Generally speaking when I’m looking for stars, I’m also looking for some solitude, far away from the madding crowd. Because of this, gear and rig preparation is really important and my upcoming week in the SW backcountry demanded extra care. TAP1, one of our 2014 JKU’s, had recently turned the corner on 100k, so I decided to change all the fluids, flush the engine, replace the spark plugs and generally give it a solid look over from bumper to bumper. Everything checked out just fine and I confidently left on the adventure.
So, what do you do when you’re 170 miles into a 1400 mile trip and the check engine light comes on? Well, you curse profusely, spend the next hour worrying about it and then settle into a state of blind hope, ignorance and the zen like thought of, “It’ll be just fine as my wingman can always tow me out”.
The plan was to drive from San Diego, CA to Hurricane, UT and camp at Gooseberry Mesa. The scenery and terrain is dramatic and world renowned due to the Red Bull Rampage held there each year. It was early Sunday night when myself and my wingman for this trip, David Griffith from Explore California Pics , finally arrived. Most people had left after the weekend and we found a quiet and hidden away little dispersed camp site. Despite the engine light hiccup, this trip was starting off well.
Even though we had driven 7 hrs and 450 miles, we were eager to start some Astro Photography, as the Milky Way was back in the Northern Hemisphere after its long winter absence. We awoke at 2.30am, unfortunately to be greeted by significant cloud cover and no visible stars, so back to bed as the local coyote crew yipped and howled for our entertainment.
Day 2 – 3:
Leaving Gooseberry Mesa, we headed out on our 3 hr and 140 mile journey to Big Water, where we were to leave the pavement and head into the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Our ultimate destination for the next 2 days was Alstom Point, which has a renowned view of Lake Powell, UT. The road to the point is an easy, bumpy and dusty trail, and only on the last 3 miles after the first viewpoint did we to need to engage 4Hi. This last section will however, cause pause for inexperienced drivers and should not be attempted without 4WD and high clearance. This is a very remote area to get stuck in, so think it through before attempting, especially if the weather is inclement.
Frankly, there’s a total WOW factor as you come upon Lake Powell. A sense of absolute beauty and remoteness. Dispersed camping is limited so, I was fairly impressed with the lack of human impact. I implore you all to “Pack In and Pack out” everything (Yes, that means Poop too!) and please Treadlightly.
We spent 2 days camped on the bluff, with the first day being alone, then being joined by 3 other rigs on the second day. The weather conditions varied from warm during the day to chilly at night and most of the time, the wind howled in classic desert fashion. As I said, this was a photography trip, so everyday we caught the sunset before hitting the sack early. Up at 2.30am to shoot the stars for an hour and again at 6.30am to capture the sunrise. As you can imagine in between our product testing, we took long naps throughout the day.
With sadness it was time to leave and continue our journey back west to Northern Arizona. Our destination was White Pocket an acclaimed remote photographic location in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument region.
Again, once you leave the pavement, the trail is easy until the last 9.5 miles. At this point you will need high clearance and 4WD to deal with the various deep sand areas you will encounter. This is a remote region, so take it seriously by being prepared (Recovery gear, extra food, gas and water) and we recommend you don’t travel alone.
The weather was windy and as we sheltered in our camped vehicles, there were gusts that felt they could relocate the RTT. Luckily by nightfall the wind had abated and by our 2:30 am alarm call, it was fairly quiet. Although we had scouted the area during the day, locating a perfect location in the dark to shoot the stars was, shall I say, “challenging”. This being said, the temps were perfect at a crisp 37F and the skies were clear in the early hours and at sunrise. Success!
Day 5 and 6:
Our time was coming to an end at White Pocket and it was time to hit the road again. We didn’t want to drive 12 hours straight home to San Diego, so our plan was to camp half way home on BLM land outside Valley of Fire State Park, 60 or so miles north of Vegas. Finally, the wind had ceased and for the first time in 6 days we put our cameras away, lit a fire and just relaxed, ready to sleep through the night!
Now back home, the memories of this amazing trip make me anxious to hit the road soon. Of course the check engine light has now disappeared.