20161118 Tread Lightly Principles – Part Two

Carrizo Plain NM
Carrizo Plain NM

There is nothing quite like waking up with the sun gently filtering into your tent, the cool morning air urging you to get up. There is nothing better than that first cup of coffee while out in the back country and I strongly feel that the smell of bacon cooking in the great outdoors is one of life’s greatest pleasures. For many families, camping has become somewhat of a budget friendly tradition. Camping is perhaps the original ecotourism, a couple of days camping and you can gain a greater appreciation for nature, gain personal enrichment and environmental awareness. Combine that with the potential for exercise and education and you have all the ingredients for a great family vacation.

But the choices you make can have an effect on the environment and can actually inflict harm onto the area in which you camp. Here is where the Tread Lightly principles come into play. Here are ten ways you can minimize negative impacts when camping…


1.  Whenever possible, use existing campsites and camp on durable surfaces and place tents on a non-vegetated area. Creating new sites can permanently scar the landscape and removing plants promotes erosion that can further damage the area.

Mahogany Flats Campground – Death Valley NP

2.  Camp a least 200 feet from water so that you don’t disturb wildlife that may rely on that water and when camping in the backcountry disperse your campsite at least 200 feet from trails and other campsites to minimize impact.

Bachelor Wash – Mojave NP

3.  Pack out what you pack in and carry a trash bag to pick up litter left by others. If possible, take the garbage and recyclables home for disposal. Do not leave garbage at your campsite as this attracts animals and conditions them to think of humans as sources of food.

4img_2132Consider food options with minimal packaging or repack your foods in resealable, reusable containers to reduce the amount of trash you generate.

5.  For cooking, consider using a camp stove instead of a campfire. Camp stoves create less of an impact on the land and are much more efficient.

6.  img_1693Observe all fire restrictions and observe all rules regarding fires according to the area that you are camping in. If you build a fire, use existing fire rings or use a fire pan. If allowed, use only fallen timber for campfires, do not cut standing trees or limbs. Keep a 10-foot diameter area around the campfire clear of any flammable materials and make sure there aren’t any tree limbs or flammable objects hanging overhead.

7.  Allow the wood to burn down to a fine ash, if possible. Pour water on the fire and drown all embers until the hissing sound stops. Stir the campfire ashes and embers until everything is wet and cold to the touch. If you don’t have water, use dirt.

8.  Detergents, toothpaste and soap can harm fish and other aquatic life. Try to use a biodegradable, plant-based soap so it won’t harm the surrounding environment. Keep grey water 200 feet away from water sources and scatter your gray water so it filters through the soil and to avoid attracting animals directly to your site.photogrid_1477030084257

9.  imagesIn areas without toilets, use a portable latrine if possible and pack out your waste. If you don’t have a portable latrine, you may need to bury your waste. Human waste should be disposed of in a shallow hole six to eight inches deep at least 200 feet from water sources, campsites or trails. Cover and disguise the hole with natural materials. It is recommended to pack out your toilet paper. High use areas may have other restrictions, so be aware of local regulations.

10.  Following a trip, wash your gear and vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species.


There you have it, ten tips so you can go camping and reduce your impact on the environment! If we all do our part to Tread Lightly, we can all enjoy our wonderful outdoors together. Thanks for reading and remember to find your adventure where ever you may wander!

Follow us on instagram @adventurenotincluded or for photos of our adventures, check out our Flickr account here.

20161112 – Tread Lightly Principles – Part One

As promised, here is the first of a two part series discussing the Tread Lightly principles… to be honest when we first starting heading out to explore the great outdoors I had never heard of the Tread Lightly principles and when I finally did hear about them I didn’t pay much attention. For the most part we tried to be conscientious when we were outdoors but some of the things we learned just from being out there. Now as more and more people are heading outside for the first time to enjoy their National Parks and backcountry there is a greater need than ever for all of us to be aware of and follow these simple guidelines so that all of us can enjoy the natural beauty and majesty of the outdoors. The Tread Lightly principles help us to minimize our impact to the environment and teach responsible outdoor etiquette. For more information please go to www.treadlightly.org to learn more tips or how you can be more involved in stewardship projects.tl-logo

Travel Responsibly by staying on designated roads and trails. If possible, go over obstacles instead of going around and widening the trail. Cross streams only at designated areas and minimize splashing and stirring up sediments. When possible, avoid wet or muddy trails to reduce erosion and rutting. When on water, stay on designated waterways and launch your watercraft in designated areas.

Turn off on the Burr Trail in Canyonlands NP

Respect the Rights of Others including private property owners, recreational trail users, campers and others so they can enjoy their recreational activities undisturbed. While on designated trails or roads, leave gates open or closed as you found them. Yield right of way to those passing you or going uphill and understand trail sharing etiquette. When on water, respect anglers, swimmers, skiers, boaters, divers and those on or near the shore.

Trail Sharing

Educate Yourself prior to your trip by obtaining maps of the area and get to know the restrictions and regulations from public agencies for where you are going. Plan for your trip by taking recreational skills classes, checking the weather forecast and familiarize yourself with your equipment and how to operate it safely.

topo maps are very useful

Avoid Sensitive Areas such as meadows, lake shores, wetlands and streams. Stay on designated routes to protect yourself and wildlife habitats and sensitive soils from damage. Do not disturb historical or archeological sites. When on water, avoid operating your watercraft in shallow water or near shorelines at high speeds.

Petroglyphs in Mojave NP

Do Your Part by modeling responsible behavior by leaving the area better than you found it. You can do this by properly disposing of waste and trash, minimize the use of open fires, avoid the spread of invasive plants and animals and avoiding damage to sensitive areas.mojave-wander-044

The next part of this series will cover some specifics for applying Tread Lightly principles while camping. Thanks for reading and remember to find your adventure where ever you may wander!

Follow us on instagram @adventurenotincluded or for photos of our adventures, check out our Flickr account here.

20161107 – How to Properly Use a Pit Toilet

With an upcoming car camping trip planned for this month and with some of you never having camped before, I thought I’d go over a subject that few others would probably talk to you about. It’s not that it isn’t important, it is very important but some of these things come automatically and some are learned over the years. The first thing to remember is that a pit toilet is your friend. You may not think of it but without that pit toilet you may well be faced with some of life’s crueler options to relieve oneself… the port-a-potty for one… and the field toilet, bag in a bucket as another. For me personally, digging a hole in the ground is much preferable to either one but after being in rural China and seeing the concrete ditch with no walls option, I am happy with a pit toilet. That being said, it is a gamble every time you approach one of these concrete bunkers… Is this a pristine, rarely used but regularly maintained toilet? Or is this a heavily trafficked and disgusting pit of human suffering? You can never tell… pittoilet

So here are eight things to remember when visiting your friendly neighborhood pit toilet:

  1.  Look down but don’t linger… it’s good to take a quick look down to make sure it’s not flooded or overflowing. Getting splashed by that brine of human waste would certainly ruin your day but no need to stare, you won’t find anything of value down there, trust me…

    Are you going to go down and get it?
  2. Lock the door. This may seem like a slam dunk but with all the nervousness of trying to remember the 8 items on this list you might forget and if you do you’ll certainly ruin someone else’s day as well.keep-calm-and-lock-the-door-2
  3. Check for toilet paper. Or even better, bring your own! I always carry toilet paper in the car for just that reason, just as an example, on our last group camping trip we managed to go through all five rolls that were in the toilet at the beginning of our trip. If you didn’t bring any, even though I strongly suggested it, you may have had to go begging among your fellow campers.imag2995_thumb3
  4. Secure your belongings… Don’t sit down yet! Make sure that all hats, glasses, cameras, cellphone, etc are secure and won’t tumble into the ever after, and if it does, well that leads us to the next item…

    This here’s the wildest ride in the wilderness!
  5. Don’t throw trash down there. Most likely there will be a sign stating just that, don’t be an idiot, don’t do it. Everything that goes down there must be brought back out via a huge vacuum and trash can stop up the process. Imagine the work needed to UNSTOP that trash that’s now stuck in the vacuum. I’d rather not think about that… blogpittoiletsign
  6. Breathe through your mouth and take shallow breaths. I shouldn’t have to explain that you are sitting on a mountain of human waste and taking deep breaths through your nose would be an exceedingly bad idea. This is not the time to compose an Instagram post, be efficient and get out of there, especially when you have others waiting to use the same toilet!texting_on_the_toilet_bathroom_without_my_phone_was_weird
  7. Put down the cover. Again, this might seems small but I’m disgusted every time I enter a pit toilet and the lid is wide open. Keeping the lid closed keeps the odor of a thousand bowel movements somewhat contained and it also keeps the number of flies down. Yes, that same fly that just landed on your sandwich… Gross? Yup! so CLOSE THE LID!2fe3053900000578-3388799-image-a-10_1452179741419
  8. Bring hand sanitizer. If you are using a pit toilet you are most likely in an area that does not have running water so hand sanitizer is an essential item. Occasionally there is a dispenser of sanitizer there by the door but about half the time I find these are empty so it’s better to bring your own.dirty_hands

There you have it, that wasn’t so bad was it? Now you are fully prepared to take on the pit toilets of the world and be a little more appreciative of their existence. Thanks for reading and remember to find your adventure where ever you may wander!

Follow us on instagram @adventurenotincluded or for photos of our adventures, check out our Flickr account here.

20161023 – Car Camping Cooking Essentials, Part Two – Mess Kits, Utensils and Cleaning

Coleman 5 pc Mess Kit

Mess kits –  these can range widely from the super-duper, extra fancy and lightweight titanium nesting sets from a manufacturer like Snow Peak all the way to the super cheap plastic dinnerware sets. When we first started camping we bought most of our gear from Wal-mart, this was the most convenient and cheapest way to go and you can still find some really good deals there. The very first mess kit we bought was this 5 piece set from Coleman.  Super cheap and light I thought this was the perfect set but it unfortunately did not live up to our needs and we ended up using them as just plates and bowls and cooking in actual pots and pans we raided from the kitchen.

Coleman Max 4pc Set

This led to us purchasing some Coleman enamelware to use as plates and dishes and while we found that they were very durable, they were too heavy and bulky,meant more for a backyard BBQ or picnic rather than camping, especially if we were going to do some backpacking. This led us back to the store to check out other lightweight options and we found the Coleman Max anodized cook set. This set was similar to other much more expensive sets but at the Coleman price point it was perfect for us. Unfortunately for you they no longer carry this model and they did not make a replacement but there are several off-brand types available on Amazon like this very similar set here.

Nesting Cookware Set

For a single person or couple this is the perfect setup for heating and cooking individual meals. That is unless you are a real camp cook gourmet, then you’ll need to have your Lodge Cast Iron set! I’ve seen my niece cook some AMAZING things in her cast iron pots and pans and there is no better smell in the world than bacon cooking on a cast iron pan in the morning!

If you are looking for something a little nicer or you have a family this setup from Mountain Summit Gear is really nice and at a midrange budget the perfect set if you plan on doing a lot of camping. We still use the Coleman Max set as our personal cups and bowls but we have gotten very simple and eating dehydrated food that only requires boiling a cup of water and so we have reduced the need for cookware. If this is your first time camping you could always steal a pot from the kitchen and bring some plastic utensils and paper plates, it can be that simple! But, if you plan on camping with any regularity you should invest in a simple cookware and utensil set. This is better overall for the environment and gives you flexibility in your food prep as well.

Cheap IKEA set


Utensils – If you are my wife this section is totally useless, no matter what nifty tool I get or light, flexible, foldable, indestructible utensil I find, my wife uses a pair of disposable chopsticks to cook, eat and prep food. She believes that all of her ancestors have cooked outdoors using nothing but chopsticks so that’s all she needs about 99% of the time. The other 1% she begrudgingly uses a couple of inexpensive .$99 store nylon tools that for the most part work okay and you won’t feel bad if they melt, break or walk away.

Metal tongs work the best!

One item that I have found is really useful is a cheap pair of metal tongs. Metal and not plastic or nylon as those tend to bend and flex too much. Again, you don’t need to spend much on them as they will break or get lost sooner or later. I have been thinking about replacing our current set of tools with these from JetBoil since they break down to fit into the pot and they are relatively inexpensive. On the other hand, my wife has a point about the chopsticks… once you are done with them you can just throw them into the fire!

JetBoil Cooking Utensils
ceramic paring knife with cover

The last two items really make campsite cooking easier as well. We’ve been using a small ceramic cooking knife with cover and flexible cutting boards and they work out great. From cutting up fruit and vegetables to slicing cheese or a nice steak, having a nice sharp blade is very useful and the cover keeps the blade clean and safely stored. The cutting boards are great for throwing down on a nasty old picnic table to keep your food prep area relatively sanitary. We’ve found these two items really useful in general.

Flexible cutting boards

Now that we have covered cooking utensils you’ll also want something to eat with. Again, according to my wife you would just eat with the chopsticks that you cooked with… and she does have a point. But once in awhile you’ll need something more than a pair of sticks. When we first started camping I bought a pair of military style fork, spoon and knife sets in the center picture. These worked great and we still have them in our kit but they are little big and bulky so when we went backpacking we upgraded to the nylon fork and spoon combo at the bottom. These combo utensils are light and nearly indestructible but they come up a little short when you are trying to dig out the last bites of that Mountain House bag! Later on we ended up getting a couple of titanium utensils when they were on sale. Super light and super strong but also not cheap. In the end, for car camping or new campers, grabbing a set of the military or nylon combos are great. If this is your first trip, go with a set of plastic and wash them after your meal!

(top) titanium spork (middle) military mess kit (bottom) nylon combo

Cleaning – This of course is everyone’s favorite part of camping! This can really be a chore, especially at a campsite with no running water but we have found that cleaning up pots and dishes are a lot easier with this simple folding camp sink. Ours is an old military style collapsible wash basin and are harder to find. The newer styles are a little better at holding up after they are filled but ours is super light and small once folded up. Along with the wash basin is a simple squeeze bottle of dishwash soap and a Scotchbrite Blue sponge that I cut into quarters and stuff into a Nalgene container to keep it clean and from getting other stuff wet.

Our dishwashing setup

Some like to use rubbermaid containers, plastic shoeboxes, all the way up to this contraption here. Whatever you use just remember to get rid of your dirty dishwater away from your campsite and disperse the water so the scent is not concentrated in one area and well away from any water sources. Soaps and detergents can be harmful to aquatic life and the scent can and will attract rodents and even larger animals like coyotes to your campsite so keeping clean and following “Tread Lightly” principles are important.

What? You don’t know what Tread Lightly means? Well, check out this site for more information and look for a future blog post on the subject.  Thanks for reading and remember to find your adventure where ever you may wander!

Follow us on instagram @adventurenotincluded or for more photos, check out our Flickr account here.



20161020 – Car Camping Cooking Essentials, Part One – Campstoves

Coleman propane camp stove

Campstoves  –  If you’re gonna cook while camping (yes that is a choice as there are some that adhere to a no-cook camping lifestyle) you’re gonna need something to cook with and the choices are plentiful. There are some who stick with the tailgater style propane grills, the old-school Coleman propane stove, butane canister stoves, isobutane stoves, integrated stoves and the liquid fuel bottle stove. Since we are talking about car camping here I’m gonna stick with the most popular ones. First up is the OG camping stove, the Coleman propane stove. We used one for years and then gave it away and got another one and gave that one away too, each time thinking that we have graduated from the classic propane stove. But it’s a classic for a reason, easy to use, inexpensive and  readily available fuel and great cold weather performance makes this a great stove for any car camper.

Portable butane stove

One option that we have seen and we have tried it ourselves is the butane stove. Most of our Asian friends out there will be familiar with this type of single burner butane stove (hot pot or Korean BBQ anyone??). It burns very efficiently and provides great heat, it’s light and inexpensive but the canisters are not as readily found and it suffers in altitude or colder climates.  This is our current option when we go group camping and need to prepare or heat up larger amounts of food. It doesn’t take up as much space as the Coleman and the burner seems to work better for simmering and keeping food warm.

Primus Gravity camping stove

For us, we find that the big propane stove is often overkill since many times there is only the two of  us and we have simplified our camp cooking to a lot of dehydrated meals which only require boiling water. So we first started with a Primus Gravity (discontinued) backpacking stove that uses blended isobutane and propane fuel canisters. This worked great on our first couple of trips and the low and wide style of the stove is very stable and because of the huge burner this is a great stove for larger pots and pans. The remote canister style stove also allows for a windscreen to be used in windy conditions. This stove is still used in our kit for cooking and heating up food and is perfect for small groups. We have noticed that the built-in starter does not always work and boiling water at higher altitudes or in very cold weather takes a long time, so this motivated us to try another type of stove…

JetBoil Group Camping System

Integrated stoves like the JetBoil have gained popularity for its ease of use and its ability to very quickly and efficiently bring water to a boil. These are great at what they are designed for but most of these systems are not designed for cooking or heating up food. After researching a bit we decided on the JetBoil Group Cooking System, which is no longer being made. This system uses a 1.5L pot with a finned bottom that concentrates the heat into the pot. This works fairly well and you can boil a large pot of water in less than 5 minutes. This system also allows you to heat up a pot of stew or cook pasta which makes it very versatile. However, the drawbacks of this system are much like all of the blended fuel stoves in that they suffer in the high altitude and very cold weather. Plus the tall design of the stove is a little unstable and windscreen use is somewhat risky as there is a danger of overheating the canister. But overall we like this stove and it almost always travels with us.

If you are really camping in high altitudes or very cold conditions then a liquid fuel stove is the way to go but those stoves are not as easy to use, as they require priming before each use. They are also prone to leakage and spills if not closed properly and we have heard a number of stories of near tragedy due to fuel spills or leakage. Because of the style camping we do and my personal preference for ease of use, we have stayed away from the liquid fuel stoves although I can see its value in its versatility and flexibility and in the future we may have to give one a try.

Fuel canister types

Ultimately you must choose your stove based on your personal preferences and circumstances but for car camping you really can’t go wrong with a propane camp stove like the Coleman mentioned earlier. If you really want to step it up though, the Camp Chef Everest stove is very highly rated. At a steep $120 for full retail it is about twice the cost of the Coleman but with two 20,000 BTU rated burners and all stainless steel construction, you’ll be passing this stove along to your grandchildren and it’ll still be a solid choice for a car camping stove!

Camp Chef Everest 2
Camp Chef Everest 2



That’s it for Part One, next time we’ll cover Mess Kits, Utensils and Cleaning. Thanks for reading and remember to find your adventure where ever you may wander!

Follow us on instagram @adventurenotincluded or for more photos, check out our Flickr account here.



20161018 – Five Car Camping Essentials

Planning a multi-day backpacking trip can be daunting, deciding what to bring and what to leave behind for space and weight savings can be agonizing. Many times through trial and error you learn what works and what doesn’t and you begin to carefully craft your packing list. Car camping is much more forgiving. Items that are too heavy for backpacking can now be brought along. Items sacrificed due to weight and space can help bring a little more comfort to your campsite. This post is to cover some of the very basic items that you will need. If you are just looking for a comprehensive list, check here at REI.com…

Assorted styles from backpacker to family

#1 – Tent  For years we used a three man Coleman tent we bought at Wal-Mart, much like this one here. This little tent served our car camping needs for many years until we wanted to go backpacking and we upgraded to the REI Half Dome tent similar to this one. Lightweight and small, the Half Dome served as our shelter for many trips until recently when we purchased a rooftop tent from Front Runner Outfitters which now serves as the official *Adventure Not Included basecamp. If you keep your eyes out for sales you can pick up a good tent for car camping for less than $40, for example this one from Big 5 Sports on sale for $30 until this weekend. Keep in mind that these inexpensive tents are not good in inclement weather, in fact few but the very best made tents will stand up to heavy rain or hard winds but unless you want to drop $500-600 on a tent from Northface or Mountain Hardwear, retreating to a local rooming establishment is your best option. Trust us when we say, sleeping in a 3 season tent in gale force winds or below freezing temperatures is not much fun and there is no shame in staying at a nearby motel for the night. Sleeping in your car is always an option but it is not very comfortable. Since our Half Dome tent has gone MIA, our personal choice for our next tent is most likely the REI Passage for the light weight, double doors, ease of setup and good reviews.

Front Runner Outfitters rooftop tent
ALPS Mountaineering mummy bag

#2 – Sleeping bag and #3 – Sleeping Pad  There are many choices here but the best and warmest option we have found is a good fitting mummy bag. The fit is important because if the bag is too tight you will be uncomfortable and if it is too big you’ll have a hard time staying warm. If you are backpacking, finding the perfect balance between weight and warmth is important. Car camping however is much more forgiving and I would place a greater emphasis on warmth. You can always open up the bag to vent some warm air but you’ll never be able to generate more heat from a light bag. Personally we use ALPS Mountaineering mummy bags that are rated to about 30 degrees. We got them from the REI outlet for about $80 each and they have been great for us. We have slept in colder temperatures with these but we would not recommended to use them below about 40 degrees without an additional liner or blanket. If you never plan on sleeping out in the cold there is nothing wrong with the classic style sleeping bag from Wal-Mart that you can pick up for about $25.

One of the essential items that go along with the sleeping bag is a sleeping pad. We currently use the Therm-A-Rest 3/4 length pads which are self-inflating pads that are intentionally short to save space and weight. These three quarter style pads only provide cushioning for the upper body and hips and work very well for our older frames when sleeping on the ground. Sleeping pads accomplish two things, providing a little padding and insulating you from the cold ground which can quickly sap the warmth from your body. Some people might prefer an air mattress but they don’t always fit inside the tent and they are prone to leakage. If you go this route, make sure that the mattress fits inside your tent before you take it out for the first time.


Camp chairs make camp life better!

#4 – Camp Chair  Although some might think this is not an essential item, this can make a huge difference in making your camping trip a more comfortable experience. It never fails that someone is ALWAYS sitting in my camp chair around the fire at the end of the day because they didn’t bring their own. The uses are not limited to camping either, we use ours at the park, tailgates, backyard and even the garage. Although they make a lot of different styles, you just can’t beat the basic collapsing camp chair. Outdoor Gear Labs even did some testing on several different types of camp chairs and this ALPS Mountaineering model was the winner. But at $60 can you really see much difference in the $7 Ozark Trail model? Yes, the ALPS model looks heavier and the max capacity of the chair is 800lbs compared to the 225lb weight limit of the Ozark model but it also weighs 13lbs compared to the less than 5lb weight of the Wal-Mart chair. I’m sure that the ALPS model will last quite a long time but I can’t see dropping that much coin on a camp chair that’s ultimately gonna get used and abused. The Ozark Trail chairs aren’t the most durable things in the world but ours have lasted through many desert camping trips and beat sitting on a rock!

ALPS Mountaineering camp chair
Ozark Trail camp chair
Dinner by headlamp

#5 – Headlamp  Another indispensable item that every camper should have, headlamps will make your life easier. Imagine this scenario… it’s late at night, you were fast asleep in your tent but now… nature is calling and you can’t ignore it any longer. Okay, look for your flashlight… where is it?!? Oh, okay it rolled over to the other side of the tent… okay, open the zipper and try to get your shoes on, all while fumbling with the flashlight. Switching hands, under your arm, pinched at your neck… wow, this would be nicer if I had BOTH hands free! OK, so do I need to continue?? The LED headlamp is a great innovation in camping technology that everyone should be using. Hands-free, lightweight, bright easy to direct beam and can be found for a low cost. This really is an essential item and these Black Diamond models are really great value and are highly recommended by many hikers and campers.

Personally, we use the Enduro model from Streamlight because I’m a Streamlight fanboy and own a couple of lamps from them. Powered with two AAA batteries and providing 6 hours of continuous light on high, durable, powerful and light. we’ve had these headlamps for a few years now and I use them all the time around the house, on the car and in the backyard, anywhere I need a hands-free light. Not to mention that it makes answering the call of nature in the middle of the night SO much easier without fumbling around with a flashlight!

Streamlight Enduro headlamp


So that’s it, those are the first five essential items to have to go car camping. That wasn’t so bad was it?? Next time we’ll cover some essentials for one of the most important parts of camping…  COOKING!  Thanks for reading and remember to find your adventure where ever you may wander!

Follow us on instagram @adventurenotincluded or for more photos, check out our Flickr account here.

20030518 – Trona Red Rock Adventure

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May 18th is our anniversary and in 2003 we celebrated our seven years together by going camping! No, I’m not talking about glamping it up in some resort or cabin… this was honest to goodness sleep in a tent on the ground style camping! Although we had each been camping before when we were younger we hadn’t camped as adults so off to Wal-Mart we go to buy a tent, sleeping bags, chairs, stove, etc. Some of our friends thought we were crazy and I know Irene had to explain to some that I wasn’t forcing her to go. What prompted this trip? Well my Dad had recently decided to get rid of his 1986 Toyota Van. Yeah, that’s right it was called “Van”… this was before the Previa and Toyota was much simpler with names back then… the Tacoma was just “Truck” back in the 80’s too! So I loved this thing, it was originally built as a limo and there were only two built at the time. The other was for the president of Toyota USA. It had two sunroofs, TV, VCR, mobile phone, Alpine stereo with a 5 disc changer, all the best you could buy in the mid 80’s but that wasn’t why I loved it. This van was my Dad’s work car and so although he took great care of it, it was beat up and I could care less what happened to the exterior. I put the biggest, fattest tires the rims could hold and I drove it like it was stolen. Nothing could stop this thing and I loved it! Irene suprisingly loved the Van too and it was her idea to go camping in it. So for our seventh anniversary, we packed up our new camping gear and set out for the California desert, something that I had always wanted to see and check out!


This was our first stop to gas up and I thought this was hilarious. Someone took the time to go out and color match the paint on this sign, drive out to the middle of nowhere, climb up on the sign and make a small but important edit… classic! We had seen a newspaper article about the Trona Pinnacles near Ridgecrest. The Pinnacles consists of more than 500 tufa spires that are formed as a deposit when hot springs interact other bodies of water. The spires rise from the bed of the Searles Lake as high as 140 feet. The spires vary in size and shape from short and squat to tall and thin, and are composed primarily of calcium carbonate. They sit isolated and slowly crumbling away near the south end of the valley, surrounded by many square miles of flat, dried mud and with stark mountain ranges at either side.


Here is the infamous Toyota Van!



The Pinnacles are recognizable in more than a dozen movies. Over thirty film projects a year are shot among the tufa pinnacles, including backdrops for car commercials and sci-fi movies and television series.


Parting shot of the Van from atop one of the ridges… getting late so better get to the campground!


Again inspired by a Westways magazine article we had decided to camp at Red Rock Canyon State Park. Red Rock Canyon features some very scenic desert cliffs and some spectacular rock formations. The park provides some magnificent views of the pristine desert landscape and has a small fee campground with vault toilets and water. Being our first visit we stopped by the Visitor’s Center and talked with a Ranger to get a campsite. She suggested a nice site towards the back of the loop drive along the cliffside that provided some privacy and a great backdrop for our tent!


Sorry little guy, we’re staying here tonight!






The rock formations here are amazing and we spent a couple of hours wandering around the area behind our campsite. These pictures were taken on my first digital camera, a Fuji FinePix 40, so the quality ain’t great but hey, these are only 1280 x 960!


We started up the fire and cooked our first dinner together on our little Coleman stove, this was a great day but now it was getting a little cold so we decide to turn in after watching the stars come out. Later that night I was awakened by what I thought was some idiot that pulled into our campsite. The whole tent was lit up and so I got up to yell at the guy to turn out his headlights. When I opened up the tent I was amazed by what I saw. The entire landscape in front of us, the cliffs behind, and the desert below was bathed in moonlight. The moon had started to rise above the horizon and it had lit up the entire campground. I woke Irene up and we both sat staring out over the scene. We had never seen anything like it before and for many years later I would recall my very first moonrise!





We awoke the next morning early with the sun and made breakfast… Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever smelled anything so good as bacon frying outdoors! We packed up the van and made our way down the loop and checked out the viewpoints around the park. The ranger told us about a place called the Burro Schmidt Tunnel and that it was a little ways off the beaten track but we should be able to make it. Go up the road until you see the billboards and the instersection with a dirt road headed off to the right. Take that dirt road up the mountain and you’ll see the signs for “tunnel”… How could we resist? So we headed up the road and sure enough we find the dirt road, exactly where she said it would be. I have since taken up this practice of giving directions in the desert myself…

“Go along the escape route until you see that it starts to bend to the north and look for the two track headed up the mountain on the left. If you turn north then you went too far and you should turn around… drive up the mountain until you see the square boulder and turn right, go across the gully and then head upstream in the big wash and look for the drop off to the right, if you pass the old Model T wreck then you went too far!”

These are the real directions to Salt Basin! lol… I digress…


The road going up is definitely challenging but not impossible for a 2WD vehicle, you need to be smart about the capabilities of your vehicle. It’s nine miles of rocky and sometimes sandy road that snakes its way along. There are signs but few and far between and sometimes literally nothing more than an arrow and “tunnel” scrawled next to it. I did notice that we passed very few people and they were in fully built jeeps or dirtbikes. Not many other cars in this area and definitely not any minivans! I got a few stares from people as I bounced happily by! If you decide to go please remember that you are in a remote desert area so please be prepared with water and some basic tools to change a tire. You should let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return and be aware of your surroundings.


The Burro Schmidt Tunnel was dug entirely by hand by William “Burro” H. Schmidt. Schmidt had come to the California desert from Rhode Island hoping to improve his health after losing his siblings to tuberculosis. He began his 38 year construction project in 1902, near the site where he had staked a mining claim. It is thought that he meant to use the tunnel as a short cut to carry his ore to a smelter on the other side but it seems unlikely since the tunnel emerged on a high ledge, in the middle of nowhere.

During the years he worked on his tunnel, Schmidt supported himself, not by mining, but by hiring himself out as a ranch hand every summer.  In fact, he never carried an ounce of ore to the smelter despite finding veins of precious minerals in the tunnel. Every fall, he would take his two burros, Jack and Jenny, and head back up to resume excavation of the tunnel. The tunnel was cut through solid granite bedrock and required very little shoring. By 1938 he had dug through nearly 2,500 feet of solid granite using only a pick, a shovel, and a four-pound hammer for the first initial section, and carefully placed dynamite with notoriously short fuses for the rest. It was estimated that he had moved 5,800 tons of rock to complete his tunnel.



Walking the length of the tunnel only takes about half an hour.  Although the tunnel is in good condition and you can walk upright through most of it, entering any excavations always carries some risk.  If you decide on a visit keep in mind a few things… you will need a good flashlight with fresh batteries, and as always in the desert, bring plenty of drinking water and sturdy shoes. Now my cautionary tale of the trip… In that first picture you can see that I am holding a little red mini maglite. Yeah, don’t use that kinda flashlight… this is a deep dark tunnel, so bring a real one! I had another flashlight but it ran out of batteries halfway thru. Okay, well we brought two flashlights so it’ll be okay. Although I’m starting to freak myself out a little thinking about snakes and earthquakes and getting stuck in a mine collapse… I hand the flashlight to Irene so she can see where she’s going and we keep moving. So you see the hat I am wearing? I loved that hat but it did cut off my vision above my head and especially when I ducked down to get through a low spot in the tunnel. So you can guess I ran right into a overhanging rock! I saw stars and stumbled back a bit and thought, “great… I’m gonna die in this tunnel…” Irene mentioned something about staying awake cuz she can’t drag me back out. Okay, let’s stop for a second and clear my head… I’m alright… so the lesson of the day was, “If you have one, you have none and if you have two, you have one!” To this day I always find myself preparing for the worst!



We finally get to the end and, am I happy to be out of that tunnel! The view from that ledge at the end of the tunnel is breathtaking and you can see for miles around. We sat there enjoying the solitude, eating a snack of trail mix and sipping water. Why would he dig this tunnel just to get stranded up here on the mountainside? We may never find out but the tunnel is a testament to his ferocious dedication and hard work. Burro Schmidt died in 1954 and his partner took care of the tunnel until his death in 1963. After that, Evelyn Tonie Seger began caring for the tunnel and lived on the site until 2003. Ms. Seger died a few days after we visited at the age of 95. William Schmidt and Ms. Seger are buried side by side in the Rand District Cemetary.


This trip kickstarted the last few years of us exploring and adventuring in the desert and all over the world! I began to realize that we needed a more capable vehicle and some better equipment but it all started here. On a high ledge, on the side of Copper Mountain in the El Paso Wilderness. Keep exploring, keep wandering and you’ll find your own adventure!

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