Feeling Alive in Death Valley…

I just got back from an amazing first trip to Death Valley National Park with some amazing people and I desperately want to go back.

Death Valley Sunset

Twitter has been amazing for a lot of reasons, but mostly for it’s role in allowing a community to come together that would otherwise probably never have any contact.  The weekly twitter chat #ATQA (Adventure Travel Question & Answer) has introduced me to a group of incredible people online and I’ve had the great fortune to meet quite a few of them in person.  So when #ATQA host and Adventure Travel Aficionado J. Brandon started talking about a group meet up in Death Valley, I was in without hesitation.

#ATQA is a pretty big community online and the weekly chats bring in a lot of participation.  But when it comes down to planning a trip, very few people can make it happen.  I have found this to be pretty typical with most group trip planning: lots of interest, little actual participation.  Not that that’s a bad thing, fewer people is often better and easier to manage, more flexible…and fewer people to drink my whiskey!

Mosaic Canyon ATQA- Death Valley

Three of us made it out to Death Valley and I could ‘t have spent my time in Death Valley with two better people.  Val said it best, “…an amazing confluence of travel, people, and place”.  It’s the trifecta of happiness!  I have always loved to travel and I’m not the cruise-ship-resort-tourist type of traveler.  I find real bliss traveling in dirty places, off the map, encountering real people and I generally enjoy the company of the people I find there.  Even though we were in the California desert only a couple of hours from Las Vegas, this felt like real travel.  Long bumpy drives on lonely dirt roads to obscure sign posts in the desert had something to do with that, but this really did have more to do with the people.  I haven’t had this sense of ease and understanding on a trip since traveling South America with my dad.

I think it’s easy to feel at home anywhere in the world, it’s rarely a “place” that makes me feel more comfortable and at ease.  Although there are places that call to me, like canyons and rivers, feeling at home is much more about the people you share that place with.  Those interactions and relationships are what shape an experience more so than the water, rock and sky.  Traveling solo is sort of a cheat, you can be comfortable in your community of ONE.  But traveling in a group, and feeling a definite sense of community and understanding is much harder to find.

I have to thank Val and J for making Death Valley one of my new favorite places and I can’t wait to go back for more.

 

Teakettle Junction- Death Valley

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Images from this trip are available on my gallery at WildernessDave.Photoshelter.com.

Test Run with a Teardrop Trailer…

The Wilderness Wife and I like to travel.  We talk a lot about trips we’d like to take and places we’d like to see.  I like to run pretty lean when it’s just me, but the wife likes just a little creature comfort when we’re out road-tripping and camping for multiple days.  A couple years ago we saw a couple pull into a camp ground hauling a small teardrop trailer from T@B.  That began our obsession with teardrop trailers.

This past May we took a few days off and drove to the Overland Expo outside of Flagstaff, mostly to see friends, but with the secondary motive of checking out the trailer options for overlanding.  The Expo proved fruitful and we came home with a stack of brochures for all the trailer and gear options.  There were a few stand-outs that we really liked.

The Moby1 Teardrop Trailer…

teardrop trailers- Moby1 trailerOne of the first trailers we saw that we really liked was from Moby1 Expedition Trailers, LLC.  We liked that it was light, clean and simple with high clearance and plenty of options.  A very versatile trailer that we could take anywhere and probably tow with any vehicle.  They have a variety of configurations ranging from super light, bare bones trailers to heavy duty, cross country, off-road trailers with tons of amenities.  A viable option, but we wanted to see more…

 

So-Cal Teardrops…

teardrop trailers- so-cal trailers

We looked around and saw a few others, most of which just didn’t fit us.  Then we found the setup from So-Cal Teardrops and really liked what we saw.  These teardrops were pretty sweet and have a TON of optional upgrades (more than we could ever afford).  They fit most of what we were looking for – off-road capability, solar options, water storage and pumping options, kitchen setup, optional bike racks, awnings, etc.  As with most of this kind of equipment, there is some sticker shock when you start asking.

Even so, we had the bug after the expo and just couldn’t let it go.  The wife was shopping for used trailers looking for deals.  I wasn’t sure if she’d really be as comfortable as she thought in one of these.  I mean, they look like they could be stuffy and cramped…it’s a tin can in the desert, what’s comfortable about that?

So we had to try one.  That was that.

When my foot injury kept me from flying off to California to tough out two weeks on the JMT, we decided to spend her birthday camping.  We settled on the Grand Canyon and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out a teardrop trailer and see if it was something we really thought we would use.  Luckily, she found a local outfit renting Little Guy Trailers under the name Old School Teardrop.

Old School Teardrop Trailers…

Old School Trailer- teardrop trailer

I contacted Old School Teardrop via email after checking out their site and Facebook Page.  The wife had pretty much decided already that she wanted to try to rent one from them if it was available…and it was her birthday so I had to see what I could do.  Jose, the owner of Old School Teardrop, got back to me and we slowly hammered out the details via email.  Jose was very accommodating and actually let us pick the trailer up the night before our rental so we could get an early start with it.  He has two trailers he rents out and has plans to get another one.  Both trailers are kept very clean and he has rules against allowing pets or smokers use the trailers.

Teardrop trailers - Old School Teardrop

My giant truck barely knew the trailer was there.  The one we rented was pretty light weight and stripped down.  Jose had it outfitted with a bed, storage pockets on one wall and a set of old-school metal lunchboxes on the other wall for storage (pretty cool!).  We got the trailer up north and made our first night’s stop at Bedrock City.  The trailer was still holding some of the heat from the valley and took a while to cool off inside.  Even with the roof vent wide open, the two side windows open and the back left wide open all night it was still a little stuffy until about 4 in the morning.

Old School Trailer- teardrop trailer

After that first night though, it stayed cooler and was much more comfortable.  We spent three more nights camping at the Desert View Campground in Grand Canyon National Park.  The trailer gave us a nice spot to chill out, nap, crash at night, change clothes in privacy and a secure place to stash our stuff while we were out exploring.  The most important part: After 4 days on the road and camping the wife was not ready to go home!  WIN!  Four days in and she was ready to keep going and a lot of that had to do with the trailer.

Teardrop trailers - Old School Teardrop

So, it sounds like a trailer of some kind is in our future.  It’s just a matter of figuring out what we can afford vs. what we need to make it worth while.  Renting the trailer was a great learning experience and gave us a lot of information to work with in making a decision.  I also think Old School Teardrop will continue to be a great resource for us until we find one of our own.  Jose seemed pretty excited about having Wilderness Dave take one of his trailers out.   We’ve already talked about renting one again for an extended trip out to Joshua Tree National Park in the near future.

 

When I mentioned online that we had rented a teardrop for our trip I had a TON of responses from people on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram asking about the trailer and what I thought of it.  The teardrops seem to be really popular right now.  If anyone has any questions about the trailer or our experience that I didn’t cover here, just hit me up in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

New Orleans: An Unexpected Journey…

It started out simple enough…

I was in Houston for Christmas and Merelyn had a couple of days off for New Years.  We hadn’t really made plans for anything so we decided to head to Galveston for some quick beach time and then head home for a quiet New Year’s Eve together.  Then, about a half an hour into our drive, Merelyn said, “You know…we could just drive to New Orleans for New Year’s.”

Now, she’s mentioned driving to New Orleans before.  It’s only about 6 hours away and neither of us have been there.  It could be fun, but every time we’ve looked into it we’ve decided not to go.  I knew it was something she wanted to do before leaving Houston.  So when she threw the suggestion out there (half joking I’m sure), I took the bait.

“Is there any reason why we couldn’t go right now?”

We went through the list: No clothes, no toothbrush, the cats didn’t have enough food, etc.  None of those reasons, I argued, would be a problem in the next 24 to 36 hours.  We could drive to New Orleans, be there in time for dinner and hang out for New Year’s, maybe spend the night then drive home.  No problem.  Merelyn seemed a little surprised and scared that I was actually accepting her challenge but I thought it would be FUN!

As quick as that, we changed our plans from a few hours in Galveston to an overnight trip to New Orleans.  We made a quick stop at the Johnson Space Center then headed East.

We were both so excited to be on this spontaneous adventure that the drive was easy.  Merelyn was excited to be exploring and I was excited to get out of Texas and see some of Louisiana.  We usually have a good time on road trips, laughing and talking and exploring the sights.  This was no different and the added excitement of just going, without a plan, made it all that much better.

Action in the French Quarter - New Orleans

beautiful New OrleansAbout an hour outside of New Orleans we started looking for a hotel (we found none for a reasonable price) and a bank so we could grab some cash.  We found a bank next to a grocery store, so we grabbed some cash and did a quick run for some essentials (toothbrushes and beer).  Then we were off to explore the French Quarter!

We parked in the sketchiest of sketchy parking garages where they were packing cars in like it was a contest.  I was convinced they were going to keep piling cars in until the rickety, rust-bucket structure collapsed.  We paid our $20 and high-tailed it to Bourbon Street, right in the heart of the French Quarter, where the action was just picking up steam.

Even through the thick, drunken crowds of Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ historic French Quarter is charming.  We grabbed a beer and walked up and down the streets and alleyways checking out the architecture and looking through the windows of the shops and galleries.  We got away from the crowds a little bit and took our time sight-seeing.  We walked down to the waterfront and walked along the river for a while.  Then ventured back into the rabble and checked out a few bars and pubs, had a couple more drinks and a snack.

Getting ready for Midnight -  New OrleansCloser to midnight we headed back down to the riverfront park and waited for the big fireworks show.  It was cold and I had offered up my jacket to keep my wife from getting chilled.  We hung out on a grassy rise, looking out over the Mississippi, holding each other close to stay warm.  It’s been difficult these past couple years spending so much time apart.  So when midnight came, there was a sweet and simple triumph in getting to kiss my wife at the ringing in of the New Year while fireworks painted the night sky…in New Orleans.

Spur of the moment adventures can be full of magic and excitement.  There’s nothing better than ending your day in a totally unexpected and amazing way.  That morning, we had a modest plan and no expectations and we ended our night with a magical moment in a new city.  I can only hope that throughout our marriage we make time for many more spontaneous adventures together.

New Year's Fireworks - New Orleans

I loved our New Orleans adventure, does anyone else have any awesome, unexpected, spontaneous adventures they can share?