by Sue Markovitch
This past summer, I camped in several developed campgrounds, including Bridge Bay in Yellowstone and Yosemite RV Resort. I slept in my tent, kept food in a cooler in my car, and cooked with my stove at the campsite. Each campsite had a fire ring, picnic table, and access to restrooms. The RV park had electricity and water right at our campsite.
I was ready to try boondocking 101.
According to Campendium, “Boondocking, to us, is the opportunity to camp off-the-grid, far from the services and amenities that can be found at RV parks or developed campgrounds. It’s a quieter way of camping, one that often lands us in beautiful destinations for days or weeks at a time.”
I chose a National Forest Service road near Grand Canyon National Park.
I arrived on Saturday evening around 6:00 pm after driving through the majestic mountains of Arizona from Phoenix. I didn’t want to deal with cooking on my first time out, and I wasn’t sure if fires were permitted, so I ordered a pizza margherita and picked it up on my way.
I followed the GPS coordinates to a forest road I had found using the Campendium app, and turned west. It was a bumpy dirt road and the sun was just starting to set.
As I slowly drove, I was a little worried that all the spots would be filled. It was a gorgeous Saturday night, after all, near GCNP. I got really lucky, however, when I saw two vehicles leaving a really nice, flat spot. I pulled in and started to set up my car for a night of camping.
The only thing I had to do to set up was to inflate the small air mattress inside my car and get my sleeping bag ready. The mattress comes with a rechargeable pump, which still had its charge from my last adventure, so the mattress inflated in no time.
My car is small, so I have to keep the back hatch door closed and push the front seats as far forward as they will go to get it to fit. I unrolled my sleeping bag and fluffed my pillow. Mission accomplished.
I grabbed my camp chair and the pizza and sat down to watch the sunset, while wild horses grazed in the woods not far from me. What a sight. A few bites into my dinner, two horses started making their way towards me.
I am guessing it was a mama and baby. They were very friendly. I stayed in my chair for a moment, but then got up and put the pizza back in the car lol. I wasn’t sure if this was normal behavior for horses, and the rangers at Yellowstone had scared the crap out of us so much regarding food and bears, I thought maybe the smell of pizza had brought them to the campsite.
They were calm, beautiful and inquisitive.
Mama was stunning.
We hung out for another ten minutes. I tried to give them space, but they kept coming closer to me, so I got to pet mama. What an energy these animals have. Calm, peaceful, beautiful.
There were two other horses still off in the woods grazing, and they started making some neighing noise, which caused mama and baby to head off in their direction. It was cool to see them communicate like that.
Quite amazed, I got my pizza back out and finished dinner. By this time, the sun was gone and the stars were coming out. Star-gazing in these dark places is one of my favorite things: stars, a still almost full moon, and galaxies far, far away.
Once the sun disappeared, the temperature dropped quickly from almost 80° to the mid-50°s. I bundled up for the night, which basically meant putting layers of clothes on top of the hiking clothes I’d be wearing in the morning. I got out my gloves, knit hat, and fired up a few hand warmers. I’ve also learned the trick of placing a few of these in my sleeping bag, so when I crawl in for the night, it’s toasty warm. Bonus is that they keep heating all night.
Around 8:00 pm, I decided to call it a night. There were several other camping vehicles nearby, and they were already dark and quiet.
I crawled into my little bunk and tried to get things set up so I could find them. Phone, keys and glasses went into one of the cup holders in the door. Headlamp got hung up on the handle attached to the car ceiling. I fell asleep surprisingly fast.
The camping stars were aligned for me in that I didn’t have to get up to go to the bathroom during the night. I did wake up a few times feeling the cold air. I put my hat and gloves on and went back to sleep. It reached a low of 35° but overall I was comfortable and felt super safe.
The alarm rang at 4:00 am and I decided that was a little early to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag, so I reset it for 5:00 am. I had a goal to be hiking the Bright Angel Trail in GCNP before dawn and sunrise was at 6:30 am.
Here is the awesome thing about car camping as opposed to camping in a tent. All I had to do was crawl out of the back of my car, start the engine, let a little air out of the mattress, push the front seats back into position and I was on my way with heat blasting from my car heater and seat warmers. YEAH.
I had coffee awaiting me in the front cup holder. It was cold but trust me I didn’t care. That first sip of coffee was perfection. I ate a breakfast bar as I drove into the gates of the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park and was at the trailhead by 5:30.
It took me a few more minutes to get rid of my cold weather layer, lace up my hiking boots, and get my headlamp and backpack locked and loaded. The full moon was still out to the point where I barely needed my headlamp as I headed down Bright Angel Trail without another soul in sight.
I ended up hiking down to Indian Garden campground at the 4.5 mile mark, then turning around and heading back up. It was a perfect day with temperatures in the 60°s most of the morning.
Both car camping and the hard hike was the soul reset I needed after a week of weird energy in the world. I’m finding that if I get far enough off the beaten path, all that’s left to see is beauty.
Photos from nine miles/six glorious hours in the heart of the Grand Canyon:
For more info on GCNP: https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
For info on hiking the Bright Angel trail: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/BrightAngelTrail.pdf
Some of the items I used to car camp:
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