A woman looks out over a desert landscape witha dog

Photographing Van Life, Part 4: Desert Season

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When Tera and I finally decided to dive into van life full time, one of the things I was most excited for was desert season. Of course living in Salt Lake I have been to the desert countless times, but only for small chunks of time. Moab for a couple days here, Indian Creek for a few days there, it was never enough time. I was always wishing I could stay longer, and what better opportunity to do so than when we’re living in a van.

If we were ever going to pick a fall to spend in the desert I don’t think we could have picked a better one than this year. Even in December, the temps in Moab are still perfect for riding and climbing.

Woman Sitting with a dog looking over a desert landscape
Hanging out in Sedona. Photo: Mike Schirf

We have been spending most of our time in and around Moab since there is so much great climbing and biking, but that’s not to say we haven’t done our fair share of exploring. We have also hit up the mountain biking trails at Sedona, St George, Gooseberry Mesa, and Thunder Mountain. I don’t think you could consider it a good desert riding trip without hitting up Fruita for a few days.


A woman rides a bike through the desert as the sun sets in the background
Tera riding at Gooseberry Mesa. Photo: Mike Schirf

Obviously living in a van the thing we do most is drive. We find a campsite then drive to the trailhead or the crag, then back to the campsite, drive, drive, drive. So when we find a spot where we can just park and stay for a few days and not drive, it’s quite a treat. That is one reason we love going to Gooseberry Mesa so much. We met up with some friends for a few days of riding and were able to just park the van and leave it. There’s not a ton of riding but it’s all great and there is more than enough to have a ton of fun for a few days.

Camping at Gooseberry Mesa. Photo: Mike Schirf. A woman cooks breakfast over a campfire
Camping at Gooseberry Mesa. Photo: Mike Schirf
Biking through the incredible landscape at Thunder Mountain. Photo: Mike Schirf. A woman rides the thundermountain trail
Biking through the incredible landscape at Thunder Mountain. Photo: Mike Schirf

I have always wanted to bike the Thunder Mountain trail outside of Bryce Canyon National Park and it definitely didn’t disappoint. We parked the van at the upper Coyote Hollow trailhead to start the ride. From there it’s a bit of up and down through some gullies and forest. All in all there is about 1,100 feet of climbing, so while it almost feels like you are doing a shuttle ride, you definitely earn your downhill time and the 2,100 feet of decent over the 7.7 miles of the trail. Once you hit the decent it feels like you could be riding on mars; the landscape is incredible, it was hard for me to keep my eyes on the trail at times. There are a few steep and technical sections, but overall I thought the trail flowed quite nicely. It spits you out back at the main road where you can hop on a paved bike path and ride back up to your car. Thunder Mountain is definitely on the top of my favorite trails list now, and I can’t wait to get back to do it again.

Indian Creek climbing. Photo: Mike Schirf, A woman climbs a crack in red rock
Indian Creek climbing. Photo: Mike Schirf

As far as our fall climbing adventures, we have mostly just been climbing in Indian Creek, about 45 minutes south of Moab. We met up with a few friends over Thanksgiving to celebrate Creeksgiving. We spent the morning climbing splitter cracks and then went back to camp and made a turkey in the Dutch oven. I have been working on my Dutch oven skills a lot lately, but a turkey seemed a little out of my league, but Tera and I just dove in and it turned out great. There were a ton of people down climbing from all over the US; in one parking lot I think we counted plates from 10 different states.

Indian Creek climbing. Photo: Mike Schirf. A man climbs a crack in red rock in the desert
Indian Creek climbing. Photo: Mike Schirf

I don’t think I could have asked for a better van life desert season. I have gotten to ride and climb more than I thought possible. It’s going to be tough next year when we have to go back to smaller chunks of desert time but hey, we still have the spring…