Creature Comforts: Go Camping
Writer Lara Piu
Photographers Scott Baxter and Gary Kellner
As a child living alongside the Columbia River in Southeastern Washington, Mike Hammer grew up with nature in his veins.
“I was in, on or near it almost every day, either hunting or fishing,” Mike recalls.
And, with a skilled army of nature know-how men at his side, the ability to navigate the wild was in his blood.
“I learned most of what I know today about hauling equipment, setting up a good camp and what works and what doesn’t from my dad and other old-school outdoorsmen, who learned it from previous generations of outdoorsmen,” he explains.
Mike spent 12 years on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit, competing as a bareback bronc rider in rodeos from Houston to Calgary and Cheyenne to Pendleton. He’s worked in the outdoor recreation industry since 1991, as well as a variety of other jobs.
“I’ve done about every job there is,” he explains, “from guiding to dishwashing to being stuntman on advertising campaigns. I’ve hauled equipment and clients into remote locations on the backs of horses, mules, helicopters, jet boats, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, whitewater rafts and kayaks.”
During that time, he worked for Abercrombie & Kent, Nike, Marlboro, Desert Mountain Club, Young Presidents’ Organization and more.
Meanwhile, his wife, Ashley, grew up on a horse farm in Kentucky, where her parents trained and showed horses. Combining their passion for nature and the outdoors, the couple established H2R Expeditions in 2008, a company that provides bespoke camps for clients throughout the western United States. Locally, the business operates a seasonal camp in North Scottsdale for Desert Mountain Club members on its private trail system.
“H2R was conceived with the idea to provide a comfortable lodging in unspoiled wild locations,” Mike recalls. “We set out to provide folks with an alternative to the typical campsite or run-of-the-mill lodges and hotels that you find in the American West.”
Like a traditional safari camp, H2R Expeditions’ camps are mobile.
“We built everything to break down and transport into places out of reach of traditional lodges,” Mike explains, noting that it allows customers to experience truly wild destinations. “When we take the camp down, we leave no trace. I often have trouble describing our camps without pictures, so I tell clients it’s like an American safari camp.”
Is this glamping?
“As far as the customer is concerned, they can call us whatever they want,” Mike answers. “We think that what we provide is much more than glamping.”
It may seem that way at first glimpse, he says, but the company’s camps are purpose-built, “and that purpose is for our customers to be able to enjoy a beautiful, wild and scenic place in comfort. Our focus is on the place where the camp is located, not the manmade things that are builton it. Our best customers are always the ones who come to camp to experience the place on an intimate level, not just for the novelty of sleeping in a tent that looks like it’s been decked out by an interior designer with all kinds of impractical accouterments.”
Inside the tents, there are real beds with mattresses, high thread count sheets, down comforters and Pendleton wool blankets, as well as en suite bathrooms with hot and cold running water, towels, bathroom amenities and heaters.
“We don’t consider these glamorous; we provide these things as a standard,” Mike explains.
Local chefs prepare regionally-inspired food.
“If you come to our camp at Desert Mountain, you’re going to see menu items prepared in a way that you’d expect from a true Southwestern chef,” Mike adds. “You’d also listen to music that’s inspired by the Southwest, because we hire musicians who play music that fits our camp and the environments where they’re set.”
Additionally, the company hires local guides who know the area.
“If you come to one of our camps in Arizona, California, Montana, Wyoming or wherever it is, we want you to come away with the feeling that you truly immersed yourself in that place.”
An adventurous clientele that appreciates creature comforts at the end of the day make up the company’s key customers, Mike explains. He works with Ashley and a small group of people with the necessary skills to make it happen.
“I consider myself extremely lucky to have met and worked side by side with great and talented people in a beautiful country,” he adds.
Mike designs, builds, transports, sets up and maintains the camp equipment; handles client logistical relations; and plays the role of host during camp operation. Ashley manages the billing and consults with the customer for a multitude of details such as food menus, food and beverage service, food allergies, sleeping arrangements, entertainment and special requests. Each camp requires attention to a slew of details, which is Mike’s kind of fun.
“I’m passionate about the process of designing, building and selecting the elements that comprise a great camp,” Mike explains. “I get great satisfaction from selecting the proper location of a camp, as well as arranging and setting up the infrastructure on-site in a way that meets or exceeds the customers’ expectations. I also enjoy putting together an excellent service team in camp, as well as the best local guides who handle recreational activities outside of camp.”
In their spare time, the couple unsurprisingly pursues other outdoorsy passions. Mike enjoys fly-fishing and hunting upland birds with his pointing dog, and Ashley is a full-time professional horse trainer who shows horses throughout the country.
Still, the benefits of running their expedition company are their main focus and first love, especially because of its intangible rewards.
I love to hear the customer say, ‘We’ll be back,’ I enjoy the opportunity to live and work in some of the most beautiful areas of America.
“I love to hear the customer say, ‘We’ll be back,’” Mike says. “I enjoy the opportunity to live and work in some of the most beautiful areas of America.”