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.

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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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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.

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