Pop-Up to Prudhoe Bay
- February 20, 2015
- - By Angela White
Paul Schwenzfeier had the audacity to buy a used pop-up truck camper and take it to the furthest road-accessible reaches of Alaska without so much as a shake down cruise. As might be expected, he discovered a few glitches along the way, but managed to iron things out, and make his trip a success. In fact, he made it all the way to Prudhoe Bay - a road that’s notoriously long, unpredictable, and desolate - by himself.
From his photography, there can be no doubt that Paul’s trip north was amazing. For anyone researching a trip to Alaska, or even thinking about the possibility of exploring the last frontier, this is required reading.
Above: Paul starting the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek, British Columbia
TCM: How did you get into truck camping?
Paul: It all started when I bought a Palomino B1200 truck camper for a trip to Alaska in late summer of 2012. I wanted a truck camper to be self-sufficient. I don’t like to be tied to motel or campground reservations, or any other schedules. I also wanted the increased protection of a camper versus a tent when traveling in remote areas.
I really enjoy having the conveniences of a built-in propane stove and refrigerator. I prefer a pop-up because of the aerodynamics and better fuel mileage.
My 2011 Ford F350 could handle a much larger truck camper, but I am glad to have less weight than what the truck is rated for. Having more truck was especially beneficial for the frost heaves one encounters in Alaska and parts of Canada. I don’t want to load my truck to maximum payload. I am glad I matched my rig this way.
Above: Paul's 2011 Ford F350 and 1998 Palomino B-1200
TCM: Had you been to Alaska before this trip?
Paul: Yes, but this was my first trip camping in Alaska. Prior to this trip I had flown to Alaska for one trip, taken a cruise for another, and helped my son move to Alaska for a third. I have relatives in Anchorage and Dutch Harbor.
Above: Camping on the Homer Spit
TCM: Since you don’t like to be tied into reservations or schedules, did you make plans for your Alaska trip?
Paul: Actually, I did. I spent several months planning the trip. I planned out expenses, miles per day, what I wanted to see, campgrounds, provincial parks, and state campgrounds.
Going through The Milepost, which you can’t go to Alaska without, was a tremendous help. I also spent a lot of time talking with people who had been camping in Alaska.
I had a tight itinerary in the beginning of the trip. Then it rained almost everyday for the first week. Along the way I stopped to take pictures or see things, and ended up staying longer than I had planned. It didn’t take long before I was behind schedule, but I made up for it in other areas. The plan evolved as I traveled.
Above: Paul took the route through Saskatchewan to Alaska - click to enlarge
TCM: The trip to Alaska is an adventure in an of itself. What route did you take?
Paul: I took a route through Saskatchewan. One of the reasons I went through Saskatchewan instead of Montana was that I wanted to see the grain elevators. Some are being dismantled, and I like learning about the history of things.
Above: The World's Biggest Coffee Pot is in Saskatchewan
The drive to Alaska felt very long at times, especially through Saskatchewan. It’s like one flat long grain field, which was extremely boring some days. One drawback of going solo is that you can’t keep eye on everything you’d like to see. A co-pilot could look at The Milepost and make suggestions. My head was on a swivel seeing the beauty of of the landscape from Edmonton, Alberta north.
Above: Laird River Hot Springs
Along the way, I stopped at Laird Hot Springs, north of Edmonton. I had been there before, but it was a must stop for me.
Above: Midnight Dome above Dawson City, Yukon River, Yukon Territory
Above: Along the Sag River, Deadhorse, Alaska
Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay were also on my itinerary. The Prudhoe Bay area is where all the oil fields are.
Above: The oil fields on the way to and from Prudhoe Bay - click to enlarge
Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay travels 500 miles north from Fairbanks, one way. 95% of that road is gravel. It was a two day trip. Half way up is Coldfoot. There’s fuel there.
Above: Atigun Pass, on the way to Prudhoe Bay on the Dalton Highway
You actually drive north of the Arctic Circle to get to Prudhoe Bay. It’s a haul road, so you’ll see semi after semi. The truck drivers drive the 500 miles much quicker than the fourteen hours it took me.
Above: About half way up to Prudhoe Bay is Coldfoot, Alaska
There’s not much in Prudhoe Bay. It’s essentially an industrial oil production complex. You basically say, “I’m here”, and then it’s time to go. It’s all flat tundra at sea level. You can see forever. I was there in June, and nothing was green. I took a tour on a shuttle bus around Prudhoe Bay and put my feet in the Arctic Ocean. That was it.
Above: North of Fairbanks on the Dalton Highway
TCM: We’ve heard that report about Prudhoe Bay before. Most folks talk about the trip there and back, and how spectacularly dirty their rig got. Did your rig handle the roads and challenges of Alaska well?
Paul: I bought my camper specifically for this trip and didn’t use it ahead of time. It was used and I didn’t give it a fair shake down cruise. At first the refrigerator wasn’t working on propane mode. It all worked out, but there were some initial kinks to work out.
Above: A pull-off on Top of the World Highway
The frost heaves in Canada and Alaska aren’t like the ones in Wisconsin. They’re like rolling moguls. The frost heaves were very hard on my truck’s suspension. I had to replace my shocks when I got back. My shocks were completely shot because of the constant suspension travel up and down.
You also encounter plenty of potholes and road construction. Summer is the only time to work on the roads in Alaska, so construction is a constant. If you had something other than a truck, it would be a challenge to get through certain areas.
Above: It was too early to travel on Hatchers Pass, on the southwest part of the Talkeetna Mountains
TCM: Was it a challenge to find fuel in Alaska?
Paul: I have a forty gallon tank in my truck, and six gallons of extra fuel with me. When I would get to a half tank, I would get fuel, or I started thinking about it. The trip to Deadhorse, Coldfoot and Prudhoe Bay only had a couple fuel stations. I paid a lot for fuel, but I didn’t get stranded. Once you get into Alaska, there’s a lot of distance between places. Just keep that it in mind and plan for it accordingly.
Above: Arriving in Chicken, Alaska
TCM: What were some of the highlights from your trip?
Paul: It was really the people I met in Alaska that made the trip what it was. For example, I met a motorcycle traveler from Africa in the Arctic Circle campground. I saw him again in Fairbanks and then again on BLM land on Kenai. We live half a world away, and saw each other three times in one trip. That was kind of special.
I met a great couple twice while I was in Canada. We shared a drink together, and the next night I saw them at Liard Hot Springs. It’s cool to see the same people more than once. Everybody is from somewhere else and everyone has a story.
Above: A curved wood bridge on the original Alcan Highway route
TCM: We’ve had that experience too; meeting folks on the road several times. We have even met folks hundreds and even thousands of miles from when we first met them. That’s another kind of road magic. Did you see wildlife in Alaska?
Paul: Yes, there was lots of wildlife, especially in Alberta and British Columbia. On July 7th, I left Liard Hot Springs at 4:00am. I saw seven buffalo and seven black bear before 7:30am. They were literally along the road. I also saw moose, but didn’t get to see a grizzly bear.
Above: Campspot on the road back from Manly Hot Springs, Alaska
TCM: Were there any specific places that you would recommend to fellow truck campers?
Paul: There’s quaint town outside of Fairbanks called Manly Hot Springs. I read about it in The Milepost. I drove seventy miles on gravel to get there. There’s nothing in between so leave with full fuel. They had a shower, campground, fishing, and you can go in the hot springs for $5 an hour. I highly recommend it.
On the drive back to Fairbanks, I camped on the top of a ridge because it was really windy there. Wind is your friend because it blows the mosquitos away.
Speaking of mosquitos, you may want to put a net over your head if you spend time outside the camper. Fairbanks and north there were mosquitoes. It was only four days of time difference from my trip to Prudhoe Bay and back. In that time the mosquitoes hatched tremendously. They came on almost instantly. I’m sure it was weather related.
I went to Bird Creek Campground, which is east of Anchorage twenty miles on the road to the Kenai Peninsula. It’s a great state campground with hiking opportunities.
Above: Paul at the BLM Yukon River Visitor Center getting information on the area
From the Arctic Circle north there are BLM campgrounds. The Milepost mentions most of them. You can also go to the BLM visitor stations and national forest service visitors centers to get ideas.
Above: Paul's catch in Seward, Alaska
In Seward, Alaska there was a municipal campground. I went there to go fishing. Then, in Homer, I camped on the Homer Spit for two days.
I did go on a backpacking trip in Denali. It was with an organized group for ten days. We took a plane ride out and back. I parked my camper along the street in Anchorage, got on the plane with the group, and flew to a wilderness area in Denali. We went hiking and wilderness tent camping.
Above: The Halibut Fishing Capital of the World, Homer, Alaska
TCM: That sounds like an incredible adventure. Any other tips for folks bent on going to Alaska in a truck camper?
Paul: There is a Hilltop truck stop north of Fairbanks where I had reindeer sausage for breakfast and strawberry rhubarb pie.
There’s a town called Hope, Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula. There’s one road down and back with a campground. There was a nice town and restaurant there, too.
In Canada north of Edmonton, the oil boom is happening. Some municipal campgrounds were full because of the seasonal campers who are oil workers.
Above: Entering Alaska in Hyder
Hyder is the friendliest ghost town in Alaska. That’s a great little place. The Tongas National Forest is there. There are grizzly bear sightings and a boardwalk out to see them. But, unfortunately I didn’t. Hyder is a great town with history.
Truck: 2011 Ford F350, extended cab, long bed, four wheel drive, diesel
Camper: 1998 Palomino B1200
Tie-downs/Turnbuckles: cargo tie-downs, inside bed mounted
Gear: FabFours front bumper and grill guard assembly, fabricated front spare tire assembly, two spare tires for this trip because of Dalton highway
Have you traveled to Alaska with your truck camper? Please share your story about traveling to Alaska.
Labrador and Newfoundland Adventure Tips
- March 03, 2015
- - By Anna Weber
Ross and I left June 1, 2014 on an adventure through Labrador and Newfoundland. Leaving Southern Ontario behind, we drove the less traveled highway to Quebec City.
East of Quebec City, we drove Highway 138 on the north shore of the St Lawrence River to Baie-Comeau, 260 miles. We turned north on Road 389 and drove 350 miles to Labrador City.
There were lots of trees, hills, curves, and rocky terrain. Eventually, we experienced almost mountainous terrain. Along the way, the logging, hydro, mining, and transport trucks appreciated us pulling over to let them by.
From Labrador City, we drove the Trans Labrador Highway to L’Anse-au-Clair, about 750 miles.
We ferried to Newfoundland at Blanc Sablon. Once there, we explored Newfoundland over a three week period.
Heading homeward, we ferried from Port aux Basques to North Sydney Nova Scotia and turned towards the Acadian Peninsula of New Brunswick. Then north to Mont Joli, Quebec, and, turning westward, we traveled home along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. The whole of Newfoundland is steeped with history, scenery, outdoor adventure, and good food.
Above: A Basques Whaling museum
Above: St. Johns, Newfoundland
Above: The Skerwink hiking trail on Bonavista Peninsula, Newfoundland
Here are some tips and advice for anyone interested in truck camping through Newfoundland and Labrador.
1. Labrador Coastal Drive is a good website to plan the trip through Labrador.
2. Visit the tourist information centers in the towns for great local and historical information.
3. In Baie-Comeau, Quebec, stock up on all provisions including fuel and propane. Also, ensure your equipment, including tires, operate properly. We contacted the local services for road status even though there is a sign at the beginning of the road indicating which sections are open. Spring was later than usual with road thaw just underway.
4. Take advantage of carrying a free satellite phone through Labrador as there is no cell service. We picked one up at the Hotel in Labrador City and turned it in at Northern Lites Inn in L'Anse-au-Claire.
5. The road through Labrador is gravel and there are very few places to pull off to rest. There are no real side roads that are accessible to anyone except ATVs or snowmobiles. Take advantage of a widened road area or truck stop.
6. Buy the Provincial Park Pass. These parks have quality sites, free WIFI at the offices, clean laundry, shower and washroom facilities, and very knowledgeable local staff.
7. Reserve the ferry ride to and from Newfoundland.
8. Be prepared for all types of weather. We traveled the months of June and July. We experienced temperatures between 24 degrees and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It rained for awhile every day. Take advantage of all the sunny breaks.
9. Spend time chatting with the local people. Everyone is so friendly and interesting. They will tell you where to free camp, where to buy the freshest seafood, and where the best non-touristy attractions are. Someone told us to drive on down to Point aux Choix, Newfoundland where we enjoyed the most amazing local shrimp burger ever.
10. Pay attention to the wildlife cautioning signs. We counted seventeen moose on a fifteen mile stretch of road near St. Anthony, Newfoundland.
11. Seeing and photographing icebergs was most fun. The locals announced 2014 to be a bumper crop. We saw hundreds of them. They are all so unique. We took hundreds of pictures.
Favorite Boondocking and Camping Spots
Our favorite boondocking site was near Manicougan Crater (formed by a meteor striking the earth millions of years ago). We found a roadway to the reservoir edge at mile 178 on Road 389, Quebec.
Our second favorite boondocking spot was at Chance Cove Provincial Park at the bottom of the Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland. It was three miles through the bush to great fishing and lots of laughter with the local campers.
Our favorite paid camping site was Trinity Cabins and Trailer Park, Bonavista Peninsula, Newfoundland. It was $20 with electrical hookup and water, spotless washroom facilities.
Truck: 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 Z71, extended cab, short bed, 4x4, gas
Camper: 2013 Palomino Maverick M6601
Tie-Downs and Turnbuckles: Better Kit Chains and Turnbuckles
Jacks: Rieco-Titan wireless remote controlled electric camper jacks
Suspension: Timbren Blocks added to enhance suspension
Accessories: LED lights, Torklift Glow Step, Custom Aluminum Roof Rack
Have you traveled in Canada with your truck camper? Please share your story about your Canadian truck camping travels.
Jim McCoy Takes On Elephant Hill
- February 24, 2015
- - By Jim McCoy
I started my camping last year by hitting the 2014 Overland Expo West near Flagstaff, Arizona. There I caught up with truck camper builders I have become friends with through Truck Camper Magazine; Four Wheel Campers, Hallmark RV, and Phoenix Custom Campers. I also ran into XP Campers and the TCM Expo West reporters for this year, D.Gorton and Jane Adams. As always, Overland Expo West was a blast.
After the Overland Expo, I tried a route from Big Water, Utah, to Escalante, Utah, that looked doable on the maps by a truck camper, but I wanted to recon it in my Jeep first. If it panned out, I would take my truck camper at a later time. It included a place along Lake Powell called Alstrom Point that I have seen other four wheel drive truck campers post photos of on the web.
Above: At Alstrom Point, looking north over Lake Powell
From Alstrom Point, I continued following backcountry four wheel drive roads to get to Escalante. They covered about 125 miles of scenic canyon country along Lake Powell, and then climbed up onto 50 Mile Bench and skirted a canyon wilderness area. I spent a few days up on the bench exploring some of the canyons in the wilderness area on foot. Continuing the four wheel drive route, I dropped back off 50 Mile Bench on its western end onto Hole In The Rock Road, and then continued northwest to Escalante.
Above: Shooting Star Campground
In Escalante, I discovered an incredible campground, for those that like to enjoy them. Truck campers and all other travelers will love it! It’s called The Shooting Star RV Resort. This was a huge campground area that is suitable for jamborees or just finding a quiet corner. It boasts all kinds of 1950s cars around the property as well as an old fashioned drive-in theater! They serve refreshments from a refurbished Airstream, and you can rent a 1950s convertible to watch the movie from. Hook ups, water, and WiFi is available. Very friendly staff and a low key place.
I did a few local trips around my part of Colorado, but I also took my off-road truck camping to a new level this year and undertook three major trips. They were more like big expeditions.
I had read about the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route that a motorcycle group put together, traversing the entire state of Colorado north to south on off-road double track routes.
From what I researched, it looked like an off-road four wheel drive enthusiast truck camper could do most of it, while seeing some incredible less-traveled back roads. I used two state atlases and highlighted all the roads comprising the route. They were all pre-existing mapped forest routes that linked up to make the route. I also picked up a few topograhic maps with higher detail of certain areas to make sure I had it all covered well.
With a heavy duty set up four-wheel drive truck and my lightweight Hallmark camper, I embarked on an amazing journey along Colorado's back ways and four-wheel drive roads, from Wyoming to four corners.
I broke the adventure into two separate trips. The first or north half of the state, covering from Wyoming to Buena Vista Colorado, taking five days. And the second trip, or south half of the state, continuing from Buena Vista to the Four Corners area. The southern half can be done in as little as four days, but give yourself more time to enjoy things along the way.
The north highlights were sweeping mountain and countryside vistas, and following of the Colorado Riverway for a whole day.
Above: A north section paralleling the Colorado River
The south highlights were more mountain vistas and four-wheel drive passes, sage country, and the incredible scenery and rugged four-wheeling through the San Juan Mountains. The San Juan Mountain part of the trip was mostly Jeep trails, which can be challenging in a full-size truck and pop-up camper. Squeezing my truck camper down Corkscrew Gulch literally had me on the edge of my seat!
Above: Above: A south section of the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route in Sage Country, outside of Gunnison Colorado
Above: Climbing the Cinnamon Pass road over American Basin, in the San Juan Mountains
Above: Camp set near the historic ghost town of Animas Forks, along the California Gulch Trail
Above: The California Gulch leads to California Pass summit, which is 12,960 feet above sea level
The entire route north to south was about 600 miles of winding back ways and 4x4 roads. Some sections are very rough and technical. But, it can be done in a lightweight truck camper with a very experienced driver. I can't imagine how the cross country motorcycle guys are getting through some of it.
I thought I had found my favorite route of the year with the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route. But, that route got my wheels turning to develop a route of my own, to go through some of my favorite places and discover new ones. I think I outdid myself for this one, and fellow off-road truck camper, Larry Wittman, will probably agree when he hears this.
By studying state atlases and topo maps, I developed my own backcountry truck camper route from Mexican Hat, Utah, to Moab, Utah. As the trail wiggled, it traversed 220 miles, 90% of which was dirt and four-wheel drive roads, with the 10% pavement being necessary connectors. I took eight days to cover that terrain, taking my time to camp, explore, and enjoy certain areas along the way.
Above: In the heart of the Needles District, Utah
Some were easy dirt roads in awesome Utah backcountry, and some where demanding 4x4 roads through Beef Basin, The Needles District in Canyonlands National Park, and Lockheart Basin. It included getting the truck camper over the infamous Elephant Hill!
In my many previous crossings of Elephant Hill, which is a single lane road, I had never met opposing traffic. It figures that this time in my truck camper, despite beeping my horn in warning of my ascent, I came face to face with a Jeep on one of the steepest sections. And ironically, it was a Park Service Law Enforcement Vehicle patrolling the area. It turned out that the officer and I had a friend in common at my fire department back in the Denver area. I managed to talk the officer into filming for me as I passed his vehicle. Small world!
To watch the above video in HD, press play, click on the quality "gear" symbol in the lower right corner, and select 720p or 1080p. HD video takes longer to load and play. Click on the box in the lower right corner to view the video in full screen.
I got to see some of the most remote canyon country around, as well as wild historic Anasazi ruins and dwellings, petrogyphs and pictographs. I had some amazing solitude, and both good and bad weather. A couple of nights I was really glad that I had the comfort of the heated camper when it dropped well below freezing and snowed. Luckily I didn't get snow accumulation were I was, but the mountains around me got ten inches. It was the season’s first big snow for the Abajos and Manta La Sals over Moab.
The Lockheart Basin road (65 off-road miles from the Needles to Moab) presented a challenge when I found a 4x4 traveler’s vehicle wedged and stuck in a narrow canyon passage. There was no way to get around him. He also had a stalled engine and dead battery, and there was no way to stretch cables to him. I had to dig out my camper's deep cycle battery and hike it down to jump start him.
The two hours to unstuck him is a story in itself. As I said, the route took eight days to do and I covered 220 miles. I had five gallons of extra fuel but didn't use it, chugging into Moab with still 3/8 of a tank of diesel. I'd be glad to share the route, but please don’t attempt this unless you have the right rig, and know what you’re doing.
Above: Lockhart Basin at Hurrah Pass
Great Memorable Moments from the Year
I four-wheeled into the famous Crystal Mill, which is one of Colorado’s most photographed landmarks. I was out there for two days in the pouring rain. I’m so glad I had the camper. Well, I was waiting and waiting for a good photo op of the mill, but all I had was rain, rain, and more rain.
Above: The Crystal Mill
On my second day, at the end of the day, just as the sun was about to set, the sun broke through, sank into a hole in the clouds, and I got about two minutes of sun on the mill. It was still raining at the Mill, but the sun cut through and made a rainbow over the mill. I have never seen any photos anywhere of it with a rainbow. Mine may be it! It was so worth the two days there!
The other great moment was when I was along a section of the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route on the west side of Hagerman Pass, which is a four-wheel drive pass. I got off the main route two miles to camp at a lake I saw on the map. It was a little work to get to it, but so worth it. I had the lake to myself.
Above: The Lake off the Hagerman Pass Road
The next morning, after making a pot of camper coffee, I hiked around the lake. I was taking photos of the camper from across the lake when I heard some noises nearby me. I sat quiet and watched in that direction. A mamma moose and her two calves came out of the woods a couple hundred feet from me and started feeding in the waters along the shore. Wow! Not a typical thing to see in Colorado. I got to watch and take photos for forty-five minutes.
Above: Moose at the lake
If you attempt The Backcountry Discovery Routes, or any backcountry areas for that matter, be prepared! There usually aren’t many other travelers along many of the backcountry routes. Experience, off-road skills, and a well equipped four-wheel drive vehicle are a must. If you are down in the Canyonlands area, off road or not, have extra fuel! It's easy to put on a lot of miles in those areas exploring around and go through fuel.
The Needles Outpost boasts having fuel, but it is at a king’s ransom and gasoline only. No diesel. And occasionally the pumps are down. They also close the pumps for winter at the end of November and reopen in spring.
There is no cell signal for most of that area. You will need maps. Maybe different types and brands so what one lacks the other picks up. You must be self sufficient. The things that I liked most about this past year were the discovery of places I had not been to before. Places that I said, "Wow! I had no idea this place existed!” And I was totally impressed to discover them, and want to go back and explore in more detail. Some of which were hidden "in my own back yard".
Have you driven Elephant Hill or another fun dirt road with your truck camper? Please share your story about conquering the road less traveled with your truck camper.
The Furmans Take On The White Rim Trail
- February 27, 2015
- - By Bertram and Kare Furman
First, I must say, “Wow”, the White Rim Trail is big! When you are down in the canyon, it is difficult to gage the scale of the formations around you until you see a truck or a person for perspective. Even then the distance and size can be deceptive.
Above: To watch the above White Rim Trail video in HD, press play, click on the quality "gear" symbol in the lower right corner, and select 720p or 1080p. HD video takes longer to load and play. Click on the box in the lower right corner to view the video in full screen.
The White Rim Trail has been on my list for a long time. I didn’t want to do it alone as the trail is far from help, if needed. Luckily, my friend Dave has also been interested in doing the White Rim Trail for a long time and worked very hard to get permits. There are not many campsites down on the trail, so access is very limited. Maybe one to four sites per camp zone. As the trail is in Canyonlands National Park, it is highly regulated.
Above: The group that tackled the White Rim Trail. Bertram and Kare are on the far left.
Dave, our team leader, has an 1987 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60, a classic. He outfitted a screen safety door on top of his racks to use as a platform to carry much of his gear. He needed to do this because his wife invited two of her friends to join us; two women from Sweden who were originally from Cuba and Czechoslovakia. One was here for a conference. For the other, this would be her first time to the states. What a cool way to see our country! She rode with Eric in his 2008 Dodge 2500 CTD with a Four Wheel Hawk, which is a perfect set up for this trail. A light camper on a powerful truck.
My rig is a 2004 Dodge 2500 Cummins turbo diesel with a Northstar TC800 pop-up.
There were a lot of logistics to the trip. For starters, I needed to make sure my truck was ready. I took my truck in for fluids, a new air filter, and to check for any loose bolts and fittings. I throughly inspected the truck as well. My nine year old tires were looking a little dry-rotted, so I replaced them with Bridgestone All-Terrain E-rated tires. I thanked myself many times on the trail for doing this.
The drive out to the White Rim Trail from San Diego was a two-day drive, seven hours per day. It took some planning to determine where our layover days would be. We expected to be on the trail for six days, and we needed to have enough food and energy. Typically, we can go two to three days on our one battery before using the generator, and we can pack about three days of food in our refrigerator. Also, many of our longer trips bring us through towns to restock.
This time we took a large cooler with both block and cubed ice. Because we were driving every other day, my batteries would get re-charged by the truck alternator. This worked out. The other fellow with a camper coming with us, Eric, had a solar panel on his camper and a twelve-volt cooler to supplement his refrigerator. I envied his solar. Dave was using dry ice for cooling, and was tenting.
Above: The White Rim Trail is in Canyonlands National Park, Utah
The entrance to the White Rim Trail is Shaffer Road, which was built in the early 1900s to get to Uranium that was supposed to be in the canyon. As I understand the history, some was found, but not that much.
The road is on a layer of White Rim Sandstone deposited some 220 million years ago. The depth of these canyons goes back 320 million years. For perspective, the deepest canyons where we live near Anza Borrego State Park go back about eight million years.
The Canyonlands National Park canyons are huge, both in breadth and depth. And also in beauty! The views were stunning.
Above: The three rigs that tackled the White Rim Trail
Even though the Shaffer trail is steep, windy, and on the edge, it is not that hard to drive. However, it is steep with sharp turns that kept me on my brakes. The road is slightly rutted which caused some camper rocking. The road on the east side of the White Rim Trail is easier compared to the west side.
I didn’t air down as I was waiting to see if I would need to. I never did, but I think ten to twenty pounds might have made the ride a little smoother.
Above: The first leg of the White Rim Trail
The rest of the road to our first camping spot was slightly rocky, but not too bad. When we arrived at our first camp spot, called Airport, it was very windy. We decided to create a U-shaped wind block with our vehicles for the tents. Even with the wind block, the tents did get battered around quite a bit.
Above: The U-shaped wind block
We were able to fit all seven of us in my camper to hang out, stay warm, and out of the wind. A great thing about the interior of my Northstar TC800, which does not feature a bathroom, is the open interior space. Room enough for seven!
It was fun to be packed into our camper drinking wine and getting to know each other a little better. The Four Wheel Camper had a head and shower, which took up a lot of room for a small camper.
Above: Seven people staying out of the wind and warm in Bertram's Northstar pop-up camper (the seventh person is obviously taking this picture)
Above: The view from the campsite
The campsite was nice with only one other group. The pit toilet was clean and had a great view. After all, it is a national park!
Above: Traveling the White Rim Trail and White Crack campsite - click to enlarge
The next day we were off to White Crack camp. The going was pretty easy with some great views from the apexes of the canyon edges. Truly spectacular!
Also, it was a little it scary as we drove around the edges. As you see all around us, these rocks break. The trail was rocky, but not too technical. Basically, the White Rim Trail can be done easily with a light jeep type vehicle.
The difficulty comes in with our heavy campers. Dave’s FJ did not have too much trouble. Eric’s Dodge with the Four Wheel Camper also did not have much trouble. My vehicle was the heaviest and I had to take the road very slow to prevent too much rocking. My average speed was about five miles per hour.
White Crack campsite is beautiful, on the edge of a spit of white rim sandstone on the edge at the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers. It was still a bit windy so we re-created our wind block U. Again, views from this point were stunning.
The next morning we woke up to snow. None of our weather reports predicted snow. It was quite the surprise and very cold. In times like these, I love my truck camper. We were warm as a bug in a rug!
As the day went on, the sun quickly melted the snow and we had a great day hiking, resting, and shooting pictures. The views from this camp spot were breathtaking with 270 degrees of canyons. Absolutely incredible.
The next day we were off to Candlestick camp. This would take us over the famous Murphy’s Hogback. There are a few training hills before Murphy’s Hogback that you never hear about. They challenged us and got us ready for the big one. For heavy vehicles like ours, it’s a challenging up and down.
I think it is difficult to gage the largeness of these hills in the pictures. The up on Murphy’s Hogback is long, narrow, steep, and very close to the edge. The down has some steep parts, is close to the edge, and has the famous overhang, which would be challenging for a tall hard-sided camper.
Above: One of the training hills
Above: The sway bar linkage broke, but was not a significant break - click to enlarge
And what would any good adventure trip be without something breaking? A few miles later, I was navigating a down when I heard a clunk sound from my front end. I broke the right sway-bar linkage. I was thinking of undoing these before the trip, but didn’t. Fortunately, this was not a significant break.
The rest of the way to Candlestick wasn’t too bad. There were some hard rocks with potholes, and a few more ups and downs. And big views!
The camp is near the edge of the White Rim Sandstone. The layer here is very thick. There is lots of great hiking from this campsite and views of the Green River.
There were lots of islands on the rocks where water, cryptobiotic organisms, flowers, and shrubs brought life.
Cryptobiotic organisms are organisms that can survive in extreme environmental conditions such as drought, freezing temperatures, and low oxygen by stopping all metabolic processes including reproduction, growth, and recovery.
Cryptobiotic organisms are dormant until the environmental conditions become favorable, at which time they will resume metabolic reproduction, growth, and recovery. The classic example of a cryptobiotic organism is the brine shrimp, aka Sea Monkeys. In Canyonlands National Park, the cryptobiotic organisms consist of a thin veneer of knobby black crust which can be easily destroyed by tires or foot traffic.
Our last day on the trail we had Hardscrabble Hill to go. My wife says to think of Hogback as the training hill for Hardscrabble. Hardscrabble is longer, steeper, and narrower. The turns are many and very tight. I remember this steep left turn with the edge to the left, the hard rock to the right. I remember thinking, I may not make this turn; full thrusters with the diesel, blindly turning, praying my wheels stay on the track. This is where the diesel shines, providing the power and torque for this hill.
The end of the trail is the Mineral Springs Road. It’s a lot like the Shaffer down, except going up! Again, I was thankful for the power of the diesel.
Here are some pictures from the rim top looking down on the trail. If you look close, you can see the White Rim Trail.
All and all, it was a great trip. If you ever get the chance, the White Rim Trail is where our pop-up truck campers shine.
I do believe a well set-up lightweight hard-side could do this, as evidenced by truck camper reports before mine. However, you know those guys worked it, and the overhang is tricky.
These last pictures show some of the road modifications. The picture above shows I reduced the airflow to the refrigerator’s pilot. The first night was very windy and, in order for us to protect the tents, my vent was to the wind. I left a small hole to provide the needed oxygen which kept the refrigerator’s pilot on.
This second picture shows that I lost a Fastgun somewhere on the trail. If you find it, please send it back. There's a lot of bumping and the camper moved about quite a bit.
I carry chain and hooks for this situation and secured the camper for our ride home. The road, because of the scale, looks smooth, but it’s not. My friend with the Four Wheel nicked his stairs which hung from his trailer hitch, so we had to take them off.
We came home through Flagstaff, Arizona and enjoyed the micro-breweries.
A trip to the White Rim Trail is highly recommended!
Have you driven the White Rim Trail with your truck camper? Please share your story about conquering the White Rim Trail.
17,223 Mile Trip of a Lifetime
- February 16, 2015
- - By Deb Herzfelt
Two years ago, my husband and I experienced a camping trip to Canada and Alaska that surpassed all of our expectations. Mike is a planner and, since he was retired and I was still working, he planned the entire trip. For months he read many publications about camping in Alaska. All of the research certainly paid off.
Our vehicle, a 2011 Chevy Silverado 3500, crew cab, long box, dually diesel, easily carried our 2005 Arctic Fox 990 along even the worst roads that Alaska and Canada had to offer. The Arctic Fox is our third truck camper and our first with a slide-out, a feature which has given us a lot more room than our previous campers.
Preparing for Alaska
Because we planned on being gone for an extended period of time, we had to carry a lot of essentials. For example, Summer, Fall and Winter clothes needed to be packed. To help accommodate all of our clothing, Mike rigged up a clothes rod that hung over the table next to the window suspended from the upper bunk brackets.
On both dinette seats he put a double drawer plastic storage unit that fit perfectly and left plenty of room for each of us to sit at the table across from each other. These units held underwear, make-up, jewelry, socks, and whatever else we could fit into the drawers, enabling us to use the closets alongside the bed for paper products, extra dishes, and food. In two of the camper closets he put stackable bins for canned goods.
During the trip, we bought family packs of meat, grilled it up all at once, and then froze individual meals for later use. After the grill was cleaned and cool, Mike placed it back in the truck so that bears or other animals wouldn’t be attracted. The camper stove and microwave enabled us to make whatever type of meals we wanted if we weren’t grilling. The refrigerator and freezer had ample room for anything that needed to be kept cool or frozen.
Mike removed the back seat from our truck and built a platform with storage above and below. He had a box of tools, a fishing tackle box and fishing poles, a spare water pump for the camper, a small cooler for water and lunch food, the gas grill that attached to the back of the camper, maps, literature, two patio chairs, extra bottled water, soda, beer, and usually a bag of snacks.
Above: Mike standing on a cargo rack that carries supplies
Behind the camper, Mike added a metal box on a cargo rack that held DEF (diesel exhaust fluid), an extra generator, gas can, shovel, ax, pail, gold panning pans, rope, spare oil and fuel filters, an external transmission filter, oil, antifreeze, and transmission fluid.
We brought along a tactical shotgun for personal protection and, even with the proper paperwork, it delayed us for about an hour when we crossed the border into Canada the first time. We anticipated the delay, but were surprised when they took us each into separate rooms to interrogate us. The truck and camper were also searched.
Mike also added an external Sirius XM antenna, which was needed because the camper blocks out the antenna from the truck, a CB and antenna, a tire pressure monitor system, a 1,000 watt inverter, and an extra spare tire tied down to the roof of the camper. We found that we rarely used the radio, only used the CB a couple of times, and, luckily, never needed to change a tire.
Above: Screen across the front of their 2011 Chevy Silverado 3500
He put a screen across the grill in front of the truck and a clear plastic protective lens over the headlights. These precautions were safeguards against gravel and stones that can get be kicked up by the large trucks on the unpaved Canadian and Alaskan highways. The only damage occurred when when a stone cracked our windshield. When that happened, Mike smiled and said, “Now we have an Alaska windshield!”
We carried six two-by-six wood leveling blocks which we used every night of the trip. We never found a level surface to camp for the night, even in the Fred Meyers and Walmart parking lots which we used when we stayed in some of the larger cities.
The heater in our camper was awesome. We didn’t need it for the first half of the trip but, toward the end of August, the nights were getting pretty cool.
Probably one of the best purchases Mike made was The Milepost. It is a mile-by-mile highway log for thirty major routes and side trips. It contains over a hundred maps. It’s called the Bible of North Country Travel and includes Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories. It includes ferry travel, accommodations, camping and fishing, wildlife viewing, road conditions, sightseeing and interesting bits of information all along the way.
The Milepost also lists diesel fuel stations, places to dump and fill for free, places that offer laundry facilities, and grocery stores. When we were in the truck, The Milepost book was always open. We followed along mile by mile.
The Trip To Alaska
Above: Leaving Wisconsin in July
We left Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on July 10, 2012. I had retired one month earlier so time was no longer a constraint. We stopped in Bismarck to visit relatives and then drove straight north, crossing the border into Canada.
I was a little skeptical about boondocking, so we stayed that evening in a little campground in Nokomis, Saskatchewan. We were the only people in the whole campground and it cost us six dollars to stay there on an honor system. That night we were introduced to sleeping with trains passing close by. By the end of the trip, we didn’t even hear the trains any longer. We discovered that most roads in Canada and Alaska usually follow a river in a valley and the train tracks are right alongside the road.
For the next couple of days we drove through a haze. When we inquired about the haze, we were told that there was a huge forest fire raging in British Columbia. We drove through the area a couple of months later and viewed the devastation and smelled the smoke that still hung in the air.
Our weather was beautiful every day for the first couple of weeks, usually with temperatures in the 80s, but we were surrounded by mosquitoes. We discovered that the mosquitoes were getting through the screen in the roof vent above the bed. To precent this, we bought some finer screen at the next hardware store and eliminated the problem.
We visited the little town of Watson Lake on the Alaska Highway and spent some time in the Signpost Forest located on the north end of town.
Above: Deb in the Signpost Forest
The forest was started in 1942 and signs from all over the world are still being added. There are approximately 72,000 signs now in the collection.
From Watson Lake we turned onto the Campbell Highway. The highway was built in 1964, and seemed like it was only updated in a few spots since then. It started out paved, but then deteriorated into a washboard/pothole road for the next 150 miles. We stayed the night at the confluence of the Pelly and Hoole River. Now that was boondocking!
From that point on, we knew what to look for and how to find extraordinarily beautiful boondocking spots. We have a picture of each spot we stayed in, minus the Walmart and Fred Meyer’s parking lots.
Above: Wildlife sightings were plentiful heading towards Dawson City
Heading towards Dawson City was slow going, but afforded us an experience in wildlife sightings that included caribou, sheep, porcupines, a Grizzly momma and her babies, black bears, bison and many more mosquitoes.
We stayed for several days on the Bonanza Creek outside of Dawson City. The town is so quaint - totally a step back in time. We even panned for gold in the creek and I have to give the pioneers a lot of credit. Do you know how cold your fingers get after just a short time in Bonanza Creek?
The Dempster Highway
From Dawson City we took the Dempster Highway up to Inuvik, the largest Canadian community north of the Arctic Circle. We drove for twenty-five miles through the Ogilvie River Valley, which is very beautiful, and then climbed the Seven Mile Hill. We then followed the mountain ridge crossing the Continental Divide twice and the Arctic Circle before reaching Inuvik.
Traveling north on the Dempster meant we also had to travel south on the Dempster to get back to Dawson City. That was okay because the landscape looks different when approaching it from another direction.
In the Yukon and in Alaska, there are pit toilets and bear bins every few hours of driving. We used many of these toilets throughout the trip. They were usually fairly clean and stocked with paper. The bear bins (our name for the dumpsters) were never overflowing. These bins have a special opener that bears can’t figure out because they can’t get their paws in deep enough to release the latch.
Above: Mud from the Dempster Highway
Our truck and camper rig had to be power washed several times during the trip. Sometimes it was so full of mud that it was hardly recognizable.
Above: The immaculate Airstreams in Dawson
A caravan of thirty-six Airstream campers came into Dawson while we were there. We crossed paths with them in Chicken and again in Fairbanks. Their campers were always immaculate. As we drove into a campground one night, one of the Airstream owners said, “I’m sure glad we didn’t go where you’ve been!”
From Dawson we ferried across the Yukon River and traveled the Top of the World Highway. We crossed customs into Alaska with no problem at 4,419 miles into our journey.
The Road to Eagle
Then we turned off onto Taylor Highway to reach Eagle. Of all the roads we traveled, this one rates pretty close to the top of my list for scary rides. Most of the time the road, carved out of the side of the mountain, was only wide enough for our truck. Every mile or so the road would widen for two vehicles to pass. Luckily, we never met another vehicle.
The road had no guardrails! If Mike got over too far it was hundreds of feet down. Several times I told Mike to slow down. This meant that he had to go from fifteen miles per hour down to seven or eight. However, I can’t tell you how many times I gripped the door handle with white knuckles, pressed imaginary brake pedals (there were two on my side of the truck) until we finally reached Eagle, one of my favorite cities on the whole trip.
Coming back from Eagle was not nearly so frightening because I had the mountain next to me and Mike had the edge. As it turned out, we traveled many more roads just like this one and I never overcame my fear. My imaginary brake pedals were used often.
Doing the Dalton with the Porcupine Herd
Left to right above: Dalton Highway, north of Fairbanks, and near Prudhoe Bay - click to enlarge
Our next destinations were Chicken, Tok, Delta Junction, the North Pole and then on to Fairbanks. From Fairbanks we did the Dalton.
Above: Cleaning off Dalton Highway mud
The Dalton is the road from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay going over Atigun Pass (of Ice Road Trucker fame). The Dalton was about 900 miles roundtrip of rough, unpaved road. Returning from Prudhoe Bay, and as we were traveling through the Tundra, the Dalton was in much worse condition than it had been a couple of days before. Rain had fallen and turned the road into a muddy path.
Above: The Porcupine Herd of Caribou on the Dalton Highway
That’s when we experienced a once in a lifetime event. The Porcupine Herd consisting of about 1,000 Caribou were traveling alongside the road on their southerly migration. While were stopped waiting for a pilot car to take us through construction, a portion of the herd ran across the road just behind our truck to reach the other side. What a thrill!
Traveling Around Alaska
Above: Boondocking spot near Chena Hot Springs
After returning to Fairbanks, we drove up to Chena Hot Springs enjoying the area for a couple of days. Our boondocking site was one of the most beautiful of all.
Above: Denali National Park
We then drove to the Denali National Park area. While visiting there for several days, we boondocked off the Old Denali Highway about half an hour south of the park. The full day bus trip in the park was worth every penny.
Above: Dry camping off the Old Denali Highway
From Denali, our next destination was Anchorage with stops at Talkeetna and Wasilla. We passed through Anchorage twice, spending about a week total staying in Fred Meyer’s parking lots and enjoying many of the things to see and do in Alaska’s largest city.
Above: A convoy of restored World War II vehicles in Palmer
One day we drove to Palmer to see a convoy of restored World War II vehicles which were traveling the Alcan Highway commemorating the seventieth anniversary of its construction.
Above: Dry camping between Whittier and Seward
From Anchorage we headed towards the Kenai Peninsula with a stop in Whittier. We spent ten days in the Kenai sightseeing, fishing, and visiting the towns of Soldotna, Homer, Seward, and many smaller towns. From Seward we took a full day boat cruise to see more glaciers, whales, and wildlife. It was the last long cruise of the season. Winter was right around the corner!
Heading back north from the Kenai, we took the Glenn Highway across to Glenallen and then turned south on the Richardson to Valdez. From Valdez we had to head north again in order to go south. The town of Tok was our northern point and we took some wonderful side trips reaching that destination.
Above: Dry camping near McCarthy
One side trip was into Wrangell St. Elias National Park to visit the town of McCarthy and the Kennecott Mines. Another was up Highway 4 and onto the west end of The Old Denali Highway to get to the top of Hatcher Pass, which is the second highest pass in Alaska. Then we took another drive into Wrangell St. Elias National Park along the Nabesna Road to the small town of Nabesna. We spent a night with a low temperature of 22 degrees before we headed south on the Alcan Highway to Haines Junction and then down to the town of Haines.
The Alaska Marine Highway
Above: Ferry taken from Haines to Juneau and back
From Haines we ferried the truck and camper to Juneau, the Capital of Alaska and only reachable by air or water. We spent a couple of days sightseeing the city and were able to boondock just north of Juneau. We ferried back to Haines, and again drove north to be able to go south with Whitehorse and Skagway, our next two major stops.
Those last few weeks took us back and forth into Canada a few more times with no border crossing problems. The shotgun permit had to be renewed once but was no problem. We just had to pay the fee.
Above: Dry-camping along the Cassiar-Highway and north of Skagway - click to enlarge
From Skagway, it was back up to the Alaskan Highway east to the Stewart-Cassiar Highway heading south. We made one more stop in Alaska in Hyder where we drove twenty-three miles up to the 8,800 foot top of the mountain to view the Salmon Glacier down below us. This road, in my opinion, was the scariest!
The glacier is purported to be the fourth largest in the world. We stayed along this spur road near Bear Glacier for the night and then proceeded back down the Cassiar.
It was now Sunday, September 23rd, and our Alaska adventure was over. However, we had another month of touring as we drove south through British Columbia, visiting such places as Prince Rupert, Terrace, Kitwanga, and Prince George, all on the Yellowhead Highway.
After driving on Highway 97, we turned off on Highway 26 to visit Barkerville, a historic town from 1862. There are 128 restored original buildings and we could have spent a couple of days there. Following the Fraser River through more magnificent scenery brought us down to Chilliwack, British Columbia where we spent the night.
Above: Redwood National Forest, California
We continued on to Vancouver, then to Whistler where the 2010 Winter Olympics were held, ferried to Bainbridge Island to visit friends, visited Seattle, Mount Rainier, Victoria Island, British Columbia, and then continued down the coast through Washington, visited relatives in Oregon, and friends in Fresno, California before turning east in Bakersfield to head towards home.
Above: Deb and Mike in the cold Arctic Ocean
Our 102 day, 17,223 mile adventure was the trip of a lifetime. The time of year worked out perfectly. We had about one month of serious mosquitoes before they faded to nothing. We saw what is called Termination Snow in the Alaska mountains which means summer is gone and winter is coming. We experienced twenty-two degrees one night and got to drive in some light snow before heading south.
Our drive south out of Alaska and Canada rewarded us with the magnificence of autumn colors everywhere we looked. The brilliant yellow, orange, and gold leaves stood out against the dark green of the Lodgepole Pines and Spruce trees. No matter where we looked, the views were awesome!
The truck worked flawlessly and we only had a couple of minor issues with the Arctic Fox camper. Considering we drove on approximately 2,500 miles of unpaved, sometimes very rough and muddy roads, often requiring four-wheel drive, the camper performed very well giving credit to the excellent construction of Arctic Fox campers.
Alaska and Canada offered us so many beautiful options to boondock. We spent about ten nights in campgrounds which varied from rustic to very nice sites on military bases. We spent about fifteen nights in Walmart or Fred Meyers parking lots with never having a problem. The rest of the nights we spent boondocking by ourselves, communing with nature.
Every day was an adventure and we have memories to last a lifetime. Would we do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat!
Have you traveled to Alaska with your truck camper? Please share your story about traveling to Alaska.