Here I am, at the end of my fall adventure: the stories told, the photos shown, the experience shared as much as I could. All that’s left is what we project managers call the post-mortem meeting: examine the work (or the trip) and highlight the lessons learned. So let’s begin…
By the Numbers
- Nights: 25
- Campgrounds: 9
- Nights of dry camping: 17
- Nights with electric hookups: 8
- Total towing miles: 1063
- Average towing mileage: 16 miles/gallon
All the Chapters
You can see the map of my trip and links to all the chapters via this link (from the Adventures page).
In just two words, being flexible. Which is not one of my strengths, surprisingly, but I’m working on it. Restructuring the trip from a two-Alto to a solo Alto venture meant I could try different things, and I did. While going solo meant a lot of talking to myself (for example, saying “wow, that is the most amazing view ever” about a thousand times in 25 days), it also meant I could change things up if I wanted to. And I did, especially when it came to campgrounds…
It’s a chore to keep checking sites to see if something has opened up. Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed the camping nerds have figured out that a lot of camp reservation sites have an API they can access to automate the process of checking reservations and, even better, notifying you if something opens up that meets your specifications.
Enter Campnab, the monthly-based service I used to score reservations at Dead Horse Point, Arches, Fruita (Capitol Reef) and Kodachrome and improve my location at North Rim. (I don’t get any perks for mentioning them, other than 2 stickers they sent me after we exchanged some emails after my trip.) You can use it for a month at a time, so using it for 3 months worked great for pre- and during-trip monitoring of the campgrounds I wanted. I was pretty darned impressed by this service and by the small team that runs it.
Balancing Dry Camping vs. Hookups
Planning to have hookups at least 1 night in 5-6 nights worked out well enough that I didn’t need to pull the propane-fueled generator out of the Ridgeline’s in-bed trunk (which is a weightlifting exercise considering that beast weighs 42 pounds). The 100 amp-hour lithium-ion battery never got below 40% even on 5 night stretches without power, thanks to the solar panels and the sun showing up enough to make them functional.
One reason I went with hookups every so often was the counter the possibility that I would hit rainy or overcast weather or have campsites in the shade, which would make the solar panels pretty useless. I hit mostly good weather, although I can report I did get tiny bits of rain in Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion. My rainmaker powers battled the Utah desert lands mightily, so I might have to call it a draw.
People have opinions when it comes to tow vehicles, even for a trailer as light as an Alto (mine weighs in about 2500 pounds fully loaded). All I can say is that the higher I got in elevation on this trip, the happier I was to have a Ridgeline and not my previous tow vehicle, a Subaru Outback. The Ridgeline definitely worked going up and over 10,000 foot passes, but it held speed quite well at 45 mph. The Outback never had to do those kinds of elevations, but it struggled to get over the 4,100 elevation of Tejon Pass (California) going 45 mph so I think it would have been working to the max on this trip. Not having to worry about your tow vehicle on long mountain passes (uphill and down) is a good thing.
What Didn’t Quite Work
Well, I can’t recommend getting sick to start out a trip. I’m not 100% convinced I had altitude sickness because I’d been at that altitude for a week and a half already. But, it doesn’t hurt to remind people to allow time to adjust to higher altitudes. I could definitely feel the difference going from 5,000 feet at Capitol Reef to the 8,000 foot elevation at Bryce. Yes, I gave myself a few easy days before I tackled any hiking trails.
If I could have, I would taken the trip much slower, stayed in places longer. But, campsite reservations being what they are, that wasn’t going to happen in 2021. I spent five days at Zion and loved the leisurely pace that allowed. I did a day of hiking and exploring, followed by a day of hanging out at the campsite enjoying the views around me. I’d like to do that pace more often and planned out my winter campsites to stay longer and move less.
Would I Do It Again?
Yes, in a heartbeat.
I might go a bit more off-season to places like Bryce and Zion, but overall, my timing was pretty good. I hit Mesa Verde the week before that campground closed. I didn’t get snowed on anywhere (although it came close on the North Rim). And the crowds of people seemed less big and overwhelming that the summer campers had reported in their trip reports.
Even with long lines of cars, crowded trailhead parking, and places littered with Insta-obsesses selfie-takers, it was still worth it. If you haven’t seen these places, treat yourself to an adventure.
One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.