AI generated image of a dirt road in the desert mountains surrounded by Joshua Trees at sunset with neon purples. pinks, yellows, and oranges.

An Honest Story about Vanlife in the Mojave Desert

It was July of 2020 and I was driving back to my home state of Colorado from Indiana for the last time after taking the opportunity to relocate during the pandemic. Following close behind was my partner Luke, with our newly purchased Ford E-350 Super Duty Turtle Top Shuttle that, over the next eight months, would turn into our full-time home on wheels. Vanlife was on the horizon.

Then it was May of 2021, and we were trotting around the outskirts of Mohave County in Arizona in search of a plot of land to purchase and call our own. Before we knew it, we were landowners and with an incredible journey ahead of us.

And then suddenly, it was 2022, and we were starting the year off on our land in the Mojave Desert, living in the shuttle van we converted with our own two hands. We spent five whole months experimenting with the land, building on it—and with it—and letting our creativity take the wheel.

Today, in March of 2023, I sit in that van on that very piece of land looking out at the last sunrise I will witness in the Mojave Desert for a while as another season closes and we head to the mountains of Colorado to escape the looming Arizona desert heat.

It has been a wild ride that I don’t reflect on often enough. 

Reflecting on the Sustainability of Vanlife

I arrived on our land this winter for our short eight week stay with the unrealistic expectation that we could get started on our septic system plans and submit building plans to the county. For anyone who has done this work as a beginner and amateur, it is probably obvious that I set myself up for some major disappointment. Other things, like continuing to build our online business and consulting clientele, took priority. Life took priority.

2020, 2021, and 2022 where all full of new adventures, big dreams, and leaps of faith. Now in my third full year of this lifestyle experiment, the spark is not as bright. The novelty has worn off and those creature comforts are louder in my ear. A hot shower, unlimited water and electricity, and a laundry room that is closer than an hour drive away have been taunting me for these past two months.

But does that mean it is time to quit? To find a regular “job,” rent an apartment, and succumb to the pressures of this world that have always made me miserable? Absolutely not.

Read: Spring Brings Vibrant Cactus Flowers to the Mojave Desert

Crushing my Doubts

My doubt has been louder than my confidence lately, but that doesn’t mean my doubt deserves to be louder. This lifestyle I’ve chosen is a part of my story for a reason. It’s here to help me foster the life I KNOW is possible. It’s here to ensure I never have to burry my own values for another organization again. It’s here to show me what I’m capable of and how beautiful life can be when you build it with our own two hands.

This off-grid desert homestead project is huge. It was never going to be finished in five months and eight weeks’ time. And it likely won’t be finished in the next chunk of time we spend here. And in some ways, that is what I love about it. I just somehow forgot that detail over these past eight weeks as I let my impatience take hold and distract me from the beauty of this process.

Photo of the sunset highlighting the rain falling down on the Hualapai Mountains in Arizona's Mojave Desert.

Moving Steadily Toward a Sustainable life

I started off this blog as a reflection of my time here as I watched the sun rise over the Hualapai Mountains for the last time until the next time. And while the septic system is still not installed, and building plans have not been submitted for review, progress was absolutely made. 

We reinforced the outdoor kitchen structure we built in 2022, cleared more of the land of dead or deteriorating cacti, continued to build up our living area with fill dirt taken from our own land, honed our vision for how this land can serve us in our life, and—most importantly—challenged ourselves to persist.

The future is still foggy as I envision what this off-grid desert homestead will look like, how it will operate, and the role it will play in our lives. But one day that fog will clear, and the diligence will be worth it.

Read: Van Life with a Cat: Complete with all the Cute Cat Photos

Stephanie Wilson

Stephanie was born and raised in Colorado where she developed her great appreciation for exploring big open spaces outdoors. She is a Sociology PhD and advocates for the discipline of applied sociology in her role as a founder of Applied Worldwide, a digital content production and consulting company. Dr. Wilson is an adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Northern Colorado and a researcher of health inequalities. She is also a dancer at heart, serves on the Board of Directors for the Colorado Dance Collective, and is always looking for her next opportunity to perform, teach, or choreograph.