Local photographer launches Adventure Van after finding beauty, convenience of custom camper vans
Growing up in America’s Motor City and later making a career of impressive large-scale landscape photography, John Richter knows the beauty and convenience of custom camper vans.
Photographing remote locations across the world — including European forests, waterfalls in Iceland, beaches of Costa Rica and, yes, the scenic views of Vail — Richter’s photography business requires taking large equipment to remote locations during the peak hours of sunlight, both early morning and before sunset. Thus, the need for a van that accommodates his lifestyle. Coming from Detroit, he also knows a thing or two about automobiles.
“I think inherently kids from that area grew up thinking that they’d be in the auto industry in some way,” he said. “Everybody knew someone or a relative that was employed by the auto industry. It was just a common thing.”
In addition to his photography — available online and at John Richter Gallery in Vail Village — Richter and his wife, Dawn, officially launched Adventure Van in 2018, creating a custom Mercedes Sprinter camper van conversions company for people looking to work, travel or live the van life.
“There’s a technical aspect to the precision used in my photography that really applies to the technical precision we’re using on the vans,” John said.
Currently, the Richters employ about a half dozen workers out of a shop in Gypsum. The business offers van rentals, Sprinter conversions as well as an online catalog of accessories from vendors.
“We’re ready to embrace the demand that’s out there and start growing with it,” John said. “We really want to put locals in those vehicles for their spring and fall Moab trips and stuff like that.”
With COVID-19 changing travel trends this summer, more and more people are looking for creative, safe ways to get outdoors and travel the country.
“It’s made our business very sought after. Everybody wants a van,” Dawn said. “The phone won’t stop ringing.”
From Motor City to Vail
Born in Detroit, John’s field trips with school would frequent the GM factories, learning how engineers design cars. When his parents moved away from the city, his father built a house, and John was constantly around construction as a child.
In the mid-1990s, he moved to Telluride shortly after purchasing his first camera “with a big dream to become a photographer” some day while he worked construction and other jobs when first moving to Colorado. Through trips back to Michigan, he connected with Dawn who soon joined him in Colorado where they would start their family with the birth of their son. In 2002, when their daughter was born, John started working on his photography portfolio and they bought a Volkswagen Westfalia Camper.
“We wanted the expansion of our family to not hamper our lifestyle that we’d come to enjoy,” John said, talking about enjoying the outdoors, traveling and practicing landscape photography that would be his career. “It allowed me to be out on location working the edges of the day and night without having to totally uproot our kids or be separated from the family. That way we could travel together.”
It took John about five years to collect the portfolio he needed to leave his other jobs and pursue his photography career full-time — which meant many camping trips out of his truck before the van. Dawn was along for many of those trips.
In 2012, they started looking to upgrade their ’80s vintage Volkswagen van and find something more durable for longer road trips as John opened his gallery in Vail. At the time, they struggled to find many companies offering affordable camper conversions in the U.S.
In 2017, they bought a Sprinter van and converted it based on John’s photography needs and the proper necessities of a family vehicle. The goal was to create a luxurious Sprinter like nothing else he’d seen on the market, featuring a gourmet kitchen you can cook just about anything in, a full entertainment system with a powerful sound system and great acoustics, as well as high-end finishes that felt inspired by the nautical industry, having seen parts of the world by boat.
“Our camper’s nice, but the boat’s really nice,” John said. “So we wanted to bring that luxury and the sleek styling of the nautical industry into what we offer with the camper van industry.”
With his entrepreneurial spirit, John secured the Adventure Van URL, social pages and other marketing avenues well before selling that first van in 2018 to a retiring architect out of Steamboat, who was out on the road for about a year traveling before settling into stationary living again.
Since establishing Adventure Van in June of 2018, the company has converted seven Sprinter vans. Dawn said they are also hiring.
With global travel restrictions, more and more people are looking at national vacations.
“It’s really again shown that domestic travel is really popular and people want to get out and see the great Western United States. There’s really no better way to do it,” John said.
With the kids grown and the gallery in Vail well-established, the Richters continue to live an adventurous life, fitting for the owners of Adventure Van.
For more information, follow Adventure Van on social media or visit https://www.adventurevanco.com/ or call 800-983-0118. Conversions start at $40,000. Check out John Richter’s landscape photography online at https://www.richterfineartphotography.com/OPEN-EDITIONS/VAIL/ or stop by the gallery in Vail.