“Ranger Review: Renogy Phoenix Generator at Sand Flats Recreation Area, Moab UT”
Famous among mountain bikers, off-road motorcyclists, and 4-wheelers, the campgrounds at Moab’s Sand Flats Recreation Area offer spectacular views of undulating sandstone, dramatic canyons, and the nearby La Sal Mountains. Not to mention, silly quick access to the Slickrock and Porcupine Rim trails (for you mountain bikers). Camping is permitted in designated sites only, and there are over 120 campsites, in 9 loops. But in the spring and fall the campground is typically full Thursday through Saturday, and 85% to full other nights. Like I said, it’s famous.
Campsites cannot be reserved, and are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis only. They all have a picnic table, metal fire ring and nearby vault toilets. Sites are limited to 10 people and 2 vehicles per site, and all vehicles must park in the designated areas provided. You will also need to bring water for drinking, cooking and cleaning, as there is none available at the campground. There are no power hookups or RV dump facilities. Be aware that if you are planning on camping mid-May to mid-September daytime temperatures can be in the high 90's to 105 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Many sites are devoid of trees, so bringing your own shade is highly recommended. Additionally, this area sees frequent windy days, with gusts that have the capability of turning un-staked tents into $500 kites.
Now every site in the campground has its pros and cons, but one of the true beauties of this area is that you’re never very far from slickrock, or sand. And that’s largely all kids, or kids at heart, need. A small bag of sand toys, gardening shovels, and about 20 sq feet of sand, and kids can amuse themselves for days. They can be quite torn between going for a mountain bike ride, or just hanging at camp and creating imaginary worlds in the sand. Some sites have a modicum of privacy, while others are perched in the open, and your neighbors could be dirty hippy climbers, or a posse of jeep fanatics. Thus, one must be prepared to experience the broad spectrum of outdoor enthusiasts, but then again, that’s what makes Moab…Moab.
And remember, it's called slick rock for a reason, and follow good Leave No Trace practices, and Don't Bust The Crust!
(Biological soil crusts are alive. They live on top of the sand and consist of cyanobacteria. These crusts stick to the sand and prevent it from blowing and washing away; they absorb water; and they provide food to the plants. Basically, without biological soil crusts, there would not be many plants in the desert)
As a Ranger for The Dyrt it is a privilege to be able to test a variety of gear, and on this portion of my extended camping trip, I got to spend 10 days testing the Renogy Phoenix Generator 20W All-in-one Solar Kit tent camping at the Sand Flats Rec area in Moab, Utah. Renogy says “The Phoenix is an all-in-one portable solar power system specifically designed for mobile, off-grid applications and is ideal for emergencies. This compact, lightweight backup generator combines two highly efficient Renogy 10W Monocrystalline Solar Panels and can expand up to 120 watts with additional PVs. The Phoenix can be charged by solar, AC power, or car power.”
As with any piece of equipment, the two base root questions are, “What are my needs?” And, “Does this piece of equipment fulfill that need?” Although Renogy uses the terms “compact,” and “lightweight,” the Phoenix is neither if you’re looking for something to take into the backpacking. At 12.78 lbs, and roughly 16”X14”X4”, this is a car camping, river trip, yurt/hut trip, or tailgating piece of gear. In my mind it is perfect for charging phones, ipads, computers, DSLR cameras, any powering any appliances or gadgets (under 150 watts) that a family (especially one with kids) might take on an adventure where space and weight are not primary concerns. It is also touted as a backup power source in case of an emergency. Thankfully, I have yet to experience such an emergency, but if I had (or when I do), I’m sure I will find the Renogy Phoenix Solar Generator to be a lifesaver.
I charged the replaceable Lithium-Ion battery at home prior to the trip. While it arrived with some juice, it takes about an hour to gain an additional 25% charge plugged in to 110. Recharging with pure solar would be my last option. Renogy claims it will charge in 10 hours under the sun, but my calculations would put it at about two days, especially when you leave camp to hike or ride and have to pack the Phoenix up, (or lock it up?) lest it find a new home while you’re away. Solar, however, is a great way to “keep up” with the draw of charging phones and iPads. Even on an overcast day, the Phoenix was harvesting power from the sun! Pretty cool. I was impressed that a single iPhone charge from roughly 0% to full, used only 3% of the Phoenix’s battery capacity, and was super speedy, around 2 hours! And with 4 USB ports it was nice to be able to charge multiple devices at once. The Phoenix also features a super bright LED light that would be helpful in emergencies.
The Phoenix also comes with 5 cords for a host of AC and DC input and output options. Including one DC to light bulb socket, perhaps to be used for that party atmosphere. The plug areas are inset behind cover plates, which helps with Renogy’s claim of water resistance, but the plate must be open to access any port, negating the water resistance and creating a potential point of breakage in an otherwise robust case. That’s about my only nit to pick. The Renogy company offers a great warranty and great tech support in case you are confused by all of the options. In addition, it is incredibly user friendly. It has a replaceable battery with a 1500 cycle lifespan, that can keep all your devices charged on extended adventures, and, well that’s pretty cool. So if that describes your needs, the Renogy Phoenix will fulfill them.
Custer State Park is a great place to stay and explore. There are 5 lakes within Custer State Park, four of which allow boating. Swimming, fishing and hiking are all great ways to enjoy this park. Sylvan Lake campground is beautiful, and popular. If you are looking for a more peaceful camping experience, try one of the other campgrounds within Custer State Park. They are all beautiful though, you really can't go wrong!
There are 5 first come, first served campsites near the Gold Bar Group sites that are non-reservable and usually open when the rest of the camping has been scooped up! They may not be the most scenic spots, (like camping in a gravel parking lot) but the views of the colorado are nice, and the Gold Bar camping is located directly across the street from one of the best hikes in Moab…Corona Arch! Corona Arch is a super fun, 3 mile hike that features a huge arch that you can walk right underneath! The hike has a few mildly technical spots…a ladder, the "moki" steps, and a handrail section. Make sure you visit corona arch during your stay at the gold bar sites!
If you're lucky enough to visit the Moab area in fall, make sure Warner Lake Campground is on your list. We stayed in mid October and it was unbelievably beautiful (although crisp at night…). If you are new to the area, be sure you double check your map before heading out to the campground, there are two ways to get to Warner Lake, and neither are particularly quick.
Kens Lake is a hidden gem of the Moab Valley. It's a great spot to camp and is close to town and great biking, hiking, park-touring. Kens lake is actually a reservoir…it has a gravel bottom and the shores / beaches are gravel as well. It's a nice spot to cool off during the heat of the day. Not a lot of shade, no lawns, but it does have a great hiking trail that meanders around the hillside and across a stream. Kens lake is big-rig friendly. My parents parked their toy hauler 5th wheel at a spot in the Kens Lake campground and it was a bargain compared to the RV resorts, with much more character too!
This is the quietest, darkest national park i've ever camped at. There are only 12 sites, and they have great spacing, and most that camp way up in the Island In the Sky area of Canyonlands, are there for the stars, the peace, and the quiet. No barking dogs, revving engines, or loud music. This is the best spot for meteor showers, try to make it for an August Persed meteor show in the future. No reservations allowed for the campground at Willow Flat, it's a first come, first served camp. No water available either. Bring what you need! And enjoy the amazing hikes in the area!
Great base camp to explore the Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands "Island In The Sky" National park. If it's hot in the rest of the valley, you'll be slightly cooler up at camp, and the no-see-ums are not as prevalent. The camping spots are nicely dispersed and there are pinion pine and juniper for further privacy and separation. This is a beautiful campground and the new mtn biking trails are a great addition! When we stayed, there was even a coffee / sandwich stand near the visitors center that offered breakfast burritos and hot coffee! What a treat when you're a good distance from town. The visitors center is beautiful, and well run, and offers puzzles and other activities for the kids and a great junior ranger program as well.
Can be loud at night on the weekends. Lots of late arrivals due to proximity to the freeway (just my guess, but seems like the late arrivals only stayed a few hours). The state park offers boat, jetski, and other watercraft rentals, so this is a great spot to go if you like power sports on the water! It was peaceful in the early hours of the morning, but once the waterskiing starts up, the noise can be distracting. If you're looking for peace and solitude, look elsewhere! However, if you need the convenience of the location, it serves that purpose quite well!
The Grandstaff campground is in a great location if you plan to ride porcupine rim (ride into Moab and up through the Sand Flats rec area first, finish at camp), or if you plan to hike the Negro Bill canyon trail (it's literally across the street!). This campground is perfect for tents or cab-over-campers. Trailers would not be ideal. Unfortunately, the BLM has had to remove a lot of the bushes and invasive tamarisk, so the campground is sparse, but in a few years, it should be much better as they've replanted with native plants. The new paved biking path that runs along 128 is a positive addition to the area, and you'll be able to enjoy it right from your camp spot! If you've never hiked Negro Bill, find a spot at this campground, and do it. It's shady, protected from some of the winds that Moab sees during Spring and Fall, has plenty of water to splash in, and is beautiful! Read the signs posted at the trailhead, as there IS poison ivy in negro bill canyon area.
The Heber Valley is beautiful and Jordanelle State Park is a great place to stay while you explore the area. It's a lovely, clean, well run state park that sits on a nice reservoir that is perfect for boating. I stayed here with my children at the end of June and while day time temps were high, the lake was cool and clean, the nights cooled off quickly, and there were no bugs to keep us from enjoying our s'mores by the fire. The sites are nicely spaced, there is a great playground, and plenty of campground trails to walk the dog.
One of our favorite spots along US 40, this campground sits above Strawberry Reservoir and has great aspens that put on quite a show in the fall. We were lucky enough to spot moose (a safe distance away - i used a zoom lens to capture) the last time we were there. The campground is usually fairly empty mid-week in the fall, unless it's hunting season!
This is a decent spot to rest your head. It used to be a free dispersed camping area, but it became popular and so the BLM added an open-air potty and added a fee. The road in can be a bit rough, so check the road if you have a low clearance vehicle or are hauling a trailer. The sunsets here are spectacular. The location is great, just down the road from the Canyonlands "Island In The Sky" National Park, be sure to make time for exploring this great beauty!
This is a great spot to camp if you want to ride the course for the 18hrs of Fruita mountain bike race. The lake is simple and clean, there is a large swim beach and the visitors center has childrens fishing gear that is free to use during your visit. There is a wooden play structure as well. This is a quiet park, far removed from the freeway and the noise of the city. It's an oasis in the dusty desert that is Fruita. The sites are nestled in a grassy flat area which is a welcome break from the dry, sage covered lands that surround it.
Devils Garden campground, at the far end of Arches National Park, is a beautiful spot for a night or a week. You'll never tire of the views, or the many hiking trails nearby. The camp spots are nicely spaced, and if you come during off-season, you might even have the place to yourself. Take the landscape arch trail right from your camping spot, or head towards sand dune arch for an entirely different experience. Kids LOVE sanddune arch, and it's a great place to go to get away from the heat, or the wind.
MOSQUITOS!!! If you are sensitive to mosquito bites, call the park rangers for an update before you make the drive. The dunes are amazing, but the mosquitos were so thick it made camping miserable. 5 minutes out of the car and i already had 15 bites! Kids that had been there a day or two looked like they were suffering from chicken pox. We were there at the end of June. Best to hit this park at a less buggy time of year. The observatory is really neat, try and be there on a friday or saturday night for one of their programs, but be forewarned, they leave the doors open, and the observatory is just steps away from a mosquito incubator (i.e. a swamp).
Lopez island is a slow paced beauty, and this park is a great place to camp while you explore all there is to see! Spencer Spit State Park campground is a heavily forested area on a lagoon enclosed sand spit. There are a few walk-in spaces to camp on the spit itself as well. We visited the park midweek in early June and had the entire campground to ourselves. The beach area is about a 10 minute walk from the campground. The beach is littered with beautiful driftwood and shells and even clams! There are picnic tables down on the spit, so pack a lunch and spend the day down at the beach, or come down in the evening for star watching and s'mores. The only drawback to this area were the bugs. Not much to be done about that, but perhaps a different time of year would be better?
If there is one spot i'd recommend, out of all of the camping on the ferry-served san juan islands, it's Moran State Park, on Oracas Island. We stayed in the Mountain Lake section of the State Park, and it was amazing. Secluded. Quiet. Beautiful. This would be a tough spot to camp during a busy weekend however as the spots are super close, but it's worth it. We camped mid week in May and had the campground to ourselves. It was heavenly. The lake is placid and clear, there were NO mosquitos at all. FYI: Cell coverage is spotty, verizon's coverage was nonexistent, but the ranger had at&t and said she had some coverage. There is a pay phone just up the road in case of emergencies. The Cascades Lakes campground looks more suited to resort camping with showers, a lake with boat rentals, and a small store, but i much prefer the Mountain Lake section. Bring a paddle board, or a canoe, or your hiking shoes, and leave reality behind for a few days or weeks. : ) The hike that goes around mountain lake is spectacular. Moss, old growth trees, creeks to cross, wildflowers, and best of all, if the campground is empty, you'll have the hiking trail to yourself as well!