Minivan Camper No Build Sleep and Chair System | Long Term Review

I have been on the road long enough to put my sleep system to the test. Finding the right sleep system for my for my Honda Odyssey Minivan Camper build took some trial and error.

Amazon links:

Millard Tri-Fold Mattress (Blue Cover, Twin XL, 4.5 ” Foam)

Millard Tri-Fold Mattress (Plain Cover, Twin XL, 6-7″ Foam)

Millard Tri-Fold Mattress (Grey Cover, Cot Size, 5-6″ Foam)

Exped Megamat (Green, Long, X-Wide, 4″ Loft, Air and Memory Foam)

I chose to go with the Trifold Mattress because I am 6’2″ and needed lots of leg room and did not like how most minivan bed builds or cots nearly take up half of the van. I decided to go a different route choosing a piece of furniture that would both work as a comfortable bed at night but during the day fold up and function as your lounger/couch. I am really happy I went with this decision.

I have used 3 different types of Millard Trifold Mattress during my full time minivan living.

Millard Tri-Fold Mattress (Blue Cover, Twin XL, 4.5 ” Foam)

This was my first mattress I purchased for my van in 2017

Pros: Wide and comfortable

Extra fold for additional configurations

Washable cover and the blue color looked nice inside my van

Cons: Not very thick at 4 1/2 inches

Ended up not using extra fold and just made the back rest long instead of stacked

Stayed comfortable to sit on but ultimately became very uncomfortable to sleep on after 2 months of full time use.

Millard Tri-Fold Mattress (Plain Cover, Twin XL, 6-7″ Foam)

This was the second mattress I purchased was this thicker Millard Tri-Fold Mattress. It says it’s 6 inches of thickness but seemed more than that. Out of all the Tri-Fold Mattress I owned this one was the biggest and most thick.

Pros: Extra thick and wide.

Comfortable to sit on.

Cons: Plain white cover looks unfinished and needs a sheet or couch cover.

Even with the thicker foam this mattress became uncomfortable just like the last one after 2 months of full time use.

Millard Tri-Fold Mattress (Grey Cover, Cot Size, 5-6″ Foam)

This was my 3rd mattress I purchased and the one I ended up settling on. This one also became uncomfortable after 2 months to sleep on but I had a solution to to make it work for full time van living. This required a mattress topper of some sort for sleeping and I will cover that shortly.

Pros: I love the cover on this mattress. It has proven to be durable and offers a finished look with out an additional sheet or cover.

The dimensions match nicely with my Exped Megamat air mattress topper.

Very conformable to sit on. Get some pillows to support your back and the low sitting height works great for SUV’s or minivans.

Exped Megamat (Green, Long, X-Wide, 4″ Loft, Air and Memory Foam)

This Exped Megamat made my sleep system very comfortable and sustainable. I love sleeping on this. It’s very warm, self inflating (you just need to use the pump to top it off) and able to set the perfect firmness based on your sleep prefrence. After letting the air mattress self inflate for about 5 minutes I add 25 pumps from the hand pump for the perfect firmness. Think of this as your sleep number.

Pros: Extremely comfortable and provides a better night sleep than my bed when I had a house.

Warm with a high R-Value of 8

Matches the dimensions of my Cot Size Millard Tri-Fold Mattress with the Grey cover

Easy to set up and take down

Cons: Can leak. I had to repair a pinhole once with the included repair kit.

Sometimes this mattress can be too warm and I will wake up with sweats.

Finding a place to store the mattress can be tough as it packs up bulky. I just fold mine in half and place it behind the back rest of the trifold mattress in seating position.

Conclusion:

None of the Trifold mattresses I have purchased lasted more thn 2 months before the foam degraded and became uncomfortable to sleep on. All have been very comfortable to sit on and despite the foam degrading remain very comfortable to sit on. I do think if  you were to use one of these mattress for just occasional weekend warrior activities it would probably work fine. But for full time van living it’s going to wear out from sitting and sleeping on it daily. I tried rotating the foam but after a while that stopped working. I also looked into a higher density foam and found that prices for custom foam were very expensive and still didn’t offer what I needed.

Adding the Exped Megamat to the sleep system was a game changer. I now have a  comfortable, sustainable bed that doesn’t dominate my minivan build.

My favorite out of the 3 is the Grey cover Millard mattreess. It’s not as wide as the other 2 mentioned in this post but works great for me as a solo traveler. I have had some other minivan/SUV campers ask if this solution would work for 2 people and I think it would work great if your rig has enough room to fit a larger mattress.

One of the most incredible places I have ever visited

In the depths of the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument is home to the most incredible hoodoos I have ever laid my eyes on. Being highly difficult to access, I had to drive deep into the desert backcountry, bike 10 miles, then hike several more to view these jaw dropping wonders of nature. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. If you want to see video of these incredible hoodoos check out this video. Footage starts at 11:54.

Little Van in Big Places | Page AZ

Brace yourself for the stunning photos of Horseshoe Bend and the Page Arizona area in this video. If you ever get to this tip of Lake Powell I highly recommend exploring. There’s a lot more to see than just Antelope Canyon.

After being static in Prescott for a couple weeks I was excited to get on the road and have some action. I was feeling my groove and my Van was driving fantastic.

I highly recommend this Bencmark Maps Atlas regardless of what state you’re in.

And the Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau has been my Bible and my secret for exploring the Southwest

Horseshoe Bend was spectacular and exceeded my expectations. It was elbow to elbow tourists and you had to wait your turn to snag a photo.

This family asked for me to take their family photos in front of the band period I think they were impressed with my selfie stick.

It felt good that they asked me to take their photo. The place was crazy busy but I think they picked up on my calm demeanor. I sent it to one of the family members through email and they were very grateful.

After waiting out some rain and getting resupplies in the town of Page, I eaked out of town about 25 miles and found this incredible free campsite. It’s not very often I get chills from where I am staying

Definitely in my happy place at this campsite. It was gorgeous with massive crags everywhere. I was near Lake Powell but could not see the lake from where I was perched. There were neat little hikes and small slot canyons to explore.
I felt like I was on planet Hoth here. Que Star Wars theme music.

Spending this much time outdoors and in nature you really get connected. I love how time slows down and you forget what day it is.

I never knew my cell phone can take pictures of the moon. Wow!

Tools of the Trade. I use these items on a daily basis to do things like pickup trash dig cat holes, pound in stakes, and rake rocks away. I use the rope to usually make a closed line and dry or air them out.

All in all I stayed here for about a week. I enjoyed the relaxation and especially enjoyed the two hikes I found. Wiregrass Canyon and some unknown hike next to camp were very rugged and exciting. I also found boldering nearby but unfortunately did not have my climbing shoes with me

The camping was spectacular and felt very adventurous. I would love to explore here more and hope you come back soon.

Grand Caravan Minivan Camper Build! – Prescott Arizona

Check out Dace’s Grand Caravan Minivan Camper build. This video offers an in-depth tour of his build so far and a detailed explanation of his custom cubby cabinets. They turned out great!

After and Amazing time in Southern Arizona spring is around the corner and it was time to make my way north. My first stop was to the town of Prescott Arizona to visit my friend Dace and his Mom Chris. Dace is working on his Grand Caravan camper conversion and I was here to help for a couple weeks.

Even though it was March winter was still in Arizona. Prescott is about 5000 ft in elevation and is full of rolling hills and ponderosa forest.

I thought I’d escaped winter but a decent amount of snow fell. After a few relaxing days of waiting out the weather, we were able to get going on the build. Dace and I made huge progress and got the cabinets built while I was there. The conversion is about 80% done and think he is really going to enjoy it.

I had a great time with Dace and has family but I was ready to make my way further north towards Utah. I want to set myself up for some more adventures that I have been eyeballing. Before leaving leaving town I decided to camp in the National Forest outside of Prescott. I found this beautiful sight that was surrounded with miles of miles of prime singletrack. Next time I come back I will be riding my bike!

Home is where you park it

Botanical Gardens, Mountain Biking, and a Bike Thief – Tucson AZ

Tucson is my favorite big city in Arizona. I love the comforting weather, 360 degree mountain views, easy access to free camping, and it’s big city amenities like Costco and In and Out Burger. It also comes with its problems too. I decided to stealth camp in the city the night before a shuttle ride I had booked. I had trouble finding a spot I was comfortable with and settled for a sketchy hotel parking lot. Alarmingly I was awakened at 3 a.m. by a bike thief climbing on my bike rack. I pulled back my window covering and yelled at what looked like a young female and male. They were alarmed too as they probably didn’t think I was sleeping inside the vehicle. They muttered something like we’re packing luggage but I saw them take off. I no longer felt safe so I left and stayed the night at a Walmart that didn’t allow overnight camping.

Check out my video where I talk more about the bike thief, give you a tour of the Tucson Botanical Garden, and take you along an awesome downhill bike ride.

Tucson has quickly become one of my favorite cities to travel to. Mainly because of the winter weather, but also because it is beautiful. Supplies and gas are affordable for the most part and there is lots of free camping. Even though it’s trashy, I like to stay on a strip of BLM land on the west side of town. I have affectionately named it the “Trash Pit” . Technically it’s called Snyder Hill BLM and it’s a very popular boondocking area. Also a very popular place for the locals to dump their trash. I always make an effort to pack out a bag or two of trash while camping there.

I rarely do touristy shit but I took an opportunity to check out the Tucson Botanical Gardens. I’m really glad I did! I got to spend time with the cacti and vegetation that I’ve so come to love here.

This Cactus VW was a neat suprise. Fun Fact: I love Volkswagens and owned 5 different VW Beetles growing up. Maybe one day I’ll restore one again.
The Styrofoam cups keep the tips of the cacti from freezing.

After a good time checking out the botanical gardens it was time for me to get ready for a bike ride. I had booked a shuttle to do a downhill ride!

My shuttle assisted bike ride down the Bug Springs/La Milagrosa Trail was very technical. It started up high in the Ponderosa forest and ended down in the desert with massive saguaro cactus everywhere. I had a couple of spills but overall a great ride with big descending. I think I had over 3,000 feet of downhill! I used Homegrown Mountain Bike Tours as a shuttle service. It was was a good experience.

After an awesome time in Tucson and over two months in Southern Arizona it was time for me to head north. On my way out of town I come across this beautiful free spot in Tucson Estates.

It’s time to head north to the town of Prescott AZ to help a friend with his minivan camper build.

In Depth Tour of my Minivan Camper Odie

I love to show off my self built Minivan Camper that I have affectionately named Odie (short for Odyssey). This video will give you a comprehensive look at the build. You can also read about the build process and see behind the scenes photos in this blog post here.

ARB Side Room and Awning Review

Review of the trifold mattress and air topper that I use for a bed and chair.

Diesel heater install in a minivan.

Solar System

How I Shower in a minivan.

Amazon list of Minivan Camper items

Land of the Giant Cactus, Ajo Arizona

I have really been enjoying my campsite in Ajo Arizona. Ajo is an old copper mining town that hasn’t come back to life after the mine closed in 1985. Ajo is truly in the middle of nowhere about 120 miles from Tucson, 100 miles from Phoenix and 100 miles from Yuma.

I have been fascinated with the large cactus in the Sonoran Desert and feel astounded by the scenery. I think I am going to make this my winter destination next year.

Enjoy my YouTube videos while I stayed in this area.

Review – How I Shower in a Minivan

Really its an outdoor shower setup that will work for just about any camper. My simple outdoor shower setup consists of the following items all availalble on Amazon without breaking your budget. I hope this helps give you some ideas on what might work for you. YouTube video tour HERE

Pop up Shower Stall

Rechargeable Shower Head/Pump

RainLeaf Microfiber 24″ x 48″ Towel

Dura-Rug Recycled Mat, 20″ x 30″

Folding 6″ Stool

3 Gallon Bucket

The inside of the shower stall is roomy. There is no roof so lots of sunlight comes in. With me being tall at 6’2″ there is plenty of room for me to stand.  I love the RainLeaf microfiber towel and it is available in a variety of colors and sizes.

I like bringing in my folding foot stool. It makes a great shelf for tolitries or comes in hadny if I feel like sitting down while washing. The Dura Rug keeps the mud off my feet and a place for the water to not pool up under me. I love the Dura Rug Mat and out of all the outdoor mats I have used for vanlife this is by far my favorite. Does anybody else remeber these mats made from recycled tires?

Its important to tilt the bucket to get most of the water up into the submursable pump. I went with a 3 gallon bucket vs. a 5 gallon bucket to save room inside my small minivan. This bucket also acts as a stool, and storage bin. I just use a rock to get the angle on the bucket.

Conclusion

This simple outdoor shower set up really gets the job done. My preference is to shower at a truck stop or recreation center but for extended boondocking stays this system has kept me clean and fresh! I do have to consider water consumption and will typically wait for warmer weather to use the system.

Pros:

– Most of the items to make up this shower are used for other purposes as well. The shower head also makes a great sprayer when its time to wash my mountain bike or dishes.

– Pop up shower stall offers privacy and blocks the wind

– Shower head and rechargable pump have been reliable and charge via USB.

– Ability to take a hot shower and feel fresh and clean while boondocking

Cons:

– Pop up shower tent is difficult to fold up

– Boiling water takes time and uses fuel

– Each shower consumes water. If there is a stream or well near my camp I will try and use that water source for my showers and dishes. I will even collect rain water if I can.

Amazon links below

Pop up Shower Stall

Rechargable Shower Head/Pump

RainLeaf Microfiber 24″ x 48″ Towel

Dura-Rug Recycled Mat, 20″ x 30″

Folding 6″ Stool

3 Gallon Bucket

YouTube Video Tour of the Shower HERE

Vanlife is the Best Life – Vanlife and Mountain Biking Sedona AZ

After my job wrapped up in Telluride, I was ready to get back to the desert and seek warmer weather. I was checking the weather forecast and New Mexico was starting to get cold. I took a look at Sedona and their weather looked great. Sunny and mid 60s each day. I have never been there and have heard nothing but good things about the mountain biking and beauty Sedona holds.

I could immediately tell were were going to be friends

My friend Andrew’s Chevy Express

I was getting tired of driving down the washboarded and sandy Forest Road 525. FR 525 is a extremey popular dispersed camping area that offers amazing camping along the western edge of Sedona with view of the vibrant red cliffs.

Immediately after deciding where to camp I met Andrew. He invited me to camp next to him and I could immediately tell we were going to be friends.

After getting my camp set up, Andrew and I checked out each others vans and planned on a bike ride the next day. Andrew had never ridden a mountain bike and since I had two of my bikes with me this would be a great way to share the sport with somebody.

During the sunset the Sedona cliffs would turn an incredible vibrant red.

Sedona offered some of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. Every evening my camping neighbors would gather on top off the hill and enjoy the sunsets together and a bit of conversation. In addition to Andrew I made friends with Johnny and his sweet dog Desi, and Jeanette and Brian from Minnesota. I ended up getting an incredible t-shirt from Johnny with one of his mandala designs. You can visit his webstore HERE. Jeannne and Brian offered to host me in Minnesota if I ever make it that way. I hope to get to see them again. Things are looking up in my social life and my spirit is full of amazing energy!

The sunrises were equally impressive

Each morning I would open my sliding door and witness the valley below bathed in pastel light. Usually there would be 5-6 hot air baloons drifting slowly along the horizon. Unfortunately my cell phone camera could not capture the hot air ballons. Maybe time for a new camera?

Shaman Cave

The day before Thanksgiving Andrew and I decided to make a visit to Shaman Cave. Shaman Cave boasts a spiritual vortex that I swear I could feel.  I was having such a wonderful time and my spirt was at an all time high! Andrew and I performed a short meditation in the cave and decided to take the difficult route out of the giant sandstone rock the cave was housed in. This involved some minor exposed climbing around the cliff wall that was thrilling and only added to the adventure.

Andrew on the exposed route

The tour guides would come through daily and talk about the Sedona area and point out historic features

Example of the many Jeeps that brought hundreds of tourists.

The tour guides would always talk about the energy vortexes that Sedona is famous for. One of the guides would pull out a pair copper rods for the tourists to hold and they would spin around while in their hands, reacting to the magnetic fields. It was neat to watch the tourists react like it was magic. Also the tour guides were brilliant at taking pictures with the their cell phone cameras and would use tricks like zooming in on a subject to make the background appear larger. One guide would have the tour group line up on one side of the tour jeep and pretend they are pushing it as a group connected by each other arms to hips. With the camera in panoramic mode, the guide would start the shot at one end. After taking the first frame, she would have the group run behind her, then have the group pull on the other side of the jeep before finishing the pano shot. This would produce a photo that looks like the group is pushing and pulling on the Jeep at the same time.  It was a clever idea and you could tell the guides were always hustling for tips.

A Thanksgiving day bike ride to get the juices flowing

Thanksgiving day had come and the site I was camping at was full of awesome people. Sedona is a popular place around this holiday day.  I was excited for a bike ride I planned to start the day then later hanging out with my new friends for dinner.

My bike ride was perfect. It was filled with views and fun technical trail riding. It’s been a tradition over the holidays to fit in a bike ride pre-dinner. It’s a great way to build up an appetite. This was the first Thanksgiving I have spent away from my family in quite a long time. I ended up having one of the best Turkey Days ever.

Riding along on Templeton trail
Mezcal Trail West Sedona

No offense to my family, I love spending the holidays with them, but this was an opportunity to connect with people from all over the world and have a new experience. Since our campsite was so popular it was filled with vanlife people, tent camping people, trailer rigs, and jeep tour guides. There was also a couple in a military-looking camping rig with massive tires that seemed a bit overkill to me. Andrew went into town and got Thanksgiving vittles for the evening that we all enjoyed.

After Thanksgiving Day many of the folks I had been camping with the past week had left and it was getting time for me to move on. I wanted to catch another ride in Sedona before leaving and decided to try the Highline Trail. The Highline Trail is considerd to be one of the most difficut rides in the area.

View from the Top of Highline Trail

While riding along the top of Highline Trail I passed another mountain biker that later passed me back when I was walking my bike down one of the treacherous downhill sections. The lines on Highline were very dangerous and I was not in the mood for anything risky. Once down to the bottom I met him again and it turns out he is from Gunnison. We talked about how busy Colorado has gotten then wished each other well before parting ways. It was a fun couple miles on Templeton Trail back to my van.

Capitol Butte

It was time for me to resupply in the town of Cottonwood. I was also getting ready to head to Prescott Arizona (pronounced Press-Kit) and meet my friend Dace to help him with his minivan build. We met in Durango last summer and got to be friends while exchanging minivan camper info. 

Dace setting the screws for his new floor in his 2008 Grand Caravan

It was great to see Dace again. It has been a couple of months since the last time we met in Durango. He has been getting his Dodge Grand Caravan named Koopa ready for a camper conversion and I was here to help with his van build and offer some of my experience.

When I arrived Dace had completed the demolition process, had a roof vent installed, and most of the insulation done. He was ready to start the initial building and Dace decided to start with the floor while I was here since I already had experience putting in a flat floor on my minivan Odie.

Putting in a flat floor into a minivan can be incredibly difficult. After removing all the seats, trim, and carpet there is hardly a right angles or flat surfaces to work with. We were lucky this single 4×8 piece of plywood covered most of the rear.

After a couple of days working on Dace’s van it was time for me to move on and head back to my home town of Colorado Springs. I have two house sitting jobs lined up there and hope to see my family for the holidays (not sure due to the pandemic), then its back down to the Arizona desert for the rest of the winter. I am not looking forward to the drive back and forth but it will be great to see my friends and family back home.

Those Sedona sunsets!

Conclusion

Sedona is an incredibly beautiful place to visit that I would highly recommend. The scenery and spiritual energy are off the chart. Be prepared for lots of company as Sedona is no secret and very popular. Lots of dispersed camping to handle the crowds and I found out there is more camping in the area than just the popular FR 525 that I went to.  I barely scratched the surface exploring the trail systems and the weather during the fall was incredible. I will definitely go back when I’m ready for another highly social camping experience.

Troubles on the Road – Vanlife in New Mexico

After a long and wonderfull 3 months in the Colorado Mountains it was time to make my way back to Colorado Springs and visit my friends and family back home. I also needed to get some work done to my van. My check engine light turned on after I left Silverton and wanted to get that looked at by my mechanic. I also had plans to install a Chinese Diesel Heater to help me get through the cold winter ahead.

Before heading back to Colorado Springs I was meeting a new friend named Dace in Durango. We met through a minivan camper group on Facebook. Dace was also traveling through Colorado in his Grand Caravan camper and on his way from Breckenridge Colorado to Southern Arizona. We met in Durango to discuss vans and show him some of the things I did with my minivan build. It ended up being a really great time getting to know Dace and it was fun to hang out in Downtown Durango.  It’s not often I come across another minivan conversion so it was fun to talk shop and learn from each other.

Snow in mid September

After leaving Durango some bad weather was coming and snow was in the forecast for most of the high country. I decided to get supplied up and hunker down in a nice ponderosa forest outside of Pagosa Springs. Two days of constantly running my Mr. Buddy heater during this storm made me realize I need to install a Chinese Diesel Heater before winter comes. (you can read about that install HERE). I never feel safe when running my propane Mr. Buddy inside my van and don’t like the moist radiant heat it puts out. After the sun came out and it warmed up I had water dripping out of the vents in my headliner from the moisture the heater produces. This could lead to mold. Not cool!

Little did I know trouble was coming.

This day was very upsetting to say the least. Every vanlifer in the back of their mind knows a breakdown could happen. Well here was my time. After a wonderfull stay in Pagosa I was just getting onto I-25 heading north past Walsenburg. After reaching the spead limit my van died. I pulled it off the side of the road and thought it may be a fuel issue related to the check engine light that was on. When I was in Durango I stopped by an O’Reillys and used their diagnostic tool. It turned out to be and issue with he fuel system so when my van stopped running I thought I could be related to that. After several attempts, my van would not start and I needed to call a tow. I was very relieved to have AAA tow insurance. I literally called for a claim and within 45 minutes a tow truck arrived. Two hours later my van is dropped off at my mecanics shop and he has a chance to take a look at it. He turns over the motor and quickly realizes there is no compression and the timing belt is broken. When a timing belt breaks on a Honda motor there is a very high chance it’s damaged your valves and ruined your engine. A valve job would be more expensive than putting a new motor in.

Long story short I blew a timing belt and ruined my engine. It had nothing to do with the check engine light. I later had a good cry.

A little whiskey to ease the pain.

It felt good to be with friends and family and catch up with everybody back home. My dad was kind enough to let me stay with him for three weeks while my van was in the shop and I was working to install my new heater. It was great to stay with him and felt we were a little bit closer by the time I left town. One thing I really enjoy about this lifestyle is you may be away from the people I care about for an extended period of time but when I do get to spend time with my friends and family it is of higher quality.

It felt excellent to get back on the road and my van was running smooth as can be with its new engine. I also installed my diesel heater and that project kicked my ass. I had messed up on my first install and had to do a full reinstall. I got it working well and it is a game changer for vanlife. The 2kw heater I got works perfect for my small van.

I think back to what happened and it really came down to a miscommunication on when my timing belt needed to be changed. I was lucky with the tow insurance and being able to get my van in the hands of my best mechanic. Two weeks in the shop and $,3,500 later I had a refurbished engine installed and Odie (my vans name) was up and running again. This was great news.

Feels so good to be back on the road!

When I finally left Colorado Springs I headed due south to Southern New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment they say. Here is where my love affair with New Mexico began.

I had to wait out some bad weather when I got to Alamogordo and hunkered down on a nice piece of BLM land a few miles out of town. I stayed here for 2 days and got to use my new diesel heater for nearly 48 hours straight. It worked incredibly well and kept me toasty warm throughout the entire storm. I am so happy to have cut the cord with my Mr. Buddy Heater. Mr. Buddy got put into storage.

I wanted to see the White Sands National Park before I left the Alamagordo area.  The weather got better and I was excited to check it out before heading to Carlsbad.

I didn’t have a National Parks pass this year so I settled for a photo of the White Sands from the side of the highway. Maybe I will come back and visit here again as this was a pretty unsatisfying way to visit a National Park.

Carlsbad has mountain biking?

Before heading to Carlsbad Caverns I got resupplies in the town of Carlsbad then found a patch of BLM land to call home next to the La Cueva Trail System on the outskirts of the city. It’s a small system but was fun to ride and I was enjoying the desert scenery.  The camping was good to for being so close to town.

Snug as a bug in a rug. I really enjoyed camping next to the La Cueva trail system but this patch of BLM land had a lot of fracking and mining going on so I could hear the machines and flames groaning and popping in the distance. I needed to get a good night’s sleep for for my big day at Carlsbad Caverns tomorrow and I did. This is how my interior looks when the bed is pulled out. I have been sleeping so incredible since I got my Exped Megamat. Most nights I get 8 hours of non stop sleep.

Time to get my cave on!

I was really excited to arrive at the entrance of this iconic cave. It has been on my bucket list for quite some time.

The Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

It was massive and was totally worth the $15 entrance fee. I dont know why this park is such a good deal. Normally a day pass is much more expensive for a National Park.

The Dolls Theatre was a favorite feature of mine. 

The National Park service did a great job with the lighting and building a foot path that was not to intrusive while guiding you through the best parts of the cave. There air is misty and everything was damp. This place really felt like an alien world.

Park Ranch Cave System

After visiting the National Park I found an amazing campsite on the other side of the highway. It turns out this was right next to a public cave system that you could explore.

Main entrance of the Park Ranch cave just down the road from my camp.

The Park Ranch cave system was very exciting for me to discover. The last time I explored a primitive cave like this I was 19 years old. The passage was smooth and full of gypsum. It was formed by water draining through these passages and its important that you stay out of the caves if there is any flooding in the area. The shapes in the passages reminded me more of slot canyons than a traditional cave. These caves are nothing like Carlsbad Caverns that are just a few miles away.

There was 4 miles of passage to explore and within 100 yards of my camp were 2 entrances to the cave. I took one day to explore the southern entrance. And on the next day I explored the northern entrance. I was so excited when I figured how to link the two together. My adreniline was pumping! I was very carefull to make sure I did not get lost and had 2 light sources in addition to my headlamp with me. I also wore my bike helmet and that did d a great job protecting my noggin.

The second entrance was much tighter and I had to belly crawl for a ways through some muck! I would love to come back here and explore more passage. It’s incredibly hard to find caves as nice as this one that are open to the public.

Strange moths arrive

My first hot springs and the Gila Cliff Dwellings

I had a interesting encounter with nature when dozens of large moths gatherd and clung to the side of my ARB Deluxe Room when I left my outdoor lights on one night. I am sure they were terrified by all the bats in the area.

After a great stay in Carlsbad it was time to head towards Silver City New Mexico to get resupplies and meet my friend Garrett at the Gila Hot Springs Campground. The campground was only $8 a night and offerd a level spot with a picnic table and all the soaking you wanted. There were 3 very clean pools to choose from and all were a very comfortable 103 degrees right along the West Fork of the Gila River.

Before leaving the hot springs we visited the 700 year old Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

The cliff dwelling were preserved well and fun to walk through. After taking some time to enjoy this beautiful location we quickly realized why it would be an incredible place to call home. We asked the Park Ranger on the way out how big the community was here and she said around 50 Mogollon’s lived here between 1270s – 1300s.

The Gila National Forest and wilderness were absolutly incredible. I could have stayed here forever but it was time to move on. I had a short job coming up in Telluride hanging window draperies in a fancy hotel.

Quick stop in Gallup for a bike ride!

High Desert Trail System.
Gallup, NM

I started to make my way closer to Telluride along the Airzona/New Mexico border and along the way I stopped at one of my previous camping and mountian biking destinations in Gallup New Mexico. I got in a great ride and checked off some trails that I did not get to ride in 2018. You can read about my camping and mountain biking in the Zuni National Forest outside of Gallup HERE.

New Mexico makes the best carins!

After a crappy nights stay in the High Desert Trail Head parking lot it was time to get back to Colorado. My job in Telluride was coming up in a couple of days so it was time to say goodbye to the Land of Enchantment. I am excited for my job in Telluride and I will get to see my friend Mike and take a shower!

Conclusion

New Mexico is a remarkable destination and the landscape and remoteness makes for an amazing road trip. The camping was excellent and not crowded compared to my Colorado camping this past summer. There is hardly anyone on the roads and I would recommend taking the back roads versus I-25. My time on Highway 56 and 180 were remarkable. I also liked that the rest stops in New Mexico allow overnight camping and were imaculate.

Carlsbad and the Gila National Forest were my favorite destinaitons. I also really enjoyed the town of Silver City. Silver City had a really cool vibe and is the gateway for the massive Gila Wilderness. I regret not going into White Sands National Park but am sure I will have another opportunity to visit those pretty white dunes again. Carlsbad Caverns blew my mind but it was exploring the undeveloped Park Ranch Cave system that was the highlight for me!

We all know that there is great cycling in Albuquerque and Northern New Mexico but it’s good to know there is excellent singletrack in the small towns of Gallup and Carlsbad.

My van is running great and I feel back in the game. I cant wait to go back and visit New Mexico and see more. As my nomad friend Garrett said, “You can land just about anywhere in the state and it will be beautiful.” Truly the Land of Enchantment.