Lance’s Opposing-Slide Travel Trailer

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Lance introduced its first double-slide travel trailer, the 2155, at the Louisville, Kentucky, National RV Trade Show last December. The 2155 packs a lot of amenities in a 22-foot 2-inch floorplan that sleeps four and features an inviting kitchen island that houses a sink with a pullout sprayer faucet. A skylight over the island lets in natural light, while the 6-foot 6-inch interior height accommodates tall folks.

ATB-lance-2Within easy reach of the island are a 6-cubic-foot double-door refrigerator, a three-burner range with a backsplash and an optional microwave oven, all flanked by hardwood cabinet doors and lightweight solid-surface countertops. Step up to the four-seat dinette with reversible cushions and roll-out storage drawers for a view through a large picture window.

Separating the bedroom, with its queen pillow-top mattress, is an entertainment center with pullout drawers and an optional fireplace, as well as privacy divider doors. Wardrobes bookend the bed, and the room features LED reading lamps and mood lighting.

Outside conveniences include frameless, tinted dual-pane windows, an exterior wash station and a pass-through storage compartment with a slam-latch door. This travel trailer is constructed of aluminum-framed side walls, floor and one-piece TPO roof, and has block insulation throughout. Lance offers an optional-equipment Four Seasons All Weather Package for $583.

The 2155’s claimed dry weight is 4,600 pounds, and fresh-, gray- and black-water capacities are all 45 gallons. Base MSRP is $34,647.

Lance | 661-949-3322 | www.lancecamper.com

 


 

True North

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With dramatic coastlines, soaring mountains and extravagant wildlife, the ultimate road trip takes RVers into the heart of North America’s Last Frontier

In Alaska Odyssey, Part I, I discussed the first leg of our journey, starting in Prince George, British Columbia, Video-Buttonand traveling about 1,700 miles to Denali National Park and Preserve via the Stewart-Cassiar, Alaska and George Parks highways, with detours up the Klondike and Top of the World highways. Part II follows our route to the Kenai Peninsula, Valdez, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Skagway and back home.

Hooked on Alaska: Of the more than 12,000 rivers in the Last Frontier, none is more popular for fishing than the Kenai.

Hooked on Alaska: Of the more than 12,000 rivers in the Last Frontier, none is more popular for fishing than the Kenai.

Kenai Peninsula

The first 110 miles of the Sterling Highway (Alaska 1) en route to the Kenai Peninsula are about as pretty a drive as you can experience. With water on one side and mountains on the other, and Portage Glacier posing for a portrait, we’re enthralled. We’re headed to Homer, the self-styled Halibut Fishing Capital of the World.

Homer was established in 1895 and has a fun, funky vibe that attracts artists and other creative types. The town is divided in two, with a 4.3-mile spit protruding into Kachemak Bay and a traditional downtown where you go to buy groceries. The spit is where the action is. The restaurants are without pretension, the shops don’t scream “tourist,” and the angler has a multitude of charter-boat choices.

Our experience was significantly influenced by a chance encounter. While having coffee and a nosh on the deck at a local bakery, a chat with our neighbor led to an invitation to their home for dinner and a chance to join them the next day on their boat for a trip to nearby Halibut Cove, a charming landlocked village a few miles across the bay. Cheers, Larry and Petja!

Camping options on the Homer spit are plentiful, and all of them have the benefit of proximity to the bay. Most of the campgrounds are functional and a bit funky, an ambience that fits with the rest of the town. Dry campers have access to two municipal campgrounds perched on the bay. Boondockers will find Homer pretty liberal about where you camp, and you see tents and RVs scattered along the beach.

When the salmon are running, bears can often be seen near the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery, the largest salmon hatchery on Prince William Sound.

When the salmon are running, bears can often be seen near the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery, the largest salmon hatchery on Prince William Sound.

Or you can do as we did the first two nights and camp at the upscale Heritage RV Park and partake of the round-the clock espresso bar. The rest of our stay was spent at the more modest Homer Spit Campground, not for financial reasons but because it fit better with what Homer seemed to demand and was within easy walking distance of most of the places we wanted to visit.

I like unique knives and my wife, Mara, likes jewelry. Homer is a good place to look, as many craftspeople sell their wares here. I noticed that much of what we saw claimed to be made of exotic materials, particularly ivory from the woolly mammoth. Suspecting a scam, I learned that in Alaska ivory from extinct animals is legal to sell. Further research disclosed that ivory and bones were uncovered as by-products of mining and of native people excavating in their traditional home sites, as well as on lands uncovered by retreating glaciers, covered with ice for millennia.

With two people and limited refrigeration, fishing charters were out, so we focused on the educational. Homer’s Pratt Museum and the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center both offer insights into life on the bay.

Located on the south shore of Kachemak Bay, the landlocked village of Seldovia got its name from the Russian word seldevoy, meaning “herring bay.”

Located on the south shore of Kachemak Bay, the landlocked village of Seldovia got its name from the Russian word seldevoy, meaning “herring bay.”

Field-tested tips from locals are always welcome, and Larry and Petja shared these with us. Best conventional seafood dinner: Captain Pattie’s, where they will also cook your fresh-caught fish. Best breakfast: La Baleine Café, with meals for the hearty eater. Best place to drink: Salty Dawg Saloon, with the right mix of locals and visitors so you feel right at home. Best bakery: Two Sisters, downtown.
As promised, Larry and Petja pick us up for the 7-mile voyage to Halibut Cove, founded in 1880. Early this century, it had a population of 1,000 and housed 42 herring salteries where the fish were processed. Today, it is largely a day-trip destination to the island’s lone restaurant, the Saltry. Try the seafood chowder or the seafood combination plate. There are no roads, but hikers can navigate the boardwalks and trails that populate the island. Bird-watching and kayaking are popular pursuits. Halibut Cove is home to one of America’s few floating post offices.

Compared to Halibut Cove, the village of Seldovia is a metropolis. Also reached by boat, it has a road and four restaurants. The road is only 12 miles long and doesn’t connect to other communities on the peninsula, but so what? Like Halibut Cove, it’s best thought of as a day trip or weekend getaway. We walk around its boardwalks and gravel streets in utter quiet; a poet would feel at home here, and a few probably do. We enjoy the Seldovia Village Tribe Museum and the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, perched on a bluff overlooking the town and serving parishioners since 1891.

Alaska-HighwayMap


The Best of Where We Camped


ALASKA

Denali

Denali Grizzly Bear Resort
866-583-2696 | www.denaligrizzlybear.com

Homer

Heritage RV Park
907-226-4500 | www.alaskaheritagervpark.com

Homer Spit Campground
907-235-8206 | www.alaskacampgrounds.net

Seward
Waterfront Park
907-224-4055 | www.cityofseward.us

Tok
Tok RV Village (Good Sam Park)
907-883-5877 | www.tokrv.net

Valdez Area
Blueberry Lake State Recreation Site
907-269-8400 | www.dnr.alaska.gov/parks

Wrangell-St. Elias
Kendesnii Campground
907-822-7401 | www.nps.gov/wrst/planyourvisit

BRITISH COLUMBIA

Dawson Creek
Mile 0 Campground
250-782-2590 | www.mile0park.ca

Muncho Lake
Muncho Lake Provincial Park
250-776-7000 | www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks

Smithers
Riverside Municipal RV Park
and Campground
250-847-1600 | www.tourismsmithers.com

YUKON

Whitehorse
The Caribou RV Park (Good Sam Park)
867-668-2961 | www.caribou-rv-park.com

An interesting side note: Cook Inlet, the waterway that borders Homer and runs along the west side of the peninsula, branches into Turnagain Arm, which has the fourth highest tidal range in the world. Tidal fluctuations in Cook Inlet are not as extreme but can exceed 25 feet. If you are playing or camping on the shoreline, be aware of your circumstances.

Seward beckons, home to Kenai Fjords National Park. To get there from Homer, backtrack north on the Sterling Highway to the intersection with the Seward Highway (Alaska 9) and drive south until it ends. Where Homer is open, Seward is nestled on Resurrection Bay between mountain ranges and has a different feel. It was the original southern terminus of the Iditarod Trail, established in 1910 as a mail route between Seward and Nome, and later made famous by the sled-dog race that bears its name. The southern terminus was later relocated to Anchorage.

Kenai Fjords National Park is mostly water and mountains, and is best explored by boat. The National Park Service works closely with private charter operators who will take you out and entertain you with wildlife and fjord viewing. The 8.2-mile-roundtrip Harding Icefield Trail and shorter hikes to Exit Glacier provide options for people who would rather walk.

Camping here is a pleasure. The municipal Waterfront Park on the outskirts of town has five campground locations. We stay in the Resurrection section, right on the bay, with electric and water hookups.

Valdez

Leaving Seward, we prepare for the drive to Valdez and our last days on the coast before heading inland. To get there, we take the Glenn Highway (a different stretch of Alaska 1) to the junction with the Richardson Highway (Alaska 4), and then south to Valdez.
I have always had this dream of finding the perfect campsite. It would be situated on a quiet, pristine lake. There might be a trout or two splashing about. The area would be beautiful, with nobody else in sight. Would I ever find it? Not until now. Based on a tip, we stop at Blueberry Lake State Recreation Site, 30 miles outside Valdez, and find campsite number 7 vacant. Without a word, we park and self-register. Mara collects wild blueberries to enliven our morning flapjacks, and I catch and release my trout.

The Kennecott copper mine operated from 1911 until 1938 and is now part of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

The Kennecott copper mine operated from 1911 until 1938 and is now part of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

A couple of days later, entering Valdez, we come upon Dayville Road, leading to the Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery. Where there are fish, there are bears, and since the salmon are migrating, we think we might chance upon a hungry one. Sure enough, as we approach the hatchery, mother black bear is teaching her three cubs to fish.

Most of us know the salmon life cycle: born in freshwater, migrate to the sea, and return to spawn and die at their place of birth. At the hatchery, we witness thousands of fish fulfilling their destiny, preyed upon by voracious gulls, a pod of pinnipeds and anglers after an easy catch, a disconcerting sight. One would wish a more dignified end to their lives.

Nestled in the Chugach Mountains and bordered by Prince William Sound, Valdez has been called Alaska’s Little Switzerland. It was established in 1897 as a port of entry for prospectors hoping to strike it rich in the Klondike Gold Rush. From the picturesque harbor, one can board a boat to fish, visit the Columbia Glacier or view wildlife in Prince William Sound. Sea kayak rentals are a thriving business.

Valdez has quite a history. Not only is it the southern terminus of one of the world’s largest crude-oil conduits, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, it was near the epicenter of the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake, the second most powerful ever recorded, and the closest city to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, the largest in U.S. waters before the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. All of this we explore in the Valdez Museum and Historical Archive.

Wrangell-St. Elias

At 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest in the national park system. Nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States ascend from here. The park has the highest concentration of glaciers in North America, and the only access routes are two horrible gravel roads.

Near Valdez, a bald eagle keeps watch (far left) and a black bear feeds on

A bald eagle keeps watch near Valdez.

Why, you might ask, would we want to visit a huge place with limited vehicle access? Because this is the “real Alaska” — wild, undeveloped and populated by folks who don’t live like the rest of us, and don’t want to. Its millions of acres of land are rarely if ever touched by humans. Hike a few miles off any road, and what you get is pure wilderness.

After backtracking on the Richardson Highway from Valdez, we head east on the Edgerton Highway (Alaska 10). The Edgerton is paved to the village of Chitina (pronounced Chit-na), where it becomes the McCarthy Road. After a few miles, we discover that this drive will vie for the Worst Road in Alaska. We backtrack to a primitive campground and set up for the night. A hand-printed sign near the toilet warns us that fresh grizzly scat has been spotted nearby.

In the morning, I introduce myself to Ranger Earl. Mentioning my experience on the road, I inquire about the condition further on. He notes that the part we drove was the good part. We’re headed to McCarthy, and he advises us of a shuttle service that will take us the 60 miles. Comparing the cost of the shuttle (about $100 per person) with the cost of new tires and a suspension system, we decide to wimp out and take the shuttle. As a bonus, our dog can come, too.

The hamlet of McCarthy and this road exist because of copper, discovered near the Kennicott Glacier. Five miles away, the abandoned mining camp of Kennecott (a misspelling that stuck) operated from 1911 until 1938. McCarthy grew up to house and entertain mine employees, and we intend to see it and the mine.

Our driver is Annika. She and her pal Eva pick us up the next morning at 8 sharp at Kenny Lake RV Park. Our coconspirators are a young couple from San Francisco undertaking a 10-day backpacking trip and three ladies from the Midwest looking for an antidote to cruise ships.

Annika, Eva and another driver who handled the return trip live here but are not native Alaskans; all came to visit and never left. They are intelligent and seemingly happy, a couple of divorces notwithstanding. None have running water or inside plumbing in their homes. They carry water from a stream or village well in 5-gallon buckets. A nice outhouse, or one with multiple seats, is a source of domestic pride, like a Mercedes in the driveway. All are at home with guns and use them to gather food and for protection.

Many RVers have the Alaska Highway on their bucket list. My advice is to empty that bucket as soon as possible.

Eva told us funny bear stories based on the theme of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Here you have a group of people who live in a way that some would consider primitive but do so by choice. You can tell from their body language that they feel sorry for us flatlanders who sacrifice the opportunity to live in this majestic place for creature comforts and material things.

McCarthy (population 50) hasn’t changed much since its mining days: no central water supply, no sewer or electricity, no medical facilities and no school. The now-abandoned mine is owned and managed by the National Park Service. Private concessions offer experiences like ice-climbing.

On a roll, we decide to check out the only other road into the park, the Nabesna Road. From Chitina, we backtrack to the Richardson Highway and take it north to the Tok Cutoff. The village of Slana is the site of another ranger station and the road to the old Nabesna gold mine, now off-limits.

We learn that, of the 42 miles of road, the first 16 are paved and the next 12 are dirt and navigable by medium-size RVs. Twenty-eight miles sounds about right, getting us to our goal of Kendesnii, Wrangell-St. Elias’ only National Park Service campground, with pit toilets and much solitude. The 10 sites are full when we get to the campground, so we set up at a pull-off (this is allowed here) and let a flock of trumpeter swans serenade us. Not bad.

Camping here caused me to reflect on what Alaska travel is about. You will see majestic mountains, and after a while, another one just becomes another one. So it isn’t about viewing mountains or glaciers with names but experiencing the vastness of the place and the people who have chosen to live here.

Connecting Valdez to Fairbanks, the Richardson Highway ribbons around the Chugach Mountains and the Alaska Range.

Connecting Valdez to Fairbanks, the Richardson Highway ribbons around the Chugach Mountains and the Alaska Range.

Skagway

Since we need to pass through White­horse again, we make the 100-mile detour to Skagway. We return to Tok and then head south on the Alaska Highway toward Whitehorse. The road is brutal for 90 miles. We come to the tiny Yukon town of Burwash Landing and marvel at the quality of the exhibits at the Kluane Museum of Natural History.

I call Skagway the Un-Alaska. It was a very important player during the Klondike Gold Rush and by late 1897 had a population of 20,000. The boom led to bust within two years, and soon Skagway’s population was 500, but it survived to fight another day.
Period buildings remain, but the town exists to serve cruise ships — two and sometimes three were in port during our stay. Jewelry stores line both sides of the street and outnumber other types of businesses, even T-shirt shops. One salesman greeted me in a mink coat. Alaska cruises have their place, and the Inside Passage is undeniably beautiful, but Skagway isn’t part of the real Alaska anymore.

Conclusion

One of the reasons many of us go camping is to get away from it all for a time. There is no place in North America and few places in the world where you can do that on this scale on (mostly) roads suitable for RVs.

Our trek started in the San Francisco Bay Area and ended in the same place, 9,500 miles later. More than 5,700 of those miles were in Canada and Alaska, and we spent $2,200 on gas. All in all, a bargain.

This is more a journey than a road trip. It’s not a place to set up cruise control and count the miles from point A to B. You will be motivated to drive as slowly as traffic will allow, gazing to the left, then to the right. Mountains and glaciers announce themselves with some warning; bears, caribou and other critters do not, and you don’t want to miss them.

Every swamp looks like moose habitat. Every white speck on a distant peak may be a mountain goat. Bears will be inspected for the telltale hump that defines a grizzly, somehow more important than a mere black bear. Tiny towns have world-class museums, and you don’t want to miss those, either.

Many RVers have the Alaska Highway on their bucket list. My advice is to empty that bucket as soon as possible.


 

 

Seen at SEMA

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Miles of aisles at the world’s largest automotive aftermarket-equipment event showcased the latest products for your tow vehicle

It started in 1963 when a handful of automotive businesses formed what was then known as the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association, or SEMA. Today, SEMA stands for Specialty Equipment Market Association, representing a far broader spectrum of products than speed equipment alone. The association’s annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas is the largest automotive-equipment event in the world, with more than 2,400 exhibitors, and 140,000 buyers and media representatives. The mega show covers 2.5 million square feet of exhibit space and features more than 1,500 one-of-a-kind project vehicles. The bad news is that it’s a trade-only show that’s closed to the public.

SEMA---Covercraft-DashMat
Beautifully tailored Covercraft DashMats protect vinyl surfaces in vehicles from damaging sun and eliminate annoying glare. The company specializes in
custom-vehicle and RV covers.
Covercraft
800-426-8377
www.covercraft.com

The good news for those not in the business is that, outside the convention halls, many of the amazing specialty vehicles are on display. As the show winds down on Friday afternoon, thousands gather in bleachers and along the parade route, as all manner of super cars and trucks rumble out to the SEMA Ignited event just across the street. Food stands and live bands add to the carnival atmosphere.

We spent four days walking the miles of aisles looking for new items that may already be available at your local auto-parts and RV stores. The unique products the industry invents are always amazing. Who would guess that you could use a battery-powered hand drill to pull 1,000 pounds up a ramp? And can you imagine a ball mount that tells you the hitch weight of your trailer at a glance? We can’t possibly show you everything — we’re not even sure if we saw it all — but here you can get a glimpse of some of the products that caught our eyes. All you need at the end of the show is a foot rub.


For full-size trucks or vans, the innovative Decked Storage System (1) incorporates two bed-length drawers that roll out to provide easy access to tools, equipment and additional gear. The deck of the storage system is built from recycled high-density polyethylene co-molded to a steel sub frame, providing a 2,000-pound load capacity; drawers are claimed to hold up to 200 pounds. The storage organizer is weatherproof and can be configured to accommodate tie-downs or rack systems.

Decked
208-806-0251
www.decked.com



Yakima’s LoadWarrior (2) is a good solution for all the camping stuff there’s never room for. The rooftop rack fits round, square or factory crossbars right out of the box and can carry up to 140 pounds of gear on the rooftop of your vehicle, according to the company. An optional LoadWarrior 18-inch extension kit expands cargo capacity by 40 percent. The rack is made of weather-resistant heavy-duty steel, and a custom wind fairing is included for noise reduction. Locking brackets are sold separately.

Yakima Products
888-925-4621

www.yakima.com/loadwarrior

Long the world standard for transporting gas, diesel or water, NATO-style containers are now available again in the United States. The Wavian Jerry Can (4) is the first EPA/CARB/DOT/OSHA-compliant military-spec steel fuel-can system in North America, according to the company. The cans
are available in 5-, 10- and 20-liter
sizes in red (for gas), yellow (for diesel) and blue (for water).

Wavian USA
530-872-4988
wavianusa.com



The BD Diesel TapShifter (5) gives owners of the Ford 6.0-liter diesel access to all five gears with the tap of a button, allowing the user to gear down during hill descents and lock out overdrive for hill climbing and curvy roads. It also utilizes the factory variable-geometry turbocharger as an exhaust brake for added retarding force. The kit comes with a mini gear display, new Ford OE shift lever, wiring harness and all related installation items. It’s designed for 2003 to 2007 Ford F-250 and F-350 models with the 6.0-liter Power Stroke V-8 and is compatible with most tuners, according to BD.

BD Diesel Performance
800-887-5030

www.dieselperformance.com

Sema1-6
A convenient single-use bottle of Amsoil Diesel Injector Clean (3) was introduced to round out the company’s line of premium diesel additives. The new 8-ounce size is ideal for applications treating 15 to 20 gallons of fuel. Amsoil Diesel Injector Clean is formulated with a concentrated alcohol-free chemistry that is said to provide optimized performance in diesel applications. It removes perform­ance-robbing deposits found in fuel injectors and the combustion chamber.

Amsoil
800-956-5695
www.amsoil.com
Though not a brand-new product at this year’s show, we appreciated the Weigh Safe Drop Hitch (6), which features a built-in scale that measures trailer hitch weight. Available with 4-, 6-, 8- and 10-inch adjustable drop bars, the ball mount comes with 2-inch and 25/16-inch stainless-steel balls.

Weigh Safe
855-492-6444

www.weigh-safe.com

Sema7-13
The Bolt Receiver Lock (7) locks trailers, bikes and equipment with your car key and now comes in models for all trailer-hitch receivers. The unique Receiver Lock — and all other Bolt locks — can be coded to your vehicle ignition key, keeping your keychain uncluttered.

Bolt
877-251-8798
www.boltlock.com



The Craftsman 20-Watt Rechargeable

LED Light (8) is designed to offer a versatile lighting option, with hands-free and cordless operation. The light is weatherproof for indoor and outdoor use, and comes equipped with a charger and a rechargeable 6,600-mAh lithium-ion battery.

Craftsman
800-549-4505
www.craftsman.com



The Transfer Flow Hauler (9) in-bed auxiliary fuel-tank system offers 100 gallons of extra diesel-fuel capacity at a reasonable price. Available for 2000 to 2015 full-size Dodge Ram, Ford and GM diesel pickups with 8-foot beds, the tank is constructed of aluminum diamond-plate and mill-finish aluminum, and is fully baffled to minimize sloshing and maximize tank strength. It operates with Transfer Flow’s TRAX 3 fuel-monitoring system that automatically transfers fuel from the auxiliary tank to the truck’s main tank at predetermined levels. A dash-mounted LCD screen shows fuel-level percentages in each tank.

Transfer Flow
800-442-0056
www.transferflow.com


Torklift’s HiddenPower Battery Mount (10) is designed to hold an auxiliary battery under the vehicle with a no-drill installation and works for all types of Group 24, 27 and 31 12-volt batteries. With quick-disconnect electrical connectors, the system attaches to the truck’s frame and connects to the vehicle’s charging system.Torklift International
800-246-8132
www.torklift.com




The new Armor All Outlast Brake Dust Repellent (11) (previously called Armor All Wheel Protectant) forms an invisible barrier that is said to last up to four weeks. The product demonstration at the SEMA Show was impressive. Powdered dust and even sticky drops of honey slid off when the test rim was tipped sideways.

ArmorAll
800-222-7784
www.armorall.com



Dash cams are becoming increasingly popular for recording and storing everything that goes on in front of the vehicle as you drive. The amazing video quality of the new DOD RX400w Dash Cam (12) in all light conditions is produced by the combination of a 3-megapixel CMOS sensor and a Japanese-made six-element glass lens. DOD dash cams are built into an ultra-thin clip-on rearview-mirror replacement with an optional rearview camera.

DOD Tech Canada
888-866-8993

www.dod-tech.ca



Warn’s Drill Winch (13)
turns a mere handheld power drill into a portable, versatile pulling tool. With a capacity of 500 pounds (1,000 pounds double-lined), the device can even pull a small vehicle onto a trailer, according to the company.

Warn Industries
800-543-9276

www.warn.com


The new Odyssey Performance Series Battery uses the same thin-plate pure-lead technology as the Odyssey Extreme Series but with a slightly lower SEMA---Odyssey-Performance-Seriesreserve capacity and cranking amps — and a 20 percent lower price. All other features remain the same, including an expected service life of three to 10 years and a four-year full-replacement warranty.Odyssey Battery
800-538-3627
www.odysseybattery.com


 

New Hellwig LP-15 Helper Springs for the 2015 two- and four-wheel-drive Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon are rated up to 1,500 pounds. The kit SEMA---Hellwig-Spring-Helperincludes four multi-leaf springs that bolt onto the top of the factory leaf pack on either side of the axle U-bolts. The U-bolts can be adjusted to change the rate of the helper springs, allowing the user to match them to their specific loads or to level the vehicle for improved handling, braking, better ride and aesthetics.

Hellwig Products
800-435-5944
www.hellwigproducts.com



WD-40 EZ-Reach
has an attached 8-inch flexible straw that bends and SEMA---WD-40-EZ-REACHkeeps its shape, allowing users to get around corners and crevices to deliver WD-40 Multi-Use Product exactly where it’s needed.

WD-40
888-324-7596
www.wd40.com/ez



Stayhold Cargo Organizers

SEMA---STAYHOLDcome from Ireland and have small dividers that attach with hook-and-loop fasteners to any carpeted surface to keep groceries or other equipment and toys from sliding around in the back of a pickup or other vehicle.

Stayhold
353-1-808-4657
www.stayhold.com



Lund’s AVS Aeroskin II Hood Shield
is designed to flow with the SEMA---Lund-deflectorcontours of a vehicle to pro­vide the ultimate protection from bugs, dirt and stones. Aeroskin II applications include the 2015 to 2016 Ford F-150 and the 2014 to 2016 Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra. The hood shield installs without drilling holes using 3M automotive-grade adhesive.

Lund
800-241-7219
www.lundinternational.com



The Du-Ha Tote Box is a portable, lockable storage case that can be carried SEMA---Du-ha-Tote-Box-003in the back of a pickup or SUV, or an RV basement compartment. A locking track can be installed with two removable ¼-inch bolts. The Tote Box can be loaded with tools, jumper cables, and camping or fishing gear — it even doubles as a legal gun case in most states, according to the company. The case slides out for easy access and can roll around on its built-in wheels.

Du-Ha
866-306-3852
www.du-ha.com



Griot’s Fine Glass Polish
can be used by hand or with a tool like Griot’s 6-inch SEMA---Griots-Glass-PolishRandom Orbital Polisher equipped with the company’s synthetic Glass Polishing Pads. We actually tried this before the show, and it left the glass amazingly clear and smooth. The polish removes spots you normally see on the vehicle’s windshield, sunroof and side windows that are hard to feel with your fingernails.

Griot’s Garage
800-345-5789
www.griotsgarage.com



The CarGo Apron is an innovative SEMA---CarGo-Apron-1cargo liner you can leave in your van, SUV or hatchback, or easily store until you need it. The woven-polyethylene liner has flaps that go up the side walls and rear seat backs inside the vehicle to keep the cargo area clean. CarGo Apron
888-481-1795
www.cargoapron.com


 

SEMA---Truck-Covers-1The sleek new Truck Covers USA American Truck Rack can quickly be reconfigured to extend over the pickup’s cab to hold kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and other long equipment. A lower secondary cargo level over the bed can also be added when needed.

Truck Covers USA
888-808-2872
www.truckcoversusa.com



Quick Fist Clamps
are one-piece rubber SEMA---Quick-Fist-Tie-Downs-003clamps available in sizes to fit around anything from a flashlight to a bulky electrical cord, a hose or even an LP-gas cylinder. Each clamp can be attached with one bolt or screw to make securing items easy.

End of the Road
615-828-2600
www.quickfist.com


 

Whether it’s taking a load of camping gear on an adventure or a pile of trash to the dump, TuffTruckBag keeps the dirt out of SEMA---Tuff-Truck-Bag-003your nice clean truck bed and the rain off your camping equipment. Heavy-duty rings and four bungee cords secure the bag to the bed. When not in use, the bag stores in —what else? — an included tote bag.

Tuff Truck Bags
877-535-8833
www.tufftruckbag.com



Considering all of the things that we need to wipe clean in our lives — eyeglasses, smartphone screens and lenses, GPS aSEMA---Invisible-Lens-Wipes-001nd computer screens, camera lenses, binoculars, telescopes and mirrors — we were glad to see the new 20-pack of disposable Invisible Glass Lens Wipes. We now keep a box in every vehicle, as they soon become addictive.

Invisible Glass
800-992-5093
www.invisibleglass.com



The SXT Tonneau Cover from ATC is there when you SEMA---ATC-Tonneau-Cover-in-a-Bag-002need it and gone when you don’t. Each interlocking section is removable and can be stored in the supplied bag, so you can keep it in your truck or leave the sections you don’t need at home. The covers are made of aircraft-grade composites and aluminum with an automotive finish.

ATC Truck Covers
800-983-2787
www.atctruckcovers.com



Westin Automotive’s Thrasher
step running boards are constructed SEMA---Westin’s-Thrasher-Boards-from one-piece stamped steel and have indented louvers that make for rugged styling. They come with a vehicle-specific mount kit and feature injection-molded bracket covers.

Westin Automotive
800-345-8476
www.westinautomotive.com

America’s Last Frontier

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Hitch up for the ultimate RV road trip along the scenic and historic highway that stretches 1,387 miles through British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska

Less about the destination than the getting there, the Alaska Highway is the quintessential road trip. Travelers pass through Video-Buttontowns and cities, but the real attraction is what there is between them. Years ago, I took a three-week vacation and drove my brand-new Class B motorhome as far as Haines Junction, Yukon, before running out of time. I vowed to return one day and do it right. In July 2015, my wife, Mara, and I set aside two months to do just that. We didn’t reserve anything in advance and didn’t plan our itinerary in detail, preferring to let events dictate what we did and when we did it.

Stewart-Cassiar Highway

Arriving in Prince George, British Columbia, we find our path to the southern terminus of the 1,387-mile Alaska Highway impeded by forest fires. Luckily, there’s an alternative. By combining the east-west Yellowhead and north-south Stewart-Cassiar highways (Trans-Canada 16 and BC 37, respectively), we take a scenic detour around the problem.

Alaska-6Prince George is British Columbia’s fourth largest city and a good place to get provisions and fuel. Heading out of town, civilization falls away quickly, and small villages alternate with mountains and pristine lakes. Provincial and city parks dot the route and are the way to go when backwoods campground ambience trumps amenities. In the village of Smithers, we bed down for the night at Riverside Municipal Campground and feed our electronics some 30-amp juice for the road ahead.

Continuing north, we watch for the turnoff to BC 37A and the town of Stewart. Stewart is nothing special, but the 40-mile drive to it is. Our heads are on a swivel, with glaciers to the left and waterfalls to the right. Persistent rain prevents a detour to nearby Hyder, Alaska, where we had hoped to spot bears fishing for migrating salmon.

Back on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, at pristine Mehan Lake, we share lunch with a retired couple from Australia and a cyclist from New Zealand, as loons serenade in the background.

Alaska-map

Alaska Essentials

Requisite RV-travel resources for northwestern Canada and Alaska

  • Good Sam RV Travel & Savings Guide
    2016 guidebook with RV-park listings and annually updated ratings
    www.campingworld.com
  • The Milepost
    Mile-by-mile trip guide to the highways of Alaska, British Columbia and Yukon
    www.themilepost.com
  • Travel Alaska
    Official State of Alaska travel website and vacation planner
    www.travelalaska.com


Our next stop is Jade City’s Cassiar Mountain Jade Store, a family business selling its namesake product. The owners claim that more than 90 percent of the world’s jade is mined here.

Alaska Highway

Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was no overland link between the Lower 48 and Alaska, then a U.S. territory. That event changed everything, as a road was deemed a military necessity. With more than 10,000 U.S. soldiers and civilian workers tending to the task, the highway was completed in eight months and 12 days, and was opened to the public in 1948.

Dawson Creek, British Columbia (not to be confused with Dawson City, Yukon), is famous for hosting the start of the Alaska Highway. We take a photograph of the Mile 0 monument and stop at the town’s visitor center, housed in the Railway Station Museum, and the Alaska Highway House, which documents the highway’s construction. Walter Wright Pioneer Village, with buildings and artifacts mostly from the early 1900s, has a special virtue for RVers: the adjacent Mile 0 Campground is the best RV park in the area.

The first 400 miles of the Alaska Highway are relatively ho-hum, with heavy truck traffic, power poles and average scenery. The cities of Fort St. John and Fort Nelson, although historic, are also ordinary.

Muncho Lake (mile 437), known for its deep blue color, is home to Muncho Lake Provincial Park and two of the nicest campgrounds anywhere, MacDonald and Strawberry Flats, with 30 dry sites, pit toilets and a water pump. The closest alternative is Northern Rockies Lodge.

 The closer you get to the Liard River’s thermal springs, the hotter the water.

The closer you get to the Liard River’s thermal springs, the hotter the water.

Next up is Liard River Hot Springs (mile 477). I’m not a hot-soak fanatic, but this one is fun. It’s a natural thermal springs with changing rooms, restrooms, in-pool benches and a gravel floor that’s easy on the feet. My wife claims I’m a better person now.

As we travel north, a herd of bison, probably a hundred strong, trots alongside the road, a couple of young black bears munch on flowers, and two young grizzlies feast on a moose.

Crossing the Yukon border, Watson Lake (mile 612) is one of the most-photographed towns along the Alaska Highway, but not for its dramatic scenery. It was made famous by a homesick American G.I. working on the highway who made a sign noting the mileage to his Illinois hometown. Others followed suit, and we now have the Signpost Forest, with more than 77,000 mementos nailed to any available spot. We spend the night at nearby Baby Nugget RV Park.

In Teslin (mile 776, population 450), we stop at the Northern Wildlife Museum, the Tlingit Heritage Centre and the George Johnston Museum.

The first has outstanding local wildlife dioramas, and the last honors a Tlingit trapper, fur trader and photographer who brought a 1928 Chevrolet to the then-roadless town by paddle-wheeler and built a 3-mile road to drive it on.

Watson Lake, Yukon’s Signpost Forest.

Watson Lake, Yukon’s Signpost Forest.

With camping options limited, we drive to Whitehorse (mile 918) and stay at Caribou RV Park, a Good Sam Park with an ambience and amenities among the best on the trip. Whitehorse, the Yukon capital, is home to two-thirds of the territory’s population. While distinctly modern, the city has a number of attractions that visitors interested in history can appreciate, including the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site and the MacBride Museum of Yukon History.

Dawson City

Just north of Whitehorse, we take our first detour. The 335-mile drive to Dawson City via the Klondike Highway (Yukon 2) justifies a stop in the village of Carmacks. In 1896 George Carmack looked in his gold pan and saw $5 worth of gold when 10 cents was considered a find, and the Klondike Gold Rush was on.

Dawson City was at the center of it all and is now a national historic site. With a population of 30,000 at its peak, the town was a wild and lawless place. Now a popular visitor destination, it has a high concentration of restaurants, bars and theaters. We check out the Dawson City Museum and walk the streets in search of ice cream.

During the Klondike Gold Rush, Dawson City, Yukon, attracted people from all over the world, many unprepared for life in the far north; these structures, built on permafrost, are a testament to their inexperience.

During the Klondike Gold Rush, Dawson City, Yukon, attracted people from all over the world, many unprepared for life in the far north; these structures, built on permafrost, are a testament to their inexperience.

A young Jack London lived here and built a cabin where he stayed in 1897, now a museum. No dilettante, London roamed the trails from town to the gold fields and made observations that helped shape his later life as a writer and adventurer.

Driving to Dawson City comes at a price. The “paved” Klondike Highway has significant stretches of rough gravel, and we get our first exposure to real Alaska driving — rocks, potholes and stretches of washboard.

Rather than returning the way we came, we leave via the Top of the World Highway (Yukon 5), knowing we’ll drive the missed section of the Alaska Highway on the way home. A free ferry ride takes us across the Yukon River, a charming alternative to a bridge, but the charm is short-lived, as we count the hours (five) needed to drive the 90 miles of (mostly) gravel to the end.

The road is pretty but lonely until we reach Chicken, Alaska. The story behind the name is reason enough to visit, however briefly. It seems the original settlers back in the late 1800s wanted to name the new town after their favorite game bird, the ptarmigan. Unable to agree on the spelling, they decided to name the town for the bird it most tasted like. I buy a T-shirt, a good conversation starter.

Chicken leads to Tok, where we use up our quarter collection at the car wash. If you don’t get the mud off now, you’ll need a chisel later. It’s also a good place to buy high-quality First Nations souvenirs. While I look at knives, the saleslady confesses to me that her husband married her for her knives, guns and chainsaw. Welcome to Alaska.

A herd of bison, little ones in tow, heads south near Liard River Hot Springs in British Columbia.

A herd of bison, little ones in tow, heads south near Liard River Hot Springs in British Columbia.

We camp overnight in one of the best campgrounds of the trip, Tok RV Village, a top-rated Good Sam Park.

Delta Junction

With 9 miles to go to Delta Junction, we stock up on smoked elk sausage for nibbling and bison and yak for later at the Delta Meat and Sausage Company.

Delta Junction (actual mile 1,387, historical mile 1,422) marks the official end of the Alaska Highway. We get our picture taken at the end-of-the-road monument and cross the street to the Sullivan Roadhouse, a relocated roadhouse that is now a wonderful museum.

Visiting cities wasn’t high on our to-do list, but there’s a good reason to spend a few hours in Fairbanks, 96 miles from Delta Junction. The highly recommended University of Alaska Museum of the North documents the state’s history from prehistoric times to the present.

En route to Denali National Park, the village of Nenana is home to the 1917 St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, with hand-hewn pews and an altar of moose hide decorated with beadwork, and the Alaska State Railroad Museum and Nenana Cultural Center, with artifacts and high-quality souvenirs.

Only a few minutes’ drive from the Alaska Highway, northern British Columbia’s remarkably blue Muncho Lake has an eponymous provincial park with 30 dry campsites.

Only a few minutes’ drive from the Alaska Highway, northern British Columbia’s remarkably blue Muncho Lake has an eponymous provincial park with 30 dry campsites.

Denali National Park and Preserve

Mount McKinley National Park was established in 1917 and renamed Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980. The 6-million-acre park is 121 miles south of Fairbanks via the George Parks Highway (Alaska 3). At 20,320 feet, Mount Denali (formerly McKinley) eludes 70 percent of the people who come here, as it is often shrouded in clouds.

A single 92-mile road serves the park, but only 14 miles of it are open to private vehicles. To get beyond that, you need to take a bus or a bicycle. We peruse the options and choose the eight-hour-round-trip shuttle to the Eielson Visitor Center. Winding 66 miles into the park, the bus stops well short of Denali’s base but within photographic range. Riders are free to get off at any of several stops and catch a later bus. We see bears, moose, caribou and a lone wolf, and Denali honors us with her presence.

Among the other tour options, an 11-hour shuttle to and from Wonder Lake takes visitors 84 miles into the park and much closer to Denali, and another tour replaces the bus driver with a trained naturalist. Local companies offer additional sightseeing excursions.

More than half of all U.S. parkland is found in Alaska, yet the state’s population hovers around 740,000, the size of a large city in the Lower 48.

Some places have their mansions, but Alaska has the log cabin; this one is near the village of Talkeetna, not far from Denali National Park and Preserve.

Some places have their mansions, but Alaska has the log cabin; this one is near the village of Talkeetna, not far from Denali National Park and Preserve.

Three campgrounds within the park are open to RVs, with some campsites accommodating rigs up to 40 feet. Those with reserved sites at Teklanika River Campground, 29 miles inside the park, are allowed to drive beyond the 14-mile mark. Teklanika requires a minimum three-day stay, but its location provides a better opportunity to view wildlife up close, according to people who camped there.

Private camping options near the entrance are marginal. After seeing all that pristine wilderness, the thought of being jammed together next to a gas station and convenience store doesn’t appeal, so we head 6 miles south to camp at family-owned Denali Grizzly Bear Resort on the Nenana River.

 

  • Part II: In the February 2016 Trailer Life, Peter Lewis travels to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Valdez, Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Skagway.

 

Fun with Fiberglass

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Lightweight molded-fiberglass RVs are designed for long-term durability and improved mpg — and they look cool, too

RVs are constructed in a number of different ways, but many follow the same basic blueprint: Start with a steel or aluminum frame, build up the walls with wood and/or aluminum, more framing and composite materials, cover the structure with a roof and wrap the entire unit with either aluminum panels or gelcoat fiberglass. While conventional construction methods work well, another successful strategy has been in place for years and continues to flourish: molded fiberglass.

RVs built from molded fiberglass are sleek and shiny, and share their origins with the marine industry (think boat hull). In a molded-fiberglass trailer, fifth-wheel or truck camper, the rigid fiberglass body actually serves as the main framing element, as well as the interior and exterior skin. The body of the RV is essentially two pieces that clamshell together, resulting in a durable, corrosion-resistant body that is quite strong and can have several advantages over traditionally built RVs.

Casita Spirit Deluxe

Casita Spirit Deluxe

“The two-piece fiberglass shell has one main seam around the center belt line,” explains Grant Bilodeau, president of Bigfoot RV. “Traditional trailers are made of many separate side, floor and roof panels, and are then screwed together with many moldings and seals. As RVs are meant to travel down the road, a traditional trailer will flex over time, and all the extra seams and joints become higher maintenance and risk points for leaking. With a fiberglass trailer, there is only one seam to worry about.”

“Fiberglass molded trailers are sprayed into a mold with gelcoat and fiberglass,” Bilodeau adds. “The glass content is like the rebar in concrete — it gives you all your strength, as the resin binds it all together.”

Fiberglass construction can also lead to some positive results when it comes to fuel mileage, handling and durability. “Our fiberglass campers are 25 percent lighter than conventionally built truck campers,” says Keith Donkin, general manager at Northern Lite Manufacturing. “They are very aerodynamically designed for improved fuel efficiency, and they feature a very low center of gravity, which eliminates the sway of a conventionally built camper.”

Improved towing characteristics and longevity do come with a trade-off. Molded-fiberglass RVs can be a bit more costly than their conventionally built counterparts. But manufacturers of fiberglass RVs claim the difference in price can easily be amortized over the lifetime of the RV.

Dub-Box USA

Dub-Box USA

“Generally, people like our trailers because they are easy to tow, easy to set up, and they last forever,” reports Kent Eveland, president of Scamp Trailers. “Most of the trailers we built in the 1970s are still in use.”

Robert P. Partee, general sales manager of Oliver Travel Trailers, agrees. “Most fiberglass trailers hold their value over the years much better than the standard-build types,” he says. “Constructing travel trailers with fiberglass has been flying under the radar for years.”

Often eclectic, sometimes retro-chic and always eye-catching, molded-fiberglass RVs are frequently the focus of online communities and club rallies. “We find our trailers appeal to all ages in part because of the nostalgia factor, as well as the simplicity and weight,” says Heather Gardella, president of Dub Box USA.

Check out the following collection of some of the more interesting fiberglass RVs on the market today.

 

Bigfoot

bigfoot
bigfootSpecs


Bigfoot Industries manufactures a variety of travel trailers and truck campers, all featuring clamshell molded-fiberglass construction.

Bigfoot actually overlaps the top shell onto the bottom and uses a special sealant to further guard against water penetration. The 2500 series travel trailers include R-8 insulation, which, when combined with the fiberglass base (less conductive than aluminum or steel), creates a more livable four-season RV, according to Bilodeau. Seven floorplans ranging from 17 to 25 feet are available. The 25B25FB boasts a full rear bath, sleeping space for up to six and standards that include a porcelain toilet, aluminum wheels, heated and enclosed tanks, and a living-area skylight. The option to enclose the A-frame and add cargo space is not only practical but looks great as well. Other options include a solar-power system, 11,000-Btu roof air conditioner, exterior speakers and an electric A-frame jack.

250-546-2155
www.bigfootrv.com

Casita

 

Casita1
CasitaSpecs

For 33 years, Casita has been building lightweight fiberglass trailers. The 17-foot Casita Spirit Deluxe offers comfortable sleeping arrangements for three, with a bit more space for guests, provided they are of the smaller variety. Both sleeping areas convert to dinettes by day, meaning the trailer can easily accommodate more than it can sleep before the sun goes down. A couch/bunk-bed option ups the ante even more. The surprisingly wide-open floorplan means occupants won’t trip over each other while moving about. In Deluxe models, a large, full-featured bathroom is located at the front of the trailer, as is a roomy storage wardrobe. Standard features include custom marine-grade fiberglass furniture, carpet-lined storage compartments and a powered roof vent. Owners can also opt for LED lighting, a microwave, an electric A-frame jack and a larger gray-water holding tank.

800-442-9986
www.casitatraveltrailers.com

 

Dub Box

 

dub-box1
DubBoxSpecs

Dub Box USA manufactures lightweight fiberglass trailers reminiscent of the Volkswagen Microbus popular in the 1960s and ’70s. Dub Box trailers are not true Volkswagen conversions but are in fact manufactured from a fiberglass mold made from the vintage VW Bus. Each Dub Box trailer comes equipped with classic moon-style hubcaps, a hot/cold outdoor shower, a two-burner stove, a sink, a 3-cubic-foot refrigerator, an LP-gas water heater, an L-shaped convertible couch with 4-inch cushions, a folding dinette table and Sunbrella weather curtains for the pop-top. Options include air conditioning, solar panels, a luggage roof rack and a storage box on the A-frame. Buyers get to select the paint color for the exterior to match their tow vehicle.

503-744-0032
www.dub-box-usa.com

 

Eggcamper

 

egg-camper
EggcamperSpecs

Eggcamper trailers are ultralightweight and offer a fun way to enjoy RVing. Available only from the factory in Grandville, Michigan, and weighing less than 2,000 pounds (dry, without options), the Eggcamper can be towed by almost any properly equipped truck, van or SUV. The all-white trailers may look spartan inside, but they contain all the amenities needed for weekend fun, including sleeping space for two to four, a galley with a stainless sink, a 2.4-cubic-foot refrigerator, available air-conditioner, appliances and a lavatory with a toilet (or a large storage area instead). Plus, the smooth interior makes cleanup a breeze. The Dexter Torflex suspension is a welcome inclusion, as are the power roof vent and radius safety-glass windows with screens and miniblinds. LP-gas options are available, in addition to the electric-only model powered by an appropriately sized AC generator, along with the standard 30-amp converter with charger.

616-437-9255
www.eggcamper.com

 

Escape

 

escape-2

Another big name in the molded-fiberglass market is Escape Trailers. Based in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Escape offers several fiberglass travel trailers and more recently introduced a fifth-wheel. All Escape trailers are compact and lightweight for easy towing, and the Escape 21 is designed specifically for tow vehicles with weight ratings down to 5,000 pounds. But don’t be fooled by the diminutive size. Escape trailers are equipped with full galleys, bathrooms and living areas, in addition to oak cabinetry, high-grade linoleum flooring and an insulated headliner. Other impressive standards include two roof vents, LED ceiling lighting, full-surround overhead storage and a holding-tank monitor. Popular options range from appliance upgrades to a stereo, a water filter and a solar charging system.


855-703-1650
www.escapetrailer.com

Happier Camper

 

Happier-Camper5
Happier-CamperSpecs

In addition to offering vintage restored fiberglass rentals, Happier Camper now builds the unique HC1 trailer. The base-price HC1 begins as an empty shell built using bonded double-hull fiberglass with 1.5-inch honeycomb fiberglass flooring. Grooves are embedded in the flooring to accommodate the modular components (think Legos) that will make up the custom floorplan, including a kitchenette, benches, cushions, an AC/DC refrigerator cube, tables, floor panels — there’s even a portable-potty cube. Buyers can configure the layout exactly as they’d like it, and the price is determined by the selected modules. LED lighting comes standard, as do built-in rear stabilizing jacks and an undercarriage-mounted full-size spare tire. Add-ons include compatible comfort heating, stereos, electric fans and moon-style hubcaps.


818-649-9099
www.happiercamper.com

 

Nest Caravans

 

NEST-1
NEST-Specs

A newcomer to the fiberglass-trailer market, Nest Caravans from Bend, Oregon, combines the easy-towing
capabilities of a lighter-weight fiberglass trailer with elegant sophistication and an eye for detail. Nest trailers are available in five color combinations with an array of useful exterior standards, including a nosecone storage box, all-LED exterior lighting, BAL stabilizing jacks and frameless windows. Inside, dimmable switches help control the mood with all-LED lighting, and the galley shimmers with a stainless-steel sink, two-burner cooktop and 3.2-cubic-foot refrigerator. The full-time queen bed can comfortably sleep two. Options include a convertible dinette, natural cork tiles, a microwave and an entertainment system.


541-610-2292
www.nestcaravans.com

 

 

Northern Lite

 

northern-lite
northern-liteSpecs

Another Canadian manufacturer, Northern Lite Manufacturing in Kelowna, British Columbia, builds fiberglass truck campers designed to withstand extreme weather. The company’s top-selling Ten 2000 EX CD SE boasts some impressive features like 95-watt solar panels, a 10-foot side awning, an LCD TV and DVD player, thermal-pane windows and skylight, solid hardwood and more. There’s even a full 14-inch basement with heated and enclosed storage tanks. Sleep like a baby on the 60 x 80-inch queen bed, or take a warm shower in the large bathroom area. Options include an air conditioner, electric jacks, LED lighting in the electric awning, battery-disconnect, an extended patio bumper, and a boat rack and ladder. With a floor length of more than 11 feet, this camper weighs in at 1,400 to 2,000 pounds lighter than comparable conventionally built campers with the same features, offering buyers the best of both worlds.

250-765-3702
www.northern-lite.com

Oliver

 

oliver-1
oliver-Specs

Oliver Travel Trailers offers two fiberglass trailers, the Legacy and Legacy Elite II. “Ollies,” as they’re called, begin at the Tennessee factory with dual fiberglass shells. The shells are then wrapped around a hefty 2 x 5-inch aircraft-grade-aluminum box-tube frame, offering additional rigidity and durability. All holding tanks and components are enclosed between the inner and outer shells for superior insulation benefits and protection from the elements. The 2016 Legacy Elite II has a number of impressive features, from the custom-molded-fiberglass spare-tire and LP-gas cylinder covers to LED lighting, marine-grade stainless-steel cabinet latches and eye-catching interior gelcoat walls and cabinets. Options range from fiber-granite countertops to a solar package, plus a tech-savvy selection that includes Wi-Fi and cell-phone boosters, a rearview camera, and satellite antennas and wiring.

931-796-1178
www.olivertraveltrailers.com

Scamp

 

scamp-1
scamp-Specs

Scamp fiberglass trailers are sold factory-direct in Backus, Minnesota. Available in 13- and 16-foot trailers and a 19-foot fifth-wheel, the nimble RVs are ideal for couples and smaller families on weekend getaways. Scamp has always focused on ease of use and maneuverability. Its trailers are durable, lightweight and aerodynamic, and are designed to be towed by properly equipped small cars, SUVs, minivans and trucks.

The 13-footer is available in Standard or Deluxe (upgraded interior), with a convertible sofa or a shower and toilet up front. The options package that includes the lavatory features a 1.9-cubic-foot refrigerator, a screen door, a water pump, a water heater, a gravel shield and a window above the range. Additional add-ons include cabinet configurations, a 2-inch hitch receiver for bike racks, TV hookups and antenna, and an 8-foot awning.


800-346-4962
www.scamptrailers.com

Weis Craft

 

Weiscraft-1
Weiscraft-Specs

The Little Joe is a lightweight fiberglass trailer that offers two people a comfortable place to stay while on the road. Inside, dual sofas fold down to create the ultimate 78 x 63-inch sleeping area. Although the Little Joe doesn’t have bathroom facilities (those come in Weis Craft’s Ponderosa model for an additional $6,000), a two-burner cooktop and a standard icebox allow for gourmet campsite fare (a refrigerator option is available), and a small freshwater tank lets owners clean up after a long day’s adventure. Options abound in the Little Joe, including a furnace, air conditioning, folding shelves, a three-speed reversible fan and an 8-foot awning. And, chances
are, you already own a vehicle that can haul the Little Joe.


303-947-2351
www.weiscrafttrailers.com/littlejoe

 


 

Plug That Leak

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Flat tires happen at the most inopportune times. Ideally, they should be repaired from the inside out, but in an emergency, that’s not always possible. The Stop & Go Deluxe Tire Plugger is designed for on-the-wheel repair to virtually any tubeless tire, according to the company, and it seals the puncture on the inside. A spring-loaded gun drives the plug into the hole, and the shaft of the plug expands under pressure to fill the puncture. At the same time, the mushroom head of the plug seats on the inner wall, preventing leaks. The kit contains everything needed to repair the tire. Components are easily stored in a hard-sided plastic case with a molded interior that measures 6x9x1 inches and weighs less than 2 pounds.

MSRP: $49.95
815-455-9080 | www.stopngo.com/deluxe-model-tire-plugger


 

Launch Your Fun

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Designed to keep RVing simple and affordable for families on the go, Starcraft’s lightweight Launch can be towed by properly equipped minivans and small SUVs. Five floorplans weighing less than 4,000 pounds include three hard-sided travel trailers — one with a slideout — and two hybrids with tent expandables.

Sleeping capacity ranges from three in the 20-foot 6-inch front-full-bed 17FB and the double-bunk 18BH to up to seven in the larger Launches. Choose between floorplans with bunks that bookend the living space and either a 60×70-inch or 64×74-inch bed. Or opt for the 17SB with a queen bed in the streetside slideout.

ATB-Launch-16RB-2Launch models have glazed hardwood cabinet doors, a 4-cubic-foot Norcold refrigerator, a two-burner range, a 54-inch booth dinette that folds into a bed to sleep one or two, an 18,000-Btu furnace, an 8,000-Btu air conditioner and a 12-volt CD/DVD stereo with USB input. All floorplans have a 20-gallon freshwater tank, and 15-gallon gray- and 9-gallon black-water capacities, with the exception of the family-oriented 19BHS, which has a 26-gallon freshwater tank and 30-gallon gray- and black-water tanks.

An optional Extreme Package for $900 ($1,312 on the 19BHS) includes 5 inches of extra ground clearance and an enclosed underbelly, 15-inch off-road mud tires, Flexfoil insulation in the floor and roof, a front black diamond plate, a double-entry step and an Extreme logo.

Base MSRPs for the entry-level trailers range from $14,363 to $18,531. Included in the price is a one-year Starcraft Roadside Assistance program that provides 24-hour dispatch and unlimited distance towing to the nearest network service facility.

Starcraft RV | 800-945-4787 | www.starcraftrv.com/light-weight/launch

 


 

Texas Is for the Birds

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The Rio Grande Valley attracts almost 500 species of our feathered friends as they nest, breed and migrate in this alluvial plain

A great place to spend the winter is at one of the many RV parks in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. And it is an extraordinary bird-watching location, as evidenced by the fact that it is home to the World Birding Center, a series of nine different birding sites, all located in south Texas and all with tropical bird species unique to the Rio Grande Valley and areas southward. Some of those species include the green jay, the plain chachalaca, the common pauraque and the great kiskadee. It is a major bird migration corridor and the location where two principal flyways — the Central and Mississippi — come together.

At the World Birding Center in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, more than 500 species of birds have been documented, including ones not found in other parts of the country.

At the World Birding Center in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, more than 500 species of birds have been documented, including ones not found in other parts of the country.

One of center’s sites is in the town of Mission, Texas. Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park serves as headquarters for the World Birding Center. The park, which is located near the Texas-Mexico border, is a 797-acre tract that adjoins another 1,700 acres of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land, adding to the already abundant birding opportunities.

The park’s visitor center has an exhibit hall, a store and a meeting room. The butterfly gardens and hummingbird feeders that surround the center attract more colorful wildlife. Visitors can travel through the park by tram, and walk or ride bicycles on 7 miles of trails. Two enclosed blinds allow people to view or photograph birds up close. A wheelchair-accessible two-story observation tower is located at the trail’s end. From there, visitors can see across the border into Mexico while scanning the treetops below for birds and other wildlife.

Winter is a great time to visit Mission and the Rio Grande Valley. So much so that winter RVers are welcomed and called Winter Texans, rather than snowbirds. There are many RV parks within the Rio Grande Valley from which to choose. We stayed at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort adjoining the state park, which has an extremely long list of amenities. It is a 250-site park offering almost anything an RV traveler could want during a stay. Some of the amenities are free Wi-Fi, free long-distance telephone calling within the United States and Canada, free passes into the state park, complimentary bicycles, a pool, a fitness center, birding blinds and a wood shop.


Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort
956-585-5568 | www.bentsenpalm.com/bentsen-palm-village-rv-resort

World Birding Center Headquarters
956-584-9156 | www.theworldbirdingcenter.com

ATB-TX_McAllen_Bentsen_Rio_Grande_Valley-State_Park_Green_Jay-150337 ATB-bird-Green-Jay---Bill-Supulski

 

Imagine This

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Known for its fifth-wheels, Grand Design RV builds a lightweight travel trailer for upscale family fun

Sometimes, the measure of success isn’t what you do right but what you don’t do wrong. In the highly competitive world of trailer manufacturing, where features and amenities must walk a narrow tightrope with affordability, Grand Design (GD) has quickly grown a reputation for doing what its customers want … and not doing what they don’t. It’s a formula that has worked for fifth-wheels like the company’s Reflection, Solitude and Momentum, and one GD no doubt hopes will work for its new lightweight travel trailer, the Imagine.

The elegant kitchen offers stainless-steel appliances and good counter and cabinet space. Positioned above a roomy wardrobe next to the refrigerator, the TV is angled down, facing the couch.

The elegant kitchen offers stainless-steel appliances and good counter and cabinet space. Positioned above a roomy wardrobe next to the refrigerator, the TV is angled down, facing the couch.

This 2800BH floorplan (the only one available at press time) focuses on the wildly popular bunkhouse layout, with two bunks at the rear suitable for sleeping a couple of youngsters each, or one not-so-youngster preteen each. The success of these layouts, of course, is the execution, and GD certainly hasn’t done anything wrong here. The rear bunks are sturdy, and the thin but comfortable mattresses are covered with a soft, plush material. GD thoughtfully puts a window at each bunk so the kids can observe their surroundings at first light, and each window has its own heavy vinyl covering and privacy curtain for bedtime. One thing to consider is that the foot of the bunks is tapered to allow the rear bathroom door to open, which means that if two kids are to sleep on each bunk, the shorter of the two is going to have to sleep on the side against the bathroom wall.

Only a couple of areas in the bunkhouse could use some improvement. The ladder is strong and very securely mounted to the bunks, which is great; however, a handle for kids to hold onto as they ascend to the upper bunk would make getting there easier and safer. And the fact that the ladder is permanently mounted in the vertical position means it’s difficult to get back down; kids are more likely to jump with an alarming thump in the night. Lights and power outlets are at the foot of each bed, which is OK, but the ideal solution would be to place a light at the foot of each bed, then put a secondary light at the back, overhead, along with the power outlet. That way, the kids could read or play on the laptop or tablet while lying in bed.

Underneath the two bunks is an open area with a bungee net at the bottom to stop stowed goods from shifting during travel. It works as intended, but it would be nice if the net had clearly marked hooks on it; right now, if you don’t pay attention to how it’s mounted, it’s difficult to put it back in the right position.

Grand-DesignFloorplanGD’s designers are masters of creating a high-end look and feel, and this is true even in this lightweight, budget-priced unit. The dark-brown cabinets provide elegant contrast against vinyl flooring that looks like travertine and laminate counters and table that look like marble. The matching dark furniture has white stitching, and the upper cabinets have white plastic panels and brushed-nickel handles. The appliances all have stainless-steel fronts, except the vent hood. Even the sink, which is plastic, is silver instead of white, and the plastic faucet is high-rise and finished to look like brushed nickel. LED lighting and multiuse fabric shades are used throughout. There is no question that the look is successful, but we wonder if it’s the right one for a family-oriented trailer. Right now, it looks like an executive lounge rather than a cozy camper, which will be viewed as either a welcome change or a head scratcher by traditional RVers.

Grand-DesignSpecsThe bathroom is conveniently located right next to the kids’ bunks, and it has all the essentials including a large fiberglass shower enclosure with shelves and an interesting shower-curtain arrangement. The cloth is secured to a semicircular rail at the top, and at the end it has a metal rail that stays in place courtesy of a magnet. It’s a clever, low-cost solution that is better than a traditional shower curtain and perhaps even a door. The rail at the top causes the curtain to bow out so it doesn’t stick to your body and provides more room to move around. We spilled nary a drop of water out of the shower during testing, so it gets a thumbs up from us. Plus, the fabric is a nice-looking material, rather than the common plastic sheet.

Next to the shower is a tall, narrow cabinet with four deep cubbies that are large enough to stow washcloths, towels and sundry items, and the opposing sink cabinet has more shelves along the wall, plus there’s more storage underneath the sink and in the mirrored medicine cabinet. The Thetford toilet is plastic to save weight, but it works well and is positioned in a corner, so there is plenty of legroom. The ceiling fan kept the area well ventilated, and logically placed switches inside the doorway activate the overhead light. All in all, it’s an efficient, usable space. The only thing we’d wish for, which we would wish for in every trailer, is a switch for the water pump in the bathroom, just in case you forget to turn it on when you come in the door.

The street side of the trailer has a large slideout that houses a sofa and a U-shaped dinette large enough for four (or possibly six) that converts into a bed for two. The couch is comfortable and nice looking, and the trifold bed suits its intended purpose of accommodating two more guests. It is also directly across from the entertainment center, featuring a Furrion combo CD/DVD player/stereo system and an LCD television angled toward the couch, which made us wish for the theater-seating option.

Behind the TV is another storage area with a bungee net that would be a good place to stow additional blankets or sleeping bags for the kids’ bunks. Underneath the TV is a large double-door cabinet with a removable shelf on one side to accommodate hanging clothes.

With the couch and dinette converted into beds, the 2800BH can sleep up to 10.

With the couch and dinette converted into beds, the 2800BH can sleep up to 10.

The dinette is adequate for mealtime and has dual posts so it is reasonably stable. However, only the ends of the U configuration are really comfortable for adults; the middle section (which doubles as an ottoman) has a shorter seat cushion, and shorter, thinly padded backrest, so only kids will be comfortable there. We appreciated the overhead light with a manual switch and the 120-volt AC power outlet at the seat base, so the dinette can function as a desk.

The kitchen is pretty traditional, other than the stainless-steel embellishments we mentioned earlier, with some notable exceptions. There is a huge drawer underneath the oven and a good-size double-door cabinet underneath the refrigerator for less oft-used items. Underneath that cabinet is a low-profile drawer that contains — get this — bowls for pet food and water. This is a thoughtful touch and a good use of otherwise wasted space. The only suggestion we would make here is that the drawer should have a plastic liner (almost like a utensil drawer at home) so the wood can’t get wet when Rover gets sloppy with his drinking. This would also allow the liner to be removed and washed when needed.

 In the forward bedroom, mirrored wardrobes flank the queen-size bed.

In the forward bedroom, mirrored wardrobes flank the queen-size bed.

Moving toward the front of the kitchen, there is a cabinet with sliding shelves for utensils and other items like foil or plastic wrap, plus overhead cabinets for dishes, plates, etc. The cabinet beneath the sink is large and has a single shelf in the middle. It would be nice if there were a cutout for a trashcan, but you could probably make this modification yourself if you found it necessary.

The forward bedroom is adequately sized for this type of trailer and continues GD’s elegant style. The champagne-colored bedspread has the sheen of satin and pairs nicely with the dark furniture and padded faux-leather headboard. Small mirrored wardrobes on either side have drawers and power outlets underneath and cabinets and reading lights above. We were happy to find a roomy storage compartment underneath the bed with a forward section that is easily supported by gas struts. We were able to stow a large suitcase as well as a camera bag and sleeping bag there with no problems.

When the weather is nice, you can bring the party outside with the outdoor kitchen. The two-burner stove slides out in a drawer and is reminiscent of a camp stove with its fold-up wind guards. The small refrigerator has enough room for mealtime food and cold drinks. Exterior speakers keep the party going with your favorite tunes.

When the weather is nice, you can bring the party outside with the outdoor kitchen. The two-burner stove slides out in a drawer and is reminiscent of a camp stove with its fold-up wind guards. The small refrigerator has enough room for mealtime food and cold drinks. Exterior speakers keep the party going with your favorite tunes.

Utility-wise, the Imagine is also effective. The tank monitor and light switches are right inside the door, although we wish these were a little larger and easier to see and read. And the thermostat control is right across from the entryway, next to the bathroom door. We didn’t have occasion to use the furnace during our summer testing, but the single air-conditioning unit worked flawlessly and had no trouble keeping the trailer cool and comfortable on humid, mid-80-degree days.

The outside appearance of this trailer is understated; its plain-white gel-coat exterior with uninspired graphics certainly doesn’t tell you this lightweight is anything special. A graphic treatment reminiscent of the other products from the GD family would be a better match for the interior design. However, the exterior works pretty well from a functional standpoint. We liked the sturdy aluminum entry steps and power A-frame jack. The power awning with LED light strip, outdoor kitchen (with a refrigerator and two-burner stove) and exterior speakers made for a pleasant place to hang out and enjoy balmy afternoons.

The rear bunks have plenty of room for two kids each and storage space underneath for blankets, pillows and the like.

The rear bunks have plenty of room for two kids each and storage space underneath for blankets, pillows and the like.

We also appreciated the large forward storage compartment, which features a utility center on the street side designed to mimic those used in high-end fifth-wheels. It offers connections for city water and cable, but the sewer connection and dump valves are at the opposite end of the trailer, which means you might need a long water hose and cable. The leveling jacks, which were manufactured (poorly) in China, did not fit in with the rest of the componentry and weren’t mounted securely to the trailer. If this were our personal trailer, these would be replaced immediately with more sturdy BAL jacks and mounted with suitable hardware.

 

Overall, however, we were happy with GD’s first lightweight effort, and we think it is a solid contender in the category — in other words, it’s just what we would expect from Grand Design.

 

Grand Design Recreational Vehicles 574-825-9679, www.granddesignrv.com

Grand Design Recreational Vehicles
574-825-9679 | www.granddesignrv.com


 

Garage to Go

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Livin’ Lite’s aluminum-frame toy hauler can take the abuse doled out by motorized sports enthusiasts

 

In the world of travel trailers, the majority of models appear alike, no matter how hard you look. Typically, floorplan manipulation, technology updates for entertainment and appliances, and maybe a component or two for the frame and suspension are embraced, but rarely does a manufacturer actually take a whole new approach. Those who are familiar with the Livin’ Lite brand of RVs already know that the company dove right in to building an entirely different type of trailer, taking a smaller and lighter approach.

Aluminum is the major building material for this toy hauler. Even the inside has an aluminum look, and although earmarked for the minimalist with a passion for the outdoors, it’s quite livable.

Aluminum is the major building material for this toy hauler. Even the inside has an aluminum look, and although earmarked for the minimalist with a passion for the outdoors, it’s quite livable.

The game changer for Livin’ Lite is aluminum. The company crafts its trailers using aluminum tubing for more than 90 percent of the structure, across the entire line of models. In fact, only a handful of materials contain steel or composites, like the axles, steps, inner-wall panels and stabilizer jacks. Even the cabinetry is made of rugged aluminum.

The company’s Axxess 8.5x30FBED ultralight toy hauler is no different. Doubled-up and welded 2-inch x 5-inch rectangular aluminum tubing main-frame rails run fore and aft and connect to — you guessed it — an all-aluminum hitch-ball coupler. The company elected to use Dexter independent torsion suspension axles in place of the typical solid axle and leaf spring setup, which works efficiently with the all-aluminum frame. Above the frame is interlocking Aluma-Plank floor decking, which, unlike traditional wood, offers long-term performance minus the fear of rotting or sagging.

Livin-Lite-Axxess-FloorplanCompleting the alloy infrastructure is a network of aluminum tubing welded together to form the walls and cabinetry, which tie directly into the aluminum roof rafters. Wrapping things up, literally, is a wind-cutting exterior shape using what the company calls Hi-Polished Screwless “Chrome” Sidewalls, along with a custom graphics package. Walls are insulated with lightweight block foam.

Inside, the Axxess is all toy hauler, featuring specialized aluminum flooring surrounded by simple but clean-looking Azdel wallboards. The gray toned wallboards are mounted 10 inches from the floor so owners can hose out the interior’s entire floor should they track in dirt and mud.

HappiJac double queen beds are an option on the 8.5x30FBED.

HappiJac double queen beds are an option on the 8.5x30FBED.

It’s immediately noticeable that the inside of this trailer is designed for the minimalist who has an active outdoor lifestyle. In the kitchen area, a molded composite counter in an L-shape stretches out just enough to get the job done. Equipped with a deep single-basin sink, a tall faucet and a twin-burner cooktop, the kitchen has adequate space for prep work. Over the cooktop is a convection/microwave, and an assortment of aluminum cabinets follows the L-shape of the counter. At the end of the cabinetry stands a 5-cubic-foot three-way Dometic refrigerator.

Without purchasing the optional Full Throttle package, that’s it on the furniture side of things, except for the bedroom. Again, the toy hauler is designed for weight savings, not hanging out and relaxing. Should you choose to order the Full Throttle package, the living area and garage are outfitted with a sofa/bed and a fold-up dinette that can be converted into a bed.

Livin-Lite-Axxess-InfoUp front, the master bedroom has a queen-size mattress, surrounded by cabinets that follow the radius of the front wall. Opposing nightstands, each with a convenient drawer, are part of the aluminum cabinetry.

Tying directly into the bedroom is the amply spaced bathroom. Aside from the large garage, the bathroom is really the only other sizable asset aboard the Axxess 30-footer. Although not loaded with fancy plumbing or hardware, the bathroom is big enough to take advantage of the standard issue RV shower stall, foot-flush toilet and basic sink resting atop the composite counter and aluminum cabinet combo.

Of course, the business end of this trailer is its healthily portioned garage. The garage begins at the rear spring-balanced ramp/door, which uses no cables or head springs, and provides a very smooth and easy lift. At approximately 16 feet to the far end of the kitchen and about 10 feet 6 inches to the refrigerator, there’s more than sufficient storage for nearly any toy out there (with attention given to weight), especially with a little creative arranging. The Full Throttle package includes a handful of other items that improve livability and storage in the garage area.

The L-shaped galley has a composite counter, two-burner cooktop and single-basin sink with a high-rise faucet.

The L-shaped galley has a composite counter, two-burner cooktop and single-basin sink with a high-rise faucet.

As far as toy haulers go, there are a number of choices and options out there, depending on your budget. The Axxess 8.5x30FBED is a frill-free but functional trailer with a nearly indestructible build process and use of materials that will stand up to the type of punishment expected when hauling motorized toys. Although it could use a little more standard equipment, the Axxess still delivers plenty of oohs and ahhs for those looking for toy-hauling practicality in a lightweight trailer that can be easily towed.

Axxess toy haulers come in lengths from 20 to 30 feet with MSRPs from $35,000 to $49,000.

Livin’ Lite | 260-593-3850 | www.livinlite.com

 


 

Braving the Yukon

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Spending the winter in an R-pod trailer gave this retired sportswriter a new perspective on cold weather

As a reasonably rational and recently retired sportswriter who blew out 68 candles on his last birthday, I would never have planned a winter camping trip to Canada’s Yukon territory and would have scoffed at the mention of it. Retirees are supposed to morph into snowbirds and spend the winters in warm climates such as Arizona, Belize or Machu Picchu but not next door to Alaska in sight of the Arctic Circle where the thermometer plunges to minus-40 degrees Celsius (coincidentally, minus-40 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale) sometime between the equinoxes (September 20 to March 20), possibly for an extended time.

yukon-5

There are strange things done

In the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold.

The Arctic trails

Have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold….

-Robert Service, “Bard of the Yukon”

In fact, my only son, a 36-year-old Whitehorse geologist who gave me three good reasons to spend the summer camping in the Yukon — aged 7, 5 and 3 — was of the opinion that it was not possible.

I agreed it wasn’t smart, but anything is possible if you set your mind to it and approach it with the right attitude. The more he told me it couldn’t be done, the more I wanted to do it, not necessarily to prove him wrong but mostly out of curiosity. I wanted to see if it was possible to outfox Mother Nature. It sounded more interesting than turning into Jimmy Buffet and running for mayor of Margaritaville on some Caribbean beach.

My plan was very simple. The Inuit spent thousands of years defeating the winter forces of nature by building igloos out of ice and snow. All I had to do to win the game was to turn my little R-pod trailer into an igloo, which it sort of resembles anyway. When I told my son my plan, he shook his head sadly, as if he was digesting his dear Daddy’s dementia for the first time, and said with a resigned chuckle, “Well, take a lot pictures so we can display them at the funeral.”

Plan A was to literally build an igloo out of blocks of snow around the trailer, covering everything but the windows and door and furnace intake/exhaust, but Yukon snow is usually so dry you can’t even roll up a decent snowman with the kids. It’s more like sugar, which meant I would have to build forms and add water to get a solid building block, and I would be at the mercy of the chinooks all winter, even if I was successful. Chinooks, also called Pineapple Express, are sudden Pacific lows that come from Hawaii several times every winter and warm up all of northern Canada, usually well above freezing. A weeklong chinook would make my igloo/trailer look like a Slurpee in a microwave, so I went to Plan B, which was Styrofoam.

A local Whitehorse building-supply company, Kilrich, had a fire sale on some great insulation called Enviro-Shield that got partly damaged in its yard by a windstorm.

Most of that pile of insulation (below left) ended up in the geologist’s backyard waiting for future construction projects.

Most of that pile of insulation ended up in the geologist’s backyard waiting for future construction projects. Photos by Doug Sack

It took only two sheets, 3 inches thick, to skirt around the bottom and hold Mother Nature at bay — with a little help from three space heaters, 10 jugs of propane and a lot of snow.

It took only two sheets, 3 inches thick, to skirt around the bottom and hold Mother Nature at bay — with a little help from three space heaters, 10 jugs of propane and a lot of snow.

The aging sportswriter snuggled warmly inside his igloo on New Year’s Day

The aging sportswriter snuggled warmly inside his igloo on New Year’s Day.

I picked up enough to igloo the whole trailer for $290, including some 3-inch-thick insulation to skirt the bottom all around, which is crucial to keeping out the cold. The skirting went so well and made such a difference in the warmth of the floor, it made me wonder if I even needed to bother covering the whole thing, so I postponed putting it on but kept it handy in case I started losing the battle and needed it to get to spring. As the snow increased over the winter, I would just keep piling it up against the outside walls with a shovel at no cost, minimal labor and maximum insulation. Nothing insulates better than snow, and it disappears in the spring when you’re done with it.

All of that was the Outside Plan, and it was solid, but the Inside Plan was more important because inside is where I planned to live in comfort for the winter, and my definition of comfort is not complicated: If it’s warm enough inside to read, write, sleep and eat dressed in nothing but boxer shorts and a T-shirt, bring on the margaritas. If I have to wear long johns, wool socks and a hoodie inside to stay warm, make some adjustments. It was easy to gauge success or failure on that score without using the Frostbite Factor. I kept meticulous track of how long a 5-gallon propane cylinder lasted.

The goal for the long winter was to make a jug of LP-gas last a month by insulating the outside and taking the pressure off the furnace inside with small ceramic space heaters, which I purchased for $30 each at Canadian Tire. With those strategically placed, one pointed at the bed, one at the thermostat and one under the kitchen table, it was just a matter of watching the temperatures drop during autumn and making small adjustments as it got colder.

When the first cold snap arrived the last two weeks of November, dropping the thermometer to minus-26 degrees C (minus-15 degrees F), I started to learn things about my plans and whether I was going to flourish or freeze when minus-40 degrees C came to town surfing the North Wind.

For instance, at minus-10 degrees C (14 degrees F), the space heaters kept the inside of the trailer warm enough, and the furnace was dormant. At minus-15 degrees C (5 degrees F), I got a burn ratio of 30:1, which means the furnace needed to burn for two minutes to keep me warm for an hour; at minus-20 degrees C (minus-4 degrees F), the ratio was 5:1, and at minus-25 degrees C (minus-13 degrees F), it was 2:1 or 30 minutes of furnace burn for an hour of warmth. These numbers, which I calculated with the stopwatch on my iPhone, told me that everything from minus-30 degrees C to minus-40 degrees C was going to require a 1:1 ratio or a full-on furnace burn to stay warm. I was fine with that, as long as we didn’t stumble into one of those nine-week brain-shrinkers, which used to happen every winter but don’t anymore, thanks to global warming and more chinooks.

The whole secret to surviving a Yukon winter is utilizing the daylight hours when there are six hours of daylight and four hours of sunshine before 18 hours of darkness. Cabin fever, or trailer fever in my case, is far more dangerous than cold temperatures. My solution was to walk 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) around the campground every day between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and talk to the trees.

Yukon-in-RpodPaperNoteOf course, having three energetic little grandkids just 32 kilometers (about 20 miles) away helped. In fact, they made the trailer more of a safe haven than anything else. “Peace and quiet” became my mantra, since there was none of it at their house in Riverdale but plenty at Takhini Hot Springs, which we renamed Walden Pond because, like Thoreau, I was the only inhabitant for most of the winter. My solitude was disturbed only a few times by lost snowbirds from Alaska who wandered through like frozen zombies in search of the sun.

Finally, after the balmy December, the first minus-30- degree C morning arrived with the full moon — coincidentally, on my birthday. I was pleased to learn the burn ratio was only 1.5:1, or four minutes of furnace for six minutes of warmth, which projected to 1:1 for minus-35 degrees C and minus-40 degrees C, if it ever got that cold. Temperatures as low as minus-40 degrees C are quite common for the majority of the Yukon but unusual for Whitehorse, which is known as the Banana Belt because it is only 100 miles, as the raven flies, from the Pacific Ocean, which kisses the shore of Skagway, Alaska, and sends warm air over the mountains to the Yukon plateau. It also sends the heaviest snowfalls in North America, but most of that drops out before reaching Whitehorse.

However, at minus-30 degrees C on my birthday morning, I quickly discarded my boxers for long johns, pulled on wool socks and bought a hoodie for my bald spot. The coldest temps always come on clear days because, in northern Canada, winter clouds are a sign of warmth and, usually, snow.

Once past the Solstice, the forces of darkness are no longer much of a threat, as the sun comes back in a hurry in late January and February, and cold snaps are like a bully losing his bluster, but there are still demons out there waiting to ambush the unwary before the freedom of spring and the frivolity of summer.

Yukon-in-RpodPaperNote2After the five-day cold snap to open 2015, January laid down like an exhausted old man, and we had what amounted to a 16-day chinook, as temperatures climbed near zero, and the snow held off until January 21 when a good foot of angel dust rolled in from Skagway and blanketed southern Yukon with a wet, heavy dump perfect for building snow sculptures and igloos. Finally, I had enough free insulation to complete the iglooization of the trailer, just in time for the third cold snap of the winter, which arrived like a freight train overnight on January 26 and 27.

But this time I was prepared for it and even felt a bit disdainful and disrespectful after nearly three weeks of balmy temps. The temperature went south of minus-20 degrees C on January 26, peaked at minus-33 degrees C and stayed there until February 11. It lasted 16 days, karmic retribution, but there was some relief in the late afternoons as the sun started climbing higher and higher over the southern mountains. After February 1, the sun started coming back like a tsunami of daylight, the days quickly lengthened, and I started to think I could smell spring, even with a plugged nose and a weak imagination. Some people say beating a Yukon winter is just a game of mind over matter, but I’m not that philosophical after three months of darkness.

I think it’s all about the sun, or the lack of same. I’m a dedicated sun worshipper, and there just isn’t anything to worship on both sides of the Solstice, which is why I love February and loathe November. November sucks the last of the life out of a dying sun, but February gives it back. It might be the shortest and quickest month of the year, but it plays huge every year in the annual battle against the forces of darkness and evil. February wears winter down, then March kicks it in the butt, and April, the joker or fool’s month, makes a mess of everything with spring runoff, which is actually just the tears of a dying winter melting away like the Wicked Witch of the North in The Wizard of Oz.

Then February warmed up again at the end, and winter died as suddenly as the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Before the Equinox on March 20, I was pulling off the skirting and preparing the R-pod for spring camping and summer gold mining.

All I had to do to win the game was to turn my little R-pod trailer into an igloo


Will I ever do it again? Probably not: Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. This winter I want to be farther south, but I haven’t decided yet whether to spend it in Homer, Alaska, or Haida Gwaii, British Columbia. Both are on the ocean, south of the St. Elias Mountains, isolated and frost-free.

I’ll either flip a coin to make the call or just follow the radiator cap and see where it leads me.

And, finally, it helped that the winter of 2014 and 2015 was the warmest in the history of recorded Alaskan and Yukon weather…but that’s another story.

 


 

Sweet ’16s

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Looking for a new pickup? From upgraded features to more powerful engines and added models, 2016 offers something for every truck buyer

 

Pickup trucks used to be a lot like wheelbarrows — an essential tool for heavy work but not necessarily something you’d want to ride around town in. They had bench seats, heavy steering and a stiff suspension, and if you wanted air conditioning, well, you rolled down the window. If we could have peered through a porthole into the future back then, we’d be amazed to see what the humble pickup has become — not just an immensely capable machine for work or recreation but one so versatile and good looking it could be used as the sole family vehicle. Heavy-duty or midsize, basic or leather-lined, the pickup has gradually morphed from faithful family friend into a status symbol, and every company that builds a truck is vying for market leadership.

The Ram 3500 ups the ante once again this year with best-in-class power, towing capacity and payload.

The Ram 3500 ups the ante once again this year with best-in-class power, towing capacity and payload.

Each model year, almost without fail, we say that the current year is a good one to shop for a new truck. That’s because there are so many new offerings, so many improvements, it seems like things really can’t get much better for truck buyers. And then they do. For 2016, the story is much the same — additional content, more capability, new engines and even some all-new models. So, is this the best year ever to consider a new truck? Probably. Will they be even better next year? We have little doubt. Here’s the latest:

 

Ram

In a sort of model-year mash-up, the Ram 1500 received two midyear 2015 offerings that will continue into the 2016 model year: the Ram 1500 Rebel and the Ram 1500 Limited. The Rebel is an off-road-focused model featuring a new blacked-out grille, skid plate, tow hooks, Bilstein shocks and 33-inch Toyo tires on 17-inch aluminum wheels. Available exclusively as a crew cab model with a 5-foot 7-inch bed length, the Rebel is offered in two- or four-wheel drive with either a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 or a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The Ram Rebel features off-road styling similar to the Power Wagon but on a lighter-duty 1500 platform. Standard are 33-inch mud terrain tires.

The Ram Rebel features
off-road styling similar to the Power Wagon but on a lighter-duty 1500 platform. Standard are 33-inch mud terrain tires.

Billed as a “black tie” luxury alternative to the Southwestern-themed Laramie Longhorn, the Limited offers exterior details like an all-new grille, unique 20-inch wheels, additional chrome accents and a chrome Ram tailgate logo. Inside its sumptuous cab, the big Limited features all-black full-leather seating, Black Argento wood inserts and matching Berber carpet inserts.

Ram 2500 and 3500 trucks are also available with the Limited treatment, but, more importantly, they continue to up the HD ante with a best-in-class tow rating of 32,210 pounds and the most torque at a whopping 900 lb-ft when the high-output 6.7-liter Cummins diesel is specified.

 

Chevy/GMC

The Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra benefit from a minor restyle that includes a more contemporary front fascia with LED running lights.

The Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra benefit from a minor restyle that includes a more contemporary front fascia with LED running lights.

The biggest news at GM comes from its smallest truck, the recently reintroduced Chevy Colorado, and its sibling, the GMC Canyon. Although the truck is essentially unchanged for 2016 (save for some minor interior details), RVers will likely be interested in the new 2.8-liter Duramax four-cylinder diesel, which should be available by the time you read this. Considering the 2.5-liter gasoline four-cylinder already has an EPA rating of 27 mpg highway, it’s not unreasonable to expect 30-plus mpg from the diesel — and with 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque on tap (100 lb-ft more than the available 3.6-liter gas V-6), it should at least match the truck’s current top tow rating of 7,000 pounds.

Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon will offer a 2.8-liter Duramax diesel that should top 30 mpg highway and tow at least 7,000 pounds.

Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon will offer a 2.8-liter Duramax diesel that should top 30 mpg highway and tow at least 7,000 pounds.

The half-ton Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra receive minor exterior updates for 2016, including a more sculpted hood and a contemporary headlight treatment incorporating LED running lights. On the functional side, expect the expanded use of eight-speed automatic transmissions in an effort to further improve fuel economy. The heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 trucks will likewise receive similar updates to the headlights and grille, as well as a couple of welcome RV-specific details — namely, an available fifth-wheel/gooseneck Trailering Prep Package (available later in the year), Active Steering Assist (improves steering feel and reduces pull on crowned roads) and the adoption of SAE J2807 trailering standards. Inside the comfy cabin, the Chevy MyLink/GMC IntelliLink system is offered with a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen and a faster processor, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

 

All-new just last year, the Ford F-150 carries on for 2016 essentially unchanged from a design standpoint.

All-new just last year, the Ford F-150 carries on for 2016 essentially unchanged from a design standpoint.

Ford

With trailer-towing innovations like integrated trailer-brake control, trailer-sway control and dynamic hitch assist, the best-selling F-150 already makes trailering easy — but for 2016, Ford raises the bar yet another notch with its all-new Pro Trailer Backup Assist (PTBA) system. When backing up, the driver simply turns a knob to indicate the direction he or she wishes to go, instead of the often-confusing reverse-steering method we’re all familiar with. The system automatically steers the truck the desired amount and limits vehicle speed to make backing safer and easier. Video demonstrations (search “Pro Trailer Backup Assist” on YouTube) show the driver towing a boat, but it’s not hard to imagine how useful this system could be when backing a trailer into a tight campground space. Ford engineers used advanced camera technology to develop the system’s trailer tracking system strategy and tested PTBA for nearly a decade before its official introduction this year. Otherwise, the F-150 is essentially unchanged, save for some appearance packages on the XLT and Lariat trim levels.

New this year, Ford’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist takes the guesswork out of backing your trailer. Just turn this knob the direction you want to go, and the truck does the rest.

New this year, Ford’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist takes the guesswork out of backing your trailer. Just turn this knob the direction you want to go, and the truck does the rest.

The Ford Super Duty lineup is likewise carryover, but the top dog F-450 now has a fifth-wheel tow rating of 26,500 pounds and a gross combination weight rating of 40,400 pounds.

 

Nissan

You’ve been hearing about it for years, and now it’s finally here: the Nissan Titan XD with an available 5.0-liter Cummins turbodiesel V-8 engine. All new for 2016, the Titan XD starts with a fully boxed ladder frame that has been extensively reinforced and strengthened for added stiffness, vertical/lateral bending and torsional rigidity. The suspension is pretty traditional truck stuff, incorporating a double-wishbone arrangement with a stabilizer bar up front and a straight axle out back with leaf springs and twin-tube shock absorbers.
Nissan is still being coy about capabilities but maintains that the Titan XD will have a payload of more than 2,000 pounds and an SAE J2807-compliant tow rating of more than 12,000 pounds when properly equipped. That’s a lot of weight to bring to a stop, so the XD is outfitted with 14.2-inch discs up front and 14.4-inch rear with ABS. Buyers will have a choice of 17-, 18- or 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels wrapped in LT245/75R17, LT275/65R18 or LT265/60R20 tires, respectively.

For decades, when you heard “Cummins,” you thought “Dodge.” This year, you’ll be able to find a Cummins turbodiesel V-8 powering the new Nissan Titan XD.

For decades, when you heard “Cummins,” you thought “Dodge.”
This year, you’ll be
able to find a Cummins turbodiesel V-8 powering the new Nissan Titan XD.

Nissan has also been reluctant to release output numbers for the new Cummins powerplant but allows that it is the first commercial application of the new M2 two-stage turbo system, which helps reduce traditional turbo-lag through precision balancing between high-pressure and low-pressure turbos. Utilizing a compacted graphite iron (CGI) block and aluminum cylinder heads, the double overhead cam engine will reportedly produce about 45 percent more torque at cruising speed than similar-size gasoline V-8 engines and 20 percent better fuel economy when towing heavy loads. The engine will be backed by a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission developed and engineered specifically for the Titan XD. The Titan will also be offered with V-8 and V-6 engines, but details on these were not available at press time.

Of particular interest to RVers are an Integrated Trailer Brake Controller, Trailer Sway Control (TSC), Tow/Haul Mode with Downhill Speed Control and a handy Trailer Light Check system that allows one-person to verify the operation of turn signals, brake lights and running/clearance lights from inside the Titan’s cab. The system also includes Moving Object Detection (MOD), designed to help the driver detect moving objects such as vehicles, shopping carts or other large objects when backing out via an on-screen notification and warning chime.

The Nissan Titan XD promises to be one of the most capable half-ton trucks on the market when it finally bows this year.

The Nissan Titan XD promises to be one of the most capable half-ton trucks on the market when it finally bows this year.

The Titan XD will offer several hitches, including an integrated gooseneck hitch built into the frame, in addition to a suite of available advanced driving aids that include a RearView Monitor and Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection, Blind Spot Warning (BSW), front and rear sonar parking system and a tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS).

The Titan XD’s controversial exterior styling appears to borrow heavily from Ford and Dodge light-duty trucks, and it cribs a few features from its full-size competitors as well, albeit with some unique tweaks. For example, dual lockable in-bed storage boxes are available, but unlike other similar systems, these can be accessed from inside the bed without having to remove a camper shell or tonneau cover. They are also removable when extra bed capacity is required. Other familiar features include a 120-volt AC power outlet in the bed and an easy-lift/lower tailgate, plus Nissan innovations like a factory spray-in bedliner and thoughtful touches like flush-mounted LED bedrail lighting.

 

Toyota


Toyota has always led the midsize-pickup pack with its Tacoma, but when the Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon and Dodge Dakota left the party, it was sitting pretty. Even with dated engines/transmissions and lackluster fuel economy, it easily maintained its number one spot against its sole rival, the Nissan Frontier. However, with the impending return of the Colorado/Canyon, Toyota figured it was time for a much-needed update of the Tacoma to keep it on top.

The Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road grade includes hardcore features like Multi-Terrain Select, Crawl Control and a locking rear differential for extra capability when the pavement ends.

The Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road grade includes hardcore features like Multi-Terrain Select, Crawl Control and a locking rear differential for extra capability when the pavement ends.

Developed in part by the Toyota engineering team at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the new truck features a high-strength steel frame to enhance overall rigidity and an all-new 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle V-6 with VVT-iW (Variable Valve Timing with Intelligent Wider Intake) and Toyota’s D-4S technology, which incorporates both direct and port fuel injection. At 278 horsepower, it trails GM’s top offering (305 horsepower) but offers an increase of 42 horsepower over the previous V-6 along with 265 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm. The 2.7-liter four-cylinder carries on essentially unchanged. Both engines will be paired with a new six-speed automatic transmission, and for those that prefer to row their own, the V-6 also offers a new six-speed manual and a carryover five-speed manual. When equipped with the V-6 Tow Package, the new Tacoma can tow up to 6,800 pounds (per the SAE J2807 tow standard), an increase of 300 pounds over the previous V-6.

As before, the Tacoma is all about choice, offering five model grades (SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off Road and Limited) and 29 configurations in its two cab types, the extended Access Cab and four-door Double Cab. Each cab will be available in 4×2 and 4×4 configurations.

The new exterior is complemented by an all-new, quieter interior that offers an array of available features, including Qi wireless charging, Smart Key with pushbutton start, leather-trimmed seats, power tilt/slide moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, touchscreen audio and blind-spot monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

All Tacoma 4×4 models are equipped with 4WDemand part-time 4WD with an electronically controlled transfer case and an Automatic Limited Slip Differential (Auto LSD), while Tacoma TRD Sport models are equipped with sport-tuned shocks. But if you really plan to travel off the beaten path, the TRD Off-Road grade adds a number of hard-core features borrowed from the legendary Land Cruiser and 4Runner Trail. The Multi-Terrain Select system (automatic transmission only) allows the driver to optimize traction over a variety of surfaces by selecting loose rock, mud or sand; each input regulates wheelspin by adjusting throttle and brake inputs. Additional off-road features include a locking rear differential, Hill Start Assist Control, Active Traction Control and Crawl Control.

Optional on V-6 models is a Class IV hitch receiver with a transmission oil cooler, 130-amp alternator (manual transmission only), four- and seven-pin connector and Trailer-Sway Control.

Sources


Ford | www.ford.com/new-trucks
Chevrolet | www.chevrolet.com/trucks
GMC | www.gmc.com
Nissan | www.nissanusa.com/trucks/2016-titan
Ram | www.ramtrucks.com
Toyota | www.toyota.com/tacoma

 


 

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Fifteen tips for an epic RV trip to nine North American national parks

Maybe you can relate. You and your partner brainstorm trip ideas and come up with a plan. Pretty soon, details intrude, and the final plan looks nothing like the one you started with. For my wife and me, what began as an RV trip to the Canadian Rockies from our home base in the San Francisco Bay area turned into more, much to our delight.
We squeezed a 4,000-mile loop into 30 days, visiting Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks on the U.S. side of the border, then touring Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Glacier national parks in western Canada, and finishing with Olympic and Redwood national parks back on home soil. A magazine feature can’t cover all of these destinations in depth, but it can provide some inspiration and useful tips, should you wish to attempt a similar trek in your RV.

 

Grand Teton National Park

 Hiking trails abound in Grand Teton National Park. Always carry bear spray, as both grizzlies and black bears call this area home.

Hiking trails abound in Grand Teton National Park. Always carry bear spray, as both grizzlies and black bears call this area home.

The main attraction of this relatively small Wyoming national park is the jagged peaks of the Teton Range, and they are definitely worth at least an overnight stop (see “Autumn in the Grand Tetons” in the September 2015 issue for more details).

Tip 1. If your rig is 30 feet or shorter, camp at the park’s Signal Mountain Campground on Jenny Lake and take some of the hikes from there. The Jenny Lake Loop Trail is a good one at just over 7 miles.

Tip 2. Vehicles pulled to the side of the road signify a four-legged attraction. Stay at a safe distance when taking photos, and do not leave your vehicle to take a picture of a bear.

 

Yellowstone National Park

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park has a visitor center, restaurants, the remnants of an old fort, interesting trails and photogenic topography.

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park has a visitor center, restaurants, the remnants of an old fort, interesting trails and photogenic topography.

The much larger Yellowstone is adjacent to Grand Teton. Spreading into Idaho and Montana but located mostly in Wyoming, Yellowstone is famous for its geysers and wildlife, and rightly so. Old Faithful performs as advertised, and those bison we’ve all seen in photos do saunter down the roads in no particular hurry. To get an overview, drive the Grand Loop Road (actually two loops shaped like a figure eight), then return to some of the trails and sights encountered along the way. Mammoth Hot Springs is a must.

Tip 3. In the park, camp at Madison Campground. It’s strategically located between the two loops mentioned earlier, and at 6,800 feet, it’s lower than the others and warmer in cool weather. One day we went from driving in a snowstorm to having dinner in shirtsleeves at Madison. Plus, it’s close to the village of West Yellowstone, the site of our exit from the park, and maybe yours.

Tip 4. Anglers rejoice: The park encourages catch-and-eat fishing of nonnative lake trout in Yellowstone Lake.

 

Glacier National Park/USA

We visited in early June, and the only road that bisects Montana’s Glacier National Park was still closed, so our options were limited. We elected to enter from the east side, as it’s more strategic when crossing the border to head to Banff.

The only excuses for not taking the Banff gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain are bad weather or fear of heights. Views of the surrounding countryside are not to be missed.

The only excuses for not taking the Banff gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain are bad weather or fear of heights. Views of the surrounding countryside are not to be missed.

Glacier isn’t going to make the RV Driver’s Hall of Fame, as there are few places you can go while towing a trailer or fifth-wheel. Going-to-the-Sun Road, the route that traverses the park and provides access to most of the marquee sights, isn’t suitable for anything larger than a truck camper or camper van driven by a brave person. Vehicle combinations longer than 21 feet (including bumpers) or wider than 8 feet (including mirrors) are prohibited. If you don’t fancy sheer drop-offs and hairpin turns, take advantage of the park’s shuttle system and tours in vintage red buses.

Tip 5. We recommend Many Glacier Campground, accessed via a dead-end road a few miles north of the St. Marys Visitor Center. It’s quiet and secluded but doesn’t offer RV hookups. Two moose wandered behind our campsite with calves in tow.

 

Banff National Park

WestIn30Map-01Banff is famous for the Alberta Rockies and Lake Louise, and is also famously popular during high season, which translates to crowded. The town of Banff is a tourist hotspot filled with shops and restaurants. Visit the somewhat unheralded Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, which documents and pays tribute to what Canadians call First Nations, the native peoples of the region. Lake Louise is a must-see, along with smaller but pretty Moraine Lake. And definitely take the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, with incredible views. Leaving Banff for Jasper, take the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A), rather than the more expeditious Highway 1, the TransCanada Highway, and stop at impossibly blue Peyto Lake.

Tip 6. Camp at Tunnel Mountain Village, the best of the national park’s campgrounds. Village I has RV campsites but no hookups, Village II has electric hookups, and Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court has full-hookup sites.

Tip 7. Canadian parks, national and otherwise, are dog-friendly. Dogs need to be leashed, but they can join you. We took ours on almost every trail we hiked.

 

Jasper National Park

The Swiftcurrent Nature Trail starts at Many Glacier Campground in Montana’s Glacier National Park. You can hike some or all of its 5-plus miles to pretty waterfalls and remote alpine lakes.

The Swiftcurrent Nature Trail starts at Many Glacier Campground in Montana’s Glacier National Park. You can hike some or all of its 5-plus miles to pretty waterfalls and remote alpine lakes.

The village of Jasper, Alberta, feels like a real town catering to a local population, not just tourists. The ride up the Bow Valley Parkway is worth the trip in itself, but local attractions include the Columbia Icefield, a significant glacier offering tours on special buses, and lovely Maligne Lake. Mount Edith Cavell makes for a nice day hike to some modest but pretty glacial areas.

Tip 8. Camp at Whistlers Campground. It and nearby Wapiti Campground are generally touted as the best sites relatively close to town.

Tip 9. Most of these parks are in bear country, both black and grizzly. When hiking, carry bear spray, which is pepper spray on steroids and can be discharged from 35 feet away. While we were in Jasper, a cyclist was attacked by a grizzly on a road we had traveled and was probably saved when the bear bit into his backpack containing a bear-spray canister that discharged.

 

Yoho National Park

Backtracking to Lake Louise, we crossed the Rockies on the TransCanada Highway toward Golden, British Columbia. Attractions here include Emerald Lake, Lake O’Hara and 830-foot Takakkaw Falls, Canada’s tallest unbroken waterfall. The latter is accessible only on foot or by shuttle bus.

Tip 10. Camping options in this area are limited. Shortly after crossing into British Columbia, you can camp at Kicking Horse Campground, the largest campground in the national park, with flush toilets and showers but no hookups. We chose to move farther along and stayed at Golden Municipal Campground, with 72 sites and full hookups.

 

Glacier National Park/Canada

In British Columbia’s version of Glacier National Park, bighorn sheep aren’t just a speck on the horizon glimpsed through binoculars.

In British Columbia’s version of Glacier National Park, bighorn sheep aren’t just a speck on the horizon glimpsed through binoculars.

Unlike the U.S. version, this British Columbia park is a series of pull-offs that always lead to something interesting. Signage tells you what to expect.

Continuing along the TransCanada Highway, you leave the mountains and begin a descent into what Canadians call the Thompson Okanagan, their wine country. Where grapes grow, so do other things, like fruit and veggies. Partake.

From Vancouver, take the ferry to Vancouver Island to explore the capital city of Victoria.

Tip 11. On Vancouver Island, we made a side trip to remote Tofino and Ucluelet on the island’s far-west coast. The effort to get to these charming seaside villages is great, three or more hours each way on a narrow road. If you’re tired of driving or have a large RV, you may want to skip this detour.

 

Olympic National Park

leads to glistening Maligne Lake, the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies.

leads to glistening Maligne Lake, the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies.

Back in Victoria, we took the ferry to Port Angeles, Washington, and our penultimate national park. Located in the northwestern part of the state on a peninsula of the same name, Olympic is a large and diverse national park, including old-growth rainforest, coastal beaches and snowcapped peaks. If the weather cooperates, it is a fine place to do some hiking. Drive your tow vehicle to Hurricane Ridge for trails with panoramic views of the snowcapped Olympics — again, weather permitting.

Tip 12. On the ferry to Port Angeles, a full-time RVer suggested a favorite campground not far from the ferry landing, and we took her advice. Salt Creek Recreation Area is 40 minutes from the ferry dock and right on the Pacific Ocean. It’s a Clallam County Park with everything from tent sites to 50-amp hookups. We liked it so much that we took an impromptu layover.

Tip 13. Instead of camping in the main part of Olympic National Park, head toward Forks and La Push, and stay at Mora Campground, with campsites for RVs up to 35 feet. It’s a quiet place on the Quillayute River and a short hike to the Pacific Ocean and the towering sea stacks of Rialto Beach.

 

Redwood National Park

Down the coast in Northern California, on the outskirts of Redwood National Park, Patrick’s Point State Park delivers tall trees and ocean views.

Down the coast in Northern California, on the outskirts of Redwood National Park, Patrick’s Point State Park delivers tall trees and ocean views.

This Northern California national park is truly unique, as it shares management responsibility with the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Together, they oversee several state parks that are among California’s finest. This part of the state is sparsely populated and far enough away from major urban centers that it is not subject to the recreational pressures that plague parks closer to San Francisco. You have it all here: pristine forests of old-growth redwoods, wild and scenic rivers, ocean beaches.

For those who prefer things more rustic, Six Rivers National Forest is at your doorstep. For a more civilized diversion, there’s the Victorian village of Ferndale. Don’t pass up a day hike into Fern Canyon.

Tip 14. If your RV is shorter than 27 feet, camp at Elk Prairie Campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and you may see as many Roosevelt elk as fellow campers.

Tip 15. Cross the bridge to the small island of Samoa (the stateside version), just outside Eureka, for an all-you-can-eat experience at the historic Samoa Cookhouse, a former lumber-camp kitchen where they feed you like you just came out of the woods. Leave your chainsaw in the truck.

 

Where to Stay

 

Just north of Washington’s Olympic National Park, Salt Creek Recreation Area perches right on the Pacific Ocean.

Just north of Washington’s Olympic National Park, Salt Creek Recreation Area perches right on the Pacific Ocean.


All nine national parks have public campgrounds that accommodate RVs, and we had no trouble finding sites for our 20-foot Winnebago Travato. Check the individual national park websites for RV-length restrictions, and make reservations in advance when possible, particularly if you have a sizable RV and require a larger campsite.

Commercial campgrounds and resorts that accommodate larger RVs can generally be found close to the national park entrances. For information about RV campgrounds and Good Sam Parks near the national parks, go to www.goodsamcamping.com.

We tend to forget that trains were once an important mode of transport, now greatly diminished. In Idaho, Montana and Canada, the railroads are alive and well. RV parks in these areas are often close to the tracks, and many a night will find you serenaded by a 200-piece orchestra of percussion and horns.

 


 

 

Pop-Up Paradise

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Purple Line’s Opus folding trailer packs in the amenities and is at home anywhere you roam

When we decided to deviate from the norm and review a pop-up trailer, John Cleese’s immortal catchphrase, “And now for something completely different,” from the Monty Python series came to mind. The high-end canvas Opus, with a 7-foot 6-inch ceiling height, offers many of the amenities of a hard-walled RV in one that can be towed with pretty much any properly equipped four-wheeled vehicle and go anywhere your vehicle can tow it. And a major advantage of a pop-up is that you don’t need to pay for RV storage, as it can take up residence in the corner of a garage.

The U-shaped dinette with leatherette sofa is attractive and comfortable, plus you’re treated to a nice cross-breeze when windows are opened. The canvas on the right zips all the way down to open up the entire side. Behind the sofa is one of the Opus’ “bedrooms,” complete with skylights.

The U-shaped dinette with leatherette sofa is attractive and comfortable, plus you’re treated to a nice cross-breeze when windows are opened. The canvas on the right zips all the way down to open up the entire side. Behind the sofa is one of the Opus’ “bedrooms,” complete with skylights.

The Opus is different from the average pop-up, and the British-Australian developer brought the unique Conestoga-wagon-styled trailer to the United States about a year and a half ago. To that end, it’s built to endure inclement and soggy weather and is designed to go off-road with its steel chassis supporting an aluminum frame. To top it off — literally — a universal rack for kayaks and bicycles graces the “roof.” It’s ruggedly constructed, like a Conestoga wagon, complete with canvas stretched over arched hoops. Since rounding up a draft-horse team was unlikely, we used a small SUV to tow it to our primitive testing grounds. The Opus has electric brakes so it can be handled safely by smaller tow vehicles.

It takes some work to get there, but once the Opus is set up, it’s pleasingly spacious inside with a cheerful atmosphere. Zippered-flap skylights shed plenty of light and bring in the stars at night, and a contemporary cream-colored leatherette sofa with red piping provides a comfy place to lounge. My first time out, it took about 45 minutes to set up by myself and an hour to take it down. The folks at the factory will show you how it’s done, and once you get familiar with the procedure, the claim is that you’ll be able to do it in 20 minutes. And I’d say that’s doable once you get the hang of it.

Everything you need: a sink, a two-burner cooktop, a microwave, shelves and storage.

Everything you need: a sink, a two-burner cooktop, a microwave, shelves and storage.

In a nutshell, the divided top opens to the left and right, creating individual “bedrooms” at each end — sort of tents within a tent — so each team of two has private sleeping accommodations. To lower the nonelectric stabilizing jacks at each corner and set up the support legs for the beds, I had to kneel down on the ground. Later it occurred to me that the supplied fold-up step for getting in and out of the Opus would have worked as a nice seat rather than crouching. A locking storage box that offers access from both sides is included which, among other things, we housed a cordless drill and socket with extension to lower the jacks. To raise the roof, so to speak, the arched support poles are extended to exert tension on the tent fabric and the pressure clamps are set. From there, you build up by stacking the cabinets with the sink and faucet and range on top of the base cabinets. I slid in the shelves, pushed in the sofa cushions that stay put with hook-and-loop material, set up the table and was ready to relax camp side.

OpusFloorplanExcept that was about the time my overnight guests conveniently showed up. No worries; preparing a simple snack (and meals later) was easy with prep space on the dining table and a sturdy countertop between the sink and range. Several open shelves make for a straightforward view of their contents and easy access to them. There are storage shelves at the floor level, a cutlery drawer and a 700-watt microwave.

The Italian-made SMEV two-burner cooktop heated food quickly and is obviously high-end. This particular cooktop uses JetFlow technology, which is claimed to use 33 percent less LP-gas and reach higher temperatures. It took less than a minute to hook it up to LP-gas and attach the clip to the cabinet that keeps it in place. Even better was that, when we wiped the burners down after use, it cleaned up in a snap.

Glass tops cover the cooktop and the Dometic sink that’s fitted with a fold-down faucet. Standard is a city-water hookup, water hose and pressure regulator for sites offering water. Optional are water carriers that can be strapped to the front of the Opus for dry camping; a 12-volt DC water pump is standard for drawing water from a water carrier.

Compact fun: Packed up, the Opus is about 4 feet tall and 14 feet long, including the coupler, and is topped with a universal rack for carrying kayaks and bicycles.

Compact fun: Packed up, the Opus is about 4 feet tall and 14 feet long, including the coupler, and is topped with a universal rack for carrying kayaks and bicycles.

At the floor level is a 4,000-Btu Cadet Perfectoe electric heater to keep feet toasty in the winter. The heater draws 1,000 watts of current so users should be aware of that drain when powering up more than one high-wattage accessory at a time. Three LED toekick lights have two settings: a blue one for subtle lighting and a brighter setting. Ceiling lights that attach to the support poles are optional.

Included is a Porta-Gaz 37-quart, three-way portable refrigerator that runs on 120-volt AC or 12-volt DC power or LP-gas. The Porta-Gaz sips LP-gas at a rate of half a pound per 24 hours, which means that one of those little 16.4-ounce propane canisters could potentially keep that refrigerator running cold for two days.

There’s seating for four — even five — at the dinette (which the company calls a “club lounge”), and the table rotates so we weren’t knocking stuff off the table to have a seat on the comfortable sofa. As mentioned earlier, the cream-colored leatherette sofa is attractive, but it may not stay cream colored for long with certain (read: younger) guests. To get into the bed behind the sofa, you need to step on and over the sofa, plus we can picture kids (and some adults) with dirty feet using the sofa as a springboard to dive into bed. A solution for keeping the sofa clean would be to cover it with a towel or sheet. The club lounge folds down to make into another bed. If you’re going to use the lounge as a bed while someone is sleeping in the adjacent “bedroom,” it may be beneficial to communicate at which end your head will be so a wayward foot doesn’t end up in a body part during nighttime comings and goings.

The Opus’ double beds are housed in the pop-up’s lids, making for a firm base.

The Opus’ double beds are housed in the pop-up’s lids, making for a firm base.

Getting into bed at the other end is not as exciting; the users simply take one step up into the room. A knee-high cabinet to the left is a good place to keep a suitcase or duffle bag that can easily be reached from bed (when you’re not zipped in). Each “bedroom” has a comfortable 75 x 59-inch mattress, and even with the bedroom all zipped up, there’s lots of room and we did not feel closed in. Mesh storage pockets hang at both ends of each bed and are wide enough to hold a couple of magazines. Each room has a heavy-duty plastic skylight, which I absolutely loved for nighttime stargazing while lying in bed. We didn’t close it before falling asleep, so in the morning the sun was bright and hot.

There are two skylights in the main living area as well and vented “windows.” Since we were camping on a hot weekend without the benefit of a shade tree, the Opus stayed toasty during the day. Our style is to be outdoors most of the day anyway. Being able to open the skylights via zippers would be welcome, but that might compromise the waterproof aspect. One wall zips all the way down to open up the entire main living area. Included is a 10 x 6½-foot zip-in awning. Optional is a full awning/room ($1,499) that creates another living area with two detachable bed pods that will sleep another four people.

OpusSpecsOne nitpick we had about the Opus is that movement is noticeable, despite the stabilizing jacks, especially when all is relatively quiet. For instance, when friends, who were sleeping in the other bedroom, got up in the wee hours to visit the campground restroom, the motion woke me (I’m a light sleeper). Another point, as we discovered, is that the Opus’ heavy canvas retains heat. This is great for camping in cool climates; however, packing up the Opus in the heat of a 90-degree Southern California day was not much fun. The first step to starting the Opus’ packing-down process is to zip up all vents, so breaking camp is best done at a cool part of the day.

Three colors for the trailer are standard: Opus Orange, Metallic Grey and Pristine Silver, but the company is happy to custom “vinyl wrap” in pretty much any color you want. If you don’t want to mess with backing up or parking, Purple Line, manufacturer of the Opus, offers a remote-control trailer mover (see “Big E-Go” in the May 2015 Trailer Life).

The Opus’ less-than-4-foot-high door locks, so the trailer can be secured when it’s folded down. The only thing the Opus was missing is a bathroom, though an optional cubicle/privacy screen with a portable cartridge toilet is available for $349.99. Also optional is a portable shower that heats up water using LP-gas or the 120-volt AC volt system. The Opus comes with a 14-inch spare tire.

The company will soon release a Moto model that can tote two motorcycles (up to 1,100 pounds) on top and includes a motorcycle loading system.

The Opus is certainly not mainstream, but we were impressed with how spacious and well-appointed it is. Plus, we like its versatility — here’s the possibility of exploring with an RV that can be towed over the bumps and bounces of peaks and prairies. It’s a breeze to maneuver, you can see over the top of it from the rearview mirror, and it can be towed by just about any vehicle. And once you get to where you’re going, you’ll be far more comfortable than those pioneers battling the elements from their Conestoga wagons.

Purple Line/Opus | 415-802-3734 | www.opuscamper.com

 


 

Lightweight Family RVing

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KZ-RV adds the 18RBT floorplan to its Sportsmen Classic line, for a total of 10 lightweight travel trailers ranging from 15 feet 10 inches to 22 feet for the 2016 model year. The new, expandable Sportsmen keeps it simple for families, while providing all the necessary amenities, according to the manufacturer.

KZ-RV-Sportsmen-2The 18RBT has full-size beds housed in pop-out structures at each end of the RV, a dinette that folds down into a 78- x 38-inch bed, and a 70-inch-long couch that also folds into a bed, to sleep a total of six people. The expandable trailer has 6 feet 3 inches of headroom, plus a kitchen and bathroom that the company claims rivals that of many larger travel trailers. A large overhead cabinet in the kitchen is stationed next to the standard microwave with a two-burner range below. A 4.6-cubic-foot wood-paneled refrigerator blends in with the cabinetry.

At 18 feet 10 inches, the 18RBT weighs less than 2,700 pounds unloaded and can be towed by properly equipped minivans and SUVs. MSRP for the 18RBT is $14,439.

KZ-RV, 866-472-5460 | www.kz-rv.com/sportsmen-classic

 

 

 

 

No Compromise Performance

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A trio of kits from BD Diesel Performance keep the fuel at optimum pressure and protect injectors for maximum gains when adding power-enhancement products

BD’s Flow-MaX V3 Lift Pump and Fuel Filter kits are packaged with all the hardware and small parts for installation by seasoned do-it-yourselfers.

BD’s Flow-MaX V3 Lift Pump and Fuel Filter kits are packaged with all the hardware and small parts for installation by seasoned do-it-yourselfers.

As much as I don’t want to be that person who loudly states the obvious, in the case of towing, the pickup is the true workhorse. Individual expression of vehicle personalization, whether bolting on accessories for aesthetics or modifying an engine to add performance and power, is virtually universal among truck owners. The current crop of truck engineers from auto manufacturers is providing diesel platforms that offer very stout out-of-the-box, asphalt-tearing performance levels, and there are a number aftermarket products that add eye-popping horsepower and torque. But “bolting on” performance does not come without a few mechanical setbacks, such as premature fuel filter clogging and fuel-injector failure. Most diesel fuel injectors are made up of several complex internal moving parts operating under a great amount of pressure (typically more than 25,000 psi). Unfortunately, what many performance companies don’t mention is that, while the stock injectors can handle most of the extra fuel being shoved through them, a common weak point is the maximum volume of fuel being delivered by the stock pump system, which can’t keep up with the gains. The same is true for the factory filtration system; it simply can’t keep pace with monster amounts of additional fuel being pushed through.

Water-and-Fuel1

(1) Locate the original fuel filter, which is flanked by the brake master cylinder and air filter horn.

Water-and-Fuel2

(2) Original banjo bolts are on the backside of the factory fuel filter.

Water-and-Fuel3

(3) Rubber hose and new adapter fitting are connected to the fuel filter and secured with a hose clamp.

Water-and-Fuel4

(4) Instructions call for mounting the fuel pump and filter kit on the inside of the frame, but we ran into clearance problems here and elected to mount the pump on the outside of the frame

Water-and-Fuel5

(5) with the provided stainless-steel straps.

Water-and-Fuel6

(6) When using the filter kit with the BD pump, the screens are removed from the barb fitting that go into the inlet and outlet in the filter housing.

Water-and-Fuel7

(7) Loctite gel is applied to the adapter that screws into the filter head before tightening.

Water-and-Fuel8

(8) It’s important to coat the gaskets on the fuel filters so they will seal against the housings.

Water-and-Fuel9

(9) Filter fittings on the pump only use O-rings for proper sealing.

Water-and-Fuel10

(10) The pump is mounted to the frame and filter housings are attached to the pump. This is the complete assembly minus the filters.

Water-and-Fuel11

(11) After cutting the truck’s fuel feed line, the rubber hose is connected and double clamped. This hose is routed to the inlet on the filter housing.

Water-and-Fuel12

(12) The fuel tank was dropped from the truck frame for access to the factory fuel basket/pump assembly.

Water-and-Fuel13

(13) The line to the original pump is lightly scored and cut at this point before removing the rest of the pump assembly.

Water-and-Fuel14

(14) The end of the fuel feed line must be cut precisely to prevent collapsing and the possibility of running out of fuel.

(15) The original filter on left is compared against the BD filters, one of which is a water separator. A new filter (from parts store) was installed in the factory housing at the same time.

(15) The original filter on left is compared against the BD filters, one of which is a water separator. A new filter (from parts store) was installed in the factory housing at the same time.

(16) A pressure switch is mounted to the CP3 rail injection pump using new adaptor and sealing washers.

(16) A pressure switch is mounted to the CP3 rail injection pump using new adaptor and sealing washers.

Owners adding power improvers can look to BD Diesel Performance for a trio of cost-effective products that will make sure the engine never runs low on fuel volume. The company’s Flow-MaX Fuel Lift Pump Kit, Fuel Filter Kit and the Low Fuel Pressure Alarm Kit are products that allow owners to realize the optimum benefit from diesel-engine performance equipment without compromising relative componentry.

The heart of the system is the conversion to an external, frame-mounted BD Flow-MaX V3 Lift Pump. BD’s Flow-MaX Fuel Filter Kit is highly recommended for use with this new pump, especially when considering it’s almost triple the size of the stocker. Topping off the new pump and filtration improvements is BD’s Low Fuel Pressure Alarm Light, which provides yet another level of insurance for those who like to monitor real-time function. While these three products work best as a team, they are only offered à la carte.

We installed these kits in a 2006 Ram, and quickly discovered that a little pre-planning will go a long way, especially in key areas like determining fuel hose length and the number of clamps needed, in case a slightly custom assembly becomes necessary. Also, this project is technically doable by advanced do-it-yourselfers, but the use of a vehicle lift will eliminate a lot of struggles when removing the fuel tank that otherwise would be encountered while crawling around on the ground.

BD supplies all the necessary hardware, brackets, wiring terminals, filters and pressure switch for all three kits, but it’s a very good idea to double check the presence of all the parts. The parts for all the kits are crafted using high-quality materials and precise machining. Plan on devoting at least a full day to the project just in case there’s a small setback. It will also be in your best interest to solicit a capable friend’s help. Another key point is to begin the project with an almost empty fuel tank; even a quarter full tank will still be very heavy. We found that the tank was manageable at 1/8 full.

After battery disconnection, the installation begins by removing the banjo bolt on the factory fuel filter housing, facing the rear of the truck. With the factory fuel supply line banjo fitting removed, the Flow-MaX metric-thread to JIC and JIC to barbed adapters can be secured in their specified places. This is also the time to connect the length of 3/8-inch fuel hose to the new barbed fitting using one of the hose clamps, followed by loosely running the remaining hose down to the underside of the truck and along the driver-side frame rail to a location suitable for the new pump and filters.

There are two options for mounting the pump. One is a little more involved and permanent requiring drilling, and the other slightly quicker to install and uninstall, if ever necessary, by way of tough stainless-steel straps. It’s highly recommended that a loose pre-assembly take place in order to pinpoint where the parts will fit best for the specific truck. In our case, the entire set-up had to be placed on the outside of the frame rail, versus the intended inside location, because of clearance problems between the fuel tank and 4WD transfer case. On the plus side, this means quicker and easier filter access, on the down side, it means less enclosed protection. We plan on adding a custom cover fabricated with a steel frame and aluminum panels.

Once the pump is securely mounted, the Flow-MaX Fuel Filter Kit can be assembled and connected after prefilling the filters and lubricating the seals. From here, the fuel feed hose can be routed after tapping into the truck’s steel factory fuel line. Keep in mind, this hard line is the largest in diameter of all the neighboring lines as well as the thickest. It’s going to be a bit of a struggle to get through this line, so you’ll need a quality compact tubing cutter and a place to get comfortable; it will likely take a while to make the cut. After cutting the hard fuel line, finish routing the 3/8-inch hose (installed at the outset of this job) from the OEM filter housing to the outlet barb on the new pump/filter assembly. Another small section of rubber fuel hose will go between the freshly cut hard line and the inlet barb on the new fuel hardware.

Now the harder part: routing the final hose, which is housed deep inside the fuel tank. You guessed it; the fuel tank must be dropped and the one-piece factory fuel pump and sending unit basket removed. This is the part where a vehicle lift will be your best friend, allowing easier access to the two nuts and straps holding the tank into position. A little tip: It may be easier to remove the left rear tire to access the electrical plug and fuel line clips through the side of the bed and frame.

Once the tedious task of removing the tank is completed and the basket on a bench, you’ll need to carefully remove the OEM pump, which is held in place by three black plastic arms that must be broken or cut through. The instructions tell you to use a hacksaw blade to cut through the arms, however that can be quite messy and demand cleaning, which relates to more work and time. We simply opted to carefully use a pair of side cutters. With the original pump out of the way and the prep work complete, a few inches of hose is put into place. Before this step can be completed, the end of the hose resting at the bottom of the pump basket MUST be properly prepared. Following the directions, either a V-notch or angle cut must be carved into the hose, thereby preventing suctioning to the basket. It is absolutely imperative to pay close attention to detail here as your truck can and will run itself out of fuel, and, trust me, you don’t want to remove the tank twice. With all the inner tank modifications to the fuel feed hose completed, the tank is ready to go back in the same way it came out.

The only remaining install step to conquer at this point is some very simple and fairly quick wiring. However, just before the final wiring is handled, we elected to add the aforementioned Low Fuel Pressure Alarm Light into the mix, tying all wiring together at once. This is not a very difficult job, requiring a few minutes to replace the banjo bolt on the top portion of the CP3 rail injection pump with the pressure switch and supplied two sealing washers. There’s only one pump trigger wire to be spliced into from beneath the engine’s Total Integrated Power Module (TIPM) and the power and ground go through a prewired relay and then directly to the battery. The ¼-inch light is routed to a spot on or under the dash and the single, switched 12-volt DC source is connected via a fuse tap. Wiring complete, job complete!

As an engine performance geek, it’s nice to have a seat-of-the-pants feeling that something is happening after installing new power-adding components. But it’s different here. If you’re seeking tons of on-the-fly power from these upgrades, you’ll be disappointed. The Flow-MaX Fuel Lift Pump and Fuel Filter kits aren’t going to deliver any noticeable power to a stock vehicle. Instead you’ll get enough clean, fuel-flow volume from the tank to easily handle any power increases gained by aftermarket upgrades while providing extra protection for costly injectors. Considering most diesel fuel injectors average more than $400 each, I’d call that cheap insurance. The BD Flow-MaX Fuel Lift Pump kit sells for $566; the Fuel Filter kit is $172 and the Low Fuel Pressure Alarm is $74.

BD Diesel Performance
800-887-5030
www.dieselperformance.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Out Yonder in Oregon

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It takes a little time to reach this remote part of the West, but visitors to the state’s far-northeastern corner are richly rewarded once they arrive

Our first stop was Baker City (population 9,769), the largest town in the area other than La Grande (population 13,074). When we hopped out of our truck and began walking around, we were surprised by the many graceful Victorian and Art Deco buildings that line the city streets. Eye-catching Baker Tower rises nine stories above the town and has been the tallest building in Oregon east of the Cascade Range since it was built in 1929. Nearby, the ornate Geiser Grand Hotel dates back to 1899 and radiates an elegant aura reminiscent of a bygone era.

The Wallowa Lake Tramway ascends 3,700 feet as it zips to the summit of Mount Howard.

The Wallowa Lake Tramway ascends 3,700 feet as it zips to the summit of Mount Howard.

Once a stopping point on the Oregon Short Line Railroad, this understated yet sophisticated city has miraculously resisted change throughout the decades while somehow still keeping up with the times. As appealing as Baker City is, growth is not part of its essence, and the population has hovered between 9,400 and 9,900 residents since 1940. Yet, despite its refusal to allow big-box stores and industry to taint the outer edges of town with commercialism, modern culture is alive and well in the historic downtown. In summertime, when its many restaurants and bistros open their doors and spill out onto the sidewalks with street-side tables and chairs, the vibe in Baker City is decidedly youthful.

Every June the city holds a four-day bicycle stage race in which athletic cyclists vie for top honors in four races in and around town, akin to a mini Tour de France. We joined the throngs of people at outdoor cafés drinking Oregon microbrews and watched the final stage of the race that goes in a circuit around the city streets. A colorful blur of cyclists flew past us over and over, as the announcer excitedly clocked speeds reaching nearly 40 mph in the professional men’s category.

The annual Baker City Cycling Classic is the small-town answer to the Tour de France.

The annual Baker City Cycling Classic is the small-town answer to the Tour de France.

Long before playing host to bicycle races, Baker City made its name with gold mines, and one of the biggest gold nuggets ever found is on display inside the city’s U.S. Bank branch. Weighing in at more than 5 pounds, the fist-size hunk of gold was unearthed by George Armstrong in 1913. It escaped being melted down and is now one of the largest gold nuggets around. Valued at $100,000 in today’s prices, it is worth several times that as a collectible. Our eyes popped as we stared at it in its glass case and imagined what Armstrong must have thought as he carried it on the train in his pocket to nearby Sumpter, where he had it appraised.

Entrepreneur and business magnate Leo Adler was born in Baker City. He launched his career with a walking route delivering the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal and wound up the head of a massive magazine-reshipping dynasty. The lovely 1889 home he lived in for 94 years until his death at age 98 in 1993 is now a museum. Besides his pretty home, what we appreciated most about this self-made millionaire was the wonderful paved path his foundation built around town. The trail winds along the back of neighborhood streets and is popular not only with local walkers and runners but with deer, too.

Traveling north and east from Baker City, we felt like we had arrived at the end of the world. We visited the tiny village of Joseph, tucked up against the soaring Wallowa Mountains at the end of a dead-end road. This small community of just 1,000 residents basks in a beautiful place that looks out upon pastoral landscapes filled with classic red barns. Every view is backed by exquisite mountain peaks, and until midsummer these towering pinnacles are crowned with snow.

With a spectacular view, the beach at Wallowa Lake is a great place for sunbathing and swimming.

With a spectacular view, the beach at Wallowa Lake is a great place for sunbathing and swimming.

The village of Joseph is an ideal little walking town, and we enjoyed many a happy stroll along the main drag. Red Horse Coffee Traders is a favorite gathering spot for locals and tourists alike, not only for its welcoming ambience and fresh-roasted coffee, but because it is a reliable place to find an Internet connection in this remote outpost.

On many days we saw an odd four-wheeled contraption sitting on the front lawn of the coffee shop. It had twin recumbent seats, bicycle pedals and thick plastic-rimmed wheels. We got talking with a fellow named Kim Metlen sitting at a folding table nearby, and he explained that this vehicle was a “railrider.” Before long, we had signed up to ride one on a tour he leads every day on the old railroad tracks just outside of town.

Metlen’s Joseph Branch Railriders tour takes a unique approach to making new use of old abandoned railroad tracks. Rather than a rails-to-trails program that removes the rails and ties from the ground, this rail-riding venture leaves the decommissioned railway in place and allows people to ride on the tracks using his custom-built tandem rail cycles. You can see the landscape from reclining side-by-side seats near ground level.

At the appointed hour, we found the four-wheelers lined up at the end of the rail line in Joseph, and two-dozen people showed up to pedal them the 6 miles out to the village of Enterprise. Helmets were required, even though it is nearly impossible to go more than 15 mph, and there is no way the railriders can tip over. Metlen had helmets available for anyone who didn’t bring their own.

For a fun excursion on unused railroad tracks, join the Joseph Branch Railriders tour.

For a fun excursion on unused railroad tracks, join the Joseph Branch Railriders tour.

The views along this trail were lovely, with mountains, valleys and distant farmlands stretching out before us. Each railrider was ridden by two people, and we all went at our own pace. In no time at all, it seemed, we had reached our destination in Enterprise, and everyone hopped out to walk around. The cars are light, so each pair of riders easily picked up theirs to turn it around to face the other way. Then we jumped back on again and rode back to Joseph, watching the mountains grow ever larger as we pedaled.

Stunning Wallowa Lake lies at the south end of Joseph, nestled into the base of the Wallowa Mountains. It is a long and skinny lake that runs north-south, and we drove along the scenic shore-side roads that flank its sides. Wanting to get up into the mountains for a view without too much effort, we took a gondola ride on the Wallowa Lake Tramway to the top of Mount Howard, 8,000 feet above sea level, where the panoramic vistas go on forever.

The tramway was built as part of a planned ski resort, but the ski runs were never created. Today, it makes for an easy way to get to the top of the Wallowa Mountains for a bird’s-eye view of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. At the summit, we took the short hike around the mountain peak and enjoyed a tasty lunch at the restaurant, where we sat on a deck overlooking the lake and watched the gondolas floating up and down the mountainside.

For More Information

Joseph Branch Railriders
541-910-0089
www.jbrailriders.com


Travel Oregon
800-547-7842
www.traveloregon.com


Valley Bronze Foundry Tours
541-432-7551
www.valleybronze.com


Wallowa Lake Tramway
541-432-5331
www.wallowalaketramway.com

Down at Wallowa Lake, we joined sunbathers catching the rays at a beautiful beach on the north end. Both kids and adults braved very cold water to swim, and lots of folks were out on kayaks and paddleboards. A few savvy people put their beach chairs right into the water so they could cool their toes, toss back a cold one and get a tan all at the same time.

At the south end, near the Wallowa Lake Tramway, Wallowa Lake State Park snuggles along the edge of the shore. The park offers swimming, a boat launch and a small marina as well as pretty campsites. This end of the lake has other RV camping options, too, and several private campgrounds are situated right next door to the state park.

Back in the town of Joseph, we were fascinated by the big, beautiful bronze sculptures of Western and Indian themes that decorate many street corners. Valley Bronze of Oregon has its foundry in Joseph, where it offers tours, and there’s a large gallery in town as well. We discovered that the town of Joseph itself has become a mecca for sculptors and other artists of all kinds.

The town is named for Chief Joseph, the leader of the Nez Perce tribe at the time that the Nez Perce were forcibly moved to Idaho from their homeland in the Wallowa Mountains. He was a peaceful and eloquent leader, and his many pleas for fair racial treatment — made shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation — were sadly met with deaf ears. He ultimately led his tribe in a run for Canada in hopes of obtaining political asylum for his people, but the U.S. Army was hot on his heels, and he eventually surrendered.

The Wallowa Mountains create a stunning backdrop to the rolling farmland outside Joseph, Oregon.

The Wallowa Mountains create a stunning backdrop to the rolling farmland outside Joseph, Oregon.

A regal bronze sculpture of Chief Joseph, created by artist Georgia Bunn and cast by Valley Bronze, was purchased by Christy Walton, daughter-in-law of Walmart founder Sam Walton, and donated to the town. Other vivid bronze depictions of Sacagawea, a cowboy on a bucking bronco and a soaring eagle also grace the streets, each surrounded by vibrant, multicolored beds of flowers.

For outdoorsy folks, lots of excellent hiking trails wind through the Wallowa Mountains. Our favorite was the Hurricane Creek Trail a few miles outside of Joseph. After fording a rather intimidating looking stream by walking across an enormous fallen tree, the trail took us through the woods past colorful meadows filled with wild­flowers and backed by mountains. After a bit of a climb, we eventually came to a waterfall.

The trail continued past the falls, but we had gotten so caught up in enjoying the views and taking photographs in the meadows that it was late in the day and we decided to turn back. A quick stop at Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise for delicious local beers and burgers at a picnic table under the shady embrace of some wide trees was the perfect way to end a great day of hiking.

 

Where to Stay in the Wallowas


Although it’s sparsely populated, the route from Baker City to Joseph in northeastern Oregon has plenty of places for intrepid RVers.

BAKER CITY
Mountain View RV Park (Good Sam Park)
541-523-4824 | www.mtviewrv.com

The end of another spectacular day at a tranquil campsite in northeastern Oregon.

The end of another spectacular day at a tranquil campsite in northeastern Oregon.


Oregon Trails West RV Park (Good Sam Park)
541-523-3236 | www.goodsamcamping.com

Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
541-523-6391 | www.fs.usda.gov/wallowa-whitman

ENTERPRISE
Log House RV Park and Campground
877-426-4027 | www.loghouservpark.com

JOSEPH
Five Peaks RV Park
877-426-402, 541-432-4605 | www.5peaksrvpark.com

Mountain View RV Park
541-432-2982 |
www.mtviewmotel-rvpark.com

Park at the River
541-432-8800 | www.parkattheriver.com

Wallowa Lake State Park
541-432-4185 | www.oregonstateparks.org

WALLOWA
Wallowa River RV Park
541-886-7002 | www.wallowariverrvpark.com

Wallowa Valley Stay N’ Wash
541-886-6944 | www.wallowavalley.name

 


 

 

 

Wisconsin’s Rustic Roads

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Turn back the clock to a quieter time on 117 bucolic backcountry drives spanning nearly 700 miles in the upper Midwest

 

Smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin, a dozen miles south of U.S. Highway 8, linking the state with Minnesota on the west and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on the east, lies what seems at first to be just another nondescript county road. It’s a gravel band laid out over hills and through valleys sculpted by glaciers, winding its way past woodlands, fields and a scattering of lakes — a landscape that offers a sense of embarking on a more relaxing journey to the uncluttered and less hectic northern reaches of the upper Midwest in years gone by.

The commemorative marker along the route attests to the fact that there is indeed something special about this particular roadway. The 5-mile backcountry lane is R-1, the first Wisconsin stretch to be officially designated a Rustic Road back in 1975. This year the state’s Rustic Roads program celebrates 40 years of preserving the state’s remaining “scenic, lightly traveled country roads for the leisurely enjoyment of bikers, hikers and motorists,” as described by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Forty years after designating the first Rustic Road, Wisconsin continues to preserve its roads less traveled. R-56 is among several country lanes that wind through Amish communities scattered throughout the central part of the state.Photos By Tom Watson And Courtesy Craig Swedberg, Wisconsin Departments Of Tourism And Transportation, And Door County Visitors Bureau.

Forty years after designating the first Rustic Road, Wisconsin continues to preserve its roads less traveled. R-56 is among several country lanes that wind through Amish communities scattered throughout the central part of the state. Photos by Tom Watson and Courtesy Craig Swedberg, Wisconsin Departments of Tourism and Transportation, and Door County Visitors Bureau.

Currently, 117 Rustic Roads make up the network that includes 669 miles of routing through 59 counties, from the southern shores of Lake Superior to the Illinois border, and from the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers along the state’s western border east to Milwaukee and Door County along the shores of Lake Michigan. Each route is numbered in the order it was designated and is preceded with an “R” prefix. Road surfaces can be paved, dirt or gravel with a maximum speed limit of 45 mph, although some are restricted to only 25 mph.

Divided into four regions, the Rustic Roads network showcases Wisconsin’s nature, history and culture along quaint and quiet country lanes. These local roads reveal the personality of each area and collectively express the character of the state. Here’s a snapshot of some memorable off-the-beaten-path drives in each region.

Northwest

Bound on the north by Lake Superior and running along the St. Croix River on its western border, the Northwest region is home to R-1, the state’s first Rustic Road, and R-100, the 100th road added since the program began.

From Dodge County to Door County: R-106 runs through scenic farmland.

From Dodge County to Door County: R-106 runs through scenic farmland.

Following a section of the Flambeau Trail, a transportation route used by Native Americans and early fur traders, R-100 winds northward through 13.5 miles of beautiful backcountry forests, lakes and waterways. Like many routes in this neck of the woods, it also offers the promise of a glimpse of the area’s wildlife. Dense stands of hardwood forests guarantee brilliant displays of fall colors along this paved stretch that runs between Mercer and the Michigan border.

Only 2 miles long, R-62 serves as the only access to Timms Hill County Park, Wisconsin’s highest point of land. Other scenic routes include a parallel lane along the Red Cedar River (R-89) south of Menomonie, a primitive stretch cut by small country streams (R-51) and a bucolic country road (R-92) whose shoulders are abloom with trilliums and other wildflowers each spring. Several more sylvan corridors ribbon through the north-country setting of the Chequamegon National Forest, many of which intersect regional hiking trails.

Historic buildings and sites such as old churches, schoolhouses and ethnic settlements are common along these routes throughout the state. In the Northwest region, the Smith Rapids Covered Bridge, one of two remaining covered bridges in Wisconsin, and a restored 1876 logging dam are key landmarks on R-105, northwest of Rhinelander.

Northeast

Access to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is through R-103’s lush hardwood canopy (far left) and a short drive beyond the northern end of R-101, both of which parallel the waterway.

Access to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is through R-103’s lush hardwood canopy (far left) and a short drive beyond the northern end of R-101, both of which parallel the waterway.

Forests of conifers and hardwoods blanket the landscape between Wisconsin’s northern border with Michigan and the Door County peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan. Two state biking trails cross Rustic Roads in this section: the Red Cedar Bike Trail (R-107) and the Bear Skin State Trail (R-58).

Stone and arch bridges highlight the Northeast region’s rich heritage of early settlements and developing agriculture, particularly in the Fox River Valley area just outside Appleton. Some of the vintage buildings featured along these routes include R-53’s old silo and “century farm” — farmland owned by a single family for more than 100 years — reminders of the area’s agricultural history.

A couple dozen miles northwest of Marinette lies the southern end of the longest Rustic Road in Wisconsin. Coursing its way north where it links up with Highway 8,

Access to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (left) is through R-103’s lush hardwood canopy (far left) and a short drive beyond the northern end of R-101, both of which parallel the waterway.

Access to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (left) is through R-103’s lush hardwood canopy (far left) and a short drive beyond the northern end of R-101, both of which parallel the waterway.

R-32 takes travelers through a meandering 37.1-mile northern landscape of granite boulders and outcroppings, state forests and county parks. The route offers several opportunities to enjoy vistas of the Peshtigo and Thunder rivers and other flowages.
A bit farther north lies a 30-plus-mile loop of northern backcountry routes that make up R-74. Following streams and waterways in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, including the Popple River (a state-designated Wild River), this rustic gravel lane has an almost primeval feel.

Another Northeast highlight is the network of routes within Door County, all within sight of or in close proximity to scenic Lake Michigan. In Sturgeon Bay, R-77 skirts the shoreline for 3.5 miles, ending at a Coast Guard station and lighthouse at its southern end. Farther up the peninsula between Moonlight Bay and North Bay, R-38 brings the Cana Island Lighthouse into view. Its sister road, R-39, features the Toft Point State Natural Area and Ridges Sanctuary that showcase a variety of rare native plants.


Southeast

Lake Winnebago marks the northern extent of this corner of the state that includes Milwaukee and Madison, making it the most populated of the four Rustic Roads regions and therefore the one with the most parks and historic areas.
Several sites predate the Civil War. R-5 follows the route of the territorial road laid out in 1840. Cold Springs Cemetery along R-88 dates from the same period. Just south of Madison, R-19 passes a labor farm deeded in 1846, its documentation signed by President James Polk.

WisconsinMap

The Rustic Road outside the city of Portage has the distinction of being the shortest in the system. Less than a mile long, R-69 follows the Old Agency House Road. The house itself, built in 1832, sits adjacent to the Portage Canal, a system of locks and canals constructed to connect the Fox River with the Wisconsin River and provide continuous river traffic from Green Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. Remains of the Old Fort Winnebago Locks structure are still visible from the edge of this Rustic Road.


Parklands and other natural areas are common throughout the network. In the Southeast, a section of R-52, a half-hour’s drive north of downtown Milwaukee, runs adjacent to Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area, called “one of the largest and most biologically diverse wetland areas in Wisconsin” by the state’s Department of Transportation. Farther west, an opportunity to view the famous sandhill cranes of Horicon Marsh is enhanced by access to the Bud Cook Hiking Trail beyond the West Point Road segment of R-106.

Fields of wildflowers and a diverse array of upland birds make R-72 west of Oshkosh a popular 3.1-mile nature drive routed through the middle of 270 acres of Nature Conservancy land.


Southwest

The Southwest’s 70-some miles of Rustic Roads hold their own against more than 600 miles in the other three regions. Only 12 Rustic Roads are represented in this region that lies along Wisconsin’s western border and the Mississippi River. Despite that proximity, R-99, 33 miles south of Prairie du Chien, is the only route on the western border with a segment that follows the river.

Cana Island Road, designated R-38, passes through boreal forest to the island’s 1870 light tower.

Cana Island Road, designated R-38, passes through boreal forest to the island’s 1870 light tower.

A bit farther north near La Crosse, R-26 offers a commanding view of the Mississippi River Valley from Brinkman Ridge. R-21, about 15 miles southwest of Baraboo, skirts Natural Bridges State Park, the oldest primitive human site in the upper Midwest and the location of Wisconsin’s largest natural arch.

This is a geologically diverse region where deep valleys, bluffs, rock outcroppings and rolling farmland create a patchwork quilt of landscapes. It’s an unglaciated “driftless” area with boulder-strewn fields, sandy soil and glacial moraine, visual reminders that this part of the state wasn’t affected by the last Ice Age.

One of the most spectacular scenic areas is the area around Wildcat Mountain State Park. R-56 winds through the countryside just west of the park’s towering rock formations and high ridgelines with panoramic views of woodlands and farms. Most roadsides are bursting with blooming wildflowers in the spring and broad expanses of brilliant colors in the fall.

R-70 and R-75 north of Platteville pass through a region settled by German and Welsh immigrants in the mid- to late 1800s. It’s not unusual to come upon a horse-drawn wagon here and along other routes, as several Rustic Roads travel through small Amish settlements scattered across the state.

Just north of La Crosse, another unique Southwest road is 2.7-mile R-64 that reaches the entrance to McGilvray Road. Known locally as Seven Bridges Road and accessible only on foot, the historic thoroughfare’s seven bowstring-arch bridges are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Follow the Signs

rustic-road-signRustic Roads are marked with the network’s distinctive brown-and-gold signs. A placard below each sign shows the R-prefix route number. Most routes are posted well in advance of junctions or intersections, while a few have to be sought out. Segments tend to run less than a half-dozen miles long and are typically accessible within a short distance of a major highway. While some of the roads are dirt or gravel, all are well maintained and nonthreatening to all but the largest vehicles.

Each Rustic Road has its own personality, its own natural and manmade attractions, and its own snippets of local and regional history. Linking to a slower paced yesteryear, the network of Rustic Roads provides a colorful and revealing tapestry stitched with decorative, nostalgic threads. They are quiet county roads away from mainstream traffic and cluttered development to enjoy at an unhurried pace.

 

If You Go

Camping at High Cliff State Park.

Camping at High Cliff State Park.

Many Wisconsin Rustic Roads are within a few miles of commercial RV parks and public campgrounds at state parks and forests, if they don’t skirt one directly. The following websites offer a broad range of camping options and other helpful information.

Good Sam Camping
www.goodsamcamping.com


Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners
www.wisconsincampgrounds.com/campgrounds


Wisconsin Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus
www.escapetowisconsin.com


Wisconsin Department of Tourism
www.travelwisconsin.com


Wisconsin State Park System
www.dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/camping

 


 

Big Family Fun

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The Ford Expedition EL and Denali Lite 2611BH travel trailer have more than enough room for your adventures

We’ve all heard the popular expression “Go big or go home.” But if you have a large family and you’re passionate about RVing, you pretty much have to go big or stay home. Finding the right setup to accommodate your own Brady Bunch used to require a station wagon or van, a travel TL-testtrailer and a couple of extra tents, with the inevitable quarreling that would ensue about who was going to sleep where. Thankfully, the RV industry has addressed this need with a wide range of so-called bunkhouse models that not only are equipped with bunk beds but are designed from the very beginning for family comfort with larger sofas and dinettes that also turn into beds. Pair one of these trailers with a three-row SUV, and you have the makings for big family fun.

The bunkhouse features power-operated bunks and a large rear cargo door for loading bikes and recreational gear.

The bunkhouse features power-operated bunks and a large rear cargo door for loading bikes and recreational gear.

To get the party started, we selected Ford’s recently updated, top-of-the-line 2015 Expedition EL Platinum and hitched it up to a 2016 Dutchmen Denali Lite 2611BH travel trailer. The Expedition EL, which offers three-row seating and room for up to eight, has a longer wheelbase than the standard Expedition (131 inches versus 119 inches) and more cargo space. In fact, with up to 130.8 cubic feet of real estate available, the EL is best in class — but, more importantly, it still offers usable storage when the third-row seat is up. That’s not something every three-row SUV can claim.

Plus, when equipped with the towing package (standard in the Platinum), this big ute can tow up to 9,100 pounds, more than enough to contend with the Denali Lite’s claimed dry weight of 7,019 pounds. And though the trailer’s gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) is 9,680 pounds, that leaves 2,081 pounds of cargo capacity with water and propane onboard before exceeding the Expedition’s maximum towing capacity. Just remember that if you pack the Expedition with as many people as seatbelts, you need to be aware of all that passenger weight, as the Expedition’s gross combination weight rating (gcwr) is part of what determines its tow rating.

The L-shaped galley countertop provides plenty of room for food prep.

The L-shaped galley countertop provides plenty of room for food prep.

Before hitching up, we spent several days using the Expedition EL as a family vehicle. Living in the greater Los Angeles area, driving something this large on crowded streets and highways, not to mention densely populated parking lots, could pose a problem, but Ford did an admirable job of keeping this SUV’s considerable bulk manageable. Mechanically speaking, the standard 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine, six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission with manual mode, quick steering, powerful brakes and composed suspension combine to make the extra-long Expo feel much smaller than it really is. Add the standard blind-spot info system (which incorporates rear-cross-traffic monitoring in addition to blind-spot monitoring), a standard rear backup camera and front/rear parking sensors, and it’s hard to make a mistake as long as you’re paying attention.

The Expedition’s 2015 facelift was a vast improvement. This new Expedition looks much more athletic and chiseled than its predecessor, which now looks bulbous by comparison. Resplendent in gorgeous Ruby Red paint and optional polished 22-inch aluminum wheels (20-inchers are standard in the Platinum grade), the test Expedition had an air of elegance that continued once inside the expansive cabin. Perforated leather driver and front-passenger seats with double French stitching and 10-way power adjustability are both heated and ventilated, and although we had no occasion to use the heating feature, the ventilation worked well to keep our backs dry when entering the sun-soaked vehicle. Getting comfortable behind the wheel is easy for drivers of any size, thanks to power-adjustable pedals and a steering column that offers power-tilt and telescoping functions.

The forward bedroom is small but comfortable. The U-shaped dinette has room for four to six.

The forward bedroom is small but comfortable. The U-shaped dinette has room for four to six.

Front and center is a large touch-screen display that offers entertainment, phone, voice-activated navigation (part of Equipment Group 600A) and climate-control functions, as well as a rearview camera display. The screen is large, clear and easy to read, and there are redundant controls for volume, tuning, media and climate. But it doesn’t end there. The steering wheel features buttons for cruise and Bluetooth phone functions, while a multi­directional control lets you cycle through various readouts on the display to the left of the speedometer. Ordinarily, this defaults to a small tachometer, but start pushing buttons and you can get readouts for trip/fuel, towing, off-road, settings, digital speed, oil pressure, oil temperature, transmission oil temperature and more. Once you get used to scrolling through the various menus, you can do it quickly and find what you want pretty easily.

The comfortable couch looks good and converts into a bed.

The comfortable couch looks good and converts into a bed.

In a family vehicle, there has to be plenty of room to put stuff, and the Expedition has two cup holders next to the shifter and two more at the rear of the center console for second-row passengers. The center console is large and deep, and features two USB ports, a 12-volt DC port and an SD-card slot. There’s also a handy pouch so you won’t lose small items in the compartment’s expanse, as well as slots for change and other small things. The lid is padded and comfortable, as are the armrests.

Second-row passengers won’t suffer. These seats offer a heat function, independent climate controls on the back of the second-row console, and both 12-volt DC and 120-volt AC outlets to power accessories. Air conditioning is ducted through the ceiling so everyone can remain cool and collected, even on the hottest days. The third row, as in most SUVs, is best suited for kids, or smaller adults on shorter trips. To access it, pull the strap at the second-row headrest to fold it down, pull a handle at the base of the seat to fold the seatback forward, then pull another strap at the back of the seat to tumble the entire assembly. It sounds like a lot of work, but once you understand the concept, it goes pretty quickly.

Denali-ExpeditionFloorplanLoading gear for a family trip is easy in the Expedition EL Platinum. The power rear liftgate opens almost silently with two quick pushes on the key fob, and we found the cargo area behind the third row large enough to stow luggage for five adults. If more room is required, and you can sacrifice the third row, a simple push of a button folds those seatbacks down.

Overall, we found very little not to like about this rig, except for the expansive use of chrome interior trim. Sure, it looks nice — but on a bright day, the many chrome flourishes blind you from almost every direction. There is chrome trim on the steering wheel, around every air-conditioning vent, on/around the shift handle, around the cup holders and on the door handles. It would be nice if chrome were a stand-alone option on the Platinum, as its oppressive brilliance was the only thing we disliked in this interior.

Denali-ExpeditionSpecsThere were other minor annoyances. We don’t understand the point of push-button start when you still have to pull the key fob out of your pocket to open the passenger doors — especially considering that the liftgate can be opened with a button on its handle with the key fob in your pocket. Either make the whole vehicle hands-free or don’t bother. And, as is common with vehicles with a system such as this, the vehicle sends an alert when you walk away from it with the engine running and the fob in your pocket — except, instead of a quiet beep, it issues an annoying full-blast honk.

When it came to attaching the trailer, however, we found that we couldn’t ask for a better towing companion. Once you specify Limited grade, you get the Heavy Duty Trailer Tow Package, which includes a Class IV receiver, wiring harness with four- and seven-pin connectors, auxiliary transmission cooler, heavy-duty radiator and an integrated trailer-brake controller. The engine has more than enough power to get the combo moving, and once under way, the ride is limo quiet. Turbo lag is noticeable at times, and the transmission can be lazy, especially when shifting between drive and reverse in a U-turn situation. Overall, however, this is a tow vehicle that will inspire confidence, and its extra length kept the nearly 34-foot trailer very stable, even with moderate side winds.

The Denali Lite 2611BH is a new floorplan for Dutchmen, and a well conceived one at that. As mentioned earlier, bunkhouse models are becoming increasingly popular, but a lot of interesting details make this model particularly family-friendly. For example, the rear bunks are not fixed; their height is power adjustable, similar to what you would find in a toy hauler. This is a pretty cool feature, because you can raise them all the way up, open the rear cargo door and have room for bikes or other items — sort of like a mini-toy hauler (but not for motorized toys).

Lower the bunks and you have enough height for two bunks with two sleepers on each, and if need be, Dutchmen supplies another thin mattress that can go on the floor for a triple bunk. The mattresses are thin and firm, but have a nice plush upholstery that should make them reasonably comfortable and warm in the colder months. There’s also a ladder for the kids to get up to the upper bunk and privacy curtains so they can get some shut-eye while Mom and Dad are still up. There’s even a location for an LCD television that is viewable only from the lower bunk, which may cause sibling rivalry but is a nice option, nonetheless.

The bath is thoughtfully placed right next to the bunk area and offers kid-friendly features like a bathtub with a curtain and separate entry door so kids can use the bathroom without tracking dirt, water, etc. through the living area. The toilet and a corner lavatory with mirror occupy the remaining space. There isn’t much storage here otherwise, but adjacent to the bathroom is a good-size wardrobe with room for hanging clothes and three large drawers beneath.

The bathroom has thoughtful touches like a bathtub with a curtain and a separate entry door.

The bathroom has thoughtful touches like a bathtub with a curtain and a separate entry door.

On the street side in the large slideout (the only one in the unit) is a big U-shaped dinette that can easily seat four and perhaps six, depending on the size of the family. The table is supported by two posts, so it’s nice and stable, and like all good travel trailer dinettes, it turns into a bed for two more sleepers. If you’re keeping track, that’s as many as eight smallish overnight guests so far, but we’re not done yet. Next to the dinette in the same slide is a 62-inch sofa that is not only comfortable but converts into another bed for two more guests.

Across from the living-room slideout is the kitchen, which is semi-L-shaped and offers plenty of space to work with. Laminate countertops designed to look like granite are functional and attractive, and play nicely with the Beauflor faux-plank flooring and dark furniture, a popular scheme these days. The sink and faucet are plastic, but the sink cover is genuine wood, which looks nice and can double as a cutting board. There are cabinets above, two large drawers below and a couple of cubbies, plus a large door underneath that will accommodate a normal-size kitchen trash can. On the other side of the kitchen L in the entryway are two more large drawers for food storage or anything else you might need quick access to.

A familiar three-burner Atwood stove/oven provides cooking heat, and for quick meals there’s a small High Pointe microwave oven mounted above. An 8-cubic-foot Norcold refrigerator with a wood front and generously proportioned pantry with two drawers underneath round out the chef’s quarters.

The Expedition EL interior is well finished, and the center stack is easy to navigate, thanks to its large touch screen and redundant controls.

The Expedition EL interior is well finished, and the center stack is easy to navigate, thanks to its large touch screen and redundant controls.

The forward entertainment center has a 32-inch LED HD Furrion television and features a large cubby to the left with a shelf in the middle. A Furrion radio/DVD player does the job and also operates exterior speakers located underneath a large awning with exterior lighting. There are cabinets underneath as well for additional storage. The living area is light and bright, courtesy of the LED lighting, large windows and a skylight/vent above the kitchen. Our only complaint here is that, on a hot day with the sun overhead, you’ll get cooked while making lunch. Plan on a skylight cover, and you’ll be fine.

Spoiler alert: You won’t be blown away by the forward bedroom. It has enough room to sleep on the queen-size bed, which, of course, is the bottom-line function of a bedroom — but that’s about it. There is a tall, narrow mirrored wardrobe on the left and a mirrored cabinet on the right (each with a drawer underneath), plus more cabinets overhead. The trailer we sampled had no TV, but there is a supplied mounting location on the forward wall that would put a TV in perfect view for watching from bed. A nice added touch is the sliding bedroom door, which offers more privacy and quiet than a curtain.

 Chrome trim looks good but can be blinding on bright days. Leather seats offer power adjustment, heating and ventilation.

Chrome trim looks good but can be blinding on bright days. Leather seats offer power adjustment, heating and ventilation.

Outside, the Denali Lite has a large pass-through storage compartment up front, which is fairly common on today’s travel trailers. What is uncommon, however, is the placement of the utilities. The dump valves, power inlet, city-water connection and a port for the exterior spray hose are at the left rear of the trailer (where they should be), but the cable connection is in the front of the slideout, and the black-tank flush is on the opposite side.

Quirks notwithstanding, the Denali Lite 2611BH is a well-executed floorplan that can sleep as many as a dozen (albeit small) people, if need be, and when paired with the Expedition EL, makes for easy travel to wherever your family adventures take you.

More Info

 

Dutchmen ManufacturingDenali-3
574-537-0600 | www.dutchmen.com

Ford Motor Company
www.ford.com/expedition

 

 

 


 

Camp Casual

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Packing plates and bowls into your RV every time you head out on the road is a pain, and using paper plates sure doesn’t add much to your mealtime experiences. Camp Casual brings back the fun with a colorful, retro-inspired 12-piece dining set. The vintage-style dishes have RV-camping designs and are made of 100 percent BPA-free heavyweight melamine. The set contains four unique plates, four salad plates and four bowls. The company also recently introduced its five-piece kid-friendly mealtime set, which includes a three-part divided plate, a bowl, cup, fork and spoon.

The kids’ set is packed in a reusable box with a handle. The company claims the sets are top-shelf dishwasher-safe.

MSRP: $49.99/12-piece set; $19.99/kids’ set
818-864-2707 | www.campcasual.com

 


 

In Search of Giants

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Visitors come from all over the world to hike through California’s primeval forests and stand in awe beneath canopies of ancient redwoods and giant sequoias, the tallest trees on earth

 

Among California’s unique attractions are the world’s tallest trees, massive conifers that can live for thousands of years. The coast redwood grows along the state’s northwestern edge from the Oregon border south to Big Sur near Monterey. The giant sequoia, also known as the Sierra redwood, grows inland. Although the coast redwood stretches taller (to 379 feet, higher than the Statue of Liberty), it’s smaller in diameter (to 22 feet), with bark averaging 12 inches in thickness. Its inland cousin tops out at 311 feet with a 40-foot-diameter and bark that measures up to 31 inches in thickness.

What follows are some of the best spots for communing with California’s towering trees and a selection of RV parks and public campgrounds. State park campground information
Video-Buttoncan be found at www.parks.ca.gov, and reservations can be made at www.reserveamerica.com. Reservations for national park and forest service campgrounds can be made at www.recreation.gov. Websites are listed for nearby commercial RV parks.

NORTHERN COAST

Most of California’s coast redwoods can be found within 50 miles of the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and the Oregon border. Rain, fog and moderate temperatures contribute to their survival.

Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley

A national monument since 1908, Muir Woods is the closest place to San Francisco to view significant groves of coast redwoods. Muir Woods has two groves that are easily accessible via a well-maintained trail that is suitable for the handicapped. Parking spots fill up quickly, so get there before the 8 a.m. opening. A seasonal weekend and holiday shuttle stops at a parking lot just off the State Route 1 exit from northbound U.S. Route 101, but that can fill up, too. Leave the trailer at your campground, as vehicles over 35 feet are prohibited on the access road.

A giant uprooted tree in Humbolt Redwoods State Park.

A giant uprooted tree in Humbolt Redwoods State Park.

Camping: Muir Woods has no on-site camping. A good option for RVs up to 32 feet is Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Lagunitas, 26 miles distant. For RVs up to 31 feet, Sonoma Coast State Beach, about 65 miles from Muir Woods, has several campgrounds. My favorite is Bodega Dunes with 98 sites, no hookups, hot showers, flush toilets and a dump station. Nearby Bodega Bay RV Park(www.bodegabayrvpark.com) has 73 full- and partial-hookup sites for vehicles up to 60 feet, free cable and Wi-Fi, a dump station and restrooms with showers. A closer option is San Francisco North/Petaluma KOA (www.koa.com/campgrounds/san-francisco), 34 miles away, with 312 mostly shaded sites for rigs up to 60 feet, 20/30/50-amp hookups, some pull-throughs, a dump station, sewer service, cable TV, Wi-Fi, a dog park and a heated pool.

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve and Austin Creek State Recreation Area, Guerneville

This 700-acre park complex is a popular place for hikers and people seeking easy access to the Russian River for kayaking and summer fun. The park has two significant redwoods, the 310-foot Parson Jones Tree and the 1,400-year-old Colonel Armstrong Tree. Each fall (September 12 and 13 this year), the town plays host to the Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival, which attracts well-known talent, with much of the seating in kayaks and canoes floating in the river.

Camping: RV camping is prohibited at the park complex. Good options are to camp and leave your trailer at nearby Samuel P. Taylor State Park or Sonoma Coast State Beach, both mentioned above. Just 9 miles west in Duncan Mills is Casini Ranch Family Campground (www.casiniranch.com) with 225 sites near the Russian River, including some pull-throughs, some with 30-amp hookups and all with access to restrooms with showers, a dump station and laundry facilities, plus boat and canoe rentals.

Hendy Woods State Park, Philo

Trails lead through ancient groves in Hendy Woods State Park and past a giant uprooted tree in Humbolt Redwoods State Park.

Trails lead through ancient groves in Hendy Woods State Park and past a giant uprooted tree in Humbolt Redwoods State Park.

If wine tasting and camping sound like a match made in heaven, this park should be on your list. Located in the Anderson Valley wine district, Hendy Woods has two virgin redwood groves within its 845-acre boundaries. The microclimate here especially suits the pinot noir grape, featured in nearby wineries that host the annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival each May.

Camping: With 92 sites, the park campground is a pleasantly shaded retreat, and being inland can be a nice alternative to oceanside parks that are often fogged in. Trailers are limited to 35 feet. About 33 miles to the west near the village of Mendocino are some of the best state parks in Northern California, including Van Damme State Park, with 64 sites for trailers up to 35 feet, full-service restrooms and a dump station. Located 3.5 miles from Mendocino, Caspar Beach RV Park (www.casparbeachrvpark.com) is a Good Sam Park with full hookups, cable, Wi-Fi and beach access.

Richardson Grove State Park, Garberville

Eight miles south of Garberville, you can leave Route 101 and drive the old Highway 101, which predates the freeway, for 31 miles on a stretch aptly nicknamed Avenue of the Giants. Richardson Grove is the first park you encounter featuring significant old-growth coast redwood groves, many accessible by just pulling off the road and gawking. Watch for signs indicating the recommended Exhibit and Settler’s trails.
Camping: Plenty of on-site camping is available for trailers shorter than 24 feet. Garberville’s Richardson Grove Campground and RV Park (www.redwoodfamilycamp.org) has 45 sites with full or partial hookups, including 10 pull-throughs. Amenities include restrooms with showers, groceries, a dump station, laundry facilities and Wi-Fi.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Myers Flat

This 51,000-acre state park is the largest in California catering to redwood trees and their admirers. It hosts one of the state’s largest groves, Rockefeller Forest, and has many trees exceeding 300 feet. Hiking trails abound, ranging from quick ½-mile jaunts, like the must-do Founders Grove Nature Trail, to those best suited to the truly fit. One of the attractions is Giant Tree, and at 354 feet in height and 53 feet in circumference, it is aptly named. As a bonus, the Eel River runs through the area, known in non-drought times as a prime salmon and steelhead fishery.

Hiking through Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Hiking through Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Camping: Three campgrounds at the state park cater to RVers with trailers up to 24 feet. Beware of a tight squeeze between two trees on the drive to Albee Creek if you’re towing anything wider than 8 feet. For bigger rigs, Giant Redwoods RV and Camp (www.giantredwoodsrv.com), a Good Sam Park in Myers Flat, has 30/50-amp sites, including some pull-throughs, plus a dump station, laundry facilities, groceries and free Wi-Fi.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Orick

This park is at or near the top of my list of favorite places to camp. It’s a 14,000-acre playground with more than 300 old-growth redwood groves, 10 miles of beautiful, unspoiled beach, 75 miles of trails and as many Roosevelt elk as campers. Start by driving the 10-mile Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which parallels Route 101, and then double-back so you can wander on foot or bike. Hike to the aptly named Big Tree — 300-plus-feet tall, 21 feet in diameter and 1,500 years in age. Fog is possible, particularly in the morning.

Camping: The state park has two campgrounds, Elk Prairie and Golf Bluffs Beach. Nirvana for campers and elk, Elk Prairie has 76 sites for RVs up to 27 feet. The first-come, first-served Gold Bluffs Beach Campground has 26 sites for RVs up to 24 feet and an 8-foot-width limit. Options for those with longer rigs are just 10 miles north in Klamath. Klamath River RV Park (www.klamathriverrv.com) is a Good Sam Park with 30-amp hookups and some pull-throughs. Amenities include a laundry, RV supplies, a boat dock and Wi-Fi. Another Klamath Good Sam Park, Mystic Forest RV Park (www.mysticforestrv.com), has 20/30-amp campsites and some pull-throughs, plus laundry facilities, groceries and Wi-Fi.

Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, Crescent City

California-RedwoodsMap

Tall Tales: The National Park Service and California State Parks together manage 133,000 coastal acres known as Redwood National and State Parks, a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. Within the collective boundaries are Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith and Prairie Creek Redwoods state parks and Redwood National Park, a quartet of nature preserves that protect 45 percent of the remaining old-growth forests of coast redwoods. On the other side of the state, jointly administered Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks host the world’s largest groves of giant sequoias, and Yosemite National Park is endowed with three impressive sequoia groves, including one with 500 mature trees.

This 6,400-acre park was logged in the 1920s, and about half is old-growth coast redwoods with the rest second-growth redwoods and other species. The park has 8 miles of Pacific shoreline, so it suits folks who like to leave the forest and watch the waves. Much of the coast is steep, but Damnation Trail provides good access, and Wilson Beach offers a half-mile of sand.

Camping: The park’s campground has 107 campsites for RVs up to 31 feet. The park is open year-round, but the campground usually closes in winter; check before you visit. Two RV parks can be found within a couple of miles in Crescent City. Hiouchi RV Resort (www.hiouchirv.com), a Good Sam Park, has with 90 sites and 30/50-amp hookups, a dump station, a laundry and showers. Crescent City Redwoods KOA (www.crescentcitykoa.com) has 41 sites, including some pull-throughs, and 30/50-amp hookups. Amenities include a dump station, a laundry and Wi-Fi.

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Crescent City

Named for one of the famed mountain men who opened the area to exploration, this excellent 10,000-acre state park includes two significant groves of coast redwoods, the 5,000-acre National Tribute Grove and the smaller but equally impressive Stout Grove. Close to the town of Crescent City, the park is almost in Oregon. Hiking trails abound, and I highly recommend driving the 6.9-mile Howland Hill Auto Tour, a well-maintained dirt-and-gravel road that has some twists and turns but is negotiable by vehicles that fit the campground parameters of a 31-foot limit. Nearby is the Smith River National Scenic Byway, which tracks one of the state’s few free-flowing (undammed) rivers.

Camping: The state park campground has more than 100 campsites, some of which accommodate larger RVs up to 45 feet. The campground has restrooms with showers and a dump station. Nearby RV parks include Hiouchi RV Resort and Crescent City Redwoods KOA, both mentioned above.

CENTRAL COAST

The area around Santa Cruz has several notable coast redwood groves and the added benefit of proximity to such popular destinations as Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur and Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. The following two state parks are definitely worth a visit, though they do not have the prolonged scenic drives of other redwood areas to the north, and their campgrounds are limited to smaller RVs. Plenty of nearby commercial RV parks make up the difference for those traveling with larger rigs.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek

California’s oldest state park, this 18,000-acre reserve has the largest stand of redwoods in this part of the state and is known for its variety of waterfalls. An impressive 80 miles of trails traverse the park, including the must-hike Redwood Nature Trail, just over half a mile.

Camping: The park’s campground has 31 sites for trailers up to 24 feet. A Good Sam Park in Felton, 23 miles away, Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort (www.santacruzredwoodsrvresort.com) has 30/50-amp sites, including some pull-throughs and big-rig sites. The park also has Wi-Fi, cable, laundry facilities and recreational amenities.

The narrow-gauge Roaring Camp Railroad takes visitors on a one-hour tour from Felton through the redwood forest.

The narrow-gauge Roaring Camp Railroad takes visitors on a one-hour tour from Felton through the redwood forest.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Felton

This 4,650-acre park in the Santa Cruz Mountains has several old-growth and second-growth redwood groves. With 15 miles of trails, the park is best suited to folks who enjoy hiking and horseback riding, as well as fishing for steelhead on the San Lorenzo River. The Roaring Camp Railroad takes passengers from Felton through the park’s forests.

Camping: The park campground has 103 sites for RVs up to 33 feet. Outside Capitola, New Brighton State Beach has an excellent campground with 82 sites for RVs up to 30 feet, some with 30-amp hookups. Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort, noted previously, is only 7 miles away.

HIGH SIERRA

Until now the focus has been on Northern California’s coast redwoods. Giant sequoia trees live inland in a narrow 60-mile strip along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada range. They are best viewed in the following three state and national parks.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Arnold

This is a prime spot for viewing giant sequoias. Within the 6,500-acre boundaries are two large groves. The less ambitious can explore the North Grove Loop, with 150 sequoias within 1.5 miles. For the more energetic, the 5-mile hike to the South Grove is a fine one, with relatively little elevation gain and shade most of the way. The park’s two largest trees, the Agassiz Tree and the Palace Hotel Tree, are on short, well-marked spurs off this trail. Nearby is Columbia State Historic Park, a restored gold mining town.

Camping: Campgrounds within the state park include the North Grove Campground and Oak Hollow Campground, both limited to RVs up to 30 feet. This area is in California’s gold country with no shortage of RV accommodations. Just down the road, Golden Pines RV Resort and Campground (www.goldenpinesresort.com) is a Good Sam Park with 30-amp full-hookup sites, including some pull-throughs, a dump station and a heated pool.

Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Village

Must-see tree: The patriarch of Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove is the Grizzly Giant, an 1,800-year-old giant sequoia.

Must-see tree: The patriarch of Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove is the Grizzly Giant, an 1,800-year-old giant sequoia.

Yosemite is home to three significant groves of giant sequoias. Two are close to Crane Flat Campground, only 5 miles from the park’s Big Oak Flat Entrance off State Route 120. The other, the Mariposa Grove, is close to the Wawona area of the park, just inside the South Entrance off State Route 41. All of the groves can be reached on foot less than a mile from the parking lots. The Mariposa Grove contains what is thought to be Yosemite’s oldest sequoia, the 1,800-plus-year-old Grizzly Giant. For the next couple of years, an extensive restoration project will limit access to the Mariposa Grove, so be sure to check the park’s website for the latest visitor information.

Camping: You could write a book on camping in Yosemite National Park, but two campgrounds are best for seeing giant sequoias. Five miles from the Big Oak Flat Entrance, Crane Flat Campground has 166 sites for RVs up to 35 feet and trailers up to 27 feet, and is close to two redwood groves. Wawona Campground has 93 sites for RVs up to 35 feet with the same amenities. It is just inside the park’s South Entrance and close to the Mariposa Grove. Reservations at all Yosemite campgrounds should be made well in advance, particularly during summer. Nearby RV parks include a couple of Good Sam Parks. Twenty miles from the South Entrance, Sierra Meadows RV Park (www.sierrameadows.com/rv-park) in Ahwahnee has pull-through and back-in 50-amp sites and access to a golf course and swimming pool. High Sierra RV Park (www.highsierrarv.com) in nearby Oakhurst has 30/50-amp sites, some pull-throughs, and a dump station and laundry facilities.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Three Rivers

A little further afield, these two national parks are managed as one and are home to some 75 groves of giant sequoias, including the world’s largest by volume, the General Sherman Tree. Sequoia is the second oldest national park in the country, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year; Kings Canyon turns 75. If that weren’t enough, the west slope of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states, is within Sequoia’s borders. And if all that real estate is too confining for you, nearby Sequoia National Forest contains the world’s greatest concentration of giant sequoia groves, including 33 groves in Giant Sequoia National Monument. There are several points of entry, but the epicenter is Grant Grove Village, site of the Kings Canyon Visitor Center, reached via State Route 180 east of Fresno.

Camping: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have a multitude of campgrounds, generally with size limits of either 22 or 30 feet. If you have a smaller rig and enter at the Big Stump Entrance, I suggest camping that first night at Azalea, Sunset or Crystal Springs campground. Then drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway and camp at Sentinel, Sheep Creek, Canyon View or Moraine. In neighboring Sequoia National Forest, Princess Campground has 90 sites, including some for RVs up to 50 feet, near the paved, accessible hiking trail through Indian Basin Grove. In Fresno, there’s Blackstone North RV Park (www.blackstonenorthrvpark.com), a Good Sam Park with large 30/50-amp sites, cable, Wi-Fi, restrooms and a laundry facility.

 


 

 

Roughing It Easy

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The Nash 22H and Chevy Tahoe LT not only make extended dry camping possible, but also enjoyable

 

It goes without saying that trailers are designed for the great outdoors, but these days, getting away from it all has a different meaning than it once did. Where primitive camping used to be the only choice in many areas, now we can be spoiled by full hookups and a variety of amenities, depending on where Video-Buttonwe choose to stay. While this kind of convenience is great for a lot of RVers, the side effect is that most travel trailers are no longer really designed for extended use in remote areas. They usually have only one battery, which goes dead after one or two days, and they don’t come with, or even offer, a generator in most instances. And since they usually spend their time on the road and on smooth, level campsites, their suspension and chassis aren’t designed for roughing it, either. As a result, many RVers must invest in some expensive upgrades to make a trailer suitable for use off the beaten path.

The kitchen has plenty of cabinet storage and usable countertop space with a small extension.

The kitchen has plenty of cabinet storage and usable countertop space with a small extension.

It’s for these reasons that the Nash 22H from Northwood Manufacturing is such a pleasant surprise. At less than 25 feet in total length, it’s small enough to go most anyplace and has all the comforts of home. But that’s where the similarities between it and other small travel trailers end.

For one thing, Northwood Manufacturing prides itself on building its own chassis, which is independently certified and designed to handle the rough stuff. It comes standard with a 20-watt solar panel that, while not capable of fully charging one or more batteries, does provide enough power to provide a trickle charge. For those that want more power, it’s also prepped for a generator. And in keeping with its off-grid theme, the 22H comes with a 10-gallon DSI water heater (instead of the usual six gallons) plus holding tanks that are large for a trailer this size: 40 gallons of freshwater, 42 gallons of gray water and 35 gallons of black water. Additionally, you can equip the trailer with a 2.5-kilowatt LP-gas generator, a 60- or 100-watt solar panel, heated and enclosed holding tanks, a cargo carrier and other hardcore gear.

The Tahoe features standalone options such as 20-inch polished aluminum wheels ($1,400) and White Diamond tricoat paint ($995).

The Tahoe features standalone options such as 20-inch polished aluminum wheels ($1,400) and White Diamond tricoat paint ($995).

The 22H has a claimed dry weight of 4,118 pounds and a gvwr of 7,000 pounds, which made it a good match for Chevy’s new Tahoe SUV, which can tow up to 8,600 pounds with the optional 3.42:1 rear axle ratio. Equipped as it was with a standard 3.08 rear axle and 2WD, the test Tahoe was rated to tow up to 6,600 pounds, which was perfectly adequate for our testing purposes. Obviously, a four-wheel-drive model with the lower rear axle ratio would have been a more appropriate pairing for a rough-and-ready trailer like the 22H, but Chevy’s test-fleet size is limited. And besides, the Tahoe is similar in spirit to the 22H in that it is also designed for heavy-duty use, being one of the few SUVs on the market that still uses body-on-frame construction.

Thankfully, rugged intentions on the part of the Tahoe and the Nash didn’t translate into sacrifice or discomfort. The Tahoe in its LT trim comes equipped with standard leather-appointed and heated front seats with memory settings, power adjustable pedals, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, Bose premium audio and an array of “connectivity features.” These include a 4G LTE hot spot with a 3-gigabyte, three-month data trial and a six-month subscription to OnStar featuring turn-by-turn navigation, automatic crash response and other features.

TahoeSpecsThusly equipped, the Tahoe LT carries a sticker price of $50,045 — but the test unit was also optioned up with the Luxury Package ($2,940), which adds a lot of things you probably don’t need but are nice to have. These include a so-called passive entry system with remote start, heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel with power tilt/telescoping function, a power-folding third row and a hands-free lift gate.

The latter two features really help when packing; simply push a button on the key fob twice, and the lift gate rises smoothly and quickly. Once open, there’s no trickery involved in folding the third-row seats — you push a button in the cargo area, and they fold flat effortlessly. Just keep in mind that if your family is large enough to occupy all three rows, there isn’t much space behind the rearmost seat back to store more than a few grocery bags. You’ll need to invest in a roof pod.

The Luxury Package also comes with several safety features, which got mixed reviews. We like Blind Spot Monitoring so much that we think it should come standard in all vehicles, particularly large, high-riding ones. And the Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Front/Rear Park Assist come in handy when trying to park a large vehicle like this one in densely populated strip mall parking lots. Some members of our family liked the Lane Departure Alert feature that sounds when you stray from your lane, and the Forward Collision Alert, which screeches when cars in front of you stop suddenly. Given the number of people who prefer texting to driving, the latter two are probably good features for many, especially other motorists.

The Tahoe LT comes standard with Chevy’s MyLink multimedia system, which includes an 8-inch-diagonal touch screen with navigation, entertainment, contacts, apps and a three-month subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. It also offers Bluetooth phone connectivity and wireless music streaming.

The Tahoe LT comes standard with Chevy’s MyLink multimedia system, which includes an 8-inch-diagonal touch screen with navigation, entertainment, contacts, apps and a three-month subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. It also offers Bluetooth phone connectivity and wireless music streaming.

The Tahoe is remarkably quiet and smooth, almost to a fault. The 5.3-liter V-8 runs like a sewing machine — in fact, the loudest sound emanating from the Tahoe at idle was the accessory drive system, which made little more than a soft ticking sound. We may be among the minority, but we miss the V-8 burble at idle — and even during passing, the engine’s sound is muted. Power is good, whether towing or solo, but we could definitely see how much it could be improved with the 3.42 gear; the 3.08 gear made the Tahoe feel lazy, and downshifts were sluggish. We found it best to put the six-speed transmission in manual mode and do the shifting for ourselves, especially on winding mountain roads.

Ride quality is probably what you’d expect from a large SUV, which is to say that it’s pillowy soft even when driving solo. When towing, the tail bobbed occasionally as the suspension coped with undulating pavement, but was otherwise comfortable. Obviously, this is no sports car, but the handling was predictable and the steering felt responsive, even if it was a bit over-boosted for our tastes. The brakes also felt plenty adequate to help slow the weight of the trailer.

The Nash 22H and Chevy Tahoe make a handsome pairing. A front rock guard protects the trailer’s finish but can be blinding in the sun.

The Nash 22H and Chevy Tahoe make a handsome pairing. A front rock guard protects the trailer’s finish but can be blinding in the sun.

Since the intent of the 22H is dry camping, that’s exactly what we did, spending some quality time in the Los Padres National Forest area of Southern California. The trailer tows easily, and its smaller side wall area doesn’t cause much tail wagging for the tow vehicle in light crosswinds. We appreciate the intent of the aluminum rock guard on the front of the trailer, as this standard feature will certainly prevent damage when traveling down gravel roads. However, we wish that it went only as high as the lower third of the trailer. Extended as it was to the same height as the rear window of the Tahoe, the rock guard’s shiny surface could be blinding when looking in the side- and rearview mirrors.

Once we arrived at our destination, we were ready to enjoy the surroundings in minutes, thanks to the manual stabilizing jacks and a power Carefree awning. Unpacking was a little cumbersome, however, as the two exterior storage compartments have doors on the driver’s side only. That’s not a problem when packing, but when setting up camp, you have to walk around the trailer to put things like a table, chairs or a barbecue on the entry side. The compartments go all the way to the curbside wall, so it seems strange that they don’t just go all the way through. They are, however, both accessible from the inside of the trailer by lifting up the bed or the jackknife sofa, the former offering gas struts to make lifting a lot easier.

The nearly queen-size front bed features storage underneath, cabinets above, and a long cabinet and two drawers on the side.

The nearly queen-size front bed features storage underneath, cabinets above, and a long cabinet and two drawers on the side.

Though we imagine this trailer being used by a couple of sportsmen or a small family, the sleeping accommodations and aforementioned tank capacities suggest that four to six people could actually camp comfortably. The forward bed, while not quite an RV queen at 54 x 74½ inches, was supportive, and there is a good amount of storage space, courtesy of the overhead cabinets and a long cabinet for folded clothes with two small drawers underneath. Just aft of the bed is the jackknife sofa, which converts quickly and easily to a small bed for an adult or two children. And the dinette, which seats four, converts into a bed using a mechanism whereby the front support leg is folded and the table pivots down into place. It’s not only fast and easy to set up, but it is a lot more stable than a traditional push-in post arrangement.

TL1505-test-NashFloorplanThe opposing kitchen offers adequate counter space for simple meal prep, and if you need more room to spread out, there is a small countertop extension. The plastic sink is topped off with a plastic faucet that mimics brushed nickel, and a plastic sink cover doubles as a cutting board. Directly below the sink’s edge is a cubbie for small items like a brush and sponge, and below that, a large cabinet with a single shelf that can serve as a pantry. Three drawers below and large cabinets above offer more than enough storage space, and there’s additional cabinetry above the dinette. Toward the rear is a three-burner stove with an oven, and a microwave above. Slots in the counter behind the stove provide knife storage. All the way to the rear of the living space is a 6-cubic-foot refrigerator with a wood front that matches the rest of the cabinetry.

NashSpecsLivability of this trailer overall is pretty good, considering its compact dimensions. Although we could not watch TV because this particular unit was not so equipped (a 19-inch, 12-volt DC-compatible TV is optional), we were able to listen to the AM/FM/DVD player with Bluetooth compatibility and four speakers. Sound was a bit on the tinny side, but it was decent enough so that no speakers are required outside to hear the music clearly.

When it was time to turn in for the evening, we discovered a couple of things that we’d like to see changed. First, while we understand that miniblinds are the most cost-effective way to cover windows, they take a beating over rougher roads and get crooked, bent, etc. Northwood tells us fabric shades are optional and will be standard for 2016. We’re also not fans of furnace registers that are in the middle of the living area floor, but this may be necessitated by the huge holding tanks that don’t leave a lot of other routing options.

All the way to the rear is the bathroom, which is quite spacious for a trailer this size. For the most part, it is well executed with a large, mirrored wardrobe for hanging clothes, a toilet with a hand flush, and a large lavatory with storage underneath and a mirrored medicine cabinet above. However, the bath area is also where we found a few problems. The shower hose broke immediately, the enclosure was pulling away from the wall, and the door handle came off on the first day of use. In fairness, Northwood rushed this unit out to us, so a post-delivery inspection (PDI) had not been performed prior to delivery.

Small complaints aside, the Nash 22H really is a unique trailer. It offers standard features and options normally found in much larger, more expensive trailers yet remains lightweight and maneuverable enough for most full-size SUVs and half-ton pickups to tow easily. If you’re shopping for a budget-friendly go-anywhere trailer, your list of possible candidates is likely short — and the 22H should be on it.

Northwood Manufacturing | 800-766-6274 | www.northwoodmfg.com

 


 

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2015 Ford F-450 Pickup

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Though appearances stay the same, this beast is changed big in ways you don’t see

Here’s a truck for folks who really need a workhorse with really high tow ratings. Although it doesn’t appear very different from last year’s model on the outside, underneath there have been major changes.

Ford’s 6.7L Power Stroke turbodiesel V-8 is in its second-generation, and the larger Garrett GT37 VGT turbocharger will boost performance at higher altitudes, offer greater power potential and deliver better exhaust braking capability. The new turbocharger also has improved oil and cooling lines and exhaust brake operation can be manually controlled by a switch on the instrument panel. The 19.5-inch alloy wheels are back too.

2015 F450-interiorThe standard 6.7-liter turbodiesel V8 powerplant has 440 horsepower at 2800 rpm and 860 lb-ft of torque at 1600 rpm. Additionally, the six-speed automatic transmission now comes with a stronger torque converter. Additionaly an improved frame and suspension adds to its towing prowess. Tow ratings have been increased to 31,200 pounds for fifth-wheel trailers.

The F-450 Super Duty is offered in five levels, base XL, XLT, Lariat, the King Ranch and the top-line Platinum. The cab is the big 6-passenger, 4-door Crew Cab, and dual rear wheels are standard. The King Ranch edition gets an upgraded interior, added colors and special graphics, plus new exterior colors. Lariat and higher trim levels have rear parking sensors, remote engine start, rear-view cameras and power-sliding rear windows. King Ranch and Platinum editions come with a standard Sony audio system with CD player, 9 speakers, satellite radio and MyFordTouch display, plus a nav system. All trim levels have available FX Off-Road Package, fifth-wheel towing-prep package, spray-in bed liner. XLT and higher trim packages come with trailer sway control and integrated trailer brake controller. All models get ABS and traction control.