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Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Tripsor Overcoming Pavement Aversion Syndrome Think back to a time when you were young and innocent—long before you learned it was sinful for an overlander to enjoy driving a paved road. Go back…before roof tents, onboard showers, and moving dots on mapping apps; back to a time where “county highway” could mean anything from divided four-lane to poorly maintained dirt. Remember when you’d pick a direction and let the road carry you away, with little more than your wits and a bag of truck stop munchies to see you through?… Link: Living Overland
Manta100 Square Feet of Shelter You read that right: 100 square feet of canvas hides inside a thick black cover, ready to deploy a generous amount of shade or shelter in a moment’s notice. These are my impressions after four years of enjoying the Manta’s shade from the blazing desert sun, sheltering from storms underneath it, and putting it through tortures that have ripped lesser awnings to pieces. The Basics When fully deployed, the Manta’s shape provides a larger than 7-by-7-foot rectangle of coverage off the side of a vehicle or trailer, which wraps around the rear with an additional 14-by-7-foot triangle. When it’s time to hit the road, the entire mass of sturdy 260-gram waterproof ripstop canvas rolls up into a UV-resistant PVC cover that’s no bigger than an awning half the Manta’s size. The Manta’s chassis is made entirely of lightweight anodized aluminum. Adjustable legs with integrated stake holes recess inside C-channel rafter arms, which pivot away from a stout length of aluminum extrusion on stainless steel hinge bolts. All of this combines to create a structure that is sturdy, lightweight, and highly corrosion resistant, and easily repaired with basic hand tools and commonly available hardware. That’s not to say the awning is easy to damage—quite the contrary as you’ll read below—but I take comfort knowing that if the Manta gets damaged all of it’s components (including the canvas panels) are field-replaceable. The awning can be mounted to most roof racks or even load bars, thanks to standard 8mm hardware that can be placed nearly anywhere along the Manta’s 90-inch frame. Of course, if you’re running an Eezi-Awn K9 roof rack there is a convenient kit available to match. The legs are adjustable in height up to 92 inches, so it sits nicely on even the tallest adventure mobiles. Setup or Teardown in Seconds (yes, really) That’s not just marketing hype. The first time I set up a Manta I skipped the directions and took just under two minutes. Today I could do it in 30 seconds, or under two minutes with stakes at all four legs. Teardown—which is the messiest and most time-consuming task with most awnings—is just as easy. Better still, you can pack the Manta away without getting the canvas all up in your face. If you’ve ever covered yourself in the previous night’s dust and campfire ashes you know just how important that is. Of all the awning systems I’ve… NSFW · Explicit
Canvas, meet AluminumGetting acquainted with Eezi-Awn’s new hard-shell roof tent, the Stealth. Rumors of a hard-shelled Eezi-Awn had been crossing my desk for months when the confirmation hit my inbox, in the form of an ad request and a photo of the new tent. Pictured was a thing of beauty—a sleek, wingless fighter jet hovering over a snowy landscape—but we all know photos on the internet are only half of the story. As fate would have it, Paul May of Equipt was driving right past a photoshoot I was on in the Mojave Desert, so I arranged for us to meet up in camp to check out the Stealth personally. Full disclosure: yes, Equipt is one of my studio’s clients. If you know me, then you know that’s the strongest endorsement I can give—I’ll only work with businesses I believe in. First Impressions Flipping open four latches releases the lid of the matte black shell, which is raised and lowered easily by one person thanks to the aid of gas struts and conveniently placed handles. The golden light of dawn gleams and sparkles off the metal of massive scissor-lift hinges as the roof rises, stark contrast against the darkness of the Stealth’s chassis. This new tent makes an impression, towering nearly five feet above the roof rack once open. A ladder slides out from integrated storage in the floor, and can be placed for entry through any of the tent’s three doors (or anywhere along the roof rack). Quick-release bungees run along the front, rear, and side walls so that they’ll self-tuck when packing up the tent. Intended or not, rear latches and roof supports double as convenient hooks to hang your shoes…so long as it doesn’t rain. Vents are placed above either side door, and the lack of any sign of condensation proves their effectiveness against the usual cold-weather tent problems. As is typical with most hard-shell roof tents, the walls remain tight and silent in the wind. Thick olive-drab privacy mesh screens adorn all three doors, and canvas makes up the door panels themselves. Zippers are large and easy-moving as expected, and each panel has it’s own set of lashings so they can be easily tied open independent of each other. The rear door features a generously sized awning held out by quick-release legs, which Velcro into place both deployed and when packed. The awning is a separate panel from the door, so the door can be fully closed while leaving the awning set up. Climbing Inside Despite the shell being cold to the touch in… NSFW · Explicit
Bulldust & Bad MapsRoutefinding for Hema Maps on El Camino del Diablo It was a questionable decision, running the Arizona border along Mexico in an antiquated truck with no support vehicle. A brand-new suspension had been fitted, and an extra 300 pounds of fatman-and-iron packed into the passenger side, but our little Hema Maps BJ-74 Land Cruiser stubbornly insisted on holding it’s five-degree lean to the driver’s side. The air conditioner sputters, laughs at us, then blasts hot air into the cabin. Chris and I roll down from the cool air of central Arizona’s highlands with the windows wide open. The adventure begins in the middle of Phoenix—a route declared “quickest” by Siri insists we exit the interstate in the ghetto, then brave three miles of surface streets to reach the BLM Field Office. A permit is required to traverse El Camino del Diablo. To obtain the permit, one must show up in person. From the eighth floor of a downtown high-rise a video drones on about not touching bombs, and the dangers of remote desert travel. Curiously efficient window architecture on the tower across the street prevents the summer sun from baking through the glass. My thoughts are interrupted by a disinterested federal rep as he hands over several pages of forms. I read through, then sign away any and all rights to sue the government if I’m kidnapped, injured, lasered, exploded, or a Predator drone falls from the sky and crashes onto the truck. With our lives signed away we flee the city, classic rock blaring from a set of phone-powered portable speakers as Highway 85 leads us south through an unseasonably green Sonoran. The desert heat is more humid than expected, but the freedom of this forsaken two-lane makes the journey worthwhile…even in our little tin oven. Ajo. We giggle at the potential pronunciations of the town’s name until the square rolls into view. It’s worth at least a short stop. The old Spanish architecture of covered walkways connects a derelict train depot with a converted mission, all surrounding a central park that’s in desperate need of a little rain. Dueling cameras round the plaza snapping away with abandon before we’re back in the truck. Tempting as the little café looks it’s not on the agenda—there’s a long drive ahead, and we have an unfortunately tight schedule to keep. The beauty of wide-open desert is broken by a single ominous sign at the intersection of two dirt roads, this must be the track. I hop out for a closer shot when the stillness is suddenly interrupted… NSFW · Explicit
Destinations: Poncho HouseA side hike into ancient history with the Diné. The unmolested desert stretched out before us without so much as a bent branch or dimpled dune to hint at the correct course. We’d only been making our way through the sand and shrubs for an hour, but the silence and isolation made it feel like days. A combination of dead reckoning and a flashing dot on the GPS were keeping us close to the old two-track trail, which had been wiped clear by last winter’s brutal storms. Finally a landmark, the southernmost point of Tséyík’áán (Comb Ridge) jutting up on the horizon. Moving map technology is neat…when it works. Cautiously we made our way down the cliffs, breaking ground on a new trail to reach the valley floor through the most stable looking notch. At the bottom an old corral clearly marks the start of the foot trail, and off we set for the mile-plus hike up Chinle Creek. As we approached a bend in the canyon I looked up, and looming overhead, a massive citadel clinging to an alcove in the cliff wall. Planning a tour of Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii (Monument Valley) or Tséyi’ (Canyon de Chelly)? Ask your guide to include a stop off the beaten path to explore this must-visit destination. Information on (mandatory) guide services in reservation lands can be found at discovernavajo.com. Originally licensed to American Adventurist for publishing on May 11th, 2016.… NSFW · Explicit
Mojave WanderlustSolitude on the Beaten Path Windows down. Sunroof open. Summer air rushes through the cabin. Tires screech in protest as they fight against another turn they’re simply not designed for. The engine roars back up through the power band, and the heavy beast remembers what continent it was born on as it catapults out of another curve. Ulysses is happy today, she wants to run. A glance in the mirror before I enter the next turn reveals no sign of the stock Discovery 3 running with us, either I’m hauling ass or he’s dragging it. I glance at the speedometer—it’s me. 33-inch mud terrains wail in anguish once more as they’re pushed to the edge of traction. I push the accelerator down farther and smile with a joy that only comes from driving a slow car fast. The Escape I’m relieved the event is over. Don’t get me wrong, I love the community and visiting with the people that bring it together, I just wasn’t wired for large gatherings in fixed locations. Three days is just about right, then it’s time for my cure: an equal number of days wandering. Soaring. Eastbound above the smog along Rim of the World Highway. Chris catches up as I roll to a stop next to the old, long abandoned Cliffhanger. I’ve known him since I was 14, but never would I have guessed he’d want to race down this twisted tarmac, hopping from tavern to tavern, on a never-ending quest to find the world’s best tuna melt. So go our conversations and revelations over a pint at the first of two bars in the entire town of Crestline. We hit the next bar, so we can say we’ve hit every bar in town—tuna melt ordered, and we watch as the attractive brunette behind the bar grabs a muddler and sets about making a proper mojito. She’s lived here her entire life. She owns the place. It dawns on Chris what she’s making for me. He orders one too, and she skips through the back door again for another bundle of fresh-picked mint from the garden. The tuna melt arrives, and all is right with the world. Conversations with more of the locals reveal the location of an “edge of the world” campsite just outside town. The view on arrival does not disappoint, not a bad end to the first (half) day. With Abandon Rounding the next bend I’m blinded by the full force of the rising sun.… NSFW · Explicit
Relics: The Richardson HomesteadIt’s amazing what you can find just off the highway. Highways have been standardized to keep the flow of traffic moving swiftly and smoothly onward. White lines flash by in time with the gentle hum of the motor, yellow lines keep you subconsciously floating down the right side of the tarmac, and the repetitive consistency brings on a state of semi-hypnosis. Most of the time the system works, commuters arrive safely, and travelers continue on oblivious to the treasures that might be hidden over the edge of the manicured medians. Over one such edge, on the eastbound side of Arizona Highway 68 as it winds through Union Pass, rests a crumbling gravel ramp. At the end of that ramp stands a nondescript ADOT gate—standard issue, except that this gate is unlocked, and what’s left of the road beyond is open to the public. At the bottom of the hill lies the abandoned Old Kingman Highway, and not far beyond that the ruins of an unnamed town homesteaded by Jonathan Draper Richardson and his family. Originally licensed to American Adventurist for publishing on May 11th, 2016.… NSFW · Explicit
Destinations: Dale Mining DistrictDiscovering an overlooked gem just outside Joshua Tree. Once upon a time I lived in California, moving every year in search of a place I liked enough to settle down (and expecting, perhaps hoping, never to find it). Before crossing the river into the Arid Zone I lived in Twentynine Palms, about 15 minutes from the northeast gate to Joshua Tree National Park. The Dale Mining District was stumbled upon during an outing that was one-part “Where’s that road go?” and two-parts not wanting to pay the entrance fee at Joshua Tree (a mere $10 at the time, I didn’t have a pass yet). Just outside of National Park boundaries, Dale can be reached (for free) via Gold Crown Road from Highway 62 to the north. Access from the south is within the park, via Old Dale / Eagle Mine Road from Pinto Basin Road. The region can be appreciated in a long weekend, but it’s just as easy to spend a week wandering through the various mines and abandoned structures. I leave discovering the rest to you, exploration is half the fun… Over the course of a few days we wandered to and fro, dazzled by the drastic color changes the desert experiences over a matter of hours, or a matter of mere yards. Old Dale is about as isolated as one can get in the south Mojave, particularly so while baking under the summer sun. The O.K. Mine, seen above, is one of two larger gatherings of abandoned structures, shafts, and equipment. Opportunities to explore the remains of this operation are ripe, but venture in at your own risk—help is many hours away, as is cellular service. Darkness swept in fast on approach to the National Park border, and with it another dramatic show of shifting colors and fading light. The decaying carcasses of dead classics litter the floor of Pinto Basin below the site of the abandoned Goldenrod mine, which was well worth the short climb to explore. Crossing the next ridge revealed the best campsite in the entire Joshua Tree region—Gold Rose Cabin features a huge raised patio, fire pit, chairs, tables, a fire place, cots, supplies, and no pesky roof to block out the night sky. The owners of the nearby claim have set this up adopt-a-cabin style, with a leave-it-if-you-can-spare-it, use-it-if-you-need-it policy for visitors passing through (we borrowed chairs for the night and left cases of water, fair trade). Morning required a swift, calm, creative evac—bees, thirsty in this parched terrain, arrived at… NSFW · Explicit
Four Corners, Four DaysWhen they offer to pay wandering fuel, take the job. It amazes me the lengths a person will go for that extra mile-per-hour. Even more surprising is how long it takes some folks to figure out that I’m going slower than they are, and maybe just maybe they should use that wide-open passing lane to, you know, pass… Mile twelve-hundred-and-eleventy-something of my new employ with Ye Olde Overland Shipping Company. No sooner do I get one trailer disconnected and another is hooked up—when Adventure Trailers offers to cover your fuel for a long weekend of wandering, if you can get a trailer to Durango by morning, it’s tough to say no. It’s nearly 8pm, and the lingering summer sun is closer than it appears. In spite of the tailgating, slow-to-pass speed demons, I’ve safely traversed Navajo territory with a nicely apportioned Horizon trailer silently in tow. The glow of Farmington, New Mexico is dead ahead. It’s midnight. I have Motel 6. I’m going to bed. Running late. Arriving early. The drive time into Colorado is a lot shorter than I imagined. The trailer delivery went off without a hitch (sorry, couldn’t resist). Mission accomplished, now it’s time to satisfy that wanderlust. That all too familiar Land Rover “ding” fills the cabin as I’m rounding the tight curves of the Million Dollar Highway somewhere above Silverton, and I glance down to find my speed reading zero. Speed pops up on a digital readout, intermittently, after a few button presses on the ScanGauge—much more helpful than an orange “check engine” light and a dead gauge. A check of the error code shows a wheel speed sensor is on the fritz, the Discovery is just old enough to not care so I press onward. It’s interesting how the things we stop and see or choose to skip can change when traveling solo. Without my wife’s love of old-fashioned trains and small towns to keep me company, Silverton just doesn’t have the same hold. After a brief lunch and an Americano in hand I’m anxious to hit the road. Ophir Pass appears quickly out of Silverton, and I’m reminded of that cliff-side gnome village spotted during the only other visit I’ve made to the San Juans. I’ve never been over 10,000 feet, at least not for any length of time. Slowly up the winding road toward the pass, ever cautious for signs of acute mountain sickness. Instead of the anticipated headache and dizziness the low pressure of altitude clears my sinuses more quickly than any pill ever could. Spectacular vistas swing… NSFW · Explicit
BASECAMPEDA look at trailer life with the Jackwagon Basecamp. The one quality I appreciate most about a manufacturer, beyond making a good product, is their willingness to listen to customer feedback and continually improve the product based on that feedback. Jackwagon Off-Road is just that kind of company: when we returned the first trailer JR spent the afternoon chatting with us about our ideas. A week later he invited us to swing by and check out the new improvements. You already know how we feel about towing the Basecamp—here’s our take on packing and camping with this nimble and versatile trailer. Packing the Basecamp As mentioned previously, the cargo hold of the trailer is cavernous. We opted to pack as the name suggests: with a full set of oversized “basecamp” gear, plus two full sets of backpacking gear for an overnight hike away from the trailer. The basecamp gear consisted of: one huge cabin tent, two winter-weight sleeping bags, two camp mattresses, two ARB camp chairs, eight-foot camp table, dual-burner stove, full kitchen kit (in a Pelican 1550), cast-iron cookware, lanterns, and the “expedition” sized medical kit (in another Pelican 1550). The backpacking kit consisted of two full sets of: Nemo two-person backpacking tents, Nemo backpacking sleeping bags and pads, lightweight JetBoil-based kitchen kits, and a few pouches of dehydrated food. Sure, we didn’t have actual backpacks handy, but you get the point: all this gear filled just over half of the cargo hold. In it’s stock configuration the Basecamp features a simple twist-lock rail down each side for securing cargo. While it works well enough, I much preferred the optional L-track system, or the super beefy E-track option pictured above (rated for 6,000 pounds). If your cargo leaves a mess, the trailer also features a drain hole for easy clean-up. While it seems like a no-brainer, Jackwagon is the first manufacturer to offer this feature. Up front on the cooler rack we added a large cooler. We also tossed yet another Pelican 1550 (filled with charcoal and lighter fluid) next to the cooler, but a few bundles of firewood would fit much better here. Generous spacing between the floor and the frame allows for drainage, and easy lashing of cargo to the frame rails. Optionally, the cooler rack can be bordered with L-track. Our Hi-Lift and shovel tuck in neatly below the full-size spare tire. The tent bars bolt onto the sturdy reinforcement of the lid, and can handle even the largest trailer-top tents. Optionally, tie-downs can be… NSFW · Explicit
Water System in a CanLife with Living Overland’s clever plug-and-play 12-Volt Overland H2O System The debate over stand-alone jerrycans versus integrated RV-style water systems has raged on since the first time a family went overland. Cans offer all the rugged reliability you could want and are easy to transfer from vehicle to vehicle, but lugging a full can out of the truck at each campsite is a pain. On-board water is the ultimate in convenience, but rough terrain can cause leaks and flood your interior or worse: leave you with no water. What if you could have your cake and eat it too? Living Overland’s 12-Volt Overland H2O System aims to provide just that. The Overland H2O System is available as a pre-assembled drop-in unit or as a DIY kit. The latter option is a good choice if you like to tinker or have any intention of customizing the setup (Anderson 12-volt connection, different style water tank, etc). I’m glad Beau sent us the DIY kit version, because popping a pre-assembled unit onto a jerrycan and saying “Look, running water!” would not have made for an informative evaluation. Yes, the completed assembly is really that easy to use. First up in building the kit is reading over the directions, then slicing off part of your beloved Scepter’s lid to make way for the faucet. The rest of the process reads like a Daft Punk song: drill it, tap it, splice it, solder it, heat it, thread it, fit it, fill it and in about an hour the assembly is ready for testing. I had doubts, but the grommet/wire combo seals quite well and passed the 5-gallons-upside-down-for-30-seconds test drip free. It’s a good idea to add a little silicone when you thread the faucet into the lid, especially if the hole wasn’t tapped cleanly. The finished product is ready for kitchen duty as quickly as flipping the faucet over and plugging it into a power point. The faucet folds nearly flat for travel, and transfers from can to can as easily as swapping lids. While the exposed faucet hardware does make the system a little more fragile than a regular can, that shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve properly strapped in your 45-pound can of water. The variable-speed Whale pump used in this system has plenty of pressure at over two gallons per minute, and at full-tilt will empty a can in just over two minutes. As a bonus, it also has a low enough draw to run directly off a 30-watt solar panel (at a slightly slower speed). Find the 12-Volt Overland H2O System in DIY kit or… NSFW · Explicit
Kukenam XL RuggedizedWe spent an evening zipping, latching, clipping, and weathering out a storm in the biggest and baddest Tepui available. I’ve never been a fan of rooftop tents, and frankly, I’m still not. Oh they’re an excellent solution in an area where wildlife is a concern, but I’ve always preferred either the stealth afforded by a ground tent or the warmth of a hard-walled camper. I suppose that’s why this review was handed to me—disliking the general concept means I have no bias toward or against any particular manufacturer’s tent. Tepui is an example of a manufacturer that listens: they’ve done a great job accepting customer feedback over the years, and answering that feedback with a continually improving product line. The Kukenam XL Ruggedized is one such creation, its feature list reads like the wishlist from a certain forum thread. If my feelings on the matter of roof tents ever change the Ruggedized line of Tepui tents will be on my short list. The Kukenam XL Ruggedized is no lightweight. It’s a massive tent that weighs in at over 200 pounds (with annex) and provides more than fifty square feet of sleeping space when open. Even closed, the tent’s sizable 76″ x 48″ x 12″ bulk has a staggering presence, and it looks right at home on a large overland vehicle or trailer. The first thing to catch my eye when we sliced open the box was the Kukenam XL’s shiny metal floor. Most manufacturers use wood here, and though I’ve never seen wood become a problem it’s nice to see the added durability of aluminum finding it’s way onto roof tents. D-rings are present at each corner of the aluminum floor and make a great place to hang lanterns or muddy boots in camp. The next thing I noticed was the sharp looking black transit cover. Tepui included generously sized Velcro corners to ease zipping and unzipping of the cover, which double as a catch to keep the zipper pull tidily tucked away while on the road. The zipper is heavy duty, but it would have been nice to see a ratchet-and-strap method used for securing the cover (in fairness, most manufacturers use zippers here). Removing the cover reveals not two, but four compression straps securing the clamshell shut. Enough space is provided to keep bedding in the tent when folded up. An additional strap runs down the center of the folded tent to keep the ladder from bouncing around on the trail. A half-inch anti-condensation mat is included and does an excellent job keeping the underside of the mattress dry even in foul weather. Setting up the Kukenam XL… NSFW · Explicit