The sun dipped below the horizon hours ago, but we’re still driving. The Gladiator’s off-highway lights cut through clouds of dust, abruptly pitching up and down with the front end of the rig. I swallow two painkillers to stave off the pain behind my left eye—my own fault, and the consequences of neglecting calorie and fluid needs. The final descent into Whitmore Canyon feels endless, but eventually, we encounter a flat bench 1,000 feet above the Colorado River, with room for our five vehicles: Camp.
Working in the overland journalism space, I have the distinct pleasure of going on trail rides like this prior to Overland Expo each year, and this privilege is not lost on me. It’s an incredible opportunity to connect with other professionals in the industry, test new products, and perhaps more than anything else, have fun doing what we love. I almost have to pinch myself when I consider the fact that I get to camp on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for work.
Matt and Owen have dinner ready in short order: chicken and stir-fried vegetables. But despite my post-meal desire to grab an icy beverage from the Yeti and stay up chatting with the crew about the day, I desperately need sleep. The canvas walls of my rooftop tent provide respite from the desert winds, and I climb under my down quilt, closing my eyes.
The next morning I’m awake moments before the sun crests the canyon walls surrounding our camp. Shades of blue linger in the shadows of rocky towers while the sun’s 5600-kelvin warmth gives depth to the atmosphere above. Grabbing my camera, I step outside to capture the subdued morning colors as they wash over this incredible landscape.
Trailmates stir and are lured out of rooftop tents by the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee. We greet the day and our first cups of caffeine, slowly coming into full consciousness. Our position on the edge of the massive cliff, which we couldn’t fully appreciate in the dark, instills a new sense of awe. While we make preparations to resume our adventure, a private helicopter runs laps over our heads, shuttling rafting groups off of the sandy banks of the Colorado River and onto the next leg of their long journeys home.
Back on the Trail
Driving across the desert washes and rolling craggy terrain, I have time to reflect on previous trips. Last year, I did a similar drive with a fantastic crew. I found centuries-old artifacts, enjoyed plentiful solitude, and got to drive a variety of adventure-ready vehicles. This year, our focus is on gear, specifically the new Dometic Go lineup of water storage and camp furniture. It’s one thing looking at photos and reading press releases, but an entirely different experience using products in the field.
We pull up to our lunch spot, and Owen, former product engineer for MSR and current outdoor product manager at Dometic, busts out the recently-released 11-liter Go water storage jugand a water filter. He meanders through sagebrush to a vertical pipe with a red-handled spigot. For those in the know, the color red indicates that this is not apotable water source. But it’s the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what his kit can do.
Brandishing an adaptor, Owen fits the filter onto the spigot, lifts the handle, and begins to dispense water, all while explaining the importance of a robust purification routine, including mechanical and chemical treatments. Given that he helped MSR develop some of their modern hollow-fiber water filters, and based on his experience as water science advisor for Clean Drink Adventures, we’re eager to soak up every last drop of knowledge he’s willing to share.
Once the containers are full, I’m pleased to note that carrying two of the 11-liter Dometic jugs back to the trucks is significantly more ergonomic and pleasant than wrestling with a single 5- or 7-gallon container. As the designer behind this new kit, Owen is pleased to see us enjoying the benefits of this new, more manageable standard. With food in our stomachs and a replenished water supply, our drive continues.
We cross open, sandy terrain before a final narrow two-track winds through a stand of pinyon-juniper trees, depositing our convoy at the rim of the canyon. No one rushes to set up camp, and instead, we stand in silence, observing the incredible chasm before us. Layer upon layer of sand and rock showcase billions of years of geology in vibrant red, orange, and purple. Our silence gives way to elation, beverages are distributed, and dinner preparations begin. Tonight’s menu is a taco bar. We sit at our cliffside dining table, eagerly awaiting food, and lucky for us, there’s no bad seat in the house.
Blue hour descends on camp, and before I know it, darkness. I climb into the rooftop tent with heavy eyelids. I lay in bed thinking about the previous two whirlwind days on the trail, and my mind wanders to work and the upcoming days at Overland Expo. Stop, I silently mouth, knowing I’m doing myself a disservice thinking about what’s next instead of being present in this moment. I roll onto my side so I can see the stars through the screen door of the tent while quiet sounds of laughter and camaraderie lull me to sleep.
A few of us are up at dawn the following morning to capture the sunrise with our cameras, floating around the campsite silently, so we don’t disturb those who are still sleeping. Bryon sets up one of the folding Dometic chairs so that he’s positioned right at the precipice and takes in a view that can’t be reproduced by any digital screen, VR headset, or photographic print. The visceral feeling of connectedness to this natural environment is tangible, and it’s tied into every one of our senses; the smell of centuries-old juniper, the muffled sound of wind buffeting the canyon walls, and the visible spectrum of light setting sandstone ablaze.
The moment fills my heart to overflowing; reverence for this place, gratitude to be here, for good company, food prepared with care, the right gear, a comfortable bed, an exciting trail, a reliable truck. In this moment, when it all comes together, it’s magic.