When you turn onto Utah’s Highway 95, just south of Blanding in the state’s southeast corner, the road sign warns: No services for 121 miles.
Ahead of us, we knew this scenic highway would eventually get us near Capitol Reef National Park, while meandering through the desolation of one of Utah’s official scenic byways – uninterrupted stretches of distant, pumpkin-layer-cake buttes and canyons carved eons ago. But Capitol Reef would be days ahead. Our immediate destination lay about halfway there, and no more exact than that.
We’d be boondocking, camping on whatever patch of BLM land caught our eye, without services or guides or even marked campsites.
And without reservations – at least the kind you pay for.
Since we began planning to journey Haven’s Path, years ago, we reveled in the romantic notion of driving where we wanted, when we wanted, and stopping only when the terrain invited us to. And here we were, reying on that happenstance, for the first time since setting out. Until now we had always planned ahead, saved a spot, paid for peace of mind and a fire ring.
And the guarantee of neighbors.
Not this time. We had suggestions from friends and websites, we had paper maps and downloaded directions, and we had, since ten miles onto Highway 95, no cell signal. We knew we’d have no connectivity again for many days.
Our rough plan was to stop somewhere in the middle of the 121 miles, probably between a promising location called Jacob’s Chair and , twenty miles past it, the “town” of Hite, population one storekeeper, two seasonal park rangers, and a dozen RVers passing through.
Along the last dozen miles nearing the trailhead for Jacob’s Chair – an unmissable, mesa-topping stairstep of the state’s signature red sandstone – we began to see occasional campers. The first cluster was a half-dozen caravans strung along a glorified pullover. “Not for us.”
But soon after, the temperament changed. The next we saw were like-minded souls had who staked claims within partial glimpse of the highway on a serene abutment here, a cottonwood canyonside there, usually isolated and always drawing from us an exclamation of, “Ooh, that’s a pretty spot!”
We wanted one.
We missed our trailhead entrance the first time we passed, it was so subtle. A minute later, with no cars in sight for miles, we U-turned and crept our way back, finally spotting the entrance by the red gravel its few users had tracked onto the highway.
There were three cars at the first possible campsite, a quarter mile in, each dust-coasted, cold, and telling of hikers on day trips, or longer. We parked there to scope out on foot the increasingly questionable gravel road beyond. We had read that it extended for ten miles, all the way to the base and beyond of Jacob’s Chair, but we have a rule that Libbie goes nowhere without reliable footing.
And it’s good we walked the next hundred yards.
Just over a rise, the next spot was available and workable, we decided, if we were willing to maneuver our rig a little. And more than that, its vistas extended uninterrupted for miles over an adjacent dry wash, including Jacob’s Chair itself and the horizon in every direction crenelated with dun and crimson stone sentries.
We didn’t have to wonder long what lay beyond our site as the road went deeper back-country. Even on foot, we had some trouble keeping upright on it as the road fell away to a hairpin left, rutted and stony and sandy – entirely unfit for us to drive, even if we weren’t pulling our only house. Whatever might be on those miles beyond would have to wait.
But it turns out we didn’t need anything more. That first spot, over the rise, would become our isolated basecamp for five days, perfect for watching painted sunrises, viewing midnight dark skies, and exploring on foot and bike the ups and downs of the lands around us.
And all from dead in the middle of nowhere.