Eddie and Pat Hayden take their Palomino pop-up truck camper deep into western Canada and the national parks of The West to capture the wildlife, landscapes, and stars. Stunning photos ahead.
As a magazine, we have worked our fair share of RV shows. Talking to attendees all day, you quickly learn that the general RVing public wouldn’t go truck camping if you paid them. They look at truck campers as too small and old fashioned to even consider. That’s why the RV industry invented travel trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes.
Then there are the truck camper folks. They practically run toward the truck campers on display and couldn’t be more excited to talk all-things trucks, campers, and truck camping. They think they won the lottery just thinking about all the freedom and adventure they’ll be having. In fact, if they won the lottery, they would just immediately buy a truck and camper, or two. Their enthusiasm is truly infectious.
Where does this excitement come from? Why do some people avoid truck campers and others celebrate them? It all comes down to the unique versatility of truck campers and how they allow you to fully pursue your outdoor passions. Put another way, the “go anywhere, camp anywhere, tow anything” capability of a truck camper rig amplifies outdoor hobbies and interests into dreams come true. Want a few hundred compelling examples proving this theory? Start with our Lifestyle Stories.
One of the latest, and perhaps best, examples of a hobby amplified by truck camping is the story of Eddie and Pat Hayden. For the Haydens, their passion for wildlife, landscape, and night sky photography was taken to an entirely new level with the addition of a Palomino pop-up truck camper. The Haydens’ “go anywhere, camp anywhere” rig puts them on location, at the right time, to capture images that are going to roll your socks up and down. In fact, you may have already voted for a few as winning photographs of the Truck Camper Magazine calendar contest.
Above: Eddie and Pat at Goose Island State Park in Rockport, Texas
TCM: What brought you to truck camping?
Pat: When we were young, we both tent camped with our families. When we married, we bought a fiberglass camper shell for our truck and used that for a camper. Towards our retirement we decided to drive more, and fly less. As we researched the different types of RVs, we knew we did not want to pull a trailer. Eddie always had a truck, so a truck camper was a logical choice.
We have a very nomadic style of travel. If we see something, we want to be able to go there without hesitation. A pop-up truck camper seemed to best fit our needs. We selected the Palomino Bronco because of the price and the low profile. We went with a lower priced model because we also do international travel and did not want to spend all of our money on the camper.
TCM: What do you enjoy doing while truck camping?
Pat: Our number one hobby is photography. We also like exploring the National Parks, bird watching, and hiking.
Eddie: We’re very nomadic. If we stay at a spot more than two to three days, the photography must be exceptional in that area. Our camper life gets us closer to the places we want to go for photography.
Above: Laguna Seca Ranch near Edinburg, Texas
TCM: Do you both enjoy photography?
Eddie: Yes, we do. I started photography in high school, continued for several years, burnt out, and got away from it. About seven years ago when we started contemplating retirement, I convinced Pat she needed a hobby. I led her towards photography and she took the bait. She got excited and involved. That also drew me back to it.
I’ve been using Nikon equipment since early 1970s. Today we carry professional Nikon DSLR cameras and lenses designed for the types of photography we enjoy.
Above: Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico
Pat: I’m more into wildlife photography, and Eddie is more into landscape and night time photography. We bring more equipment than clothes.
Above: White Sands, New Mexico
TCM: Tell us how you get your amazing shots.
Eddie: Photography for us is purely recreational and for enjoyment. I love sharing the photos and I don’t mind at all helping people who are new to photography.
Pat: For Eddie’s night time photography, we look for campgrounds located far from city lights that obscure the stars. We always dry camp, and stay at provincial and state parks. We stay away from big campgrounds.
Eddie: My camera has a very high ISO capability for night time photography. ISO is the measure of sensitivity the camera sensor has to light.
Above: The image that won in the 2016 calendar contest
The image that’s in the Truck Camper Magazine Calendar this year was shot at ISO 3200, aperture of 2.8, and a shutter speed of 20 seconds. Those settings allow a lot of light to reach the sensor to reveal the star fields. Essentially, I’m shooting as wide open as the lens and camera will allow. That’s the key to the night photography.
Normal consumer lenses won’t open to 2.8. Consumer lenses will open to maybe 4.5, which means you can’t get enough light in to pick up the stars and small points of light. To capture night photography at this level, the quality of your equipment is key.
TCM: You also left your camper lights on during the photo. Was that done on purpose?
Eddie: Yes, I left the lights on because I like the warm glow and homey feel. The winning photo this year has a blue cast to it. If you photograph something within an hour of sundown, you are in the blue hour. That photo was shot during the blue hour. It’s not a spectrum of light you can see with your eye, but the camera really picks up on the blue.
TCM: Are you taking the darker photos in the middle of the night?
Eddie: I’ll stay up all night.
Pat: The nice thing about the camper is that I can climb in and go to sleep while he stays up and gets photos.
Eddie: When we were in Canada this past year, we could see the stars within 30 to 40 minutes of sundown. That’s normally not the case for night photography. Usually I have to wait a couple hours after sundown. I usually go to sleep and set the alarm for 2:00am and then do my night photography to get shots of the Milky Way.
Pat: He’s out there freezing.
Above: The Northern Lights in Hinton, Alberta
Eddie: When we were in Canada, I got up at 2:00am it was 26 degrees outside, but I got a photo of the northern lights. It was pretty cold, but I can run into the camper and get warmed up.
TCM: And it makes for a great story behind the photographs. How often do you go out truck camping? It looks like you have been to a lot of places.
Pat: We try to avoid truck camping in the summer. April, May, September, and October are our primary camping months.
Eddie: Yellowstone National Park is a premier destination for wildlife photography. We usually go there twice a year. To avoid the tremendous traffic in the park, our rule of thumb is to stay out after Memorial Day and not go back before Labor Day.
We also like to go to places in Canada to photograph wildlife where there’s peace and quiet. We have traveled to Canada twice. Our first trip with our Palomino was in 2013. We drove up through British Columbia to Haines, Alaska. From there we took the Alaskan ferry to Prince Rupert, and then headed east to the Canadian Rockies, and then back to the Lower 48.
Above: Bristlecone Pine forest night time sky
TCM: Where have you been with your truck camper that you would recommend to other truck campers?
Pat and Eddie: Near Bishop, California we’ve enjoyed the Patriarch Grove in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine National Forest. The Patriarch Grove is at 12,000 feet. They have a primitive campground between the entrance and the visitor center that is first come, first serve, and very remote and quiet. It’s a dirt road and offers a vault toilet. When we were there, the majority of people had tents.
Above: Milky Way, White Mountains near Big Pine, California, Calendar Winner
The picture from the 2013 Calendar contest is from there. We took White Mountain Road past the visitor center. The Patriarch Grove is a rough twelve mile gravel road that goes into the grove. It took us two hours to get there. I asked the people at the visitors center if there was camping allowed up there, and they said no, but there is no curfew.
Above: Camping at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in northern California is a little crowded, but beautiful with all the large redwoods. Redwoods are difficult to photograph. I normally try to avoid getting people in my photos, but if you want to show the scope and size of the trees, you need to include something to show scale. If you don’t include a person, then you don’t have that.
You can’t get back away from the trees in Jedediah Smith to get a profile, you are in the middle of the forest. Shooting straight up is about your only option.
Above: Wolves in Hyder, Alaska
Hyder, Alaska is a little spot in the far southern part of Alaska. It borders Stewart, Canada, and then crosses over into Hyder.
Above: Eddie taking pictures of bears on a platform in Hyder, Alaska
There are thirteen miles of road in Hyder, Alaska, and that’s where we photographed the bears.
Above: Haines, Alaska bear cub
If you drive on, you are back into Canada, and it dead ends at Salmon Glacier. Haines, Alaska is further north. You can then go up through Whitehorse and then Haines Junction and then go west. There is one road in and one road out. Those are destinations that we feel you really have to visit.
Above: Their camper on an Alaskan Ferry
We took the Alaska Marine Highway so we didn’t have to drive it twice. Haines is a fishing village which is known for bears. Late in the season, eagles roost along the river, which attracts photographers in the winter months.
Above: Jasper National Park, Whistler Campground
In Canada, we enjoyed Whistler Campground in Jasper National Park.
Above: Jasper National Park during elk rut
We went there during the elk rut, which is the elk’s breeding season. It’s when the males are fighting and getting to the females for breeding purposes.
Above: Peyto Lake in Banff National Park
Peyto Lake is in between Icefield Parkway and Banff. If you continue towards Jasper, you drive along the Atabasca River. We went past the Icefields Parkway to a little campground called Mosquito Creek. It’s on the way to Jasper, and it’s another campground with a vault toilet, no electric, and no running water.
William A Switzer Provincial Park in Alberta is a beautiful park with lots of hiking trails. With luck you can see the auroras there. That is northeast of Jasper and is a smaller, quieter campground. We found it on All Stays. We have fallen in love with All Stays. It has helped us find BLM land, State Parks, and forested areas. A lot of the game reserves have places where you can overnight camp and a lot of those are free. We seek those places out.
Above: Waterfalls in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park in Montana is a great place to do lots of hiking. Glacier is difficult for wildlife, but great for waterfalls. We have found mountain goats and bighorn sheep on the hike at the visitors center on Going to the Sun road. It’s not a destination that we go to for wildlife. It’s more of a landscape photographers type of place. Take your bear spray on the hikes. We carry it with us whenever there is a remote chance of a bear attack.
Above: Moose at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is our second favorite park after Yellowstone. We stay at Gros Vente campground. It is a wonderful experience and has lots of places for wildlife and landscape photography. We normally go in October when moose are in breeding season. It’s not unusual to have a moose in your campsite. It’s been a breeding area for moose for hundreds of years. It’s more of an inconvenience for them that we’re there, so we give them plenty of space.
Above: Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico is a fun place to explore
Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is in New Mexico. We camped in the parking lot and had the place pretty much to ourselves at night. One of the photos from this year was in the parking lot. It was a spot we’re going back to, but I’m going to be equipped with a GPS next time.
Above: Camping at Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico
We are also going to target the night photography. I’ll go out and set up the camera and get the composition right. I also want to experiment with different light sources and do light painting. I use a flashlight to illuminate the foreground so it pops out during long exposure. It’s definitely a place to re-visit.
North of Bisti towards Farmington, photographers say the Valley of Dreams is like Bisti with formations, but it’s down a dirt road and on BLM land. It’s a popular spot for night photographers.
Above: Monument Valley, Utah also has camping opportunities
We enjoyed a quick visit to Monument Valley, Utah and we want to go back and spend more time in all the Utah parks. We have flown over Monument Valley going to Salt Lake City, so that was a place we wanted to stop. We will go back and spend time in Utah.
Above; Goose Island State Park, Rockport, Texas
We also like Goose Island, Texas, outside of Rockport, Texas. It’s great for spring bird watching. The wooded campground is very nice. It’s a good place for bird watching in spring when migration is happening. Texas is a birders paradise. Ninety percent of all migratory song birds come through Texas.
South Padre Island is also great for bird watching. Most of the birds there you would see in the western states. We are not birders by nature, but our photography is how we identify them. I take the photo and then look the bird up in the book to see what it was.
Above: Bird photography from Laguna Seca Ranch near Edinburg, Texas
We know some private ranchers near McAllen and Edinburg, Texas who let us park at their ranch. They have blinds built so we are hidden in a blind in the ground.
Above: Bird photography from Laguna Seca Ranch near Edinburg, Texas
We are at eye level to where the birds land. They charge a daily fee to photograph there. You can go even go there if you’re not a photographer.
Above: Bird photography from Laguna Seca Ranch near Edinburg, Texas
Since it’s so dry in south Texas, they’ve built water holes so that the birds will come in.
Above: Palomino 1251 pop-up camper off the truck at Glacier National Park, Montana
TCM: I see that you take your camper off your truck. Do you do that often?
Eddie: We take it off if we’re going to be somewhere for more than two nights. The primary reason is, with wildlife photography, we get up before daylight and want to get into a position where we can see wildlife when the sun is just coming up. It is inconvenient to eat, crank the camper down, and pack up in the dark. We like the lifestyle of taking it off almost everywhere we stop.
Pat: We can get the camper off and on in under 30 minutes. It’s very easy to do. If we get the camper where it’s not too far off the ground, it feels comfortable off the truck.
Eddie: We are going to buy aluminum jack stands and put a couple under the center rib of the camper for support.
TCM: Have you made any modifications to your truck or camper?
Pat: Yes, we modified the truck by removing the back seat and adding a platform so we could easily store our camera gear.
We also added a PVC grey water tank to increase our grey water capacity.
We changed the dining area to have a wider seat to make it more comfortable. We also removed the built-in table and now use a small foldable table that can be stored under the bed. The folding table can also be used outside the camper.
We added shelves to one of the cabinets to make it easier to store food. We added hooks to the outside of the cabinets to hang items like jackets.
Above: Bathroom storage in their Palomino pop-up bathroom
We also added a rear camera that we can turn on and off as needed.
TCM: Does anyone travel with you?
Pat: We usually only travel with the two of us. If we are staying in Texas, we will bring our eight year old Border Collie. She loves to go camping with us and has her bed in the camper for nights.
A lot of the places we camp it’s not great to have dog with us, so a friend watches her. For example, with all the wildlife activity in Yellowstone, she would have to stay in the truck.
Above: Amanita Lake Campground, McGregor, British Columbia
TCM: What are your truck camping plans for the future?
Pat: We want to spend several weeks in Utah visiting all the parks there, and we want to spend more time in British Columbia and Alberta. We have taken two very long trips visiting several different areas and want to now modify our travels to pick out one or two specific areas and spend longer times in those spots.
Eddie: A lot of friends don’t understand how we can stay in a small place and be comfortable. I sleep better in the camper than at home. It’s like being in a cocoon. We are comfortable.
Pat: We’ve been retired for three years. To not have to fly or stay in hotels makes our vacations so much more enjoyable and relaxing. I couldn’t think of any other way of doing it.
In 2013 when we were gone six weeks, I made Eddie promise that we would stay in hotels every four or five nights. This past year we went for five weeks and I wanted to be in the truck camper the whole time. To camp in quiet places is the best way to travel.
Truck: 2005 Dodge 2500 , Extended Cab, Short Bed, Single Rear Wheel, 4×4, Diesel
Camper: 2013 Palomino Bronco 1251
Tie-Downs and Turnbuckles: Torklift tie-downs, Happijac turnbuckles
Gear: Built a grey water tank and mounted it inside the bed of the truck, the rear seat has been removed and a platform built for storage of camera gear