A couple with their 6 dogs are traveling across the Navajo Nation in a van and rescuing puppies along the way
- In 2018, Chantal Wadsworth and Vernan Kee set out to explore the Navajo Nation in a 50-square-foot van.
- Today, the couple lives in the van and a 150-square-foot trailer with their six dogs.
- Along the way, the couple educates others on Navajo history and rescues stray dogs.
For Chantal Wadsworth, van life provides her with the things she loves most in life: sunrises, sunsets, sacred spaces, and saving strays.
Van life also gave the 32-year-old and her partner, Vernan Kee, the chance to reunite with where they grew up: the Navajo Nation, the US's largest Native American reservation spanning 27,000 square miles across New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah."Van life really just gave us the life that we imagined," Wadsworth told Insider.
"What we really want to do is educate more people, and more Navajo people, about our area and about our homeland," Wadsworth said. "Because I feel like if we don't pass on this information, it will just disappear."
The couple lives with their six dogs in a 50-square-foot van that pulls a 150-square-foot trailer. As they explore and educate, they also rescue stray dogs.
The couple shares their adventures on their Instagram account, RezRoads.
Reuniting with their homelandBoth Wadsworth and Kee grew up on the Navajo reservation.As young adults, the couple left the reservation and settled down in San Diego, California. After living in the city for about eight years, the couple was reminded of their love for the outdoors. They started spending every weekend camping, hiking, and exploring a new part of California.
The California landscapes were drastically different than the Navajo reservation, but being in nature made the couple miss their childhoods in the outdoors.
"We really wanted to do more exploring of our homeland," she said.During the summer of 2018, the couple's apartment lease was ending. Instead of renewing, they purchased a 50-square-foot Ford Transit van, left San Diego, and headed back home to explore the reservation's 27,000 square miles.
As they travel, the couple rescues stray dogs
In 2018, the couple started their van journey with three dogs.
After a year and a half, they'd adopted three more dogs. And with Bruce, Harley, Koba, Sandy, Bear Bear, and Dusty taking up a majority of the van's space, the couple needed an upgrade.At the beginning of 2020, they purchased a 150-square-foot travel trailer, which their van tows.
Wadsworth, Kee, and their six dogs originally lived in the van, but now the trailer serves as their primary living quarters. That's where the couple sleeps, works, cooks, and showers. The van was repurposed to house six crates for the couple's rescues."If we're traveling and we see a stray dog, we'll pick them up, and then we'll get in contact with a rescue," Wadsworth said. Then the couple will meet up with the animal shelter to drop off the dog.
Wadsworth and Kee will also set out to find dogs others have reported and bring them back to the shelter.Wadsworth said they've rescued more than 40 dogs since their journey began. While their dogs' home base might be small, Wadsworth said they are so happy and thrilled with the freedom they get from living in a van.
"Every time we open that van door, they're just so excited," she said. "They're so eager to go exploring and just so happy to be where we are. That just makes us even happier."
For two and a half years, the couple explored the Navajo Nation from their home on wheels
Beyond exploring the beauty of America's Southwest, exploring the Navajo Nation has given Wadsworth and Kee the chance to connect with their family on a deeper level and "learn more about the places that we hold and we cherish so much."Wadsworth said they typically avoid popular, tourist destinations. Instead, they listen to their friends' and families' memories and stories to find their next stop.
Her grandmother might share a childhood memory; then Wadsworth and Kee set out to find it.
"It's a lot of history that's not really written down," Wadsworth said. "So you really have to go out there and learn about these places."Wadsworth said the sunsets and sunrises are one of their favorite parts of van life.
The couple estimates they've explored 10% of the reservation and driven more than 40,000 miles in their van since 2019. Many of their stops have been on private tribal land, not open to visitors. Since Wadsworth and Kee grew up on the reservation, they can explore freely.For any non-Native visitors interested in traveling within the reservation, Wadsworth encouraged them to register for a camping permit, follow maps, and visit the Navajo Nation website for guidance on where to travel.
The couple plans to continue rescuing and traveling, but with a permanent home base
COVID has limited the couple's ability to travel, so for the majority of the pandemic, they've remained stationary. The couple still lives out of their van and trailer parked on Wadsworth's grandmother's property.Wadsworth said they've missed having the space to stretch out and a stable home base, so the couple purchased some land and a home on the reservation. This summer, the couple plans to move into their first stationary home. While they might have a home base, Wadsworth said they plan to keep their van to continue traveling and rescuing dogs.
In the meantime, the couple is focused on educating other Navajo children about their land and helping make the outdoors more accessible, Wadsworth said.
"It's not just about exploring," Wadsworth said. "I would really love to inspire other people to learn as much about the land and also continue to educate future generations."
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