Weeks of quarantine have turned into months of limited or no travel outside of our little route between the grocery store and hardware store . The lack of freedom to move from place to place had really begun to have an effect on my wife Rachael’s and my mental and physical health. Not only had we abruptly halted our lifestyle of bouncing between different parts of North American whenever we wanted, we were thrust back into this lifestyle of house payments, lawn work, and daily-driver vehicles that we had worked so hard to stay away from.
Rachael decided that all she wanted for her upcoming birthday was a trip to the mountains to escape our new existence. We made a plan to traverse the Alpine Loop in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado over the course of a week in August.It struck us while packing for this trip that we hadn’t traveled in this way in nearly three years. When you travel full-time in a vehicle, everything you need is with you and your vehicle is built for everything that you might encounter. Our Toyota 4Runner was as rusty as we were — not literally, but figuratively. It’d not seen extended travel since we drove the length of Baja last year. The truck was fresh out of the shop with a rebuilt engine and new shocks ready for adventure. It still lacked some of the creature comforts that we had found very helpful in the van, like ventilation and auxiliary lighting. Luckily we were able to take along a few Claymore lighting and power products from Big Tent Outfitters to help make the old truck a little more functional around camp.
We performed our last break-in oil change before hitting the road for the long drive across the high plains that lay ahead. As is the case with most of our trips, I was performing this maintenance in the driveway at 10:00 PM. With a couple of other vehicle projects blocking the garage, I had the option of stringing out 60 feet of extension cords to power a lack-luster shop light or trying the new Claymore Ultra+II X area light. This was by far the easiest decision of our trip. I screwed the magnetic base into the light and stuck the light to the nearest flat section of frame. The magnet firmly attached to the steel frame and a quick press of the power button yielded more light than I would ever need for an oil change. I made quick work of the oil change and called it a night.
The drive across the high plains of Oklahoma and New Mexico is less than stellar. The dry and dusty landscape provides a glimpse into the hard lives of early settlers of towns like Boise City, Oklahoma and Raton, New Mexico. We drove most of the evening in 100-degree temperatures until arriving at a quiet lakeside campsite near the New Mexico border.
CLAYMORE V-600 CIRCULATOR FAN
Before we even reached the destination of our trip, we busted out another item from Big Tent Outfitters’ shelves, the Claymore V-600 Circulator Fan. Growing up camping in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas, I have always been on the lookout for a high-quality camping fan. And now I have found it. The V-600 is extremely well-built, super quiet and on the lowest speed setting holds a charge for 15 hours. A fast charge of the 6000 milliamp Hour (mAh) battery only takes four hours. What’s more, the fan can also be used as a power bank for your phone or other USB devices. The V-600 has several mounting options like the included tripod and a hang hook. We hung our fan in the attic of our tent and didn’t fully test the battery life of the fan, I simply set the one-hour timer on high speed and fell right to sleep in the 80+ degree tent to the soft hum of the V-600 and the distant howl of coyotes and oil field pumps.
We continued through the foothills of New Mexico and Colorado and jumped onto the Alpine Loop at Lake City, CO where we filled up on fuel and ice and found a campsite for the night. A really fun aspect of the Alpine Loop is the number of offshoot trails that branch off into the national forest. We found a pleasant campsite on the way to Uncompahgre Peak and set up camp for the night. The sound of a nearby creek put us to sleep before the sun had a chance to set. The Alpine Loop does not disappoint in the epic view department. Once you pass the tree line on the way to Engineer Pass, thirteen- and fourteen-thousand-foot peaks seem to be as frequent on the horizon as trucks and side by sides are on the trail. The congestion on the trail was partially our fault, as our schedule only allowed us to start the trail on a Friday and subsequently spend the weekend on a very popular trail at the peak of the summer tourist season. Nevertheless, it was great to see so many other people outside recreating and making the most of a truly weird year. Summiting Engineer Pass was a milestone as the highest point that either of us had driven to, so of course we took an obligatory selfie and set our sites on the quaint mountain town of Ouray, CO. The road to Ouray from Engineer Pass was much more technical than either of us were really in search of on our relaxing week in the forest. We fancy ourselves as back-roaders that use forest service roads and rough two-track to get to trailheads, scenic lakes, and other interesting things in the woods — we care very little about wheeling over boulders simply to say that we did. For us, it’s the journey that is valuable, not climbing rocks.On the way off of the pass we explored one of the many abandoned mines scattered along the trail. This one was still in really surprising condition considering it has been abandoned for nearly one hundred years. Can you imagine hauling all of the material needed to build a mine this size up the side of a mountain? We trudged our way down the trail to the highway, only puckering up on a couple of off-camber areas where our truck dangled precipitously off the edge of a cliff. My spotter helped me through a particularly gnarly section and we even impressed a few people on motos, watching as they waited on us to get clear of the obstacles. Arriving at the highway and coasting into Ouray was a pleasant relief and we resupplied some of our fresh veggies and meat and drove the short highway section to pick up the trail in Silverton. We normally plan out campsites well in advance, but the point of this trip was to relax and simply go with the flow. We lucked out and found a great spot near Animas Forks and spent the evening watching a steady flow of vehicles climb Cinnamon Pass while we played with the new Claymore 3Face mini area light.
CLAYMORE 3FACE MINI AREA LIGHT
After using the 3Face area light in our tent on this trip, it is the official tent light for future trips. The slim and compact form factor is perfect for slipping in our tent’s attic and the three dimensional lighting gives even coverage to the whole tent. While I rummaged around outside taking photos of the milky way galaxy and the mountains, Rachael kept the tent lit up with the 3Face. The 3Face is dimmable up to 800 lumens, which if you were wondering, is really bright. We normally dimmed it down about halfway and used the “Natural White” mode for a clean balanced light.
After using the 3Face area light in our tent on this trip, it is the official tent light for future trips.
The 3Face has a quarter-inch mount hole for a magnet or tripod mount and has a dedicated SOS feature if you get into a bad spot. Another feature shared between the Claymore lights and fan is the ability to charge your phone or other USB Type-C devices directly from the light and its 5,000 mAh battery. Since returning from this trip, we have used this light in our house almost daily because it packs the perfect brightness and functionality into a sleek package that you can take with you everywhere. The 3Face has a quarter-inch mount hole for a magnet or tripod mount and has a dedicated SOS feature if you get into a bad spot. Another feature shared between the Claymore lights and fan is the ability to charge your phone or other USB Type-C devices directly from the light and its 5,000 mAh battery. Since returning from this trip, we have used this light in our house almost daily because it packs the perfect brightness and functionality into a sleek package that you can take with you everywhere.
We woke up before the sun, packed up camp, and drove the short distance to the remains of the town of Animas Forks. Walking through the cabins, houses, and what’s left of the Gold Prince Mill provided some stark evidence that the miners and their families that called this home were very tough people.
According to one of the signs, in 1884 the town experienced a blizzard that lasted more than three weeks and trapped the town under 25 feet of snow. It is no surprise that the town was abandoned in the early twentieth century and is now a ghost town tourist attraction.
Climbing Cinnamon Pass was a fun drive that we had mostly to ourselves thanks to our early morning start. We enjoyed parking at the summit and simply taking in the beauty and the solitude of the pass. After a few photos we navigated toward a peaceful spot near American Basin to enjoy brunch.
The drive down from Cinnamon Pass was much more mellow than the day before and we really couldn’t believe how quickly 70 or so miles had gone by in only a couple of days. On our way down the mountain we began dreading the sixteen or so hours of driving that lay before us in sweltering 100+ degree heat. Like we have done so many times before, we saw a campground at the base of the mountain and stayed for one more night. We snagged the last open campsite, lounged around in the creek, and cooked up a delicious dinner. Apparently the aroma from our dinner lured in the neighborhood black bear. We watched him frolic around in the woods for a few minutes. Eventually, we employed the “hey bear” yell to scare him off.It began to get dark. Although we have a light strip in the back of our 4Runner, it really only lights up the cargo area and not the tail gate. We deployed the Claymore Ultra II X and affixed the magnetic base to the roof rack.
CLAYMORE ULTRA+II X AREA LIGHT
The 2,200 lumens that pour out of the light are amazing to use and frankly, there is a ton of usable light. Like the other products from Claymore, the Ultra+II X can be used as a massive 23,200 mAh battery bank to charge your other devices and has a built-in SOS function. Claymore claims an estimated 150-hour run time on low and I believe it. After using it for a week straight, I had only moved one of four dots on the LED charge status light.
Also, similar to the other lights that we tested, the Ultra+II X packs way more punch than expected. The light is extremely bright and perfect for lighting up a campsite, camp kitchen, or even changing your oil in the driveway before you leave. Although the Ultra+II X is built like a tank, the included carry case is a nice touch to keep things organized.
Our trip continued as expected through the sweltering heat in New Mexico and western Oklahoma and remained mostly uneventful, albeit very warm without air conditioning. We were stopped approximately 100 miles short of our destination by a failed u-joint, but that is a story and a lesson for a different time.
Despite our mechanical failure a couple of hours from home, our trip to the mountains accomplished everything that we had set off to do. We celebrated Rachael’s birthday exactly as we had planned with big and beautiful views, cooler weather, and even a bear sighting. We shook down our rebuilt Toyota that seems poised for another 200,000 miles of reliable service. And lastly we got to escape the lockdown society for a little while and remember what it is like to travel. And, thanks to the Claymore lights and fan, the trip was a bit brighter and cooler, too.