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Learning Proper Bicycle Maintenance

Maintaining a bike is similar to the practice of warming your body up for a big race with a proper cool down afterwards, or preparing for an important exam by regularly studying; and it all comes down to proper, regular inspection.

A bike gets a quick checkup. Photo by Peter Creveling.

There are four things to check before every ride you make, regardless of if you are a frequent visitor to your bike seat or someone who just decided to brush off the cobwebs of your grandparent’s Schwinn.

First: Check the air in your tires. Make sure the tire pressure is optimal as suggested by the manufacturer, and be sure to check that all release levers, tire caps, or thru axles are properly tightened. Be sure nothing is loose before you start to ride.

Second: Inspect your brakes. Squeeze both the front and rear brakes to ensure the pads engage your rims properly and evenly. Good breaks are essential, they can make the difference between having the ride of your life — and the last ride of your life.

Third: Clean your drivetrain. This is essentially the transmission of your bike, so a clean and well lubricated drivetrain will make your ride easier and extend the life of your bike. Take a dry, or damp, rag and run along the chain to clean up any dirt accumulated between the linkages. For very dirty chains, I highly recommend using a chain cleaner that allows for a deep clean between the linkages. These are very easy to use devices that latch onto the chain and are simple enough to use by holding the device in place while you peddle.

A bike gets a quick checkup. Photo by Peter Creveling.

Fourth: Keep all of the parts well lubricated. A well lubricated bike is the equivalent to doing a warm-up lap around the track and stretching before you run the 100 meter dash. Running cold turkey is asking for something to be torn, and the same thing goes for any bicycle! But remember, too much lubrication can lead to a decrease in bike performance, and even damages. This is because lubrication can attract abrasive material that can get in-between parts and decrease their integrity. Give lubrication ample time to soak in, and simply wipe away any excess, before going on that bike ride. Key areas to focus on for lubrication include: breaks, derailleurs, cassettes, chain rings and, of course, the chain. For the breaks and derailleurs, this includes any levers, cables, and their entire assembly.

These are only the basics towards bike maintenance. Supplies you will need include: clean rags, brushes, soap, water, lubricant, degreaser, and a bike stand.

The most important element is to take your time; don’t rush your way through this process. Take care of your bike and it will take care of you. Also, don’t underestimate the advantage of taking your bike into the shop. These tips will help you keep your bike on the road or on the trail more often, but it’s important to get your bike a full checkup every once in a while in addition to these regular efforts.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Reaching Heights in the Uintas

The high alpine is an environment so sodden with life and beauty that it has drawn words of praise from everyone, including the likes of John Muir and beyond. Truly, “the mountains are [always] calling,” but with classes and busy schedules, it is sometimes harder than that famous line makes it seem. Nevertheless, a bit of tedious time management can free up a weekend to head out and connect with the most spiritual and uplifting of natural places. In Utah, this means a trip to our tallest range, the Uintas. Here are a few of the best mountains to stand atop, triumphant and graceful, in our state’s most dominating range.

King’s Peak

King’s undoubtedly lands at the top of anyone’s list. If the stunning 6,000+ feet of prominence (how high the actual peak separates from the ground) doesn’t take your breath away, and if the beautifully exposed final ridge walk can’t do so either, then at least you can say you’ve stood on the tallest point in Utah. The most popular route to sack this peak is Henry’s Fork. From there, the trip is a little over 12 miles one way, and it gains about 5,200 feet of elevation, making it possible to ascend in one day. It’s more typical to take two days or a long weekend and split up the mileage a bit. Other approaches include one from Yellowstone Creek Trail (17 miles one way) or Uinta River Trail (50 miles round trip). All routes will eventually end at Anderson’s Pass which is just an hour ridge walk away from the summit of King’s Peak.

Mount Emmons

Although three peaks in Utah tower just a little higher than Emmons, this mountain is massive and visible from far away. It practically draws you to its peak. There are two approaches to get to the top. The Uinta River Route covers 27 miles round trip and 5,600 feet of elevation, while the Swift Creek Route notches just below it at 25 miles and 5,400 feet of elevation. Emmons itself rises to a sturdy 13,440 feet, but it only flashes 930 feet of prominence. Regardless, the route is far less trafficked than King’s, and it can offer an incredible rewarding outing if enough effort is put forth.

Mount Powell

Acclaimed as the most beautiful of Utah’s 13ers — or 13,000 foot mountains — Powell can offer one of the most pleasant winter ascents anywhere in Utah. It sits nearby maintained and plowed facilities, meaning the roads should be passable year round. Almost every face of the mountain can be ascended without much difficulty, and the mellow slopes mean prime backcountry skiing is plentiful. If you do try to attempt a winter ascent, be well prepared and up to date on avalanche dangers and safety. In the summer, however, no special skills are required — just determination to battle through the mosquitoes and a good judgment when it comes to thunderstorms.

Tokewanna Peak

If solitude and remoteness are what you’re searching for, Tokewanna is where you’ll find it. The trails are poorly marked, especially towards the summit, and although it is the closest Utah 13er to a road, it is still a 15 mile roundtrip journey. If you’re good with a map and compass, and a little bit lucky, you’re almost certain to be one of the few to experience standing on the peak of a 13,000 foot mountain with no one else in sight. Middle Fork Blacks Fork is the most used trail to ascend the peak, meaning it should be the easiest to follow. Still, there are no promises of an easy route find to the top. This adventure is one you have to work for yourself.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Sun Tunnels and Spiral Jetty Provide Change of Scenery

For those who enjoy the outdoors and art, Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty can be a nice change of scenery compared to your usual mountain adventures. Located on the Utah/Nevada border, the Sun Tunnels are roughly three and a half hours away. If you’re looking for something a little closer to our beloved city, the Spiral Jetty can be reached in under two hours as it sits on the northeastern part of the Great Salt Lake.

Holt’s four 18 foot long tunnels were installed in 1976 when she purchased a total of 40 acres for her contribution to the Land Art Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. It is as simple as typing in “Sun Tunnels” on Google Maps to find precise directions to getting there. It’s wise to download and/or print out your planned route just to be on the safe side, as well as to bring a GPS.

With two routes to choose from — one being only 10 minutes faster than the other — I chose to head west on I-80. This will take you past the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Keep in mind that you must leave no later than 5 p.m. to make it to the tunnels before sunset, and you must leave earlier if you need time to make any pit stops. As you pass through Wendover and take Exit 378 towards Oasis Montello, it’ll probably feel like you’ve been driving for an eternity.

Don’t worry, you’ll take that right turn after the exit, and after about 20 miles, you’ll enter this tiny little town called Montello. I highly suggest you top off your tank here, as gas can be a little pricey since it’s the middle of nowhere, and use the restroom. From there, you’ll notice several “road closed” signs, but don’t worry, you can go around those. After turning off the main paved road, you’re about 25 minutes out from the tunnels. The use of a GPS and downloaded trip plan is very helpful for the last stretch of dirt roads leading up to the tunnels. You’ll need it to find your way back to the main road after your experience with this famous piece of art.

The Spiral Jetty is a good option if you don’t have the time to trek the 100+ miles to the Sun Tunnels, but still want to enjoy some Utah land art. Smithson created this massive walkway in 1970, also as a part the Land Art movement.

Heading north on I-15, you’ll take Exit 365 towards Corrine. Take the opportunity to fill up there as there are no other gas stations for miles. After following the signs to the Golden Spike National Historic Site, turn left onto Golden Spike Road to the visitor center. Had too many snacks and drinks on the way? The GSNHS Visitor Center is your last hope, and it’s only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Plan accordingly.

This is where cell phone reception goes out, too, which is why it’s wise to download and/or print out your planned route ahead of time, as well as bring a GPS along for added security. At this point, you’ll never appreciate road signs and paved roads more. After the visitors’ center, the main gravel road will take you west towards the middle of nowhere. Keep following this road for 5.5 miles, then take a right. Keep your eyes peeled for Spiral Jetty signs. They’re sparse, but they do exist. At this point, it probably feels like you’re lost, but there will be a T-junction, and you’ll take a right turn. The road will curve around Rozel Point for what seems like an eternity — 9 full miles — and will finally come to the end at a cul-de-sac where you can park.

a.duong@wasatchmag.com

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Learning from Mistakes: Antelope Canyon and The Wave

Contributor story from Vien Voraotsady. Photo credit to Vien Voraotsady. 

We originally planned on doing a photography tour in one of the Antelope Canyon slots, but when everything ended up being sold out, we winged it.

On the way through Kanab, Utah, we found the best coffee shop: Willow Canyon Outdoor. This shop not only fulfilled our coffee craving, but we were able to peruse books, outdoor gear and clothing. It was the perfect opportunity for my wife, Ange, to find a hat that was all her own (one that wasn’t mine).

After our stop in Kanab, we made it to our hotel in Page, Arizona, on Friday after driving six hours. Page is a great area to visit with plenty of places to eat. There was also the added bonus of the Horseshoe Bend trailhead being five minutes from our hotel. We enjoyed the rest of our day there, and we watched the sunset from the bend’s top.

The next morning, we drove one hour back to Kanab to put our names in The Wave lottery at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Visitor Center. There are two ways to get into the competitive lottery — online or in person. We were taking the latter option, and as we strolled in at 8:30 a.m. to put our names in we were excited, because the parking lot was empty. “We might have a shot!” Then the park ranger reminded us Arizona and Utah are in different time zones in the summer. We missed the drawing by 30 minutes.

The Wave permit lottery happens every morning at 9 a.m. The park rangers start taking names at 8:30. If you’re lucky enough to be one of the 10 to have your name drawn — there are upwards of 50-90 people each day depending on the season — you receive your permit for the following day (i.e., Saturday’s drawing is for Sunday’s permits). Lesson learned: be aware of time changes.

Kicking ourselves for this, we headed back to Arizona for our tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon at noon. This tour cost us $25 per person, and we booked it online the day before. By the time we got to the parking lot, it was windy, and in this sandy area we were quickly covered in grit. I recommend bringing hats, bandanas, desert scarves, and sunglasses to keep sand out of your eyes. You will get sand all over your camera equipment, so make sure you have a filter for your lenses.

There were about 15 people in our group. Our guide, Darren, was knowledgeable, talkative, and funny. We learned a lot about the Navajo Nation’s history as we waited our turn to descend the ladders into the slots. The beginning of the tour started with a descent on a steep, steel ladder to get to the slot. As we walked, we gradually climbed ladders up, and we eventually came out of the slot to the topside. It was about a 1 mile hike that took an hour and a half. It was breathtaking. We had plenty of sunlight, and a great tour guide. Along with entertaining and informing us along the way, Darren would help people in our group find the best settings on their camera phones for the best pictures, and he gladly took any photos you wanted. Using my Nikon D750, 90 percent of my pictures turned out great.

Photo by Vien Voraotsady

After we went back to our room, we were off to our 5 p.m. Upper Antelope Canyon tour we also reserved online. We met at a parking lot/gift shop in Page where we were shuttled to the site. This tour cost us $52 a person, and there were about 20 people in our tour group. Our guide wasn’t as talkative as Darren, but he did point out all the great photo places with a laser pointer. This tour was shorter, and it was an out and back whereas the lower canyon was a full loop. The lighting during this tour wasn’t favorable, but that could have been because the sun wasn’t over the slots. Using my backup camera, the Nikon D7000, only 10 percent of my pictures were keepers. This tour didn’t allow flash or the use of a tripod which was too bad — it had an awesome sand fall in the middle.

Photo by Vien Voraotsady

My favorite was the Lower Antelope Canyon tour. I’d like to go back and do the photographer tour in the future.

After that, we went back to Horseshoe Bend to stargaze. Even with our headlamps, we were a little leery of the ledges, but we had fun.

Photo by Vien Voraotsady

When Sunday came, we were ready for a detox, so we went to the Buckskin Gulch trail. Supposedly, there is a beautiful slot canyon with some water, but we didn’t make it since we only had two hours. We parked at the Buckskin Gulch trailhead, hiked for an hour and never found the slot entrance. We later found out it is a 4.4 mile hike to get to the slot canyon. If you want to see it, start at the Wire Pass parking lot. Make sure to bring cash or checkbook to pay the $6 per person permit fee.

Want to see your work here? Send story and photo pitches to c.koldewyn@wasatchmag.com.

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Trump Train Puts National Monuments on Trial

Another step in his fervent scramble to dissolve all measures undertaken to preserve the environment within the past three decades, President Donald Trump’s April 26 executive order prompted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review — and potentially revoke — national monuments created since 1996. The results of Zinke’s review are recognized as a preliminary indicator as to how public lands are to be treated under the Trump administration. This heavy-handed exertion of government power, the president claimed in a speech made when he signed the Antiquities Act Executive Order, will “end another egregious abuse of federal power.”

Photo by Dalton Rees.

The national monuments now under scrutiny were designated by Theodore Roosevelt’s 1906 Antiquities Act, permitting the acting president to take unilateral action in the protection of natural resources and historical points of intrigue on federal land under threat. While federal land protected by this law remains entirely accessible for public, recreational use, commercial exploitation (i.e., mining, lumber work, and oil-drilling) becomes strictly prohibited.

A firm advocate of the commodification of nature, Trump asserted in the same speech,“The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time that we ended this abusive practice.”

During the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, a collective 26 monuments were ratified, and they will soon be under review. Choosing to retain a degree of ambiguity while approaching this sweeping review, Zinke suggested in an April 25 press briefing on that executive order that he will base his decision upon whether a respective designation had resulted in “loss of jobs, reduced wages, and reduced public access.” Zinke went on to assert that he is “not going to predispose what the outcome is going to be.”

This recent executive order has put Utah in the spotlight as Obama’s end-term designation of Bears Ears was evidently the initial inspiration for this move. The monument’s particularly extensive size has drawn immense criticism from Utah conservatives, for at over 2000 square miles, Bears Ears is currently over four-times the size of Canyonlands National Park, the largest in the state. Following the continual pandering of Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Gary Herbert, Trump directly asserted he was eager to reduce the boundaries of the 1.35-million-acre designation when signing his executive order. Recent events have indicated this wish is  likely to be brought to fruition.

After his definitive trip to the Bears Ears Monument, Zinke delivered a statement to Congress asserting the designation is “not the best use of the land.” He went on to recommend that Trump reduce the monument as to solely encompass the areas of historical and prehistorical intrigue, like residual cave dwellings, and archaeological sites. This recommendation remains purely sentiment until the president reaches his final decision in August following Zinke’s remaining 25 reviews, including that of Grand Staircase-Escalante.

For many environmentalists and tribal advocates of the designation, Zinke’s recommendation is perceived as a vulgar affront to the initial intentions of the monument, namely, respect for the five sovereign tribes holding sacred ties to the area, and conservation.

Adam Sarvana, a representative for Democrats on the House National Resources Committee, was reported in The New York Times as responding to Zinke’s recommendation for Bears Ears stating, “If you look at a map, that area is only about five percent of the monument area. … It seems like what they’re describing is a few stops on a boardwalk arcade, a few isolated areas, rather than a professionally conserved landscape the way national monuments are typically designated.”

Photo by Dalton Rees.

While Zinke’s recommendation did concede to permit additional protections in certain locations within the existing monument in the form of national recreation and/or conservation areas, it is clear that what the secretary is proposing entails a mass reduction of Bears Ears as we currently know it.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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Gear to Get You Started

Breaking into a new sport can be intimidating and expensive. As any outdoor lover is painfully aware, your gear will burn a hole in your pocket faster than wildfire. Buying into a new activity can put you back a fair bit, especially if you decide you don’t like the sport as much as you first thought. You can start off by renting the essentials, but soon this becomes more costly than just owning the gear yourself. Eventually, you reach a point where an investment is necessary. Here are a few pieces of gear that will maximize what you’re able to do while minimizing the amount of money you need to put in to get started.

Backpack (60 L)

This is the single most important piece of gear any so-called outdoor lover should own. Being able to pack yourself into remote locations and camp is a skill applicable to just about every outdoor sport. Attach your tent — or hammock — and bag peaks in the summer, strap your skis on in the winter and boot pack a chute, carry your rope and climbing shoes with you in the fall and ascend that new route, and/or snuggle your fly rod on in the spring to land that big Brown. Getting a pack 60 liters or larger will allow you ample room to cram in your essentials and get started on some easier overnight trips. Best of all, backpacks can be found at almost every used gear sale. It shouldn’t be too difficult to snag a deal on one.

Climbing Shoes

It seems there are two pseudo-requirements to live and recreate in the Salt Lake area: know how to ski and know how to climb. Both can get pricey fast, but climbing has the cheapest buy in. All you really need is a pair of shoes (and some chalk if you really want to be bougie). From there you can boulder, indoors or out, and see if constantly cramming your fingers in small cracks and holds suits your fancy. If you boulder outdoors be sure to either rent a crash pad ($6 a day from Outdoor Adventures) or pick boulders with soft landings, free of rocks. Like backpacks, climbing shoes are fine to buy used. Just be sure to check the condition of the sole, particularly on the edges, because it tends to get worn away the quickest.

Fly Rod

The Cottonwoods are not just the home of great climbs and powdery runs, but streams and lakes too. Meandering their way through all these are trout: rainbows, brooks, lakes, and browns. You will need a fishing license as well as a rod, but you’ll be able to keep up to four fish a day (unless specific area regulations permit otherwise). For most spots in the Cottonwoods a small, dark fly will work well. Even if you do more fishing than catching, a day spent next to pristine alpine streams and lakes is a day well spent.

Headlamp

Aside from being an extreme luxury/ borderline necessity, a headlamp is vital for caving. All over Utah lie underground tunnels and caverns waiting to be spelunked. While many caves require technical skills and are very easy to get lost in, there are some that are shallow and give just a taste of the bigger systems, like the Snow Canyon Lava Tubes. Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting absolutely filthy and leave your claustrophobia at the entrance.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Technical Slot Canyons for the Beginning Canyoneer

Just like with most adventure sports, canyoneering only gets better the more difficult it is to get through the canyon. While hikes through slot canyons are beautiful, they can’t compare to rappelling down one or having your partner help you climb over a stuck rock. A technical canyon is the best version of an adult obstacle course nature has to offer us, and one of the most adventures fun found anywhere. For those just getting started, however, it can be intimidating or even dangerous to drop down a canyon far above your skill level. Here are five canyons that are perfect for an amateur’s first few descents.

Blarney Canyon

This is a two for one canyon; there’s an East and West Blarney Canyon and both are great for those wanting to practice their natural anchor building skills. There are no bolts, but the canyon is well trafficked and natural anchors are bomber and easy to find. Both have medium sized rappels and moderate down climbs. Using a hip belay allows for less skilled down climbers to get some good practice safely. The canyons are located near Hanksville and are not difficult to find. Route finding is similarly easy, but it is exposed and, like all of Southern Utah, can be brutally hot in the summer. Either hike in early in the morning while it’s still cool or do the canyon at night (Note: not recommended if it’s your first time descending it). Either branch of the Blarney offers all the fun of a big, fully technical canyon without throwing anything too difficult in your face. No permits required.

Diana’s Throne

THE canyon for first timers. Located just outside Zion, this route is short, sweet, and extremely beginner friendly. The technical section only lasts a short while but offers a sampling of common canyon obstacles. Everything is bolted, making it very easy to safely maneuver every downclimb and rappel. Three big rappels mark the start of the slotty section, but a more vertical descent hides a bit farther down the canyon. The approach and exit are fairly well marked out and the canyon is not terribly hard to find. Footprints paint the way there. Around the exit to the canyon are a few, bigger offshoots that can hold fun rappels themselves if proper anchor building tactics are employed. No permits are necessary as the land is all BLM.

Yankee Doodle Hollow

Intimidating, then simple and sweet. Yankee Doodle starts with a big 130-foot rappel off the side of the canyon to the floor. It is partially overhanging, meaning you’ll be free floating at least part of the way down, but it’s anchored with bolts so there’s little chance of your anchor not holding up. After that initial rappel, some down climbs and slotty section will follow, but you won’t be rappelling again. It’s a one and done deal, making it great for those who want to try out a bigger descent. The canyon is located off the Leeds Exit (22) of I-15. There are no permits needed.

Keyhole

Perhaps the most heavily trafficked, and most common beginner canyon Zion has to offer. The canyon has just one, small rappel (30 feet), but offers multiple sections of good downclimbing and a classic cold water Zion swim. Break out the wetsuits for this canyon even if you’re doing it in July; water down in the depths rarely sees the sun and seldom heats up. Like others on this list, the canyon is short and should only take a few hours to get through. This canyon is so iconic of good Zion canyoneering that it has its picture hanging behind the permit station in the Visitor’s Center, which you’ll be able to admire while picking up your mandatory permit.

 

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Utah’s Backpacking Gems

Summer brings about the liberation of one of life’s most valuable resources — time. For the adventure-minded, more time means longer trips, and longer trips usually mean backpacking. In a state where outdoor recreation is world class, there are surprisingly few trails long enough to warrant a hearty backpacking trip. When excavated deep enough, however, a few diamonds emerge from the rough. Here are some of the shiniest.

Coyote Gulch

This is one of those places so famous in Utah that it’s hard to live in the state one month without having heard of it. Located about 33 miles down Hole in the Rock Road in Escalante, Hurricane Wash provides the ideal trailhead for a longer trip into this area. Typically, the 26 mile trail is hiked as an out and back at 13 miles each way, but a shuttle car can be used at one of the many other trailheads leading into the gulch to cut out some distance. Coyote offers beautiful scenery all around the trail, two different arches, a hidden lagoon, and numerous other unique points of interest. Since it is backcountry, waste should be packed out and fires are prohibited. A free permit is required, and it can be picked up at nearly every trailhead.

Uinta Highline Trail

For a traditional, high alpine, long trek, look no farther than the Uintas. The mightiest range in Utah is home to one of the most stunning backpacking trails the state has to offer. Over 100 miles of elevated path guides the way across some of the most stunning points in Utah, including King’s Peak. Never dipping below 8,000 feet, the trail is snowed in, and it is typically not passable until July. When hikeable, the trail boasts a ridiculous amount of wildlife. Everything from moose to coyotes are common. As part of this, it is maintained, but rough and remote. At times, only spaced out cairns will mark the way, so a good map and navigation skills are critical for anyone interested. No permit is required.

West Rim Trail

Arguably Zion’s most famous backpacking trip, the West Rim Trail offers a perspective of the massively popular park that most of the tourists will never see. Starting at Lava Point and descending 19 miles into the bottom of Zion Canyon, this trail renders views of both back- and front-country. It can be done as a strenuous day hike, but taking two days allows time to tack Angel’s Landing on to the end of the second day as a bonus. If done as a multi-day trek, a backcountry permit is necessary, and camping is restricted to one of the nine backcountry sites.

Narrows Top Down

The Narrows is arguably Zion’s second most famous hike, conceding only to Angel’s Landing. In order to see all of it, however, you’ll need to hit it from the top down. This is a 16 mile hike, starting at Chamberlain’s Ranch descending a steady 1,500 feet to the typical Narrows trailhead. A shuttle will be needed to get you from the park to Chamberlain’s. This hike is usually not possible in spring due to the high water flow. If the river is running over 120 cfs, Zion will close the Narrows. This means June is usually the earliest the hike is open. Like the West Rim Trail, the hike can be done in a day, but who would pass up a chance to camp in the Narrows? A permit is required for both the overnight and day trip options.

The Maze

The Maze district in Canyonlands is a classic Southern Utah trip. Hard to access trailheads surround one of the most remote places in the lower 48 states. Little water is offered throughout the treks, so careful planning and preparation are required. Due to its inaccessibility, trips are rarely shorter than three days. Many routes contain low grade climbing maneuvers and a 25 foot rope is recommended to shuttle packs up. Many of the hikes are exposed, and hot in the summer. It is best to go in fall or spring. When there, be cautious. This place is truly extreme and remote. Self sufficiency and proper preparation are essential for enjoying your time in The Maze. However, a successful trip can be rewarding as the area is stunningly beautiful, and solitude is easily found. Permits are required for all trips to The Maze.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Home is Where You Park It

Camping should be done outdoors. My mother taught me that lesson when I was six years old, loading her three kids with backpacks, having us hike in Point Reyes National Park, trudging through redwood forests, and breathing in salty shores. That’s why whenever someone suggested a car camping trip, I’d stick my nose high and say, “That is not camping.”

Camping is when you’ve made peanut butter and banana sandwiches for the fifth time, and the sound of birds wake you up in the morning — not the hum of RVs. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. This summer, my friends are swapping tents for camper shells and plywood. With a little ingenuity, cheap travel to remote locations is possible by car, and it’s almost as good as the old tent and backpack style.

It’s inspiring what people are doing to their cars with such little material and space. These simple upgrades allow you to stay outdoors longer, and it allows you to travel farther in ways backpackers cannot. With a properly equipped car or truck, you can spend weeks exploring the hundreds of climbing routes in Moab, like the infamous roadside climb Wall Street, rather than only days with a backpack. Even better, you can save your campsite money by parking on BLM land. It’s there for public use, and you can even use the Green River as a place to rinse off. Behind the Rocks is a popular spot my friends and I use. You can try it yourself if you don’t mind traveling down a dirt road for thirty minutes (latitude 38.4360 longitude -109.5034).

Photo credit Samira Guirguis.

Your 20s are a time when you have little responsibility, and perhaps even a time when you have more freedom. Why not plan a long road trip, and drive through Utah’s National Parks? Travel to see the “Mighty Five,” enjoy the distinctive, yet seemingly delicate formations of Arches National Park, bask in the sandcastle-like spires of Bryce Canyon, and experience the undulating landscape of Canyon Lands. All you need is a car and some supplies.

Don’t get tied down in a job you don’t love or wait for a partner to do these trips, just go. One buddy of mine went as far as buying a van from a retirement home, which he now lives out of, for the freedom of travel it provides without restrictions of jobs or partners. He even kept the “Senior Friendship Center” writing on the van.

You, too, can create a living space in the back of your car so you can climb wherever and whenever, or you can load your car up with music equipment so you can jam out with your friends with epic views like the San Rafael Swell. Take that chance, live off the grid, find yourself, discover the world, and find your own “van destiny.”

 

Here’s one way to get your car sufficiently ready for such a trip with a camper shell bed:

-Depending on the dimensions of your bed, two sheets of 4×8 3/4” thick cabinet grade plywood (about $50)

-A box of 1.25” wood screws

-A box of 2” wood screws

-Four hinges (about $8, later unused)

-6’5×6’5 roll of carpet (about $16)

-Wood glue

-Staples

–Total: About $80 after tax

Ultimately, all you need is just a few supporter beams and a thick piece of plywood to make it work in any truck, so get creative.

Although Toyota Tacomas in particular work great for this kind of thing, along with most trucks, this doesn’t mean you still can’t turn your car into a sleeper car. Subarus work just fine, too. All you need to do is take out your back seats, and voilà. Also, don’t forget to utilize all the storage space you will have underneath your bed platform. For my 2003 Subaru Outback, I used three plywood supporter beams that were 36” wide and 65” long to make my platform. Always check your car’s dimensions first though, because every car year/make/model is a little different.

s.guirguis@wasatchmag.com

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The Most Underrated of the ‘Mighty Five’

Every summer there’s the magical little period of post-school, pre-work freedom. Ideally, this is a week or longer, allowing for some kind of big, planned trip to take place. This year I had a weekend. With much whim and little planning, we stuffed the trunk and backseat of my friend’s Subaru and headed off to Capitol Reef for a night. Little did I know I’d be stumbling into Utah’s most underrated national park.

Our expectations were low; nobody in our group really went to Capitol Reef. I had seen stunning pictures of the park on random Instagram posts before, but I was suspicious. Plenty of places in Utah caters to what I call the “tourist adventurer.” These are people who make it seem like they are incredibly remote when in reality they’re standing off the side of a highway. I did not want to be swarmed by the masses as we all crammed into a little parking lot and hiked a quarter mile to some awesome geologic formation. I wanted to actually be remote.

We decided to head to the visitor center where we knew we could get a map and ask the ranger’s advice on where to go. After a few PB&J’s and some deliberation, our decision had been made. We packed up lunch, hit a few of the touristy day hikes, and then headed off to our real adventure.

After an hour of getting lost, two hours of high clearance, dirt road navigation and good music we reached the imposing sandstone formations known as Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon — aka our campsite. Soon, our tents were pitched just outside the park on BLM land, but still within view of the Temples. We enjoyed dehydrated beef stew, red beans with rice, and beef stroganoff as the last of the sun’s light fell across the towers. A few more hours and their dark silhouettes provided the perfect juxtaposition to the star encumbered sky.

Our expectations were well exceeded. Capitol Reef can lead you into a trap of “tourist adventurers” if you stay on the surface. Venture deeper into the park, though, and you can visit sites like Cathedral Valley, where you’ll find something far different.

In this hidden gem, we were met with total solitude and expanse, even though it was Mother’s Day. The main road, which houses most of the park’s visitors during their time, was relatively uncrowded. The parking lots at the hikes would fill, but barely. Just hours farther south, Zion would be entertaining bus after bus of tourists, while in Capitol Reef we saw equal views and far fewer tourists.

After just 24 hours in the park, my perception of it shifted completely. Capitol Reef holds the stigma of being unimpressive or not worth visiting, but as I found out, this is utterly untrue.

The park is nearly twice the size of Zion meaning there are far more backcountry and off-the-path places to explore. As the least visited national park in Utah, it is not hard to find a landscape totally devoid of people. Even the nearby towns are small and relatively unobtrusive. BLM land surrounds almost every border of the park, offering free camping wherever you go. Everything about this place is wild, expansive; and entirely underrated.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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