Rich’s Moving Castle

Thanks to Eleanor and Bill for putting an appropriate literary theme on my few days in the Caravel.  Like Howl’s Moving Castle, the Caravel never paused for long in this recent chapter of its four-decade adventures.

The saga left off on Friday, when I was making a coffee last for three hours so I could recharge my stuff and get some work done.  It was a beautiful sunny day and things were going well.  After the work was done, an electronic trail of crumbs (a waypoint stored in the GPS) led me back to the campground, otherwise I might never have found it again.  I spent all of 10 minutes installing the new braided-stainless hoses in the Caravel’s bathroom and — ta-da! — no more leaks.   Or so I thought.

That afternoon the bulk of the rally participants showed up and things got lively.  Among many other people, I ran into Tiffani and Deke of “Weaselmouth,” who I’d last seen at Alumapalooza in May, and we got into an evening-long conversation during the potluck dinner.  I went back to the Caravel that night pleased that the rally was turning out well, but a little sorry as well because it would be time to get going homeward soon.  The rest of the people were just getting started with their Halloween decorations and friendly yakking.  For me, the Moving Castle (aka Caravel) was destined to depart in the morning.

I lingered on Saturday until about 10 a.m. while the gang was cooking up a huge breakfast outside at the pavilion.  People kept asking me how far I had to drive to get home, and when I said, “Oh, about 1,000 miles” the second or third time it really hit me: I’ve got to get going. There were about 16-17 hours of driving ahead of me, plus stops, and very little of it would be interesting driving.

Like the little Bubble I pulled from Santa Fe, the Caravel is a joy to tow.  There’s no fuss, no bad behavior, no complicated hitching equipment.  I try to keep the fresh water tank at least half full to give the trailer better stability, but otherwise I just drop it on the ball and away we go.  I don’t trust it as much as I do the big Safari with the Hensley hitch, because I know the Safari absolutely cannot sway with that setup, but the Caravel is marvelously stable at any speed I care to drive.  Of course, it is equipped pretty close to the original factory configuration.  Often I’ll see small vintage trailers that tow horribly, and inevitably it’s the result of owner modifications (air conditioners, rear-mounted spare tires, altered floorplans or heavy household-style cabinetry) that corrupt the delicate center of gravity.  The original designs took care to ensure that when the trailers were loaded with water, food, personal items, etc., the trailer would remain stable.

I made a few stops along the way for errands.  The day before the GL320 gave me a warning that it wanted a top-up of “AdBlue” fluid, which is also commonly known as Diesel Exhaust Fluid.  These days you can find the stuff in any auto parts store, truck stop, and even some Wal-Marts, and it’s cheap at about $12.99 for 2.5 gallons.  I put five gallons in the special tank that holds the AdBlue, which should be good for another 7,000 miles or so.  I’ll top it off this week for a full 15,000 mile range.  I mention this only because a lot of people are still scared about the stuff, thinking it’s expensive, or complicated, or frequent, and it’s really no much more hassle than filling the window washer fluid.  Three-tenths of a cent per mile is a small price to pay for clean diesel emissions, in my opinion.

I’ve wanted to spend a night at Monahans Sandhills State Park (just off I-20 a little west of Odessa TX), but the timing has never worked out before. This time I hit Monahans about a half hour before sunset, which made it a great stopover point.  The park has only 26 spaces, which made me think I might get skunked on a spot since it was Saturday night, but it turned out to be only about half full.  About half of the spaces are short back-ins that were perfect for the Caravel but wouldn’t have worked for the 30-foot Safari.

I have to take this opportunity to gripe about a small thing.  Many state parks use an honor system for late arrivals.  You fill out a little envelope and put your nightly camping fee in it.  This envelope gets deposited into an “iron ranger” (a metal box) and picked up by the staff daily.  You have to indicate your campsite on the envelope, but you haven’t gotten a campsite yet, which means you have to go to the campground, find a site, then come back to the iron ranger.

At Monahans the iron ranger is at the entrance gate, but the campground is about 1.3 miles away.  By the time I was parked in the site, it was nearly dark.  Being an overnight stop I would have preferred not to unhitch but I also wasn’t psyched to walk 2.6 miles roundtrip in the dark along a narrow, winding, shoulder-less road in the cold.  I wanted to make dinner and fire up Calcifer, and I also needed to refill the water tank.  To get it all done quickly, the easiest thing was to unhitch and drive back to the entrance gate to deposit my envelope.  Other state parks set up two iron rangers, one at the gate and one at the campground for the convenience of their visitors, so there’s my suggestion to the powers-that-be.

This minor quibble aside, I liked the park, which is billed as the “Sahara of the Southwest.”  It’s not perfect by any means, but it is very scenic for a place that’s just off a major Interstate.  The downsides stem from the fact that this is oil country.  I caught an occasional whiff of petroleum in the air, and through the night I could hear the sound of an oil well being drilled somewhere off to the northwest:  WHUMP-WHUMP-WHUMP-whumpwhumpwhump…

The morning found me with 555 miles to go.  I debated whether to plow ahead or to stop along the way.  There were places I would have liked to stop, and friends to visit, but there was also a place I wanted to be more, namely home with E&E. Back in Tucson they were decorating the house for Halloween, and Eleanor was cooking things.  On the other hand, in the Caravel I’d discovered yet another leak, this time under the kitchen faucet.  I took this as a sign that I needed to get back to home base and have a long chat with the Caravel (wrench in hand) about its incontinence problem.

To be fair, the trailer is doing spectacularly well, especially considering its age.  (The leaks are all from the same type of flexible plastic faucet hose, at the compression fittings.  I don’t know if they are failing from age, heat, bad design, or over-tightening, but they are all getting replaced this week.)  Other than that, the Caravel has performed admirably.  We covered 1,000 miles at highway speeds, and encountered some pretty awful back roads too.  Not a rivet was disturbed on its tight little structure.

More important, I was entirely comfortable through the entire trip, with my little aluminum soap bubble to house me at night and Calcifer to keep me warm.  No matter how much I had to drive, at the end of every day I knew I would be back in my home, with my familiar things and favorite foods waiting.  An Airstream really is a moving castle, where you have everything you need with you no matter where in the world you go.  This is the magic of trailer travel.  Even though I just finished unpacking from this trip, I’m looking forward to the next one already.  Most likely it will be in mid-December.


  1. Forrest says

    Hey Rich,

    We seem to be crisscrossing each others’ paths this year. We stayed the night at Monahan Sand Dunes going from Carlsbad to Denton. It is a nice park, and I was in the same situation arriving late and not wanting to walk that road back with the registration. The next morning, about 8 a.m. a Ranger came along and was real friendly. He told me to just drop off the envelope on my way out – trust in the honor system.

    What I liked about Monahan SP is that the camping sites are right in the dunes, as opposed to the Great Sand Dunes NP in Colorado where camping is across the river (stream?) Of course, if the sites were actually in the dunes there it would be really hard to maintain them since the sand moves around so much. :-)