This past weekend we attended our first Syncro Solstice and had a blast. We met great people, spent countless hours talking shop with other Vanagoners, and enjoyed the beautiful Utah Desert.
This was the sixth annual Syncro Solstice, held in the lovely Lone Mesa campground outside of Moab. This region of Utah is like a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, so we eagerly packed up our climbing gear and mountain bikes before heading out. It’s only about a 7 hour drive from Boulder, so we made it to the area by the mid afternoon. As we came around one river bend on the lovely Highway 128 we were treated to a great view of the Fisher Towers (our afternoon climbing destination) in front of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains.
We spent the evening climbing Ancient Art, one of the classic climbs in the Fisher Towers. The route goes up the side of one of the towers, then snakes all the way to the very top of one of the corkscrew spires. Unfortunately, it’s also a very popular route, so we had to wait our turn and by the time we started our rappel from the top it was totally dark. We didn’t make it to the Lone Mesa campground until close to midnight, but we were pleasantly greeted by crackling campfires and friendly smiles.
In the morning we poked our heads out of the van to see more Vanagons in one place than we had ever seen before. We knew to expect a bunch of vans, but we hadn’t imagined how awesome it would be to actually see them all together. The campground is made up of five different loops, and even on Friday morning all of them were ringed with vans, with several more in the middle. At breakfast we mingled with folks who traveled from as far away as British Columbia and Louisiana. Then we joined the long caravan of vehicles heading off on an adventure drive. In an impressive line of at least 20 vans, we drove into Canyonlands National Park, then out Shafer Trail. The road quickly turned into a one-lane gravel route snaking along the edge of a huge canyon, then switch-backing down the side. Since we were one of the few vans with a radio, we took the caboose position so we could help out if anyone broke down. This also offered us the chance to stop and photograph the caravan on the switchbacks. The sheer scale of the canyon made each van look like a toy, as if some giant kid had carved tracks into a hillside and lined up their mini micro machines.
Once we reached the desert floor we wound our way along the canyon walls, through small washes, and eventually back out to the highway. It was a great group drive, easy enough for the 2WD vans, but still adventurous, and full of beautiful vistas.
The following day, we decided to make more use of our climbing gear, so we made our way through the tourist throngs into the heart of Arches National Park. Following a rather misleading route description in a guidebook we scrambled our way through narrow canyons, up rock ramps and easy walls, and through desert gardens hidden within the rock fortress to some fixed anchors at the top of a canyon wall, where we rappelled into another sandy garden. Scrambling up a long rock incline took us to the mesa in the middle of the fortress – the summit of Elephant Butte, the highest point in Arches National Park. The views from the top were amazing, offering a full 360° view of the park with the La Sal Mountains in the background. Another scramble down a rock incline, then a rappel into a sandstone cove brought us back to the desert floor and Hobie waiting patiently in the van. Despite the fierce wind blowing the snot across our faces, it was an excellent day of canyoneering.
That evening the camp reached peak Vanagon density and we took the opportunity to check out all of the innovative variations on modifications and customizations. There were at least 75 Vanagons in the camp, ranging from decked out syncro Westies with all of the bells and whistles to stock tin top 2WDs, and everything in between. Even more interesting than seeing all of the vans was chatting with their owners, who were from all walks of life. There was also an abundance of dogs, who roamed in small packs, concentrating around the cooking areas. In our loop, Hobie was one of several senior dogs, who seemed to enjoy shambling around slowly and commiserating over sore hips and paws. As the final night of Syncro Solstice 2016, the parties continued long into the wee hours, with some Vanagoners sharing whiskey around a campfire and others dancing to a disco ball turning inside a van.
On Sunday morning we got out for a bike ride near the campground. The trail was easy and fun, winding across slickrock, through sandy spits, and over rock ridges. It had been a wet spring in Utah, so the area was exceptionally green and the wildflowers were in full bloom, decorating the landscape with color.
It was a terrific weekend filled with good people, good food, and good times. We plan to return to Syncro Solstice next year, and hope to meet up with some of our new van friends for more adventures in the meantime.