Southwest Photography Roadtrip In A Campervan
By Alec and Pete | June 20, 2022
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, taking time to show us the features of the van 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?
lthough a solid afternoon’s drive out to Joshua Tree National Park wasn’t the most ideal scenario for jet lag weary travelers, the van, accompanied by the incredibly wide US roads, meant for an easy journey. In fact, for the entirety of the trip never once did we feel like we were driving a large campervan. 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 on a day to day basis. Just 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 that you can park up 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 and we utilized this on most of our 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 were able to park up 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 noticeable downside to camping on BLM land is that lack of facilities. However, once again the VanCraft team have 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 tyres 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 over the course of 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 campabilites of the Sprinter.
Sprinter Power Supply
Arriving at Joshua Tree National Park at 5pm 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 on board batteries had zero problem charging laptops, cameras, drones, microphones and lighting. In all, 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.
Sunise and Sunset
The issue with camping in US National Parks in general is that you often need to get to your campsite and reserve a spot before it fills up. This means you’re likely, in the peak season months at least, to be chasing that golden campsite space rather than light come sunset. 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 simply 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 driving to a new location, 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 itself 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 of all, one main road that leads 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 really 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 a great base to use 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 both for you and a travel-oriented partner. For photography couples who normally camp or stay in hostels a campervan is an attainable taste of luxury. 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 normally involve smart hotels. With air conditioning and a diesel heater, we feel you’d really 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’re going to wish you had.