If we don’t spend at least one night within a state’s borders in our RV, then we can’t add it to our state map. That’s our rule. So while we traveled through Idaho in 2016, we didn’t get to claim it as conquered. No matter what it took, that was going to change this year.
It wasn’t much of an inconvenience. We left Jordanelle State Park after work on Friday of Memorial Day weekend and drove a beautiful 227 miles to Indian Creek. This dry camping area in Caribou-Targhee National Forest is free, with a 5-day stay limit.
We chose to get as close to the water–Palisades Reservoir on the Snake River–as we could. The road towards the water has some unpleasant potholes, but the distance isn’t long. We turned off on the last path to the right, and pulled onto the grass just off the road.
We (read: Eric) were nervous about sinking into the ground because our diesel pusher weighs about 30,000 pounds. But we checked the forecast–no rain–and purposely parked on the highest ground in the area. In the morning, we had no problems and pulled right out.
Our dispersed camping spot for the night
#BabyNomad relaxing with daddy by the river
Our Internet signal was low. Verizon was better than AT&T. Browsing the Internet was slow, but Netflix was usable because of its buffering. We didn’t turn on our weBoost because it was a Friday and we didn’t have a lot of work to accomplish.
Digital nomad life in Caribou-Targhee National Forest
The view of the river and mountains was stunning. We stayed outside as long as we could before the mosquitos slept in. Before I went to sleep, I opened the curtain of our bedroom. When I opened my eyes the next morning, the first thing I saw was the glassy water.
Off-roading and Jeep culture are a huge part of our lives. Ever since we bought a Jeep Rubicon in summer 2016, we’ve gotten really into meeting people in the Jeep community, modifying our Jeep, and challenging ourselves with harder and harder trails. Jeeping is definitely Eric’s #1 hobby (though he’d probably use a more intense word).
For my part, I enjoy 4×4 trails that combine beautiful scenery with interesting obstacles. (I’m not super into jolting over rocks for hours.) I do appreciate the places our Jeep allows us to access, that we’d never be able to get to otherwise.
Though my passion for Jeep life may not be as strong as Eric’s, we were both looking forward to staying in Moab, Utah. Moab is an international destinationfor off-road enthusiasts, and we’d never spent any time there to speak of.
Hiking is my favorite outdoor pastime, and this outdoor playground has plenty of opportunities for it. Plus, I had my mind set on dry camping for the full three weeks we were in town, and there are so many places to do that, to0. All in all, Eric and my interests were aligned for an unforgettable time in this town.
We stayed in Moab from April 29 to May 19, 2018.
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Dry Camping Options in Moab, Utah
The Maverick gas station on the south end of Moab allows you to fill up with water and dump at no charge
Before we got to Moab, I spent a lot of time researching dry camping locations on Campendium. We arrived in the area just before lunch on a Sunday, and there was bumper to bumper traffic out of town as everyone left for the work week.
The following places are on BLM land and completely free. They caught my attention because they seemed big rig friendly, reportedly had cell coverage, and had decent reviews. Before we made a decision, we wanted to see each spot for ourselves. We spent an hour or two scouting for the best dry camping location.
Willow Springs Trail seems to be the most popular place, probably because it’s closest to town. But popular means more crowded. Most of the sites are right on the road, so there’s noise all the time, and especially on the weekends. Still, this is where Eric wanted to stay and I seriously considered it.
Klondike Bluff Road has some beautiful spots with gorgeous views of the La Sal Mountains. Good Internet signal, too. But getting to the best places requires inching over a rocky road for two miles. We could’ve done it, and we almost did it. But considering that two-mile stretch and the fact Klondike Bluff Road is the farthest BLM spot from Moab, I was dissuaded.
Dalton Well Road has some nicer, more secluded camping spots compared to Willow Springs. But none of the areas we liked had a decent Internet signal. The larger areas were like dirt parking lots, which didn’t appeal to me at all. In the Campendium reviews, some people voiced concerns about getting a Class A through the sandy wash. Conditions seemed fine when we were there, but I’m sure they change over time.
BLM 261 Lot is a weird one. Campendium showed one couple staying in the parking lot of a deserted western town amusement thing, but that area is gated off now. It seemed that most people were staying in a small parking lot just off 191. This might be okay for a night, but I would never do this for an extended stay. There are so many prettier places to stay. Internet signal was off and on, too.
Hopefully this scouting info is helpful for anyone who’s also researching with Campendium. But we didn’t end up staying at any of those free spots. Instead, we landed at Sand Flats Recreation Area.
Where We Landed: Sand Flats Recreation Area
Our dry camping site at Sand Flats Recreation Area in Moab, Utah
Here’s the story. Sand Flats Recreation Area is awesome and I think it’ll always be our camping preference for future visits to Moab. Reasons:
10 minutes or less into central Moab (groceries, gas, laundry, coffee, playground, etc.).
Looking down on Meriwether (right) from Baby Lions Back off-road trail in Sand Flats
The only downside is that it isn’t free. Camping is $15/night with no hookups and no amenities, other than basic toilets. (I actually never used them, but there’s no roof if that’s any indication.) The good news is there’s no day use fee.
Fireside get-together with RV friends at Sand Flats
There is a 14-day stay limit, though they cut us some slack and allowed us to stay almost three weeks.
Our unboosted Internet was a bit slow (AT&T), but super solid with the use of our weBoost.
Kicking Butt With Dry Camping
Go Power! GP-PSK-120 120W Portable Folding Solar Kit with 10 amp solar controller, recommended by our friends at RV Solar Solutions
Our long-time readers know we’ve been laughably bad at dry camping, despite four and a half years of fulltime RVing. We wrote a really cute article in 2015 when we dry camped for a week at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, Escapees’ very first convergence. We had the best intentions of dry camping for a week in Sedona in 2016, but that ended in failure. Other than that, we’d only ever dry camped for a night or two on the weekend.
As we prepared for our Western Mountain Loop Trip this year, I wanted to do things “right.” I knew there was so much public land out west, and I didn’t want to be relegated to sardine-style RV parks when we could be dry camped with gorgeous vistas and peaceful nights under the stars. We prepared by upgrading to AGM batteries and buying a portable solar panel.
Moab was the first big test of our dry camping capabilities. How long could we go without hookups? Would our batteries and solar be enough, or would we still have to run our generator?
We were shocked to see we had this much fresh water left after 16 days of dry camping
Humility be darned: we kicked butt. We lasted 16 days without dumping or refilling with water. At the 16-day mark, we left our site to dump, fill up with water, and get diesel at the Maverick gas station (425 N. Main St.–dump station and water both free). After that, we drove back to Sand Flats for another six days. Twenty-two straight days of dry camping.
I’d be lying if I said it was perfect. We had three really hot days, and our patio faced the sun during the hottest time of day. We literally couldn’t be at home because of how hot it was. Moab is red sand desert, and that red sand got through our screens and on almost every surface. We didn’t take many showers, and the ones we did take were only because we had friends staying at an RV resort in town. And we did run the generator a few times (less than 10 in 22 days), mostly on cloudy days.
But I would do it again (I am right now, as I write this). I feel so empowered by the experience, and I’m super excited about the possibilities it opens for our future. If you’ve hesitated about dry camping, just get out there and do it. If I can do it with a 17-month-old while working full-time, then you can do it, too!
#BabyNomad is all about dry camping for three weeks straight
We fit a ton into three weeks, so watch for upcoming Moab articles on our visits to the national parks, off-roading trails, and local restaurants. Lots of restaurants.
Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon National Park. On to our third in Utah: Capitol Reef National Park.
This one required some special doing. We left Toquerville after work on a Friday, and drove 200 miles through Fishlake National Forest and along the edge of Manti-La Sal National Forest. We traveled through beautiful farm land bordered by grass-covered hills. I had no idea there was a place in the United States that looked like this. It reminded me of photos I’ve seen of the Scottish Highlands.
And then the grassy hills gave way to brilliantly colored, jagged rock. Through the small town of Torrey, with its inviting restaurants, outdoor adventure companies, and local motels. We used the Jeep to scout our dry camping options and ended up in Capitol Reef Overflow, about half a mile outside the boundary of the park.
Where We Camped Near Capitol Reef National Park
Our camping spot for two nights at Capitol Reef Overflow
To get into Capitol Reef Overflow, we drove our 40-foot Class A into the national park and used a turn-out to turn around. The right turn into the camping area was smoother than a left turn would’ve been. It’s a bumpy entry.
Speaking of which, the whole camping area is fairly rocky. There were a ton of Class Bs, some truck campers, some Class Cs. I may have seen a shorter Class A, but we were definitely the only diesel pusher. We don’t have much clearance and are not very maneuverable, so we didn’t go far off the road.
Beautiful views from Capitol Reef Overflow
But it’s all good. There really isn’t a bad view anywhere, with gorgeous vistas and rock formations in almost every direction. That first night, we lit our propane fire pit and sat outside, talking about the future and our plans. It was pretty perfect.
Capitol Reef National Park in One Day
Caspian stamping his National Park Passport
We hit Capitol Reef National Park early the next day. It was cool to be close by–we’d never camped so near a national park before.
The visitor center was first. We watched the short video, got a park map, bought a 4×4 trail guide, and got some suggestions from the rangers.
Fruita school house built in 1896
Eric with Hickman Bridge in the background
From there, we started exploring the area around the visitor center. Fruita Historic District begins right across the street, with orchards along the Fremont River that date back to the original settlement in the 1870s. On a sunny day, it’s beautiful to wander around the historical buildings and fields on foot.
But we had different plans. Eric really wanted to drive the Cathedral Loop Road with our Jeep. High-clearance vehicles with sturdy tires are needed for the trail, so it’s a side of the national park many people never get to see. On our way to the turn-off, we stopped at the Petroglyph Panel and hiked the popular Hickman Bridge Trail.
The trail is only 0.9-miles one way, with one gradual ascent on the way out. It was all in the sun even early in the morning, so take plenty of water and wear sunscreen. Only three days after hiking Angel’s Landing, there wasn’t much comparison. But it was our first arch in Utah!
Cathedral Loop Road
Beautiful Cathedral Valley Road in Capitol Reef National Park
Cathedral Loop Road is 96 miles total, starting from the visitor center. The actual turn-off is 9.8 miles down 24 West. There’s a fun river ford, where you have to drive through and across the Fremont River at a shallow point.
The highlight of the 96 miles is Cathedral Valley, the road’s namesake. It’s mind-blowing, with towering walls and stunning rock formations. The $2.99 trail guide we bought at the visitor’s center offered detailed insight on the geology and history of the area.
With Caspian at Glass Mountain, which is made out of gypsum crystals
We stopped for photos at Gypsum Sinkhole, Glass Mountain, and the Temples of the Sun and Moon. The sights are awesome to the very end. As we pulled back out to 24, we admired the gray, furrowed slopes made of Mancos Shale.
Gray, furrowed slopes of Mancos Shale
Eric and I have been talking about Cathedral Loop Road ever since. Even though the adventure took a full afternoon and meant we couldn’t see the other parts of the park, it was an amazing experience.
Click the thumbnails below for full-size photos.
Where We Ate Near Capitol Reef National Park
Caspian playing at Slackers
There are a surprising number of local restaurants in the little town of Torrey, though many of them have mixed reviews. We had a great, casual hamburger meal at Slackers, where we met a family and talked about fulltime travel the whole time. We also ate at Capitol Reef Inn & Cafe, which we wouldn’t return to due to the service and food.
Hamburger and fries at Slackers
Ranking Utah’s National Parks So Far
Vista along Cathedral Loop Road
You have to be purposely going to Capitol Reef National Park to ever get there. But it is so worth it. The place is gorgeous with its vibrant rock formations, twirling river, and arable land.
After our day there, Eric ranked Capitol Reef as his favorite Utah national park, with Zion second. I put Zion first because of the way it spoke to me, but Capitol Reef was a close second.
When we plan our trips, we have a list of what we want to see. But since we only travel 250 miles every two weeks, there are always places we stop simply because they’re at the right place between Point A and Point B. Gallup, NM was one such means to an end.
When we decided to stay in Gallup on our way from Santa Rosa, NM to Flagstaff, AZ, I wasn’t exactly excited. It seemed like a small town on Route 66 with some hiking options, on the way to other places.
But when we made friends with some Albuquerque locals last week, some of them had negative things to say about Gallup. The kind of things that stick in your mind and cause your perspective to change. From that point on, I wasn’t expecting much out of Gallup.
I was wrong.
Things to Do in Gallup, NM
Contrary to my expectations, I liked Gallup. There’s not a lot to do right in town, but everyone is friendly and we had everything we could need during our week-long stay. When we had free time (which was in short supply during a busy work week), we took two day trips.
Gallup is surrounded by exceptional day trip options. When it comes to National Park Service sites, Chaco Culture is to the northeast. Going clockwise, there’s El Malpais and El Morro (southeast of Gallup), Petrified Forest (southwest), Hubbell Trading Post (west), and Canyon de Chelly (northwest).
We couldn’t get to all six in one week, so we chose the closest, Hubbell Trading Post, as well as Chaco Culture, which was highly recommended by New Mexico Jeep friends.
Day Trip to Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site
Beautiful Navajo rugs at Hubbell Trading Post
John Lorenzo Hubbell opened his trading post in 1878, 10 years after the Navajo Indians returned home from their forced exile. The original mercantile is still open and active, with regional wares available for purchase.
The visitor center has insightful exhibits, films, and hands-on activities for the littles. On the opposite side of the trading post, we wandered around the Hubbell homestead. Caspian loved seeing chickens and a huge turkey, as well as a white horse and–best of all, in his opinion–a shiny red tractor.
Walking around Hubbell Trading Post with #BabyNomad
Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site is an hour away from Gallup. We drove there right after lunch at Sandra’s Place (see below) and were back home by dinner time.
Day Trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Entering Chaco Culture National Historical Park
We started working with a new social media client this week, on top of the bajillion other projects we’re crazy enough to juggle, so we had to force ourselves to unplug during the work week. After lunch on Thursday, we left for the two-hour drive to Chaco Culture National Historical Park (sometimes referred to as Chaco Canyon).
The long dirt road into Chaco Culture can be iffy for non-4×4 vehicles
It’s actually only 96 miles in distance, but the last 20ish miles are bumpy dirt road. Unless you have a Winnebago Revel, I highly discourage you from taking your RV to Chaco Culture. You’ll be miserable if you try. The drive there in our Jeep Rubicon 4×4 wasn’t bad, but the drive back out was rough. Our vehicle was in no danger, but the ride would’ve been smoother had we aired the tires down. Eric did lose a D-ring on the harsh road.
Overlooking Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Culture
Ducking through low doorways to see the amazing Chacoan architecture at Pueblo Bonito
With that disclaimer out of the way, what you really need to know is that Chaco Culture is worth seeing. You could easily spend a full day there, exploring all the ruins and trails, and enjoying picnic meals against beautiful backdrops. Nature’s artwork.
The Chacoan people used kivas for religious ceremonies, prayer vigils, public gatherings, and dances
We arrived at the visitor’s center at 2:45 p.m. and left the park around 6:30 p.m. (you have to be in your vehicle driving out by sunset, unless you’re camping for the night). In those four-ish hours, we:
Did the self-guided tour of Pueblo Bonito, with the $1 guide from the visitor’s center. The ranger said that if we could only do one thing at the park, this should be it.
Walked the Petroglyph Trail (we missed buying the guide for this–look for it at the center).
Did the self-guided tour of Chetro Ketl, with another $1 guide.
Drove the rest of the 9-mile loop, passing other ruins on the way.
Took a look at the campground, just because we were curious. We saw one Airstream, truck campers, and maybe a Class C. But most people were in tents, which is what we would do if we wanted to stay there. We definitely wouldn’t attempt to drive our Class A down that road.
Found a picnic table, unloaded our propane grill, and cooked up some bratwursts for dinner. As we lounged in our camping chairs on a Thursday, with a magnificent view, it felt like we were “doing it right.”
Relaxing at our picnic spot in Chaco Canyon
Getting ready for dinner with beautiful rock formations and views all around us
We saw all kinds of vehicles touring the park, from small passenger cars to big pickups. But I can see the entry road getting rougher and even dangerous with inclement weather. Just be cautious, and call the visitor’s center for advice if you’re in doubt.
We loved the $1 self-guided tour booklets, which go way indepth
Some GPS programs give unreliable directions. Visit the official website for instructions.
Still so surreal that Caspian is up walking and exploring on his own now
Things to Eat in Gallup, NM
The 505 Burgers & Wings
Having visited a few places around New Mexico, I got a kick out of the burgers on the menu at The 505 Burgers & Wings.
The Carlsbad was pretty good, but the French fries were the standout. Eric had the hot wings and thought they were passable. If I went again, I’d probably try something with green chile. But I didn’t know then what I know now…
Jerry’s Cafe is located on the outskirts of downtown Gallup
Eric read about Jerry’s Cafe in a tourism brochure. It had been voted the best green chile in Gallup, so he wanted to go. For my part, I didn’t see how it could be better than Sandra’s Place.
Insert chuckle at myself.
There’s often a wait at Jerry’s, but tables come available quickly
When I posted a food photo on Instagram for Sandra’s Place, @mrsshack83 said I had to try a New Mexican stuffed sopapilla. So when I saw stuffed sopapilla on the menu at Jerry’s, it was on.
Tell me how this sounds: sopaipilla stuffed with pork carnitas, guacamole, grilled tomato and onion, with jalapeño. Smothered with chile and cheese. Topped with sour cream.
Cherelle’s Choice stuffed sopapilla at Jerry’s Cafe
This dish is Cherelle’s Choice, and words fail me. I am officially obsessed with New Mexican food. Yesterday before we left Gallup, I insisted we go back to Jerry’s a second time. There may or may not be leftovers in my fridge that I am so looking forward to.
On our second visit, Eric had a burrito with ground beef and green chile, and he loved it
If you’re driving through Gallup, it’s worth stopping in Galup just to eat at Jerry’s. That is all.
Before we even got to USA RV Park, I knew we were in for something good. We talked to multiple people on the phone when making our reservation, changing our reservation, and whatever else we needed. Every time, they were extremely pleasant and friendly–totally accommodating.
The sites at USA RV Park were level and well-maintained, with gravel. Full hookups, and cable available for an additional fee. If the park were full, the sites would be tight. But they spaced other rigs away from us, so the size of the site never bothered us. Since the park is right off Route 66 and I-40, most RVers came in for one night and left the next morning.
As far as amenities, we didn’t do anything but use the little playground once. There is a swimming pool (still covered for the season), laundry room, showers, etc. There’s also a big shop inside with tons of jewelry, gifts, and decor, as well as RV essentials.
As I mentioned, the park is located on Route 66, just a few minutes from “downtown” and anything else in Gallup you’d need to go to. We’d stay again for sure. We were also able to fill up with propane on our way out, which is awesome since night temperatures are still dropping to the 30’s.
I did seriously consider staying at Red Rock Park, which has 5-stars on Campendium. Ultimately, I decided for full hookups at USA RV Park, since originally we were going to be without a sewer connection for three weeks prior. A girl wants to do laundry at home every once in a while.
In my article about how three years of fulltime travel changed me, I mentioned how I’ve learned to rethink my assumptions. Gallup may not be a cosmopolitan hotbed of culture, but it doesn’t need to be. It has it’s own culture. It’s own history. It’s own people. And–thank God–it’s own food.
Our visit this past week was a reminder to avoid jumping to conclusions. If we didn’t encounter different places in our travels, then we’d never have opportunity to learn and grow.