Southwest Photography Roadtrip In A Campervan
By Alec and Pete | June 20, 2022
Have you ever considered renting an RV, motorhome, or campervan for a photography trip instead of staying in a hotel or camping? We booked a 2-week rental with VanCraft and headed out to explore and photograph the best of the American Southwest.
Where We Went
Oceanside – Joshua Tree National Park – Grand Canyon National Park – Monument Valley – Arches National Park – Bentonite Hills – Bryce Canyon National Park – Zion National Park – Ibex Dunes – Oceanside.
Van Rental Pick up
We stopped by the VanCraft office in Oceanside to pick up our van for the trip. Derek and his team couldn’t have been more accommodating, and the whole handover process was incredibly smooth; he took the time to show us the van’s features and explain any operational details. You’ll want to find out how the shower works, and if you’re traveling in winter – the all-important diesel heater!
After unloading all our photography gear into the van, we were surprised by the amount of storage available. 2x duffels, 4x camera bags, 2x tripods, drones, accessory cases, and supplies were instantaneously absorbed by the generously sized storage compartments built into the van—no cramming your camera gear onto the back seats.
How Easy Is It To Drive A Sprinter?
Although a solid afternoon’s drive out to Joshua Tree National Park wasn’t ideal for jet lag weary travelers, the van, accompanied by the vast US roads, meant an easy journey. In fact, we never felt like we were driving a large campervan for the entirety of the trip. The short wheelbase model fit into a standard sized parking space when we needed to run into town for supplies, yet also felt big enough for two photographers and gear daily. Watch the height limits – no drive-through fast food on this road trip!
Camping For Free On BLM Land
If you’re reading this from abroad – that’s free public land you can park and camp on. Take advantage of this. Another misconception of renting a campervan for your photography road trip is that of extra costs, such as campsite reservation fees. BLM land is your answer; we utilized this on most nights. You’ll find BLM land nearby most national parks, including Joshua Tree, Arches, and Zion National Parks. We also camped on BLM land at the Bentonite Hills and Ibex Dunes. More often than not, we could park without another soul in sight. The perfect spot to unwind, crank out some edits, and be able to get up and crush the sunrise shoot from your front door the next day! Many BLM locations are even more scenic than official national park campsites.
The only downside to camping on BLM land is the lack of facilities. However, once again, the VanCraft team has come up trumps by including an onboard hot water shower and optional porta potty. We used the shower frequently to rinse off after morning hikes. And if you really must, most local outdoor centers or gas stations have shower and bathroom facilities available.
Taking a Campervan Off Road
A VanCraft campervan is not your typical cookie cutter retirement home on wheels. These vans look and act the part. While our VanCraft van wasn’t 4×4, it did have a generous lift and off-road tires fitted; both incredibly useful when camping out on rutted BLM land or navigating your way down dirt roads to that one sunset vantage point you want to shoot from. It’s fair to say we put the van’s off-road capabilities through its paces throughout the 2-week road trip, through mud, snow, and sand. Never failing us once and saving our legs and backs from 10s of extra hiking miles, camera gear in tow. Check out this article for more on the capabilities of the Sprinter.
Sprinter Power Supply
Arriving at Joshua Tree National Park at 5 pm on a Thanksgiving weekend, we immediately ran into what would have usually been an issue had we been camping or trying to book into a hotel. The park campsites were full, and one can only presume most nearby hotels would also have been. Fear not; this brings us to our favorite feature of VanCraft campervans for photo-based road trips. The power supply!
One thing that is a complete necessity for a photography trip is a power source. With the 320W roof-mounted solar panels being charged continuously by the California sun, our onboard batteries had zero problem charging laptops, cameras, drones, microphones, and lighting. We never once ran into power supply issues throughout the road trip. So don’t let power supply fears put you off utilizing a VanCraft van for your photography trip, especially if you’re traveling through the sun-baked Southwest.
Sunrise and Sunset
The issue with camping in US National Parks is that you often need to get to your campsite and reserve a spot before it fills up. This means you’re likely to be chasing that golden campsite space rather than light come sunset in the peak season months at least. We mentioned it earlier, but this is when BLM land becomes your best friend. For 14 days we shot sunrise & sunset consecutively in some of the most incredible landscapes across the Southwest. Without a completely self-sufficient VanCraft campervan, this would not have been possible. Our days typically went something like this; wake up and drive to shoot location, hike and shoot sunrise, head back to the van and make breakfast, spend the day exploring or moving to a new site, hike/shoot sunset, find BLM land to park up, cook dinner & backup photos. Repeat.
Editing Photos While Camping
Those down days when the weather does turn to sh*t are usually spent miserably curled up in your sleeping bag or banging against the hotel room walls. With our VanCraft campervan, we’d continue to explore, stopping at roadside pull-outs to cook meals, soak in the views and work on some edits. Having a view of Zion canyon out of the window, coffee in hand, and a memory card full of incredible photos to sort through really makes those down days feel a whole lot better.
Photography Locations on a Southwest Road Trip
Joshua Tree National Park
Aside from the classic shot of a Joshua Tree, there’s plenty of hiking and exploring to be had here. We Recommend;
Grand Canyon National Park
where every view blows your mind (North Rim closed in winter). We Recommend;
Arches National Park
We were blessed with some of the most incredible light during our stay at Arches and recommend the following spots;
If you’ve not heard of the Bentonite hills, we suggest you stop right now and have a little google. It’s a must-see and best experienced during blue hour.
Bryce Canyon National Park
We found Bryce to be the most accessible park, with one main road leading to a dead end and a plethora of hiking and viewpoints along the way. Don’t miss;
Zion National Park
Our final national park of the road trip and the most accessible nearby BLM land to park up on. We recommend;
A final stop to break up the drive back to Oceanside, the Ibex dunes are perfectly situated halfway between the coast and Zion. Note: off-road driving and a 12km round trip hike required.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be any surprise, but we loved our Southwest road trip and the photography locations we were able to tick off our bucket list. But honestly, two weeks in a VanCraft campervan would be brilliant wherever you find yourself longing to visit.
For the more adventurous photographers, a campervan makes an excellent base for long days spent climbing in the mountains or chasing the perfect surfing shot along the Californian coast, without the hassle of finding somewhere cheap enough to stay in striking distance to the action. For someone who would love to challenge themselves on a photography trip but doesn’t want to travel solo, a VanCraft campervan might help find that sweet spot of a photography trip that is fun for you and a travel-oriented partner. A campervan is an attainable taste of luxury for photography couples who usually camp or stay in hostels. We never tired of coming in from a shoot, boiling some water, and making coffee wherever and whenever we fancied. In contrast to this outlook of unaccustomed luxury, a VanCraft campervan is sure to appeal to those whose photography holidays typically involve small hotels. With air conditioning and a diesel heater, we feel you’d enjoy the excitement and freedom of sleeping wild, with a different view every night, and with the comforting familiarity of a fridge and a double bed that you can shoot sunrise from the next day.
A photography road trip with VanCraft may not be a hardcore dirtbag adventure, nor a 5- star luxury excursion, but driving around the beautiful Southwest in a VanCraft campervan offers you so much flexibility to do the trip exactly the way that suits you. And it is undeniably, incredibly fun. Your photography road trip should be unbridled amounts of fun! Just book yourself a little extra time; we already know you’ll wish you had.