May 28, 2019

For the off-road regulars that venture into the territory surrounding Tom Higginson’s sprawling Canyonlands adventurescape, the ride rumbles easily under low-slung vehicles that cling to the ground. They could be extras from Mad Max as they speed by with full authority over the landscape, sand goggles and bandanas tight to their face to protect from the swirling dust kick. Some of them wear headsets with microphones (to communicate with each other? the Mad Max crew?).

For others like myself, the Utah wilderness virgins - and there are many of us - it’s a harrowing chug over boulders and granite ledges, the edge of an old mining road crumbling into an intimidating drop just outside the window. And as the underside of the car bangs against one of the stone hunks, it’s easy to question the worthiness of coming out here.

I’m not alone. In fact, I’ve never seen another Airbnb listing where reviewers both caution and defend the journey to a place with such enthusiasm.

"As we headed out on Hurrah Pass we had no idea what we were in for...or if we would make it without sliding down a cliff - but it was all worth it. Words really can't describe what this place is like."

"The road to get there is really as bad as other reviewers have mentioned. We read some of the other reviews and figured they were just wimps. You will be happy once you get there…"

"Regarding the ground clearance for the road out to Last Hurrah; we took our own side-by-side on a trailer hooked up to our Ford Explorer Sport and did not rub the air dam once. Would we take that vehicle out there again? No, it was a pretty rough ride out and over the pass. Was it worth it? Yes!"

After reading the reviews, I put this trip on the back burner, placing it under further scrutiny for about two months.

For comparison sake, it once took me two years to decide on a couch. TWO YEARS. And those are two actual years, not two social media years. Two social media years are probably the equivalent of five minutes. At least that’s how it feels.

I try not to dwell on those sorts of decisions anymore.

That, in part, is what’s motivated me to launch this blog. I’ve always loved to explore, but sometimes my fears (and/or my father’s brainwashing around risk/reward) get in the way. I overanalyze. I labor over every thought. And, ultimately, I talk myself out of the things that push me closer to a more confident self.

Tom wasn’t surprised we made it safely. He’s welcomed hundreds of guests, albeit many of them arriving with a hefty sense of relief. An entrepreneur from California and seeking a different life, Tom tells the story of how he first ventured out here in a BMW sports car back when the road was "way worse."

He’s since developed his Base Camp Adventure Lodge into a sprawling compound that includes a main house, a condo, two Hogans, and a lodge where he rents private rooms.

Constructed of timber poles, bark, and mud, the Hogans are sacred dwellings to the Navajo and used for ceremonial purposes. They’re also a bit of a rare find even amid the diverse selection of rentals online. Many of the others are spread amongst the four corners territory.

For me, Tom’s was the most accessible, even considering the road, and also the most affordable. One traditional Hogan listed on Glamping Hub in Monument Valley rents at $1540.60 a night. Not saying it’s not worth it, but it’s probably not worth it. Also, there is no alcohol allowed within Hogans seated on Navajo land as the Navajo Nation is basically a 27,413-square-mile dry zone. A consideration for some, including myself.

Most Hogans I’ve found online rent in the $85-$200 range. A stay in a Hogan at Tom’s is currently advertised around $135/night.

The interior is cozy. On the bed you stare up into a conical teepee of knotty pine. Two seating areas, a real bed with linens, lamps, and area rugs make if feel a bit homier. A thin shoot of a hallway transitions outside where an Igloo fridge, coffee maker, cookware, and other helpful things you’ve probably forgotten like paper towels are stowed.

From there, a stone patio spreads into a lean-to and fire pit. More stairs transition down to a grill area and a separate bathroom shared with the other Hogan. I’ll add that pretty much everything is covered in a stubborn layer of red dust, so there has to be some allowance for cleanliness.

Those who come here seek all sorts of experiences, and Tom is happy to provide them. There’s hiking, kayaking, disc golf, and you can rent one of Tom’s side-by-sides to explore several sites nearby.

The best amenity, in my opinion, is the blissful disconnect of existing off the grid. There’s no cell service and no wifi at the Hogans. There’s no television. It’s walking out in the morning to utter silence, the kind of silence that reminds you of how loud the rest of the world is. I’d say it’s even a bit strange at first. But you’ll adjust, I promise.

PS. A horror film is being shot here. Bonus.

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