It’s been a weird winter in Utah. The snow in March should be big and deep, but we’ve been experiencing temperatures in the 50s and 60s for weeks. When a (small) storm that was forecasted for last weekend petered out, we decided to embrace the warmth and head for the desert. If you can’t beat ‘em, right?
Our first campout of the season is always a little discombobulated. Inevitably, we’ll forget something major (remember this mess?) or we realize we haven’t taken proper care of Betty the Trailer. The first trip is where we shake off the winter cobwebs and get backing our camping groove. I did my best to prepare the trailer and packed thoughtfully this time, feeling pretty confident as we pulled out of the driveway. Our weekend at McCoy Flats went relatively smoothly, but it wasn’t without its snags.
Instead of heading south toward the familiar Moab or San Rafael Swell areas, we opted to drive east toward the town of Vernal where some friends have camped. If John wasn’t going to be skiing, he’d be mountain biking, so we headed toward some BLM land near a trail system we knew would be dry this early in the season. The road to our first choice of campsites proved to be too rough for our old Betty (she doesn’t have much clearance!), so we crossed our fingers that the other area we had in mind would have easier access. The road was two deep tire tracks with a high center- too high for Betty. So we checked for tire-popping hazards and took our old girl for a bit of off-roading, landing at a beautiful, mostly-flat site with a view.
We got right down to business in our usual camp set-up routine. After pouring us drinks, John leveled the trailer, brought out the coolers, camp chairs, and water, and got going on our campfire. I worked inside, rolling out the rugs, unpacking the breakable items we secure during travel and making Betty “homey,” set out some happy hour snacks, and started prepping dinner. Cholula, in her happiest state, explored the area by nose, dragged huge sticks to camp, and continued the tennis ball obsession she brought from home.
Because we got to camp a tad later than we’d wanted, the sun was on its way out before we’d even prepped dinner. It was about now that John realized the new battery he’d gotten for Betty wasn’t the right kind, which meant cooking by headlamp and candlelight. As we learned during our 8 weeks on the road a few summers ago, there’s always a way to make do. So we did. We feasted on tasty cheeseburgers, seasoned sweet potato wedges charred on the grill, and Caesar salad, washing it down with good red wine. We always eat well when we camp.
I awoke to a bright, beautiful day- perfect for the hiking I wanted to do. John was already cleaning his bike, prepping for a big morning ride. After a heavenly cup of French-press coffee in the sunshine, I made breakfast. I’d brought a couple of jalapeno/pancetta/cheddar biscuits from the freezer at home, as well as some cooked pancetta leftover from a pasta dish I made earlier in the week. The biscuits got wrapped in foil and heated over the stove. The pancetta went into some herbed eggs, which I topped with fresh tomato. Yummy fuel for the day!
John pedaled off to explore the miles of single track while Cholula and I followed a winding dirt road that went on for miles behind our campsite. It led us up onto bluffs, across dry washes, down into unexpected arroyos. Cholula went on the hunt for desert mice and bunnies (thank God they’re so fast), not walking with me but never far away. The red sandstone cliffs and berry-filled juniper bushes felt familiar, even in this new part of Utah. I could see our snow-tipped Wasatch mountain range in the distance and, while I wasn’t looking at the ground for much of the hike, the beach-comber in me managed to pluck a few interesting rocks from the trail. I ignored the occasional random junk and empty shotgun shells half-buried in the dust, and was thankful when two dirt-bikers took their noise out of earshot. Instead, I listened to the song of the desert birds and noticed bits of spring green everywhere. John sent a photo or two from his ride, and it was clear we shared the same thought: what a gorgeous morning.
I’d just finished making us a couple of turkey and cheddar sammies with avocado and jalapeno when John returned to camp and stated, “I love mountain biking.” We packed up the dog, a picnic lunch, and the cooler and headed toward Red Fleet Reservoir. We wanted to check out the other camping area we’d heard about, and being near a body of water is the way to go in the desert. We weren’t crazy about the camping options at the reservoir but enjoyed our lunch at one of the day use areas overlooking the lake. We saw a few fishermen (with stringers of fat fish) and their happy dogs go by, and a couple of kayakers explored the red cliffs from the water. After a swim for Cholula, we headed back to camp so I could start dinner and John could take a quick evening spin on his bike.
At this point, the tone of our trip shifted a bit. I was gathering ingredients to make green chile chicken enchilada soup when I heard John’s exasperated voice outside. Apparently, while we were playing ball with the dog by the lake, someone took the rear skewer from John’s bike, making a bike ride impossible. It’s not often I see my even-keeled husband get angry, but he was incredulous that someone would climb up on his truck and steal a relatively inexpensive but necessary part. In an effort to salvage the morning ride he had in mind, he drove back to Vernal to the local bike shop to see if they had the part. They were super helpful but didn’t have what he needed, and he limped back to camp with a slump in his shoulders. Trooper that he is, he focused on the good stuff: our campsite, a happy dog and wife, the fact that his whole bike wasn’t stolen, his guitar, a yummy meal, and a seriously stunning desert sunset.
In the morning, I awoke to the usual crowded snuzzle-fest in our teeny full-sized bed with our 50-pound dog. I love those last cozy moments in a warm sleeping bag on a chilly morning in Betty. With his early biking plans thwarted, John let me sleep in and took Cholula on a long walk. When he returned, he volunteered to make breakfast quesadillas (instead of the granola and yogurt I had in mind). I sipped my coffee and listened to him singing along with Burning Spear, pausing to do his little “cooking breakfast in the trailer” reggae dance every now and then. Cholula angelically supervised the prep work until the cheese came out, then promptly sniped a whole pile of pepper jack from the cutting board when John’s back was turned. Never trust those crooked ears.
After breakfast, we broke down camp and headed for home. We stopped for nachos and beer in Heber City and ate outside, talking about our plans for the rest of the afternoon. It wasn’t until we pulled into the driveway that I realized my purse was still hanging on the back of my chair at the restaurant. Again, our plans shifted. John went on a bike-part-and-purse-retrieval mission while I hosed off the trailer and started a load of campfire-y laundry. In the shower, as the last of the desert dust washed down the drain, I thought about our weekend. It wasn’t exactly what we planned, but nothing ever is. Most of the weekend was fantastic- the weather, the food, the views, the time outside together. I could certainly overlook the few bumps along the way. After all, even a bad day camping in the wilderness is still a day camping in the wilderness.
And there are few things I’d rather do. Here’s to many more weekend adventures this season!
Bit by the travel bug? Check out more of our adventures on the TRAVEL BLISS page.