Everyone has there own “Happy Place” and mine is definitely the desert, specifically Arizona. (Okay, maybe NM and CA and UT and CO) But for this blog post I’m going with Arizona. What about you? Where do you go to find your zen?
Last month, I took my annual pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon State, this time it was a solo trip — and it was AMAZING. I’ve taken similar trips to this the last couple of years, and I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you some tips, tricks and tasty recipes that I use when road tripping.
First, I have to introduce you to my ride, behold the JUCY.
Jucy is a New Zealand based company that has three locations in the States: San Francisco, Los Angeles & Las Vegas. This van is amazing, and my favorite way to travel. As you can see it’s a converted Dodge Caravan, that sleeps up to 4 people (If you’re camping more than a week, I’d suggest maxing it out at 3 — gets a little tight). In the rear of the vehicle is a tiny kitchen; a sink, mini fridge (pro tip, a dozen eggs will fit in this bad boy), all the pots and pans you’ll ever need, utensils, cutlery, a pour over coffee maker (don’t forget to bring filters from home. . or else you’ll be buying 500 of them at the store), 2 butane stoves and a freakin’ partridge in a pear tree. But no, seriously it has everything, except a bathroom (more not this later). There’s a tent mounted on the roof of the vehicle, which you manually crank up — they call this the “Penthouse”; and the interior seats fold down into a Full size bed. They also throw in a pillow and bedding per person, so depending on when and where you travel, you really don’t need to pack a sleeping bag. (A shower towel is also included). Other fun add on items include a camping chair (which really comes in handy) a DVD player, which I never use. . cuz, hello?! DESERT! The stereo system in the car has an AUX jack, and there are several USB outlets as well. As luck would have it, my AUX jack was busted. . but I was Camp Fire Girl so I always have a “Plan B”. I packed a bluetooth speaker and just used that. I also found that I really didn’t have a way to charge my camera batteries.. so I ended up buying one of these things on the road, it was nice to have a few extra USB charging ports as well.
The Jucy people have created a referral system and so. . If you’re considering renting one, I highly suggest you use my code!
We both get some pretty rad discounts — but hurry you only have till June to book it.
I also wanted to share a couple websites that I use to help plan my road trips. First is the “infamous” Roadtrippers.com You plug in where you wanna go, and then you can filter out to look for cool stuff like “Scenic Byways” ((almost)ALWAYS TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE) “Abandoned” “Spooky Places” “Offbeat Attractions” those are just a few of my faves. Not only will it calculate drive time and mileage but also how much you’ll spend on gas. You can invite fellow travelers to collaborate, and even download your trip via their App and use it on the road.
Secondly BLM LANDS have really been a great resource for helping me find some of my all time favorite camping sites, and the best part… it’s FREE*. (*For up to 14 days) Most of the sites are literally a free for all, you find a spot you like and camp; but some places have hosts that you’ll need to check in with first. They basically just take down your vehicle information, name and will ask you how long you plan on staying. They prefer you to use established sites, which are marked by the fire pit rings, and the most important thing to know about camping on BLM lands is: whatever you bring in — you take out. So let’s talk about the bathroom situation here for a second, because theres not one on board the Jucy, nor are any port-a-potties at these sites. So what do you do? You have to dig a hole, and then burn the TP. The first time, not gonna lie. . it’s weird. . . but after that, it’s really no big deal. You’ve become one with nature. LOL 😂
So where do you shower?
Because showers are sometimes few and far between, I purchased the following:
I know these are “suppose” to be for dudes, but I couldn’t find “Girl” ones. They’re unscented and actually worked really well. I also discovered that AXE makes a body spray for women it was a lifesaver — and it actually smells pretty fantastic. But if you just can’t stand it, search for Truck Stops (AND PACK FLIP FLOPS the thought of bare feet in a public bath room make me absolutely cringe) they will charge you between $12-$20 bucks to shower. Some State Parks will butt up next to BLM lands, and you can use their showers, normally under $10 dollars. The logistics of this trip, made it to where I couldn’t find an easy access to a shower the day or two before my flight. . so I started googling “Rentable Showers Vegas” and I actually found out that they have one in the Airport! Zero Level Fitness was awesome — they have a full gym, sauna, shower and you can even rent Studio Apartments if you have a long lay-over or if your flight gets canceled. It’s kind of hidden, but it’s in Terminal 1, near Baggage Claim #10, then take the elevator to Level Zero. The staff is super friendly and will watch your bags while you wash away the campfire smell. Just a heads up tho, it was $25 for a day pass which allowed me to use their showers, but it was worth it, and I’m sure my fellow passengers appreciated it.
The third site I use is similar to the BLM page, but might have a few more places listed: FreeCampsites.net For the most part they give a really great over view of what the area is like; what vehicles can make it to the sites, if there is a host you need to check in with and they also list the GPS coordinates, because some of these sites are so remote, theres no real address. (My kinda place).
Enough with the words. . . Let’s get on with the photos.
By the time I get my bags, get an Uber, get the Jucy then get the groceries half the day is gone. And because I prefer to make camp during daylight I tend to camp at Boulder Beach at Lake Mead in Boulder City the first and last nights. It’s literally 15 minutes from where I pick up the Jucy-mobile.
So bright and early I got up with the sun, had a little brekky and then went to check something off my bucket list: Go to the Hoover Dam Pro Tip, drive past the $10 Parking Garage, go over the dam, and there are several parking lots you can park for free. You’ll have to walk further, but it’s a cool view.
I didn’t realize that it was built in the early 1930’s so the nod to Art Deco in some of the buildings and design was a welcomed surprise.
This was a statue in memory of the brave men that helped build the dam.
After the dam visit, (LOL, sorry I couldn’t help it, I often have the same sense of humor as a 12 year old) I headed to Lake Havasu City. I heard about a pretty sweet BLM campsite called Craggy Wash. Little did I know that my camp host would be a retired pro skate boarder and fellow photog 🙌 This is the best part of traveling for me, the connections you make with otherwise, complete strangers.
The view ain’t bad either. 😉
I decided that I would try out a new (to-me) recipe: Grilled Pasta Packets. For step by step directions you can go: HERE
I loved that it only used a couple simple ingredients, most of which could be used in other recipes. It was super easy. . You basically just boil the noodles till they are al dente.
Then in a separate bowl mix olive oil, tom’s, salt and pepper and — the recipe called for spinach, but I wanted kale.
Wrap all the things in a foil packet and put it in the fire.
Keep an eye on it, and rotate it often, or it’ll burn.
Put the contents in a bowl, add goat cheese. . and voila = fancy camping.
And who needs TV when you have this?
I lost count early on, of how many shooting stars I saw.
I did a little hiking and rock hounding the next morning
I read that not only was Burro Creek a really cool campground, but it was also a great place for rockhounding. . Siri gave me two options to get there; 2 hours on the interstate or 3.5 on the “scenic byway”, this is the one instance I probably should have gone against my own advice and not taken the “scenic byway” It was 3.5 hours of the most intense washboard of my life. I passed dune buggies and 4 wheel drive machines, and I was starting to wonder if AAA would even come out this far to rescue me. Thankfully I made it just fine, with the exception of almost hitting what looked like a gazelle — but I’m pretty sure it was just a deer:
With only a couple hours of sunlight left I made it Burro Creek, and got my rock hounding on (and lizarding.) 😉
This ancient creek acted as a rock tumbler of sorts and made huge volcanic boulders completely round and smooth. I gathered more than I could carry and I was in heaven.
Dinner this night was from this recipe and it was really good, especially since I brought garlic and shallots from my own garden. . .no big deal.
These were lit with my handy dandy headlamp. If you don’t own one of these already. . what are you waiting for?
The next morning, I headed towards a place called Alamo Lake. I had really vague directions for the BLM land area, so I ended up driving to the neighboring State Park Rangers Station. He gave me much better directions and I also found out they had showers for only $7! (Win, win!) This BLM land area was really expansive, and there were several other campers already established, so I drove around (where I could, parts were not suitable for the Jucy) and finally found *the* perfect spot:
I was surrounded by big, beautiful Saguaros. According to the inter webs it can take up to 10 years for a saguaro cactus to reach 1 inch in height. By 70 years of age, a saguaro cactus can reach 6 and a half feet tall, and will finally start to produce their first flowers. By 95-100 years in age, a saguaro cactus can reach a height of 15-16 feet, and could start to produce its first arm. If these calculations are correct then these guys are probably 200 years old! It’s like the deserts version of the Redwoods. I really wanted to hug these guys, like I did the Redwoods. . but I refrained.
Don’t they look like two people?
This made me so sad. . . Those cacti have been growing together for over 150 years, and one recently died.
Sunset was quickly approaching so I was gearing up for dinner and night time photography, little did I know what was in store for me.
I witnessed one of THE best sunsets (and then sunrises) of my entire life.
The next morning, I woke up to the inside of the van covered in the prettiest pink light. . I couldn’t get my shoes on fast enough.
After rising with the sun and a quick breakfast — I pre-made several of these bad boys the first night and just stored them in foil in the fridge. Then threw them on the fire in the morning, quick and easy breakfast. Anywho. . . I left my campsite, ran over to the Ranger Station and tried to purchase a shower pass. It was a holiday so everything in the park that day was FREE. (!!!)
Then I hit the road, for a legit Ghost Town, Swansea.
So let me just start out by saying, I grew up on a gravel road. As a naughty teenager, my friends and I would go “Gravel traveling”, I even recently I endured that “scenic byway” . . but nothing could have prepared me for the road I was about to go down.
Literally and figuratively.
When the road sign said 30 Miles to Swansea Ghost Town, It didn’t say anything about the roads: 30 miles of gravel, sometimes it was washboard, sometimes it had huge ruts and boulders in the middle of it. After nearly 2 hours of this and with only 5 miles to go, I started seeing signs that said “Step incline”, “Travel at your own risk” Thankfully I didn’t meet any other cars at the blind curves because there wouldn’t have been enough room for both of us.
Did I mention I had ZERO service on my phone. I would have had to go back at least 5 miles to maybe get lucky to get a call out. Needless to say I was so relieved to see (what was left of) Swansea. I rolled up into “town” and there were maybe 10 other people there, all of which were driving dune buggies or serious all terrain vehicles. I got some seriously looks as I drove by.
I went and claimed a campsite and then started exploring.
This site is an active archeological site, with ruins of buildings, machinery and tons of old broken glass left over from the miners. The archeologist have been able to determine where many of the old buildings use to be, and have put up markers indicating what was what.
As the sun started to set, I noticed that everyone was leaving.
And then, it was just me.
It was just me for probably 30 miles. No cell service (no-one to hear my screams). I tried REALLY hard to stay in a positive mindset, but all those old X-Files episodes kept creeping in my mind. I had all these grand ideas for cool night time shots, but my paranoia won. I put my camera on the tripod and just had it set to keep shooting automatically, while I tried to regain composure by the campfire — a knife in one hand, can of pepper spray in the other. It was so quiet. The quiet was actually almost deafening. There wasn’t any wind, it was freaky!
Then, it happened.
All of a sudden I heard something wrestling behind me. I thought to myself,
“Well, this is it. This is how it ends for you. You’re gonna turn around and it’s either going to be a mountain lion, a ghost miner or an alien.” I turned my headlamp on, found all the courage I could muster and quickly spun around. . .
to find the smallest desert mouse taking a dirt bath.
I was in the Jucy, doors locked by 7:30p.
These were the only two photos I actually got there. . Swansea is roughly 150 miles from Phoenix, but yet, you can still see the light pollution way out there.
I woke before the sun, feeling thankful to be alive. I needed to get out of there as soon as possible, because I didn’t want to meet any drivers on that road. So as soon as it became light, I got the hell outta there. I drove for about 15 miles, where the road was a bit more manageable and had breakfast under this giant Saguaro. It was well over 45 feet tall.
As I sipped my coffee, I wondered what all it has seen in it’s lifetime. Did Spanish Explorers also stop for a drink under this guy?
Every day, I would say to myself. . “Wow, I just don’t know how it can get any better than this” and then the next day would come and I’d say that all over again. Even the Ghost Town Day — I wish I could go back and re-do that and not let my imagination get the best of me.
The second to last day, was a super last minute decision, I didn’t research the place, it was just something I found on the Freecampsites.net site and took a gamble. It was quite a ways off the highway, but when I arrived I really couldn’t believe my eyes. You could literally pull your vehicle to the waters edge and camp. I was greeted, whole heartedly by the Lake Mohave welcoming Committee.
As night started to fall, I was almost in a trance like state over the sound of the campfire and the gentle waves from the lake crashing on the nearby shore. I didn’t want this to end, because I knew when I woke up it would be my last day. . and that whole week just flew by. So I took a deep breath, and I tried to just be present and enjoy every second.
The welcoming committee was there to greet me the next morning …
And to see me off, as I left.
The trip was amazing and thankfully I get to go back in just a few short weeks. We’re starting the 2018 Wedding Season in Joshua Tree, CA. . so be sure to follow along on our adventures via Instagram
Oh, I almost forgot. I’ve been wanting to recreate this photo for quite awhile now. On the Right is my Pop, Roscoe. Shortly after graduating High School he joined the Air Force and was stationed in Carson City, Nevada. His parents drove him out there from Missouri and took a ton of awesome photos during their road trip. This photo was always one of my faves. In the border it says “RW (that’s Roscoe’s initials) 120° What I wouldn’t give to hear him recount that trip. How I wish I would have paid attention more to his stories. He and my Gram owned an Airstream trailer for over 50 years, and took it to nearly every state & Providence in Canada. Some of my most fondest memories revolve around them and their Airstream taking us to Colorado every summer. I think I get my sense of adventure from him.