Everyone is living the van life to travel, but veteran Vernan Kee is going back to where he came.
#VanLife. It’s now so ubiquitous and cliché that mentioning it is more frequently preceded by an eye roll and a giggle rather than intrigue. Yes, that once counterculture vagabond-for-adventure dream of living in your vehicle and traveling the country is bordering dangerously on mainstream, certainly in affluent outdoor circles. And yet to many, the reality is not a choice but still all too often a last-ditch effort to survive when shit hits the fan. For this reason among many, both older generations and certain cultural groups — and especially those unfettered by mainstream media — still look upon this lifestyle with utter confusion.
And then someone like this guy comes along.
Meet Vernan Kee, a freelance graphic designer who has been living in his van around the Four Corners for the last year, particularly touring the almost 30,000-square-mile Navajo Nation. Needless to say, the van life hasn’t hit everywhere.
Kee beautifully illustrates the fun in showcasing his lifestyle, especially among his peers.
“I enjoy explaining what ‘van life’ is to the community on the reservation,” he said. “Most people on the reservation don’t have cable TV or even electricity, so keeping up with what’s going on in the world is limited.”
Kee shared one of his favorite stories from the juxtaposition of cultures.
Kee’s Instagram account, @rezroads_sw, pulls these two cultures together in a beautiful and captivating way, aiming to educate himself and others about the sacred lands he roams. Today he lives with his girlfriend and their dogs in their 2018 Ford Transit Van named “Big Bruce.”
“When I went to visit my grandma and help her with chores, she would get calls from the community asking if she is OK,” he says. “They would say, ‘We see the ambulance at your house,’ or ‘Can you have the medics come over after taking care of you?’ Then she would explain in Navajo that the van was my home.”
“The inside now has walls, a roof fan and a bed/storage I built,” he says. “I plan to redo the inside sometime in the future, but it works for now.”
His voyage into van life began far from the place he calls home.
“It was all after a trip with Sierra Club Military Outdoors that I decided that this is what I wanted to do every day,” he says. “Living outdoors with Mother Nature. I kept hearing about people buying vans and building them out, so that’s what I did. Since then I haven’t missed a sunset or sunrise and most of the time wake up to coyotes singing in the distance.”
Time in the Marines shaped his current path.
“I enlisted in the United States Marines Corps in 2006 after a failed attempt at college,” Kee says. “I didn’t know what to do and had no guidance or mentor to look to. I followed my best friend who also enlisted and decided this was the right path for me. I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, a part of Operation Enduring Freedom, and returned in 2010 to attend The Art Institute of California.”
Today, Kee designs logos for Military Outdoors and the Sierra Club, while currently working to become an outdoor guide on the Navajo Nation and Four Corners. Even when he is not at work, he spends his time delving into the pursuit of his passions.
“I enjoy being outdoors with my dogs and roaming free on the land I grew up on. When not designing in the van, I am practicing my hand lettering or finding new places to explore,” he says.
So far, Kee considers the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness his favorite spot.
“Watching the thunderstorm move across the landscape,” he says, “and lightning hitting the ground in the distance.”