According to the folks that organize the annual Overland Expo, "overlanding" is exploring and camping by way of vehicle – "whether 100 miles or 10,000 miles from home, on backroads or highly technical terrain." Gizmag had the opportunity to attend this year's show, and to get in the spirit, we did some light overlanding of our own, driving a few of America's most scenic byways and backways. We're back with the full trip report and a mega-gallery covering everything from adventure motorcycles to multi-story, all-terrain homes.
It seemed downright silly to take a plane and stay in a hotel when attending a show dedicated to journeying and living on two, three, four – and more – wheels. So I abandoned the usual trade-show travel itinerary, loaded my SUV up with camping gear and firewood, and set off on the nine-hour drive south from northern Utah to northern Arizona.
My Nissan Pathfinder, which I drove and slept in, was easily one of the least interesting camping rigs to make the trip to the expo. But it was a light, simple and inexpensive solution that kept me from having to sleep in a tent on the super-lumpy ground of the show. By removing a few boxes, tools and accessories from the folded rear seats of the passenger side, it went from drive to sleep mode within a couple minutes – something that proved valuable on a trip where I slept at five campsites in the matter of a week.
There is no shortage of scenic, remote high mountain and desert routes standing between northern Utah and Mormon Lake, just south of Flagstaff. On Day 1, I chose to connect highways I-15 and US-89 by cutting across a stretch of dirt road through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The rule here is to only camp in previously disturbed areas, so it took a bit of driving to find a proper pull-out with an existing fire ring, but I managed to find a spot just before dark. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, I found myself camped within a few hundred yards of a (rather loud) group. Still, it was a relaxing solo overnight stay.
I got back to the bitumen the following morning and arrived at the show in the afternoon, spending two nights camping in a large grass lot packed with RVs, tents, campers and pretty much every other wilderness living module imaginable. The show was quite interesting and productive, but tiring. I found myself eager to escape the masses and left a night earlier than originally planned, shooting west across the smooth forest road-cum-bumpy switchback descent that connects Mormon Lake and Sedona.
After a short biking trip in Sedona, I headed back north and detoured off the interstate once again, opting for a scenic side trip up the length of Utah's Highway 12. This 124-mile All-American Road is surrounded by one of the most distinct combinations of terrain in the world.
From its start in a bright red, hoodoo-lined canyon, onward through wide open red and white sandstone slashed open by gorges, and up forested mountains overlooking more red rock country, Highway 12 climbs, drops and twists through a number of public lands, including Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Dixie National Forest, ending a few miles from Capitol Reef National Park. After an overnight stay on the edge of Grand Staircase's Hole-in-the-Rock Road and a cup of mandatory morning caffeine at the most scenic coffee shop I'd ever been to, it was back to business on the tail end of Highway 12, then the dull, five-hour interstate journey home.
Being in the middle of my own little road trip definitely helped to tune me in to the vast array of expedition equipment at Overland Expo. Stories like leaving traditional life for full-time road living and getting chased out of foreign countries by revolutionary uprisings put my little work holiday to shame but added to my understanding of the importance of finding the right overlanding rig, gear and accessories for the trip(s) at hand.
Unlike other camper shows, such as the Dusseldorf Caravan Salon, the focus of Overland Expo is quite decidedly on off-road-ready camping gear and vehicles. Amidst such a sea of burly, rock-hungry expedition vehicles, it would have been difficult to pick out the most extreme had it not been for one 4x4 camper that made its case loud and clear. It was bright orange, and it rose a story higher than the average monster camper, making its large, but not that large, neighbors look rather puny.
Called the "Perky Mog," the drivable shelter serves as a full-time home for its owners. It was built last year by Global Expedition Vehicles on a 2005 Unimog U500 platform, and the camper body raises in height to open up a loft bedroom – complete with a staircase. The lifting roof also uncovers the windows for extra ventilation. Because it's used as a full-time home, the owners weren't letting folks in to take photos, so all we have is the exterior. You can see interior, build and travel photos on the Perky Mog's Facebook page, however.
Right next to the Perky Mog was a completely different take on the expedition vehicle. The ambulance was converted by a Phoenix couple with pronounced Australian roots planning an expedition to South America with their granddaughter. We mistakenly assumed that the ambulance donor platform was just for visual flair, but after a few minutes speaking with the owners, we saw the merit of the design much more clearly.
What we learned was that building on a used ambulance is cheaper than custom-building a camper van or truck, a fact that's an advantage up front but also when encountering the possibility that the vehicle will be stolen, confiscated or otherwise lost during the overlanding voyage (this was the couple that mentioned having to flee Indonesia because of a revolution).
An ambulance is also wider than other common camper vehicles, including a previously used Sportsmobile that proved a little too narrow and cramped inside. It also came pre-equipped with camper-friendly amenities like an air conditioned cabin, which will be switched over to a dedicated power system, and built-in cabinets.
While large, larger and downright massive four-wheeled overlanders took up the bulk of the show, the expo also had a dedicated space for adventure motorcycles. This space had more luggage and accessory companies than motorcycle manufacturers, but seeing some of the bikes all packed up for cross-country travel certainly made me itch to ditch my SUV and head for the horizon on two wheels. One of my favorite motorcycles from the show was this weathered-and-worn BMW F 800 GS, which has clearly seen some mileage.
There were also a few non-overnight, off-road vehicles there, too. Chrysler brought the all-new Ram Power Wagon west from its 2014 New York Auto Show debut last month and also showed an updated version of the 2012 Jeep Mighty FC concept. The modified Mighty FC features the same Wrangler-based, cab-forward pickup design, but it has lost its roof, making it a large, open-air Jeep pickup – we can think of few things in the world cooler than that.
You'll find many more snapshots from our trip in our complete Overland Expo photo tour gallery. We snapped everything from converted military vans, to classic Jeeps, to off-road sports cars, to rugged trailers ... and much more.