Starlit Rambler - Adventure Travel Our Way
Rain, rain, and more rain was on the menu during our time in Southwest Colorado and mother nature delivered. The sound of rain droplets exploding on the roof of the Rambler was the norm during our June 8th-13th stay in Colorado. I had one simple question for the weather gods, “Where the hell was all this moisture this winter?” The winter of 2014/2015 was dismal at best, with the most inconsistent and lackluster snowfall on record. Fortunately our good friends (and former Park City residents) Brad and Kristina Fox provided us a place to stay during our time in Durango. Their hospitality was second to none offering us our very own bathroom and free parking in their driveway! Brad and Kristina live on a 5 acre lot just 10 minutes to downtown Durango with stunning views into New Mexico, it is quite the oasis. The one catch is there one bedroom home shares it’s space with the kitchen so only those living in a van or camper have a place to sleep. It was perfect and we spent much of our time in Durango making modifications to the Rambler and just “hanging out” after our “8 Days in the Desert.”
We were a little discouraged with the constant rain forecast but did manage to mountain bike Horse Gulch in Durango just before the rain came pouring down. Scratching our heads trying to figure out plans for the next few days we decided to head to Mesa Verde National Park since rain should not effect our ability to see this amazing park. Mesa Verde is home to the Cliff Dwellers, previously known as the Anasazi Indian Tribe but ancestors of the tribe call themselves “Ancient or Ancestral Puebloans” since Anasazi is a Navajo term which means “enemy ancestor.” While at Mesa Verde we visited both Balcony House and Cliff Palace which were both impressive communities given the location of the housing plot.
The night of June 10th was spent at the Lizard Head trailhead just outside Telluride at about 10,000 feet surrounded by many 14,000+ foot mountain peaks. Our plan in the morning was to hike to Lizard Head Peak or somewhere around it. We welcomed the cold crisp mountain air circulating through our DIY Sprinter van as we retired for the evening. Originally we went with the least expensive roof vent fan only to return it to upgrade to one with all the bells and whistles. The fan has 3 speeds, it can suck air in or blow it out, and most importantly it has a rain sensor. The rain sensor, which Rachelle insisted on, is a must have if you aspire to build out a van and do not plan to spend most of your time in the Sahara. Gone are the days of questioning whether the vent got closed or rushing back to the van only to find a soaking wet pillow begging to be slept on that evening. Shortly into our hike it became apparent this zone was still feeling the affect of winter in the middle of June. Even with the record low snowfall the San Juan Mountains at these high elevations had ample amounts of snow.
Without snowshoes we modified our plan and trekked towards Wilson Meadows through thigh deep snow and up a small false summit. This is when things got very interesting and we watched a massive storm build over the peaks of the San Miguel Range. Without notice the winds picked up as a thunder and lightning storm lit up the mountain sky shaking the ground with every strike. After watching from the protection of Evergreen trees we decided it was time to get to lower elevations and back into the meadow. This is when the sky opened up and brought down sheets of moisture, “I hope the vent closes,” I thought to myself. 6 miles later we were back at the Rambler cold, wet but excited about our adventure. To my dismay the vent was closed but my pillow was soaked…looks like we have a slight leak in the roof, never a welcomed situation.
Once in Telluride the local campsites were full as the upcoming Telluride Bluegrass Festival occupied all the sites and BLM or National Forest land was too far out of town. No big deal as we parked the van on a quiet, flat street and walked into town for dinner and a beer while watching the NBA Finals. The beauty of the van is you can not really tell if people are sleeping in it or if it is just parked for the evening. This advantage keeps our camping fees almost non existent. If you make a trip to Telluride check out “The Baker and the Butcher,” for breakfast or lunch…so good! We continued our trip through Ouray and the Million Dollar Highway in route to Silverton and finally back to Durango. It was a quick trip through these areas and will surely return in the future, hopefully with less rain.
We returned to Durango on the evening of the 12th just in time to catch a much needed yoga class followed directly by a couple drinks at the Durango Craft Spirits with Brad and Kristina. Nothing like detoxing in yoga to re-tox at the distillery; every yoga studio should share space with a distillery. Not surprisingly this course of events led to yet another night sleeping in Brad and Kristina’s driveway as we were in no hurry to leave the mountains. Our final day in Durango we rode 8 miles of Jones Creek Trail with the entire downhill, of the out and back, in torrential downpour. Lightning was striking everywhere around us as mud and sand covered our faces. We were all soaked to the bone with a warm shower the only remedy on everyone’s mind. After graciously accepting another invitation from Brad and Kristina, we showered, cleaned, packed up the Rambler, and we were off to El Rito, NM. After a nights rest on the side of the road, we were ready for a day of sport climbing in this small town whose main draw is climbing and the famous El Farolito mexican food. Deciding to spoil ourselves, and yet again another recommendation of Brad’s, we spent this evening at Ojo Caliente Spa and Hot Springs. An incredible historic facility with mud pools, arsenic pools, iron pools, and saunas to name a few.
White Sands National Park
By June 15th, after stopping at the largest pistachio farm in New Mexico, we arrived at White Sands National Park. White Sands is one of the most beautiful and photogenic places I have ever been. After securing a backcountry permit to sleep out on the sand dunes for the evening we took shelter in the van as the sun lit up the mid day air. The heat was stifling, almost disabling until a couple hours before sunset when we began our short 1 mile hike to our campsite. White Sands is a magical place with characteristics more resembling another planet. The fine white sand is cool to the touch even with temps in the triple digits as the winds constantly change and reform the dunes. While deserts may seem desolate and uninviting the reward of a night in the desert is one you will cherish for many years to come.
After basking in a magical sunrise we were on our way to Carlsbad Caverns National Park to spend some time underground. You know when a ranger suggests spending 3 hours in the caverns and you spend over 5 hours it was a memorable place. The size of the caverns are incredible with many of the cave formations looking almost fake since they have not been damaged by UV light, wind, or other surface elements. My feeling at Carlsbad mimicked my feeling of White Sands as I continued to ask myself “What planet am I on right now?” We met a school teacher turned park ranger named Jeff Stearns in the Big Room and immediately hit it off. After exchanging stories for about an hour and sadly turning down an offer to explore backcountry caverns with him, we had to leave and get on the road towards Austin, TX in order to stay on track for a Father’s Day arrival in South Carolina.
The drive across Texas, in route to Austin, seemed to go on forever. I was especially excited to meet up with my best friend, Ryan Penney, who happened to be there for a work conference. We made it within an hour of Austin before deciding to park the van near a winery on higher ground as hurricane flooding was forecasted in the Austin metro area. When you live in your vehicle one must asses situations differently. For example if the van gets flooded out this means our bedroom, kitchen, living room, transportation, garage, gear and livelihood gets washed away. Im all for adventure but not at the cost of the Rambler. Early the next morning we woke up Penney sleeping quietly in his suite at the DoubleTree hotel in downtown Austin and confiscated his shower for some much needed bathing. At breakfast it took a lot of convincing but I was successful in persuading Penney to change his flight, book another night at the DoubleTree, and hang out in Austin for another night…and by a lot of convincing I simply asked him to do it. It doesn’t take much convincing for either one of us to be spontaneous when we are around each other. Activities in Austin further commenced with exploration of a local park and quickly being caught in a downpour along with exploring the local eclectic night scene with old friend and current resident, Shelby. Here is where we discovered our lack of city picture taking skills and promised ourselves to do better in the future.
Houston and New Orleans
On June 18th we made a quick stop in Houston to see Andy Estes new nightclub called “Cle.” Ironically, in front of the main entrance of this new million dollar renovated club, his friend Mike welded rear pegs onto our dirt bike and also made adjustments to the motorcylce carrier to increase the structural integrity. A big thanks to Mike for spending the time to weld in the blazing hot heat of the midday Houston sun. We made a strong push towards New Orleans and found ourselves camping in a paid parking lot in the French Quarter of the city. The local RV park wanted $99 for an evening in the city which was nuts so we opted for the $15 pass which gave us 12 hours to rest our eyes before having to move the van. The next day we ate our way through New Orleans enjoying each meal and wished we never grew full so we could continue to feast on the Creole cuisine. Our recommendation is a crepe breakfast at “Merchant”, followed by Oysters at “Royal House” and finally dinner at “Jacques-imos.” Again we found ourselves wishing we could have stayed for longer but with Fathers Day only 2 days away we had to keep moving!
We made one final stop before arriving in South Carolina, not to see a majestic waterfall or indulge on fine cuisine but to experience sculpture and 'The Anthem' which serenades through this young man's lungs. Jeremy Thomley resides in Hattiesburg, Mississippi the founding place of MoHawk Steel Company and one man's quest to breathe. We met Jeremy a couple years ago in Park City through a mutual friend, Daniel Bell, as they collaborated to build a giant Yeti sculpture for the ski company RAMP (yes a Yeti, check out the website for further explanation http://yeticollective.com/). Now this stop in Hattiesburg was all about timing and a keen eye by my beautiful co-pilot. Rachelle. A month before we left Park City, she noticed an announcement by Jeremy, further iterated by Daniel in town one night, that the Yeti Collective artist were going to be in Hattiesburg, MS debuting "The Anthem." These incredible works of "Sculpture Inspired By Adventure" were created by these highly talented individuals directed by Jeremy's vision and interpretation of his life long battle with Cystic Fibrosis. After introducing us to his incredible story delivered through many brilliantly designed works of art, he excitedly drove us to the nearby farm to show his workshop and indoor climbing wall where imagination takes form. In the early morning, he used his artistic skills in welding to make another adjustment to the Rambler's motorcycle carrier. All that Jeremy does is a true testament to his will not be held back and defined by the illness that has dictated his life, check out the movie trailer below for his poetic brilliant interpretation and further pursue the full story through the documentary as it becomes available. This stop in Mississippi was meant to be and the stars aligned to make our short stay in Hattiesburg memorable and heart-felt.
Stay tuned for time spent Home in Sweet Carolina!
Author: Jeremy Wilstein
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