Custer State Park Wildlife Loop Road – Where the Animals Are!

July 2017 – Not only is Custer, South Dakota, a charming place for RVers to enjoy a spirited, small town 4th of July celebration, it is situated next to enormous Custer State Park where beautiful scenery and unusual wildlife abound. While Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park are famous for bison leisurely strolling down the road, Custer State Park offers the same thrill but in a much less visited setting.

Photographing a bison Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

The animals were easy to spot in Custer State Park!

The Wildlife Loop Road is the place to see the animals in Custer State Park. When friends told us this drive was their favorite part of the Park because of all the animals they saw, I wondered how in the world the animals knew they were supposed to hang out there to greet all the tourists. I still don’t know, but it doesn’t take long on the Wildlife Loop Road to see them!

Buffalo at Custer State Park South Dakota

We had to share the road…with bison!

We arranged our 2017 travels to take us to Custer State Park because we knew a professional wildlife photographer that we have admired for a long time was headed there to test out some new camera gear for one of his video reviews. His name is Steve Perry, and he has a very popular YouTube channel as well as two excellent books about photography (links below).

Buffalo head through the grass Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

Up close and personal in Custer State Park.

Ever since we purchased and devoured Steve’s first book on wildlife photography a while back, we have studied his tutorials closely and learned a lot from his many tips.

So, we were absolutely thrilled to meet Steve and his wife Rose in downtown Custer. We agreed to catch up with each other again out on the Wildlife Loop Road in the early dawn hours the next day.

Wildlife Photographers Custer South Dakota

Mark with pro wildlife photographer Steve Perry.

We were out on the road before sunrise, and in no time we spotted a little group of wild burros. Several mares were accompanied by their adorable foals. How fun!

Mother and baby wild burros Custer State Park South Dakota

Mom and her foal.

Mare and foal wild burros Custer State Park South Dakota

There were wild burro moms and babies everywhere.

Suddenly, the sun appeared above the trees, and cast its soft rays across the meadow. But we hardly noticed as we watched this herd of burros, utterly enchanted by the sweet little knobby kneed foals.

Wild foal Custer State Park South Dakota

Adorable!

Wild burro mare and foal Custer State Park South Dakota

The babies are all legs…!

We drove a little further on the Wildlife Loop Road and spotted a gorgeous young white tail deer with soft, fuzzy antlers.

Young buck Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

A young buck.

There were pronghorn antelope too.

Pronghorn antelope Custer State Park South Dakota

Pronghorn in the grass.

All these animals live in the middle of a smorgasbord of their favorite foods. There are not only grasses to munch…

Pronghorn antelope Custer State Park South Dakota

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…but there are wildflowers too. Yum!

Pronghorn eating flowers Custer State Park South Dakota

Flowers taste good!

All these animal sightings were great, but where were Steve and Rose? It hadn’t occurred to us that meeting “somewhere” on the Wildlife Loop Road was a little non-specific, and that we would probably all get totally sidetracked by watching the animals and possibly miss each other completely.

Fortunately, with split second timing, just as we passed a dirt road that intersected with the Wildlife Loop Road when we were leaving, we saw Steve’s car bumping down the lumpy road. What luck! Steve excitedly told us what fun they’d just had photographing the prairie dogs in a dog town commonunity just a ways back on that road.

Steve Perry Wildlife Photographer 00 601 Wild foal Custer State Park South Dakota

Steve Perry showed us how it’s done!

He offered to lead us back there, and soon we were looking out on the open prairie where dozens of these adorable little creatures were busily popping in and out of their burrows.

Two prairie dogs in a burrow Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota-1

A pair of prairie dogs peeks out of their burrow.

Pair of prairie dogs Custer State Park South Dakota

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Prairie dogs tell secrets Custer State Park South Dakota

Psst! Can you keep a secret??

Steve crouched down with the new Nikon D7500 camera and a mammoth Nikon 600 mm lens to get photos for his review, but before he did, he lent me his Nikon 200-500 mm lens to see how I liked it. Wow!

Prairie Dog Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

“Watcha doin’?”

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota Prairie Dog

Pretty in pink.

Mark was using our Tamron 150-600 lens on a Nikon D500 camera, and all three of us hunkered down on the dry prairie grasses and aimed our cameras at these little bands of comedians. What a blast we had watching their capers and taking pics. After growing accustomed to our presence, they stopped barking warnings about us to each other and began going about their daily business and munching breakfast.

Prairie Dog Custer State Park South Dakota

A prairie dog sits in the middle of a breakfast buffet.

Prairie dog eating grass Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

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The prairie dogs appeared and disappeared all across the meadow, like bubbles forming and popping in a fizzy drink, and we had to think and act fast to catch their antics before they vanished from sight. I realized, as I sat there, that one of the keys to wildlife photography is having a vast reserve of patience.

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota Prairie Dog

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Prairie Dog munching grass Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

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We had seen prairie dogs at Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico just a few weeks prior, but we had been in a rush to see other things and had given them about five minutes to strut their stuff for us. No wonder our pics had been mediocre. We learned from Steve that if you’re going to shoot prairie dogs and capture their adorable cuteness, it takes time.

For RVers traveling to South Dakota, another great place to watch prairie dogs is in front of Devils Tower National Monument.

Prairie Dog trio Wildlife Loop Custer State Park South Dakota

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It also requires good equipment, and I couldn’t believe the quality of the photos that were coming from the lens I was borrowing from Steve! As I checked my images, it suddenly dawned on me that when we’d decided to come all this way to watch and learn from a pro wildlife photographer, we had inadvertently signed up to start lusting after some really nice camera gear!

After we filled our cameras’ memory cards with pics of prairie dogs and packed up to head out, we told Steve he might have cost us some big bucks if we couldn’t keep our lust in check. He laughed and told us how he had been in the exact same boat when he first got serious about wildlife photography years ago. He said photography buffs have a name for it: GAS or Gear Aquisition Syndrome. Oh dear!

Prairie Dogs standing Custer State Park South Dakota

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Driving a little further on in Steve’s car, we got another lesson on the patience it takes to get great photos of wildlife. Ever since we’d arrived in Custer a few days prior, we had been hearing the most beautiful birdsong. But we hadn’t been able to track down the bird that was responsible for it. The bird always seemed to be out of sight.

Suddenly, just as we heard the familiar birdsong, Steve stopped the car and backed up slowly, and we noticed that a little yellow bird was sitting on a fence post singing his heart out.

“That’s a Meadowlark,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to get a good shot of one while I’m here, and we spent hours trying yesterday!”

Well, this little guy had no problem with the car being parked right next to him, and as we all pointed our lenses out the car windows, he belted out verse after verse of his angelic song. Every time he opened his beak to sing, a rapid fire rat-a-tat-tat erupted from our camera shutters, providing a funny drumbeat accompaniment to his melody as we all shot as many pics as we could.

Meadowlark Custer State Park South Dakota

A meadowlark was singing his heart out.

We returned to our little camping spot in the woods absolutely elated. We’d each gotten some really cool wildlife photos, and we’d learned the key tip for how to do it: Patience, patience, patience!

If you see some prairie dogs, have a seat, relax, and let them get used to you. Eventually they’ll begin to do their thing at their own pace. And if you see a row of fence posts, don’t drive past too quickly, because there might be a little bird using one of them as center stage for performing his full repertoire!

Sure enough, the next day we were driving down a dirt road that ran alongside a fence line, and suddenly Mark spotted a Mountain Bluebird sitting on it. The bird was on my side of our truck, so I quickly grabbed Mark’s camera with the long lens attached. Following Steve’s tip we’d learned, I rested the lens on the partially lowered car window, and fired away with abandon.

When I paused for a second to check out my images, I was thrilled to see that the bluebird had a bug in its mouth!

Mountain bluebird with bug Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

OMG – That bluebird has a bug in his mouth!

He hopped and turned to show me his other side. Perfect!

Mountain bluebird holding bug Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

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Suddenly, Mark said, “Look, there’s another bird on the wire over there!”

I turned and fired away again, and then I noticed that it was the little bluebird’s girlfriend, and she too had a bug in her mouth! Thanks, Steve!

Female Mountain bluebird with bug Custer State Park Wildlife Loop South Dakota

His little girlfriend had found breakfast too!

Talk about getting some wonderful shutter therapy and having a satisfying feeling of success!

If South Dakota is in your sites for your RV adventures, the cute town of Custer and nearby Custer State Park make for a fantastic RV destination, and driving the Wildlife Loop Road a few times can easily end up being the highlight of the whole trip.

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The Best Way to Enjoy Colorado’s Scenic Drives? In a Porsche!

Back in June 2017, we took our RV into the Colorado Rockies and unexpectedly met up with a special friend of mine from high school the day she was hosting a rally for the Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 Club. Before we knew it, Mark and I had each hopped into a cute little roadster.

Heading out in a Porsche 356

We arrived in Colorado just in time to participate in a Porsche 356 rally.

We started in Georgetown, Colorado, and once the group of twelve colorful vintage sports cars had gathered, we were off on a beautiful day of driving west of Denver through some of Colorado’s best mountain scenery.

Rally for the Colorado Rocky Mountains Porsche 356 Club

Colorful little roadsters ready for a ride!

Porsche rally in Georgetown Colorado

We did a big loop through some of Colorado’s most breathtaking scenery, starting in Georgetown.

Our planned route would take us over four of Colorado’s big mountain passes: Loveland Pass, Vail Pass, Tennessee Pass and Fremont Pass. Almost as soon as we hit the highway, the snowcapped mountain peaks began to frame every view.

Rocky Mountain 356 Porsche rally in Colorado

Happy drivers take their vintage Porsches for a ride.

Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 Rally in Colorado

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Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 rally in Colorado

Beautiful scenery!

The Porsche 356 is a sweet little car that was made from 1948 to 1965. It has two seats up front and a tiny seat in the back. We switched our seating around a few times, and my favorite spot was that little back seat where I had a view of the mountains in every direction.

View from back seat of Porsche 356 convertible in Colorado

I had a great view in all directions from the back seat.

Rocky Mountain 356 Porsche rally in Colorado

In June the mountains were still covered in snow.

The best view was out the back, and I just snapped away with the camera while Mark rode in another car and talked with the driver about all things Porsche for a very happy few hours.

Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 Rally in the Colorado Rockies

What a place for a Saturday drive!

It was a glorious late June day and the snow glistened in the bright, warm sun. We weren’t the only ones out enjoying the gorgeous roads and mountains scenery. A cyclist crested Loveland Pass just as we did.

Cyclist on the top of Loveland Pass Colorado

It was a lot easier to get to the top of this pass in a Porsche!

The snow was still surprisingly thick on the mountains, and at one point we even saw skiers zooming downhill at a ski resort. It was a blast to sit in the back seat and watch the line of Porsches snaking around all the curves behind us.

Scenic drive Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 Rally in Colorado

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Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 Rally in Colorado

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At one point we all parked and got out to stretch our legs and enjoy the views. The mountains were lovely, but I got a kick out of seeing the back sides of all the Porshce 356s lined up in the parking area!!

Colorado Porsche 356 Rally

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Colorado Porsche 356 Rally

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When we got back out on the road again, I was reminded of some of the really fun experiences we’ve had with sports cars out on the open road during our RV travels.

One of the best was the Idaho’s Sun Valley Road Rally, which takes place around the third weekend in July each year. We were fortunate to see the second edition of the Sun Valley Road Rally in 2009 when four members of a family each raced the family Porsche down a straight stretch of the Sawtooth Scenic Byway, achieving higher and higher speeds. The son won the day with a top speed of 188 mph.

We saw it again in 2014 when a fleet of Bugatti Veyrons entered the race. One hit a top speed of 246 mph! A cute 81 year old woman raced her Corvette too, reaching a peak speed of 166 while the loudspeakers played “Little Old Lady of Pasadena.” When she hopped out of her Corvette after she finished, she turned around and her T-shirt said, “Go Granny Go!”

Rally for Porsche 356 Club in Colorado

This fun Porsche rally brought back memories of other exotic car events on the open road.

Porsche roadsters in the Rocky Mountain Porsche 356 Rally in Colorado

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At one point our group of Porsche 356s had to stop and refuel.

Gas stop on Colorado Porsche 356 rally

How fun to see all the Porsches taking turns at the gas station.

But soon we were out on the road again, winding our way through majestic mountain views.

Yellow Porsche Rocky Mountain 356 Porsche rally in Colorado

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A few years ago, we saw the amazing Nevada Open Road Challenge which is held each May. Sports car enthusiasts from all over brought some of the most exotic looking racing cars to Ely, Nevada, to race against the clock on 90 miles of back roads to Las Vegas.

Rally for Porsche 356 roadsters in Colorado

Big mountains. Little Porsche!

Just like the Sun Valley Road Rally, spectators are allowed to mingle with the drivers in the Nevada Open Road Challenge. What a thrill it was to see the drivers get suited up and take off in that race.

It turned out that there are lots of opportunities for people to volunteer and help with the Nevada Open Road Challenge, and we talked with some of the folks about what a good time they had being a part of such an unusual car race.

Rally for Porsche 356 roadsters

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Near the end of our beautiful ride through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, all the Porsches parked in a line for some photo ops. We were delighted to capture these colorful cars all in a row, and the owners proudly posed next to their cars for another round of pics.

Rally for Porsche 356 roadsters in Colorado Rockies

A rainbow of pretty Porsches.

Pretty Porsche 356 roadsters lined up in Colorado

More Porsches join them.

Rocky Mountains Porsche 356 Club Rally

Classy class photo!

I can’t think of a better way to get an overview of the magnificence of Colorado’s mountain scenery than to hop in the back of a friend’s convertible Porsche 356 and drive all around the state for a day. What luck!

Driving a Porsche in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

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But even if you don’t have a friend who has restored a vintage Porsche to take you on an exquisite ride, this part of Colorado is stunning no matter what vehicle you’re in. A map of the route is below in the reference links.

RV camping at sunset in Colorado

We never know where our travels will take us!

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The Porsche 356 Rally Route:

Other cool car rallies & races – Model A’s in Maine, sports car races in Sun Valley & Nevada, and Porsches in San Diego:

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Summer RV Fun in New York and Virginia – in Motorhome Magazine!

In the last few months we’ve published two feature articles in Motorhome Magazine. In the May, 2017 issue we told the story of our RV adventures in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

New York's Finger Lakes article by Emily and Mark Fagan in Motorhome Magazine May 2017

Motorhome Magazine – May, 2017
Article by: Emily Fagan – Photos by: Emily & Mark Fagan

The long and narrow “finger” shaped lakes in Upstate New York run on a north-south axis and are absolutely beautiful. In the town of Seneca Falls we discovered that boaters can tie up at the docks right behind the town center. What a fun way to travel in this area!

Boating docks at Seneca Falls New York Finger Lakes RV Trip

Boats tie up at the docks on the back side of Seneca Falls.

As we wandered throughout the Finger Lakes we discovered the area is rich with waterfalls. One of the most notable is Taughannock Falls which drops 215 feet down a sheer cliff. People can enjoy these falls from a viewing area right across from them.

Taughannock Falls New York Finger Lakes RV Trip

There’s a thrilling and massive vertical drop at Taughannock Falls

The Finger Lakes are very rural, and we were surprised to see quite a bit of wildlife in New York that wasn’t the urban, human kind. One of the most unusual animals in the region is the White Deer. What a wonderful surprise it was to look out the car window and see one staring at us!

White Deer Finger Lakes New York RV Trip

There are white deer in the Finger Lakes and we were lucky enough to see one.

We were also very surprised to learn that this area has a good sized Amish community. Unlike the Amish communities in other parts of the country that we have seen, this one is not commercialized for tourists at all, and their pretty farms dot the landscape, providing an evocative reminder of what America looked like back when small family farms filled the countryside everywhere.

Amish Farm New York FInger Lakes RV Trip

Amish farms throughout this region give a feeling of what America used to be like years ago.

Hearing the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves as they pulled the Amish buggies around town added a unique twist to the area.

Amish Buggy in New York Finger Lakes on an RV Trip

Four hooves in the air – Amish buggies clip-clop all over the place.

The Amish raise crops and sell them at the Seneca Produce Auction, and we were very fortunate to stop in and witness this unusual event taking place.

Amish farmers Seneca Produce Auction New York Finger Lakes RV Trip

The Amish farmers sell their produce at the Seneca Produce Auction – Fascinating to watch.

I had heard about Watkins Glen many times, but when we went there — on a rainy day — we were blown away by the beauty of the many waterfalls and cascades that fill the park. I was so impressed with the magical images throughout this park that I made it the subject of my May, 2017 “Roads to Adventure” column on the back page of Trailer Life Magazine entitled, Take the Plunge!

Watkins Glen Waterfall New York Finger Lakes RV Trip

Watkins Glen waterfalls were stunning on a rainy day.
It was the focus of my May 2017 Trailer Life column:
Take the Plunge

On our drive between the Finger Lakes of New York and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, we passed lots of beautiful farms.

Classic Virginia Farm on the Blue Ridge Parkway RV Trip

We saw lovely, bucolic scenery on the back roads of the eastern states.

But these are very busy states and the traffic can be crazy. We knew we were getting into the more bustling parts of the eastern states when we started seeing road signs like this:

Beware of Aggressive Drivers

A great reminder for laid back RVers who haven’t driven on roads in the eastern states for a while!

The July, 2017, issue of Motorhome Magazine features our article about some of the highlights we found along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

Virginia Mountain Majesty article by Emily and Mark Fagan in Motorhome Magazine July 2017

Motorhome Magazine – July 2017
Article by Emily Fagan, Photos by Emily & Mark Fagan

One of the most iconic images and most photographed places on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway is the Mabry Mill. The tour of the inside of this century old grist mill was fascinating. We saw how lumber can be milled and grains can be ground by harnessing the power of water flowing over a paddle wheel.

Mabry Mill Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia RV Trip

Beautiful Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed spots on the whole Blue Ridge Parkway. Great for a selfie!

The Blue Ridge Parkway passes through the heart of Bluegrass music country, and we found several venues where we could listen to a lively bluegrass jam for free. One of these was at the Floyd Country store where a huge room was filled to overflowing with musicians playing their hearts out. What fun!

Bluegrass jam at Floyd Country Store Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia RV trip

There are free bluegrass jams everywhere in the Appalachians, and we found a great one at the Floyd Country Store.

In Galax, Virginia, we discovered the New River Trail, a fantastic rails-to-trails path that is beloved by walkers, joggers and bicyclists. It is a long enough trail that we met people who were taking multiple days to bike the whole route, camping at trailside campgrounds along the way.

Biking the New River Trail Galax Virginia RV Trip

The New River Trail is a wonderful rails-to-trails path in Galax, Virginia, and they have an awesome brewpub too!

Fall is the most popular time to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway, but we made our trip in the springtime when the mountain laurel and wild rhododendrons were in bloom. I remember carefully planting and watering several rhododendron bushes in my garden years ago. How cool it was to see enormous rhododendron and azalea bushes filled with flowers growing wild all along the route!

Rhododendrons on Virginia's Blue Ridge Parkway RV trip

The wild rhododendrons were beautiful — and we hadn’t known they grew wild in the Appalachians!

Shenandoah National Park is the crown jewel at the northern end of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway, and we did a hike up to Mary’s rock where we could take in the immense verdant views to the distant mountains.

Motorhome Magazine is a terrific magazine for RVers, and we are very proud to be contributors. Although there is tons of information about RVing on the internet, there is a lot to be said for the info provided by a magazine that is professionally edited and produced.

Unlike a blog or video that is home grown, like this one, the editorial staff at magazines like Motorhome and Trailer Life includes quite a few people, and the text is scrutinized and critiqued from many angles.

The discussions I’ve had with editors about my many technical articles in these magazines have been fascinating, and it has been wonderful to hear other points of view before the final stamp of approval has been given to my manuscripts.

When we first started RVing, before we began our RV adventures, we subscribed to every RV magazine we could find, and we learned a lot in the process.

If you are new to RVing, we highly recommend getting a subscription and checking it out. And if you’re already a seasoned RVer, there are lots of tips and tricks and interesting travel destinations featured in each issue that might give you new ideas and inspiration!

Subscribe to Motorhome Magazine here.

Motorhome Magazine posts some of their articles online, although not all of them. The two articles I’ve mentioned in this post can be read at these links, and the third link goes to our other articles that Motorhome has shared online:

Mary's Rock Shenandoah Natioanal Park Virginia

On top of the world at Mary’s Rock in Shenandoah National Park.

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Other recent announcements of our published works:

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RV Boondocking in Black Hills National Forest, SD – Camping with Cows!

July 2017 – The US Forest Service, which manages all the National Forests in America, dubs its land the “Land of Many Uses.” The uses we love most are camping with our RV, hiking, biking and photography. But when we are on public land, we share it with folks who hunt, fish, ride horses, graze cattle and extract various natural resources.

For urban and suburban folk who come out to America’s public lands to smell the pungent fresh air and see the stunning scenery, the omnipresence of cattle can be a bit of a surprise. In our many years of nightly boondocking, we have found ourselves sharing our back yard with cows quite a few times. It is, after all, open range.

Open Range Grazing Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

In the west, the public lands are Open Range. Literally!

Cattle ranching is very much alive today, and cowboys really do exist in the real world, far from the classic TV shows and western movies. The other day, as we were driving to town in Buffalo, Wyoming, we came across a cattle drive going right up the highway.

Cattle drive across highway

On the highway one day we came upon a cattle drive. How cool is that?!

We crept past and were amazed at the huge number of cows and calves. The cowboys herding them were on horseback.

Cattle drive on horseback

The cattle were being driven by cowboys on horseback.

Slow traffic for horseback cattle drive on highway

This is what a traffic jam in the big western states looks like!

As we went down the line of mooing cows and watched the calves trotting along to keep up with their moms, it was like stepping back in time. America has a rich history in cattle ranching, and in many ways it is a way of life that hasn’t changed all that much in the past 150 years.

But technology has definitely made deep inroads, and besides using ATVs to zip around the many square miles of a ranch, it helps simplify many other things too. Towards the end of the herd of cows we came across a cowboy riding his horse with a coiled rope in one hand and a cell phone in the other! How much easier it must be to coordinate the herding process when you can simply call your buddy cowboy at the other end of the herd!

Cowboy on cell phone during cattle drive

Modern day ranching: a coiled rope in one hand and a cell phone in the other!

In South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest we found a lovely spot to camp with our RV for a few days, and as we were first setting up, we couldn’t help but take a few photos of our idyllic little campsite.

RV boondocking and camping in the US National Forest

Finding a beautiful place to camp in the National Forest is one of the biggest highlights of our lifestyle.

Boondocking in the National Forest is always a treat for the senses. In the early mornings we spotted deer nearby.

White tail deer in Black Hills National Forest South Datkota

Hi Neighbor!

A wild turkey caught Mark’s eye on a solo hike he did at dawn another morning.

Wild Turkey Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

A wild turkey fluffs his feathers and shakes his tail.

He’s not a birder, but his camera managed to catch a woodpecker searching for bugs, a robin carrying a bug in his mouth, and a stunning Western Tanager.

Woodpecker in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Woodpecker.

Robin with bug in its mouth Black Hills National Forest

Robin.

Western Tanager Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Western Tanager.

Flying Western Tanager Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

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The nights were glorious. The Milky Way marched across the sky all night every night for a few days.

Milky Way with RV boondocking in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Starry, starry night!

Beautifully mysterious trail of clouds crossed the sky one night, and we were astonished later when Mark lightened his photos on his computer later and saw how much orange and pink lingered in those clouds.

RV under the Milky Way in Black Hills South Dakota

Wispy clouds cross the Milky Way.

RV under the Milky Way in Black Hills South Dakota

Clouds whirl past the stars.

But the most humorous and heartwarming aspect of this particular South Dakota campsite wasn’t the stars or the natural wildlife.

We were both jolted out of bed one morning by the raucous braying of a huge animal standing right under our fifth wheel’s overhang. Right under our bed! Good grief, what was that?

I jumped out of bed and poked my head out the door and found myself face to face with an enormous brown bull with a white face and an expectant expression. It was the ideal photo op. Our trailer and awning framed this huge bull’s head as he stared at me.

But I was in my PJs and was still wiping my eyes with disbelief, while my camera was tucked away in some safe place out of reach. By the time I got my hands on my camera, the bull was walking away to greener grass.

Cow by an RV in the US National Forest Black Hills South Dakota

This big bull stood under our bedroom and bellowed loudly to wake us up!

It turned out that his noisy braying — he sounded suprisingly like a very loud donkey on steroids — was a call to the herd to come check out our trailer. Before I knew it, our little buggy was surrounded with USDA Choice Grade A Grass Fed Beef!

Cows around fifth wheel trailer RV Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Cows and calves check out our trailer.

Fifth wheel trailer RV boondocking with cows in the National Forest

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Over the next few days these cows came by our campsite on a regular basis. They seemed to be fascinated by us. And we were fascinated by them. We’d be sitting quietly minding our own business in our trailer when suddenly we’d hear the sound of grass being ripped out by the roots and footsteps clomping around in the dirt. We’d look out the window, and sure enough, there they’d be.

Herd of cows surround RV boondocking in the National Forest

We’re surrounded!

On a few mornings we woke to the trailer rocking as the cows rubbed their shoulders and scratched their itches on its corners.

Cow outside RV window camping in Black Hills South Dakota boondocking

I look out the window to see a peeping Tom!

Cow outside fifth wheel trailer RV Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

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Moms and calves would gather together and stare at us whenever they heard us come out of the trailer. The calves were skittish and would run away if we got too close, but the moms would stand calmly facing us, slowly grinding grass in their mouths and staring.

Cattle herd with fifth wheel camper RV in Black Hills National Forest

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Fifth wheel camper with herd of cows in Black Hills National Forest

The herd moves in on us.

One morning we were both woken from a deep sleep when we heard another strange sound just outside the trailer. We ran outside to see what it was and saw a balloon floating past. The sound we’d heard was the balloonist firing up the gas flame. Every few seconds he’d do that and the flame would fill the balloon with hot air to make it rise.

Balloon over RV boondocking in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

The sound of a balloonist filling his balloon with hot air woke us up at dawn.

But it was those darn cows that kept the smirks on our faces and gave our days a special funkiness. I began to imitate their mooing, and that would make them turn around and look at me. I had to laugh when Mark commented, “That’s pretty good. You sound just like them!”

Grazing cattle Black Hills National Forest

All ears perked up when I mooed.

Mark took out his guitar one day and sat on our steps and played for them. They seemed to like the music and began mooing. Just like howling dogs, they seemed to want to add their own melody to his tunes.

Playing guitar for cows in US National Forest

The cows responded to Mark’s guitar playing by adding their voices in a moo-along!

A few calves got bold and ventured close to our truck. They were very intrigued by it.

A calf visits our truck in the National Forest

A brave calf approaches our truck.

Baby calf sniffs our pickup truck US National Forest

Another calf sniffs our bumper.

One day I came out of the trailer to find myself facing a lineup of cows. If I hadn’t knowd better, they would have seemed a little intimidating. They looked a lot like a gang of thugs in the hood.

Herd of cows and grazing cattle Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

The gang’s all here — in the hood!

Mark got busy taking portrait shots of a calf one day, and it was hilarious to see the little guy’s mind turning as he approached the camera.

Cow checks out Nikon camera

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Photography cow inspects Nikon camera

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Closeup of calf face

By placing the camera so low, Mark got a neat angle on this calf’s face.

Suddenly Mark saw his big wet nose and thick black tongue going for his camera. Uh oh!!

cow inspects Nikon camera Photography_

What does that thing taste like?

He pulled his camera away just in time, but when we started to pack up to leave the campsite a few days later, he discovered that one of the cows had gotten into our barbecue and had damaged the latch on the cover. He did a quickie repair job on the fly before we hitched up to leave.

Mother cow and calf in US National Forest

Camping in the National Forest sometimes gives us close encounters with cows.
It’s most fun with moms and their calves in Spring!

After we arrived at our next campsite, we found gooey prints from cow lips in a few places on our truck and trailer. Oh well! That’s all just part of the unusual experience of RV boondocking in the National Forest.

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An Old Time Country 4th of July – Custer, South Dakota

Some of our favorite 4th of July celebrations have been in small towns, and this year we were very fortunate to be in Custer, South Dakota, in time for their festivities which they call their Old Time Country 4th of July.

Custer town is nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the normally quiet streets were overflowing with visitors as the townspeople gathered for the parade.

Fourth of July Parade preparation Custer South Dakota

An RV in town for the 4th of July is passed by fire trucks as they head to the parade start.

There are loads of little tourist shops in town, and red-white-and-blue-wear was available in every style and every size.

Red white and blue clothes for 4th of July

Local shops offered many ways to wear red, white and blue!

The younger set were particularly fashionable.

Children's parade 4th of July Custer South Dakota

Kids went all out to dress up for the 4th.

We had arrived in Custer a few days earlier, and we had heard from everyone we met that Custer’s 4th of July celebration was very special. And they were so right. We got a huge kick out of it!

As people arrived with chairs in hand to stake out a spot along the parade route, an announcer got the crowd fired up on the front steps of the museum. He called on people in the crowd to find out where they were from. Lots of folks were from Utah, Arizona and Colorado, but there were people in town from North Carolina, New Hampshire and other far flung states as well.

Announcer 4th of July Custer South Dakota

There was a hub of activity around the museum in the middle of town.

The hallmark of Custer’s 4th of July parade is the kickoff when nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base, over in Rapid City, South Dakota, sends a B1 bomber right down the main drag for a flyover. What a rush! I got a video clip, but like the real thing, it’s over almost as soon as it starts!

B1 bomber 4th of July Custer SD

After burner glow…

The parade began with all the town kids dressed up in America’s colors riding their bikes. What a great idea!! From toddlers on balance bikes to little kids with training wheels to big kids zipping along on two-wheelers, they were all decked out. Some even had balloons.

Children's Parade kids on bikes 4th of July Custer South Dakota

The parade started with all the local kids on their bikes decorated and dressed up in red, white and blue.

Then Old Glory arrived followed by the Mayor carrying the Custer city flag, and soon after we saw Uncle Sam strolling past on stilts.

Flag bearers 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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Uncle Sam on stilts 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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There were lots of cars and trucks including an old Fire Department Salvage Truck. The junior fire fighters put their fire hats on and plugged their ears as the big fire trucks drove by.

Old fire truck 4th of July Parade Custer South Dakota

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Junior fire fighters 4th of July Parade Custer, South Dakota

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A snake oil salesman snuck into the parade, along with several vehicles honoring American veterans. Then a very cool old yellow truck went by with a huge flag representing a group that cares for disabled vets. We got a closer look at it after the parade was over as it drove back through town.

4th of July Celebration Custer South Dakota 4

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Operation Black Hills Cabin 4th of July Custer South Dakota

“Operation Black Hills Cabin” cares for disabled vets.

Later on, the day was capped off with a fantastic fireworks display.

The fireworks were shot off at Pageant Hill, but they could be seen from all over town. Before the fireworks began, the city’s fire trucks circled the town with sirens blaring. At first we thought something had gone wrong, but as people continued to arrive all around us and calmly set up their chairs to watch the fireworks, we realized the parade of fire trucks with lights and sirens whirring was all part of the show.

It seemed to take forever for darkness to fall, but at last the fireworks began. The show went on for a very long time and ended with a big finale. We had a blast taking photos…

4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 1

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 2

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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4th of July fireworks Custer South Dakota

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 3

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 8

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When you begin planning your RV travels for next summer, if you’re looking for a fun town to celebrate the 4th of July, head to Custer, South Dakota!!

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Mobile Internet & Phone Communications for RV Living – A Minimalist Solution!

How do you stay in touch when living on the road full-time in an RV? What kind of internet access is best? Which phone plans make the most sense for a full-time RVer? These are some of the questions that RVers face, and there is a huge array of possible solutions available for every need and lifestyle.

Note: This post was updated in July 2017, to reflect new offerings from Verizon. Click HERE to skip to that section.

Mobile internet and phone communications for full-time RV living

Mobile communications techniques differ a fair bit among RVers. We have a simple method with one device.


The gurus on this topic are unquestionably Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard of Technomadia. They have written a fantastic book about the internet for RVers and also created an online community dedicated to mobile internet issues (more about those excellent resources here).

Because we have taken an unconventional route with our own communications solution (as we have done with everything in our traveling lifestyle since we started 10 years ago), I thought a few notes here about what we do might be useful.

For starters, we don’t have a phone.

What, No Phone?! How Can You DO THAT?!

After several decades of being “on call” in our professions, bound to our customers by electronic leashes, we ditched our cell phones when we started traveling full-time in 2007. At first, this was a money-savings tactic, but since then it is in many ways a small act of defiance against a world that is increasingly held in electronic bondage.

We have managed just fine without a phone all these years.  We’ve been able to meet up with friends at appointed hours, find our way to remote and stunning locations without a GPS-enabled electronic map. We’ve even bought and sold large assets like our sailboat and truck, all without a phone. Lower on this page there are lots of details explaining how we make and receive phone calls.

If you are looking to shave a few dollars off your full-time RVing budget, or if you are just curious how this is possible, here’s what we do.

Internet Access – Verizon MiFi Jetpack

Verizon MiFi Jetpack 6620L

Verizon MiFi Jetpack 6620L

We have a Verizon MiFi 6620L Jetpack hotspot that is the basis of all our communications. It operates on the Verizon cell phone towers, has a cell phone number itself, provides password protected WiFi inside and near the rig, and can theoretically support 15 devices connected to the internet.

A little back-story on — For three years we had a Verizon MiFi 4620 jetpack, but in October, 2014, its tiny charging receptacle broke and it could no longer get charged. Mark tried to nurse it back to life by soldering its lifeless receptacle to the charger permanently, but the problem was internal and it was dead.

MiFi Jetpack Charger solder repair

We tried soldering wires from the MiFi to its charger, but it still wouldn’t charge.

The old 4620 Jetpack always had problems charging and holding a charge. The MiFi 6620L Jetpack can theoretically run on battery power for 20 hours and support up to 15 simultaneous connections. It can definitely run longer than the old one, but 20 hours is an overstatement. 6 to 7 hours with two users is more like it in our household.

There is a new 7730L Jetpack from Novatel that has a theoretical battery life of 24 hours. The WiFi signal strength it broadcasts is stronger, so you can connect to it from further away. However, the signal strength coming from the cell tower is the same in both units. We haven’t upgraded yet.

Our old 6620L Jetpack has the annoying habit of falling asleep when nothing is happening between us and the internet. For us to resume using the internet after a period of doing nothing, we have to wake it up manually by tapping on its power button. Then the computer has to reconnect to the Jetpack as well.

The New Verizon Plan

As of July, 2017, our MiFi Jetpack is the single device on a 30 GB talk/text/data “New Verizon Plan.”

A few months prior to this switch, Verizon began offering its “New Verizon Plan” and pushing an “Unlimited” plan for data. The “Unlimited” plan sounded great, but it has limitations.

After many hours on the phone with Verizon, I learned that if you have a Smartphone or Tablet, the new Unlimited plan runs at 4G speeds for the first 22GB each month when you use the internet based apps on the phone or tablet. After that, there will be a 1-2 second delay when you first connect to the nearest cell tower, but once connected, the speed will still be a nifty 4G.

HOWEVER — and this was critical for us — if you are using your Smartphone or Tablet as a mobile hotspot, or if you are using a Jetpack, the Unlimited plan will run at 4G speeds for only the first 10 GB of each month. After that it will drop to 3G speeds.

This was not properly explained to me when I talked to Verizon reps the first few times, so we tried the Unlimited plan for a month. For us, it was unusable after it dropped to 3G. With today’s bandwidth intensive websites, 3G is painfully slow. At times during the one month we had the Unlimited plan, we had to walk away and do something else as we waited for something basic like the Google search page to come up.

Yesterday, after a few more hours on the phone with several Verizon reps, we learned that there are high GB plans available that remain at 4G speeds all month long. The question for us was: which one? Not all of these “New Verizon Plans” are advertised on the website in obvious places, and not all the salespeople know the various options either.

We use anywhere from 20 to 30 GB of data a month these day, so we wanted a 30GB plan. The first plan that was offered to me was a 30GB data-only plan for $185 per month.

The New Verizon Plan Data Only Plans

Verizon’s first offer for a 30 GB plan that would run at 4G all month long was the “New Verizon Plan” that is Data Only and is intended for Jetpacks and phones/tablets operated as Mobile Hotspots

This was crazy expensive and I complained loudly.

Eventually, I was transferred to a rep who offered me a 30 GB talk/text/data plan for $135 per month. That was more like it! I highly recommend being extremely persistent and asking to speak to supervisors when you get on the phone with Verizon!

The New Verizon Plan 30GB talk-text-data plan

Our “New Verizon Plan” for our Jetpack is a talk/text/data plan with 30GB of data for $135/month

This 30 GB talk/text/data plan has these features:

  • Carryover of unused data from this month to next month (if not used, it doesn’t carry over beyond that
  • The fee for the Jetpack connection itself is $10/month
  • There is no surcharge for using the Jetpack in Canada or Mexico (see below)
  • Unlimited talk/text (but our Jetpack can’t do that so we don’t use that feature)

Changing Plans? Cut to the Chase & Call Verizon!

I always dread calling Verizon (I had terrible experiences with them with a fleet of corproate phones in the mid-1990’s), but in recent years, I’ve found that talking to their sales people has always helped us find a better deal than if I just poked around on their website.

Also, I’ve found that the reps are very reasonable when it comes to crediting erroneous charges. We were shocked when we were charged $80 for switching from our old 24GB talk/text/data plan to the New Unlimited plan, because no one had told us this would happen. Verizon later refunded the charge.

Verizon Jetpack Admin and Messages page

Text messages from Verizon come into the Messages page on the Jetpack, including the code necessary for verifying your account online.

In my experience, Verizon is becoming harder and harder to reach by phone because they require using a handset to send magic codes and text messages before connecting you to a rep.

As noted above, any text message they send can be found on the Admin/Messages page of the JetPack. Also, some portions of the Verizon website require you to authenticate your account. To do this, Verizon sends a code via text message to the Jetpack that you then enter into the website.

One neat trick I found is that if you initiate an online chat with a Chat Rep on the Verizon website, you can give the rep your phone number and ask them to have a Phone Rep call you.

For me, this proved to be a lot easier than trying to get through on the phone by calling the customer service number and punching numbers and talking to the Verizon phone menu system computer.

Studying the Verizon web page today, I noticed that talk/text/data plans are not offered for Jetpacks and mobile hotspots, so we may have been given that plan instead of the Data Only plan because I made such a fuss on the phone (very politely, of course).

Saving Data by Using Free WiFi Signals

When we want to save data on our plan, we put off our big download operations, like operating systems upgrades that download as much as 1.5 GB of data at once. We do those things when we have access to a free WiFi signal at a library or coffee shop or elsewhere.

We also use Clipgrab on free WiFi signals to download videos so we can watch them from our laptop hard drives later.

Verizon MiFi Jetpack – International Use

The new Verizon talk/text/data plans now allow you to use the MiFi Jetpack in both Canada and Mexico — if you get a big (or unlimited) data plan — without paying a surcharge. Using our MiFi Jetpack came in very handy during our travels to the Canadian Rockies in the summer of 2016.

HOWEVER — and this is important — when you are in Mexico and Canada your data will operate at 4G speeds for only the first 512MB of use each day. At midnight each night the speed will revert to 4G, but as soon as you hit 512MB in the next 24 hours your speed will drop to 2G. That’s 2G, not 3G! So think through your access needs each day!

ALSO — and this is very important too — if, during a 60 day period, you have used your device more than 50% of the time in Mexico or Canada, you will get a text message (or email or phone call) warning you that you are going to be put on a pay-as-you-go plan until you return to the US. Text messages arrive on the Admin/Messages page of your Jetpack.

Despite 30 minutes of conversation with the Verizon rep, I never got to the very bottom of this issue (we aren’t planning to go to Canada or Mexico in the immediate future, so I didn’t press the issue!!), but I want you to know that the fee she mentioned for this “pay as you go” feature was $2.05 per MB.

That doesn’t seem possible because it would be over $1,000 for 500MB!!

The reason for this draconian fee structure is that Verizon doesn’t want to provide US-based services and charges to ex-pats who are living in Canada and Mexico.

I highly recommend if you plan to travel to Canada or Mexico for more than two weeks that you call Verizon and discuss your plans. After an initial round of questions, ask for a supervisor if necessary, of course.

Internet access in the Gulf of Tehuantepec Mexico

Internet access on a boat at sea in a foreign country is a trip!
Here I hold up my laptop to get a much needed internet weather report while crossing Mexico’s notorious Gulf of Tehuantepec.
It took 21 minutes to download a 604 KB file!!

Putting a Verizon Data Plan on Hold

One handy aspect of Verizon’s plans is that you can put them on hold. We used this feature a lot when we spent months at a time sailing in Mexico because Verizon didn’t offer Mexico access for Jetpacks back in those days.

Seasonal RV travelers may find this comes in handy, as they may not want to use the MiFi Jetpack when they are at home and not out traveling in their RV.

You can put the plan on hold for up to 90 days, at no charge. If you call in again before 90 days is up, you can put it on hold for another 90 days, and so on, indefinitely.

All the days that you put the plan on hold get tacked onto the end of your contract. So, for us, our two year contract during our Mexico travels took nearly three years to fulfill. When you decide to resume the contract, a simple phone call is all it takes and you are back online immediately. There is a nominal charge for re-instating the contract.

Phone Access – Skype

We use a Skype account for all of our phone needs. Skype is best known for making it possible to make free video calls between people who have Skype accounts. Similar to Apple’s FaceTime, this is a fun way to communicate. It also requires a pretty strong internet signal. If the call begins to falter due to a sketchy internet connection, turning off the video will often perk it back up again.

Skype Image

That’s not generally how we use Skype, however. Instead, we use it to call people on their cell phones and land lines. For $2.99 a month we have an annual subscription service with Skype to call any cell phone or landline in the US or Canada for unlimited minutes. These are outbound phone calls only.

To receive incoming calls requires another step: For $2.50 a month, Skype assigned a phone number to our account that accepts voicemail and appears on our friends’ phones when we call them. Skype sends us an email when a new voicemail comes in. If we are on our computer and it is connected to the internet, we receive incoming phone calls just like a regular phone (the computer’s speaker rings, and you click a button to pick up the call). Skype has an app for mobile devices too, so you can do all this with a tablet, iPad or iPod too.

If you don’t sign up for that service, Skype calls will come into your friends’ phones with a mystifying number that is unrecognizable. We did this for four years, and it was okay. It was a little awkward not having a call-back number when calling a business, but we let them know that we checked our email frequently, and most companies were happy to get back to us via email instead of a phone call. Our friends eventually knew that if a weird number came in on their phone, it was probably us calling!

Tricks for Making Skype Calls

Skype is pretty good for phone calls, but the connection is not always perfect. We’ve gotten used to tipping our MacBook Pro laptops so the microphone is a little closer to our mouths than when it’s down in our lap. The person on the other end is on speaker phone, which can be nice for calling family and friends, if they don’t mind. However, when making an important call to a company, using earbuds makes it easier to hear the other person and takes them off speaker phone if you are in a somewhat public place.

In general, our internet download speed is faster and better than our upload speed, and this affects Skype. Oftentimes, we can hear the person on the other end of the phone much better than they can hear us. One way to improve things is to make sure only one device is on the internet via the MiFi jetpack.  So, if Mark wants to make a call, I have to do something local on my laptop and stop using the internet, and vice versa.

It’s also important that no other internet applications are running on the computer that is making the call. That means turning off the email application, shutting down all browsers and quitting out of anything else that might unexpectedly access the internet and disrupt the phone call.

Wilson Booster – Getting More from our Internet Signal – Kinda

For about a year (in 2014) we used a Wilson Sleek 4G Cell Phone Booster which we have permanently mounted in a cabinet alongside a cigarette lighter outlet. We haven’t used it at all for the past few years and we haven’t missed it. However to keep this page complete, our experiences with it are described below.

The Wilson Booster connects to a Wilson 800/1900 Magnet Mount Antenna. This combo works okay, however, these signal boosters do much more for 4G signals than they do for 3G signals, and we have 3G signals quite a bit of the time.  One note: according to Wilson, the number of bars on the MiFi unit doesn’t necessarily increase even though the signal is improved by the booster. A fun way to see how fast your internet signal is and to keep track of the speeds in different places is to use SpeedTest.Net.

Wilson Antenna on fifth wheel slideout

The higher the antenna, the better.

The folks at Wilson told us it was very important to have the antenna sitting on a piece of metal for grounding purposes, so we bought their suction cup mounted Accessory Kit for Grounding. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a good place to mount the antenna with this suction cup plate because the wires are so short. Someday Mark might replace our outside (and rarely used) radio antenna with the Wilson antenna, but we haven’t done that yet.

Wilson also told us that simply placing the antenna on a 5″ x 5″ sheet of ferrous metal would do the trick, and we searched around for something and discovered our cast iron skillet fit the bill.

We did tests with the antenna to see how much having a grounding plate seemed to matter. We placed the antenna near the ceiling above our slide-out without a metallic plate under it, then set it on our big frying pan on our kitchen counter, and lastly set it on the roof of our truck.

Wilson Antenna on a frying pan

It’s “grounded” as per Wilson’s recommendation, but the signal isn’t as good this low down.

We found having the antenna higher in the air near the ceiling above our slide-out was much more important than placing it on metal.

Internet Portability – Driving Tactics and Electronic Maps

Siri — ahhhh. Although we don’t have an iAnything, I am in love with the little Apple genie, Siri, who lives inside iPhones and iPads. However, after lots of soul searching about whether Siri’s companionship would make me happier in our travels, so far I’ve decided that it wouldn’t.

Instead, I get to be Mark’s Siri as he drives, and that’s not a bad gig. He does all the driving in our family (I did almost all the helmsman duty on our boat, so it’s pretty fair). To help out with the RV navigation, I bring the MiFi jetpack and laptop with me into the truck’s passenger’s seat, and I use Google Maps to figure out where we’re going. I don’t get the nifty icon that shows me where we are, so sometimes I have some frantic moments trying to deduce our exact location, but once I’ve got it, I call out the instructions for how to get from here to there.

Our 2016 Ram 3500 truck has a factory installed dash-mounted GPS, but it user friendliness pales by comparison. Occasionally when I’m confused/lost, I use it to get the GPS coordinates for where we are and then plug those into Google Maps.

So, the overall functionality of a smartphone or tablet is there for us on the road, it’s just a whole lot more clunky.

Using a SmartPhone or Tablet as a Hotspot and More

When our Mifi Jetpack died, I thought the only solution was to get another one. Not so. I have since learned that we could have taken the SIM card out of our old jetpack and put it into a glistening new iPad. We wouldn’t have had to sign up for another 2 years with Verizon when we replaced our dead MiFi jetpack either (which we did when we upgraded to the new MiFi jetpack), since our contract was tied to the SIM card. We could have simply continued on our old plan until it ran out four months later and then reassessed our situation.

Internet Access Resources for RVers

Mobile Internet Handbook for RVers

The Internet Bible for RVers

For us — for now — we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing since it works just fine. In all likelihood, however, our simplistic and minimalistic methods are not getting you fired up with excitement.

As I mentioned above, the Mobile Internet Handbook (available on Kindle and in Paperback) by Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard is the most thorough resource available and is an absolute necessity for anyone that wants to get technical on the road. Prior to starting their full-time RV adventures, Chris was a mobile technology expert, working as Director of Competitive Analysis for Palm and PalmSource (the companies behind the Palm Pilot and Treo). He studied every aspect of mobile phone and tablet technologies and is using that expertise to help RVers today.

The detail this book goes to is staggering. From explaining nationwide versus regional cellular data carriers to getting into the nitty gritty of what “roaming” is all about, and what hotspots and routers really are, to discussing cellular frequency bands and the all important topic of security, this book covers it all.

What’s better, Chris and Cherie continue the discussion and keep it current at their RV Mobile Internet Resource Center, with an accompanying public Facebook discussion group. They are also keeping a list of RV internet strategy blog posts that describe various real-life technology setups that RVers are using. They even offer personal advising sessions where you can find out what the best solution is for your unique situation.

Of course, all of this technology is changing daily. When we started RVing full-time in 2007, we got by with pay phone cards and free WiFi at coffee shops. We were unaware in those days (although we had our suspicions) that cell phones weren’t nearly as smart as their progeny would soon be, and we had no idea just how far the industry would come.

In just a few scant years everything has changed, and who knows where the future will take us!

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Valles Caldera National Preserve & a Spring Blizzard in New Mexico!

May 2017 – While hanging out in the Los Alamos, New Mexico, area with our RV and visiting the cool pueblo cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument, we made a day trip to visit Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Selfie at Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico overlook

The “Valles Caldera Overlook” – Great spot for a selfie, and the only view til now!

This is a brand new National Preserve managed by the National Park System.

The land was originally a huge ranch that was privately owned under a Spanish Land Grant, that is, a gift of land from Spain to a Spanish citizen as part their effort to colonize and control their territory, New Spain, in the 1700’s before America began its westward expansion.

Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

Valles Caldera is a new National Preserve managed by the National Park Service (Dept of the Interior)

When America’s New Mexico Territory was formed, the US Government recognized and upheld the Spanish (and more numerous Mexican) land grants. The Valles Caldera land was operated as a ranch and passed from generation to generation. In the year 2000 the US Government purchased it from private owners to form the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Buildings and fences at Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

The Valles Caldera ranch was so big there was a settlement of homes and buildings
for the ranchers and their employees.

Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

Valles Caldera is a 13.7 mile wide volcanic caldera – a crater formed when a volcano collapses into itself.

It is a beautiful tract of land that has wide meadows, plentiful wildlife, and thick forests on the surrounding hills. A cluster of houses that the ranchers and their employees used up until the property was sold now stand vacant.

Log cabin Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

This would have been an amazing place to live!

Old log cabin windows Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

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The land was hotly contested in court for many years because multiple groups wanted portions of the land, including the local Indian tribe, the Jemez Pueblo.

There are dozens of websites describing the issues that were at stake and the roles played by the members of government, tribal leaders and lawyers who made the legal cases for each side.

Skull found at Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

As we wandered the roads on this huge ranch, we found some unusual things like this skull!

I haven’t chased them all down, but the folks in the Visitors Center were thrilled the National Park Service had finally become the manager of this land. It had been under the control of the US Forest Service for a dozen or so years prior to the NPS taking over.

Because the NPS has a much bigger budget than the USFS, the hope was that the land will be developed for public use — and prepared for the inevitable throngs of visitors — in a thoughtful way. Debates are ongoing now about the number, size and placement of campgrounds, issuance of hunting permits and wild stock grazing permits, creation of hiking trails, etc.

In the past, quite a few movies were made on this land, and we came across the remains of a movie set.

Movie Set debris Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

The land was leased out to the movie industry in the past. This is all that is left of an old set.

Wandering around Valles Caldera and returning to Bandelier National Monument, we saw quite a few flowers.

Yellow columbine flower

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Wildflowers Los Alamos New Mexico

Spring has sprung!!

One of our favorite wildflowers is the Milk Thistle. We didn’t know what it was called and had nicknamed it the “fireworks flower” because of its wonderful shape, but a friend recently told us its real name and said in some places it’s considered a noxious weed!

Beautiful yellow milk thistle wildflower Valles Caldera

Milk thistle — one man’s gorgeous wildflower is another man’s noxious weed!

Valles Caldera is quite high in the mountains of New Mexico, and we woke up one morning in our spot in the woods to find that spring had fled and old man winter had returned with a whollop!

Spring snowstorm in an RV in New Mexico

What??? Snow in late may? Maybe Spring hasn’t totally sprung just yet!

Winter wonderland Los Alamos New Mexico

Old man winter returns…

The flowers that had warmed their petals in the sun the day before were now covered with snow crystals!

Snow on wildflowers Los Alamos New Mexico

The wildflowers had been basking in sunshine the day before!

Pine cone in snow Los Alamos New Mexico

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As we wandered around taking photos, suddenly the snow began to fall again — thickly!

Spring snowstorm photography New Mexico

We had such a blast running around getting photos of this beautiful storm.

Snow storm in the woods

It’s a blizzard!

What a hoot it was to go from spring back to winter in just 24 hours!

5th wheel trailer RV in snowstorm

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We had blizzard conditions for about an hour, and the snow kept piling up.

Snow storm in an RV in the woods

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Photography in a spring snowstorm

The white stuff is sticking!!

Up on the roof of our trailer, the solar panels were completely covered.

RV solar panels in spring snow storm

Snow buried our solar panels.

Mark cleared the solar panels off so we could get at least a little charge for the batteries from the ambient light.

Thick snow on an RV roof

The snow piled up quite deep.

He built a snowman while he was up there too!

Snowman on RV roof with solar panels

After clearing off the panels Mark built a snowman on the roof of our trailer!

New Mexico is home to the mysterious city of Roswell where space aliens have taken up residence since a strange UFO crashed nearby back in 1947.

The aliens even have their own craft beer — Alien Ale — a yummy brew we always enjoy when we visit New Mexico. What better way to chill it down than to stand it in the snow on our truck!

Icing down an Alien Ale in snow

What a great way to ice down an Alien Ale!

Inside our rig the shower became the “wet locker” for our dripping jackets after we came in to warm up.

Wet jackets hanging in RV shower

Our jackets dripped in the shower. Our boots dried out by the door!

We didn’t run our furnace or blue flame heater overnight, so even though it was 75 degrees inside when we went to bed, when we woke up the next morning it was 38 degrees downstairs in our living room. Brrrr!!

Sometimes it seems that we get our seasons mixed up in this traveling lifestyle, going to tropical places where it’s 90 degrees in January and then playing in the snow in late May. But that’s part of the fun of it too. We never know what to expect!

38 degrees inside our RV

It was a little brisk inside our rig the next morning, but our heater warmed it up in no time.

This spring blizzard was a wonderful little interlude, but all the snow was gone by the end of the next day, and temps climbed steadily as we headed down from the mountains and into the valleys of south eastern Colorado!

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Trailer Suspension Nuts & Bolts – RV Blues on Rough Roads!

Lots of full-time RVers with big rigs are very sensible and stick to traveling on paved roads. But we like to get off the beaten path, and sometimes that puts us on crazy, rough and rugged dirt roads.

On our recent trip to Bisti Badlands in northwestern New Mexico, a 45 minute drive down three miles of extremely washboarded, nasty dirt road wreaked havoc with our trailer’s suspension.

Equalizer bolt walks out of fifth wheel suspension

Hmmm…. That center bolt on the equalizer doesn’t look right!

As we were hitching up to leave, Mark did his usual walk around our trailer to make sure nothing was about to fall off and that everything was secure. To his shock, he noticed that the long bolt that goes through the equalizer on our trailer’s leaf spring suspension system had walked almost all the way out!

Fifth wheel suspension Equalizer bolt unscrews itself on rough road

Yikes!

Holy Smokes! Our 14,000 lb. 36′ fifth wheel trailer was about to lose the bolt holding this vital piece of gear together!

We were miles from nowhere, and I immediately began scenario building in my head to plan various ways we might get out of this mess.

While I theorized, Mark calmly set about getting out his tools and tackling the problem right there in the dirt. His first task was to raise the trailer up so he could get the bolt properly aligned horizontally and tap it back into place with a hammer.

So, out came the 12 ton bottle jack.

Raise fifth wheel trailer with bottle jack for suspension repair

First things first:
Raise the wheels totally off the ground with our 12 ton bottle jack.

He needed to raise the trailer up quite high to relieve all the pressure on that bolt, so he took a piece of wood we sometimes use under the fifth wheel landing legs and put it under the bottle jack to raise it higher. Then he took a second block of wood and put it on top of the bottle jack to span the c-channel tube that runs the width of the trailer.

Pumping away on the bottle jack, he finally got the wheels entirely off the ground and began tapping the bolt through the two sides of the hanger with a small hammer.

Hammer fifth wheel equalizer bolt pack in place in suspension repair

With the pressure off, Mark taps the bolt back into place.

It took a little finagling to get the bolt to line up and go through the second hole on the back side of the hanger.

Fifth wheel equalizer bolt holds suspension together

At first, the bolt didn’t want to go through the second hole on the axle hanger.

But he was able to get it aligned and he got it to go through.

Equalizer bolt in position for fifth wheel suspension hanger assembly

All the way through. Yay!

The bigger problem, though, was figuring out what had happened to the nut that had been holding this bolt in place. It was nowhere to be found and undoubtedly was somewhere out on that nasty 3 mile dirt road.

So, now what?

Mark is a really amazing mechanic, and he keeps a magic container of potential spare parts in his Man Cave in the basement of our trailer. This magical container is a lot like the carpet bag that Mary Poppins carried.

Remember how Mary Poppins pulled all kinds of surprising things out of that bag, to the sheer delight and amazement of Jane and Michael Banks? Among other things, she pulled out a hat rack, a potted plant and a full-size standing lamp while Michael searched under the table to try to figure how she did it.

Well, that’s just the way Mark’s magic box of spare parts tricks works. When he needs a special little gizmo to make things right again, he fishes around in the box and finds just the thing while I scratch my head wondering how such a little container could always produce exactly what he needs.

A few months back we’d replaced the tires on our fifth wheel trailer and decided to replace the original lug nuts with locking lug nuts. A few of the original lug nuts also had cosmetic cracks on them which didn’t look attractive, so the new locking lug nuts were much nicer all around. Mark had decided to put a few of the old lug nuts in his magic box of tricks.

5th wheel trailer wheel lug nuts

A few months back we had replaced all the lug nuts on our trailer wheels.

So, as he fished around for an appropriately sized nut, lo and behold, it turned out those lug nuts were the exact diameter he needed!

Fifth wheel trailer lug nut_

This old lug nut is exactly the right diameter for our wayward bolt!

The thread pitch on the lug nut was not quite right, but the threads on the bolt had been damaged anyway as it walked itself out of the hanger.

While I held the bolt in place with a wrench on one side, Mark ratcheted the lug nut on the other side. He was able to jam the nut on the bolt and re-groove the bolt’s threads enough to make a super tight connection.

In no time we were back up and running and towing our fifth wheel trailer back down that crazy 3 mile road to the paved highway to go see other new and exciting destinations.

As I mentioned in my post about Bisti Badlands, it’s okay for a passenger car or van, but I would leave a bigger RV in Farmington and drive the tow vehicle or toad to Bisti instead!

Ratcheting 5th wheel equalizer suspension bolt in place

With some force, we secure the lug nut on the bolt. What a terrific temporary fix!

Who would’ve ever thunk that a rough road could loosen the nut on a big fifth wheel trailer’s suspension and walk the bolt that holds the equalizer in position almost all the way out?!

And who would’ve ever thunk that a lug nut from the trailer’s wheels would give us such a great temporary fix to get us back on the road?!

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Bandelier National Monument – Fun Pueblo Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico!

May 2017 – A priceless jewel of antiquity lies just west and north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, not far from Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. It is the classic ancient pueblo ruins at Bandelier National Monument.

Ladder to cliff dwelling Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Bandelier National Monument is a “hands-on” (actually “feet-on”) kind of place!

We’ve visited lots of cliff dwellings and pueblo ruins over the years at Tonto, Wupatki and Montezuma’s Castle in Arizona and Aztec Ruins in New Mexico, but the glimpses of the past and the evidence of the ancients’ ingenuity at Bandelier National Monument makes this place my personal favorite so far.

One of the most wonderful aspects of Bandelier National Monument is that the National Park Service has installed lots of replicas of pueblo ladders for visitors to use so they can get a closer look inside!

Ladder climb Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

We loved climbing up and down the ladders
to peek into the cliff dwellings.

The Ancestral Puebloan people lived here between 1150 and 1550 AD. They lived not only in the caves in the cliff walls but also in adobe brick dwellings. A large group of buildings very similar to those at Aztec Ruins National Monument fills a field and is called Tyuonyi Village. Other adobe brick buildings were built as extensions off the cliff dwellings in the cliff walls.

Rebuilt cliff dwellings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Ancestral Puebloans took advantage of the huge bubbles in the volcanic rock,
building out from there with adobe brick.

Adolph Bandelier first saw the ruins in 1880. Then, in the early 1930’s, CCC workers created a huge camp to house themselves as they set about stabilizing and reconstructing the ruins. A reconstructed “Talus House” has been rebuilt and was easy to see as we passed it on the Main Loop Trail.

Renovated cliff dwellings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

This reconstructed building is what all the buildings looked like at one time.

Bandelier National Monument is so popular that visitors arriving during the prime daytime hours between mid-May and mid-October must take a free shuttle bus into the park. The free Atomic City Transit bus picks people up in nearby Los Alamos, home of the secret Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in the 1940’s.

We wanted to see the ruins without the bus crowds, however, so we were at the gate with our truck when they first opened, before they close the parking lot to private cars. We ran out on the trail and discovered to our delight that we were the only people there.

Ladder to cliff dwellings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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Being at the ruins in the quiet morning air was fabulous. We scampered up and down the ladders in sheer delight.

Climbing ladder to cliff dwelling Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Going for a peek inside!

The astonishing highlight of the Main Loop trail is the very long Long House. This is a huge expanse of sheer rock cliff that has dozens of indents and holes in it where the Ancestral Puebloan people anchored their homes.

The Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Long House is a series of apartments that were built to butt up against the sheer cliff walls with adobe brick construction extending out from there.

The cliffs are part of the Jemez Volcanic field, and the bubbly nature of the cooling lava is readily apparent with thousands of one- or two-person sized holes and crevices lining the stone.

Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Each indent is the end of a room. Holes bored in the rock supported tree trunk beams
that were floor joists and roof trusses.

The ancients used these holes — and carved others — as rooms or as ends of rooms. They also bored holes in the cliffs to support the ends of wooden beams. These beams supported ceilings and floors and second and third story rooms.

Ancient pueblo Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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What amazed me as I looked a little closer at these ruins along the cliff face was that these people of 500 to 900 years ago took the time and had the inclination and ingenuity to decorate their interior walls.

They kind of plastered the walls and impregnated them with colors. The cracked and faded “plaster” is readily visible today.

Cliff holes for timer ceilings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Dozens of rooms are lined up along the cliffs. The structures were two and three stories tall.

They also created rectangular holes in the cliffs, perhaps for storage purposes.

Pueblo ruins Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A kind of colored “plaster” decorated the interior walls.

I was really taken by this idea that the ancient puebloans decorated their walls.

Pueblo fresco wall art Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The “fresco” walls are peeling but are clearly visible.

Some of the indents in the cliffs were deeper than others, and many seemed to have been decorated with a kind of wainscotting. The plaster on the lower half of those walls had been painted, while the upper half of the walls and roof were black from soot and smoke from their household fires.

Pueblo architecture Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Some walls had a kind of wainscotting with the lower half decorated in colored “plaster” and the upper half black from soot. A bullseye petroglyph adorns the wall of top floor.

Wall fresco Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A closer look at the “wainscotting.”

One of the indents was decorated with an artistic gemoetric pattern. The National Park Service has black and white photos of this wall from years ago where a ranger was pointing it out to visitors, right up close.

Now visitors have to stand far back from the cliff wall and the decocrative pattern is covered with a protective covering so it doesn’t vanish too quickly in the elements.

Fresco art pattern Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

One wall with a particularly vivid pattern is protected from the elements.

The Long House goes on for a very long distance with room after room lined up along the cliff face. It seems that the adobe brick structures that fronted these back walls extended out about two room’s width from the cliff wall, and the buildings were generally two or three stories tall too.

Ancestral Pueblo ruins Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Long House is very long and the trail wanders alongside it.

Holes in rock walls Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Some holes, or caves, are natural but others are rectangular and very obviously man-made.

We saw only two petroglyphs, but there are probably more. A bull’s-eye was pecked out of the cliffs in an upper story in one area, and an unrecognizable animal was pecked out high up in another.

Petroglyph rock art Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Some strange animal…

Eventually, leaving the Long House behind, the Main Loop trail took us through a ponderosa pine tree studded woodsy area. Pretty wildflowers looked up at us.

Wildflower Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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Then we arrived at Alcove House, a massive natural cave that lies high up on the cliffs. The ancients must have used ladders to get up to this cave, and the National Park Service has placed ladders leading up to it for us modern visitors to use.

Alcove House ladders and cave Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Alcove House is reached by two very long ladders and a third shorter ladder.

Climbing ladder to Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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What a climb!

Long ladder to Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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Climbing ladder to Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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The Alcove House cave is huge and may have housed all kinds of rooms and other things. There are remnants of a circular kiva which has been restored but can’t be entered.

Alcove House Cave Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The cave at Alcove House is very deep and must have offered great natural protection.

We liked the two person-sized openings that went into very small closet-like rooms!

Storage rooms in cave at Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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After getting our fill of these ruins (for one day), we returned to the visitors center where we saw a very cool RV parked in the parking lot. It had animal tracks painted on one side and Chinese letters on the other and sported a German flag by the door.

Ironically, as I write this post a month later, we saw the exact same rig parked in Custer, South Dakota, earlier today. It is a small world!

Unusual rugged RV

Back at the Visitors Center we saw this unusual rig…and then saw it again a month later 700 miles away!

Another day we ventured out to Bandelier National Monument’s waterfall which lies at the end of the mile-and-a-half long Falls Trail.

Waterfall Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A beautiful waterfall is the reward at the end of the Falls Trail.

There are ancient ruins all over America’s southwest, and various groups of modern day Native Americans believe they are descended from certain ancient cultures in different locations.

Interestingly, the modern Pueblo Indians who claim descent from the ancient people who built the Long House and Alcove House at Bandelier National Monument are the Cochiti Puebloans who live a ways away near Cochiti Lake and Tent Rocks.

The modern Pueblo Indians who live closest to Bandelier National Monument, the San Ildefonso Puebloan people, claim descent from the unexcavated ruins that lie just outside Bandelier at Tsankawai Ruins.

The hike through Tsankawai Ruins began with a ladder climb as well, but it was totally different in nature because the ruins don’t back up to a massive cliff face and they are hard to spot on the grassy plateau since they haven’t been dug up yet.

Tsankawai hike Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A ladder at the beginning of the Tsankawai Ruins Trail.

Unlike all ancient archaeological sites where the ruins have been studied, thoroughly excavated, stabilized and rebuilt, the Tsankawai Ruins site is an explorer’s dream because some artifacts are still lying around.

I was shocked when Mark pointed to a rock that had some pottery shards lying on it. It didn’t take long for us to find a few others in the grass and dirt nearby.

Obviously, we left them in place so the next visitors could enjoy the same surprise as we did, but how fabulous it was to see the finely painted decorations on these centuries old bits of pottery.

Pottery Shards Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Painted pottery shards on the Tsankawai Ruins Trail.

The Tsankawai Loop trail can be done either clockwise or counterclockwise, and we chose to go in the clockwise direction (taking a left at “Loop Trail” sign). After crossing a high plateau where the ancient ruins lie sunken into the dirt, the trail seemed to end. After a little scouting over the edge Mark noticed a ladder going down, so down we went.

I wonder how many people simply turn around at that point not knowing the trail continues down the well obscured ladder! Going in the counter clockwise direction, this ladder would be very obvious as the trail leads right to its base.

Tsankawai Ruins hike Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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We skirted along the edge of a sloping hillside with wonderful views to one side, and rounded a bend to find some petroglyphs on a rock wall next to us.

Except for a spiral, the imagery was nothing like other petroglyphs we have seen elsewhere.

Petroglyphs Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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We continued on and were absolutely floored by the many very narrow foot trails that have been carved into the rock.

Hiking the Narrow Carved Trail Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Tsankawai Ruins Trail includes some very cool skinny and curvy paths.

These were very clearly man-made and not the work of water or wind. But they weren’t made by the National Park Service either!

Skinny groove trail Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

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In another spot, we looked up along the rounded rock hills and noticed a little staircase that had been carved out of the rock.

How ingenious of the ancients to make these trails and staircases, and what a wonderful way for us to be transported back to a time centuries ago.

Strange stairway Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

In the footprints of the ancients…

If you are traveling in New Mexico with your RV — or if you find yourself anywhere near this area without an RV! — Bandelier National Monument is a true jewel that is well worth visiting.

For the Main Loop Trail to the Long House and Alcove House, be sure to get there early on a weekday if you want to see the ruins without the crowds. The Falls Trail and Tsankawai Ruins are much less visited.

More links and info below…

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Tent Rocks National Monument (Kasha-Katuwe) – Hiking Slots & Spires!

May 2017 – While casting about for beautiful places to visit in New Mexico, I came across some images from Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument near Santa Fe. Unusual looking, perfectly conical rock peaks stood side by side against the sky. We just had to go check it out!

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

A photo op with a “tent rock” (but this one isn’t real, lol!) .

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a small park between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a 230 mile drive to take our RV there from Aztec Ruins National Monument.

Spires Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

The beginning of the hike.

This is an extremely popular National Monument with loads of visitors coming out on weekends from nearby Santa Fe to hike the fun trail that goes through a slot canyon and emerges on a plateau with a great view. So, we were told that arriving at the tiny parking area before 9:00 am during the peak seasons of spring and fall is a really good idea or they won’t let you in!

Beginning Slot Canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

The beginning of the slot canyon.

The hike is an out-and-back trail that starts easily enough by wandering in and around the bases of many unusual and towering rock peaks. But it is the slot canyon that is the most fun!

Slot Canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Slot canyons can look a little claustrophobia inducing in photos where hikers are slithering between towering rock walls.

Hiking Slot Canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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But they are loads of fun, and you don’t feel particularly confined because the walls often spread apart as they rise up on either side, or they open up completely, and there’s a clear view of the sky up above.

Hiking Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument slot canyon

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Sharing a narrow slot canyon with crowds of weekend hikers can be a crazy experience. Lots of families were out on the trail with us that beautiful May morning, even though we had started early. It was Mother’s Day weekend, and it seemed that everyone had decided to take Mom out for a hike to celebrate!

Crowded Slot Canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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In some places the slot canyon got really skinny and it was one-foot-in-front-of-the-other type of hiking. But in other places it widened a little and we made our way between large rocks that were strewn in the trail.

Slot Canyon Hike Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico RV trip

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The undulating walls of the slot canyon made beautiful shapes.

Slot canyon Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Once we got through the slot, the hike started to head dramatically uphill. Family after family came down past us, and all of them said the view up top was well worth the climb.

Busy hiking trail Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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As we ascended the trail, the “tent rocks” filled the view alongside us.

Tent Rocks Selfie Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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The trail was a bit of a scramble here and there, and as we got higher the tent rocks got a little lower.

Spires at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Finally we were near the top of the trail looking down at the unique conically shaped tent rocks.

Overlook Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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I don’t recall seeing a collection of stone cones like this before. What cool rock formations these are!

Closeup Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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The trail goes out on a long “peninsula” that offers a view back towards the tents.

View from the top Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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It was a perfect place to grab a quick selfie.

Selfie at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Spring was busy springing all around us. We saw Indian paintbrush flowers at our feet and lots of cacti had big vibrant flowers on display.

Indian Paintbrush flowers

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Cactus flower

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Cactus Flower

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Some folks came prepared to enjoy the view for a while. Tucked behind one tree we saw a fellow uncorking a bottle of wine, and moments later his wife — the Mom and guest of honor — was sipping a glass of wine in the shade, enjoying the spectacular surroundings!

A picnic and wine at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Heading back down the way we came, the tent rocks slowly began to rise up around us.

The Tents at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Mark got a kick out of playing Atlas under a huge tree that had fallen across the trail, pretending to hold it up for folks that passed by.

Holding up a log at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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And then we were back in the very cool slot.

Skinny slot canyon hike Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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By now it was midday and the trail was getting very crowded. Logjams formed in the trail as people took turns traversing the skinniest parts. It made me think of the traffic jams that were going on up on Mt. Everest at about the same time as hikers from around the world converged on the mountain in valiant efforts to make it to the summit.

Crowds on slot canyon hike Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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But if we hung back and waited for the crowds to pass, we were still able to find quiet times where we had certain curves in this beautiful slot canyon all to ourselves.

Hike the slot canyon at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Hike Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument slot canyon

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Hiking the slot canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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Near the end of the trail we passed the most fabulous ponderosa pine that was perched high above its very cool exposed roots.

Ponderosa Pine tree and roots in kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

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The next day we returned to do the other hike that forks off the Tent Rocks trail and goes to a cave. This was a short and easy hike, although the cave was surprisingly small and not nearly as exciting as the tent rocks and slot canyon!

The Cave Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

The Cave.

The tent rocks, however, were very cool and well worth seeing. Just be sure to get there early because the tiny parking lot fills up fast. Also, only the shortest truck campers, Class C’s and vans fit in the lot.

Nearby Cochiti Campground is a nice place to stay.

Fifth wheel trailer RV at sunset

Sunset at Cochiti Campground.

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