Sunday, May 22, 2022

Vent Hood or No Vent Hood? My Experience and Choice

Dometic Ultra Breeze
I associate the roar of my little travel trailer's air conditioner with "coolth," a bit of blessed relief from summer heat and humidity. Merriam-Webster's definition of the word coolth is "the state or occasion of being cool," exactly what I want if I must camp when the heat is excessive. However, air conditioners in a tiny or little camper are loud. At least, that's my experience. When possible, I prefer to open my ceiling vent to bring in a little cool air, even though my ceiling fan is also loud, albeit not as loud as the ac. Having the vent open when possible during the night is especially preferable over the air conditioner. "When possible" are the key words, though. Having a hole in the camper's ceiling when it's raining is not a good idea. Believe me, I've tried it. Having a hood for the ceiling vent fan dramatically extends my ability to have the vent open, even when it's raining. 

MaxxAir Fanmate
Both of the travel trailers I've owned, a Polar Bear "standy" from Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers and an Airstream Basecamp both were purchased without vent hoods, but I added them to both following the experience of having to choose ac noise, stuffiness, or a wet floor during rain storms. With both trailers, the experience of having to shut the vent during rain storms was the ultimate determiner for opting for the vent hood. My experience with the vent hood for my Basecamp occurred just two days after installing the hood. I was at Saylorville Lake in Iowa, and it began to rain. The hood allowed me to keep the vent open even during the rain. Prior to buying the hood, I was concerned that the hood would interrupt the sleek lines of the Basecamp, but now that I've added the hood, I'm already used to it. 

The Facebook group Airstream Basecamp provided me with all the information that I needed to purchase and install the hood. Thanks, Todd! The smoke-colored Dometic U1500GR Ultra Breeze Vent was easy to install, the instructions clear and straightforward--essentially removing screws, adding caulk sealant, placing mounting brackets, screwing slightly longer screws into the original holes, and then adding sealant onto the screw location. I did find that using my extension ladder, leaned against the trailer, was more stable than using my folding ladder. 

The Dometic vent fan is louder than the MaxxAir Fanmate cover that I bought for the RTTC Polar Bear. That, of course, has nothing to do with the vent hood; however, they were both easy to install. I also plan to camp more off the grid this season, so having more options for "coolth" besides turning on the air conditioner is important, since the air conditioner is only an option for me if I have shore power. 

Now when it's too rainy to have the doors or windows open, I will have the option of keeping the vent open, thanks to my vent hood. Using the fan option on the air conditioner is possible, but only if I don't mind the noise and if I'm hooked up to electricity. Since the hood can be removed with four clips, I can always remove the hood if I want to "style" my way along in a parade or something. I don't mind the utilitarian and practical look, though, if that's what it takes to keep me dry when out and camping.

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Friday, May 13, 2022

RV Parks *Exist* -- What Does That Mean for Camping Travelers? A Personal Experiennce Narrative

Airstream Basecamp at Oasis RV Park at Aztec Hills
Full Moon at Oasis RV Park at Aztec Hills, Arizona, the Sonoran Desert
I enter the restroom-shower building in a small RV park. It's a blue building, the paint not new but still solid, unpeeling even if a bit faded. The roadways in the park are a reddish gravel and sand mixture, the edgings a countrified uneven scraggle of grass and weeds, mown at least once this spring yet now sporting a few leggy yellow spring flowers. A young boy about nine years old with a newly trimmed blond mohawk haircut is looping the park on his bicycle. A mother with an infant in a baby chest carrier is at the swing set with her lanky early-teenage daughter, pushing while her daughter pumps, both of them chatting and laughing. 

Inside the restroom-shower facility, the continuous sound of trickling water attracts my attention. One cracked toilet commode has a leaky trap; however, the toilet even though cracked is not leaking onto the floor. The next commode is uncracked and silent, but the seat is bandaged with white duct tape. The room is clean, worn, and waiting. The RV park likewise--worn, casually lived in, and friendly--as is the manager (and perhaps owner), a later-middle aged, gray-haired, energetic woman whom I had to telephone when we arrived because the office was closed. "I live in town," the manager's voice had said. "I'll be there in seven minutes."

Arriving in no more than seven minutes, my wife and I were efficiently processed, the lady pointing out several sites available and asking us which one we wanted. "Are you leaving early tomorrow, and which way will you be heading?" she asked. When we said we'd be driving east to Iowa, she provided directions and then said the accommodations building was always open. Guiding me to the pull-through, she gestured me to stop when the trailer was properly aligned with the hookups. Registration was completed from a clipboard, outside and covid-safe, and a quick run-through of hookup procedures were provided as she pointed out the specifics of the space we chose. We were home for the night.

On my wife and my recent trip from southeastern Iowa to the city of Carlsbad in southern California's San Diego County, we spent five overnighters each way in our sixteen-foot Airstream Basecamp. Out of those ten overnighters, one was in an Iowa state park, one in a federal national forest campground, two in Kampgrounds of America facilities, and six stays were in private RV parks. Only one camping spot was used both out and back. Our routes out and back shared some of the same roads but also were each unique in both stops and travel, especially in our Midwest and High Plains sections. The states we crossed were Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Some of the states, such as Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, we just nipped a corner. My favorite joke of the trip was my wife's as we passed through Texhoma, Oklahoma, which is right on the border of Texas and Oklahoma. "Because they're right of the border, they took half of each state's name to make their town's name--TEXas and OklaHOMA," I said. "That's better than OKLA-ASS," my wife said. That gave us a good laugh as we traversed the city both on the trip out and back. We spent thirteen days driveway mooching at my wife's parents' house, plugged into their home 110 system to keep our 12v refrigerator running and our batteries charged.

Pacific Ocean, Carlsbad, California
The view from Ocean St., Carlsbad, California
Pacific Ocean, Carlsbad State Park, California, CampInn
A CampInn at Carlsbad State Park Campground (with a 6-month in advance reservation)
With the recent upswing in camper sales, due in large part to the desire for people to travel safely during the pandemic, there has also been an increase in the move to create more RV parks. (Quickly, what is the difference between a campground and an RV park? A campground is primarily for recreational use for up to two weeks. An RV park, almost always privately owned, caters to both travelers and to permanent residents. Often permanent residents will build decks or porches next to their RVs. Skirting or small flower gardens may trick out the RV, making the "mobile" recreational vehicle facility appear much more like the mobile home parks that have become so common in the last seventy years or so. Even though RV parks are being built, there is opposition and fear expressed from many communities. "Opponents to new RV parks roll out the traditional boogeyman fears of higher crime, increased road traffic, and the large numbers of “undesirable” transients in their rolling ghetto-mobiles invading their peaceful streets," was one articulation. It's okay to build more RV parks, just not in our backyard is another sentiment. Some RV parks enforce the "ten-year rule" to try to maintain a more upbeat look--not renting spaces to RVs that are over ten years old. (There is some controversy regarding this "resort RV park" policy. Follow this link to read more.) One full-time RVing couple with a blog wrote an article about RV parks: "5 Reasons We Avoid RV Parks (And Where To Camp Instead!)." Reasons for avoiding RV parks, according to the article, include crowding, distractions, expense, noise, and "consumerist culture." 

Driveway mooching; Airstream Basecamp
Driveway mooching for thirteen nights in Carlsbad, California
Although in general I agree with the "avoidance" article because my main reason for camping is to get out in nature and relax, I have to say that for our trip to the Pacific Ocean and back, RV parks provided a safe and quick option for a good night's sleep and a chance to shower, cook a meal, and stretch the legs. We even met and chatted with a few people and discovered some interesting facts. There are a lot of "mom and pop" RV parks. They may be a bit run down, but they are friendly spaces that provide a wayside stop for travelers or a longer, more permanent stay for workers, families, or retirees who live full-time in their RVs, vans, or travel trailers. My wife and I liked some of our camping spots more than others, but for all of them we appreciated the opportunity to roll in, hook up, and to use the showers. In order to save time, we used shower-toilet facilities when easy, minimizing our hookups to just the 30 amp plug-in. This saved us time when leaving and also allowed us to only use dump stations twice during the trip--one the night before arriving at our Carlsbad location and once the night before getting back home to Iowa. (When staying in Carlsbad, except for two nights, for most nights we stayed in our parents' house.) 

I researched our routes out and back, using Google Maps. First I found the quickest route, and then I began modifying that route; for instance, I didn't want to drive through Kansas City, Missouri, and re-routed north and west through the Topeka and Wichita, Kansas, area. We decided in Arizona to skip the elevation climb through Flagstaff and to take the Phoenix route. That ended up taking in some 6,000-foot elevations on the Mongollon Rim anyway, but on the route out we weren't sure how our Nissan Pathfinder would pull the trailer. (We are happy to report that the rig worked quite well.) On the way back, we kept to our lower Arizona route to avoid wildfires. We also routed a Phoenix pathway to avoid construction shutdowns on Interstate Highway 10. What we discovered is that there are many small, older RV parks around, many of them near small, rural towns, and that these small RV parks are friendly places that meet a variety of patron needs. They may not be the best locations to commune with the great outdoors, they may not be the poshest spots to camp, and some may be more cramped than you like. However, we were able to enjoy our cruise across America, having a specific destination each day after driving usually six to eight hours each day. 

When finalizing our destinations, I'd look carefully at the Google Map photos and read reviews. Our daily distance traveled was between two hundred and four hundred miles, the usual being closer to three hundred. Using the three hundred mile gauge, I'd find a town on or near the quickest route and then search for "RV parks near" and then type in the town. I also would google "campgrounds near" a town but sometimes the campgrounds would be further off the travel route, more in the boonies. These sites, I'm sure, were probably more scenic, but our main focus was getting down the road. RV parks seemed to be nearer the main roads. 

Below is a list and brief description of the campgrounds and RV parks we stayed at during our there-and-back-again journey. For travelers wondering about travel opportunities, these descriptions may provide a sampling of the possibilities out there.

Nine Eagles State Park, Lamoni, Iowa


Leaving on a Tuesday afternoon, we decided for a short first day of travel. We chose to camp our first night at Nine Eagles State Park, a bit over 125 miles from home. The shower/toilet facility was still closed, but we easily got through the night, even though it was windy and rainy. This was our first time at Nine Eagles, and we found the lake not accessible from the campground--we couldn't find it anyway. We also discovered in this first stop that if we're interested in putting in the miles, not to choose a campground too far from the route. Nine Eagles was about ten miles of narrow country road from our main route, which lost us time. RV Parks are usually closer to main routes of travel. However, we were on the road!

All Seasons RV Park, Wichita (Goddard), Kansas


A little over a mile from our route, All Seasons RV Park consisted of primarily permanent residents, and by that I mean folks who have built wooden decks and porches for their RVs. A couple of empty spaces for overnighters were kept open, however, right next to the shower house. We were quickly checked in, given the shower house combinations for the door locks, and left alone. The RV park set our expectations and general experience of RV parks for the trip--a clean, older facility with no picnic table and little space between rigs. It was a quick and easy pull-through, though, with a nearby gas station, and we were quickly on the road the next morning.

Kampgrounds of America, Tucumcari, New Mexico, Airstream Basecamp
Tucumcari KOA, New Mexico

Tucumcari KOA Journey, NM; Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA Journey, AZ


I've written about Kampgrounds of America before ("First Impressions"), and my Southwest experience with KOAs remains the same--consistently predictable with upkeep and cleanliness . . . and predictably not a "woodsy" experience. For the trip out, we stayed in two, and I had to look at my phone's photos to remember their distinguishing features. They were pleasant, though, and the pull-throughs were flat and accessible. We did get to see our first Airstream Basecamp in Holbrook, even though we didn't get an opportunity to chat. On our trip back to Iowa, we didn't stay in any KOAs, yet that wasn't intentional. For a roadside park that keeps its standards consistent, KOAs are a good bet. We hit a couple two nights in a road, and they put us up for the night and got us down the road.

Airstream Basecamp, Sonoran Desert, Nissan Pathfinder
Oasis RV Park at Aztec Hills

Oasis RV Park at Aztec Hills, Dateland, Arizona


Oasis RV Park was our last stop before arriving at Carlsbad, California, and our first overnight stay after leaving Carlsbad. It's in the middle of the desert, and I wrote an article about our first stay upon reaching Carlsbad. ("Arizona Desert Basecamp Overnighter") This RV park certainly is in the desert in the middle of nowhere, yet there were a surprising number of folks staying there long term. Our first arrival was quite an unexpected event, as chronicled in the first article, linked above. Our return stay was hotter, yet at least we knew this little oasis really did exist as we headed down that gravel and dirt road into the desert. The owner and his wife kept the park clean, and it was interesting to see how their work routine began at dawn, when the day was coolest. 

Mongollon Rim, Arizona, Canyon Point Campground, Airstream Basecamp
Safely nestled in for the night at Canyon Point
Mongollon Rim, Canyon Point Campground
Canyon Point Campground

Canyon Point Campground, Forest Lakes Estates, Arizona


After our first night on our return trip at Oasis RV Park, we decided to camp in the forest on the Mongollon Rim in Arizona at six thousand feet in elevation--a big change from the desert sojourn the night before! Canyon Point Campground is a federal campground in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. The campground was closed on our way out but opened its season on May 1. We arrived on May 2, so there were a few minor glitches in our registration, but nothing noteworthy. (Believe it or not, we had trouble giving our camp fee to the staff. I finally told my wife Sandy, "I'm tired and don't want to wait around to pay. I'll just take a nap in the road, and they can wake me up when they want their money!" Luckily, someone showed up to collect.) It was windy, but we enjoyed the Ponderosa pines and the cool air after the desert. We could see that if we had more time on our trip how we could locate more scenic campgrounds. We were lucky Canyon Point was just off the road.

Hidden Valley Mountain Park, Tijeras, New Mexico


In several ways this was our least favorite park on the trip. It met the basic requirements of close to our route and clean, with an easy pull-through. However, the park didn't tell us when we registered that the nearby shower house was out of commission because of sewage repairs. We had to hike a long distance to an upper shower house, which they didn't even tell us about. We learned that the park had just been sold to a larger company. The park is laid out with the chevron pattern for RVs, so this park had many of the disadvantages of tight spacing and little landscaping without the amenities or sense of personal commitment that other small RV parks had. My main memory of this park (other than a friendly cat) was seeing in the hills above large, expensive homes with decks overlooking the valley below . . . which was stacked with RVs, ours among them. The irony of that contrast made me a bit sad--beautiful hilltop homes, a beautiful valley below, and a sardine scrunch of RVs "nestled" among the junipers growing in the dry, red soil. We were off early the next morning, though, no harm done.

Seven Winds RV Park, Liberal, Kansas


This is the RV park that I described at the beginning of this article, the one with the duct-taped toilet seat. Liberal, Kansas, is in southwest Kansas, where Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado are all in close proximity. In many ways Seven Winds was the most worn of the RV parks we stayed at on this trip, but in many ways it was also the sweetest experience. The manager was efficient, friendly, and helpful; the park was clean and peaceful; and with this park and the next night's (also in Kansas), we were given a look at how many Americans have found a home with "Mom and Pop" in these little, rural RV parks. The woman who checked us in was both professional and personal in her interactions. The southwest Kansas spring weather was hospitable, although the manager did tell us that we had "just missed some wind," which reminds me that the local town did have some tourist stop about Dorothy and Oz. Hmmmm. It was heartening, though, to see that some folks have found an economical way to live--most likely out of necessity--that includes a full-time residence in recreational vehicles (including 5th-wheelers and travel trailers) that are built more for shorter-term use. 

Mill Creek Campground, Paxico, Kansas


Our last stop on our trip home, Mill Creek Campground is about ninety miles west of Kansas City (either one, Kansas or Missouri). It reminded us of Seven Winds, perhaps a bit more renovated but both still next to the railroad tracks. Perhaps it was because of all those miles of driving, but we were never bothered by passing trains in any of the parks we stayed at. Railroad noises and road traffic noises are not uncommon in RV parks. Mill Creek and Seven Winds were both rural parks in rural communities. We found them quieter because they weren't near the interstate highways. Like most of the parks we stayed in, the pull-through was a composite of gravel, sand, and dirt--not bad except when it rained (as it did here), and then the it was easy to track in reddish footprints. Here at Mill Creek, we met a nice young maintenance man who asked us if we needed any help.  "We've got on-demand hot water," he said, "so don't worry about running out when you shower." The owner, who lived on his farm on the hill above the park, said to call if there were any problems. We cooked dinner and then went to bed early, since it had begun to rain. Up early the next morning to try to beat the rain, we still spent much of the trip home with light fog and misting rain. 

Love's Travel Stops, Gallup, New Mexico, Airstream Basecamp
A convenient gravel overspill truck lot on the other side of Love's
RV parks definitely have a place in the camping world, both for travelers and for full-time camping. If my wife didn't have her consulting business, we could have taken more time for the trip across the country. We wouldn't have had to pay so much attention to cellphone signal strength and internet receptivity. We could have set our destinations for scenic camping spots and traveled with the 2-2-2 travel model in mind (two hours of driving, arrive by 2 P.M., and stay two days). Because our destination travel was solely our final destination in Carlsbad, California, we spent longer hours traveling (but not very long hours), and it was a delight to discover little privately owned RV parks all across our nation. That made our trip easier, and we didn't have to spend our nights in Walmart parking lots or Love's Travel Stops with the big rigs. No, I didn't get a photo of every place we stopped--in part because arrival at some of the Mom and Pops gave us a chance to just let go, to drop our on-the-road vigilance. If kids are playing on the swings and dogs are lying in the middle of the street, it's okay to relax, right?

After this trip, we feel more comfortable with our traveling routine and with our new Airstream Basecamp 16, which we bought in 2021. We now know that the larger campgrounds, such as KOAs or "resort RV parks" have spaces for overnight travelers. We also know that there is a bit of adventure in discovering small, private RV parks to stay in for the night. We might expand our travel options by trying out some overnighters at truck stops or other parking lot options. It's nice to have opportunities and options when traveling down the road. Those worn yet clean RV parks tucked away across America? Perhaps that's what tried and true service experience looks like. Sometimes it's just plain nice to be mollycoddled.

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Friday, April 29, 2022

From Airstream Driveway Mooching to Beach at Carlsbad, California

Driveway Mooching at Carlsbad, California
Two weeks of driveway mooching--quiet and private
This was my last bicycle ride along the Pacific Ocean, so I made sure I would savor the experience. Six days of traveling in our 16-foot Airstream Basecamp (five overnighters) landed my wife and me in Carlsbad, California, for thirteen nights of driveway mooching at her parents' cul-de-sac, quiet residence. We've planned for another five overnighters at different RV parks to get home, but first while my wife was gone for the day at a business meeting, I wanted one more day of riding the five and a half mile route along the ocean to Carlsbad State Park Campground. Since it was my last day ride this trip, I wanted to stop for every whim and gaze at every vista.

The morning began with the lightest misting rain, but that burned off before my departure. It was just part and parcel of the Carlsbad experience, walking out in the morning to a gray, overcast sky, the lightest mist of precipitation cool to the skin, the faint smell of the briny ocean perfuming the breeze off the ocean. I rode at a steady but easy clip, enjoying the sights, especially once I dropped off the hills above the ocean and reached the beach area. Carlsbad has a long paved sidewalk that skirts the beach, and the road along the ocean includes well-planned bicycle lanes for each direction, north and south, miles and miles of bicycling and walking opportunities. 

I headed south toward my destination of Carlsbad State Park. Although there are hills, none are excessive and the ride is easy. At several points there are long stretches of parallel parking available for beach goers, a bike lane next to the parked cars, but with a safe zone between so bicyclists don't get "doored." Along this stretch, I saw a tiny, homemade "standy" trailer parked, a "for sale" sign on its side. I rode by, admiring the craftsmanship, but then turned back to ask for a photo and maybe to ask a few questions. 

Tiny trailer at Carlsbad, California
Homemade tiny trailer/toy hauler
Warren Jackson, from Virginia, had bought himself an EZ Hauler trailer and then built his custom dream trailer inside the aluminum shell. What he ended up with was a tiny toy hauler with the rear tailgate door dropping down to make a deck for his lawnchair. The inside included a bed, TV and electronics up front, and a sink, portable toilet, and space for a portable stove. He also had installed 640 watts of solar power on the roof so that he could run his little air conditioner. The strength of the exterior aluminum shell and the exquisite custom interior woodwork were certainly pluses. He was moving to Europe, which was why the trailer and his F-150 Ford truck were for sale. 

Tiny trailer at Carlsbad, California
A toy hauler capacity with a back deck
Tiny trailer at Carlsbad, California
Beautifully finished interior
We chatted for a while, talking construction and pricing. Since I write this blog about tiny and little trailers, he was curious about pricing, saying he was asking $27,000 for the trailer. I told him that since the trailer was a bit larger than many tiny trailers, especially with the flat roof which enabled standing its entire length and with the big solar kit, the price wasn't unreasonable. I felt the bed set-up, which was twin size, would certainly be limited for a traveling couple. That could be worked around, though. I wished Warren well and continued on my way. 

After a bit more riding, passing beach volleyballers stretching and warming up and surfers out beyond the swells sitting their boards, I crested the next hill and stopped at a traffic light. A young man at a commuter bus stop asked me a question, rapidly speaking Spanish. I responded, ¿Que? He asked if I spoke Spanish. Un poquito, I said. ¿Ingl├ęs? he asked. When I nodded, the young man said he was up from Mexico, meeting friends, but his cellphone was dead and he needed to find out where the McDonalds was where he was to meet them. We searched on my phone and found the McDonalds he needed was just three tenths of a mile away, across the ocean highway and over an overpass to cross the freeway. He gave me a "Thank you, sir," and I was on my way.

This bicycle ride today was much easier for me because I knew my route, having traveled it several times already. Carlsbad State Park is dominated by the Pacific Ocean, the campground on the bluffs above the ocean. The campground is also close to the four-lane ocean frontage road, but even that manmade reality does not overshadow the ocean. I meandered along the camping strip this trip, and snapped a few photos of interesting rigs after chatting with owners. Quite a variety of rigs were showcased at the campground, which has almost completely primitive sites, without water or electricity. The campground does have modern restrooms, available spigots, and dump stations, though. A few solar arrays were in view, and the sound of a few generators also filled the air as the campers got on with their day. 

CampInn at Carlsbad State Park
A nice CampInn
Airstream at Carlsbad State Park
A classic Airstream at Carlsbad SP
Rooftop tent at Carlsbad State Park
A Thule rooftop and a 3/4 surround shade tent
Retro brand tiny trailer at Carlsbad State Park
The Retro trailers: as the owner said, "Everything you need in a small space."
Although it would be hard to beat my driveway mooching camp spot at my in-laws, I have to admit the camping right on the ocean would be special. With the Basecamp, I could back in and then open up the rear door for a spectacular "backyard" experience of the ocean. My solar panels would keep me in energy, although if we came in the winter and it were foggy or rainy, then a portable generator would certainly be handy. 

Heading back home, since my wife Sandy was at a business meeting for the day, I stopped at the Harbor Fish Cafe in Carlsbad for lunch, sitting on a cement bench on the bluff above the ocean, eating my fish and chips (a unique meal for my primarily vegetarian self), enjoying the slight breeze off the sea, the pelicans flying by in stately formation, and me humorously keeping an eye out for hungry seagulls swooping down. It was a grand last day on my bike, one in which I had finally felt more comfortably at home in the town, freeway driving aside. 

Pacific Ocean, Carlsbad Beach, California
What greater views for a bicycle day ride?
Yes, I could get used to this--bike rides with ocean views, walks on the beach with my sweet wife, the perfect camping spot to driveway mooch, and a state park for camping on the bluffs above the ocean (as long as you reserve six months in advance). Now that we've driven the 1,800+ miles, maybe it will be easier to do again. Logistically speaking, the Nissan Pathfinder and the Airstream Basecamp performed like champs, and speaking of champs, Sandy took to driving the trailer like a trooper. 

Like all good trips, there is the joy of taking off and also the joy of arriving back home. We'll get back home in time to enjoy our asparagus season and spring garden planting. The world is a rich and varied treasure trove of beauty and wonder. Carlsbad, California, and the Pacific Ocean, in the spring, morning light burning through the faint ocean misting fog, this has been a special trip and a special time. I can truthfully say this trip has not only been a vacation experience; it has been a spiritual experience, recreation in the deepest sense of the word.

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Monday, April 18, 2022

Arizona Desert Basecamp Overnighter

April full moon at Aztec Hills
As we pulled off US Interstate Highway 8 to our evening camp stop, it was somewhat intimidating because we were in the middle of the desert. The exit road was not signed, so it was just a small, paved frontage road surrounded by the pale sandy beige shades of desert sands. My wife Sandy was driving, so we left the freeway, crossed railroad tracks, and then stopped at a tee intersection. Right across the road was a large confined cattle feedlot. OK, we thought, we're camping next to thousands of confined cattle? We traveled several miles down the old highway, though, leaving the cattle operation behind. 

Then we were directed by our GPS navigator to turn left on an unmarked gravel road. Two lizards ran across the road on tiptoe in the afternoon heat. There was no sign indicating an RV park was anywhere in the area, but we could see a green spot about a half mile away--palm trees and perhaps the flash of some RV bling. We decided to continue on, the gravel being dry and the road wide and obviously in use. After about a half mile of gravel, the navigator indicated another left-hand turn, heading toward the green patch. Again, there was no sign indicating the existence of the campground, but we could now see a number of trailers at the little oasis. Sandy drove on, and we had arrived at Oasis RV Park at Aztec Hills. I had called and made a reservation in advance but payment was on arrival, cash or check. 

Everywhere and nowhere to walk
The wind swept across the desert and through the campground, but the April ninety degree heat was dry and not oppressive. We did turn on our air conditioner in our 16-foot Airstream Basecamp and were happy to find that the unit kept our aluminum "tin" can cool and comfortable. After setting up our minimal overnight camp--pretty much dropping the stabilizer jacks to keep my wife from getting motion sickness--we decided to take a walk and stretch our legs. We walked around the park and then wandered into the desert a ways. If we were staying longer, a desert walk early in the morning would be on the itinerary, assuming the wind was not too oppressive. And I'd bring along a trekking pole to rattle bushes to keep away the rattlesnakes.

Settling into the quiet night
As the sun set and the full moon rose, the temperature dropped so we could open windows and shut down the AC. It was quiet at this little oasis and we slept well in the quiet, moonlit moonscape. We found the park's one bathroom (and commode) and one shower was less than optimal for the number of camping spots, but we managed, even though Sandy had to wait before bathing because a couple decided to "shower" together. There were no shelves in the shower, so soaps and shampoos had to be placed on the floor. Not optimal, but we got by easily. 

This was the campground where I showed Sandy how to empty the black water tank and fill the freshwater tank. I really know how to show a gal a good time! Sandy wanted to learn, though, and she had been a trooper on our 1,800-mile trip to California, driving about half the way. Since this was our fifth night on the road, our routine of setting up the bed was efficient and easy. The Basecamp has been easy to live in. It's also been easy to pull, and our Nissan Pathfinder has done a good job of pulling the trailer, handling the six percent grades, both ascents and descents well. A lot of people mean-mouth the Pathfinder's CVT gearing (and 2022 models have a 9-speed transmission), but we've found it works well. We've used the cruise control a lot. On ascents in the mountains, though, we flick it off and figure our progress by RPMs rather than MPH, usually keeping the RPMs to between 2,000 and 3,000. That worked well. On descents, the transmission (with the "tow" option on) seemed to determine descent grade and the speed we wanted (via braking) so that the down-shifting allowed for minimal braking. 

A last "good-bye" photo
The next morning, we left at about seven o'clock, our path not crossed by coyote, lizard, gila monster, scorpion, or tarantula. We had an open road to ourselves, and I just had to take a photo of our unmarked road access to the park. It was a pleasant stop for the night, and the park was clean and the owners friendly and accommodating. A couple of signs along the entry route would be great, though! In many ways, the two KOAs we stayed at were more convenient, but this park was cleaner, quieter, and had a lot more personality. We will certainly stay here again if our stops match up. It ain't Iowa, but seeing those lizards skitter across the road while we were stopped, trying to figure out if we were on the right road or if our GPS was taking us into the bush--that is a memory we will never forget!

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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Three New Hiking Aids for the Season

The sleeping woods, ready to awaken
Yesterday was the first day of spring. The chives are just pushing up in my yard, and the lilac buds are swelling. Spending the day cutting back the clematis, planting greens in the coldframe, and casting some lawn seed in weak areas, I also spent some time thinking about my last camping trip of three nights at Geode State Park. I camped last week for three days, one day with the temperatures up to 70 degrees. This week I'm at home, with rain all night after a windy day, and rain and even a chance of snow forecast for the rest of the week. Such is spring in SE Iowa. 

I have gotten out recently, though, and have managed to get some fresh air and blue skies. One challenge for spring camping, beyond the unpredictability of the weather, is the spring thaw. When the stone-hard soil thaws, it becomes a mire, the frozen moisture in the soil suddenly transformed to a mix of water and earth--and hiking becomes a muck-slog if you're not careful. Hiking the trails becomes a tentative walking, testing the ground with each footstep for stability. Not only is this a muddy mess, but hiking in these conditions can damage the trail and promote erosion. Some trails are better than others, though, so it is possible to hike in the early thaw, one just has to be careful with trail selection. And it's a joy to hike at this time of year because early spring (and even late winter) promises warmer weather yet lacks ticks, chiggers, and mosquitoes . . . and also lacks oppressive humidity. It's a great time to hike; just watch your step. Often I even hike off the trail, picking my way through the brush and using the leaf mulch as a track, the covered forest harder because of the leafy insulation. 

My last couple of hikes I've added three items to my day out: a hiking vest, a walking stick, and a small set of binoculars. I've talked with my wife about these additions for several years, and this season I've finally pulled it all together for the purchases. Having newly geared up for my most recent spring walks, I have to say I'm pleased with these new additions to my hiking equipment.
With vest, trekking pole, and binocular in pocket

Hiking Vest

I have three little knapsacks that work just fine to pack gear around for the day. However, backpacks, even small ones, have some drawbacks: my back can get sweaty, weight can dig the straps into the shoulders, and equipment is not readily accessible. With a backpack, often while hiking with my wife, I'll have her dig into the backpack for some item we need while I stand there, back turned. My larger pack makes a water bottle more accessible, but . . . it's a larger backpack that I'm hefting down the trail. 

Having used the vest a couple of times, I've found that weight is more evenly distributed, the mesh vest cloth allows for air flow, and equipment is much more accessible. I can now place my binoculars in a side pocket for quick and easy access. I bought my vest online--advertised as a hiking or photography vest. It can be used as a fishing vest, although it lacks several fishing-specific accessories that I've seen on other vests. I chose this particular vest because of the mesh construction, which will be cooler in the heat and humidity. The pockets allow me to distribute weight well--and like all the best utility vests, there are a lot of pockets, big and small. 

Naturally if I list the negatives, the most obvious is that I wish the pockets were a bit larger. This particular "negative," though, is probably a rabbit hole I could go into and never find my way out. Will there ever exist a utility vest that wouldn't be better if the pockets were just a tad bit larger? Also, the zipper is on the opposite side from what is usual for me, the "women's" side, which is probably more related to country of origin (China) than any gender issue. During my hikes, I found not zipping the vest was most comfortable. 

Out trekking with the trekking pole
Trekking Poles

Trekking poles come as a pair, but so far I've only hiked using one pole. Especially on my hikes with climbs or descents during this wet thawing spring, I wanted to have a "third leg" to steady myself on slippery ground. I'm not really afraid of falling except that in catching my balance I might wrench my back, which has been a bit touchy lately. Suddenly twisting my body and tensing muscles could cause me to cramp, and I don't want to be out alone on a trail suddenly incapacitated. How I've used the single trekking pole is to plant the pole prior to traversing an unstable section of trail. If a foot slips out, then I can lean on the pole to catch my balance without doing my imitation of a hog on ice.

The poles are adjustable which allows for getting the height just right. Shortening the poles provides for easier storage. An additional use I've put a pole to is that of a "dog stick" when bicycling. Adjusting the trekking pole to about three feet in length and then slipping the end in my bike pannier bag allows me to whip out the pole if a dog gets aggressive. Keeping the end of the stick pointed at the dog's face keeps it from advancing too closely. There were many trekking pole options at REI. I cannot state that they poles I bought are better than others; however, I can say that the ones I bought work well.
Compact, lightweight binoculars

Binoculars

I have an old set of Bushbell binoculars at home that work well; however, they are large, heavy, and awkward. This year my wife and I wanted to take a set of lightweight binoculars with us on our walks so we could more closely observe our forest friends, especially birds. We've constructed two bird feeding areas at our home, and throughout the winter the feeders were constant entertainment as we watched the activities of our avian neighbors. We want to take that curiosity into the woods also, and already it is happening. My last trip to Geode State Park provided the opportunity for me to watch a Barred Owl that perched near my campsite--brought up close by my new pair of binoculars. 

From REI we bought a pair of Vortex Vanquish 8 x 26 binoculars. I'm certainly not an expert when it comes to binoculars. The reviews were good for the Vortex binoculars; however, there were also quite a few other brands available with good reviews. The pair I bought are lightweight, small enough to fit into my vest pocket, and provide a clear field of view and magnification. I've found on my few forays into the woods with the new binoculars that they fit my hand so easily that at times I found myself continuing my hike while keeping the binoculars in one hand, ready for use. 

My experience after having used these three hiking equipment additions a few times is that my outings were easier and safer. I feel it's important to travel light; there's no reason to take off for a day hike unnecessarily loaded down. I'm also old enough now that I'm a bit more careful when I engage in physical activity, especially when I'm on my own. I take my cellphone, not just for photos, but also for emergencies if there's cell reception. I like to take along an emergency kit that includes first aid materials, toilet paper, some food and water, and a knife. Also a map of local trails and a compass are standard gear. Sometimes I include a bird field guide. The addition of vest, hiking stick, and binoculars adds to my pleasure and safety when hiking, and at this time I have not found that these items are burdens that outweigh their utility. This is how I "stroll"; how about you, what gear do you find essential?

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