We didn’t do the normal south Utah, Bryce Canyon trip that everyone does. The orange rocky terrain of Southern Utah is some of the most spectacular this country has to offer. It is certainly high on our list as well as everybody we’ve talked to who’s been there. Last summer, I had looked up some wild camping locations a bit east of the crowds and we were on a mission to get there so we pushed right on through Bryce Canyon and into Cannonville to the local BLM (Bureau of Land Management) office.
And like most RV trips, great intentions and designs often end up in the campfire. Due to recent floods last summer, the area I had pinned for our dream wild camping experience was unreachable due to washed out roads.
Our BLM host was super sweet. Filling our knowledge bank with the areas hot spots, many unreachable, as well as some local knowledge. She also walked us around to the outdoor bathrooms to see some adorable bats sleeping up in a dark corner of the entry.
And then she made a suggestion of a wild camp location. It was not too far away, tucked away under a large cliff. A bit small for our rig, but she said we could try it and should have no problem. So we thanked her and headed by to check it out, but I wasn’t too open to the idea. It kind of defeats the purpose of roaming free and wild on BLM land where nobody knows you’re there and therefore nobody bothers you – with her directing us to a very specific, very small locale, that game was over.
But we checked it out anyway. Indeed it was small for a big rig and it wasn’t that far off the main road running from Bryce Canyon to Escalante – so it just didn’t feel remote enough or frankly, private and safe enough. So we turned around in the narrow opening in a field and kept heading East.
We drove on through Escalante as Julie had found an internet mention of a site in Boulder, Utah. Escalante on it’s own was an experience. One of the most beautiful and remote drives of my life. Also one of the hairiest and most nerve-wrecking drives of my now shorter-by-at-least 2-weeks life.
At one point, we found ourselves in our 60-foot RV+toad (tow vehicle) straddling a 2-lane road with a few hundred foot drop-off to either side. Suddenly Faith Hill’s Just Breathe song started playing in my mind followed quickly by REM’s It’s the End of the World. Oh, we laugh with you…now.
We went through all the stages of grief on the pass. At first we denied that such a beautiful road could turn out to be a psychotic adventure in just a few short turns. And then anger jumped out as we said to each other “Who’s idea was THIS??” Then I’m pretty sure I heard bargaining from the kids in the background “Hey I love you. If you don’t make it, can I have your room?” I didn’t want to admit it, but I was depressed thinking about the national news loop the following week “Man drives family of 7 off cliff in Utah and tonight with us in the studio is Cliff Van Zant, former FBI profiler to detail what kind of asshole would drive that road in an RV.”
And finally, acceptance. We all looked at each other, reminded each other of the many great places we’ve seen and said “Screw it!” and we started singing the most wicked a cappella version of Mockingbird that felt on par with James Taylor and Carly Simon, but in reality I’m sure was more Clark and Ellen Griswold from the Vacation movies.
Now that I think of it, that scene LOOKS like Utah!
But, as you can now guess, we survived it. And we made it to Boulder and found the location Julie read about. At first, it was rather unassuming. It was isolated but not too remote and it took a few hours for it to really sink in what a great spot it was. Within our couple of days there, we felt right at home and felt like we’d found a treasure.
The campsite is along side a dried river bed and a five-story rocky formation. We walked the river bed which the kids loved exploring. Then I pointed to the mountain as we looped around and said “Must climb!” And before I got the exclamation point out, the kids took off. Emily our youngest at 8 was the first to the top. She knows little fear. I reassured Julie that they were fine and that it looked like a slow, long fall at worst. And I grabbed her hand and we climbed. Paused. Climbed again, finally reaching the top as the kids laughed and ran circles around us. Truman, our Great Pyrenees MOUNTAIN dog was a little more hesitant with the rocks, but he made it.
What a sight (and site). “I can see my house from here!” somebody yelled in an old, overused, running RV joke that we have. It was a stunning view. Armed with both cameras I was lighting up my flash cards. We waited just a short while, taking in the view and watching the start of the sunset. Then we started our descent.
It was then we found a steep wall that led to a higher portion of the mountain. On the wall were narrow cliffs/rails that had rocks set up from other people who had climbed here as a show of their bravery – a trophy of sorts. So the kids of course, hunted for flat (a believe shale) rocks and started climbing. When their competition died down and they had reached probably the 2nd highest tier of maybe 7-8 tiers, I handed off my cameras.
“Uh oh” they all thought. I felt it was time to test my new surgically repaired ankle. Jonathan followed behind me in a bit of a panic, certain I couldn’t handle it. It’s true that the downtime for the recovery cost me 30 pounds. So up I went with my rock. And when I turned and came down, much to everyone’s relief, I turned and looked back to see the new top tier I had created.
I recognize that it’s one of my waning, fleeting moments to best the kids at physical skills – so I took it. It was at this campsite over the next few days that we made our group decision/vote that once we headed home to Florida, we would sell, pack up and use the RV to move West, to Colorado where we would spend the rest of our lives connected closely to Utah and the surrounding region.
And here we are, exactly six months later, winding around Arizona, with all of our non-RV belongings in Denver, living off the land, building experiences and working. And we’re longing for the end of Winter to head to Utah because Utah Rocks! After we get enough of the road and Utah, we’ll head to build our new home in Colorado.
3.5 of 5
One of our favorite wild camping spots over 15,000 miles of travel and exploration. The scenery and drive are majestic.
Exploration & Healthiness: 5/5
This is the reason to wild camp – to be alone with the earth. To hike and bike, to photograph and to work up a sweat.
Access to Culture, History & Activities: 3/5
No culture but the geologic history is fascinating and the outdoors activities are limited only by your imagination.
It’s wild camping at it’s best, off the beaten path and the comfort is what you make of it.