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Living the Vanlife across the Southwestern United States

The most beautiful part of the adventure is the unknown.

By: Alexandra Graziano + Save to a List

No matter how much planning takes place, we never know what tomorrow holds, or what lies between us and our destination. That, I think, is the mystery we seek to solve every time we say “yes” to adventure and hit the road.

When a friend of mine from high school asked me to watch his van for him while he was traveling Nepal I was in shock. I had dreamed of living the “vanlife.”

Little did I know I was about to embark on a month-long excursion, thousands of miles through the southwestern United States, living in a van with a person I had only met once before. 

Photo: @alleewild

Our journey commenced in Los Angeles. Originally I had intended on going north through California, taking about a week to explore Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes, head through Oregon and Washington, and make our way more or less directly to Seattle, our final destination.

However, once my friend Raymond and I met up in LA and started discussing our itinerary it quickly became apparent we wanted to explore the Southwest.

Before even embarking on our journey, I dropped every plan I’d had for the month ahead. We took to the road, leaving the ocean and palms for the arid desert. Our first stop...Death Valley.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.” Martin Buber

Photo: @alleewild

Even in the middle of November it was hot. Not surprising as Death Valley is home to the highest recorded temperature on the planet, 134 degrees Fahrenheit, in the shade.

Thankfully it wasn’t quite that hot, although hot enough that sleep was rendered impossible past sunrise and we were forced to get a bit crafty with how to shower.

Photo: @earthtoraymond

This next shot was taken while cruising along Artist’s Drive, a road appropriately named for the colorful surrounding landscape as seen in the following photo. 

Photo: @earthtoraymond - Edit: @alleewild

We easily could have spent days exploring this beautiful winding road on its own, but eventually we felt it was time to continue on, heading further east to Page, Arizona.

Photo: @alleewild

I’m not ashamed to say the first time I saw Horseshoe Bend it brought tears to my eyes. To see the history in these walls of rock; the seemingly endless amount of time it took the flowing waters of the Colorado River to cut into the earth and create this vista is awe inspiring at the least.

Photo: @alleewild

We hung out along the edges of this 1,000 foot drop long after the sun had dropped below the horizon, only to return the next morning to take in its return. Dangling our feet over the edge, coffee in hand, there was no place else I'd rather have been.

Photo: @alleewild

Our journey continued north to Zion National Park, through the state of Utah and eventually on to Wyoming. By the end we were experts at finding coffee shops and wifi, cooking on our camp stove, and had almost mastered getting dressed without hitting our head on the "ceiling."

It was challenging and beautiful, countless hours spent deep in conversation and in silence, beginning and ending every day with an entirely new wonder of our world to behold. Through many adventures and misadventures we eventually wound our way back to Seattle, a month of memories and miles burned into our hearts forever.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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