How The Mandagies Found Adventure on the Way to Sedona

Berty Mandagie in Sedona

Our newest Teva Explorers, Emily and Berty Mandagie planned their Southwest road trip itinerary to perfection—but fate had other plans. Hear what went wrong and yet so right. Words and Photos by Emily and Berty Mandagie

…And our car key snapped. Two clean (shockingly separated) pieces, one in hand and the other hiding out in the keyhole of our van.

Our IDs, wallets, camera gear, clothes…everything was in that van.

This was day three out of seven on our van trip around the Southwest, and you could say that things weren’t exactly going according to plan.

Emily Mandagie Valley Of Fire State Park

Emily Mandagie in the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. Pictured: Original Universal in GC100 Boomerang.


But let’s rewind a little bit.

Last week, we rented a Sprinter van and decided to take an epic road trip around the Southwest USA. We planned for weeks to venture out to crazy-beautiful spots, take epic hikes, and make the most of every waking moment of our trip.

However, the problem with planning for weeks and weeks means that you can set your expectations to unrealistic heights. We were guilty of planning to the point of no wiggle-room, no room for “error.” We were going to see all the sights, capture all the moments, and take in all the experiences… because we planned for it.

Looking back at our time, we now know that was crazy thinking. When has a road trip EVER gone exactly according to plan?

Just about halfway through the trip, (yep, the key snapping incident) we suddenly came to the realization that we weren’t leaving room for adventure. We were planning so much that any alteration to the plan threw us for a loop. But it didn’t have to be this way.

That’s when we had a mind shift, a new way of looking at the trip still ahead of us.

Here’s our story of things NOT going according to plan, and how we had way more fun than we bargained for on our Southwest road trip.

Berty Mandagie in Sedona

Berty in the Hurricane XLT 2 in GC100 Boomerang.


Coming back from our first hike at the Valley of Fire State Park, we tried turning the key in the door and *snap,* one half remained in hand, the other in the door.

Cue two hours of figuring out how to get back in the car, calculating exorbitant towing costs in our head, and the ranger helping just in the nick of time. Thankfully the disaster was averted. We called the rental company, found a spare under the car and all was well again.

However, we spent most of our time dealing with the key, which ate into our “to-do” list of things to experience at the Valley of Fire.

Did we see everything on our list? Nope. But our key fiasco actually allowed us to spend more time with our friends, and ultimately kick our agenda out the window. In the end, that is what mattered most.

Emily Mandagie Death Valley Sand Dunes

Weathering the sand storms in Death Valley. Pictured: Original Universal in GC100 Boomerang.


Berty and I hiked to the farthest, tallest dunes in Death Valley to capture the miles of sandy land waves.

Little did we know that they were large for a reason—the wind was the strongest at the top, and sand invaded every pocket and sleeve and infiltrated our hair and cameras. Yikes!

We weren’t expecting to be bombarded with the stinging wind, but that’s the real desert for you. The experience was exhilarating and just a little bit scary, but it made our day that much more memorable. Not only did we capture photos on the highest dunes but we also captured the in-between moments that were pretty hilarious.

Our van meals tasted better because we earned it and we appreciated our clean, sand-less clothes more than anything. It was an early lesson in van life, that anything can happen on the road!

Emily Mandagie in Sedona


Yes, we carefully chose and hand-picked each and every trail to hike in Sedona, knowing the best places to capture pretty photos. Everything should have gone according to plan.

But one day, we found a picture of a cave hanging up at a restaurant and suddenly felt the need to find out where it was. We spent all afternoon researching, driving around and watching the blue dot on Google Maps move to where the fork in the trail would lead us next. It was an afternoon filled with new sights around every corner, and debating whether the scenery looked more like “The Lion King” or “Westworld.”

Berty Mandagie hiking in Sedona

Pictured: Hurricane Drift in Orange.

This was the theme for the rest of our time in Sedona. See cool picture, spend all afternoon finding said location, have the most fun.

Do we regret not sticking to our plan? Nope. Our plans changed by the hour, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way. We saw more than we bargained for and actually had more fun plotting and planning together on the spot!

Berty Mandagie in Sedona

Berty in the Hurricane XLT 2 in GC100 Boomerang.


Berty and I had researched some swimming holes to check out in Sedona. Too eager to leave our Washington snow-covered house for the desert sun, we assumed the Southwest would be blazing hot, perfect for a dip in the river.

What we didn’t account for were an extra snowy winter and higher-than-normal river levels. Reaching the end of our carefully-researched trail, we hit a dead end. The river was impassable!

Forced to stay on the “wrong” side of the river, we ended up stumbling on these shallow pools with an incredible view of Cathedral Rock for sunset.

If nature didn’t force us to stay in one place, we would have forged ahead and not looked back at the incredible view!

And yes, we still dipped our toes in the water.

Emily Mandagie hiking in Sedona.

Pictured: Hurricane Drift in Burnt Olive.


Okay, this one was intentional. Visiting Death Valley, Badwater Basin was a highlight of our road trip.

We assumed this was a “get out of the car, take your picture, and leave” kind of spot, but that assumption turned into a 90-minute visit.

Transfixed by the dried salt beds, natural patterns, and desert landscape, we spent way too much time wandering around in the lowest place in North America.

Being an overcast, spring day, the sun was out but not unbearable (like most other times of the year), so we found ourselves wandering nearly to the middle of the lake, nowhere really in particular to go.

It was nice to hit the pause button on our hurried agenda and experience a place to its full capacity!

Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park

The salt-blanketed Badwater Basin in Death Valley. Pictured: Original Universal in GC100 Boomerang.


We didn’t have the trip we set out to take. We had a better one.

Adventure happens when your plans fly out the window. It begins when you come across a new trail, when you get caught in a storm, and even when your key snaps in half.

We encourage you when planning your epic trip, to leave a little (a lot) of wiggle room. We realized that the most memorable moments were the ones we didn’t plan for, and we’re forever grateful for life not going according to plan.

Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park

On him: Hurricane XLT 2 in GC100 Boomerang. On her: Original Universal in GC100 Boomerang.

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