Photographer:James Barkman
Camera:Minolta XE-7
Film:Kodak Portra 400, Ektar 100

Desert Dwelling Van Lifers in Joshua Tree National Park

New friends, old vans, and ancient cacti in one of California's most treasured landscapes

It seems most Americans these days are content to pump their gas with a scowl on their face and headphones in their ears, happy to let the world around them exist with minimal interaction. Thankfully in the vanlife community this isn’t the case—there’s always someone who’s stoked to share a few “yews” and a high five or two. This is how I met Sean Collier, at a gas station in San Luis Obispo California, on his way back from a camping and surf mission in Big Sur. I complimented his badass van, and before I knew it we had agreed to meet back up and camp out in Joshua Tree shortly thereafter. One brief conversation was all it took.

Thankfully Sean and his girlfriend Avrie were not tweakers, and eventually showed up at the designated meeting place, Hidden Valley Campground in Joshua Tree. His 1995 GMC Vandura was late, of course. Can’t push the ole girl.

Fortunately the only trouble that either van gave us on the trip was a stubborn—yet easily bypassed—ignition switch. Otherwise it was smooth sailing. The next few days were spent camping, driving around the desert, exchanging campfire stories, watching shooting stars, and climbing rocks. And then there was the mysterious UFO sighting… still trying to figure that one out.

It’s funny that to so many people, the way Sean and I met would seem foreign, or “weird.” But really, I’ve made many friends this way, and would never think twice about it. The nomadic/vanlife/traveling community is fascinating to be involved in, and a part of. Friendships are often forged in minutes, and moments of mechanical breakdown only stand to make them stronger. It’s safe to say I look forward to making many more trips and memories with Sean in the years to come.

When I’m old and feeble, I think what I’ll remember most about this time of my life will be the characters I met and came to know. I’ll throw my grandkids on my knee and tell endless tales of crazy people and wild places. Can’t do that with headphones in.

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Photographer, surfer, thrill seeker, and life enthusiast, James has called the road—and his faithful but not necessarily trusty 1976 VW Type 2 van—home for the past few years with no plans to stop anytime soon. Currently boondockin’ around the Pacific Northwest with his DR350 dual sport in tow.
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