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Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns // Finally made it out of Texas!

The day had finally arrived, we were leaving Texas. It had been a big beautiful journey full of mighty skies, friendly people, colorful experiences, and the biggest, ever, gas stations. Even despite all that and the 75 mph speed limit, it didn’t seem like we could get out fast enough.

We arrived in New Mexico in the early afternoon. Just across the southern border, we followed the Guadelupe Mountain range up into Whites City, NM where the famous Carlsbad Caverns rest hundreds of feet below the ground. We had just enough time to tour a strange grocery store/arcade/retail/museum in town before we needed to find a place to park the van for the night. The Wikipedia page claimed that there were 7 people living in Whites City and it had appeared that those 7 people were quite busy with the strange tourist store, hotel, restaurant, gas station (no diesel), and RV park. The town stood at the entrance of the road up to Carlsbad Caverns and thrived and survived soley on the fact that thousands of people each year scuffled through that cooridor desperately in need of an engraved pocket knife or commemorative shot glass.

We asked the young man behind the counter the location of the best campground. He guided us in a direction and we headed that way. One hour later we were lost as hell and cussing that young man through our gritted teeth. We eventually located a BLM spot off the highway and settled in for the night. The moon was brilliant that night.

Early the next morning we drove thru the rocky, steep Walnut Canyon to Carlsbad Caverns.  Instead of taking the elevator down to the caves, we chose to take the natural entrance and walked for over an hour through gigantic rooms until finally reaching “the big room.” The trail wound its way though statuesque rock formations, crystal clear ponds of filtered water, deep dark cooridors, and underneath massive hanging rock chandeliers. It was a memorable sight to see.

After the Caverns we continued our journey north to White Sands National Monument.

 

From RUST to ROLLING – total cost of a custom van build

When we began obsessing over van life there were a few things we had to keep in mind:

  1. It would be expensive (for us) because this was going to be our home and it was worth it for us to spend a little more money to make it the most comfortable.
  2. We had to be ready for anything to go wrong during the van build process which would only help us when experiencing hurdles once we hit the road.
  3. We will have to downsize A LOT and learn to be okay with that.
  4. Everything we put in the van needed to have more than one purpose.
  5. Ask for help! We made a point to include our friends and family in helping us build the van. Trust me, we are not carpenters, welders, or electricians but many of our friends and family members are and were eager to help us with whatever we need. Plus, it gave us an opportunity to spend time with friends and family before our journey.

With all of these things in mind and after months of staying up late doing research and watching YouTube videos, we decided we were ready to make a purchase.

Laputa, our 2006 Dodge Sprinter (with a Mercedes engine) lived in St. Louis, Missouri, about 5 hours from where we lived. Laputa wasn’t perfect but with only 120,000 miles and for the price, it felt right. Once we got home, a mechanic looked it over and we inspected the rust damage. It was lengthy. In fact, the landscape company had put a thick steel plate over the decaying floor without treating it. This meant that we had a lot of extra expenses to take care of before we began the building process. It was frustrating and we were upset that we had bought a van that was in such bad shape but we knew to stay calm. We accessed the entirety of the frame and the damage from the rust and decided we could get thru it!

Listed below is just about everything we spent money on to build the van:

Sprinter $5000

Foam board, Aluminum Floor, and Glue $150

Spray Foam $400

Solar Panel $Free

Charge Controller $153

Inverter $100

Battery $100

Wire $80

Solar Misc. $50

LED Lights $35

Speakers and Wiring Harness $40

2 USB Charging Ports $24

DC Plug-In $10

Ceiling Lumber $89

Lumber for bed $37

Luan Walls $103

Cabinet Lumber $118

Flooring $3

Paint $60

Paint Misc. $10

Ceiling Fan $201

Window Tinting $350

Fabric $29

Sink $Free

Hand Pump $20

Aluminum Backsplash $12

Water Tanks $34

Passport Potty Circa ’80 $Free

Total: $9,188

 

The below items will not be relevant to everyone but is important to remember to prepare for the unexpected!

 

Spare Tire $240

Wiper Blades $40

Rod Bearing, Gasket, Oil and Oil Change, Tools, and Labor $350

Air Filter, Coolant, Windshield Fluid $100

Side Door Roller $50

Welding Frame $200

Rust Resistance $66

 

Plus, with buying a new vehicle there are always more expenses….

Inspection $20

Registration $92

For us, our total was $10,346

 

Check out our van video to get a better idea of how we put it all together!

Dwelling Lessons

While Liz and I have been traveling the US we’ve found ourselves naturally gravitating towards cliff dwellings. It started when we stumbled upon the cliff dwellings of the ancient Mogollon in the Gila National Forest. Liz and I marveled at the fact that the mortar they used in their construction of the 700 year old buildings looked as though it had been applied yesterday. While the nearby walls that had been “restored” by the parks service showed signs of fatigue, cracking and failing in front of our eyes. The ancient rock walls that had been undisturbed by modern man stood strong and proud still performing the simple but crucial task of protecting its inhabitants from the harsh elements.

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As we moved northwest we discovered site after site of previous ancient inhabitants. We noticed a few differences but mostly the similarities in each location we explored. Each location of people utilized the natural elements in the surrounding landscape. Locating a south facing cliff allowed for the sun to penetrate deep into the cave in the cool winter months while casting a shadow on the inhabitants during the hot summer months. Several of the dwellings we visited made use of the fact that water would pour over the shelves of rock directly over head. The people of that time created rain collection systems using bowls and pots to catch the precious resource.

We visited an old Sinagua site located in Walnut Canyon just outside Flagstaff, Arizona. Here, the truly impressive aspect was the focus around community. The island trail took us around a huge natural rock formation that housed dozens of homes and community spaces. As we made our way around the trail we looked out across the canyon and spotted literally dozens of more remains built with stone walls nestled in the pockets of the cliffs. The Hopi people tell stories of their ancestors voices still being heard thru the canyon and how they built their homes close to each other so they could remember to work and care for one another.

The natural wonder of the area was with each winding turn of the canyon new vegetation flourished. Rather it be a dry, sunny side of the canyon where cactus and desert plants grew or a dark shady portion of the canyon where tall pines and bushes were able to grow. Each turn brought a new category of natural beauty that was impressive even today.

Overall Liz and I were left with the feeling that the people that had once inhabited the cliff dwellings had it figured out. They had everything they needed; water, food, community, protection, recreation you name it. Liz and I couldn’t help but notice that in todays society we still seem to lust for such basic needs. Sure we’ve accomplished amazing feats of engineering and science but a large population of us still struggle for basic human needs. It goes without saying that its completely necessary to pay attention to these lessons passed down from our ancient ancestors. In a time where the earth is undergoing major change, we believe that some of these skills and needs will be pushed to the forefront of our daily lives and the sooner we pay attention and apply them the healthier we all will be.

In short. Turn the lights out when you leave a room, ride a bike and hug your damn neighbor.

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