After our first and surprisingly successful season (THANKS TO OUR MANY NEW FRIENDS AND REPEAT GUESTS!!!) here’s a few useful things we learned, as well as stuff (poor products etc.) we’d rather avoid in the future, so you can avoid them too:
1) Dirt Road Camp lived up to its name!
Our road is named “Dirt” for a reason, and our guests were at first intimidated by, then elated to ascend our steep and rough passage high atop the Catskills. 4-wheel drive is ideal, All-Wheel-Drive is advised, an enduro motorcycle or UTV is super sweet, and we’re always happy to drive our guests up from our parking lot to their campsites. We like to meet our guests in person, so everyone is comfortable and ready for a grand adventure!
2) Prepare to be Overwhelmed
Few expected to encounter how vast and spacious our campground truly is — Many guests saw no one else for days, and that’s how we dreamed it would be! Remember to bring all you might need because you might not want to leave!
3) Repeat Guests Are Our Best Guests!
We certainly didn’t plan on so many of our campers returning within weeks or a month to enjoy Dirt Road Camp again. Truly, we felt blessed to be offering a place that so many people would want to return to so soon. That said, plan and pick your dates wisely (weekdays are very private and cheaper up here ;). We are keeping Dirt Road Camp modest in scope so our guests are never camping right next to one another. Our year-round structures will grow in number, so will our campsites, but we’ll always make sure you are experiencing the “great outdoors.”
4) Weddings and Reunions!
Our very first guests were a family reuniting for a weekend high atop our mountain. Among our favorite repeat guests are a crew from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania who found us because we’re the perfect mid-point for them to meet-up. Our location and expanding amenities have brought many inquiries for weddings (the top of our mountain offers an amazing western sunset) and family reunions, so we are trying to juggle these with regular and repeat guests to keep everyone happy.
NOW FOR THE WISDOM...
The Internet lies, especially myriad products promising “off-grid” capabilities and outdoor gear that don’t match reality once put into action. That said, here’s what we learned by trying to install and/or use some rather cutting-edge technologies on our off-grid mountain:
1) Outdoor Showers Are A Challenge
Our guests (and us) absolutely love our rustic yet exhilarating outdoor shower! Combining harvested rainwater with a solar panel and a simple propane tank, our water is oftentimes TOO HOT (which is an odd complaint for an off-grid shower at 2,500 feet above sea level). Successfully building this shower was a joy but keeping it operational was a challenge, solely because some manufacturers promise the world while others understand off-grid realities. Our first “instant hot water heater” from Camplux was a complete failure, only exacerbated by poor customer service. The company’s online description said nothing of the need for high water pressure, which we only learned of after installing this expensive unit then troubleshooting for days why it wouldn’t even turn on… Our guests were incredibly patient (more so than us). Ultimately a pricey water pump was required, and then the entire unit failed weeks later, after only limited use. A full replacement was required, and we chose a Gasland Tankless Water Heater - at half the price of the Camplux and with full satisfaction!
2) An Online Deal Is Often A Joke
Avoid Yaheetech Pop-up Canopies at all costs! We had a reunion booked for our Bluestone group site and, on a whim, ordered their seemingly inexpensive 16x20 canopy. When it arrived, its assembly was clumsy and, hilariously (in retrospect) this outdoor canopy was utterly useless in the wind or rain! It stood for hardly two days, collapsing on itself and breaking into pieces, then taken to the dump, where it belongs.
3) Buy the Right Boots!
I burned through three pairs of boots. In seven months. Seriously. Kodiaks. The soles ripped away, cold wet water misery… When returning them (for the third time) the manager noted that, “These are only lifestyle boots…” Whatever that means, we agreed that maybe I need a different boot model and am not allowed to return them again.
4) Batteries are so 20th Century…
Lacking electricity on our mountain (truly off-grid) we tested multiple lights to keep our guests safe at night. The obvious winner was TomCare solar lights! This company’s lanterns and path-lights held up well, through sun, rain, snow, blizzards, you name it! Tom Care’s unique warm-amber-glow resembles a real flame, which we really love! What failed are any battery-required lanterns. They were not only wasteful - requiring battery swap-outs or total replacement far too soon - but did not offer the environmental sustainability that we want to embrace at Dirt Road Camp.
5) Milwaukee Rules!
Needing four outhouses, a full cabin built into a bluestone cliff, and a platform for our Davis wall tent all within only months, we chose Milwaukee Tools M18 series to get the job done. They didn’t disappoint! Even the circular saw kept a charge for hours, buzzing rough-cut timbers over two inches thick! A Sawzall is required during any construction (or deconstruction) and we simply can’t praise Milwaukee’s quality enough, after months of building high atop our mountain.
6) Others We LOVE
Davis Tent, a family-run company based out of Colorado, supplied us with our Peak Site wall tent, and this “elk hunting” package would make any early pioneer jealous. The company’s support has been consistent and reliable, while the quality of their tent (and the wood stove) are simply unequaled.
Also superior was the work of Richard Ambrose of Metal Mayhem Fabrication, the wild welder we were lucky to meet and hire to build our surreal “Merry-Go-Fire” contraption (four seats spinning around a full bonfire), as well as much of our signage and strange notions we thought impossible — Until we told Richie and he returned days later with our dreams in-hand!
Finally, we simply couldn’t have created Dirt Road Camp without Dorothy @ Apple Tree Realty in Andes, New York, Jack Pardee Landscaping for fixing our road, and Richard Liddle and his awesome rough-cut sawmill, where we got 90% of our wood to build with and burn. Thank You!
NOTE: None of the products or people endorsed or poorly reviewed above gave us anything to bias our opinion. Only usage in real-life, true camping conditions, gave us our experience and overriding opinions.
Finally, we must say how amazed we were, and remain, at how flexible and adaptive our guests truly are! We built Dirt Road Camp based on our dreams, and we hoped that others would embrace our vision. Opening our land and brand-new canvas wall tent and Lean-Too cabin to total strangers were definite risks… And these strangers responded remarkably, keeping our sites clean, even building their own benches and steps from our many bluestone quarries, pets were cleaned-up after, and any ill weather or unforeseen issues were taken in stride or totally laughed-off.
We feel blessed. And far wiser entering our second year in operation. We will continue to test emerging “off-grid” technologies, as well as basic camping gear, and always share our experiences and insights so you may shop wiser and, hopefully, avoid wasting time and effort when you should be relaxing and enjoying the outdoors.