooftop in Wrigleyville! I worked with Brianne from Marquette Avenue Events to put everything together! I don’t know what I would have done without her as I was so busy preparing for our move that I hardly had time to think about planning the Farewell!

 

Happy Camper Chicago

 

Happy Camper reserved part of their rooftop for us and made sure we got delicious food and drinks all night. I personally am a fan of the Mom pizza, which is a veggie pizza with no cheese but just as good as a regular pizza! If you’re not familiar with Happy Camper and have never been, I can highly recommend a visit to either their Old Town or newly opened Wrigleyville location.

 

Happy Camper Chicago

 

Happy Camper Farewell and Why We Left Chicago 37

 

Both locations feature real camper caravans inside the restaurant and the Wrigleyville location is decorated to melt every Instagrammer’s heart.

 

Happy Camper Farewell and Why We Left Chicago 38

 

From the turquoise chairs (you know they had me then), to the yellow umbrellas, disco ball, and chandeliers, everything at Happy Camper is designed with a lot of thought.

 

Happy Camper Farewell and Why We Left Chicago 39

 

Happy Camper Farewell and Why We Left Chicago 40

 

Happy Camper Chicago Bathtub

 

The outdoor rooftop area is covered in fake grass to give you the perfect summer vibes, even if the Chicago weather doesn’t always comply.

 

Happy Camper Farewell Party Guest Gallery

 

The farewell party at Happy Camper would not have been the same without my incredible guests and wonderful blogger community I have met in Chicago. All of these girls have become a substantial part of my life and I am incredibly grateful for each and everyone of them. Talking to bloggers in different cities, they describe their local industry as very competitive – contrary to Chicago. In Chicago, I truly had the feeling that everyone wanted to support each other and help each other succeed.

 

Happy Camper Farewell and Why We Left Chicago 41

 

One of the most supportive people I have met in this industry is Marii, the owner and founder of Swirl and Sparkle and Sparkle in the City PR. She started her business by creating her own make-up brush cleansers which are the only thing that got me to clean my brushes (I’m sure you know what I mean when I say washing brushes is a task) and I am sure she will go far in life. As a party favor, she created The Next Trip branded cleansers which are so cute – I wanted to keep them all.

 

Happy Camper Farewell and Why We Left Chicago 42

 

 

These are the girls that made my night at Happy Camper. I am grateful to have met all of them and will miss them dearly.

Thank you to Happy Camper Wrigleyville and Brianne from Marquette Avenue Events to make this Farewell Party so special!

 

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