Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort: Mission, Texas

I like it when a park lives up to their name and the information on their website. Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort is definitely a resort level RV park, they have lots of Palm Trees, and its big enough to be a village. Their site claims they are one of the best RV parks in the country, and they might be right about that. It is certainly one of the top parks we have stayed in.

Nights: 60 (Two Months)
RV Park Cost: $1853 ($31/night)
Discounts Used: None
Address: 2500 South Bentson Palm Drive Suite 267B  Mission, TX 78572
GPS: 26.186253, -98.376705
Website: www.bentsenpalm.com

Pros

  • Pretty Grounds
  • Nice Location
  • Excellent Amenities
  • Lots of Activities
  • Reasonable Price

Cons

  • Over 50 age requirement

Not the largest pool, but it was a nice place to hang out while doing laundry.

The Community

We signed up to stay in the park through their website where you will be hard pressed to find the fact that it has a 50+ age requirement. We only found out after we paid for reservations. They called to let us know, but after a brief and polite conversation they made an exception for us and honored the reservation. While our age had a few folks curious about us, no one was upset to see us there and we were treated warmly by staff and residents alike.

Bentsen is a big park with around 250 sites. Many of its residents are “Winter Texans” who spend full seasons at the park year after year. While not everyone is a regular, there is a great deal of camaraderie among the folks at the park. We were asked which part of the park we were in, what our lot number was, what kind of trailer we had, and how long we were staying. Everyone was keen to know their new neighbors, even more so than most normal neighborhoods I’ve lived in.

There is a strong community here and they have events of all sorts going on all the time. We participated in a few large potluck events, as well as a new years party and a Christmas party while were there. We dropped in on game night a few times and learned to play Mexican Train, a dominoes game. Folks were super nice and very active in doing things together and greeting one another as they walked about the park.

The wood show was both very popular and well equipped. This is only half of it.

A pretty Park

The park itself is very lovely with lots of palm trees and flowering plants. It is divided into “circles” and each circle has a green space in the middle with a pavilion of some kind. Mission, Texas is well known for its birds and butterflies, both of which were evident in the park in good numbers. The grounds were very well kept all around as were the facilities.

They have all the normal amenities. There are two shower and restroom facilities as well as two laundries. The pool is not very large but includes a hot tup area and a large covered area for lounging. There are three outdoor cabanas and a large clubhouse. They have a dog yard complete with an agility course. There is a huge wood shop that is very popular as well as a crafts shop for sewing and art projects. Everyone gets their own mailbox and they have cable tv and internet available through the local provider which you arrange and pay for yourself. For us, this meant two months of perfect high-speed internet.

The park is located right next to a large bird sanctuary and within half a mile of a wonderful butterfly sanctuary. Staying at the park gives you a pass to the bird sanctuary and a discount for the butterflies so there are lots of great walking opportunities without driving anywhere. The park is otherwise in the midst of farmland so there is little noise other than the occasional brahman cow mooing in the distance.

The Bottom Line

Since we booked for more than a month, we paid a metered service for electricity, which we included in the price calculation above. Even though we were here in their peak season, the average price was right on our average target of $30 per night. Considering how nice the park is, that’s a very fair price. All in all, Bentsen Palms RV is top notch.

I thought I’d show someone else’s Airstream at the park this time. Made in America!

The post Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort: Mission, Texas appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

The Top 10 Challenges of Going Full Time

Everyone’s experience will be a little different but this list represents 10 of the most common challenges a full-time RVer will face as they try to figure out life on the road. This list doesn’t aim to answer all these questions but hopefully, we can get you going in the right direction. Being a full-timer is not common, but neither is it all that rare. According to the 2000 census, some 260,000 people said they had a non-traditional hoe with no permanent address. That means whatever the challenges, a great many people have made it work and their advice is not hard to find.

Money

The Challenge: Going full time has two money challenges: getting the initial capital to acquire your RV and maintaining an income while on the road. The cost of an RV can vary wildly from million dollar motorhomes to a used travel trailer your Uncle is practically giving away. The key is to figure out what your budget is and then get the best value possible. If you have a source of regular income lined up, then taking a loan may make good sense. If not, then I’d suggest buying it outright to minimize monthly expenses. Making an income on the road, however, can be a real challenge. Most traditional employment expects you to show up at a given place at a given time every weekday and when you travel around, that just isn’t possible.

The Silver Lining: Life on the road is generally pretty cheap. Rent for RV spots is typically much less than renting an apartment or paying a mortgage. Sometimes it is even free. And you only rarely pay for utility charges. You can choose residency in a state with low taxes, and because you have less stuff, you will find there is less maintenance to pay.

Advice: If you can’t yet afford an RV, saving up is the way to go. It’s also handy once you are on the road. I was very impressed with this article: 100 great tips for saving money. Pretty much every single one of them is good practical advice. For making a living on the road, there is no better resource than our friends Heath and Alyssa. They specialize in helping people find a way to make a living on the road.

Downsizing

The Challenge: Most of us own a lot of stuff and the older you get, the more stuff you end up with. Living in an RV generally means you have to get rid of most of your stuff, and that can be very hard for some folks. It can also be a surprising amount of work to pair down and sell off what you own.

The Silver Lining: First off, you can make a fair bit of money selling your stuff, enough to buy a lot of adventure and possibly help pay for your RV. That’s partly how we financed our adventure. There are also some advantages to living with less, both financial and emotional.

Advice: I’ve written a few articles on the subject of downsizing for full time living which I think can help you with the process. Stuff Part 2: Five Principles to Purge ByStuff Part 3: The Benefits of Having Less, and Learning to Be a Minimalist.

Three friends enjoying a day out on Yellowstone Lake!

Three friends enjoying a day out on Yellowstone Lake!

Friends and Family

The Challenge: For those of us who plant deep roots, packing up and hitting the road can be hard. It can also be very painful for those you love, especially if they rely on you. Some full timers have faced resentment and anger from loved ones because of their decision. Too often people just don’t understand the motivations for wanting to be a full timer. Other times they can simply be jealous.

The Silver Lining: Going on the road is in some ways less dramatic a departure than moving to a permanent address far from home. You have an RV and you can swing back to the home turf whenever you feel the urge or have the need. Not only that, you can travel to visit relatives and friends in other places and spend as much time there as you like without imposing since you brought your own accommodations.

Advice: While we didn’t have many difficulties on this front ourselves I wrote this guide to help folks struggling with these issues:  Going Full Time: Talking to Friends and Family. I think it is a good place to start.

Kids

The Challenge: The biggest challenge with RVing with children is schooling. Unless you plan to stay in one spot for the school year, you will be home-schooling your children. It’s a big challenge and a big commitment, but it can be very rewarding for everyone involved. You may also be in a situation where your kids are not as enthusiastic about the prospect as you are. They face all the same challenges in terms of friends and family as you will, but possibly without as much control. Beyond school, activities like sports and other social clubs are not really an option.

The Silver Lining: Traveling is an incredibly enriching experience and the opportunities for hands-on learning are worlds beyond what most children have access to. The opportunity to teach through travel will also expand your own horizons and lead to very engaging experiences. Finally, you will spend far more time with your kids that you otherwise are likely to.

Advice: We don’t have children so we can’t honestly provide our own advice and it’s not easy for us to judge the quality of others advice either. That said, here is a link to get started with homeschooling. For further inspiration, I liked this article on The Scenic Route which talks about the positive sides of RV life for kids. I think the bottom line is that together as a family, you can overcome whatever challenges you face.

Bison Hayden

It’s one thing to see it in a book or online, another to be there in person.

Getting Mail

The Challenge: You don’t have a permanent physical address but just about everyone in the world assumes you do. Not only does this make it a challenge to get mail regularly, it can be a real stumbling block to most financial transactions and government paperwork.

The Silver Lining: Establishing a new mailing address is an opportunity to establish residence in another state which can come with various advantages. Of course, that can be a challenge of its own we will hit on later.

Advice: My experience is that it no one option will cover all your mailing needs. We use a mailing service but have some items sent to our parents. We also try to use paperless bill pay and notifications whenever possible. Since we don’t have a good article on Trail and Hitch for this just yet, I’ll refer you to a nice summary of your options over at Wand’rly.

Residency

The Challenge: Many laws are based on the state you live in, as are government services, taxes, vehicle registration, and many other things. The biggest challenge in all this for an RVer is that you may have to return to your state for things like license renewal and vehicle inspections. It can also be tricky to wrap your head around the legal ramifications or explain to bureaucrats that you are a resident of a state but don’t live in the state.

The Silver Lining: The bright side is that you can pretty much pick any state in the country to be a resident of. That means you can figure out which state has the best mix of taxes and licensing for your needs.

Advice: My article, State Residency for the Full-Time Traveler goes into a lot of detail on the subject and has links to resources so you can see what the laws and taxes are in all the states.

Here I am working on creating helpful blog posts as we roam about.

Internet and Phone access

The Challenge: This isn’t a big deal for every full-timer, but it certainly is for us. And finding a solution to allow us to have the kind of internet access we desire, has not been cheap or easy. Most mobile data plans offer limited data and buying extra can get incredibly expensive. Because we are always on the move, the best carrier can change from place to place, and sometimes you won’t find any signal at all. Most RV parks have wifi internet bit it is almost always frustratingly poor and unreliable for a whole host of reasons.

The Silver Lining: There really isn’t any here other than the fact that we live in an age where this kind of thing is even possible and chances are options will continue to get better with time.

Advice: No one can help you more on this subject than the fine folks at the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center. The keep up to date on all the options and have a wealth of advice to look through.

Choosing an RV and Tow Vehicle

The Challenge: There are simply a huge number of options and if you are a first time RV buyer it can be an overwhelming decision. Even if you have picked out a make and model, there are still plenty of considerations to work through. There is plenty of information out there on this topic, but that too can be challenging to sift through due to sheer volume.

The Silver Lining: The good news is that all that variety means plenty of choices for you and if you can sort out all the options, the perfect fit for your needs.

Advice: The most popular article on our blog is: Picking a Tow Vehicle For Your Airstream. It goes to show that even when you know what RV you want, there are still challenging decisions to make. If you are at square one, I have a three-part series on Choosing an RV.

Kia, Hunter of Shadows

Kia, hunter of shadows and American traveler with Trail and Hitch.

Medical Insurances

The Challenge: Medical insurance in the US is governed by state laws and often assumes you live in the state in which it is issued. To keep costs down on medical services, most insurance plans have a network of covered providers in a specific area. It is much rarer to get insurance that will cover medical work no matter where you happen to be. All that is in addition to the typically challenging world of selecting insurance.

The Silver Lining: Telemedicine is on the rise with the ability to see a doctor by phone or via the internet. This can be really nice when you are out in a remote area far away from any doctors office and something comes up you want help with.

Advice: The RVer insurance exchange is a good first stop. Not only can they help you buy insurance, they have a lot of articles on this complicated subject.

Pets

The Challenge: If you have pets, especially a companion animal like a dog or cat, going on the road means making accommodations for your furry friends. The scale of your challenge will depend a lot on the temperament and needs of your pets. A rambunctious high energy animal is going to be a lot harder to transition than a mellow one.

The Silver Lining: Most animals are very adaptable and easily trained using food rewards and the like. RV parks and other places are generally very pet-friendly provided you keep your pets under your control at all times and clean up after them.

Advice: We travel with two cats and have some advice based on our Cat Litter Experience. Do It Yourself RV has a nice detailed article on getting your pets and your RV ready for travel.

The post The Top 10 Challenges of Going Full Time appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

5 Romantic Stories Of Real Life Adventure

Romance and Adventure two wonderful life experiences made all the more exciting when paired together. Trail challenged me to come up with a Trail and Hitch article for valentines day. Something perfect for our audience. Something that might have some Amazon affiliate links in there for good measure. I said, “Kiss me darling and I will be inspired!” And she did, and I was, and here it is. 5 Romantic Stories of Real Life Adventure!

Martin and Osa Johnson

Martin Johnson was a part of Jack London’s voyage across the pacific in 1907. He later toured America recounting stories of the voyage and met Osa Leighty while in Kansas. By 1911 they were married and set off on their first grand adventure to the Solomon Islands where they were famously held captive by the Big Nambas tribe. They escaped with the help of British gunboat. Using film footage from their journey they created their first film Among the Canibal Isles of the South Seas. They returned the next year to the same tribe to show them the film. This time with armed guards, but they were not necessary as the Big Nambas were delighted on seeing themselves in the motion picture.

Their adventures continued taking them all around the southern hemisphere where they continued to film remote tribes, wildlife, and the amazing vistas they found. Along the way, they met with King George and Queen Elizabeth, led eagle scouts into East Africa, were the first to film in sound from a plane, and even appeared on the Wheaties Cereal box together. Tragically Martin perished in a plane crash in 1937 but Osa continued her adventuring ways until her own passing in 1953.

You can read about their life in Osa’s renown book: I Married Adventure

You can watch their real life adventures in their many films such as: Simba King of the Beasts

Martin and Osa, famous adventurers, lovers, and film-makers.

Lady Jane Franklin and Lord John Franklin

This is a tragic love story. Lord John Franklin was a Rear Admiral in the Brittish navy. He was both renown for his military service such as in the battle of Copenhagen and as an intrepid explorer in the arctic waters north of Canada, searching for the Northwest passage. In one harrowing journey, his crew was forced to survive on Lichen and the soles of their shoes. He lost his first wife to Tuberculosis just 2 years after marriage. John Franklin married Jane Griffin a friend of his late wife’s in 1828. In 1982 John saw knighted and they became Lord and Lady Franklin. In 1836 Lord Franklin was made Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania. There Lady Jane founded a university, museum, and gardens. She also took up exploring and mapping the southern coasts of Tasmania with her Johns Neice Sophia Carcroft when her husband was on his naval expeditions.

In 1845 on his third expedition to find the northwest passage in the arctic, John Franklin’s expedition goes missing. Distraught and determined not to give up on her husband, Jane charters a series of naval expeditions to find John and relocates to the northern reaches of Scottland and the Isles to be as close to where he was lost as possible. She searched for seven years until his death was confirmed. Jane refused to believe the rumors the ill-fated expedition had resorted to cannibalism and many years later chartered another expedition to try and find the records from the journey. She died while it was in route and ultimately they were forced by the weather to return empty handed.

You can read about Tasmania Jane in: The Ambitions of Jane Franklin: Victorian Lady Adventurer

John Franklin’s lost expedition is detailed in: Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition

Lady Jane Franklin and Lord John Franklin, both explorers in their own right.

Isabel Grameson – Jean Godin

Another tragic tale but with a happy ending this time. Jean Godin des Odonais was a french cartographer, part of a geodesy expedition in 1735 to what is today Equador to try to determine the roundness of the earth through precise measurements along the equator. It was there he met and married Isabel Godin des Odonais. She was 14 and the daughter of a Spanish administrator in 1741. When the expedition was done he decided to remain with his wife as she was with child.

When Jean learned that his Father had died, he planned to return to France with his new wife and children. He went ahead to arrange the trip but became stuck in French Guana because the French and Portuguese authorities refused to allow him to travel through their territory back to the eastern side of South America. For 20 years he worked to gain such permission while his wife watched their children die of smallpox and received no word from her husband.

Finally, he persuaded the Portuguese king to grant permission and charter a ship to travel up the Amazon to retrieve his wife. Jean became suspicious and fearful for his life and got off the ship at the first port of call up the river. The ship however continued and word eventually reached Isabel that a ship was waiting to take her to her husband. She set out with 41 other relatives and servants to make the journey to where the ship was docked on the amazon. The ill-fated group suffered numerous mishaps and in the end, only Isabel lived, wandering the Jungles alone for 9 days in the jungle before finding help from a native group.

In the end, she was reunited with her husband and they returned to France together, her harrowing story of survival becoming a famous tale of the time.

You can read about Isabel’s nightmare journey to reunite with her Jean: The Mapmaker’s Wife: A True Tale Of Love, Murder, And Survival In The Amazon

Patrick and Rosemarie Keough

Most of our stories are from the past, and I wanted to highlight a contemporary couple who travel and explore together. Patrick and Rosemarie Keogh are renown wildlife photographers who live in British Columbia and travel the globe taking absolutely amazing photographs. They have traveled extensively in their Native Canada and were instrumental in the expansion of the Nahanni National Park. It was there they first met in 1984 on a 540-kilometer canoe trip.

Their work has been honored by the Explorers Club and the Royal Geographical society and appears in the Smithsonian, Time, Forbes, and other major magazines. Every year they host the Salt Spring Symposium at their home in BC with explorers from all over the world gather to share research, inspiration, and fellowship. They have been to both the arctic and Antarctic, Africa, the South Seas, and Asia. Together they have hiked and canoed more than 2,000 miles.

You can read more about them on their website: Pat and Rosemarie Keough

Their photography books such as The Niagara Escarpment: A Portfolio – can be had for as little as $0.09 (used and at the time of writing this) plus the cost of shipping.

A Leatherbound first edition of Antarctica: Explorer Series, Vol. 1 hailed as “the most exquisite photography book created in modern times” and “winner of 19 international awards for excellence and craftsmanship – more than any other modern book” will set you back $3,800 or more!

Samuel Baker and Florence Szasz

Last but not least we have Sam and Florance. Florance was born in Hungary and orphaned in war. She was adopted into an Armenian family but later captured and sold into slavery in Vidin. It was here that Sam Baker, a renown English huntsman, and adventurer was on a far-flung trip with Maharaja Duleep Singh. On seeing Florence in the slave auction Sam fell in love and bid for her, only to lose out to the Ottoman Pasha of Vidin. Undaunted he bribed her attendants and the two of them fled the city together.

Thereafter Lord Samuel and Lady Florance were inseparable and together they set out on many adventures. Perhaps their most famous was an attempt to trace the source of the River Nile on which they discovered Lake Victoria. While they did not trace the river to its source, they did determine that it was in Ethiopia rather than Egypt. In 1869 the pair, both avowed abolitionists, led a military expedition into the Nile basin to stop the slave trade in the region and establish a Brittish colonial presence there.

The couple’s fame was only tempered by the widespread scandalous, and likely accurate claim that they had been traveling together for some time before actually being wed and had thus been living in sin. There was also speculation that the story of how the met had been embellished somewhat. Regardless, their adventures together and their courage were not in doubt.

You can read about this pair of star-crossed lovers of adventures in: To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa

An adventuring couple not to be trifled with. Sam was renown for successfully hunting elk with a knife.

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10 of the best websites for Airstream Fans

If you are looking for Airstream resources on the internet, you are in luck. Rivet Heads love their trailers and as a result, there are many great communities online who have created lots of fantastic resources.

Community

Airstream Addicts on Facebook

This is the largest airstream group on facebook with more than 14K members. The posts are almost all advice and expressions of joy for airstream ownership. If you use facebook and want to see some airstream love in your feed, join on up. Be aware there are rules in place to keep the discussions focused on Airstreams and free of spam or fighting between members. The do a great job keeping it positive and helpful.

Wally Byam Caravan Club International

Wally Byam is pretty much the father of the Airstream brand and he was dedicated to a life of adventure and travel. His Airstream caravans are the stuff of legend and this spirit lives on in the WBCCI. One of the primary activities of the club is arranging for Airstream caravan events. The club is divided into regional chapters, each with their own events and website. The WBCCI site has a number of informational articles, maps and other goodies you may find handy. You can read their magazine on the site as well.

Air Forums

If you are looking for help from the community or just want to chat about Airstream stuff, Air Forums is a good bet. They are the largest and most popular Airstream Forum site on the net. Searching their history of posts can turn up innumerable bits of advice on nearly any make or model. And you can always post a new question and get answers from folks who have decades of Airstream experience.

Information

Airstream.com

Airstream’s official website has a number of useful features beyond checking out the newest models and getting in touch with a dealership. They have some great historical information about the company, as well as a historical archive of airstream manuals and documentation. If you want to know the exact specifications for older and newer models, it’s a great place to go. You can find those under the Service section of the website. Airstream is also very responsive to contacts made through their website and I’ve had quite a few questions answered this way when doing research for articles. It is also one of the best places to look for service centers that will do warranty work.

Vintage Airstream

This site is dedicated to vintage airstreams and has a few really nice features. One that I really like is the photo archive where you can find pictures of specific make/model/year airstreams. They also feature a lot of how to articles and other useful resources for those looking to buy or work on a vintage airstream. It seems to be the central hub of vintage Airstream Enthusiasts.

Shopping

Airstream Classifieds

If you are looking to buy or sell a used Airstream this is the place to start. There are always new ads going up and the search features are easy to use. Even if you are not looking to buy or sell, it can be a lot of fun just to browse the adds looking at various models and customizations that people have done on their Airstreams. Also, if you are looking for pictures of older airstreams, this site is a bonanza.

Airstream Supply

This site is part of a larger RV parts network and has a large selection of parts, as well as Airstream themed decorations and accessories for sale. If you want an airstream branded dog bowl, a replacement tail light, or an airstream Christmas ornament, you can find it here.

Vintage Trailer Supply

While they are not exclusive to Airstreams the bulk of their offerings are Airstream related. For variety and quality, I like them a bit better than Airstream Supply. In addition to selling refurbished and reclaimed parts, they also manufacture their own replacements for parts that commonly break. As a result, you can get some very hard to find pieces at a very reasonable price. They also are a great place to shop for Airstream themed gifts.

Airstream stuff on Etsy

If you want to find something unique for yourself or another Airstream lover, Etsy has a lot of offerings from craftspeople all over the world. You can find things that are truly unique and wonderful there and Airstreams seem to appeal to folk artists and other generally creative people.

Pictures

Airstream pictures on Flicker

If you want to find cool pictures of airstreams, this link is your best bet. Flicker is great at highlighting the coolest and most interesting images for just about anything. It tends to be better than a google image search in finding fun stuff to look at or inspire you. That said, if you want to know what you are looking at, Vintage Airstream and Airstream Classifieds are great resources.

 

 

 

 

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Carlsbad Caverns: Lower Cave

Carlsbad Caverns National Park offers a series of Ranger Guided tours that take you through caves off the beaten path. Some are called “Wild Cave” Tours because you have to get a bit dirty in some areas. In total, there are six ranger guided tours, and I would encourage anyone to take all of them.

Lower Cave

In 1924, a National Geographic expedition wrote about the wonders of Lower Cave. When we went, we had a decent sized group of about 10 people. We first gathered at the visitor center for a short introduction on safety and distribution of gear. We then took the elevator down to the Big Room, where the rangers then lead us down a short path to a gate leading to a tunnel entrance to the Lower Cave.

Our Ranger Shows us How Not To Rope

Our ranger shows us the *wrong* way to reverse down the rope

For our first test, we reversed down a 15-foot flowstone path using a knotted rope. This by far is the most tricky part of the trail. The flowstone is slippery and as I was stepping backward down the trail, I had to keep myself straight and perpendicular to the floor. If you shift your body weight either forward or back you will slip. I recall being thankful for the gloves, otherwise my palms would be sweating.

On the next leg of our journey, we climbed down another 50 feet on three sets of steep metal ladders. For safety’s sake, only one person is allowed on a ladder at a time. So you have to call out when you are getting onto and off a ladder. The ladders are fairly slippery going down so we all took it slow. Going down into the darkness without being able to see my next step was a little worrisome, but I got through it.

Climbing down the Ladders

Climbing down the Ladders

The Rookery

Once we cleared the ladders, we continued past clear pools, stopping to spy some horsehair worms and cave crickets. We also passed a neighboring area called the Rookery, where cave pearls form. They are a rare cave formation, but here they are everywhere. A cave pearl is a small, usually spherical, speleothem formed by a concretion of calcium salts that form concentric layers around a nucleus. As water moves the cave pearl, it becomes polished and glossy. If exposed to the air, cave pearls can degrade and appear rough. Each collection of pearls looked like a small clutch of eggs cradled in a nest of cream.

Lower Cave Instructions

We take a moment for some instructions before entering the lower caves

From here on out, our trail was marked by a candy-striped tape on either side. Back at the visitor center, we were told not to go beyond the tape as to protect the cave and its formations. Slowly we made our way through a side passage and saw wondrous column formations, flowstones, and other cave formations not commonly found in the Big Room. We also got to walk through a tunnel with a low ceiling filled with soda straws and draperies. It was on this tour that I actually found helictites and aragonite crystals, two cave formations somewhat hard to find in abundance.

Cave Pearls found in the Rookery

Cave Pearls found in the Rookery

Bottom of the Jumping Off Place

We then made it to the bottom of the Jumping Off Place. From below I could see the faint shifting of shadows as people walked on the Big Room Trail. Now that I was finally on the bottom floor, I could get a good look at the fallen rubble. Before us stood a gigantic rock covered in cave formations usually found on the ceiling. Our guide said that a cave shaking event occurred a million or so years ago, such that it caused this land bridge to come crashing down. Usually, earthquakes don’t reach this far down into the earth, so it had to be something else. The best guess they had was that it had to do with when The Iceberg (a huge stone in the Natural Entrance Trail) fell from its place along the cave wall.

A large Drapery formation

A large Drapery formation found in Lower Caves near the Jumping Off Place

On the Other Side

From the lower half of the Jumping Off Place, we then took another side tunnel to where the original 1924 explorers first found the passage to Lower Cave. This was the same tunnel that we passed when we were back in the Big Room, except now we were looking up from the underside. Within this small cave, we were able to view the remains of calcite rafts, which are the thin accumulations of calcite that appear on the surface of cave pools. There was also evidence of Rimstone dams; fragile vertical walls that build up as cave pools overflow, depositing calcite at the edges. At the point of overflow, calcite is precipitated as the CO2 loss occurs. And finally, we found Lily Pads, a kind of shelf stone which form around the edges of cave pools. They usually develop under still water conditions and a constant pool level. I was amazed that, although the water was long gone, the rare formations still remained here after all these years.

Inside the 1924 tunnel

Inside the tunnel that the 1924 explorers first took toward the Lower Caves

Colonel Boles Formation

As we move out of the area below the Jumping Off Place, we took a turn into another part of Lower Cave that you would never know was there unless you were on the tour. To protect the caves, they took out the artificial lights, so much of the cave was pitch black until our headlamps lit the area. As we were guided through a pretty sizable cavern, we were introduced to Colonel Boles Formation. Two columns side by side made of cream colored calcium. The rangers pointed out that a crack in both columns where some kind of earth shifting had damaged the columns. Upon closer inspection, we were able to see the skeletal remains of a poor bat embedded near the base of the formation, encased in layers of calcite.

Colonel Boles Formation

Colonel Boles Formation

It was at this point where the rangers decide to do an experiment which required us to black out our headlamps and close our eyes. Some forms of calcite have photoluminescence properties. As we sat in the dark with our eyes shut tightly, our guides shined powerful bright lights into the stone of a stalagmite. After a quick countdown, we opened our eyes just a fraction after they shut the light off. For a few seconds, the calcite stone glowed greenishly-yellow before fading. A fun little performance in the dead darkness of a cave. Now I can’t help but wonder if bringing a small UV light would reveal any fluorescence properties in the cave minerals.

Cave Crawl

Nearing the end of our tour, our guides took us to the entrance of a small passageway, where we could experience a controlled solo exploration of a cave. Each of us would enter the tight tunnel one at a time. Once the person before reached the gathering point they would turn off their headlamps. When the next person could no longer see light in the cave, they would proceed down the tight tunnel. By far this was my favorite encounter in the lower cave tour. As I made my way through the cave, having a single sole light sent my perspective of distance for a loop. Without the reference light of another caver before me, I had a hard time telling what was before me and how far I was going. If my headlamp were to fail at that moment, would I be able to find my way back out of this tunnel to where I started? The experience told me how much I depended on sight and the familiar shapes of the surface world.

Cave Crawling

This is where we get on our hands and knees and crawl

For our final leg of the cave tour, we were given an option to crawl out or walk out. Having promised never to pass up a new opportunity, both Hitch and I crawled out. This crawling tunnel didn’t allow for much other than crawling and wiggling, but even at our size, we were able to shimmy, shift, and squeeze our way through to the other side.

Upon our exit, we found ourselves near the Rookery and the cave pools. We backtracked through to the ladders and slowly worked our way up to the Big Room where we started. Our final test was to climb up the slippery flowstone slope using that knotted rope. Just moments after the rope climb, all I could think of was, “I’m so glad I didn’t slip and fall face forward. Yay me!”

Heading Toward The Pools

Heading Toward The Pools

How to See Lower Cave for Yourself

Although I loved the Lower Cave tour itself, I was kind of frustrated at the lack of information about the tour. Apparently the only offer the tour on certain days and times, which aren’t readily available online. There are also blackout days because of maintenance. You can book online at Recreation.gov, which gives you some information, but if you happen to pick a day where they’re not having one, it will just show up blank. I would suggest calling and ask what days of the week the tour occurs on for that season, and then go back to Recreation.gov and make your reservation.

Many of the cave tours have restrictions and requirements. Much of the information can be found when you book online, but there was additional information that we didn’t discover until we spoke with an actual ranger.

Lower Cave Tour Information

  • Effort: Moderately Strenuous
  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Maximum Group Size: 12 people
  • Starting Location: Visitor Center

What to Bring

  • 3 AA batteries
  • Hiking boots required

Provided Gear

  • Helmets
  • Headlamp
  • Gloves

Restrictions

  • No backpacks or purses
  • No food or drink inside the cave
  • No bathrooms inside the cave
  • Minimum age is 12 years old
  • Anyone under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
  • No personal caving equipment on any of the Ranger Guided tours. This is in efforts to reduce the spread of White-nose Syndrome, a disease deadly to the bats at Carlsbad Caverns. This includes shoes or any other clothing that were worn in another cave.

Cave Tour Fees

  • Adult: $20.00
  • Child (12-15): $10.00
  • Discounts for Senior and Access Pass holders.
  • Note: Cave tour fees do not include park fees. This means you’ll have to pay $10 per person over 16-years-old as well. The park entrance fee lasts for 3-days.

Reservations

Looking up at the 1924

Looking up at the passage the 1924 crew crawled through

Aragonite

Aragonite is a carbonate mineral, one of the two most common, naturally occurring, crystal forms of calcium carbonate.

Helictite

Helictite, cave deposit that has a branching, curved, or spiraled shape and may grow in any direction in seeming defiance of gravity. A helictite begins as a soda-straw-like tube formed as individual drops of water deposit calcium carbonate around the rim. The drops do not fall as in stalactite formation but evaporate in place.

The post Carlsbad Caverns: Lower Cave appeared first on The Adventures of Trail & Hitch.

Carlsbad Caverns: The Big Room

Young Jim White’s Adventure

Imagine it’s 1898, and you are a young boy of 16 years old. Your father sent you out with your trusty horse to search for some missing cattle. As the sun sets, you see a black cloud rising up into the orange and pink sky. Urging your horse forward, you realize that the cloud isn’t a cloud at all but a swarm of bats; millions of bats swirling in a whirlwind and with a barely audible rushing sound. You tie your horse to a nearby tree and push your way through the dense brush. You stop just short of a rocky slope and stare into the biggest, blackest hole you’ve ever seen in your life. Even though the bats seem to boil out of that black abyss, you don’t feel fear at all, you feel the edge excitement and a driving desire to explore that deep earthen maw.

This is the story of how a young cowboy, Jim White, discovered Carlsbad Caverns. Even though many more Native Americans and Mexicans also discovered the caverns prior to young Jim, his story captivates me more than any other due to his curiosity and tenacity.

Days later, Jim returned with food, water, homemade kerosene lanterns, hemp rope, and a ball of string. For the next three days, he wandered the caverns covering much of the area, where the modern trail crosses today. Back then, Jim’s expedition was slow going and rough. First, he would have to navigate the rough jagged rocks down to the entrance, then find a good place to tie off his string so he could find his way back out. He then worked through piles and piles of bat guano, after making headway into the main portions of the cave. On later visits Jim, explored other chambers of Carlsbad including the Big Room, King’s Palace and Queen’s Chambers.

Near the Sword

Near the Sword of Damocles – What wonders does the Big Room hold

Into the Big Room

After descending one and a quarter miles through the snaking Natural Entrance Trail, Hitch and I made it to the Big Room Junction. From where we stood, I could only see about half way into the largest chamber of Carlsbad Caverns. According to the signs, the total volume of the Big Room is 357,469 square feet. Area wise, it covers 8.2 acres, which is enough to fit six football fields with room to spare. If I decided to take an audio tour device with me, I know it would have offered more insight, but be detracted from the sense of mystery and adventure I felt. I’ve been in a few caves, and the wonder of Big Room is nothing like Jewel Cave or Wind Cave. I have never seen anything of its like and is possibly the most amazing sight I’ve seen, both underground and above.

Sword Of Damocles

A full view of the Sword Of Damocles

Without the lights, this cavern would be nothing but blackness. The Big Room offers countless cave formations, of numerous types, and some of giant proportions. A nearly infinite number of fossils hide within these rocks, and won’t reveal themselves without a good light and a trained eye.

We take the right fork and head deeper into the Big Room. We pass a formation called The Sword of Damocles, a stalactite with a form similar to a sword, down to the point. Unlike the fabled sword above Damocles, this sword cave hangs tightly to the ceiling, and without a single strand of horsehair tied around the pommel to suspend it. Just beyond the sword, two strange stalactites covered in cave popcorn dangle like disembodied tails. The formation with the bulb at its tip is called Lion’s Tail, due to the resemblance of its namesake.

Lion's Tail

Lion’s Tail – a stalactite with cave popcorn growing upon the tip

As I looked around, I noticed that the cave popcorn formations appeared frequently upon the surface of other cave shapes, but stopped at a certain level. According to a cave geology book, these clusters of small bulbous protrusions were most likely formed by an air convection system moving through the cave. Warm humid air enters the cave, collecting minerals that it absorbs from surrounding rocks through a process similar to aerosolization, where mineral particles are small and light enough to be carried within the water vapor. As the warm moist air travels from floor to ceiling, it loses heat to the rocks and its relative humidity decreases. Then as the air cools, it begins to sink. The moisture in the air condenses, causing it to deposit the minerals on the walls and formations it meets. Air, water, and earth working in concert to create a marvelous wonder.

Hall of Giants

Deeper into the cavern and rising up from the floor are towering stalagmites. The one called Giant Dome climbs to 62 feet high and measures 16 feet in diameter at its widest point. Nearby, Twin Domes stand only slightly smaller, with their superbly proportioned and delicately fluted shapes. I realize without normal reference shapes, such as a tree or car, it’s hard to grasp the breadth and height of these cave formations. I decided to walk a distance away from Giant Dome while Hitch stayed near its base. After a few paces, I get a sense of the size of these natural creations: Giant Dome is roughly the height of a six-story building, just 10 feet short of the White House. I am still in awe of these beautiful limestone monoliths. Each of these giant stalagmites took millions of years to form with the constant dripping of water from the ceiling.

Giant Dome & Twin Domes

Giant Dome & Twin Domes

Fairyland and the Temple

As we round a blind corner, we end up in a striking setting of stone. Hundreds of popcorn-covered small stalagmites stand like deformed creatures marching along the cave floor. Above thousands of soda straw formations dangle delicately. As thin precursors to stalactites, soda straws form as water drips from the ceiling, creating a ring of calcite on the outside of the drop. The formation grows in a uniform diameter and into a hollow straw until something plugs it and forces the water to flow on the outside to form a traditional stalactite. Also known as tubular stalactites, these formations grow in places where water filters slowly through cracks in the rock.

Amid the wonderland, persists a giant limestone column. Due to its tapered shape and stepped like appearance, the column is aptly named the Temple of the Sun. This formation is a fine example of where a stalactite and stalagmite have merged to form a contiguous pillar of limestone.

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Sun with its stepped ridges

The Caveman, the Totem Pole, and the Boob

Just as we leave the Fairyland area, we keep to the right and pass the shortcut path. We end up in an area filled with larger stalagmites. The Breast of Venus is squat and short stalagmite. It’s unusually smooth surface is formed by rapidly dripping water.

Another stalagmite nearby is called The Caveman, so named for its shape, although I had a hard time seeing the “caveman” himself. Hitch later pointed out that the “caveman” sits with his head resting upon a hand, just like Rodan’s The Thinker.

The Caveman

The Caveman – can you see the cave man?

As we come upon another stalagmite officially named the Totem Pole, I could hear the distinct drip-drop-plop of water. All totem pole formations are formed by a single drip of water, hitting the exact same spot for thousands if not millions of years.

Looking up, toward the south end of the Big Room, hangs a magnificent stalactite group dubbed The Chandelier. Typically stalactites are older than their ground counterparts. The process is exceedingly slow, with an average of 0.0051 inches per year, although if conditions are right they grow as much as 0.12 inches per year. Too fast a drip rate and the solution will carry most of the minerals away leaving nothing to deposit. Nearly all limestone stalactites begin with a single mineral-laden drop of water. When the drop falls, it deposits the thinnest ring of calcite, and with enough drops, a simple soda straw forms. As I stand nearly beneath The Chandelier, I wonder how many millions of years did it take to form, and how has it remained in such great condition.

Totem Pole & the Chandelier

Totem Pole & the Chandelier

To the Jumping Off Place

Just as the trail takes a turn with an easy uphill climb, we pass a kiosk detailing the 1924 National Geographic sponsored expedition of Dr. Willis T. Lee. Just behind the plaque is a gaping hole that goes deeper into the earth and to a place known as Lower Caves. There is an old wire ladder attached to the mouth of the hole before us where the original explorers used to reach the Lower Caves for the first time. I cannot imagine myself climbing down such a ladder, not without also imagining falling to my doom.

1924 National Geographic Expedition

Dr. Willis T. Lee and his crew actually used this ladder to reach the Lower Caves

We continued our walk and end up at the top of a cliff only guarded against falling by a rail. Another sign tells us that below where we stand is an area known as the Lower Cave. The light was sparse down there and I couldn’t see the floor. I took a moment to shine my headlamp light down into the inky blackness. I soon realized that if I fell from here, I would fall 93 feet to the rocky floor and my ultimate demise. With the extra light, Hitch points out another balcony on the other side of the chasm at the same height as we are. We gazed back down at the rubble below and surmised that there may have been a bridge between this cliff and the other.

Top of the Cross

We trekked slowly down the hill, careful not to slip on the wet slick surface of the trail. We make it to an area known as the Top of the Cross. If you look at a map of the Big Room, it kind of looks like an inverted cross, and thus its name. I remember looking above and spotting large fractures in the ceiling, that formed a kind of cross as well.

As we wonder around, Hitch takes a seat on one of the many rows of stone benches facing a concrete stage. I know in years past, they held concerts and events in this area. Carlsbad Caverns even owned its own radio station at one point. As part of the National Park Service’s Centennial celebration, four members of the New Mexico Philharmonic performed here just last year. What a wonder that must have sounded like!

Top of Cross

Top of Cross – The best place to listen to a cave concert

Mirror Lake and Cave Crickets

As we push onto the other arm of the cross, we pass a pool of water entitled Mirror Lake. The rangers were even cute and created a sign that was mirror reversed, so you could read it correctly in the reflection of the water.

In cave pools like Mirror Lake, live simple invertebrate creatures such as worms. The most creepy cave creature is the Horsehair Worm, which cannot exist out of the water. The larva of the Horsehair worm sits waiting in pools for a cave cricket to slip into the water. Once the worms invade the poor insect, the young worm quickly takes over its host’s brain and feeds upon the body. Once the worm is fully grown, the poor cricket is mind-controlled into the water, where it drowns to death, and the worm breaks free of the remaining carcass. So creepy! I’m so glad I’m human and not a cave cricket.

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake – Read the sign in the reflection

Liberty Dome and Bottomless Pit

As we move beyond Mirror Lake, we find ourselves at the edge of a dark pit. The sign name this abyss as Bottomless Pit. For a while, folks figured it was bottomless, but explorers discovered that the pit only dropped to 140 feet below the opening. There’s a nearby sign saying, “Please don’t drop items into the pit.” Regardless foolish tourists still do and every year rangers must climb down and clean it out. Like in all of National Parks, littering of any kind is forbidden in the caves, and those who are caught will be fined.

Above the pit, the ceiling rises into a natural dome. From the bottom of the pit to the top of the dome, its 370 feet. That’s enough room to fit the statue of liberty, from torch to toes.

Crystal Spring Dome

Having reached the halfway point of the Big Room Trail, we work our way past giant gypsum blocks, scarred by straight lines down their sides. At first glance, its seems that they were cut by a man-made tool, but in reality, water dripping from above cut these large blocks of rock. We soon reach the far side of Fairyland and then take a right into a beautiful alcove of shimmering rock. Within this glitter, stands a giant stalagmite named Crystal Spring Dome. I can see water covering its glistening surface. This is the largest active stalagmite in Carlsbad Caverns, which is a rarity in itself because roughly 95% of the cavern’s speleothems are dry and inactive. At the base of Crystal Spring Dome, water collects in pools. Just above the pool are flowstone formations and a basal margin forming a rim of rock.

Above there are more strange cave formations that look like sheets of thin wavy ribbons. These draperies are formed by water dripping down sloped ceilings. Also called Cave Bacon by cave geologists, these ones are translucent enough to let the light shine through and show off their colorful layers. We also start seeing more flowstone formations; sheetlike deposits of calcite formed where water flows down along the walls and caves.

Crystal Spring Dome

Crystal Spring Dome – largest active stalagmite in Carlsbad Caverns

Rock of Ages

Just beyond these formations, stand the Rock of Ages, so named in reference to the Old Testament’s The Smitten Rock, where God struck a rock for Moses and water flowed from it. Every December, the park gives a special Rock of Ages guided historical tour by candlelight only. Decked in historic outfits, park staff take visitors back in time as they wind through the Big Room. At the end of the tour, everyone blows out their candles and listen to a choir sing the hymn, “The Rock of Ages.”

Rock of Ages - named after the hymn

Rock of Ages – named after the hymn

The Bathtub and Grottos

From the Rock of Ages, the trail diverges into a side tunnel, where the path goes over a long pool of water. Today the waters are clear and have a slight blue tint. From certain angles, the surface reflects the rocks near the edge and the ceiling. Above the pool, flowstone seems to pour from the wall like a waterfall.

Back in 1997, a bridge path was installed over the pool. When the construction crews removed the old path, they discovered that red clay was used as backfill. As they removed the imported clay, it contaminated the waters and turned the pool red.

We moved up a slight incline and curve toward a well lit hollow. Within the Painted Grotto, delicate soda straws hang like lace. These formations are tinted yellow, orange, red and brown due to the presence of iron and other minerals. Nearby is a similarly decorated smaller grotto called Doll’s Theater.

Painted Grotto

Painted Grotto – soda straws are tinted yellow, orange, red and brown due to the presence of iron and other minerals.

Jim White Tunnel

The path then takes us through a narrow tunnel filled with ivory colored formations. The tunnel itself feels like a life-sized Painted Grotto through all manner of cave formations, large and small, all compressed within this one path. Our path is paved, well lit, and protected by a metal guard rail. Back in the 1890s, there was no light except for Jim’s lantern. I wonder if he hit a shin or two while navigating this jagged area.

Just as we exited the tunnel, we came upon a scene where pinnacles and columns were shaped like miniature pagoda spires. We stayed a while and watched few young artists sketch the scene before us. As we turn to finish walking the rest of the trail, we look up at the ceiling and spy elegant stone formations flowing out of dark orifices like mocha colored waterfalls.

Chinese Theater

Chinese Theater – the formations here look like stepped pagodas.

Underground Lunchroom

Before I realize it, we’ve reached the Natural Trail and Big Room junction. We take the right path and pass the elevators leading up to the surface. Beyond that is a large room with a cafe and dining tables. Back in the 1950s, the Underground Lunchroom served at least millions of people over several decades, though the exact number is impossible to know. One record states, that over one million visitors a year at these very tables. Old photos show visitors lined up to buy box lunches, drinks, and even cigars. Sadly with so many people, too many flood lights, and the kitchen putting out heat, water, and food particles, the cave ecosystem was extremely altered to the point that cave formations were being harmed.

Lunchroom

Lunchroom – no cooking here, just low impact sandwiches.

Today, visitors can eat in the Caverns to this day. You can purchase a simple meal and eat a candle lit lantern table. To protect the cave, food service is limited to sandwiches, salads, yogurt, parfaits, and other food that does not involve cooking in the caverns. They also sell the standard array of souvenirs including headlamps, shirts, hats, and postcards. One of the most popular activities for visitors is to write and send postcards from underground. Yes, there is a mailbox in the caverns, and you can stamp your postcard “Mailed from 750 feet below ground.”

Near the Lunchroom, is possibly the oddest bathroom I’ve been in. It’s a normal bathroom by all accounts, except that you have to walk through a small tunnel to reach it, and cave formations protrude from the walls like out of place decorations. Hitch reported that the men’s bathroom is similar, but without the rock formations.

Bathroom

Take the chance and use one of the deepest bathrooms in the world

Back to the Surface

Once we’re both had our fill of wandering around the Lunchroom, we take the elevator 750 feet up to the visitor center. I take a moment to check my phone, and noticed that we’ve been in the caverns for a little over four hours! We grab a meal at the Cave Cafe, reminisce over the beauty and wonder, and make plans to see more.

Doll's Theater

Doll’s Theater – a smaller grotto of delicate soda straws

Cave Popcorn Up Close

Cave Popcorn Up Close

The Caveman

The Caveman near the southern half of the Big Room

Top of the Cross

Top of the Cross – It would be fun to listen to a concert here one day

Longfellow's Bathtub

Longfellow’s Bathtub – the largest pool in the Big Room reflects like a mirror

Longfellow's Bathtub

Flowstone formations above Longfellow’s Bathtub

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How Much to Airstreams Weigh?

A good number of people are asking this question and ending up at Trail and Hitch so I felt it would be good to try and provide an answer. I suspect this comes up in relation to towing an Airstream rather than say, mailing it first class in the post.

Let’s start with a few terms used to specify the weight of trailers.

Hitch Weight:  This is also called Tongue Weight. It is how much downward pressure the trailer puts on the hitch when attached. When you buy a hitch, you want the tongue weight capacity to be as much or more than the Hitch Weight.

Base Weight:  This is how much the trailer weights when it rolls off the assembly line. It does not include the weight for fresh or waste water or any other stuff you put in your trailer.

Maximum Capacity: This is how much your trailer would weigh if you loaded it up to its maximum safe capacity. Thus it would include the trailer, all the water in it, and all your stuff. It is sometimes listed as (GVWR) Gross vehicle weight rating.

Net Carrying Capacity: This is how much stuff you can safely load in your trailer. It includes water weight.

The numbers that matter most

Of those above, the ones you need to pay attention to for towing are the Hitch Weight and the Maximum Capacity.  You want to compare Hitch Weight to your hitch’s Tongue Weight, and Maximum Capacity to your vehicles Towing Capacity. Your hitch and vehicle capacity values should meet or exceed your trailer’s weight values.

You may find a lot more information about towing in other articles that go into greater detail but Airstreams are built to be well balanced and that means many of those considerations are not at play so you won’t need to sweat over them. It’s good to learn all you can, but with an Airstream, it doesn’t need to be complicated. They are built for easy towing. If the numbers match, you should be good to go.

So How much do they Weigh?

So glad you asked, it all depends on the make and model. I’ll start by giving you some examples from the modern fleet, but it is best to go look it up for whatever you specifically are interested in. I’ll help with that too.

2017 Basecamp or 2017 Sport 16′:  This is the lightest Airstream currently on the market.  It has a Maximum Capacity of 3500lb. You can tow a basecamp with a mid-sized SUV, light truck, or almost any vehicle intended for towing.

2017 Flying Cloud 23′ Full Bed: This is around the mid-sized range for Airstream trailers. Its Maximum Capacity is 6000lb.  You can tow one with a larger SUV or mid-sized truck.

2017 International Serenity 28′:  Now we are getting into the big, double AC Airstreams. This one has a Maximum Capacity of 7,600lb. Now you need the largest of SUVs or a full sized truck.

2017 Classic 33′: This is as big as they currently make them. The Classic has a Maximum Capacity of 10,000lb. You need to have good truck 1500 v8 or better to tow one of these and most will want a 2500 to be on the safe side.

Make model and year are going to vary and things like furnishings can change the weight. Generally, airstreams of a similar length will have a similar weight. Newer ones will often be a bit heavier than older models because they got a fair bit wider starting in 1994.

You can find modern weights on Airstream.com.  Just go to the main page.  Hover over the “Travel Trailers” menu and select the trailer style you are interested in. Then choose the Specs/Floorplans option on the page for that model.  If there are multiple sizes for the model, a drop down menu will let you select them. Then just look for the values we discussed in the spec sheet.

For older models, go their library page and use the tools to search for the model you are looking for.

More Stuff To Read

I’ve got more articles you may find helpful on this topic.

Picking a Tow Vehicle for an Airstream Trailer

Picking a Hitch for Your Airstream Trailer

 

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The Best Hot Weather Hat

OK, I’ll admit I don’t know for a fact it is the single best hot weather hat in the world. I can say it is really a good one and I have worn it extensively in the deserts of the American west. Best is one of those keywords that people like to search for, myself included. I promise you won’t be disappointed by one of these hats on a hot day, I honestly adore mine.

So what hat am I talking about? I actually had to do a little research to discover that my hat is the Henschel Breezer with Coolmax Band. I picked mine up at Saguaro National Park. Trail had gotten one earlier at the SanDiego zoo earlier in the year and was loving it so she got one for me too. A fair number of national parks sell them in their gift shop with the name of the park embroidered on the band.

Here you can see the effective shade provided by the hat while I do some fishing.

Why it’s “the best”

It has good hat fundamentals with a nice fit and a fairly attractive and classic profile. The brim is the perfect size for shading the sun out of your eyes for most of the day and preventing sunburn on your face. It is sturdy and can stand up to some rough treatment and still come out looking decently after brushing it off. Mine has deformed just a bit from having stuff piled on top of it in the truck but for the most part still looks good. The stitching and materials are excellent. It stands up to modest rainfall pretty well but is designed more for hot and sunny days.

The real star of the show with this hat is that the sides of the crown are an open mesh material. This both allows heat and sweat from your head to escape and allows cool breezes to pass through which I can attest is a wonderful thing. The top is solid as is the brim so rain and other falling material won’t pass through. The hat will get wet, but you won’t.  So often with hats, I want to take them off to get some circulation but there is no need with the Breezer. The sweatband is also very nice and does a good job keeping your eyes clear and your head dry. The underside of the brim can get a bit sweat stained as a result but the mesh covering on top of the brim keeps that from being visible to others. A nice touch.

Witness the near hysterical joy brought to me by my wonderful hat.

Best of all, it’s not a very expensive hat, retailing around $25 – $35 depending on where you buy it. As of this writing, the one I linked to on Amazon above is $25 + shipping. I likely paid closer to $35 at the national park store when I got mine. As a bonus, Henschel manufactures most of their hats in the US  and notes which others are specifically imported. I like to support business local to the regions we travel in and from the US when there is a good product to be had.

 

 

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Work Anywhere: Qwik Lock Laptop Stand Reveiw

The idea of working from anywhere in the world is a compelling one. It has always been one of our goals to figure out how to make a living while traveling America, and eventually the wide world. I think all of us who pursue this dream imagine golden moments without our laptops on the beach or in the high alpine mountains. The reality of it tends to be rather different. For me, most of my computer time is sitting in the galley of my trailer with my laptop on the dining table. It is neither a great place to sit for long periods nor terribly inspiring.

It was a combination of wanting to work outside more and concern for my health that led me to seek out an alternative. My first concern was that I wanted some way to work standing up. Secondly, I wanted something I could take with me nearly anywhere and use my laptop comfortably. Finally, I wanted something sturdy enough I wouldn’t be constantly worried about it tipping over or falling apart.

What I ended up getting

After a long bout of scouring product reviews, I decided to try out the Quik Lock LPH-oo3 Laptop Stand. Overall, I liked the tripod style laptop stands better than the style with four legs. This Quik Lock stand can adjust from 30″ to nearly 50″ in height. This means I can use it sitting down or standing up with a quick adjustment. The tripod can also be pulled in close to a chair or bench and needs only a small, level area to stand on. The tripod style stands also had a better track record with reviewers for being stable than the four legged free standing options. What gave the Quik Lock the edge over other laptop tripods was that it had a built in mouse tray as where many other brands did not.

The laptop sits on an adjustable platform at the top. It has a grippy surface and four adjustable arms to hold it in place. Reviews varied widely as to how big a laptop it could accommodate. I think that is due to how people try to use the arms. The two bottom arms will always fit fine. The two back arms are a tad too short to grab both sides of a largish 15″ laptop like mine. I was able to put one arm on the side, and another around the back and this fit fine and held my laptop firmly in place.

Trying it out

Overall the stand felt sturdy and stable. I would not use it in a high wind, but even at its highest extension, it would take a good solid shove to knock it over. I was delighted to find that even at 6’3″, it was comfortable to use standing up, a little short of its maximum height. It also worked well sitting down in a camp chair at its lowest setting. If you are short, it may be a little too tall in a low chair but it worked great for me. In a desk or dining chair, it should work for near anyone. I was concerned that a comfortable standing typing position would have me bending my neck to look down at the screen. This proved not to be an issue. To make a comfortable typing surface I had to angle the keyboard a fair bit and this resulted in the screen being at a great angle for viewing while standing straight.

The only downside was that the mouse tray was simply too small for my mouse. It has metal rims to keep the mouse in place when not in use, but this affords almost no range of motion for a standard mouse. A small wireless mouse would work, but it still feels like you have little room to maneuver. I decided instead to get a Logitech M570 wireless trackball. It fit perfectly in the tray and I am fairly comfortable using one for work applications. A little practice and I barely noticed the difference.

Once the weather was nice enough, I took it for a spin outside the trailer. I worked for about 90 minutes standing and found it to be very comfortable. I’m not used to standing while working but had no real issues with posture or position. I did get a little tired and switched to sit down mode. I worked for another 60 minutes in the camp chair without any problems. All in all, I’d say it is a big success. I definitely give the Quik Lock a recommendation if you want a versatile laptop stand for both standing and sitting.

Here I’m sitting in a pretty typical folding camp chair with the stand pulled in close. The angle is actually much nicer than a desk.

Have laptop, will travel

The final test was to see how just how portable the thing is. Sturdy comes with some cost in terms of weight. The stand weighs just over 13lb which is not what I’d call light. For travel, you detach the platform from the tripod, fold up the arms on the platform, and then collapse the tripod. The tripod is about 18″ long folded up, and the platform about 12″ square and 4″ thick with a fair number of pointy surfaces. I don’t think I’d be quick to take it on a long backpacking trip but you could if you were determined to. I had no trouble finding a storage spot for it in the trailer and it would be no sweat taking it anywhere that I’d bring a camp chair or cooler. It would be amazing if it were just a bit lighter and sleeker. As is, it’s good enough for my needs.

Here is the stand separated and folded. Its certainly portable, but somewhat awkward and heavy.

All in all, I think it’s a great product and I suspect I will get a lot of use out of it. It will allow me to switch things up for long work sessions and to do some writing in inspiring locations. One thing to keep in mind; the outdoors are not always laptop friendly. Strong winds can tip over your stand. Rain is an issue for most laptops. You can’t stray too long from a power source. Strong sunlight can make reading the screen a challenge and direct sun could overheat your computer. Bugs may find you or your screen attractive in the evening. And as I discovered, birds and butterflies are pretty good at distracting you from your work. All that said, it was great to get outside in the open air and continue to work on our blog and I plan on doing more of that in the future with my new portable workstation.

 

 

 

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Happy Pants: A review of Duluth Cargo Pants

Ever since I married I have abdicated the lion’s share of my clothing purchases to my dear wife. As a bachelor, I was never a fashion icon. I typically bought clothing when what I had became dysfunctional. I was even known to wear shirt’s I’d made for myself from time to time. These days Trail does the shopping while I retain the right to rubber stamp or veto any given selection. Trail has good tastes and my main interest in dressing up is look good in her eyes so the arrangement works well.

Time for a change… of pants

When traveling, the qualities you look for in clothing change somewhat. A typical day can include crawling through a wet cave tunnel, sliding down a sand dune on your butt, or working with a greasy trailer hitch. Durability and stain resistance are key, as is being comfortable in a wide range of weather conditions. Of course, you also want to be comfortable in a wide range of challenging situations and still look respectable if you go out for dinner after an adventure.

Recently, it came time to replace some of my old pants which had run the gauntlet of travel challenges and failed. One pair split wide open while sliding down sand dunes, another was badly shredded by rocks and cactus after a trek in the badlands. My jeans were declared a money sink as they took twice as long to machine dry as every other article of clothing. Trail decided some serious research was needed to find the perfect pair of trousers for me and my new adventuring ways.

A good view of the pockets and belt.

Traveling Trousers

Her search turned up the Duluth Trading Company and their Dry on the Fly Nylon Cargo Pants. They are designed to be tough and comfortable and to look decent as casual wear and they succeed on all accounts. The material is nylon that has been treated to be water and sunshine-resistant and both features work very nicely helping you stay cool and dry. Unlike my cotton jeans, they dry fast both when worn and when being cleaned. The material is woven in such a way that it is flexible in the diagonal but firm vertically and horizontally. As a result, they look fairly crisp but flex nicely when you are moving around.

A feature common to nearly all fo the Duluth pants lines is their “crotch gusset.” This is a somewhat stretchy wedge of fabric in the inseam of the pants that gives them a lot more range of motion without pulling or pinching. Not only does it mean no pinching in sensitive areas, it prevents the pants from stress on the inseam and ripping up the middle. It’s an event that not only destroys your pants but makes for an awkward day on the trails. I speak from personal experience on this account. The end result is that they flow near as well as a pair of sweat pants but look a whole lot nicer.

Since they are meant as work or adventure pants, they have a wide range of pockets and super wide belt loops. This means you can pack a lot of gear into the pants and on your belt. The pants come with a belt, but I found it to be too thin for practical use and substituted my usual simple wide leather belt for it. It accommodated the hefty leather strap quite nicely. One nice feature on the cargo pockets is a side zipper. It is arranged such that it is easy to access while sitting, which makes them great for keeping a phone or wallet on long drives, much easier to access than a traditional pocket.

Style wise, they are not the sleekest pants ever, but the lightweight material keeps them from looking bulky and awkward. Different models run the gamut from casual slacks to fairly utilitarian. Mine are on the utilitarian end but they don’t look out of place with a casual collared shirt. Unsurprisingly, they go very well with typical outdoor clothing. Colors can be limited depending on the specific model. During the sale, they were out of my preferred color, Black. Most of the colors are browns and greens, classic fall colors.

The “bottom” line

The only downside is that these pants don’t come cheap. Full price they range from $65 to $80 depending on the specific size and style. The do go on sale and that is how we bought ours, closer to $50 a pair. I think in the long run the durability and quick wash times will make that a good investment compared to cheaper pants, all the while enjoying a lot more comfort and utility.

All in all, I highly recommend them for anyone who wants a rugged, comfortable, and decent looking pair of pants that can handle some serious adventure.

Never mind the honeyed hams, here you can see how the fabric stretches when in motion. No pinching or tugging which is nice.

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