My favorite campsites are the ones you discover in the middle of the night, the ones that surprise and stun you when the sun rises.
We’d pulled up in the middle of the night, so had no idea what we’d wake up to. The temperature had plummeted in the wee hours of the morning and when I woke, in my hat, gloves, two pairs of pants and down jacket inside my zero degree sleeping bag, a hot cup of coffee was the only thing on my mind.
I unzipped the door and numbly shoved my socked feet into my hiking boots. I went to pull aside the fly and froze, my breath a cloud billowing above me.
Why road tripping is the best way to see the world.
When I turned 16 and go my first car, my life changed.
That maybe-blue-maybe-purple ’98 Jeep Cherokee with the killer sound system was freedom.
I was an angsty teen in the throws of my parents divorcing and having a car meant freedoms I had never experienced before; like going to parties, dating and doing extracurricular activities that sometimes required staying out until one in the morning.
But more than the normal teenage freedoms wheels provided, that Jeep meant total freedom. I was perfectly aware that I could get anywhere I wanted to on two different continents in that leaky chariot. Within months of getting my license, I was driving all over Colorado and southern Wyoming. It was less than a year later that I took my first real road trip and drove from Denver to LA. I’ve been hooked on road tripping ever since.
Since the day I got my license, I’ve never felt trapped. I’m always the one to offer to drive because I love the feeling of knowing that I can go anywhere at the drop of a hat. Home, the grocery store, Peru. It’s all accessible.
I’m always surprised at how many people think that travel is unattainable. If you have a car, you can get to some pretty amazing places. Between my boyfriend and myself, we’ve had five cars in varying stages of age, mileage and crappiness that have carried us on some of our favorite adventures.
Last summer, our epic 7,500 mile road trip was done in a ’98 Subaru Outback with over 100,000 miles on it and we were patching it up the entire way.
There’s no excuse not to go when you have a car.* Pack a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and jelly, Google Map some WalMarts or National Forests along your route and go have an adventure.
ProTip: Invest the $7 a month your insurance wants to add roadside assistance to your policy. That’s less than two trips to Starbucks and it will save your ass if you get stranded and will give you the peace of mind to enjoy yourself.
I’ve been lucky enough to have gotten to fly a lot in my life and see some pretty incredible places, but honestly? Some of my favorite memories have been made on windy back roads, the destination reached my own hand with the help of a Redbull or two.
So, what are you waiting for? There’s some pretty incredible places within a totally doable driving distance. Here are some suggestions from Denver:
Moab – less than 6 hours
Las Vegas – a long, but doable, day
Grand Canyon – if you leave during a summer sunrise, you can make it there in time for sunset
Yellowstone/Grand Tetons – ~6hrs
*Unless you have a car like my ’91 Cherokee that lacked power steering, power brakes, interior lights, heat, took a quart of oil a day, had an alarm that went off every time you opened the door and a shot suspension. That’s probably a valid excuse.
The best places to hike, camp and drink coffee in Moab, Utah. Fisher Towers, Dead Horse State Park and camping on HWY 128.
One of my very favorite things to do is to throw some camp gear in the car, take off after work and drive through the dark to find what we hope is an epic campsite, stumble around with headlights and then wake up the next morning to discover where we ended up.
This past week, our destination was just outside Moab, up Utah State Highway 128. We rolled into a campsite at 2AM, the sucking blackness hiding any hint of a landmark, and awoke the next morning to this view:
Waking up at first light and making coffee on the camp stove while Topher sleeps is another one of my favorite activities. I love the smell of hot coffee and damp grass, watching the sun touch our little corner of the universe, feeling the warmth of the coffee seep through the tin mug into my numb hands and the steam warm my cold nose.
This trip to Moab was focused on hiking. On Thursday we explored Dead Horse State Park and hiked the East Rim Trail, from the visitor’s center to Dead Horse Point. Its an easy 3 mile round trip hike with stunning views the entire way. After thinking it looked familiar, and texting my dad a picture, I realized that I’d rafted that section of river and hiked up the mesa at the point when I was 15, long before the Instagramification of the scenic spot. Yes, I am a hipster.
On Friday, we got up early and did my favorite hike to date. Fisher Towers feels like stepping onto another planet. The trail immediately takes you down into a canyon and keeps climbing in and out of various canyons, along ledges, on top of cliffs, all while being shadowed by the most amazing red rocks spires. At just over 5 miles round trip, the hike was definitely strenuous with all the elevation loss and gain, but well worth it. There are many epic views along the way and the scenery is incredible. There’s a point where you have to descend an approximately 10 ft metal ladder into a canyon, which was definitely a feat with the dog. It took both of us balancing precariously and a stranger pushing her over the ledge to get her across.
This is a trail that I would definitely not attempt in the heat of the day or at all in the summer months. With no shade or running water, once you’re out of the spires’ shadows, you’re pretty much being cooked. Bring more water than you think you could possibly drink, sunscreen and a hat. If there’s even a chance of rain, don’t attempt. Much of the trail winds in and out of canyons that are prime territory for flash flooding.
While we’re not normally “campground people,” we did choose to stay in one of the BLM campgrounds along HWY 128 because we knew we’d be coming in late and didn’t want to have to search for primitive camping. At $15 a night, these plentiful campgrounds are a great option. Note that they were completely full by a Friday night in March, so finding a spot on weekends may not be possible.
While we spent most of our time hiking and reading in camp, we did stop at Moab Coffee Roasters on our way to Dead Horse State Park and were pleasantly surprised by their coffee being roasted in paint buckets in the side of a Life is Good store. Give them a try if you’re in town and in need of a cup of coffee.
I love the stark beauty of the desert. Beaches and rain forests and bustling cities are beautiful, but sometimes all that amazing-ness coming at me is overwhelming. I love the simple colors, the harsh landscape, the marvel of a teeny tiny flower blossoming under a rock or nothing but red rock and scrub brush as far as the eye can see. Somehow, that simple beauty is more beautiful to me than the busiest landscape.
I love Utah, I love Moab and I love the desert. Go visit for yourself.
Stay tuned for why you should go take a road trip there 🙂