Time Period: July 29 – August 28
Miles Driven: 2764
The last segment of our Summer 2009 travels was wrapping up our cross country adventure and arriving for Burning Man. With a month ahead of us to get there, we looked for ways to optimize backroads and scenic routes. We aimed to visit a few more National Parks along the way, as well as friends. We also put ourselves up to the challenge to try not to pay for camping and to stay entirely off grid by not needing hookups for the month ahead. Given the higher temperature month of August, this was an especially tall order.
Thus we conceived of the Technomad Trifecta: Scenic. Free. Connectivity. And we aimed to find it wherever we went.
When we left St. Louis we anticipated that we’d jet as quickly as possible through Missouri and Kansas – figuring there wouldn’t be many options for the Technomad Trifecta. We were proven wrong.
To avoid heavy traffic along the interstate out of St. Louis, we quickly diverted to backroads and followed the Missouri River westward towards Jefferson City. Beautiful drive with rolling hills and lots of pulls offs for scenic views. With the approaching setting sun, we started researching possible camping options.
Not actually expecting to find scenic free camping in the area, were thrilled to discover that the Pine Ridge campground within the Mark Twain National Forest was on a donation basis. The campground was not far off the road and only offered a few camp spots, only a couple of them suitable for RVs. But we found one that was available and pulled in.
The next morning we received the crushing news that our Burning Man theme camp for Nomads, Camp Nomadia, was denied placement. Too bummed to move on, we took advantage of the wooded camping for another night to sleep on the news another day. In the morning we headed on, and I remembered that a dear friend was now located in Kansas City. A quick call to touch base, and off we were for a lunch rendezvous of catching up.
We were dreading Kansas. Our mental image was of flat land, endless roads, farms and sunflowers. Mostly we were right. We eyed a free campground outside of Junction City, Kansas run by the Army Corp of Engineers called Rolling Hills. It hit the Technomad Trifecta perfectly. All of the campspots were spread out along Millford Lake, each with private lake access. There was ample cellular sign. And it was free.
We stayed two nights, enjoying amazing sunsets, online catching up and relishing in the beauty that Kansas could offer. On the way out of Kansas, we went in search of Mt. Sunflower – the highest point in the state.
We had aims to visit our friends Teresa and Andrew in Salida, Colorado. We also anticipated it would be a decent spot to put down the landing gear for a few days and enjoy a truly wonderful little mountain town.
We found perfect free boondocking just east of the city along the river with excellent cell phone coverage – again, the Trifecta manifested. We ended up staying a week – enjoying awesome microbrews, farmer’s markets, art shops, live music and hanging out with our friends. We also had a nomadic rendezvous with Cath & Andy Duncan, who were passing through town on their USA tour.
We considered the routing we would take out of Colorado to get new vistas and opted to head north up to I-70, fabled to be amazing hiway as art through the natural features. We were not disappointed – definitely some of the most beautiful interstate around.
Utah has more than its fair share of scenic driving and vistas. We’ve heard it said that you can drive an hour and visit new landscape that seems like an entirely different planet. And it certainly seems true.
For this pass through Utah we decided to aim for Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument. We got into Capitol Reef to discover that their first come first serve campground was already completely full at mid afternoon on a weekday. Initially disappointed, we decided to head westward to find some of the campgrounds in the neighboring national forest.
Just as we left the park and before we reached the town of Torrey – we saw a little dirt road. Curious, we stopped and checked it out. Definitely dispersed camping on National Forest land. We backed into a spot with an amazing view of Capitol Reef and enjoyed free boondocking for a few nights – with cellular internet from the nearby town. Amazing. And definitely a Technomad Trifecta score. And bonus, the Persiad Meteor Shower was starting up – so we enjoyed some of the most spectacular star gazing we could possibly imagine. We literally had dozens of shooting starts per minute at peak hours.
The heat was building each day, almost tempting us to hook up the generator for air conditioning. Instead, we experimented with evaporative cooling with a water mister – to much success. We were able to keep in the temperature to a cool 88 while the outside temperature was peaking at 98.
Onwards from Capitol Reef we experienced a new planet every few dozen miles. From red rocks, to forests, to white cliffs, to the spectacular formations of the escalante.
Absolutely jaw dropping amazing driving.
We arrived to Bryce Canyon to lots of crowds. We entered the park just to get a few pictures and take a short hike. We had a tip on Cedar Breaks that it was similar scenery but without the crowds that we were banking on for a better experience. And we were not disappointed at all.
We were so impressed by Cedar Breaks – both in the formations, lack of crowds and friendly rangers – that we decided to break our free camping streak and pay for a night in the park. We were much rewarded for this choice, as soon after making camp we had the ranger stop by and invite us to the evening’s talk about the geology of the region. The talk was interesting and informative, however spending quite a while afterwards talking with the ranger about her motivations for switching out of nursing and into geology was even more fascinating.
Nevada is beautiful in its own right. However its monotonous series of 600+ distinct mountain ranges and valleys have caused me to call it the Crumple Zone of the west. After going over a few passes in Nevada, you pretty much get the point. On previous traverses, we’ve taken the Loneliest Highway – this time we wanted something different. So, we selected the Extraterrestrial Highway, in hopes of meeting some aliens or something.
Beautiful drive, but no aliens found. Not to give up hope, we followed our GPS’s advice to take a short cut via a 40 mile dirt road across the valley into Warm Springs. It’s always an adventure to choose an overland road – you just don’t know what you’ll find. Nearing sunset we had dashing antelope, fox, cows and wild mustangs. Somewhere along the way we took a wrong turn, because we ended up at a back gate of Nellis Air Force Base Bombing range. Whoops.
Around we turned and found our correct little dirt road. And just as we reached the turn off our GPS was telling us to take – we discovered we still had many more miles of dirt road traversing to go. Instead of missing a sunset by driving precarious roads, we opted to stop right there and stay the night at an old mine shaft. It wasn’t a trifecta night – as there was no cellular signal to be found. However we’re quite sure we were the only humans in the valley, and there was not a single artificial light to be seen. Another amazing star gazing night.
In the morning we went exploring around, and found a lot of old abandonded stuff – propane tanks, a VW Beetle, a stove and more. And the most amazing find? A huge barrel being fed by a spring full of coy fish. Fish. In the middle of nowhere off the ET highway in the Nevada Desert. That’ll count as being alien enough for us !
We came into the backside of Yosemite and stayed a night near Mono Lake, anticipating hitting Yosemite on a Sunday afternoon in hopes of less crowds. We were wrong, Yosmite was insanely packed making the experience pretty miserable. Guess we should have timed our visit to not be on one of the National Park free weekends. We’ll just have to check it out at a different time of year.
We made our way to our homebase in Sacramento with Lindsay & Sean, discovering that our trailer exactly fits in their side driveway allowing us to utilize the front porch too and get off the street. Awesome. Our time in Sacramento was mainly spent getting our Burning Man gear out of storage.
We ducked down to the San Francisco Bay Area to catch up with a few folks, and then started the journey back into Nevada for Burning Man, stopping a night in Reno to meet up with Kev & Ang of NuRVers.com. It was awesome to finally cross paths with them.
We then headed down to Fallon, which is where we had run a field office for the Obama campaign the year prior. Our host family there had offered to take care of Kiki while we were at the burn. It was great to catch up with them and provision for our time on the playa.
And then off we headed towards Black Rock City, where the adventures have already been documented: