Brian and I have been camping in one form or another our whole lives. Separately as kids and adults before we met, and then together when we started dating in 2015. Over the past couple of years, our love for camping has evolved into a true passion for what is known as overlanding.
By definition, overlanding is to “travel a long distance over land.” This can be by automobile or foot, which we equally love, as we have a special place in our hearts for backpacking into remote places as well (read why in this post covering our engagement on the top of Mt. Whitney after finishing the High Sierra Trail). For purposes of this post, we’ll focus on overlanding by automobile, and for us, specifically our Toyota Tacoma/Four Wheel Pop-up Camper. You can watch a full tour of our camper here.
Aside from everything that comes in our camper — refrigerator, sink/water, stove, furnace, dinette, and a bed — we have a few items that we never leave home without. The items in this post are purely for function and luxury while we’re at camp. We’ll share another post soon on everything we bring for safety while we are on those long, lonely roads.
Some of the following links may be affiliate links that allow us to earn a small commission from Amazon (at no extra cost to you!) and fund a tank or two of gas each month for our adventures. Thanks for your support!
Outland Living Propane Firebowl
With more and more wildfires happening each year, it’s important for us to have a fire alternative when burn restrictions are in place. The propane firebowl is a great option, and in most cases, completely legal even when there are burn restrictions, because it can easily be turned off and disconnected from the fuel source. As always, make sure to check with your local ranger, Bureau of Land Management, or Forest Service office to ensure you are within regulations.
Here is a link to the one we purchased on Amazon.
TemboTusk Skottle Kit
While we love cooking in our kitchen from the comfort of our camper, there is nothing like cooking outside when weather permits… and it is our preference. This past year, we decided to invest in a new cooking device, a skottle, that we absolutely love. The skottle originated in South Africa and was used by farmers in the field. It’s now become quite popular amongst overlanders as a great cooking method, and for good reason. It’s incredible versatile and we’ve cooked everything from pasta to eggs to steak on it.
Here is the link to the one we purchased on Amazon.
REI Flexlite Camp Dreamer Chair
After a long day on the trail, nothing beats kicking back in a comfortable chair and enjoying a tasty adult beverage. These chairs have to some of the most comfortable camp chairs we’ve ever had. On top of that, they pack up pretty small and light, compared to some other camp chairs out there (backpacking chairs excluded).
Here is the link to the one we purchased on REI.
GCI Outdoor Compact Camp Table
Most of the places we prefer to camp are considered dispersed camping (aka primitive camping or boondocking), which means no picnic tables, fire rings, or toilets (see below). This little portable table is perfect to use as a counter when cooking or for the afternoon game of Yahtzee. It also folds up flat, so it’s easy to store in the camper.
Here is the link to the one we purchased on Amazon.
Go Anywhere Portable Camping Toilet
Going off grid usually means traveling to remote places where there are no toilets. We might come across the occasional pit (of doom) toilet, but even if there is a pit toilet, we’d rather use our own if possible. This portable toilet is one of the most sanitary and easy-to-use that we have found. It consists of a toilet seat and legs, and then you do your business in a baggy that gets tied up, placed inside a sealed bag for extra sanitation, and can be disposed of in any trash. It may sound weird, but is by far the best way to do your business in remote places.
Here is the link to the one we purchased on Amazon.
Wolfwise Pop-up Portable Privacy Shower/Bathroom Tent
This shower tent is great for some privacy when you might not have a bush or tree to hide behind. There is a hole with a zipper at the top that you can use to put a shower head through, if you have an outdoor shower. It’s also fits the toilet great.
Here is the link to the one we purchased on Amazon.
Full video review of our camping gear on YouTube.
When we made the spontaneous decision to explore Death Valley over a long weekend, we really had no idea what we were getting into. In the words of Brian, we thought it would just be “dirt and sagebrush.” We could not have been more wrong. From the moment we drove into Death Valley, our eyes were opened to what a truly magical place it is. The variety of scenery ranges from sand dunes towering over 500 feet tall to narrow slot canyons only a couple of feet wide, which led to finding ourselves grossly overusing the word “wow” during our three short days in Death Valley. We loved it so much, that we are plotting a trip back in a couple of weeks, but wanted to share our recent adventure in case you are preparing to visit during what is the best time of year to go, winter.
Overland Camping in Death Valley
After deciding we wanted to take a spur of the moment trip to Death Valley, we immediately started researching where we would be able to stay. We were planning on trying to find an open campground until we found information on the National Park Service website about all the dispersed camping allowed in the park. We were shocked. We love National Parks and in all the ones we’ve visited, dispersed camping is completely illegal. With this little bit of information, we started analyzing every map, blog post, and online resource we could to find the best places for dispersed camping in Death Valley. Keep in mind, we were only there for two nights, so only have two spots we’ve experienced (for now), but we’re pretty sure they are two of the best spots you can camp in Death Valley.
Important note: Although dispersed camping is allowed in the park, there are places where it is not allowed. Make sure you know all the rules before you go by reading information here.
Hole in the Wall
Some Four Wheel Camper friends told us this was their go-to place for dispersed camping in the park, and we absolutely see why. We turned onto Hole in the Wall dirt road as it was getting dark, but were able to see the sign clearly stating that dispersed camping was allowed after the first mile. We set our odometer and as soon as it rolled over to one mile, we quickly passed camper after camper after camper set-up for the evening. It certainly is a popular spot!
We decided to keep going and as we continued down the road, which was actually more like a wash, the campers started to thin. We could see on the map that it was 3.8 miles to the “Hole in the Wall,” and although it was slow going on the bumpy, rutted road, we wanted to see what the point of interest was all about. At this point, it was pretty dark and we couldn’t see much, but we did know that we had come upon an absolute gem of campsite. There was only one other camper van down the road, so we nestled right up against the rock and didn’t see them or anyone else from the time we setup camp a little after 5:30 pm to the time we left the next morning around 9:00 am.
The rock we were camped up against combined with the solitude of the area, made this a truly amazing campsite. We have heard though that camping against the rock like we were can be quite the destination and you’re often not alone. We were beyond grateful to have this place all to ourselves.
Knowing that we wanted to go to the Racetrack Playa for a chance to see the mysterious moving rocks, we came across this camping area on the map just south of the Playa. After a long day exploring and driving down the miles and miles of dirt washboard roads, we pulled in just before sunset and found there were quite a few sites available within the primitive campground. We opted to drive a little further past the other campers and up a 4×4 road. Perched up high above the Racetrack with an amazing view of the Playa and Grandstand, we found an old concrete pad leftover from a miner’s camp. We set-up camp in time to view the incredible sunset and explore some of the old mining equipment that had been left behind from early 1900’s.
Don’t forget to bring your propane firebowl, as wood fires and collecting wood are not allowed in the backcountry.
Checkout the Outland Living Firebowl on Amazon that we love and use all the time!
4×4 Roads Worth a Drive
Between paved, dirt, and 4×4 roads, there are nearly 1,000 miles you can travel within the park to both popular and remote destinations. It’s that expansive! It would take years and maybe even lifetimes to explore everything this park has to offer. After all, it is the largest National Park in the lower 48.
During our three days in the park, we felt like we were constantly driving to get from one destination to the next. A lot of miles were spent on dirt roads and there were a couple that we like more than others. Some of the roads were well-groomed, while others were washboard or extremely technical. Regardless, if you are going to be spending anytime on backcountry roads in Death Valley, I would highly recommend airing down for a smoother ride. We don’t have on-board air to air back up, but we do have a great portable air compressor that we highly recommend.
You can find this Viair Portable Compressor on Amazon here.
This fairly easy dirt road is one that I would put high on your list. The trailhead is actually outside of Death Valley to the east, near the old ghost town Rhyolite. This quirky old settlement with a free museum is good enough reason in itself to drive up to the trailhead. The town of Beatty, NV is also close by. If you are thinking you are going to need gas, I would definitely recommend gassing up here to avoid the crazy prices inside the park.
After you check out Rhyolite, the trailhead is just to the southwest. The canyon is one-way, so you will have to start the trail here. Don’t try to come in from the other way or you will surely be disappointed when you reach the one way sign before you are able to enter the canyon. Give yourself 2-3 hours for the 26 mile drive, which includes time to explore the old mining town of Leadfield, which is just before you enter the canyon narrows.
The narrows are absolutely breathtaking. We’ve hiked through slot canyons before, but have never seen a canyon like this that you can drive through. The road winds through the canyon like a river and the sheer walls are absolutely beautiful and striped with different colors of rock layers that look like they were painted.
Before going any further, let me start by saying this is one of the most dangerous roads in Death Valley. If you do not have a high clearance 4×4 vehicle or proper off-road experience you may want to pass on this one.
We started on this 7-mile road after spending the night Homestake above the Racetrack. Where we were coming from, we were traveling down the pass, which allowed us to take in some of the incredible views. The road itself is very rocky and rugged with steep drop offs and some technical sections to maneuver. In some places, it is barely wide enough for one vehicle. We were lucky enough not to encounter anyone coming up the pass, as we would have had to back-up to find a place to pullover, which were very few and far between.
After making our way down the series of switchbacks, we entered the most technical section of the trail. There are a few boulders that you have to make your way through and then a washout section that will definitely make you clench your cheeks. After that, it is pretty smooth sailing down into Saline Valley.
Amazing Places You Have to See
As mentioned before, there are enough places to see and explore in Death Valley that it could take you years, if not lifetimes. During our long weekend, we crammed in as much as we could, but there is so much that is already on our list for next time. For this past trip, below were a few of the highlights.
A quick 1/4 mile walk from the parking lot up a paved pathway will take you to an incredible viewpoint of the badlands. This is one of the most photographed areas of Death Valley, and for good reason.
Another very popular spot in Death Valley for photography, this area of the park is like no other. The colors that can be found in the mountainside are absolutely jaw-dropping. It looks like you are peering through a kaleidoscope as you take in the colors before you. The array of colors are due to oxidation of various metals in the rock. Iron produces the reds, pinks, and yellows, mica produces the greens , and manganese produce the purples. This is definitely a must-see when you are in Death Valley.
Bad Water Basin
What else is there to say other than it’s pretty freaking cool to explore the lowest elevation in North America? At 282 feet below sea level, the salt flats cover nearly 200 square miles. Walking on the salt flats makes you feel like you are on another planet. If you visit here, make sure you walk out on the flats for about a mile. The ground changes drastically from where it meets the parking lot and is definitely worth exploring.
When I first heard there was a “racetrack” in Death Valley, I automatically assumed it was a barren section of the valley where cars would literally race as fast as they could. Little did I know that the Racetrack is actually not an area you can drive on at all, but instead, an old dry lake bed that is home to the mysterious moving rocks or as some call them, sailing stones. Up until 2014, there were various hypotheses as to how the rocks, some weighing up to 700 pounds, moved across the playa and left their tracks behind. The different ideas ranged from aliens to pranks. In 2013 some scientists set-up a way to monitor the rocks using GPS and other weather gauges and found that the rocks moved when there was a combination of ice on the playa and wind in the forecast. That would be a sight to see… and some pretty crazy weather conditions to be out there in!
This post barely scratched the surface on things to see and do in Death Valley, and we can’t wait to come back! If you’ve been here, please leave a comment on your favorite things to do. Also, check out the videos we created and consider liking and subscribing to our channel for more adventures. Happy trails!
Before the busy holiday season set in this year, we decided to take a very slow and relaxing trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Our first stop was the island of St. Thomas for two nights at Sapphire Beach and a day trip to nearby St. John and Virgin Islands National Park. Most of this post is about our favorite activities to do on St. Croix, but I had to mention our quick trip to St. Thomas.Read More
We’ve been taking our Four Wheel Pop-up Camper on adventures for almost a year now. In this week’s vlog, we take you along for a full tour of our camper and all the things we love… and some things we might want to change. Make sure to do us a favor and subscribe to our YouTube channel if you have the same passion for adventure.
Two weeks ago we took one of the most amazing and memorable road trips we’ve had in a long time. From our home in Northern Nevada, we completed a 2,661 mile loop in nine days and traveled through Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks. It was a trip we had been planning since the beginning of the year, and it did not disappoint.Read More
There is no better way for me to charge my batteries than spending time on the trails. Sometimes it’s a backpacking/hiking trail and other times it’s a 4×4 trail. This past weekend we hit a new trail that we found after studying maps and making a list of possible destinations. After a little more research and reading some online forums, we settled on what might be one of my favorite campsites we’ve ever stumbled upon.
We left right after work on Thursday and rolled into camp at 7:00 pm. We got there at the perfect time because within 15 minutes, there were three other groups that were pulling in for the night. According to one camper we met, we scored “the spot.” It was lakefront and under a few trees that provided some good shelter from the afternoon sun.
In this video, we share more from our little weekend camping trip where we hike, make some delicious meals in the Dutch oven, and relax under the starry skies.Read More
On this episode of the Taco Roamer, we cover part 1 of our 10-day journey through Southern Nevada, Utah, and Northern Arizona. We start with our first night in Red Rock Canyon, NV, before heading east to Utah and Zion National Park, including a little muddy 4×4 adventure. At our campsite in Zion, we make some Chicken Pad Thai and breakfast pancakes by the Virgin River before heading on to our next stop outside of Kanab, UT, where we explore some cool slot canyons, make sourdough in the camp oven, and explore the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.
In this video, we head out to Joshua Tree National Park on the maiden voyage of our new four-wheel pop-up camper named “Rose”. We explore some of the park’s back roads, make biscuits and pizza in the camp oven, take a hike to Barker Dam, and spend lots of hours in the camper playing Yahtzee before we decide to come back a day early due to some unrelenting wind. Buckle up and come along for this weekend’s adventure to one of our favorite National Parks!
Let me start off by saying I am using the term “hiking” really loosely here. This is definitely more of a walk. But, I have learned that different people have different definitions of hiking, so keeping with the theme of my site, we’ll go out on a limb and call it “hiking.”
This trail is located in the hilly neighborhoods of San Clemente, CA, and as the name would suggest, follows a ridgeline with million dollar homes on one side and dry rolling hills on the other. The trail is paved with small dirt side trails for mountain bikers or hikers.Read More
Just to the west of the sleepy little town of Lone Pine, California lies an incredible area to explore on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, Alabama Hills. This sparse area studded with cool rock formations and high desert flora is also the gateway to the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney, sitting at 14,505′. This is also happens to be where Brian and I got engaged after a long and magical (and sometimes painful) week on the High Sierra Trail.Read More
Nestled between the neighborhoods in Orange, CA lies 340 acres of beautiful park known as Peters Canyon Regional Park. Here, you’ll find a decent size reservoir, miles of hiking and biking trails, and great wildlife and bird watching opportunities. There is also another thing that you’ll find lots of… people.Read More
In the hills above southern Orange County, you’ll find an abundance of trails for hikers and mountain bikers alike in the San Juan Capistrano Recreational Trail System. One of the more popular trails because of its stunning views and flagpole at the end is Patriot Hill, which is also fondly called the Rollercoaster Trail because the many ups and downs.Read More
In the north end of Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll find one of five fan palm oases in the park. Here, there are cracks in the hard earth’s surface that have forced water to the top and provide the opportunity for beautiful and lush fan palms to thrive in an otherwise inhospitable environment. The shade, water, and vegetation creates a welcome sight for desert critters and hikers alike.Read More
A little over two hours east of Los Angeles, you’ll find Joshua Tree National Park and some of the most incredible desert landscape in Southern California. The park runs 60 miles west to east and 30 miles north to south. Within its boundaries, there are two separate and distinct deserts – the Mojave and the Colorado. In the northeast Mojave desert section, you’ll see whimsical Joshua trees and large boulder formations that look like they belong on Mars. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful section of the park. In the southwest Colorado desert area, you’ll find a much more vast landscape that makes you feel like you are the only person on earth.Read More
This is the second year in a row that we have decided to skip the crowded beaches and head to the mountains for a very quiet Fourth of July. When we planned this trip several months ago, we thought, ‘what’s a better place than heading to American Lake in Desolation Wilderness to celebrate our country’s birthday?’
I had stumbled upon American Lake five years earlier when on a backpacking trip to nearby Lake of the Woods. I remember thinking it would be a great place to camp and made a point to return there, which is exactly what we did this weekend and it could not have been more perfect.Read More
“Third time’s the charm” has never had as much meaning as it did this past weekend. The last two years in a row I have had permits to backpack Big Pine Lakes, but for reasons due to weather, fire, and Elton John, they have all been cancelled (and yes, Elton was totally worth it on his Yellow Brick Road tour). This past weekend, those backpacking dreams came true and I laid my eyes on what might be one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen.Read More
My soul was seriously thirsty for some fresh air in my lungs and dirt under my feet. You see, I’m currently in Orange County, CA about to approach one of the hardest weekends of my life. This weekend we’ll say “goodbye” to my mom at her funeral followed by the burial on Catalina Island.
Scout Lookout and Angels Landing boast some of the most picturesque views of Zion Canyon in the whole park. With sweeping 360 degree vistas, you can easily understand why this is one of the more popular hikes in the park. There are no permits required for this trail, and in the summer, you can see lines of hikers dotting the cliffside. We hiked the trail in the middle of January during a short three-day road trip. While the crowds weren’t as bad as they are in the summer months, there were still a fair amount of other hikers when we started at 1:30 pm.
Utah is an amazingly beautiful state from north, south, east, and west. With a state that has so much to explore, we had no shortage of things to do in our three short days spent in southwestern Utah. The hardest part of our brief trip was narrowing it down to a few key things and deciding what we would have to wait and do until our next trip. Another factor at play was the weather since it is the middle of January. Luckily, we had some nice days, but there was a fair amount of snow and ice to contend with from a previous storm.
All-in-all, our three days in Utah could not have worked out better. Some of our adventures were: hiking to Scout Lookout and Angels Landing, wading through the Narrows, exploring Belly of the Dragon, playing on the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, scrambling up to (and down from) the Kanab Sand Caves, viewing Bryce Canyon at sunrise, and wandering through Snow Canyon.
With winter quickly approaching, I was glad to be able to get in one last backpacking trip before the snow flies in Lake Tahoe. Temperatures are already pretty chilly in the Sierra, so we headed to Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Reyes is a beautiful stretch of protected land approximately 1 hour north of San Francisco. The beaches are pristine, the bluffs impressive, and the views extensive. It is definitely a beautiful place to visit whether you are backpacking or just exploring for a day. We were also blessed to experience beautiful weather for mid-November.