Take It Off-Road

Rough Roads to Boondock Fox

Bill and Deane Uthman share forty-five years of coast-to-coast camping including favorite National and State Park destinations, off-road getaways, and stunning landscape photography.


Although there is no evidence to support our theory, Truck Camper Magazine has concluded that the gravel road leading into Chaco Culture National Historic Park was likely created by a clan of evil dentists.  Starved for business, these dentists of menace created one of the most assaulting teeth chattering excuses of a roadway ever created and made sure the destination was so amazing you would risk every incisor, canine, and molar.  It’s just a theory, but we’re sticking to it.

We pulled into Chaco Canyon late on a Tuesday afternoon last May.  We were shaken, stirred, and throughly excited to finally visit a place many readers had urged us to visit.  The one and only campground is small, only allows rigs under thirty-five feet, and offers no hook-ups; perfect for truck campers.  We were able to get one of a few spots left, made dinner, and dreamed of the ancient world we would soon experience.

The next day we noticed an Arctic Fox truck camper rig parked in the campground.  Being the quiet, shy, and introverted people we are, we walked right up and knocked on the back door of the camper to introduce ourselves.  That’s when we had the pleasure of meeting Bill and Deane Uthman.

Getting to know the Uthmans and learning about their lifetime of travel and adventure made us feel as if we hadn’t seen or done anything.  With every story they told our destination bucket list grew.  Perhaps the best part of the following article is the sheer volume of incredible destination recommendations.  You may want to read this with a pen and paper handy.  Bill’s suggestions are sure to get your “wanna-go-there, and there, and there” vibes going.


Above: Bill at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

TCM: Tell us how you got into truck camping.

Bill: We have been traveling, camping, and photographing for about forty-five years.  We started as tent campers, as many campers do, and eventually upgraded to a pop-up tent trailer, and then to a small hard-sided travel trailer.

Years later, we purchased and traveled with a couple of fifth-wheel campers.  We prefer to camp in undeveloped areas and often travel to remote places on narrow, winding, gravel, or rutted back roads.  Fifth-wheels and travel trailers have maneuverability limitations in these locations, so we considered switching to a truck camper.


Above: Monument Pass on Route 163, Utah

Our fully-equipped truck camper provides comfortable amenities and adequate interior living space for two adults.  The camper is reasonably easy to load onto and unload off our one-ton dually pickup.  It is maneuverable into tight, forested campsites and can turn around on narrow, single-lane mountain roads.

It also weighs less than a comparably-equipped fifth wheel or travel trailer, costs less to operate (insurance, maintenance, and fuel), and has rigid construction, according to the manufacturer.

We frequently spend nights in remote locations where it would be difficult or impossible to maneuver a fifth-wheel or travel trailer.  As a fellow truck camper informed us, “We can go almost anywhere a car can go, and even further with four-wheel drive capability”.


Above: Their current camper, a 2003 Arctic Fox 1080 in Joshua Tree National Park, California

TCM: You have owned quite a few truck campers along the way.  Tell us about your truck camper history.

Bill: We had a 1970 Rocky Mountain eight foot truck camper, a 1988 Sunlite pop-up truck camper, a 1991 Lance nine-and-a-half-foot truck camper, and a 1996 Lance eight-foot truck camper.  All of our campers up to that point were very basic.  They either had no bath or a wet bath, no air conditioning, no generator, and no slide-outs.

After owning two pop-up camper trailers, one hard-sided travel trailer, four smaller truck campers, and two fifth-wheels, we ultimately chose a larger, well-equipped Arctic Fox truck camper.  It’s a 2003 Arctic Fox 1080 with a full-wall passenger-side slide-out, dry bath, air conditioner, and generator.

The appealing features of the Arctic Fox truck camper include the rugged construction, dry bath, onboard generator, full-wall slide-out, air conditioning, the roll-over couch, forty-five gallon fresh water tank, generous outside storage, and custom cabinet modifications.  In our opinion, these selected features provide adequate amenities for prolonged traveling for two people who prefer primitive boondock camping.  We have been most pleased with our purchase of an Arctic Fox truck camper.


Above: The Cockscomb, Grand Staircase National Monument, Utah

TCM: Is the ability to reach primitive camping locations your number one reason for choosing a truck camper over other RV types?

Bill: It’s an important reason, but there certainly are other reasons as well.  First, the children are grown and are RVers themselves, so our Arctic Fox truck camper provides adequate living space for the two of us and the few conveniences and comforts that we enjoy.  There’s no need for more space now that the children are grown.

Maneuverability is the principal advantage of a truck camper.  Maneuverability is important to us because we often travel single-lane gravel roads.  The undeveloped campsites we prefer preclude larger camper trailers or motorhomes.  And with some patience, a truck camper can be turned around on a single-lane gravel road when road conditions become too rough.

Furthermore, a truck camper, mounted on a high-clearance, four-wheel drive pickup, can go to places a car, motorhome, or travel trailer cannot.  Last, travelers with a well-equipped truck camper do not need to spend their night at busy, expensive commercial campgrounds like the folks with large camping trailers and motorhomes.


Above: Green River Lake, Wyoming

TCM: Tell us about some of the more remote locations and difficult to access locations you’ve explored.

Bill: In the summer of 2012, while driving on Highway 287 west of Dubois, Wyoming, we decided to cross the Wind River Range over an old Indian fur trapper trail called Union Pass to camp that night at Green River Lake north of Pinedale.

The road up the switchbacks from Highway 287 was easy-going and not too steep with smoothly-graded fine gravel, and a wide two-lane road.  The view at the top of the pass was stupendous.  We stopped to let our dog run in the meadows.

As we proceeded, the road became rocky with scattered potholes, requiring maneuvering over both lanes to avoid the holes.  Then the main road forked numerous times and road signs became non-existent.  A couple of times we halted oncoming vehicles to inquire if we were still on the main road and exactly where the road headed.

Approaching the Green River Valley, the road became narrow, rutted, and strewn with cantaloupe-sized cobbles slowing us to a crawl and causing the truck camper to sway badly.  We finally stopped at a fork of the road, waited for an oncoming vehicle, and again inquired of its driver our whereabouts.

Surprisingly, we were located where we wanted to be, and started the nineteen-mile drive over a severely wash-boarded gravel road toward Green River Lake in Bridger-Teton National Forest.  Our travel speed ranged between five to ten miles per hour to minimize jolting the truck camper to splinters.  A few other campers heading out were also moving at turtle speed.


Above: Green River Lake, Wyoming

Finally, upon arriving at Green River Lake, we found a very nice Forest Service campground above the lake with available sites and, to our surprise, operable water faucets.  The scenery, as shown in the photos, was remarkable.

Our suggestion for those interested in visiting Green River Lake is to travel paved State Road 352 from US 191 west of Pinedale to the nineteen-mile cutoff road leading to Green River Lake, and then grin and bear it from there to the lake.


Above: Death Valley National Park, California

We have had similar driving experiences over some of the roughest washboard roads ever while traveling to the Racetrack area in Death Valley National Park in California and Hole-in-the Rock and Cottonwood Canyon roads in Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah.  These drives were completed without our truck camper, which was unloaded at nearby national or state park campgrounds.

Fair warning is posted at the beginning of these roads.  The jolting and jarring from driving these roads were so severe that it required re-welding the frame of the truck and replacement of the suspension system.  Just joking, of course.  It’s just a word of caution to those interested in visiting these areas.  And yes, as guaranteed by the warning signs, there were motorists along both routes with flat tires that we stopped to assist.


Above: Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah

TCM: Your photography is quite impressive.  When did that interest take root?

Bill: I have enjoyed photography for several decades beginning with a Kodak Instamatic camera.  I upgraded to a single-lens reflex film camera and, in the last decade, to a single-lens reflex digital camera.

My wife and I are both interested in outdoor and landscape photography and devote some time to that pursuit during our travels.  Our goals are to take properly focused and exposed, colorful photos of geologic and other natural features with good composition and free of extraneous clutter, such as signs, traffic, tourists, and buildings.

We are also interested in representative and interpretive photography of historic and scenic areas, such as units within the National Park system and various state parks.  In particular, we have visited many sites along the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon, Santa Fe Trail sites west to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Lewis and Clark Expedition sites from Camp Dubois in Illinois to Cape Disappointment, Washington.


Above: Bill and Katie at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

We have also visited every National Park, most National Monuments, and other Park Service units in the lower forty-eight west of the Mississippi River, and many of the major state parks west of the Mississippi River.

In addition to photography, we enjoy mingling with fellow campers, hiking, and learning the local and natural history of a particular area.

TCM: What cameras and lenses do you favor?

Bill: We both use Canon Digital Rebel 18-megapixel cameras (Canon T2i and T3i).  We both have Canon Ultrasonic IS (image stabilized) 17-85mm zoom lenses with UV and polarizing filters for everyday use.  We also have Canon 55-250 mm IS and 70-300 mm IS telephoto zoom lenses.  We plan to upgrade to full-frame Canon digital cameras prior to the 2014 travel season.


Above: Mexican Hat Rock, Utah

TCM: How does the truck camper help you with your photography?

Bill: The truck camper assists with photography due to its maneuverability.  With our truck camper, we can easily pull to a roadside berm or turnout and quickly turn around for a photo opportunity.  With a larger camper, we would be either unable or have difficulty in making a roadside stop or a turn-around for a photo opportunity.

We can state this from our personal experiences with larger camper units that we have traveled with.  We have missed numerous photo opportunities during past travels because we either could not fit the unit into a roadside turnout or simply could not find a large enough space to turn around.  Furthermore, our truck camper allows access to remote viewpoints where larger camping units would be restricted.


Above: Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

TCM: Any interesting stories about using the truck camper for photography?

Bill: During the month of September, we enjoy camping in Yellowstone National Park when there is a chill in the air, snow appears at higher elevations, Aspen leaves turn orange and gold, and the Rocky Mountain Elk began their fall mating season called the rut.

We frequently camp at the Mammoth Hot Springs Campground where large bands of elk congregate during the rut.  Rutting bull elk have, by that point, rubbed the velvet from their antlers, collected harems of cows, become rather temperamental and combative, and spend considerable time and effort challenging rival bulls for mating rights by bugling.

During one cold September night several years ago, bull elk were bugling throughout the campground.  As morning dawned we observed two large mature bulls in and near our campsite.  Soon, they became enraged by each other’s presence, and vocalized their anger with snorts, grunts, and bugles.

The fight for breeding rights began as they circled one another.  Antlers clacked as each took their turn pushing and shoving the other, until finally one bull retreated in defeat.  The combat lasted about fifteen minutes and we captured it all on video tape either from or beside our truck camper.


Above: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

TCM: I’m sure glad people don’t do that, at least not with the bugling.  Share some examples of your photography and the stories behind the images.

Bill: In June 2013, we spent several days camped in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado at the Timber Creek Campground in the Kawuneeche Valley, near the park’s west entrance, waiting for stormy weather to clear.  The valley is a haven for deer, elk, and moose as there is abundant food, water, forest cover, and few predators.

During the Summer, moose are observed on a daily basis in the ponds along the highway and in the stream along the campground.  Bands of elk are also frequently observed along the highway and elk frequently move through the campground feeding.


Above: Double Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

In September 2009, we spent several days in Arches National Park hiking to and photographing the red sandstone arches, rock walls, and balanced rocks.  Late September is an ideal time to visit this desert area because the daytime temperature is pleasant and nighttime temps are cool.  In addition, a deep blue sky and brilliant sun enhance the natural beauty of the arches.


Above: Canyonlands National Park, Utah

In September 2010, we spent a week in Canyonlands National Park and Natural Bridges National Monument.  Again, pleasant Autumn temperatures and sunny skies were perfect for hiking and landscape photography.  Canyonlands provides spectacular viewpoints of distant canyons and cliffs and Natural Bridges provides interesting hikes to its natural bridges using wooden hand-crafted ladders and steps carved into rock walls to descend ledges.


Above: Katie and Deane in Humboldt Redwoods State Park

In 2012, we visited Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Redwoods National Park in California, and Olympic National Park in Washington.


Above: Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Redwood National Park

Hiking the trails through the Redwood forests offers a peaceful serenity among the world’s tallest trees and challenging photo opportunities.


Above: Olympic National Park, Hoh rainforest and beach

Olympic National Park offers similar experiences; hiking the trails through the moist Hoh rainforest and the densely forested Soleduck Valley, beach combing at Rialto, Ruby, and South beaches, and viewing wildlife and alpine vegetation on Hurricane Ridge.


Above: Great Basin National Park, Nevada

TCM: Those are some fantastic locations, many of which we need to put on our list.  How do you plan your truck camping trips?

Bill: Our trips revolve around National Park Service units.  We plan travel routes through multi-state areas to include visits to various National Park Service units and state parks.  Additional sites are added to our travel itinerary from travel source references, such as AAA Tour books, information gleaned from state tourism brochures and advertisements, and suggestions from fellow travelers whom we meet during our trips.

We plan three to four trips per year and each trip requires three to six weeks to complete.  We return to our home in Helena, Montana after each trip.


Above: Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

TCM: Are there any truck camping trips that stick out as favorites?

Bill: Favorite truck camping trips must always include a week or two visiting Yellowstone National Park during Autumn.  The weather can vary between extremes during that season.  One Autumn in the park started with temperatures in the 90s and ended a week later with freezing temperatures, snowfall, and icy roads.


Above: The Oregon Coast

Another favorite trip includes state parks and wayside beaches along the Oregon coast, such as the scenic beaches at Bandon, Seaside, and Oceanside.  In addition, Cape Lookout, Nehalem Bay, and Fort Stevens State Parks offer excellent camping opportunities.  And visits to the cheese factories at Tillamook are a must.


Above: The Columbia River Gorge – Multnomah Falls, Rowena Crest, and Mt. Hood

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area along both the Oregon and Washington sides of the river has numerous sites worthy of visits.  A few standouts are Multnomah Falls, Rowena Crest along historic Highway 30 overlooking the Columbia Gorge, views of Mount Hood such as that seen from the hills above The Dalles, and Beacon Rock State Park, which must include a hike to its summit via a most unique series of stairways and trail.  The view from its summit both up and down the Columbia River Gorge is breathtaking.  Last, camping is available at some of the dam sites, such as John Day Dam, and at some riverside boondock sites.

Redwood and Olympic National Parks provide lush, dense forests of gigantic trees resulting from the moist Pacific Coast climate and dense coastal fog.  These huge giants of the forest cast deep shade alternating with shafts of sunlight filtering through the forest canopy offering a photographic challenge and wonderful hiking.


Above: Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park, Utah

Utah National Parks including Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion, as well as Dead Horse Point and Goblin Valley State Parks, are always on the must-visit again list.  Hiking in Capitol Reef might include a long hike through the narrows between the cliffs of Grand Wash.  A popular hike in Zion is a scramble up the switchback trail of Walter’s Wiggles to the trailhead to Angels Landing.  The narrow Angels Landing trail snakes along sheer cliffs and drop-offs with only a chain to hold onto, whereas one misstep would launch you into a 1,000-foot free-fall.


Above: Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Utah

Although crowded and rather hot during the summer season, the scenery in these parks is superb!  And a tour boat cruise to Rainbow Bridge National Monument from Wahweap Marina in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers scenery unavailable to camper units.  The Wahweap area of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area also has a beautiful campground along the shoreline of Lake Powell.

TCM: Well, you’ve just filled another bucket list, or two, at least for us.  What kinds of truck camping trips do you enjoy closer to home in Montana?

Bill: Local camping trips within a fifty-mile radius of our home might include some nights of camping at a local lake or reservoir, or simply traveling to a forest service campground or an isolated spot along a stream.


Above: Makoshika and Medicine Rocks State Parks, Montana

Longer trips, more than fifty miles from home, might include several days somewhere in Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks, or Makoshika or Medicine Rocks State Parks.  Activities always revolve around photography, but include hiking, wildlife viewing, and possibly fishing.


Above: Joshua Tree National Park, California

TCM: Given your extensive experience with the National Park system, which ones would you recommend that folks might not otherwise consider?

Bill: Joshua Tree National Park in southern California was a rather pleasant surprise with its mild springtime temperatures.  We were expecting temperatures considerably hotter in this desert environment.  This park is very beautiful with its bloom of Joshua trees amid a background of granite boulders.


Above: Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming lies in the forested foothills along the Belle Fourche River in northeastern Wyoming.  The monument has a campground in a cottonwood groove from which campers can watch climbers scaling the vertical walls of nearby Devil’s Tower.  A popular trail loop meanders through a pine forest around the base of Devil’s Tower.


Above: Guernsey Wagon Ruts, Oregon Trail, Wyoming

Frontier history comes alive at Oregon Trail sites across Wyoming and Nebraska, such as Fort Laramie and Chimney Rock National Historic Sites, Scotts Bluff National Monument, and Guernsey Wagon Ruts and South Pass State Historic Sites, where the Oregon Trail is still clearly visible.


Above: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshores in Michigan are two outstanding units within the National Park System.  Both units have beach access and hiking trails through a hardwood forest.  Scenic boat cruises are available which provide outstanding photo opportunities of the dunes and scenic lakeshore cliffs.


Above: Big Bed and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks, west Texas

Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks in west Texas offer peaceful solitude and remoteness of the Chihuahuan Desert.  Desert flora and fauna are diverse, but be cautious because flora can stick and fauna can sting.  Both park units provide scenic campgrounds, and collared peccary are residents at Big Bend’s Cottonwood campground along the Rio Grande River.


Above: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is always near the top of campers’ must-see lists. Views are spectacular on clean air days.  Campgrounds within and outside the park appear to be adequate for the summer tourist influx and shuttles in the park ease the crunch of sightseer vehicles.


Above: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeastern Arizona is a park unit within the boundaries of the Navajo Indian Reservation.  The monument encompasses the floors and rims of three scenic sandstone canyons.  Its distinctive geologic feature is a sandstone spire, Spider Rock, rising from the canyon floor.  The monument is currently inhabited by Navajos and access to the canyon floor is restricted.  Visitors can visit the canyon when accompanied by a Navajo guide.

We would recommend any or all units of the National Park Service, depending on one’s travel distance, interest, and available time.  The National Park Service and various state parks do a superb job of conserving, protecting, and interpreting our natural and historic treasures.


Above: Katie, Bill and Deane’s, traveling buddy

TCM: Tell us about your truck camping dog friend.

Bill: Our dog companion is a five-year old female boxer named Katie.  She is a wonderful traveler and remains patient and calm during long travel days by laying between us on the front seat, napping, or sitting up to watch the scenery roll by.

She is provided several breaks during the day and is treated to at least one long walk in the evening after a campsite is chosen.  Katie claims her truck camper as her home and loves to just hang out in the camper.  She also loves to wade in streams or along a lake shore, and especially enjoys walks along a forest trail.

TCM: Thanks, Bill.  We hope to catch up with you soon for more truck camping recommendations.

Truck: 2011 Ford F350, XLT model, crewcab, dual rear wheels, long bed, 4WD, 6.2 liter gasoline engine, 6-speed auto transmission
Camper: 2003 Arctic Fox Model 1080, 10.5 foot, with full slide-out, full dry bath, roll-over couch, AC, Onan 2500 watt generator
Tie-downs and Turnbucles: Torklift tiedowns with Spring-loaded chain connectors
Suspension Enhancements: Rear-axle airbags
Gear: Air Conditioner, Onan 2500 watt generator, auxiliary Yahama 2000 watt inverter

Have you traveled to amazing places like Bill and Deane Uthman do?  Please share your story about the amazing truck camping roads you’ve taken.

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