Date Archives December 2017

Getting our Kicks on Route 66

Squeezing in some OG road trip miles in Kingman, AZ.

Another work week, another town with reliable Internet we get to explore. This leg of our journey had a final destination of the Grand Canyon so we spent a few days in the historic town of Kingman before heading toward that giant hole in the ground. Great desert-y BLM spots were no trouble to find along Blake Ranch Road, just off the I-40. For our wifi-dependent days, we stayed at Blake Ranch itself. Despite being so close to a main highway and trucker hub, this was a cute little RV park AND horse motel (!!) that was nice and quiet and if you were facing the right way, had a nice view of the mountains. It was about 15°C/60°F and we were in summer mode, as any Canadian would be. The staff thought we were nuts for thinking it was so warm so I can only imagine how toasty it gets in the summertime.

Generic Van Life - Kingman BLM
Plenty of free desert views at Kingman’s BLMs

We had been doing a lot of going lately so we were stoked to just park somewhere, relax and catch up on life (Netflix). We also took the opportunity to work on a couple household repairs, like creating a new drainage system for the sink and installing a new housing for our power cable. Exciting stuff I tell ya! Our previous drainage system was pretty straightforward: there’s a hole in the side of the van and the water just pours onto the wheel. It was messy, hard to keep clean and our dishwater froze out the side when we were in colder places. Not ideal, so we ventured to the plumbing section and bought a plastic elbow to use as a spout. After affixing it to the existing hose that was shrivelled inside of the drainage hole, we made a new faceplate out of a shower drain cover and attached the new system onto the side of the van. We’re now able to screw a 6’ hose (or longer if you’re feeling evil and wanna drain some dishwater into your neighbour’s pool) onto the spout and put that directly into a designated sewage area or wherever is best for water to drain since we don’t have a grey water tank. It’s not perfect, but we do everything we can to scrape any food off of our plates so it’s mostly just water going down there.

Generic Van Life - Kingman Hookups
When we can afford it, we’ll work on putting a solar system into play but for now, we run off of one deep cycle battery and plug in when we can. At least our power cable has a fresh new face plate now. And check out that sexy drainage setup!

One thing we do really like about spending a couple days at RV parks is all of the awesome people that we meet; mostly sweet, retired folks that are travelling like we are, only in a much more luxurious rig. While installing our power cable housing, we borrowed a drill from one of our neighbours and ended up chatting with him for a good part of the afternoon. It’s really beautiful to learn more about people from all over the country and hear some badass stories. PLUS he had a golden retriever puppy that was as cute as they come.

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Route 66 is definitely not bustling like it used to be

Unfortunately we didn’t spend much time exploring the Kingman area but if we pass through again, I’d really like to check out some of these ghost towns I’ve read so much about. Painted rocks in Chloride and a heart-breaking story about a woman being murdered at her post-office in Valentine leaves the towns with an eerie forgotten feeling of what Route 66 once was. Actually, there’s a Route 66 museum in Kingman that we also didn’t check out. We suck. Anyway, after three days at the ranch, we made our way toward the universal meeting spot of Walmart to have our convoy partners join us. Justin’s mom and her boyfriend have a C class RV that they’re in the process of driving down to Mexico. We wanted to spend the holidays together so we all boondocked for the night right off of Route 66 and set out to boogy toward the Grand Canyon the next morning. Go figure it was the first time bringing someone along to a camping spot and we missed the turn. Guess I’ll never be a tour guide, bummer… I think what distracted me most was all of these 4 or 5-line poems along 66; each line is on a separate sign about 10m apart following the shoulder of the road. Apparently the company that made them, Burma Shave, used road signs to advertise their shaving cream brand in the 50s era. These particular ones are just recreations of the original signs the company used to use while the originals mostly live in museums. Most are about drinking and driving it seemed, which is slightly counterproductive because they distracted me enough sober but hey, still a nice idea.

Welcome to Jamrock – I Mean Red Rock. Canyon.

That was lame, but Red Rock Canyon wasn’t. Actually, for us, it kinda was… Dead batteries are a drag in Las Vegas, NV

Less than a half an hour away from the madness that is the Las Vegas strip, you can find the beautiful Red Rock Canyon National Park. Free camping isn’t really possible within the park, so we continued along the 160 W to Lovell Canyon in the Spring Mountains: another lovely desert landscape with plenty of dispersed camping spots accessible to campers and adventure bros with souped up Jeeps alike. We spent the night here before heading toward Red Rock the next day.

Generic Van Life - Red Rock Canyon Lovell Canyon
Lovell Canyon

 

Generic Van Life - Red Rock Canyon Overlook
Wasn’t a green screen. I swear.

Strolling over in the afternoon, we headed to the Canyon Overlook area to snap some cool photos while in a free zone. The vibrant red rocks and the glow of the sun gave the sand an orange hue that reminded me of a cartoon desert. We had our little photo-op with cactuses surrounding us as if they were props, and were set to carry on our way toward the paid area of the park. Unfortunately, Clementine had other plans. Either she loved this view or she’s as cheap as I am and just reaaaally didn’t want us to cough up the $7 to leave her in the parking lot while we climbed on the rocks. She’s a fiery lady so when she sets her mind to something, she ain’t budgin’. And after spending a few hopeful hours trying to get her started up, she made it clear that she had no plans of budging anytime soon. With a tremendous amount of help from kind strangers (and AAA), we realized it wasn’t happening. So we towed her on back to the city and crashed in the parking lot of the garage until it reopened the next morning. Free camping! Lol… A parking lot at a main intersection in North Vegas wasn’t exactly peaceful, but the street noise and crazy drunk people gallivanting by reminded us of home in Toronto.

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Off she goes :'(

To our overwhelming relief, she started up fine the next morning. We brought her into the shop to see what was up and after we spent 4 nerve-wrecking hours in McDonald’s charging our devices and eating our feelings, they said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her. Guess the little lady just needed her beauty sleep to recharge and start fresh – I believe this is the correct technical diagnosis. Happy to be reunited, we headed back toward Lovell Canyon for another night of quieter camping.

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Our second campsite at Lovell Canyon had us waking up to this view
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Rooftop view ain’t too shabby

We picked a spot deeper in with a crazier view and set up shop for the night. We had a very brief campfire that freaked us both out since the area was insanely dry and the wind was blowing those flames around in a pretty precarious way. Duh, it’s the desert… but this place was seriously dry – some locals told us it hadn’t rained in 90 some-odd days and was going on a new record. Yikes! There’s also signs everywhere saying to watch for wild horses and burros (donkeys) but to our dismay, we didn’t see anything. We even brought out our Stones cassette to summon them, to no avail. The next morning we decided to shag going back to the paid area of Red Rock and head toward Arizona instead.

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Red Rock Canyon overlook

On the way out, we drove along the Vegas Strip and soaked in all the hoards of tourists and gaudy architecture that would only fly in Las Vegas. The thing I like most about Vegas is how self-aware it is – it’s tacky and over-the-top, but that’s what it does best. We popped into the Bonanza General Store before hitting the highway (cause I just couldn’t resist) and headed back into the Mountain Time Zone. Bonus: we got to drive on that super tall bridge – second tallest in America I’ve now learned – that sits above the Hoover Dam. Sadly it was pretty anticlimactic as the guardrails are just high enough that you can’t see much from the road. Boo, safety.

Generic Van Life - Red Rock Canyon Bonanza
Never seen so many silly shot glasses in my life

It’s almost the holidays! Hard to believe we’re wearing t-shirts while Christmas carols play on the radio but we’re loving the warmth of the Southwest and are stoked to explore Arizona. Grand Canyon is a given but what else should we do? Hit us up!

Vegas Baby!

Flashy lights, cheap booze, shady characters and sleeping under a freeway: Las Vegas rules

Ok, so the usual Vegas trip is a bachelorette and her gal pals with three suitcases, wearing 6” heels and weird body chains dancing by a crowded pool in the desert heat while paying 15 bucks for a vodka soda. This sounds like my nightmare. That being said, we really needed a reliable Internet connection this week so being in a big city was favourable – where better than the land of fuzzy dice and regret? Spoiler alert: I LOVE tacky shit and have always wanted to go to Vegas. Not for the aforementioned “fun” but for the real grittiness and splendor that is a city going at 100% 24 hours a day.

Generic Van Life - Vegas Fuzzy Dice
Dream. Come. True.

We knew that free camping and being walking distance to the city would not go hand in hand; we had to choose between being out in the boonies sans cost or forking out a little bit of cash for an RV park. Low and behold, we opted for being able to stumble home from downtown, for a fee. Justin found us a quadruple threat: a casino-hotel-brewery-RV park! Leave it to Las Vegas to home such a glorious concept. For $21/night, we had power/water hook-ups and access to bathrooms, showers and laundry – luxury!! Sure, the RV area was basically a parking lot under a freeway bridge but it was just a stone’s throw away from all the glimmering debauchery we’ve all heard so much about.

Generic Van Life - Vegas Park Pano
Soaking in the underpass views

With beers so big you need two hands to hold them in our grasps, we walked around the crazy, seizure-inducing tunnel that is Fremont Street. People casually flying by on zip lines, pretty girls on stage with their MacBooks calling themselves “DJs” and parents taking photos of their teenage sons posing with ladies wearing all but pasties and a g-string – this was the place. Needless to say, getting to Fremont East was a relief. The crowds thinning out with tourists quickly turning around to get back into the action cleared the way for dirty casinos and neon signs leading to nowhere.

Generic Van Life - Vegas Fremont Street
Gates to heaven

We spent four nights in Vegas and spent them all downtown. We’re going to come back to walk the strip and hopefully dine with Wayne Newton and receive a lock of his hair in a jewelry box (one can dream). With some recommendations from friends, we checked out some sweet bars and ate some great food. We met a lot of really nice locals who invited us into their worlds, and their RVs.

Generic Van Life - Vegas RV Park
These fancy rigs don’t got nuthin’ on Clemmie

We did, however, take a break from the city and made the short trip to the Hoover Dam, which was really cool. Being off-season, it was packed so I can only imagine how hectic it gets in the summertime. Free parking was still no trouble to find on the Arizona side of the River and vantage points scattered across the bridge were never too crowded to snap some photos. And snap some photos we did. This thing was huge! It’s pretty crazy and ridiculously impressive to think they were able to build this in the 1930s. As the pattern of meeting people interested about van life continued, we met some really nice people from New Jersey that were keen to tell us about their city and eager to learn about what we’re doing. We played photographer for each other and carried on back to the van to eat some sandwiches with a view of the spillway. Being on the state line was also a bit of a trip, with our phones toggling between the Pacific and Mountain Time Zones.

Generic Van Life - Hoover Dam Pano
-insert “dam joke” here-

With our fair share of city for a while, we are heading off to Red Rock Canyon next. But don’t worry Vegas, we’ll be back.

Generic Van Life - Leaving Las Vegas
Had to

If you couldn’t get enough photos, here are some more.

Utah!

Searching for Sugarman St. George in Leeds, Utah

Unless you’re a winter sports person, winter sucks. It’s no surprise that the beginning of December yields cooler temperatures, as the cruel loom of December 21 reigns upon us. We had originally planned to camp a night along the Ogden River, just north of Salt Lake City, but after checking the weather, we reconsidered this plan. Sleeping in -12°C/10°F is just not fun. Working with as much daylight as possible, we said screw Salt Lake City and drove the whole day toward St. George, UT. As interesting as Mormonville would be to see, we were prioritizing not having to blast the furnace all night. Not super keen on sleeping outside in a city that’s capable of hosting a Winter Olympics – maybe next time, SLC!

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Welcome to Utah

As we continued along the I-15 with not a flake of snow in sight, we watched the grassy land turn into desert. Sure it was dark, but those trees were getting shorter and the ground was getting sandier. This was super rad to see since neither of us has been to the desert before. We were expecting to see Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner in a heated chase at any time, but we weren’t so lucky.

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I’ve seen these in emojis before…

We finally arrived at the Dixie National Forest near Silver Reef in Leeds, UT around 9PM. Needless to say, it was very dark and not ideal for driving up winding dirt roads along a cliff but hey, why not! The roads were definitely well maintained and didn’t give us any trouble in our rear-wheel drive chariot but there were a few warning signs as we got deeper in for larger rigs and trailers to not go any further. There are a fair amount of dispersed sites along the way, but the roads definitely get tighter and harder to turn around on as you go on. We’re only 21’ so it wasn’t a problem to find a good spot, but I’d make sure to have a jack to level out if you’re going to stay a few days since everything was pretty sloped. Still, pretty wicked for a free campsite.

Generic Van Life - Peepee
Oops! Ya caught me

Waking up here was amazing. The river rustling below, cactuses everywhere and most importantly, warmth! Our stove and furnace both run on propane so it’s nice to be able to conserve it for cooking and not have to blast the heat for extended periods of time. A few 4×4’s passed us on the way out and for the first time at any of our camping spots, there were actually other campers there. People were even sleeping in tents because the ground wasn’t covered in snow for once. We took our time leaving cause it just looked so damn cool.

Generic Van Life - Dixie Forest
Looking a lot cooler and less terrifying in the daylight

With enough time spent on nature, the real quest was on. Eating at In-N-Out burger. For us Canadians, this is a far off dream only seen in movies. They did a pop-up in Toronto a few years back but it’s just not the same (not like we would have had any chance of actually scoring one anyway). Like so few things, it totally lived up to the hype. Could see ourselves selling our souls in the near future for a few free burgs. A deal with the Cheeseburger Devil.

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Glorious. Just glorious.

We were really digging Utah. We’ll definitely be back to check out the East side of the state and make the license plate come to life at the Delicate Arch. What are some other cool spots in this beautiful State? Let us know in the comments or via an electronic mail message!

Idaho/Idasnow/Idunno

A toilet led us here: Boogying out of the snow in Idaho Falls, Idaho

A portable composting toilet is one of those things that we’ve been discussing for a while. To me, as a female, I see this as the last piece of creature comfort to make our van into a home. I’m all about being one with the land but sometimes, shit happens (ahhhh). Let’s face it, popping a squat gets you a few more looks than a man doing his thing on a fence. Gas stations are usually drivable but when you’re set up for the night and sleeping in a parking lot or on the side of a road, it’s nice to know that you have the option to relieve yourself in the comfort of your own home. That being said, we hit up the first Camping World we came across in Idaho Falls to get me a throne.

Generic Van Life - Snowy Idaho
The girl at the camping store said it dumped last week. Pass!

Driving into Idaho was like driving into a cotton ball. All of a sudden, everything was covered in hoarfrost and the fog was so thick and heavy that you could barely see ahead of you. It had been 10°C/50°F and sunny earlier that day in Montana so this instant winter that fell upon us was a bit of a shocker. It did, however, make for a pretty crazy addition to this epic fountain in the middle of a roundabout that was covered in icicles. As American as can be, it was a scene of bronze eagles and a mountain lion (I think?) looking badass and a little tacky for all traffic to get distracted by. Our roundabouts are pretty low-key up in Canadaland so this definitely had us gawking.

Generic Van Life - Idaho Fountain
No comment.

Upon finding our toilet, we also became members of the RV Club, Good Sam. It was only 27 bucks and got us our toilet for almost half price and will save us on gas at Pilot and Flying J, along with a few other perks. So far it’s been decent but we’ll have to update once we’ve used it more to confirm if it’s worth it. Back to the toilet. We got a Dometic 976 5-gallon commode that’s a pretty major step up from our other idea, a paint bucket with a pool noodle on it. The Dometic seemed to be a pretty popular choice for this type of use and I’m sure will be great, but we’re yet to christen it.

Generic Van Life - Toilet
#1 only, please!

Searching for Hannah…in Montana

Exploring Alberta’s American reflection: Rocky Montana

Gratuitous Hannah Montana jokes aside, Montana was the first state we hit up after crossing onto American turf. We spent the night in Shelby, as we crossed the border in the evening after a full workday and saying farewells to family. With free camping being the name of the game, we parked in a Shopko parking lot that allows overnight parking. Not the most picturesque, but convenient nonetheless.

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What a view

The morning brought chilly sunshine and an early start for heading toward the southern part of the state. For such a small, highway-centric border town, Shelby’s drive-thru espresso bar was bumpin’. We originally thought this little blue cottage with ladies slinging caffeine through both windows was pretty unique until we noticed these small drive-thru coffee shops in parking lots all over Montana – guess our American neighbours have higher standards for coffee than Tim Hortons (that’s right, I said it).

Generic Van Life - Shelby Espresso Bar
Diggin these little drive-thru coffee shacks

As expected, Montana seemed to be a mirror image of Alberta: flat and prairie-like with visions of mountains in the distance. Stopping for gas in Ulm led us to views of the First Peoples Buffalo Jump, which is said to be one of the biggest buffalo jumps in the world. After detouring down a long dirt road, we were able to drive up one of the hills and have a pretty sweet vantage point of all the surrounding farmland and mountains. Driving along the Missouri River was pretty stunning and boasted such diverse scenery that kept it interesting the whole time. We continued to cruise down the I-15 into the State’s capital, Helena (I didn’t know that either), when the landscape took it to the next level. Whether we just came on the right day or it’s always that pretty, Helena is set in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains that create a magical haze across the top of the city as you’re driving into it. So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain by Father John Misty happened to be blaring out of our Rampage cassette player at the time so that only added to it.

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From prairies to mountains, Montana’s got it all

What was supposed to be a brief stop in town turned out to be a fun few hours talking to locals about all the good stuff Montana has to offer and getting a boost from a hilarious dude who lives off-grid on top of a mountain overlooking the Missouri River (shout out to Dave, you rule). We didn’t have enough time to check them out, but if you’re ever in the Helena area, the hot springs are supposed to be the bomb.

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The descent into mystical Helena

By the time we arrived, it was too dark to see our feet but it became clear why they call Montana “Big Sky Country”. The darkness was covered in a blanket of twinkling stars that made you feel like you were in a glittery snow globe. We were pretty bummed to not have the equipment to take a long-exposure photo but I’d recommend everyone to explore Montana and experience it for yourself. We camped at Beaverhead Campground, part of the Clark Canyon Reservoir, about 20 miles south of Dillon, which has picnic tables and fire pits ready to go. Apparently there are washrooms too but we never sought them out since we’re true mountain men, ha.

Generic Van Life - Clark Canyon Reservoir
It was dark. Leave me alone.

Curious about any of the places we hit up? Give us a shout and let’s talk Montana.