Living on the Edge

Following a spectacular experience at Zion National Park, I resumed wandering near the southwestern corner of Utah with the intention of experiencing more BLM land and remote backroads

Beating the Heat

According to my research, there were opportunities for boondocking in the BLM land to the south of Virgin, and to the east of Hurricane, Utah. There was a problem, however. The temperature was sweltering, and there was no escape from the sun in the barren Utah desert. It was almost 110 degrees, and deploying my ARB awning was simply not good enough.

While there were plenty of camping opportunities, there was an expansive network of maintained and primitive BLM roads to explore, and it was my hope that I’d find some shade somewhere, with a bit of strategic wandering.

Looking closely at the topographical map on GaiaGPS, I decided that the best opportunity to find some relief from the sun would be at a lower elevation, closer to the Virgin River, where I might find a shallow canyon or a valley.

Fortunately, my perseverance paid off!

Just upstream from the Virgin River Dam, there was a very steep, rocky road that descended into the foot of a canyon. The road seemed very infrequently used, likely due to severity of the terrain. This was one of those satisfying moments when I knew I had a vehicle capable of traversing the terrain in order to reach a cool and comfortable place to spend the night.

I engaged low range, disconnected the sway bar, put the Jeep in first gear, activated descent control, and safely idled down the deteriorated slope.

While there didn’t seem to be any established campsites or fire rings, there was at least a flat spot where I could pop the camper for the night. In a couple of hours, the sun would pass below the canyon walls and I would be engulfed in shade.

Not to mention, the Virgin River was only a short walk away for a refreshing dip!

Onto Gooseberry Mesa

A little bit further to the south is Gooseberry Mesa, a popular wilderness recreation area and mountain biking destination with numerous camping opportunities - including some yurts that are available for rental along the north rim!

It looked like the area was worth checking out, so I packed up my camp in the valley, and set off to explore the mesa!

A long winding dirt road led up to the top of the mesa. A section of it was very rocky and technical, but that didn’t stop the fearless driver of a two-wheel drive Ford Econoline from tackling the harsh terrain. Tire-placement is everything!

At the top of the mesa, the road leveled out and continued on for miles. A series of primitive two-tracks branched out in every direction. It seemed as if one could choose whichever path one wanted, and they would all converge further into the mesa. None of the roads that I encountered atop the mesa were technical, but they were varied and enjoyable, and occasionally crossed enormous slabs of rock.

I drove past a couple of parking areas featuring vault toilets, and a handful of parked trucks and SUVs donning bicycle racks; their owners likely out riding the trails.

A Room with a View

As I drove west along the south rim of Gooseberry Mesa, the road passed close to the edge, yielding numerous cliff top campsites.

It didn’t take long for one to call out to me. It was a spacious, and well-used clearing with multiple fire rings, and its southern edge dropped off very abruptly, giving way to a sprawling valley approximately a thousand feet below.

After a quick inspection of the site, I decided to back the Jeep up to the edge of the cliff, so that the deployed camper would overlook nothing but sky.

Unlike my previous campsite, this one invited rest, relaxation, and reflection as I sat atop the cliff and peered into the distance. Every now and then, a truck would appear on a dirt road down below, trailed by a plume of dust. Far to the south, cars and trucks would drive to and fro on distant highway.

I didn’t start a campfire, but I treated myself to a refreshing shower and enjoyed a cold beverage, in perfect contentment, as I watched the sun retreat below the horizon.

At a Crossroad

As I sat atop Gooseberry Mesa, I tried to decide where to go next.

Did I want to travel north, perhaps to Moab, and experience more of Utah’s splendor along the way? ...or travel south to San Diego, to visit some friends, and see the Pacific Ocean for the very first time?