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Adventures Of The Boondocking Photographer: Lower San Rafael Road

I recently became an empty nester and was looking for a change in my life that would maximize my time left on this great planet. So I sold my house, bought a Ford F-350, an Arctic Fox 990 truck camper, and hit the road. This is the story of my adventures with travel, photography, and RV tips designed around living the boondocker lifestyle.

Lower San Rafael Road

The focus for this boondocking adventure is the Lower San Rafael Road, which begins at Green River, Utah. Exit Green River via Airport Road that proceeds south under Interstate 70. You will follow Airport Road, which is paved, for a couple of miles. Be on the lookout for the sign for the Lower San Rafael Road to the left, which is graveled, but in very good shape for it’s entire length until it ends at Highway 24, north of Hanksville, Utah.

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RV Tips

The Lower San Rafael Road was my first, hardcore boondocking trip. I was able to totally stay off the grid for nine days and in the Utah desert having fun.

When I picked up my Arctic Fox 990 in Oregon, the dealer provided a two-hour introduction briefing about all the systems of my camper. Since I had zero RV experience before picking up the camper, I soaked up this information like a sponge. However, there is a lot of information to absorb and only practice and time with your RV will increase your knowledge of how to properly operate the systems for maximum enjoyment.

While receiving this initial, RV operating systems briefing, be sure to start at one point on the RV and walk around the entire outside of the RV. Discuss everything you see on the RV. After every nook and cranny is explored on the outside of the RV, be sure to do the same on the inside of the RV.   Do not forget to include a briefing about the roof systems as well.

My RV dealership provided a packet of documents about every system on the RV. Most RV manufactures use products from other manufactures in their RVs.

For example, the heater is generally not made by the RV manufacturer. Instead the RV manufacturer installs another company’s heater that works well in their RV. Be sure to get some literature about the heater and every system in the RV for reference on how to use the system and how to receive help if troubles occur.

Northwoods Manufacturing, the company that makes the Arctic Fox 990, also produced a manual specific to the Arctic Fox 990 that includes more information on the operation of the camper. This guide is extremely useful and a great read after letting the information of the initial briefing soak in and actual use of the RV begins to take place.

I have a folder about six inches thick, jammed packed with information about my camper that I keep in the camper for reference. You never know when you might have issues with your RV.

Photography Tips

I have read about photographers buying two of everything and keeping two of everything in their camera bag. After years of photography, I have been lucky to get by with only one camera body and one Nikon 28-300 mm lens.

On the first day of this nine-day boondocking adventure my 28-300 mm lens began to cause me troubles. The lens was getting stuck in the 200 mm position. After struggling with this lens for several hours it was hard stuck in the 200 mm position and would not focus. Since this is my primary lens for 98% of the photography I do, I was totally screwed.

The only other lens I had on the trip was a Nikon 105 mm, macro lens. Now I was stuck with only macro or 105 mm shots. I struggled with this setup for a couple days until I had problems with my tripod adapter plate, released my camera from the tripod, and accidentally dropped my camera attached to the 105 mm lens on a rock. The lens was now no longer squarely attached to the camera body and would not snap into place. I no longer had automatic focus and was concerned that debris would get into the camera.

Inside of three days I no longer had a DSLR and had six more days of my boondocking adventure to take photos. Luckily I had a GoPro 4 along that gave me some video and photo abilities or I would have been totally screwed.

Moral of this story is always have backup gear available. I will always have two, 28-300 mm lenses and two, camera bodies available. The question is not if your camera gear will crap out, the question is when your camera gear will crap out.

In addition to two lenses and two camera bodies I will always keep a GoPro and higher end point and shoot camera that offers manual capabilities. 

When I got back to civilization, the 105 mm lens and camera body was a pretty easy fix. A camera repair shop had to replace the connecting plate on the camera for around $150 and three weeks of down time. The 28-300 mm lens had to be shipped back to Nikon and will cost me around $550 and after six weeks I still do not have the lens back for use.

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Travel Tips

Great views start on the Lower San Rafael Road immediately after departing Green River, Utah. The road is roughly 40 miles long and is in pretty good shape for a gravel road in Utah. Cars with two-wheel drive should be fine unless it is raining.

Fossil Point

My first camping spot was Fossil Point, which is roughly 10 miles south of Green River. The Fossil Point road is clearly marked with a BLM sign and is roughly two miles long. The road is pretty rough, but an all-wheel drive car should be fine going down it if you go slow and watch for rocks.

Fossil Point offers great views in canyon land country and plenty of camping spots. There are several buttes in the area that have deep red coloration.

After leaving Fossil Point and heading further south on the Lower San Rafael Road you will encounter several, red rock rims that offer great hiking. If a particular rim strikes your fancy stop and go for a hike. If you venture east of the Lower San Rafael Road you will start to get into side canyons that empty into the Green River. These side canyons can be very impressive.

Three Canyon, June’s Bottom, And Tenmile Bottom

As you drive further south on the Lower San Rafael Road, approximately 20 miles south of Green River, you will encounter several side roads going east. Some of these roads lead to colorfully named destinations such as Three Canyon, June’s Bottom, and Tenmile Bottom. All of these roads offer amazing hiking opportunities and are well worth exploring. Some of the roads are no more than two wheel tracks in the desert that require a four-wheel drive, while some of the roads are fine for a two-wheel drive car.

Exploring any of these roads will offer excellent camping opportunities and great views of the Green River Canyon. I spent five days in this area and never ran into another human being in November. The temperatures were in the low 60’s during the day, which is perfect for hiking. Surprisingly if you are camping up on a ridge you can still get decent cell coverage.

Horseshoe Canyon: Canyonlands National Park

Horseshoe Canyon offers a seven-mile, round trip, hike that features amazing views and breathtaking rock art. Be sure to plan a whole day of exploring in Horseshoe Canyon.

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The trailhead for Horseshoe Canyon offers a large, parking lot for camping and pit toilets. In November this area was not too populated, but had the potential during peak tourist season to be very busy.

Link to more information about Horseshoe Canyon: https://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/horseshoecanyon.htm

The Big Flat Tops And Sand Dunes

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After Horseshoe Canyon the Lower San Rafael Road turns west and heads for Highway 24. Along the way you will drive through some very cool, sand dunes that are worth a few pictures. Further down the road you will drive past The Big Flat Tops towering 6,089 feet and the Lower Flat Top towering 5,965 feet. The Flat Top area offers plenty of camping and exploring opportunities.

Bonus Travel Tip: Chute Canyon

Chute Canyon is basically right across Highway 24 from the Lower San Rafael Road on the Temple Junction or Hidden Splendor Road. The Temple Junction Road offers access to Goblin Valley State Park, well worth a look, and cool rock art.

Just a few miles west of Goblin Valley State Park is Chute Canyon road on the left. There are plenty of camping sites in this area with pit toilets. This area receives heavy use during the peak of tourist season.

Chute Canyon Road is very rough and will require a four-wheel drive vehicle with adequate ground clearance. The road offers amazing views and access to Crack Canyon Trailhead as well.

Chute Canyon is not exactly a slot canyon, but it does have high walls that offer a fun hiking experience. Chute Canyon is around 3.5 miles long. You can either hike it down and back or connect with the Crack Canyon Trail for a longer, all day adventure.

Link to more information about Chute Canyon: https://www.grandcanyontrust.org/chute-canyon-trail

Conclusion

The Lower San Rafael Road is a great place to get away from the crowds around Moab and Utah’s National Parks. The views are spectacular and camping opportunities endless. So for an off the grid, boondocking adventure be sure to give the Lower San Rafael Road area a look. You will not be disappointed.

Please remember to always boondock without a trace! 

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