Carlsbad Caverns: Natural Entrance Trail

Ancient Inland Sea

Like many natural geological formations of Southwest America, Carlsbad Cavern’s story starts over 280 million years ago, during a time known as the Permian age. Back then, a primary landmass called Pangea was surrounded by a global ocean called Panthalassa. In the land area which we now know as New Mexico, there was a shallow inland sea, home to a reef rich with aquatic life. The reef wasn’t like modern reefs; this reef was made mostly of sponges and algae. Today’s geologists call that ancient reef Capitan Reef, and it sheltered many now-long-gone animals such as ammonites, crinoids, snails, nautiloids, bivalves, and brachiopods.

Permian Age Fossil from the Capital Reef

Permian Age Fossil from the Capital Reef

The Making of a Mountain

Fast forward nearly 30 million years — after billions of sea critters die and collect on the sea floor, after millions of sediment layers coat the sea bottom, and then a few hundred major land shifts drastically alter the landscape — the coastline ultimately uplifted into a horseshoe-shaped limestone layer of rock a few thousands of feet thick, a few miles wide and over four hundred miles long. During this Triassic Age, it took 20 million years for the Capitan Reef to be covered by thousands of feet of additional sediments, and then (with the help of tectonic plates colliding) rise upward even further to form the Guadalupe Mountains. Water in the form of rain and snow melt eroded the younger sediments and exposed a limestone ancient reef from the Permian Age.

El Capitan - Most western part of Capitan Reef

El Capitan in Guadalupe Mountains – Most western part of Capitan Reef

Birth of a Cave

Roughly 6 million years ago, one of the last caves in the Guadalupe Mountains was formed: the Carlsbad Caverns. The caverns in Carlsbad are unique in that there is evidence that sulfuric acid eroded out the limestone, instead of the usual carbonic acid. Scientists discovered that sometime during the late Tertiary period (12 million years ago), hydrogen sulfide (H2S, gas) from oil deposits began diffusing upward and then combined with oxygen within the underground water table found within the limestone cracks and faults to form sulfuric acid, a very aggressive acid. As the Guadalupe Mountains shifted upward, the water level dropped in relation to the land surface. This drained the acid bath away, leaving behind the newly dissolved caves, a process that took roughly 4 to 6 million years.

Looking out of the Cave Entrance of Carlsbad Caverns

Looking out of the Cave Entrance of Carlsbad Caverns

Cave Decorations

About 2 to 3 million years ago, a collapse at the top of the cave created a natural entrance to Carlsbad Caverns. For the first time, a world of darkness and hidden passageways was open to the above world. Air began to circulate and flow through the caverns. Once Carlsbad became a breathing cave, magnificent cave decorations began to form. Rain and snowmelt soaked through the limestone, then down into the cave, drip by drip. On the way down, the water absorbed all kinds of minerals and even gasses. With the air now circulating through, the water could evaporate, and release carbon dioxide and leave behind minute deposits of calcite.

Looking down in the Main Hall

Looking down in the Main Hall

Speleothems of all different shapes can be found in Carlsbad. Slow drops form stalactites, soda straws, ribbons, curtains, and draperies. Faster moving water forms decorations on the floor such as flowstones, columns, stalagmites, shelves, cave pools, and rimstone dams. Through evaporation, you get cave popcorn, with capillary forces, gravity defying helictite forms, and nucleation creates beautiful crystals such as dogtooth spar, anthodites, and frostwork. The amazing part is that many of these speleothems would have formed up during the last Ice Age. Imagine 10,000 years ago, while saber-tooth cats, giant sloths, and mammoths roamed the surface, all the amazing formations you see today were formed deep underground – when the Guadalupe Mountains received a great deal more rainfall than in today’s desert climate.

Amphitheater Leading to the Natural Entrance

Amphitheater Leading to the Natural Entrance

Natural Entrance Self-Guided Tour

When we first arrived at Carlsbad Caverns, I was determined that we start from the Natural Entrance and making the full descent, instead of taking the lazy way down in the elevator. There’s an option to get an audio guide device, but we skip that and head directly to the route. I want to walk the 1.25-mile path and see the cave as the original explorers did, with eyes of curiosity searching out for new discoveries. We first began at the amphitheater, where visitors can watch the bats fly out into the night by the millions.

Natural Entrance of Carlsbad Caverns

Natural Entrance of Carlsbad Caverns

Into the Twilight Zone

Slowly we descended down, and bid the daylight farewell. The path took us down a steep and narrow trail bathed in the perpetual dusk, a place known as the “Twilight Zone” by the rangers who work here. Many of the cave formations deeper in were lit by LED lights put in just a few years ago. Without the lights, we wouldn’t be able to see a surprisingly tall cavern ceiling looming above us, nor the stone formations flowing and jutting in odd shapes. Looking back daylight streams through the entrance. Little did I know that this would be my last glimpse fo the sun for many hours. From here on out the communication between Hitch and I is reduced to short bursts of exclamations containing no more than three syllables and sighs of wonder. Nothing but, “Wow!” or “Woah!” or “Amazing!” and the occasional “Look at this!”

Along the Natural Entrance Trail, in the Twilight Zone

Along the Natural Entrance Trail, in the Twilight Zone

Mysteries of Devil’s Den

On we wandered through a tight tunnel, only to be surprised by tall and spacious trunk passage of the Main Corridor. Here we passed by several named formations: Devil’s Spring, Taffy Hill, and the Whale’s Mouth before heading into an adjoining cavern known as the Devil’s Den. In this eerie cavern, Geologist Carol Hill and her team excavated the remains of a giant ice age sloth. Known as the Shasta ground sloth, this megafauna reached 9-feet long and weighed a quarter of a ton. According to Hill, the sloth was probably injured when it fell down into the cave. Ultimately, the sloth laid down to die in a pit beneath Devil’s Den.

Heading Down to the Devils Den

Heading Down to the Devils Den

Beyond the Devil’s Den, the path begins to snake and curve downward. We pass a set of magnificent narrow stalagmite formations, known as totem poles. This particular set of totem poles is called the Witch’s Fingers, due to their crooked and knobby nature. At the foot of a 30-foot totem pole near the trail, is where I begin to wonder who named all of these formations, and why did they have this odd fixation on devils and witches. I later learned from a ranger that an 1800s Carlsbad-area cowboy by the name of Jim White named most rooms and formations. I couldn’t imagine roaming this rocky terrain with only a kerosene lantern, I’d probably break my neck in first five yards.

Witches Fingers

Witches Fingers – super narrow stalagmites known as totem poles

Iceberg Rock

The trail then takes us down to Iceberg Rock. This 200,000-ton behemoth fell from the cavern wall. From the top of the trail, we can see the white tip, while at the bottom the trail brings us right next to it. We turn the bend and end up in a passage benight the giant for a good look at its underside. Before we know it, we clear the passage and end up in a hallway that looks to be made from the bone of some long gone monstrous creature. Before I can say anything, Hitch points out a sign indicating that this area is called “The Bone Yard.”

Iceberg Rock - A 200,000-ton rock that fell from the cave wall

Iceberg Rock – A 200,000-ton rock that fell from the cave wall

We scale a small hill before heading down to a junction point where the Natural Entrance Trail joins the Big Room Trail. The sheer size of the Big Room stunned us both. Although I can only see half way, the signs indicate that the room is 4,000 feet long and 625 feet – a very Big Room!

I’m afraid I have to end this blog article here and save the details of our Big Room exploration. There’s just too much for me to talk about to put in one post. I remember thinking, when we reached that junction, “Wow, there’s more?” Yes, lots more, but in a later article. So stay tuned!

Where Natural Entrance Trail joins Big Room Trail

Where Natural Entrance Trail joins Big Room Trail

Looking up toward the Natural Entrance

Looking up toward the Natural Entrance

We are in the Twilight Zone

We are in the Twilight Zone

Looking down in the Main Hall

Looking down in the Main Hall

Devils Spring - where water collects into a pool and the columns of stone seem to guard it

Devils Spring – where water collects into a pool and the columns of stone seem to guard it

Hitch at Carlsbad Caverns Entrance

Hitch at Carlsbad Caverns Entrance

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Why Are Airstreams So Expensive?

We get a lot of compliments on our Airstream as we travel around the country. They are striking trailers and they have a very good reputation. None the less, you don’t see nearly as many of them as you do other brands of trailers and motorhomes. One of the reasons why is that they don’t come cheap. A brand new Airstream in 2017 will cost you somewhere between $40K to $140K.  It is no wonder we are often asked: “Why are Airstreams so expensive?”

The Body Beautiful

The principle reason Airstreams are expensive is the Aluminium body they are so famous for. The shell of an airstream is made from a high quality “aircraft grade” aluminum alloy riveted over a steel frame. This is insulated and then an inner shell of aluminum is riveted on from the inside. Not only is the material more expensive than what other brands use, it takes a lot more labor to assemble it. Every rivet is put in by hand to ensure a perfect seal and to avoid damage to the frame. You can watch the process of construction here: How it’s made – Airstream. This build process also means they can’t drop appliances in from above but must carry them inside the trailer to install them by hand. Again, this means more labor and higher construction costs.

So much of what makes an Airstream a great trailer has to do with its body design. The all metal construction means it is incredibly durable. It is a very similar design to WWII era aircraft which were near legendary for their toughness. Airstreams don’t rot like other trailers. The only plywood used in their body construction is the sub-floor which is needed to provide an anchor point for the appliances and flooring. It is completely contained within the double frame so it cannot easily rot like the plywood walls and floors of many other trailer brands.

The aluminum also allows the streamlined shape of the trailer as well as making it lighter weight than it’s counterparts. That makes them easier to tow, both in terms of the power needed and the amount of gas you will consume. Of course, the signature silver bullet finish of an airstream is also due to its construction materials. Because they are not painted, their good looks are easy to maintain and hold up well under all kinds of weather.

Most trailers have a limited expected life span. It is very rare to see 30 and 40-year-old trailers for any other brand, but you can find numerous Airstreams of that age on the road. If kept up, they look as pretty as the day they were made. It is one of the few trailers that become family heirlooms, outliving their original owners. As a result, Airstream trailers hold their value better and longer than any other brand.

Why don’t other brands use aluminum bodies? Primarily because it is very expensive and most brands compete on features and price rather than longevity.

Around 25% of Airstream’s plant workers have been with the company for 30 or more years.

A Legendary Brand

Airstream is something of a luxury brand. They are made to appeal to middle and upper-class customers and that is also how they are marketed these days. Like any luxury brand, they come with something of a luxury price. That isn’t to say the margins they sell them on are sky high, I don’t honestly know exactly what their margins are as that is usually a closely guarded secret for most companies. But it does mean that Airstream will probably not produce a stripped down bargain version of their trailers as it would hurt the image of the brand as the best you can buy.

There is also a lot of loyalty and love for Airstreams among its fans which keeps demand high, and that helps keep their resale value high. There is some real benefit as an owner from this fandom. Airstream is almost as much of a community as a brand and its roots go back to the companies founder, Wally Byam, who organized international caravans for its members. He had a vision; to allow people to travel the world and have grand adventures, not just to make money selling trailers. Airstream owners love their trailers and form tight-knit communities and clubs that still rally for adventure and help one another.

Airstream is also a distinctly American brand. They are not the only trailers made in the US but they are very proud of manufacturing their trailers in in America using American labor. They have been built in their Ohio factory since 1952.

This isn’t ours but it’s pretty close, we have shell colored cushions… and more clutter.

Other Fine Qualities

Body and Brand are the two big drivers of the price, but Airstream quality is more than skin deep. Airstream does all its own cabinetry and furniture is made from high-quality materials made to fit the trailer’s unique shape. They also use quality third party components like Moen faucets. These factors are not unique to Airstream trailers and other brands have luxury models with similar quality interior fittings. With Airstream, pretty much every model is a luxury model to some degree and you won’t find any with outright cheap components.

Airstreams also have great tempered glass windows and lots of them. Cheaper trailers often have little port holes or small square windows that only open a little way. Airstreams have lots of big windows that open to get you as close to nature as possible without stepping outside the trailer. The breaks, axles, and wheels are also of very high quality compared to cheaper brands.

The styling of Airstreams is also a factor. They tend to a modern aesthetic rather than the common country-home style a lot of trailer companies go for. While this doesn’t always translate to a higher price, the clean lines and curved surfaces do tend to be more expensive to manufacture. Airstream spends a little extra time and money in making sure Airstreams are as pretty as they are functional to maintain their famous brand image and satisfy their demanding customers.

Airstream and SUV

Sweet Silver Dreams Are Made of These

Those are your three core reasons why Airstreams are so expensive: Aluminium Body, Legendary Brand, and Quality Components. They are built to last a lifetime and hold up to grand adventure on the open road. All while remaining one of the most stylish and elegant RVs ever made. In a world with so many throw away products and designed obsolescence, Airstreams are a call back to an earlier era of enduring quality and long term thinking.

OK, that sounds a lot like a sales pitch, but it’s indicative of how Airstream owners, like myself, feel about their trailers. They are very nice and their price really is a reflection of the materials and labor that go into making them with a bit of cache from the history of the brand thrown in. I’ve known many who decide not to go with Airstream, butI’e never met anyone who owns one and regrets the purchase.

 

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2017: Is the year of…

So, instead of new years resolutions, I do themes for the year. Picking a theme helps me reflect on where I want to go in life and where I’ve been. Sometimes the themes work out as envisioned, sometimes not so much.

Reflecting on 2016

I declared 2016 as the year of Productivity. I’m going to have to chock that up as mostly a failure. It was a year of adventure, a year of discovery, a year of freedom, a year of daring, a year of indulgence, but not a year of productivity. The only thing I produced in any quantity this year were blog posts. I racked up quite a few for Trail and Hitch; 133 of them in total, and a handful more for my personal blog and gaming blog. I nearly finished a 40K word strategy guide, but not quite, it will be done early this month instead. I started writing a novel but never got much past the first chapter. And I almost did a Kickstarter for a game project I spend a bit of time on but decided it wouldn’t be fair to try and charge for it.

I can’t say that I regret anything I did or didn’t do in 2016, it was an amazing and momentous year. It just wasn’t quite what I’d imagined it would be. I’m left to reflect whether it is wise to pick a theme you desire, a theme you strive for, or a theme you anticipate. One thing that has been made clear to me is I am much more a reactionary person than a deliberate person. I am very good at adapting to circumstance but not so great at setting a course and sticking to it. Setting out to be productive was something I wanted to happen, but not something I was commited to.

This post's image theme will be birds. We are parked next to a world birding sanctuary at the moment so I've got lots of em.

This post’s image theme will be birds. We are parked next to a world birding sanctuary at the moment so I’ve got lots of ’em. These are Green Jays.

Deliberations for 2017

One thing I will have to do this year is to make more money. When we set out, I wanted to have a year’s worth of savings as a safe harbor and felt that by years end I needed to have a sustaining income. The good news is that despite some crazy bumps in the road, I had more than a year’s worth of savings, more like two years due to how inexpensive this lifestyle is. The bad news is we have not made much money while traveling, and frankly, I haven’t really tried that hard to make any. I’ve been tracking my hours working the last month, and let’s just say there is no danger of me working myself to death anytime soon.

So my theme should be something like “making money” or “income” or the like but I just can’t bring myself to go there. I’ve been there and done that already. I’ve got a lot more America to marvel at in the coming year and I’m not ready to make money the ends rather than the means of my day to day activities. Still, I think I’d better go for something that least implies I’ll be figuring out where the money will come from long term.

I also want to avoid last year’s mistake of picking a theme that is all about a thing I do and instead want something more about who I am and what will happen. More a focus of my awareness than a directive, something I can use my powers of reaction and adaptation to take advantage of.

On reflection, I think this year’s theme will be….

My theme for the year is not Altamira Oriole though considering how pretty they are, it might be a good one. It's great seeing really colorful birds down here in South East Texas.

My theme for the year is not Altamira Oriole though considering how pretty they are, it might be a good one.

Opportunity

This theme plays well with my reactionary tendencies. When I see an opportunity in 2017 I intend to throw myself at it with some abandon. I want to reach out, take advantage of what comes my way, and throw my lot in with anything that looks promising. Forget second-guessing and hesitation. If it feels right, give it a go and see what happens. When something hits pay-dirt, keep digging, if not, move on to the next.

I think beyond just answering when it knocks on your door, I think 2017 should involve actively looking for opportunity, shaking the trees and trying to do things I’ve always thought about but never quite committed to. I think one thing I’ll have to watch out for is being spread too thin. I’m easily distracted and this year proved again that I’m better at starting ideas than finishing them. I’ll have to fight against that while looking for and exploiting opportunity. Once I’m on something I need to limit my attention to just one or two things until I see them through.

So here’s to 2017, the year of Opportunity!

And here we have some Chachalacas taking the opportunity to beat the heat by providing one another with some shade. Or perhaps they are shedding parasites, I don't really know.

And here we have some Chachalacas taking the opportunity to beat the heat by providing one another with some shade. Or perhaps they are shedding parasites, I don’t really know for sure. One volunteer guide mentioned they taste pretty good.

 

And here is a lovely road runner. We watched for about 20 minutes as it hunted amid the scrub.

And here is a lovely road runner. We watched for about 20 minutes as it hunted amidst the scrub.

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Trail’s Favorites from 2016

Whew! 2016, what a year. As South Korea and Brazil impeached their presidents, America elected a one-percenter with a powerful brand name, and the Philippines voted in an Anti-American criminal-killer. Many famous people died including Prince, David Bowie, and Carrie Fisher. Brexit surprised the world, while Russia’s interference with U.S. elections didn’t. Payton Manning retired from the NFL and NASA announced that Feb 2016 was the hottest month since they’ve been taking records. Bob Dylan got a Nobel Prize for Lit, while Doctor Li-Huei Tsai and her team discovered that gamma oscillations of light may help cure Alzheimer’s disease. Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) confirmed the existence of Gravitational Waves, and (my personal favorite) Obama establishes and expands 29 National Monuments, the latest two being Bears Ears in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada. That’s a lot of shock, awe, and disappointment for everyone all around.

But not for us! Hitch and I became nomads and drifted across western America, from our winter stay in Southern California to Arizona then up north toward Montana. We then moved southward through Wyoming, with a side stop in South Dakota, and all the way down to Texas. We visited over 80 locations including National Parks, National Forests, National Monuments, Wildlife Refuges, Native Reserves, and a few State run parks.

Favorite National Park: Capitol Reef National Park

Temple of the Moon with Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Moon with Temple of the Sun at Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is a colorful wonderland of geological rock formations. This amazing area even comes with a fruit orchard and a snaking emerald river tucked into a valley and nestled between stone monoliths. Hidden away and deeper into the park there are temples of stone that rise up into a fierce blue sky. Since many places in the park can only be accessed by high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles, and thus Capitol Reef became my first solitude experience in pristine nature. An amazing experience I will never forget.

Favorite Hike: Bear Lake Corridor in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lake Haiyaha - Rocks. Lots of Rocks

Lake Haiyaha – Rocks. Lots of Rocks. Rocky Mountain Naitonal Park

Billions of sunset orange and lemon yellow aspen leaves, eight hard high altitude miles, six sapphire blue alpine lakes, two sore feet, and one serene waterfall: this is the Rocky Mountains Bear Lake Corridor. Although hikers crowded this trail and the air thin, the sweat equity I invested paid off in the form of some of the prettiest alpine lakes I’ve ever seen in my life. After talking to a number rangers and consulting a few guides, I realized a common theme: you have to hike and hike hard to really experience the Rocky Mountains. That effort paid off, and I would do it again.

Favorite RV Park: Wahweap Campground in Glen Canyon National Recreational Area

Wahweap Bay from Camp

Wahweap Bay from Camp

The daily price was way too expensive, the wifi was horrible, and pay showers suck. But wow! We got a great view of Glen Canyon’s Lake Powell.  To wake up every morning for five days to a fantastic sunrise painting its color on bright cliff faces and rugged buttes, then shimmer off the lake. Yeah, totally worth it.

Favorite Photograph: Horseshoe Bend in Glen Canyon National Recreational Area

My Best Shot of Horseshoe Bend

My Best Shot of Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon National Recreational Area

Standing on the edge of a sandstone cliff and looking down at the Colorado River. Moving to the edge and then stopping just shy enough to feel the wind push upward. Ignoring the crowds of tourists. Getting the shot. Realizing I’m awfully close to dropping down 3,200 feet to the canyon floor, and that death is sure if I’m not careful. That is why Horseshoe Bend my favorite photograph.

Favorite Thing: Nikon D5500 DLSR Camera

This sand comes from the dry lake beds found in the San Luis Valley

This sand comes from the dry lake beds found in the San Luis Valley

When a strong gust of wind blew my tripod over, and I heard the sick crack and shatter of my Nikon D5300. Never before had my heart sank so low. The fact that my extended warranty just ran out was just a low kick to the groin. For a week, I was without a DSLR camera. We were in the San Luis valley, with access to Great Sand Dunes National Park, with grasslands and wetlands frequented by hundreds of birds. When we reached Sante Fe, I finally got my D5500 (which was deeply discounted due to the fact the D5600 was just released) I was overjoyed and relieved.

Most Amazing Thing: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Hall of the Giants

Hall of the Giants, Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Wow! Wow, wow, wow! On our first visit, we took the Natural Entrance Trail and then merged onto the Big Room Trail. We lost track of time and spent nearly 5 hours wandering within this alien wonderland. I was stunned at the size of each cavern and formation diversity. Carlsbad Caverns yields endless marvels for the inqusitive soul.

Favorite State: Utah

Hitch on Zion Sandstone

Hitch on Zion Sandstone, Zion National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef, Bryce, Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Cedar Breaks, Dinosaur, Glen Canyon, Natural Bridges, Rainbow Bridge, and Hovenweep. Try saying all that in one breath, let alone visiting all that natural wonder in one month. One stop after another yielded rugged panoramas with dramatic views. The Colorado Plateau is a record of geological time. Stand upon any cliff and let your eyes drift down — you are looking back in time. The furthest back you can go is roughly 1680 million years ago when Earth had a lonely continent, a vast ocean, and single cell organisms were the supreme rulers. Utah is a feast for the eyes and nourishment for the soul.

Favorite App: Google Camera

Just click and drag the mouse to view a 360 near Devil’s Tower National Monument
When we visited Death Valley back in February, I started taking 360° photographs, using Google’s Camera App, which comes standard on many android phones. The process is kind of involved and the stitching of the images not perfect, but it was the best way I could share what I was seeing. Today there are a number of VR devices which you can view 360° panoramas and videos with.

Favorite Blog Post: Airstream & RV Humidity Management

Our Home!

Our Home!

Although it’s not as popular as my husband’s article, “Picking a Tow Vehicle for your Airstream,” my little humidity article is often found in our top 5 posts. I admit it’s kind of wordy, and it even has a healthy dose of math. But its the post also where I keep my notes on the subject and I update it ever so often.

Favorite Emotion: Wonder

Us-Arches
This year I saw many sites that filled me with surprise and wonderment. There are many beautiful, unexpected, and unfamiliar places on this planet and I feel very lucky to view to have visited some of them with my best friend and husband. I’m grateful for this sense of wonder. For this ability and opportunity to wander the land out of curiosity and encounter places, people, and things that strike my amazement and admiration.

The post Trail’s Favorites from 2016 appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

5 Things I Don’t Love About my Airstream

Don’t get me wrong, I love my trailer which is my home and castle. The list of things I love about my Airstream is a long one but not everything about our Airstream is perfect. There are certain issues that have proven themselves to be less than awesome over the course of a year living in it full time. Before I get started, keep in mind we live in a 2016 International and every year and brand will have its own peculiarities. That said, in the interest of a better brand and the joy of kvetching, here are 5 things I don’t love about my Airstream.

#1: The window opening mechanisms

Nearly all the windows on an airstream open up, which is great. But the mechanism that opens them is not great. Like many trailers, they lift up like a flap, attached at the top. This is controlled by two “arms” on either side of the window. A knob on each arm sticks out inside the trailer and you push up on them, levering out the window. The advantage of the design is it can get the windows open pretty far and the lever arms seat into a plastic track holding the window open at a selection of angles.

But there are many problems. First among them is that the seals on the windows are somewhat sticky and the way the levers are designed you have a mechanical disadvantage opening them. The combination of weak pushing force and sticky seals means you can’t open them much of the time. I’m a big strong fellow and I just can’t do it much of the time. The bug screens on the inside prevent you from pushing on the window directly to break the seal. We have to go outside and use a key or screwdriver to pry open the bottom of the window to get them open most of the time.

The dealer warned us of this and suggested silicone lubricant. We bought some, applied it liberally, and they still stick if left closed for more than a day or so. It helps a little, but not much. It’s not like they are glued shut, but the weak force of the levels just isn’t enough to push them open. Much like trying to open an oyster from the hinge end of the shell. Making matters just a bit worse, the handles for the levers stick out such that when you close the blinds, you will often run into them and loose your grip on the blind pull causing the blind to snap back up. Not a big deal but it drives you a bit crazy when it happens.

It looks nice and it holds the windows open, but as usual, we had to go outside to actually open them to take this picture.

It looks nice and it holds the windows open, but as usual, we had to go outside to actually open them to take this picture.

#2 The External Shower Faucet

Our Airstream has a little compartment on the outside that contains a hose with an attached shower head and two handles to run hot and cold water. While I don’t often feel the need for a hot shower outside the trailer, it’s not a bad idea and I could see if I were boondocking or just needed a hot water source outside for cleaning, it could be a handy feature. Unfortunately, it is badly designed and manufactured.

The problem comes when you try to put it away. You have to coil up the hose and stuff it in the compartment then close the hatch. The two water knows are super easy to turn and the hose has to be wound up around them and the shower head pushes up against them to close it up. The result of this is that trying to put it away constantly turns on the water flow. There is no shut-off switch on the faucet or the shower head to stop this. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to get it closed and not have it dribble water out of the hatch. Worse is if you put it away with your pump off, then turned it on later, you would never know you were bleeding water out the side of the trailer.

Again, our dealer was well aware of this problem, but in this case, their best offer of a solution was to replace it with an aftermarket faucet or just never open it once you got it closed. I took the latter advice and have not touched it since my initial encounter with the beast.

Oh, it looks innocent enough, but breathe too had on those knobs and it will dribble water for the rest of eternity.

Oh, it looks innocent enough, but breathe too had on those knobs and it will dribble water for the rest of eternity.

#3: The kitchen cabinet black hole

Under the kitchen counter, there is a space where the plumbing gas and electrical wires and pipes are found. It is partly screened off by a plywood wall about 3/4 the height of the cabinet. It has a gap so you can, to some degree, access these things. The problem is that some of the drawers are higher than this barrier and things can push out the back of the drawer and fall in. Same goes for some items in the cabinet under the sink. Once they fall down there, they are very hard to get out because of the divider wall designed to help keep things from getting back there. It’s too narrow for a hand (at least mine), too far back to easily reach, and too high to look down into.

We’ve had a few items fall into the black hole and getting them out involves a lot of trial and error with a long pair of kitchen tongs grabbing blindly until you luck onto the thing you are searching for. All in all, I think it would be a lot better if the barrier were shorter and transparent or no barrier or one that was more completely covered the space. Or perhaps just a guard on the drawers that stopped items from falling out the back of them.

Tall enough to keep my hands out and block by view, but not tall enough to keep stuff from getting stuck back there.

Tall enough to keep my hands out and block by view, but not tall enough to keep stuff from getting stuck back there.

#4: Half way to the digital age

Airstream has taken some steps to make their modern trailers fit a modern life. There are many outlets in the trailer and even a few USB plug including a set on either side of the bed. There is a DVD player that is connected to the TVs and has blue tooth capabilities so you get a kind of mini entertainment system. Two flat panel TVs have all the appropriate hookups for modern devices. All that is pretty decent, but it falls short in some important areas.

Firstly, there just are not enough USB ports for this mobile age. The outlets in the dining area and lounge should all have two USB ports so you can plug in a phone wherever you happen to be spending time. Secondly, there should be an easy way to run antenna lines up to the roof of the Airstream. Getting a good cell or wireless signal isn’t easy inside an aluminum tube. Signal boosters are an easy solution except that there is no easy way to get an antenna up on the roof. You have to pay someone to put custom holes in your roof or wind a cord through the door or the refrigerator vent or some other hack.

Finally, I’d love to see the trailer have a blue tooth system for monitoring the systems in the trailer. I’d love to be able to check tank levels while I am outside rather than having to hop into the trailer, then get out again, then hop back in to check again. The hard wired one is probably essential but it would be great if all the data fed into an app. Then I could see the battery level, the faults in the electrical and so on, even control the TV radio. Most modern cars come with features like this now and I think its time for Airstream to step up their game.

We should not have to go this far to get food wifi reception in our Airstreams.

We should not have to go this far to get food wifi reception in our Airstreams.

#5: Manufacturing Defects

Nearly everyone buying a new trailer of any brand is going to run into a few issues, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about them. We have had three that rise to the level of highly irritating.

The first was that the interior seals were not properly installed. This led to an invasion of yellow jackets in the first week of parking our trailer. While it made for a great story, it was a simple mistake of just not installing things correctly and then not catching it on inspection.

The second issue is that our main entry door just doesn’t quite fit as well as it should. It requires a fair bit of force to seal it up tight. We noticed this quickly but our dealer and another we took it too insisted it was just that the trailer wasn’t quite level. Well after a year of having the trailer it consistently has this problem no matter how level the trailer is or isn’t. We either have to get a whole new door (if we can convince a dealer it doesn’t work right) or just live with it. We just live with it for now. I broke more than one door handle early on trying to seal it from the inside until we developed a technique for slamming it shut using speed rather than power.

Last but not least, we have had persistent low-grade issues with the electrical system in the trailer. Two dealers have had a go at fixing it. Each time thy think they fixed it, and each time some underlying problem slowly reasserts itself. The result is our LEDs and USB outlets burn out on one side of the trailer and at one point the furnace was knocked out of commission.

Rex gets down to work looking for the source of our problem.

One of the electricians who was sure something was wrong, but no so sure what exactly was wrong.

The post 5 Things I Don’t Love About my Airstream appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

Hitch’s Favorites from 2016

2016 has been a bummer year for many we know, but for us, it was an amazing span of time. We spent an entire calendar year on the road. Last winter we hunkered down in southern California and from there we zig-zagged across the American west to our current winter grounds in east Texas. It has been a year of amazing sights, experiences, and personal exploration.

Favorite National Park:  Death Valley National Park

A lovely view of Tatooine, err I mean Death Valley.

Parks are a big focus of where we choose to go in our travels. Nearly every one of them is fantastic in its own way but few were as fantastic in as many ways as Death Valley. The variety of dramatic experiences is impressive. We came during a rare “super bloom” when the harsh desert was bursting with wildflowers, but that was just the beginning. We wandered vast salt flats, we went to the lowest point in north America, we drove through canyons, we wandered among fantastically colored stone formations, we explored blocks of crystallized salt, we say desert pupfish, we explored rolling sand dunes, we climbed high cliffs, we drove through sandstone washes, and more. Everywhere you went there were totally new and utterly different landscapes. My only tip, don’t go in the summer. Early spring was absolutely perfect for exploring.

Most Amazing Thing: Carlsbad Caverns

carlsbaddraperies

We have been to a few caves now but Carlsbad Cavern is just shy of unbelievable. The scale of it is mind-boggling, the shapes of it are unearthly wondrous, and as a whole experience, it is transformative. Walking down into those caves was the closest to going “through the looking glass” I’ve yet to experience in my life. Wow, Wow, Wow is what kept going through my mind as each exploration revealed new visual wonders. The images and the feeling of being there will forever be burned into my mind by the wonder I felt while exploring it.

Favorite Drive: Burr Trail Raod near Canyonlands National Park

Different Perspective of Burr Trail Switchbacks

I’ve never liked driving that much, that is until we set out to travel the country. For most of my life, driving meant grinding through traffic in crowded cities or suburbs. Now it means winding through epic canyons and stunning landscapes, often without another soul in sight. I like driving now, at least, most of the time. Of the many breathtaking drives we have done, Burr Trail was the coolest. Not only does it have a bit where you drive through a canyon, not only does it have amazing rock formations, but it also has one of the coolest mountain switchbacks roads ever.

Favorite Emotion: Gratitude

Selfies Ubehebe Crater

I wrote about a moment near the Salton sea where I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude to my wife, and to the ability to be where we were, doing what we were doing. It is still the most overwhelming sensation of this adventure. I feel so astoundingly lucky to be doing this and having these experiences.

Favorite Blog Post: Picking a Tow Vehicle for your Airstream

Batou-Yamato

This post get’s more traffic than the rest of our site combined. It gets more traffic every day than most of our articles have gotten in a year. Apparently, it’s something many people wanted to know about, and not many people were talking about. I am very gratified that folks have found it helpful and informative. There were many more personal posts, and some that took a lot more work, but this one made me feel successful so it’s my favorite for the year.

Favorite RV Park: Casa Grande RV

Let's go swimming.

Not everything was perfect about Casa Grande but their awesome pool made up for any and all shortcomings. We spent just about every other day swimming while we stayed there and it was a blast. It also had a nice community of residents and a lot of other excellent facilities at a very reasonable price. If I could pick any park to be stuck at for a good long time, it would be Casa Grande.

Favorite Game: Endless Sky

endlesssky

For some reason, this little space exploration and trading game captured the largest share of my gaming time in 2016. It is a simple game, and not even officially finished but it captured my imagination and appealed to my love of fiddling around with character building and design. Long after I’d finished the story line I was collecting and tinkering with spaceships; designing them and then testing those designs. It is far from flawless but it is 100% free, just a labor of love by its creator and his collaborators.

Favorite Thing: Unlimited Verizon Internet

jetpack

Internet on the road is a royal pain when you are used to lovely cable modem land lines in a cyber-city like Seattle. We really struggled with internet for a while, sometimes sitting in parking lots late at night to get a good signal to upload blog articles and the like. Then we discovered the shadowy world of grandfathered Verizon unlimited data plans. They are not cheap, but you can get unlimited high-speed internet nearly everywhere. That is, until such time as Verizon manages to figure out how to shut the all down, something they have been pursuing as of late. It won’t last forever but I’ll savor it while it does.

Favorite State: Utah

Warning: Scenery is twice as awesome as it appears in pictures.

We saw amazing things in every state we visited this year, and I can say with certainty that every state in the American west is drop dead gorgeous if you take the time to explore it. Oregan and California weren’t in the running since we visited them in 2015 and we had to cut them a bit short due to bad weather. Utah takes the crown for 2016 due to the sheer number of awe-inspiring sights it has to offer. Everywhere we went the landscape was dramatic and beautiful. If you grab a topographical map of the state you can see why, it’s a geological madhouse of mountains, salt flats, and all manner of elevation extremes. It was easy to see why the Mormon settlers who arrived there and the native peoples long before them found it to be a land of spiritual awe and wonder, a truly holy place.

The post Hitch’s Favorites from 2016 appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

White Sands National Monument

Millions of Years in the Making

White Sands National Monument is the culmination of a process that started over 250 million years ago when the planet had a single continent and the land was covered in a shallow inland sea. Over the next 180 million years, Earth’s tectonic plates shifted and collided, and while soil covered the gypsum-rich seabed on the surface, the earthen crust rose into towering mountains. The following 50 million years, additional plate tectonic movements forced the mountains apart forming a basin in between. This created the beginnings of two mountain ranges we can still see today: the San Andres Mountains and the Sacramento Mountains, both rich with gypsum.

During the last major Ice Age, which happened about 1.8 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago, ice and water tore through the mountains and then collected in the basin to form the ancient Lake Otero. As the Ice Age receded, Lake Otero’s water dried out and in the next thousands of years, a dry lake bed remained. Today that area is known as Alkali Flats. With the forces of erosion, the gypsum deposits supply the White Sands with its namesake.

Last November, I stood upon that white bright sand which took millions of years to get here. At first glance, the dirty sand berms on either side of the road remind me of Alaska late in the winter season. There are kids on colorful plastic disks sledding down hills and adults trying to keep cool. But upon leaving the truck, and hiking a few miles, we came upon a world of eerie white wonder.

Soap Tree Yuccas in the sand

Soap Tree Yuccas in the sand – are they young plants or did they get buried?

Alkali Flat Trail

Even in November, the day temperatures can reach up to the to mid-80s. Because of the extream heat, trails are marked one level higher than normal. Alkali Flat Trail is no exception and is marked strenuous. There is no shade nor water over the 5-miles hike, which goes up and down bright white dunes.

On the day before, I prepared 2 gallons of water for both of us and a few snacks. We set out early morning as to avoid the worst of the heat. At the start of the trail, there is a kiosk that contains plenty of warnings, but my favorite goes like this:

Do not touch strange objects! Debris from missile tests tends to fall onto the sand. Touching them may detonate the object. If you find something, note the location and tell a ranger.

I never really thought there could be a danger of detonating one’s self out in White Sands. Then I remembered the nearby White Sands Missile Range, which also included the Trinity Nuclear Explosion Site of 1945. We later tried visiting the Missile Range, but our Washington state drivers licenses didn’t count as valid federal IDs.

Keeping note of these rules, we set out toward the dry lakebed of Lake Otero, one of the main sources of the white gypsum sand. About 1 mile in, the multitude of footprints fade, and a spectacular view of endless white sand surrounds us. We climb steep dunes into the heart of this amazing desert. In the distance, I can see the dark silhouettes of the San Andres Mountains and the Sacramento Mountains.

Yucca in the Sand at Dusk

Yucca in the Sand at Dusk

I’m tempted to pick a ridge and follow it, but I know its best to keep to the trail markers. Thankfully, the bright red fiberglass posts marked with a black diamond stand out in the white vastness. On the surface, it seems like there isn’t much here except the white burning sand and the mounting heat, but with careful eyes, we find tracks of birds, insects, reptiles and snakes.

In between the dunes where there is some shelter from the wind and where water tends to collect, plants take hold atop a black bio-crust soil. I can easily identify the Soaptree yuccas and Skunkbush Sumac, but the grasses and shrubs are too numerous to make out. I take simple delight in finding plants that survive in this harsh nutrient-poor alkali soil.

With keen eyes, we spot insects that have adapted to the White Sands: Darkling Beetles threaten to spray their stink as you approach them, while Sand-Treader Camel Crickets frantically hop away into the nearest cover. Multitudes of Harvester Ants take any opportunity to steal away your food crumbs the minute it hits the sand.

Along White Sands Natural Trail

Along White Sands Natural Trail

Land of the Lost Lake

At the midway point, we reach the dry lakebed of Lake Otero. I try to imagine a 1,600 square mile lake, that formed over millions of years ago during the last Ice Age. Did Mastodons, Mammoths, or other megafauna drink at Lake Otero’s shores? I know that when the Ice Age ended, the water in Lake Otero took over 14,000 years to dry up. At the end of that era, the area became part of the Chihuahuan Desert. Instead of a lake, a flat playa filled with selenite crystals buried under clay and silt. I’m rather awed by the fact it took 10,000 years for those crystals to be pulverized and turned into sand by the wind, rain, and frost. Inch by inch, constant and strong southwest winds blew the sand grains around the lakebed and in the greater Tularosa Basin.

Knowing that Hitch isn’t the contemplative sort when in extreme heat, we pack up and hike out on the second half of the loop trail. Our pace is slow as the heat rises. At this time of day, the only animals stupid enough to stir in this heat are us. Mammals, reptiles, and bugs know that the best time to move about is at night. With sweat pouring off our bodies, we take refuge in the truck and rejoice in the modern technology of air conditioning.

Thanks White Sands National Monument, you’re cool but you’re also burning hot!

Follow the Trail Marker

Follow the Trail Marker! Don’t get lost!

Along Alkali Flat Trail

Alkali Flat Trail is hot and there is no shade. Bring plenty of water

Pink and Purple Sunset at White Sands

Pink and Purple Sunset at White Sands

Sled Tracks on the White Sand

Sled Tracks on the White Sand

Bleached Earless Lizard

We think this is a small Bleached Earless Lizard.

After the sun sets, the color of the sky sometimes reflects on tot he sand

After the sun sets, the color of the sky sometimes reflects on tot he sand

Waves of White Sands - in the afternoon light you can catch the shadows

Waves of White Sands – in the afternoon light you can catch the shadows made by the sand

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Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park of New Mexico

While making our way through New Mexico, Trail and I decided to visit the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens which is both a Zoo and a State Park in New Mexico. As the name implies, the park is about split evenly between showcasing the plant life and animal life of the local desert ecosystems. The zoo is focused on the native species of the New Mexico deserts, but there are some notable exceptions like the succulents of the world greenhouse.

Lovely Gardens

I wasn’t sure what to expect when coming here as Trail makes most of our Adventure arrangements. From start to finish the Living Desert was often not what I expected it to be. The tone of the park is somewhat eclectic. Most of the park is outdoors but you enter through a large visitors center that contains a number of exhibits. In front are dioramas about the local habitats both as they are today, and as they were in earlier geologic eras. Much of the west central US was an inland sea at one time and the origin of the vast limestone deposits that make for dramatic caves and cliffs in the area. The lower half of the visitors center displays natural artifacts; skulls, skins, bones, and geology specimens.

Geological specimens from the southern desert on display in the visitors center.

Geological specimens from the southern desert on display in the visitors center.

The park itself is laid out such that you can follow a single winding trail and see most of the park in one continuous viewing. You begin in the gardens and then work your way to where they have animal exhibits, then back into the gardens again to finish the tour. All in all, you could see the entire park in about an hour, though we spent at least two touring the grounds. The first parts of the garden are divided into habitats showcasing different types of plant life from different areas in the New Mexico Desert. Having spent some time in these places I can say the garden does a good job giving you an idea what you would find in the wild, though in greater abundance and concentration.

The habitats are each described by interpretive signs; individual plant species are also marked. Some include notes about the plant and its use by people, both historically and in modern times. In addition to the plants, we found an abundance of local insect and reptile life thriving due to the species density. In the evening you can spot wild Ringtail Cat in the park, and we happened upon a wild fox near the end of our visit. The habitat gardens and their wild inhabitants were among my favorite areas of the Living Desert. It was peaceful and educational.

The gardens were filled with a huge variety of desert plants. This was part of the riparian area.

The gardens were filled with a huge variety of desert plants.

Interesting Animals

After a very pleasant walk through the gardens, we came to the first of the animal exhibits and here it felt more like a traditional zoo. Many of the enclosures looked pretty old and were fashioned of Concrete covered with stucco with chain link barriers. They were neither very attractive nor looked especially comfortable for the animals on display. Some were undergoing renovation while we were there and others were seemingly abandoned or empty for the time being. While all the animals appeared to be in good health, I felt like some of them just didn’t have the kind of space they would need to be comfortable and happy. It showed in their behavior, either lethargic inactivity or nervous pacing. The large birds struck me as especially out of place in their fairly small enclosure.

This eagle is a wonderful bird to see, but this enclosure feels too small and sad for this fantastic wild animal.

This eagle is a wonderful bird to see, but this enclosure feels too small and sad for this fantastic wild animal.

After passing more garden areas we came to where they had larger open animal exhibits. Here they kept field animals like Pronghorn and Elk as well as a pen filled with prairie dogs. While these animals had the feeling of being partly domesticated, they seemed more relaxed and at ease in their open air but fenced-off enclosures. As always the doings of prairie dogs proved both fascinating and greatly amusing. They are terrifically cute animals. This area of the park also has a brand new reptile house. While not large, it was dramatically nicer looking than anything else at the Living Desert. We were lucky enough to come through when the animals were being fed and having their terrariums cleaned. We got to watch and listen to the Rattlesnakes rattle and see how to handle a large Gila Monster.

This cool mural is from the reptile house. It is so much newer than the rest of the park that the contrast is startling.

This cool mural is from the reptile house. It is so much newer than the rest of the park that the contrast is startling.

Further on we found the big cats on display. They have both Lynx and Mountain Lions in the park. Every time I see big cats in a Zoo I am reminded how very much like house cats they are in behavior. All the cats were very active when we came by. The mountain lions were stalking and chasing one another playfully while the lynx roamed their enclosure attempting to ambush one another from the foliage. While the enclosures weren’t especially pretty, they seemed large enough that the cats were at ease in them. We spent a good half hour watching the cats play, admiring their beauty and thinking of Kekovar and Kia back in the Airstream.

Here is one of the mountain lions at the park, taking a rest from romping with it;'s companion.

Here is one of the mountain lions at the park, taking a rest from romping with its companion.

Wrapping up

At this point, the trail winds back into the gardens, though here, instead of natural habitats the plants are arranged more like a traditional garden, creating spaces to sit, enjoy a meal, or just listen to the sounds of the garden. A large pool and fountain anchors the area and is home to many fish and frogs who jump and hide as you approach, but will sing if you remain still and quiet. Nearby is a greenhouse dedicated to succulent plants from all over the world, one of the departures from the native species theme of the Living Desert. I love the variety and strange shapes of succulent plants and while it is modestly sized, they had a great variety of species to look at.

Not only do the succulents have some crazy shapes and textures, they have very unique flowers too.

I love the array of shapes and textures that succulents come in. Unless you grew up in the desert, they an incredible novelty.

Admission to the Living Desert is only $5 and at that price, it is very well worth a visit. I’d suggest kicking in a little extra to help them with their renovations and to provide the animals with improved enclosures. You can check out the exhibits in the visitors center for free, but considering the cheap price, I can see no reason to stop there. The gardens alone are worth the price of admission. While I had some concerns for a few of the animals, this did not feel like an exploitative zoo. They provide a lot of education to the public and are dedicated to preserving the natural habitats of the animals they display here. Like many zoos, some of their animals are part of breeding programs to try and save threatened species.

One of the inhabitants of the frog pond, a lovely creature with no cage required.

One of the inhabitants of the frog pond, a lovely creature with no cage required.

 

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Co-Enabling Adventure

Trail and I are very different from one another in personality. While we very often like the same things, we approach them in very different ways. Fortunately, instead of a source of conflict, most often these differences are what make our adventures possible. A case in point was when we went to see the natural arch in San Luis Valley.

Trail loves arches. I think they are pretty nifty and all, but she loves them. Whenever there is even a tiny natural arch, she’s excited and pointing it out to me. I am fond of strange art installations and other local weird things. While in the San Luis Valley I spied a sort of newspaper put out by the local Colorado Gator reptile farm. In addition to advertising the reptilian wonders they had on display, it included a hand drawn map of the valley indicating various things to do and see. One such item was a “natural arch.” Thinking of Trail’s love for arches I suggested we check it out. I thought in cool that my curiosity for one type of attraction led me to find one for her as well.

As advertised, here we are with Chip, who was surplussed by an unscrupulous pet store for getting to big to sell.

While this Story is about the Arch, we did indeed go to the Colorado Gator which was a lot of fun.

The name of the arch is La Garita Natural Arch and it is located near Penitente Canyon, which is a popular destination for rock climbers the world over. The drive leading to the Arch is lovely. It takes you into the fringes of the valley, winding up among fantastical rock formations and high desert plateaus. The landscape just screams “Drama And Adventure!” The road is unpaved about half the distance but is not especially rough. After about 11 miles you find yourself at the base of the Arch itself; end of the road. Here you will see the arch looming above you, and signs that campers like to spend the night here and perhaps not completely clean up after themselves.

Despite the lovely drive and the beauty of the arch itself, when I arrived I was not exactly brimming with enthusiasm. We got up early for this expedition so that we could arrive before the full heat of the day descended on us. This is a great idea when adventuring in the desert, you really want to do your walking in the morning as the sun rises, or in the evening a little before it sets. Today was a morning adventure and I don’t do so well with those.

This is what the arch looks like from the end of the road. It's hard to show depth with the camera, it's a bit steeper than it looks.

This is what the arch looks like from the end of the road. It’s hard to show depth with the camera, it’s a bit steeper than it looks.

Trail is a morning person, she rises each day bursting with the desire to get doing things that need getting done. When it’s an adventure day, she is rip roaring to get out and see, do, and embrace the great outdoors. I am a night person, I wake up with a desire to go back to sleep and a general fogginess about the future. The idea of bustling makes me wince and a vigorous hike sounds about as appealing as a trip to the dentist. None the less, I do my best to get up and get out because I love seeing Trail so full of wonder and thrills when we hit the trails. That’s why she’s Trail after all.

So there we are at the arch and I’m thinking, “Ya, that’s nice and all, good drive, cool arch, people should pick up their beer cans. Perhaps I will do it for them. I’ll just take some pictures and perhaps we go back.” As I look around and take pictures, I discover that Trail has started up the very steep looking incline towards the Arch. I paused a moment, not excited by the prospect, but I love my wife and it looked a little dangerous so I decided I’d trudge up there too. Adventure is what we come for so adventure is what we should do.

There she goes. Trail is charging up while I'm taking pictures and thinking, do I really want to go up there, its nice enough from down here, isn't it?

There she goes. Trail is charging up while I’m taking pictures and thinking, do I really want to go up there, it’s nice enough from down here, isn’t it?

It was pretty steep going and the ground was loose with rocks fallen from the cliff face. It’s hot, despite the early hour and I’m sweating almost right away. Anne is practically sprinting up this thing in excitement and I’m trudging behind trying to shake off the morning lethargy. Somewhere in my brain, it registers this is very pretty and rather exciting, but there is a kind of muddy indifference and lethargy I must shake off to let the sunshine in. I catch up with Trail about 2/3 of the way to the arch. From here, things get much steeper and less trail like. It wasn’t much to begin with but it was clear plenty of folks had come this way before. We admired the view and considered our options.

The climb had shaken off some of my morning blahs and I was starting to get into the spirit of things. Trail meanwhile, was looking at the much steeper remainder of the climb and having second thoughts. She’s also eyeballing me and can see I’m not exactly full of roses and rainbows. I’m not good at hiding my discomfort. Still, I feel like it would be silly to turn back now, having put all the effort in trudging up this far, might as well see the thing as far along as we can. After a bit of rest, we keep going.

At this point, the "trail" is about done and its clamoring over loose rocks amid the junipers.

At this point, the “trail” is about done and its clamoring over loose rocks amid the junipers.

Now we are just around 30 feet from the bottom of the arch and we get to where the steep ground gives way to pure rock. It’s not quite a purely vertical climb, but it is an actual climb rather than a walk. From here we will have to go hands and feet with some actual risk of a serious fall if we goof up. A real rock climber would call it a cake walk but neither Trail nor I are real rock climbers now are not equipped for it. But by now, the spirit of Adventure has got me in its grips and I feel like I can get up that rock safely if I take it slowly and thoughtfully. Trail is thinking it’s not for her but gives me leave to go for it without her provided I’m careful.

Natural Arch From Halfway Up

Here is where Trail decided to hang back and I felt compelled to finish what I wasn’t keen on starting. How could you not climb up there? It just says, “Hitch, get up here you lazy bastard! I’m a very cool place to be!”

Thus I make the climb, carefully, slowly, and successfully until I stand withing the arch and then pass through to the other side. The views on the way up were good, but from the arch, it was really something. Now I was feeling pretty awesome and proud of my bold ascent to the mighty summit of… well it really wasn’t all that far. Steep, sure, but there was the truck down there, not so terribly far away. I took pictures, enjoyed the brisk wind through the arch, and came to check on Trail. “Think I can make it? she asked.” “Yep, I replied, I’m sure you can, just be careful and take it slow.” Thus encouraged Trail made her own climb up the rocks to join me triumphant. It was a perfect spot for a kiss so we kissed.

But for Trail, I’d not had the desire to see the arch. But for me, she’d not have known of it. But for Trail, I’d not have started the climb. But for me, she’d not have finished it. Truly together is how we encounter life and find adventure on the road. Together makes life better for us both.

And now the truck is small and the arch is big. It looks like a longer way down that up. Here I'm encouraging Trail to make the last leg of the journey.

And now the truck is small and the arch is big. It looks like a longer way down that up. Here I’m encouraging Trail to make the last leg of the journey.

 

And the reward, a view from the other side of the arch. Well worth the effort.

And the reward, a view from the other side of the arch. Well worth the effort.

 

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Traveling Medicine: Hitch vs Gout

While in Big Bend Texas, I began to notice the big toe of my left foot was not feeling so great. It was kind of stiff and a bit painful. Trail and I had been hunkered down writing and preparing for Thanksgiving at the time so it was not an injury or a strain from hiking. By day two the pain had gotten more intense and it hurt to walk. Trail has experience with Gout and the symptoms matched her own trials with the condition.

If you don’t know, Gout is a disease in which crystals form in one or more of your joints causing pain. The most common location is the first joint of the large toe, right where it hit me. The common consensus is that elevated levels of uric acid are to blame. Once the crystals start forming, your immune system reacts causing swelling and pain. The immune response also seems to make it difficult to recover from the condition.

Rather than pictures of my foot, I thought bugs would be nice to look at. I love insects and take a lot of pictures of them.

Rather than pictures of my foot, I thought bugs would be nice to look at. I love insects and take a lot of pictures of them.

Round 1: Gout Wins

Being the stout fellow I am and because we were around 4 hours drive from the nearest doctor or hospital we decided to have a go at home remedy. If you Google this subject you will find a small cottage industry in home Gout care. Front and center are dietary approaches. There are things you should not eat, and other things you should eat. Avoid: Alchohol, Red Meat, Oily Fish, and Fructose. Embrace sour Cherry Juice and copious amounts of water. These are the most common recommendations though there are many schools of thought. Outside of diet are the usual anti-inflammatory strategies such as elevating the foot and using cold compresses.

I adjusted down my intake of red meat and products loaded with fructose (of which many are). I drank water till my pee was crystal clear. I drank pints of sour cherry juice. I elevated and put cold compresses on my foot. A week later, it hurt worse than ever. It was clearly time for the marvels of modern medicine. The problem was still that 4 hour drive just to see a doctor and then the usual requirement for an exam and all the costs surrounding that kind of visit. It was time to try the marvels of remote consultation.

We see a ton of dragonflies. These ones were especially large and fun to photograph. Old nip-wing here was kind enough to sit still for me.

We see a ton of dragonflies. These ones were especially large and fun to photograph. Old nip-wing here was kind enough to sit still for me.

Who ya gonna call?

Trail had done some doctoring by internet shortly before we left Washington state. The University of Washington hospital has a nice program for it, but unfortunately, it’s for people actually in Washington state at the time of the consultation. They recommended I look for such a service in Texas. A Google search for that turned up two facts. Firstly: Texas was home to one of the leading remote doctor companies, Teledoc. Secondly: Texas had recently passed a law saying that you had to have an in-patient visit before you could get a prescription from a remote visit. More reading turned up there was a lawsuit blocking implementation of the law so I was in luck.

I set up an account with Teledoc. That was a little tricky as their website doesn’t make it all that easy. It focuses on people who have Teledoc service through their work. While they offer individual subscriptions, you have to root around on their website to find it, and the cookies I got from the corporate side kept messing up my application process for the individual plans. I called them but they could not register me by phone. Trail decided to take over and she figured out the problem, ate my cookies, and I had my one-month membership for about $20.

This was the first Walking Stick bug I'd ever seen in the wild. We found him on a sidewalk and gently helped him into the bushes where he wouldn't get stepped on.

This was the first Walking Stick bug I’d ever seen in the wild. We found him on a sidewalk and gently helped him into the bushes where he wouldn’t get stepped on. He’s big, about 6 inches long.

Round 2: Gout is out!

Once you are a member you can call them up and talk to a doctor. Each call/consultation costs you $45 and you can do it by internet or phone. Unfortunately, the internet was awful in Lajitas so phone it was. It took a few tries to get a good connection but I was speaking with a doctor within an hour of requesting the appointment. I explained my problem, he asked a few questions to verify we were dealing with Gout, and he ordered a prescription. The nearest pharmacy was a “mere” two-hour drive from our location and by the time we arrived it had been filled.

I was prescribed a generic brand steroid that cost around $20 and sure enough, it worked like a charm. Within two days the pain was nearly gone, and by the end of the five-day regime, I felt top notch. Sorry sour cherry juice, you are tasty, but you just didn’t get the job done.

I was happy to be on my feet again and Trail was happy we could get out of the trailer and onto the trails in Big Bend. Overall, I was really pleased with the Teledoc outcome and price. I truly think that for common ailments for which there are fairly common solutions, this approach is great. It is so much more efficient than hauling down to the doctor’s office, waiting around, possibly having to do a physical and all that jazz. Not to mention, it is infinitely cheaper. Without using any insurance, I got my condition handled for $75. This is how I think routine medicine should be handled, efficiently and affordably.

This little fellow looked ready to join us on our adventure. When traveling there are big things to see, and small things. Both are pretty amazing.

This little fellow looked ready to join us on our adventure. When traveling there are big things to see, and small things. Both are pretty amazing.

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