Travel

Road trip! A photographic journey through seven states in a truck camper.

Journeys begin in all manner of ways. Ours began because of Covid-19.

A year ago, I couldn’t have predicted that Gary and I would be happily cloistered in a small truck camper, road tripping around seven states. But, here we are. After months of sheltering in place in our Bay Area home, we were restless and eager to roam. I was eager to have my camera in my hands again.

We were relieved when our state eased travel restrictions, but Covid-19 had changed everything about traditional travel. Gone were the days of staying in hotels or using public facilities. If we wanted to spread our wings, we needed a strategy for traveling safely, both for us and for the communities we would eventually visit. So, we did something I never dreamed we would do. We purchased a Dodge RAM pickup and an Arctic Fox truck camper — a perfect escape-pod for the two of us.

RV newbies

As first time RV owners, we had a lot to learn. Our first excursions were close to home and only for a few days at a time. We remained in California, camping in the Eastern Sierra, the North Coast, and on our property in Wawona. These jaunts were quite educational as we learned the ropes of safely operating this beast of a rig. We made small mistakes, and a couple of big mistakes, but we learned and made adjustments along the way. We were both surprised by how much we enjoyed RV living, and even more surprised that we could get along just fine in such a small space.

Wildfire!

August and September brought the usual, seasonal California wildfires, but 2020 has been particularly horrific. All of California and the West seemed to be on fire. We mourned as we watched our beloved mountains and forests burn. To make matters worse, there was little escape from the constant smoke. Seeking clean air, we went to the only place in California that was smoke free — far in the most Northwestern corner of the state. But, that was before Oregon started burning. After that, there was nowhere in California that was free of smoke.

The journey begins

After a month and a half of breathing unhealthy air, we began to contemplate a longer journey in our camper. Thus, on September 12th, we found ourselves driving away from the San Francisco Bay Area heading East, with no particular itinerary except to find clean, breathable air. We closely monitored the air quality on www.purpleair.com, using the information we learned to help guide our path. A friend steered us toward the Wasatch mountains of Northern Utah, so that seemed a good place to start. The Maples would be in their prime, turning brilliant shades of red, yellow, and orange. The nights would be cool, and best of all, no smoke.

So, that is how our road trip began. We have visited some beautiful, well-known places, but also some less travelled areas too. My photography gear came with me on each of these excursions. It felt good to have a camera in my hands after months of photographing nothing but our backyard birds and flowers. I made photographs as we journeyed, and I will share some of those with you as we go.

The journey continues

This first installment takes us from Yosemite and the California coast to the Northern Utah mountains. After that, we headed North. Stay tuned for more stories and photographs as we continue our journey.

This is me with our new rig on its maiden voyage in July. (We would later replace this truck with another, more heavy-duty version, but that’s a story for later.) Our first, tentative camping trips were to familiar places — Yosemite, Eastern Sierra, and our Wawona property. Gary snapped this one at Olmstead Point in Yosemite as we made our way over the Sierra to Lee Vining. He dubbed our camper “the world’s most expensive porta-potty.” He was not wrong.
“Good Morning, Yosemite!” — Yosemite National Park was unusually quiet during the early phase of the pandemic.
“Mama Bear” — Yosemite National Park. This Black Bear mama rested on a normally well-traveled path as her young cub foraged nearby. Gary and I ducked behind the safety of our truck with a very long lens to watch and photograph her.
“Refresh” — Yosemite National Park. This beautiful cascade flows year round in Wawona. I have photographed it many times, but always attempting to see it with fresh eyes.
We camped on our Wawona property several times over the Summer. These were instrumental trips where we learned how to “dry camp” in our RV. Cut off from all resources except for the essentials we carried, we carefully calculated how long we could stay out before we ran out of water, propane, or waste water tank capacity.
“Let The Light In” — Redwoods National Park. As we became more comfortable with RV life, we began to venture further from home. RV travel is slow, so getting to the Northwest corner of our state required two days of driving. Our final camping spot was at the mouth of the Klamath River.
Redwoods National Park — Gary has become quite adept at photographing me in the field. “Meta-photography,” he calls it. His usual technique is to sneak up on me from behind.
“Pacific Shoreline” — Klamath, CA. Sea-stacks are typical of Northern California’s coastline. This is where the mighty Klamath River meets the Pacific Ocean. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful place. Here, the salmon enter the river to spawn and Native Americans fish the river with their huge nets.
“The Forest Through The Trees” — The Wasatch Mountains in Utah have vast forested areas of Maples that turn brilliant shades of yellow to red in the Autumn. The Aspen had not yet started to turn when we were there in mid-September. However, by the time we left a week later, a few groves had begun to turn bright yellow.
“Autumn Wave” — Red, orange, and yellow Maples carpet the landscape in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. Gary and I camped in a remote area, tucked into a colorful valley, cut off from the world for a while.
“Garter Snake Portrait” — High in the Utah mountains, Autumn temperatures drop rapidly late in the day. This two-foot Garter Snake was resting in the center of the trail, soaking up the last bit of warmth from the sun-kissed ground. The snake was lethargic, allowing plenty of time to make its portrait before it slithered into the grass. If you look closely, you can see my reflection in its eye.

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Charlotte Gibb is a contemporary fine art photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area specializing in landscapes of the Western United States. Her images are often taken in familiar places for the well-versed landscape photographer, but she prides herself on her keen eye toward the subtle and sometimes overlooked beauty of the natural world. Growing up among the beautiful mountains of Northern California, she considers herself a student of life, learning about people, nature, music, and photography along the way. But always, her life-long passion for the wilderness shines through it all. Charlotte earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and has exhibited her work in several solo shows throughout California. Her darkroom, long gone now, has been replaced with digital darkroom tools, and her style has evolved from a somewhat journalistic approach, to one that pays tribute to the natural world. 

19 Comments

    • charlottegibb

      It has been quite an experience. When we first purchased the truck and camper, we both had silently wondered if we had made a huge error in judgement. But it has been the best decision for us. We are still trying to figure out what to do with it when we’re not using it, but so far that hasn’t been much of an issue.

  • Kenneth Thomas Luey

    Charlotte and Gary, These are just breathtaking and suggest a marvelous sense of adventure. Thank you!! I am also interested in the RV side of the trip. Was this your maiden run? And do you own it? So you will be seeking a lot of RV adventure? A a boy, I always wanted an RV of some sort, primarily aimed at fishing. And though I’m getting a little long in the tooth, I still might try it. A bucket list item, you might say.

    • charlottegibb

      Hi Ken, we purchased both truck and camper at the end of May, 2020. It took us a few weeks to get the camper provisioned for camping and the truck provisioned for carrying such a heavy load. Our first excursion was to Lee Vining, where I was going to hang out with Michael Frye and Claudia Welsh and their photography class for the week. But, as we were getting ready to shove off, I noticed the tires were sagging. So, we had to take the camper off, put on four new, heavy-duty tires and reload the camper before we could leave. We lost two days, but safety must come first. Everything about RV life is about taking it slow and being methodical. Kinda like being a landscape photographer! If you ever want to chat about the details, give me a call. I’m happy to share what we’ve learned so far.

  • Bill Heiser

    Interesting story, and beautiful photos (as usual). I’ve read that life on the road, or “van life”, while having been “a thing” for a while, has really taken off this year. I’m looking forward to seeing more updates from your journey.

    • charlottegibb

      Yes, Bill, I understand that RV sales are through the roof this year, and we certainly contributed to that statistic. RV life is not for everyone, but we are loving it. You find yourself settling into different rhythms than you would have at home. Everything around you is big and constantly changing. But your little world in the camper remains the same. It’s like being in a cocoon.

  • Cindy Hoover Christensen

    I’m so happy for the both of you Charlotte! Welcome to RVing! I wish I could say that this past two years have been bliss in a trailer, it’s had it’s moments but in general, it’s allowed us to travel all over the western half of the United States.

    Safe travels, I look forward to seeing what you’ve created with your lens.

    ❤️

    • charlottegibb

      Thanks, Cindy! Your RV journey began tragically, so I would imagine that you have a lot of mixed feelings about the experience. I’m glad that you can see the positive despite what has happened. I have been enjoying your photographs, but mostly admiring your artistic self that persists and shines through everything you do. I hope we can bump into each other sometime soon. I don’t think we will make it to June Lake this Autumn. We are swiftly running out of time!

    • charlottegibb

      Ken, Gary hits his head quite a bit. It reminds me of being on a boat. At the end of the day, you have all these little bruises and you don’t remember how you got them. Otherwise, there’s lots of headroom and legroom.

  • Theresa

    Your photos are absolutely stunning, and your journey is exactly what we want to do. Hoping to retire this coming spring/summer, and start our adventure. Not sure what kind of RV we want – we have two big golden retrievers – but we do know that we want something small enough to really adventure and be allowed on the roads and in the parks we want to visit. Looking forward to reading more of your journey and will be living vicariously through your stories until it’s hopefully our turn. One question – did you have to buy a new truck, too? What made you decide on the truck camper as opposed to a van or a travel trailer. Looking at all our options.

    • charlottegibb

      Hi Theresa, I’m happy to talk to you about what we figured out. Keep in mind we are new at this, but we’ve certainly learned a lot from the RV community and from our own mistakes/trial & error. Traveling with two large dogs in a truck camper may be pretty cramped. The two of them would fill the entire floor space of our camper! Actually, your dogs would probably be quite happy, but you and your husband might feel a bit cramped. As for our decision to go with a truck camper vs. a Sprinter, van, or travel trailer, we knew we didn’t want to tow, so that narrowed things down. Gary was not impressed with the smaller vans, and so I didn’t know what to suggest. Then, I had a dream. Literally. And our path became clear. Message me and we can talk.

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