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Electric Vehicles

America’s Best Idea, Now Accessible by EV

Tesla Superchargers are — finally — coming to some of our most remote National Parks.

An EV at Bryce Canyon.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The closest I came to battery oblivion happened in Bryce Canyon City, Utah.

Up above 7,600 feet, the December evening temperatures dipped to 10 below zero Fahrenheit as I pulled my Tesla Model 3 into Ruby’s Inn. Tesla’s website listed the hotel as a place with destination chargers that could refill the battery overnight. That guarantee did little good, since other EVs had snagged the few working plugs by the time we arrived. My car’s remaining range, suffering in the bitter cold, dropped below 20 miles as I scoured the sprawling hotel campus for other EV hookups the receptionist had marked on a paper map of the premises.

Finally, out in the middle of the snow, I saw the plug that was promised: a post with a single 120-volt outlet meant for the RVs that visit in sunnier months. My extension cord reached, barely. My battery would live through the night.

If you drive an electric vehicle to see the eerie hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park next year, you’ll have a far less anxious time than I did. The area recently won a Tesla contest in which drivers could vote for future Supercharger locations. Its prize was a promise that a fast-charging station would come to Bryce Canyon City. Last Sunday, a website that tracks permits and public records to discover the location of future Superchargers indicated one will be built right there at Ruby’s Inn, the site of my struggle.

Bryce isn’t alone. As charging stops fill in the map of the U.S., Tesla is racing to build fast chargers near the remote National Parks of the West. Because just about every automaker is starting to use Tesla’s NACS plug, EVs of all sorts will be able to stop there. It’s about to become realistic to visit some of America’s most jaw-dropping scenery in an electric car.

When I started electric road-tripping in 2019 and 2020, only the superstars of the National Park System were truly accessible. High-speed charging stations existed in the tourist trap towns of Tusayan, Arizona, and West Yellowstone, Montana, giving Tesla drivers access to the Grand Canyon and to Yellowstone with little range anxiety. A site in Fish Camp, California, provided enough electrons to gaze upon El Capitan in Yosemite, while the baby Supercharger in Moab, Utah, powered you toward the Delicate Arch trail. Parks that happened to be located near an Interstate highway, like Petrified Forest and Zion, lay within reach for an EV.

Yet striking out for America’s more isolated wonders was a dicey proposition, one that relied upon hoping the slower chargers at hotels and visitor’s centers would be operational and unoccupied. Let me tell you: This is not a safe assumption.

To reach Crater Lake in 2022, we stayed 55 miles away in Klamath Falls, site of the nearest Supercharger. I pulled into the gift shop near the park’s entrance, hoping to add some safety juice for the day with the available Level 2 destination charger, but it was busted. No matter. Thanks to driving slowly around the lake and minding the speed limit back to Klamath (through a cloud of specific local midges that entirely glazed the front of the car in gelatinous bug guts), I completed the round trip back to the Supercharger station — only to find that the busted charger I tried to tap earlier in the day had bent a prong inside my Tesla port, rendering it unusable. We happened to be in the parking lot of a Fred Meyer home store at the time of this disastrous realization. In the moments before closing, I ran inside and procured the necessary hand tool to bend my metal back into shape. (Note to readers: Do not do this.) The DIY fix worked; the trip was saved.

You won’t need to resort to such extreme measures, however, because reliable and fast chargers are coming. Tesla has a permit to build a Supercharger at a highway junction within 25 miles of Crater Lake, and given the park’s soaring popularity, that surely won’t be the last. Nor will you need to retreat from the heart of Death Valley to recharge in remote Beatty, Nevada because you couldn’t snag a plug at the park’s luxury hotel (though if you do go to Beatty, get the BBQ at Smokin’ J’s.). A Supercharger is coming to the closer town of Pahrump, and surely more are on their way.

Look at the map and you’ll see many more examples. The arid expanses of southeastern New Mexico are charging desert now, but a planned Supercharger in Alamogordo will send EV drivers on their way to White Sands. Terlingua, Texas will provide a way to reach previously unreachable Big Bend along the Rio Grande River. Kalispell, Montana; Ely, Nevada; and Vernal, Utah will help electric drivers reach Glacier National Park, Great Basin National Park, and Dinosaur National Monument, respectively. More sites may come if the third-party charging companies or the automakers building their own chargers expand their offerings beyond the country’s most well-traveled highways.

It is a cruel twist of fate that traveling to some of the planet’s most majestic spots has, for so long, meant spewing carbon dioxide into its atmosphere. National parks, monuments, and forests are, by their very nature, far from population centers, and thus far from where most charging infrastructure grew up in the early years of this EV era. The treasures of the American West, especially, may be hours from the freeway and hundreds of miles from the nearest big city.

At last, the proposition of zero-emissions driving to America’s best idea is about to shift from fraught to ordinary. With longer driving ranges in new EVs and new fast chargers available en route to the parks, you won’t need to sit down with a map and a calculator, meticulously charting a strategy to see Wizard Island without running out of miles. You’ll just pack the car and go.

Andrew Moseman

Andrew Moseman has covered science, technology, and transportation for publications such as The Atlantic, Inverse, Insider, Outside, and MIT Technology Review. He was previously digital director of Popular Mechanics and now serves as online communications editor at Caltech. He is based in Los Angeles. Read More

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