Camping is one of my favorite pastimes. Since leaving Colorado over 12 years ago I haven’t been camping once. Come to think about it, I bet it’s been almost 14 years since the last time I went camping. It’s not that I lost interest, it’s just that it was an activity that just didn’t fit into my life for the past decade or so. I’m so glad to have rediscovered it and am able to share the experience with Feiya and Dana.
The seeds for this trip were planted one year ago when we visited Cedar Breaks National Monument just outside of Cedar City, Utah. While exploring this beautiful area we stumbled upon a campground located in a high meadow full of wildflowers. We walked the campsite loop and saw several empty sites that had spectacular views. We were excited thinking we could be sleeping under the stars in anyone of these sites. And it was a busy holiday weekend to boot!
I camped regularly in the Mountains of Colorado in the 12 years I lived there. In my early 20’s camping was more or less finding a secluded spot on a backcountry access road and set up a tent, throw some blankets in it and gather wood for a fire. I didn’t put much thought into it and was usually with a group of friends when I camped. Mostly it was about escaping into the woods to party for a few days and nights.
In my 30’s I became a little more serious camper. I had a 4×4 Jeep and later small pickup truck. I could explore the access roads and with 4 wheel drive capabilities I could get deeper and deeper into the backcountry. Yes, I was more or less a car camper and never did a backpacking trip. I liked having all the necessities such as a cooler full of food and beer, cooking ware, sub zero sleeping bag, firewood, ect… I wouldn’t take a lot, but to me this was such a more enjoyable experience, being secluded in the wilderness, eating a fire cooked steak, and drinking an ice cold beer. Heaven.
Now that I find myself in my 50’s, married and with a 12 year old daughter my camping experience is much different. Dana showed interest in camping while we lived in California and I was hesitant. Both her and Feiya would scream at the site of a bug in our apartment. I didn’t want a weekend filled with screams while hanging out at a campsite. However, that interest never subsided and Dana persisted. I told her camping stories of my “glory days” in Colorado and she became enamored with camping. So, over the years I’ve been slowly easing them into it.
Fast forward to 2020. We dipped our toes into the proverbial camping waters over the 4th of July weekend when we rented out a primitive cabin near Capitol Reef National Park in Central Utah. That trip went really well and we decided to try our hand at tent camping in the near future.
I was excited when we returned home from Capitol Reef. We stayed in the little cabin for 3 days and cooked all but one meal on the charcoal grill. We had some very successful meals and couple not so successful. It was a great learning experience nevertheless. We almost immediately ordered a new Coleman tent and started planning our Labor Day adventure.
We decided to revisit Bryce Canyon National Park and try to stay in the campground in the park. The previous two trips we made to Bryce and Cedar Falls made us feel optimistic we could find a campsite, even on a holiday weekend. Both trips were during busy Summer weekends in 2019 and we were always amazed at the sparse crowds. Not to mention all the empty campsites we saw in the Cedar Falls campground on Labor Day the previous year.
The campground in Bryce Canyon had no reservation system and was purely on a first come first serve basis. We loaded up our rented SUV Thursday night and shoved off from Las Vegas. As planned we made it to Cedar City and stayed at the Knights Inn hotel in Cedar City. It’s a no frills hotel that we’ve stayed at several times now. It’s cheap and does the job and the owners are extremely friendly.
We arose bright and early Friday morning and headed for Bryce Canyon. It was a little over an hour to get to the park entrance. We used our pass to enter and went straight to the campground only to be met with a “Campground is Full” sign. Bummer.
Plan B was to try to snag a spot at the Cedar Falls campground we liked so much. I hadn’t realized we were over an hour away from there. My 1st mistake of the day. While driving out of Bryce Canyon I noticed a little campground alongside the highway tucked away in a spectacular canyon. I diverted our course and drove into the campground. We found several empty spots, including one ginormous spot that was secluded from all the surrounding campsites. We were a little turned off by the hum of traffic noise coming from the highway.
Onward we went to Cedar Falls. When we arrived, we were met with another full campground. Dammit! I was looking forward to getting the campsite set up and having a relaxing Friday afternoon. That wasn’t going to happen until we found a campsite. Our optimism was fading. We tried several campgrounds in the area of Cedar Falls and they were either full or just not appealing. I even took us off the road a bit and tried to find some dispersed camping in the Dixie National Forest. They had fire bans throughout the forest. You can’t go camping without a fire!
Our only choice was to hurry back to Red Canyon near Bryce and see if any of the spots we saw in the Red Canyon Campground were still available. When returned to the campground by the highway it was 11am. We were pleasantly surprised to see the large site was still available. We snagged it and started to set up.
We chose campsite #8 and it was huge. The site was well secluded from the other campsites near us. The bathrooms were next door and they had flush toilets and running water. They also had showers, but were closed due to Covid-19. The campsite provided a cement pad that had a large steel picnic table, a charcoal grill on a pedestal, and a large metal fire ring for fires. Fire restrictions required that fires and and charcoal to be burnt only in certified fire rings and grills. We were covered!
We did cheat a little bit on the grill. We brought a small portable charcoal grill- like this one– and was able to put it inside the campsite grill. This saved us a ton on charcoal! Over 3 days we cooked about 5 meals and only used 3/4 of a 10lb bag of charcoal.
Anyway, we were able to get set up in about an hour or so. I used some choice swear words setting up the tent. In the past I’ve only set up small dome tents. This tent was a little more complicated as it had 6-8 poles and several stakes and strings. In the end I was successful.
The campground was pleasantly nice, even with the highway noise. The campground itself was very clean and well-maintained. The bathrooms were very clean– surprisingly clean! Our campsite had a lot of sun, which would have been ok if it were a little cooler. Even in the high 80’s the sun was intolerable. Fortunately, we had had spots with plenty of shade. Overall, I’d give our campsite an 8 out of 10. Not bad for fumbling out of the gate!
The first night I messed up on starting the campfire. I thought the wood was too wet to burn. We were exhausted anyway and went to bed early. The traffic noise was constant throughout the night. Many people were coming for the holiday weekend. It really wasn’t that bad. The traffic noise started to subside as the weekend went on. The temperature dipped into the upper 30’s the first night. We were mostly prepared, but still felt those cool temperatures. Some adjustments were needed before the 2nd night.
I was the first to wake up on the first morning. It was cold! I quickly started the coals and bemoaned the firewood situation. I decided to give the firewood another go. I used fallen pine cones as kindling and stacked the wood differently in the fire pit. The fire pit was deep and I assumed the air flow wasn’t good near the bottom. My changes worked and soon I had a nice little fire to warm myself up. I cooked breakfast in the iron skillet and boiled water over the fire.
I fried some pre cooked chicken Dana prepared at home, mushrooms, cauliflower, red onions, and cilantro. I warmed some corn tortillas and wrapped my concoction into them for a nice healthy and hearty breakfast. I could feel our trip was now turning around!
Saturday we spent exploring the park. We had been here before, but our previous trip had some hiccups and we only spent a partial day in the park. This time we had the whole day reserved. The crowds were thick and we decided to make a beeline to the very end of the park and work our way back. That strategy worked well. We were able to find parking spots at all the lookout points. We even went on a small hike for a couple hours. This is not Feiya’s favorite activity, but she was a trooper.
When we made it to the front part of the park, the main lookout points– Sunrise Point and Sunset Point were still crowded. We skipped those and headed back to the campsite for a few hours of relaxation and dinner.
We pulled the cots out of our sun soaked tent and took naps in the shade outside. The smell of the pine and nature’s quiet noises made for a nice environment to nap in. We cooked brats on the grill and had some fruit for dinner. It was pretty good.
That evening we decided to return the the park and take sunset photos. We thought for sure no one would be in the park at that time and we’d have the place to ourselves. We were wrong. By the time we made it to the storied Sunset Point the parking lot was full. We tried Sunrise Point and had luck in snagging one of the last parking spots. We were a little late for the dramatic sky, but I was able to get at least one decent shot.
We returned to the campsite and had a nice fire. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet about this sojourn was the lack of cell service. We were completely cut off from the world in almost every place we travelled to in the Bryce Canyon area. So, what do you do when you can’t look at your phone? Talk. We had some very pleasant conversations around the campfire. What a lovely concept– actually talking to those you love! That night was the best night in the tent. The temperatures stayed in the 40’s and with the adjustments we made to our bedding we all slept like babies. Ther traffic noise was to a minimum and the sound of crickets hummed us to sleep.
The second morning I woke up refreshed and feeling really good. I started a small fire and cooked breakfast over the fire pit. It was a similar version to the breakfast we had the day before. This time however, I added some rice and salsa into the mix for a Mexican flavor. Delicious!
We headed out mid-morning. This day we decided to explore some forest access roads. We saw a reservoir and some other points of interest on what little info we could scrape off of Google Maps when we had service. My hunch that the area we were to explore would be good was right on. The reservoir was in a beautiful spot. I flew my drone over it and was able to get some good snapshots. The area was dry and as you can see from my aerial views the reservoir was low.
Low and behold! We also found an awesome campground back there. We cruised around the loop and saw several open spots. I don’t want to get duped again on thinking next year at this time there will open spots, but this was probably the only campground in a 10 mile radius with any vacancy. Our campground even filled up a few hours after we landed our spot.
This campground was completely shaded, had restroom facilities, and the campsites were equipped with fire rings and charcoal grills as well. It was near perfection. My only concern was that the people occupying the campground were all ATV enthusiasts. I’m sure there would be a lot of ATV noise from them coming and going, but that was the only con I could see from this place. Next year!
We travelled several miles beyond the reservoir and newly found campground on the gravel roads. We found many secluded areas among meadows, streams, and valleys. I was able to do some drone flights and took some nice photos from the air. It was a great day!
That evening we decided to try our luck again at photographing the sunset in the park. We decided to head in about an hour before sunset to snag a parking spot at Sunset Point. No such luck! Having a full hour before sunset, we decided to fall back on our previous strategy of high tailing it to the end of the park. That worked out well. We easily got a parking spot and the crowd was much thinner. We spent over an hour at this point and was just nice to do some people watching. We also got some nice photos as well.
That night in the tent went really well. We had two nights under our belt and the temptations stayed in the 40’s. Not bad at all. The moon was at 3/4 full for the duration of our trip. So, I didn’t really prep for doing any astrophotography like I want to. However, the moon came up really late and the early night sky displayed some of the stars I’ve ever seen. You could see the Milky Way and thousands of stars. I made a feeble attempt at capturing the sky, but failed miserably.
However, in my failure I have a pretty good idea what I did wrong. We have a trip planned for Death Valley National Park in late October and wouldn’t you know it? There’s a full moon that weekend. I’m hopeful to get the best of both worlds– early starry sky and later full moon. We’ll see. Either way, I’m going to go all in on night photography. Wish me luck.
The camera I used for this trip was my trusty Sony a6000. I used my Sony Vario-Tessar 16mm-70mm lens exclusively. It’s a lens to do both portrait and landscape. It could be a little wider, but I made some adjustments to my shooting style on this trip and was very pleased with the results. Could this be the final death knell in my DSLR’s? We’ll see. I’m always looking for reasons to not carry those clunky DSLR’s and this might be the last excuse to finally push them over the edge of the proverbial cliff- landscapes.
I did have some issues with flash and portrait photos as you can see. I’m going to invest into a small flash that I can control manually. The in camera flash is very limited. There should be a way to control it, I’ll have to look into it.
Overall, this had to be one our most successful trips. Considering we added tent camping into the mix it went very well. We rented an SUV from Enterprise as the rates are so low now. We picked the SUV up at a location near to our house, which was much more convenient than the airport. I would recommend Bryce Canyon National park if you have never been. It’s so unique and beautiful.
I hope you are all staying safe and healthy out there! Until next time, be well!