Down and Back: Our Brief Trip into America’s Southwest

Writing these blog posts describing team trips and media excursions requires finding the right balance of creative inspiration, mental recuperation, and overall timing. When newly returned to the office after 13+ days on the road, it’s not surprising one would feel a certain amount of general fatigue and require a bit of distance from the recent adventures. Mainly when those days include the required mental cognition for driving company vans, navigating traffic, learning new types of communication styles while in the field with coworkers, and having lots of patience and energy still to accomplish some tasks of your regular office job. However, you may risk waiting too long to recall and write about feelings, conversations, and emotions shared on the road. Before more time slips by us and it’s a brand new year, we’re recounting our journey through California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah to participate in Overland Expo West, followed by an extensive media shoot for Tails.

Planning for this event started in November 2021 and changed direction several times. One option had us meeting with our Outsiders Collective members at various stomping grounds and leisurely taking our time. Another alternative had our team driving south at a blistering speed. Our final plan was a hybrid of strategic stopping points with moderate hours spent driving each day and saving our Outsider meet-ups for times not sandwiched between a significant event and a media project.

In mid-May, the team left Portland, OR in Tails, Trillium, Stingray and our new overlanding trailer on a dreary Saturday morning. It had been one of the wettest springs on record, so everyone was eager to warm up and soak in any amount of vitamin-d. (Yes, we did burn while in Flagstaff. Yes, we used lots of sunscreen. We’re built differently in the Northwest.) Here are selected highlights from our trip journals. We encourage everyone to check out these locations, write reviews on iOverlander, and always leave your campsite better than you found.

Day 1 – Sat., May 14: Outside Van to Tuelake Basin, CA – (6 hr – 390 miles)

  • Spirits high and excited. We were eager to crush the first significant mileage and drive time.

Day 2 – Sun., May 15: Tuelake Basin, CA to Moon Rocks, NV – (3 hr 37 min – 186 miles)

  • The team was tempted to explore the Lava Beds National Monument but decided the responsible choice was to press on.
  • Having scheduled a shorter travel day meant we could take our time exploring the Moon Rocks area. We spent an extra hour going into the area through the longer back way, with many more washboard features to rattle across. There was still time in the day to decide between campsites. It’s crucial to balance proximity to others while not being too close.
  • The team played a few rounds of corn hole before making gyros for dinner.
  • BEAUTIFUL sunset.

Day 3 – Mon., May 16: Moon Rocks, NV to Alabama Hills, CA – (5 hr 13 min – 289 miles)

  • Breathtaking and humbling respect for the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
  • Rolled into Alabama Hills to watch a Rivian commercial shoot and briefly shared a space with a Tesla outfitted as an off-grid camper.
  • Late night photography, a few hours of sleep, early sunrise photography, and video capturing.

Day 4 – Tues., May 17 Alabama Hills, CA to Big Bear, CA – (3 hr 37 min – 213 miles)

  • Our team decided to take a well-deserved physical and mental break. However, changing plans brought along a new itinerary. After trekking up and over long, winding, hot single-lane roads dotted with construction crews through Barstow and Lucerne Valley, the beautiful albeit evaporating sight of Big Bear Lake came into view.
  • Made carnitas burrito bowls inside Tails on a dusty shoulder turnout with a lake view.
  • Changing plans is a fun opportunity but also presents a challenge when finding a place to stay. We attempted to settle in at two different spots but weren’t sure about private land use and saw advisory notices for timber fungus. Our decision to leave came when we collectively noticed lots of downed branches and didn’t want to risk any damage to the vans before the expo.
  • As it got dark, we splurged and spent money to stay at the Serrano Campground. Lesson learned, but an excellent opportunity to use real bathrooms and showers.

Day 5 – Wed., May 18 Big Bear, CA to Kingman, AZ – (4 hr 52 min – 299 miles)

  • Back through Lucerne Valley and Barstow, traced along the southern part of Mojave Desert.
  • Captured epic Route 66 photography.
  • Another lesson: Be careful and respectful when setting up camp. We went too far beyond the iOverlander coordinates we had been tracking and wound up on private property. The owner was friendly, but it could’ve been more problematic with a knock on the window late at night.

Day 6 – Thursday, May 19 Kingman, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ (2 hr 2 min – 128 miles)

  • Up and early to get the event weekend going!
  • Met with coworkers who had flown into Phoenix and drove to town that morning.
  • All hands on deck to wash and detail vans. Trillium’s AC shroud smacked the exit of the carwash resulting in slight damage to the building. Of course, accidents happen, and everyone has to get their first battle scar, but it didn’t feel good.
  • Staged vans at the expo experienced the beginning of ongoing dry dust storms.

Days 7-9 – Friday through Sunday – May 20 – May 22: Overland Expo West

Day 9 – Sun., May 22 Flagstaff, AZ to Mexican Hat, UT (3hr 5 min – 181 miles)

  • Packed up the booth after the expo and headed north.
  • A highlight of the day and a favorite memory from the trip was an incredible sunset sprawled across many buttes we saw while entering Utah. The horizon and the colors blanketing the area were unlike any views we had previously seen.
  • Met with Freespirit Recreation at a campsite; everyone was exhausted from the weekend.

Day 10 – Mon., May 23: Mexican Hat to Gold Bar Campground, UT (2 hr 27 min – 139 miles)

  • Technically, this was one of our shorter drives to our destination but wound up being one of our longer days spent in the vans due to location scouting for the Tails shoot.
  • Palms sweaty, knees weak while descending the Shafer Trail.
  • AGAIN, we decided to call an audible and change plans. See a theme here? However, this resulted in the incredible imagery we could capture while exploring Canyonlands National Park on our way to the famous Thelma and Louise Point. Still, it wasn’t without some stressful moments when finding a place to camp and regroup before two BIG media days.

Days 11-13 – Tues. Through Thurs. May 24-May 26 Media Shoot

  • Captured over 45 GB of photography and 19 hours of video content.
  • Turned lots of heads and received curious inquisitions from park visitors.
  • Wrapped up with night photography outside Canyonlands National Park.
  • Dropped off a coworker at the Moab Airport, a one-terminal venue fit for puddle jumpers, before the rest of the team carried on north!

Check out the complete Tails gallery for more imagery and conversion details, or watch the Van Spotlight! The journey home to Oregon through Wyoming and Idaho is another story for a different time. See you on the outside.