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:
- Month 2 - Best Slot Canyons of Utah
- Month 3 - Hidden Places in Utah
- Month 4 in the Canadian Rockies
- Why we decided to quit our jobs and pursue vanlife
Table of Contents
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We had two more refreshing dips in some of the many natural hot springs near the road, and experienced true solitude away from everything.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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