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Lessons Learned: Why Planning matters

By Jenn

Camping at Monumnet Valley
Camping at Monument Valley

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend about three and a half months in my T@b last summer. I spent my time, primarily in Colorado, although I did spend a little over three weeks on vacation in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Before vacation, I worked during the week, and spent evenings and weekends hiking and exploring the high Rockies. I learned a lot of things and I thought it might be worthwhile to share them.  Some are things I sort of knew, but my experience confirmed and some were things that made me go, “Hmmm.” I hope you benefit from my experience!  Originally, I had one massive long post, but I realized, nobody likes everything crammed into one post, I know I don’t.

This first post will deal with the role of planning in my trip. I am, arguably, a little over the top when it comes to planning. Yet, I never regret the planning I have done, once I embark. This summer was no different.  You will find my planning permeated throughout the other posts, but this posts deals with how I went about my planning and what I learned from it.

Location

  • Where can I go that is scenic, that I can boondock, that is accessible for my T@b, that has good Verizon 4G.
  • What will my back-up plan be if my planned site is unavailable?
  • What happens if the cellular network goes down? What do I do in an emergency?
  • Where are the local NWS offices? What counties and which ranger districts will I visit?
  • Where can I seek medical help, if necessary?
  • Where are the closest Walmarts and Targets?
  • What are the fire conditions? I don’t burn a fire, but others do and many fires are started by lightning.  which could put me and Rocky at risk if a wildfire breaks out.

As a result of my research, I had some beautiful campsites this summer. Better than you can get in most campgrounds, and for free! There are numerous websites out there that will show you how to find free campsites (I like Campendium), but in general, look at the websites for your local ranger districts and determine if “dispersed camping” is available. These are established sites that generally have a driveway (dirt) and often a fire ring (where someone else has stacked rocks in a ring.) If you stop a the ranger stations, many rangers will give you some advice, too. Most FS districts require you camp at an established campsite. Don’t build another fire ring – use the established one.

One ugly reality that I encountered is the growing number of people who are intentionally transient and the manner in which they abuse dispersed camping. Please leave your campsite better than you found it! Many places are ceasing dispersed camping because of the trash left behind by inconsiderate campers. A wildfire near Boulder, CO was attributed to this type of situation early last summer.

Many places allow you to stay for up to 14 days, but it can vary, so please be sure to find out before you go, how long you can stay and follow those rules.

Location planning also helps you know what your options are if your plans fall through. While on vacation with my sister-in-law, we learned a wildfire had sprung up at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Instead of boondocking, we opted for a Forest Service CG, just outside of the park. I knew that is was an option from my research. We pulled up and had our choice from a few open spots, which was pretty good considering it was late on a Sunday in July. I knew that it would be cool enough to be able to leave Rocky behind at this campsite and we are far enough from the fire to not suffer from poor air quality.

Connectivity

As I mentioned earlier, connectivity is a must for me. I need both phone and data and rely on 4G. My set up worked fairly well. I learned that many places would have strong connectivity in the morning but that it would fluctuate throughout the day and that by afternoon, I needed to connect to my booster. I was using my window mount, this summer. I like it because it is easy to use when the weather is bad or when I am trying to be discreet while overnight parking at Walmart. I received this antenna for Christmas and can’t wait to try it. It’s a Omni-directional antenna. I will plan on using that at spots where I get pretty good signal but want to take it up a notch or when I am making a quick stop. I will also likely pick up this directional antenna.

A directional antenna is a little more work to dial in – you have to know where to point it, but there are apps for that and from what I have read, I think it will be worth it.

Solar/Battery

Keep all of my gear and gadgets juiced up is a big deal. I also like to be able to run the fan without worry and watch a little TV at night. That meant I had to know how much I could do with the battery that I had. I found that I planned well, in this area. We had a stretch of about three days where it was cloudy. My battery and the little solar I did get through the clouds kept me humming! If you want to learn more about my solar set up and battery set-up, here are a few links:

Beating the Heat and the Crowds

While on vacation, we face extreme heat and the record-setting crowds that celebrated the National Park Service’s Centennial. While at Zion, we headed up to the Kolob Terrace road. This took us to higher elevations and very few tourists. There are some amazing sights to see. We learned that the T@b a/c can’t keep up with the 100+ degree temps, very well, so Rocky was able to join us while we drove the road. When we were at Bryce Canyon, we took advantage of the opportunity to visit the amazing landscape of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and toured Cottonwood Canyon Road and the old Pariah town site. When we were in Moab, we drove up to the Sand Flats recreation area and observed the stunning views from the Porcupine Rim, that overlook Castle Valley and the edge of Arches National Park. In Canyonlands, we took an early morning hike to False Kiva, a site that you won’t find in a NPS brochure, because it is a Class II archeological site. all of these areas lead to fewer crowds an in many cases, cooler temperatures. Planning gave us a lot of relief this summer.

It’s not just preference, it’s safety

Some people like to “fly by the seat of their pants.” I am not one of them. But, I don’t just view preparation as a preference, I view it as a responsibility because of the safety implications. When you put yourself at risk, you inherently put others, like emergency personnel at risk, when they need to help you. I take my planning seriously and I hope you will, too. When I first started planning my trips west, I knew little about the nature and danger of flash flooding in the west. I am now keenly aware. We don’t have many wildfires in my part of the country, but I make sure I am aware when I travel. In some part of the country you might have tornados, or other hazards. Be aware both for your safety, but also so that you can enjoy a trip when things don’t go as planned.

Here are some photos from ,y summer adventures:

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