To say the least, the state of Utah is one of varied terrain. The landscape is rugged and raw - littered with buttes, spires, slot canyons, mesas and all sorts of geological wonders. It's vivaciously colored, as if Picasso took his most varietal palette and ran his brush across the land. To your right, you'll see red rock for miles and to your left, snow swept mountain ranges. The state abounds with endless beauty to explore: on foot, bike, kayak, car, you name it - a dirtbag-roadtripper’s dream quest, if you will. These, among many reasons, prompted a friend and myself to choose Utah as the destination for driving across the land in a new addition to our adventure portfolio: a teardrop trailer, courtesy of Camp Weathered.
On the outside, the trailer looks like a small half-wooden, half-tin box. It weighs in at approximately 1500 pounds and is complete with a mini kitchen in the back. It's cozy yet surprisingly spacious, and offers the perk of not having to worry about setting up camp each night. Another plus? It's undeniably adorable. Neither of us had much experience using an abode like this and frankly, the thought of dragging a cute little trailer across somewhat unpredictable roadways brought on a sense of wariness: Will we get it stuck in Utah's soft sands? During thunderstorms, will it be a lightning magnet? In heavy winds, will it blow over? Valid questions (sort of) as this time of year would likely bring all of this weather, plus some, to fruition.
We departed from the Bay Area to embark on the "loneliest road in America:" Highway 50 through Nevada. Our road trip blueprints were malleable; no destination was fixed as we were hoping to be influenced by locals and travelers with useful intel of places to stop along the way.
Every night throughout the trip was spent on public lands, with our first night in a place that quite literally felt like the middle of nowhere, known as Middlegate Station. The community is home to about 20 people, a bar that has been around since the Pony Express, a tiny rusty 'gas station' that’s shockingly still in operation, and old cars and coaches that had been scorched by the heat and scattered across the town. We settled in, parked the trailer amongst the old beaten cars and chatted with the locals who ran the bar. They told stories of the town's rich history, complete with haunted tales of the friendly ghost of Middlegate named Ida Ferguson. A genuine cowboy watering hole.
Cars became more infrequent as we made our way toward Utah. Expansive landscapes rolled on forever and livestock that speckled the hills were prolific and prosperous. The hundreds of miles of rustic nothingness, beautiful in its own right, began to gain a little more color, red hues growing more bold with each mile.
A common qualm that anyone on long road trips is familiar with is that there is only so long you can spend in the car before you start to lose your marbles. The map starts to get pulled out of the glove box about every 45 seconds to scan the route: how many miles have passed? How many miles to go? Conversation gets a little goofy, sentences don't always make much sense, there is an insatiable hunger to mindlessly consume as many gas station snacks as possible... All of the road-trip idiosyncrasies that make these journeys so memorable.
After crossing the border into Utah, everything begins to appear striated - grooves undulate across magnificent rock formations like the grooves on a vinyl record player. At this point we'd started to become well acquainted with our trailer; the hitching quirks, which doors require more attention (so they don't fly open mid-travel), how gravel and trailers don't jibe well… lots of “rookie mistakes,” as we like to call them.
We arrived in central Utah's San Rafael Swell, a geological uplift that has been carved out by powerful flash floods over the course of millions of years. The area, which consists mostly of public land, feels like a massive outdoor playground that's truly wild, devoid of crowds and cell service, and with that, grants a certain sort of magic in its profound solitude.
We posted up for the night in one of the back folds of San Rafael Swell's sandstone anticline and got dinner going in the back of the trailer. The amenities provided from the trailer definitely offer a sort of 'glamping' vibe, with the multi-colored LED lights illuminating the stove, mini cooler and backgammon game (Number 16 on the trip thus far, but who's counting).
The rock formations we wandered through the next day seemed almost impossible to exist naturally. Tales about the weird, crazy-looking geological features in Utah are not hyperbolic. They're legitimate, and you sort of just have to see it for yourself. No anecdote or picture seems to do justice to depicting the abnormalities of Goblin Valley State Park, the drive across the border, or the feelings felt looking over Canyonlands.
Exploration with loosely sketched itineraries can be a mixed bag of taking risks and rolling with the punches, sometimes finding yourself at a dead-end, hopefully finding yourself in places like this. One of the payoffs: when you come across places with such scale unexpectedly - untamed and somewhat desolate – the magnitude of the landscape sometimes becomes so fully felt that it's capable of inducing epiphanies of epic proportions. Dramatic, maybe, but true.
There was an obvious shift felt after driving into Moab. Undeniable beauty merges with the masses that come to embrace it.
Moab is the crowned jewel of Utah - at least, it appears as such on social media. And to that note, it's hard not to fall in love with the adventure-driven atmosphere that caters to an infinite amount of outdoor pursuits. Geographically speaking, it's the gateway to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, both somewhat geological phenomenons in their own right, a climbing and backpacking mecca. Moab as a city is full of cute coffee shops, breweries, and stores that are ready to aid in your pursuit for whatever outdoor adventure you could think of.
We experienced, however, an undeniable juxtaposition in local moral. It is obvious that while some locals hold a lot of pride and love for their city, many have grown wary of its evolution; exhausted by the inundation of tourists. We spoke with an older woman at the Visitor's Center who recounted a time in which the coffee and adventure shops, and most importantly, the crowds, didn't exist. In the Moab paper, we read articles discussing how people have become lobotomized, unable to digest the landscapes they are in the presence of anymore, and proclaimed Arches National Park as "Disneyland on dirt."
It would be remiss not to include this obvious change in energy felt in Moab, as it sparked debate on what motivates travel in us and in others. While there seems to be some merit to the frustration of the Moab locals, we acknowledge that we all form a unique relationship with the wild spaces that we visit. What may be wild to one person, may not be to another - the impact of a place on a person is relative. But as visitors, it's our job to be conscious, mindful and intentional of the people and spaces we visit.
Our route to Druid Arch in Canyonlands involved a lot of wading through streams, clambering boulders and getting a little lost in the backcountry. When you're in the midst of nowhere and nothing, lonely miles separating you and what you've come to know on the road - that's the moment you begin to learn about yourself. There is something to be said about taking risks, challenging yourself in some way. Learning how to better understand the roads you're on, the places you see; all of this manifests a deeper connection to your surroundings.
We went to "Disneyland on dirt," or rather, Arches National Park. With more arches than any other place in the world (more than 2,000) it's difficult not to succumb to the grandeur of the park. It has an unwavering ability to make you feel small, encouraging a strange sense of camaraderie amongst the crowds that come to sit alongside the giant arches. People ask one another about their geomorphologic theories, or run around on the rocks like kids – or just simply sit and stare. Whether you venture further out into the park or just visit the iconic spots, it's worth the stop, crowds or not.
It feels as if no matter which national park you visit, talk will always persist about how the crowds – more prevalent than ever – will make it more difficult to enjoy in the same way as the good ole' days. But our national parks hold so much more than the iconic places that we commonly see, and whether it's the backcountry of Canyonlands or Delicate Arch, the level at which a place is enjoyed is ultimately up to the person.
We left Utah craving at least two more weeks to explore Canyonlands alone. At this point our teardrop trailer was covered in ice, dust, and was a slightly different shade, but it fared pretty damn well. We learned that this trailer, small, but mighty, was capable of withstanding much more than anticipated; this was not too arduous an endeavor to take it with us. Towing the Woodside Trailer 2,425 miles through a cocktail of different sediments presented its own set of challenges, but was well worth it.
Our penchant for road trips has only been exacerbated, and a teardrop trailer proved to be a great addition to the trip. To those who are debating on taking one out on your next road trip ... Just do it.
Photos by Katie Rodriguez and Ben Judkins.
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