Overlanding—the latest buzzword in the outdoor world.  Don’t believe me? Notice all the roof top tents atop vehicles.  Notice the vehicles outfitted with roof racks, extra fuel cans, awnings, and other gear attached to them.  Overlanding is all over social media, as well.  But, what does overlanding mean?  And, how to do it?  Lucky for you and me, Utah presents perfect places for overlanding. 

The word “overlanding” has many origins, but most give credit to the people from the continents of Africa and Australia.  The vast lands of those continents require adventurers to traverse long distances in their vehicles and to remain self-reliant if something goes wrong. The citizens of those continents have been overlanding for years out of necessity and for enjoyment.  African companies introduced roof top tents to sleep above ground where wild animals (tigers, hyenas, and elephants) roam.  Portable, 12-volt refrigerators were introduced to transport medicine, food, and essentials with no need for ice.  Without a doubt, the gear today makes overlanding possible for many recreationists.  But, do you want to overland?  

While on the border between Utah and Arizona with my wife and daughter and a good friend and his son, we meander in two vehicles around the Grand Staircase National Monument and the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.  Earlier in the day, we had tried to obtain a walk-in permit for The Wave, so did 100+ other people.  Unfortunately, our lottery number wasn’t drawn.  No worries.  We found plenty of other places to explore and adventure in this vast land that straddles the Utah/Arizona border.  

“Shane, what do you think, ‘overlanding’ means?”  I inquire while making dinner.

“The act of using a vehicle to access and adventure in the backcountry. Off the beaten path.  To travel self-reliant and self-sufficient.   The journey is just as important as the destination,” stated Shane.  I agreed. The word has many definitions. For me it means to explore the backcountry using a properly outfitted vehicle and adventuring immediately upon arrival.  And, yes, remaining self-reliant.  Miles from help and service, I rely on myself when a situation arises, not AAA.  

Most overlanders want to avoid people.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love people and consider myself a very social person.  However, I desire to enjoy and adventure in the backcountry—“mine” for the day or weekend. Granted, I might encounter fellow overlanders, but I want to camp in the backcountry away from crowds and campgrounds.   I want to adventure in places off the beaten path and without a trailhead parking lot.  I want to camp on a scenic overlook or in a stunning canyon, not in a campground with 300 other people.   I want to “discover” that tight slot canyon, rock art panel, and beautiful trout-filled river.  I want to “discover” a high alpine lake on which I can paddleboard with just the noise of the wind or a marmot.  Solitude fulfills a worthy overlanding goal.  

We had seen no one during the few days we explored the Vermillion Cliffs. The Vermillion Cliffs National Monument includes colorful and crazy rock formations.  Places like The Wave and Buckskin Gulch get much of the attention, but overlanders discover much more.  We were determined to find something new.  Miles of dirt sandy roads crisscross this high plateau.  Ranches from yesteryear dot the landscape.  Certainly, we were not the first travelers in this area. Native Americans lived here hundreds of years ago.  Their dwellings and rock art dot the landscape.  We had packed our hiking shoes and cameras resolved to “find the goods” of this place.  

The vehicle of choice for most overlanders features 4-wheel drive. Your vehicle’s capabilities will help or hinder accessing your destinations.  The joys of overlanding including finding that remote campsite, accessing that unbelievable slot canyon, or crossing a river to find the best place to wet a fly.  Overlanding offers the joy of accessing by vehicle those hard to get to places so that once you arrive the adventure beckons.  The ability to access many of the backcountry gems only comes with a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  I continually want to explore where that road goes or that one; the ability to shift the vehicle into 4-wheel drive provides unlimited opportunity!  

“Off to your right,” Shane said over his vehicle’s radio.

“Hmmmm.  I don’t see it yet.”  I responded. I scanned the desert landscape. He was in the lead; but within minutes, I spotted the old ranch.  A few of these ranches still exist in this high desert landscape.  They are not in use, but they offer a sign of life long ago.  We stopped at this ranch to use it as the base of our hike.  The Vermillion Cliffs National Monument holds some truly amazing, crazy rocks.  Rocks that I can’t fully describe.   Rocks that only a geologist could explain.  

“These are known as cauliflower rocks.”  Shane offered.

“Ahhh.  What?” Louise responded.  She and I needed a minute to process his comment.  The rocks did look like giant heads of cauliflower.  Crazy!  We gathered our packs and started hiking across the “cauliflower.”  

We reached this area after driving 30 miles of two-track roads and driving the entire time in 4-wheel high gear.  Two-wheel drive vehicles would have bogged down hopelessly.  

We hiked across this unique rock surface.  I scanned this wild landscape in amazement.  Lilly and Louise continued to look down, suspecting that the rock might break under the weight of our feet.  Nope.  This landscape survived thousands of years.  After a few hours, we returned to our vehicles and savored some snacks and drinks. And, we didn’t see a soul.  On this day, we explored this national monument as if it was ours. 

Self-sufficiency requires appropriate safety and vehicle recovery equipment. I purchase and carry gear that can get me out of any “sticky” situation. Calling a tow truck is not an option. I equipped, my vehicle with a front mounted WARN winch and with ARB Traction Boards.  The winch allows me to pull myself (or others) out of a stuck scenario.  I can also place the traction boards under my tires to grip my wheels.  Thus, I can get out.   I rely on the ability to conquer most situations. I go prepared.  

Once I started overlanding, I quickly identified essential gear.  I purchased snatch straps, tow straps, d-shackles, a tire repair kit, and a complete first aid kid purchased locally from MyMedic. The more you travel off the beaten path, the more gear you will realize as necessity.  I carry 10 gallons of water, five gallons of extra fuel, and a shovel/ax combo—essential equipment for overlanding and adventuring in the backcountry.   

Shane and I drove a deep, sandy stretch of road in the Vermillion Cliffs in hopes of coming to the edge of this enormous plateau.  The sand was soft, which potentially could bog our vehicles; but with enough speed and 4-wheel drive, we got through.   In the distance, we spotted the shores of Lake Powell.  My phone registered LTE and began to beep as text messages came through—signs that civilization was near even though we stood a thousand feet or so above the city of Page, Arizona.  

We selected our camp spot then, wandered to survey our surroundings. Lilly and Austin climbed the red rock towers while Louise and I scoped the rock walls for signs of rock art. Shane, a professional photographer, looked for his next landscape photo.  All of us immersed ourselves in these new surroundings.  I focused sight on the Lee’s Ferry area and on rafters preparing to descend the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon.  We returned to camp and prepped for dinner. Louise and I started the fire.  Shane, turned chef, grilled ribeye steaks over the sweet smells of a juniper fire. Lilly and Austin played hide and seek within the juniper trees.   It was an extraordinary evening deep in the backcountry.  

As day turned to night, we gazed at the star show high above.  Lilly and Louise climbed into our roof top tent to sleep, while Austin crawled into the bed of Shane’s truck.   Shane and I continued to converse over the juniper fire about the next great place to explore.  

The following day, we awoke to clear skies and cool temperatures.  We packed camp and traveled on the sandy two-track road to our next destination—White Pocket.  Yep, you guessed it.  Crazy rock! It appeared that “someone” had poured gallons of red and orange paint over the white rock to create another “Mona Lisa.” A painter’s work of art?    Nahhh…. It was Mother Nature’s work.   Shane and Austin departed for Arizona and home. After saying our goodbyes, our family found a great place to camp on the slickrock and began our new exploration of this geologic wonder.  

Addiction results from successful overlanding.  Once you experience the backcountry in a remote way, you will be addicted.  Trust me.  You won’t want to camp at a campground with others.  You won’t want to hear the noise of a generator from the next camp.  Nope, you will desire the peace and quiet of solitude again and again.  

We finished our dinner, cleaned up, and walked out to White Pocket to savor the final rays of the setting sun.  The place was ours.  Large, cumulus clouds shimmered in pink tones as the sun set in the west.  We walked barefoot across the smooth slickrock, then we turned-in for the night.  The cool, night air lulled us to sleep.  

Overlanding provides an exceptional way to experience the outdoors. An opportunity to “discover.”  An opportunity to explore and wander.  Why wait?  Utah offers many places to overland.  A trip to the San Rafael Swell.  A journey into the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park.  A weekend exploring the West Desert.  Grab a detailed map and wander away.  A dirt road awaits.  So too an adventure.  

Overlanding Insights:

Expeditionportal.com-A great resource for overlanding.  Find destinations, equipment, and knowledge on this internet site.  

Expeditionutah.com-A website with local, Utah information about adventures.  

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