This week on the podcast we are going to learn about the booming popularity among RVers of Electric Bikes and out special guest is Ty Collins, the marketing director of Rad Power Bikes. Regular listeners know that Rad Power Bikes has been a loyal sponsor of this podcast for years now. But my interview with Ty is not a commercial. I asked him to come on the show to answer so many of the questions I get from RVers about ebikes.

Show Notes for Episode #265 Oct. 23, 2019 of The RV Podcast:

WHAT MIKE AND JENNIFER ARE UP TO THIS WEEK

JENNIFER
It’s been another busy week of RV travel for us. Friends have joked that the day after we had the first frost of the fall, we were on the road headed to warmer climes. That’s true! 
MIKE
We are now on Okaloosa Island on the part of the Florida panhandle they call the Emerald Coat and we’ll stay here pretty much through Thanksgiving, driving a few hours every Friday to Southwest Georgia where our so Matthew is a senior playing his last year of high school football.
JENNIFER
But though we surely love it down here (October and early November are fabulous months weather-wise on this part of Florida), we’ll head back to Michigan for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
MIKE
And then it’s our annual winter campout in the snow at Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan’s snow-covered Upper Peninsula. The dates for the gathering are January 10-12, 2020. 

Here’s a link to the details on our special RV Lifestyle Winter Campout group on Facebook.

You have to join the group to read it but if you’ve never camped in the winter and want to try it out, request to join and you can join our winter fellow travelers. It’s a ball.

This part of the podcast is brought to you by Dish Outdoors, which lets RVers pay as they go and watch HD satellite television from wherever they are camped with easy to set up gear made with the RVer in mind. Just go to https://rvlifestyle.com/dish for details on the service and special deal just for listeners of this podcast

RV LIFESTYLE NEWS OF THE WEEK

JENNIFER
Check out this interesting feature on the lone federal judge who oversees the wild court of Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park is one of Mike and my favorite American national parks. It is just such a unique place – so I read with interest a story that ran yesterday on the federal judge who works there. The judge handles all those crazy cases we write about from time to time – people trying to pet elk, walk on geysers, harass bison, etc. The judge also handles the more mundane things like drunk driving, domestic violence, and other issues that come up. If you are a person like us who is fascinated by everything Yellowstone, the story is well worth the read.
MIKE
Haunted campgrounds sure to send chills up your spine 
We’ve all heard of haunted houses, haunted corn mazes, but have you ever heard of a haunted campground? Outside magazine had an article on haunted campgrounds, just in time for Halloween. The story highlighted several campgrounds throughout the country that some considered haunted. Some of the places offer night time tours in late October. Halloween camping has become so popular many campgrounds sell out months in advance. 
JENNIFER
Many express strong opposition at idea to privatize national park campgrounds and add WiFi, food trucks and other services
As word spread of a proposal we shared with you last week to privatize campgrounds in some American national parks, so did opposition to the idea. An advisory committee recommended last week that American national parks turn to private companies to modernize the nation’s campgrounds by adding WiFi, food trucks, limits to senior discounts, more rentals, etc. But opposition to these ideas is also rising, as various groups express concern saying they like getting away from modern life, enjoy the rustic feel, and are worried some would be priced out of updated, privatized campgrounds. This is a story we surely continue to be hearing more about in the weeks to come.
MIKE
Woman shares story of how her dog was possibly bit by bobcat when camping 
Ever let your dog go off leash and run a bit on a camping trip? A woman was in the news last week after she went camping in northern Michigan, let her five dogs off leash at her camping spot, and when she came home noticed a strange bite pattern on one of her dog’s neck. She took the pet to her vet and the vet told her the marks appeared to be those of a bobcat. The story is worth checking out, and a good reminder of how our pets can be at risk in ways we may not even consider.
JENNIFER
Human noise pollution becoming greater problem at national parks, researchers say
Human noise is getting harder and harder to escape even in the nation’s parks, according to a new report. In a fascinating story out last week, researchers discussed sound recordings they are making at the nation’s parks, and how prevalent human noise is – even in the most remote locations. They are analyzing the recordings to discover how often sounds generated by humans can be heard. The idea of reducing your sound footprint is something we have heard about before, and the story touches on the impact human noises make on the environment – something most do not often consider.

 This part of the podcast is brought to you by RadPower Bikes, an electric bike manufacturer offering direct to consumer pricing on powerful premium electric bikes. Now with free shipping  

LISTENER QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK

From our 586-372-6990 Voicemail number:

QUESTION: Hi, Mike, and Jennifer. My name is Sarah and I am from California and I do have a question for you…So my husband came to me about 5 months ago and said what would you think if we rented our house and we took a year… we took all four of our kids, bought a fifth wheel and a truck and toured the US.. and I said, okay. So hey, I’ve been doing a lot of research listening to a lot of podcasts specifically your Facebook group your YouTube channel and am just really trying to understand what this mean. I wanted to know if you guys have any special advice for us with traveling the US with four children. We are gonna be hitting about 31 national parks. A lot of the major cities. My children are ages fifteen thirteen nine and five. I know but we are super excited and I just want to make sure I have all my ground covered. So if there’s anything you can give me advice on I would be so appreciative. Thank you. Bye.

ANSWER: The first advice we have for you is to keep doing what you are doing, reading and watching everything you can and asking lots of questions, like on our RV Lifestyle Facebook Group.

But I also recommend you join an RV Club. One in particular, though there are certainly a bunch – the FMCA, RVillage, for example. And both are great organizations. But the one I most recommend for you is the Escapees RV Club. It is absolutely perfect for fulltime RV families, which you will be. It can help you handle everything from mail, to putting you in touch with other RVers who Road School their kids as they travel, to finding ways to supplement your income on the road. It will also connect you with a group of instant friends, other young families who have been doing just what you are about to do and can help you along the way.

Here’s our affiliate link to the Escapees Club

[Full Disclaimer: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if your purchase a membership  through this link.]

We did an interview a few months back on the RV Podcast with Travis and Melanie Carr, the leaders of the club and I think that will help you prepare a lot, too.

You can hear the interview here

RV clubs serve as a network of like-minded folks, offering support, encouragement, adventure and fun, usually with special perks and discounts for its members.  

Do you have a question you’d like us to answer, or a comment on the things we’re discussing. If so, we invite you to leave us that question or comment on the special voicemail number we have for the podcast – it’s 586-372-6990.  If you are driving and can’t write it down right now, just go to the RV Lifestyle travel blog at rvlifestyle.com and scroll down the page. You’ll see that number prominently posted on the blog.

This part of the RV Podcast is brought to you by Battle Born Batteries, maker of quality, safe and reliable lithium batteries that can be installed in just about every RV. Get in touch with Battle Born to find out what lithium batteries and an upgraded energy management system can add to your RV Lifestyle. Check them out at https://rvlifestyle.com/lithium [Full Disclaimer: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if your purchase through this link.]

RV INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK

This week on the podcast we are going to learn about the booming popularity among RVers of Electric Bikes and out special guest is Ty Collins, the marketing director of Rad Power Bikes.

Regular listeners know that Rad Power Bikes has been a loyal sponsor of this podcast for years now. But my interview with Ty is not a commercial. I asked him to come on the show to answer so many of the questions I get from RVers about the bikes.

Here’s a transcript of the interview.

Mike Wendland:
Well Ty Collins, thank you, first of all, so much for being with us on the podcast. We’re delighted to have you with us as we’ve been talking about Rad Power Bikes for years now. It’s the first time I think we’ve had you on.

Ty Collins:
Yeah, definitely. Yeah, Mike. First off, thank you so much for having us. Any excuse to talk electric bikes, we’ll gladly take it.

Mike Wendland:
Now, let’s talk about them because as we notice every week, we are seeing ebikes, electric bikes, more and more as we travel across North America. So, let’s sort of start as a primmer. I know a lot of our audience is either considering it or wondering now after seeing them if this is really what they need. So, maybe you can help answer some of the more common questions. Let’s start with just that question, why are electric bikes so popular today, and what do we need to know about them in terms of motors and how they work?

Ty Collins:
Definitely. Well a big question, but I think we can kind of boil down some of the key points. So, why are ebikes so popular today? I think now more than ever in the U.S., people are really becoming familiar and aware of electric bikes and all the benefits that they have. When we started up a handful of years back when most people heard electric bike, they didn’t really understand the concept. Most people thought, “Well, why would I need a motor? It’s a bicycle. Bicycles are for exercise.”

Ty Collins:
While you can use a bike for exercise, we really view electric bikes as just an awesome form of personal transportation. On that form of transportation, you can get as much or as little exercise as you want. So, the vast majority of us spend a lot of time in the car in very, very short trips. Ebikes are amazing because they can really replace a lot of those trips that you would take in a car on a bike.

Ty Collins:
Now for someone that’s in the RV community, they’re really just an amazing tool because number one, you don’t have to rely on a tow car. You don’t have to bring a tow car at all if you don’t want to, and especially some of our more compact folding models, you can actually just put them in a lot of the cargo bays or cargo areas of your RV trailer, fifth wheel, what have you.

Ty Collins:
So kind of some of the big things to know about electric bikes at their core, they really are just a bicycle. They’re going to pedal the same, you’re going to apply the brakes the same way, you’re going to shift the same way, but you’re going to have the added benefit of the motor, which is going to be powered by your battery pack.

Ty Collins:
So, you can really get as much assistance or as little assistance as you want. If you really just need a little help on the big hills but you want to ride like a normal bike the rest of the time, you can do that. If you want to pretty much treat it like a moped or a scooter and just do throttle, you can do that as well. So, their popularity is really, really increasing because people are realizing what a versatile form of transportation these really are, and you can really make it fit your lifestyle.

Mike Wendland:
Now I think we’re talking about transportation here, but if I had to list the number one benefit of our ebikes, it would be fun. They are just so much fun.

Ty Collins:
Yeah, totally.

Mike Wendland:
When we give people rides, they see us with ours in campgrounds, and we always let them take them out for a ride. Although, one guy ran into a tree once with it, but that was his problem. He wasn’t looking where he’s going. Then, he convinced me he never knew how to ride a bike ever, but he ended up, I think, buying one. But, fun is the most important thing, and the first thing I hear with everybody, “This is so much fun.”

Mike Wendland:
But, there are two elements that you mentioned. Let’s kind of talk about. There’s one, the motor and one the batteries. What do we need to know about the motors? Is there a certain power setting that we should look for? Is there any legal restrictions on size of motor? What does the consumer need to know?

Ty Collins:
In the U.S., the federal regulations limit electric bikes that are street legal to 750 watts, which is going to be about one horsepower. So to legally ride an electric bike on streets, bike paths, bike lanes, things like that, it’s going to have a max wattage of 750 watts.

Ty Collins:
So typically, power comes in 250 watt increments. So more commonly, you’ll find 250 watt, 500 watt, or 750 watt. All of those are going to be street legal. You can take them where you can take a regular bicycle, a regular pedal bicycle obviously. But the higher the wattage, the more power you’re going to get, the more quickly you’ll accelerate, and the easier time you’re going to have going up hills.

Mike Wendland:
So, you would really want to look for, I think, 750 if you can, and then that way you’re sure you’re going to be able to handle everything.

Ty Collins:
Yeah, exactly. So the benefit of a 750 watt motor is you’re going to have essentially the most power you can get while maintaining kind of that street legal electric bike classification. If you’re going to have power over that, it’s going to kind of go into a new category where it’s going to be considered a moped essentially, and you’ll need license, registration, insurance, and things like that. But at 750 watts, you can treat it just like a regular bicycle, which makes it just a lot easier.

Mike Wendland:
Yeah. Now I noticed that just recently, the National Park service has authorized the use of ebikes in their system. There are still some places though where we do see signs that prohibit electric bikes. How do people get away with that if they’re street legal and have the same category as a bicycle?

Ty Collins:
Yeah. So, where it does get a little bit tricky is the laws around electric bikes are still kind of getting worked out and they can differ on a federal, state, county, and even city level. So, the announcement that electric bikes are going to be legalized in the National Park System is a really amazing step towards what we’re hoping is a more streamlined and kind of easier to follow laws around electric bikes.

Ty Collins:
So, there will still be some areas that will kind of choose to put their own rules and interpretation spin on the laws. But for the most part, as long as you are 750 watts or less, and there’s no specific call out about not being able to ride electric bikes, you’re typically going to be safe. I say typically because areas can differ, but it’s becoming so much easier to ride electric bikes than it used to be.

Mike Wendland:
As they’re more popular and as ebike fans increase across North America, most municipalities are realizing that these are here to stay, and I think that’ll change. But let’s go down to the batteries, because those motors are powered by a battery. I guess as an electric bike rider myself, the first thing Jennifer and I noticed is it is basically silent. You really don’t hear the motor. It’s not like a motorcycle or even a scooter. It’s very, very quiet. Is there anything we should know about the noise? And then, we’ll get into the battery usage.

Ty Collins:
Yeah. So just like you said, it’s pretty much going to be silent. It’s not like the two or four stroke motors that people are used to on motorcycles and scooters at all. You’re really just going to kind of hear a small winding noise from the motor. Because you’re traveling at often a higher average speed than a traditional bike, you might hear a little more noise from the tires on the pavement than you’re normally used to.

Ty Collins:
But other than that, it’s going to be very, very quiet. There are a number of different types of motors that you can find on electric bikes. So on the bikes that we produce here at Rad Power Bikes, all of our motors are going to be mounted in the rear hub of the wheel. We chose to use that style of motor because it’s going to give you a very, very natural riding experience. The power is still going to be generated from the rear wheel.

Ty Collins:
It’s a nice balance. It’s a very smooth ride. Of those two types of motors we have, one is known as what’s called an internally geared motor, so it’s actually going to have a gear system within it. The other one is going to be a direct drive motor, which is basically powered by a series of magnet. A direct drive motor is going to be the style and motor that’s featured on about half of our bikes.

Ty Collins:
In fact, the bikes that you have, Mike, are both going to feature a direct drive motor. So, that’s going to be kind of the quietest option out of all of the different electric bike motor styles you’re going to find. Basically, it’s a series of magnets that power the bike. There’s basically just one single moving part and because of that, it’s going to be a very, very quiet riding experience, which really just makes the ride that much better.

Mike Wendland:
Oh, you don’t even know it’s running. You don’t even hear it. It’s neat.

Ty Collins:
Yeah.

Mike Wendland:
Right, back to the batteries. You do have to charge these. How far can you go on a battery or how long does a battery charge last? How long does it take to typically charge the battery?

Ty Collins:
Yeah, all great questions. So typically, a completely dead battery is going to take about four or so hours to charge, so not too long at all. Once fully charged, we give a pretty real world estimation of between 25 and 45 miles per charge. So the main things that are going to influence that are your level of assist. So, are you just getting a little gentle level of assistance or is the motor doing the vast majority of the work for you? What’s the size of the rider?

Ty Collins:
Obviously, a 100 pound rider versus a 250 pound rider are going to use a different level of juice. Then a big one is the level of terrain. Are you kind of cruising on a flat paved surface or you going up and down some pretty serious hills? Obviously the more hills, the more power it’s going to use.

Ty Collins:
I, myself, the way I ride, which is around the city of Seattle, which definitely has its fair share of hills, I typically am getting around 40 miles per charge in my kind of just common everyday usage. So, it’s quite a bit longer than it seems. You can really cover some major ground on a single charge.

Mike Wendland:
Now unlike an electric car, for example, you don’t need any specific plug. You just need, I guess, I’ve always said a 30 amp supply because that’s what we have in our RV, but I actually just plug mine into an outside 30 amp supply on my RV, or at the pedestal, and they charge up real quick there.

Ty Collins:
Yeah.

Mike Wendland:
I’ve even charged them off my batteries, my batteries on the RV. So, they’re easy. You just basically plug them in, and you can find any place to do it. Am I missing anything on that? Any secrets?

Ty Collins:
No, it’s going to be pretty standard, just like the charger you would find for say, a laptop or something like that. So if you’re charging a laptop, if you’re charging a cell phone, you’ll be set.

Mike Wendland:
You do have a gauge there that roughly lets you know how much power you have. So, it’s very easy. I’ve never run out, and we’ve gone 40, 50 miles a day sometimes. I’ve never run out of that.

Ty Collins:
Oh yeah. Yeah, it’s pretty much just like you’re going to find in a car with your gas gauge. We’re going to have a very similar style gauge on the bike, and that’s going to give you five different bars to kind of give you a feel for where you’re at, where your battery level is at, and you can really make sure you’re not going to go out and get stranded without power.

Ty Collins:
Though, you know you never want to get stranded without power because like I was saying earlier, at their core, they really are just a standard bicycle. You still are going to be able to make your way back if you do in fact run out of power. It’s just going to be a little bit heavier of a bike than you might be used to.

Mike Wendland:
How much do these bikes weigh?

Ty Collins:
Yeah. So depending on the model, they’re going to range from about 58 or so up to around a 70 pounds. So, we have some kind of more compact bikes, and then some much larger kind of cargo bikes. So, our bikes that are really meant for hauling multiple passengers, gear, to kind of to really act as car replacements are going to be quite a bit more robust. But by design, to really hold up the weight of passengers, cargo, things like that.

Mike Wendland:
Now, one of the questions I get often asked is how is the best way to carry them on a hitch? Whether they should be covered or not. I always have been telling people, “It’s the same as any bicycle. Do you care if your bike gets exposed to the elements?” Is there more we have to worry about because of the, I would assume most people would travel with the batteries off, but more we have to worry about with these various parts being exposed to the elements?

Ty Collins:
Yeah. So by the way, kind of love what you said there about you wouldn’t want to necessarily leave a traditional bike out in the rain, and that’s kind of the exact verbiage that we’ll use is you want to treat it like you would treat a standard pedal bike. So even though a normal pedal bike doesn’t have any electrical components on it, you still don’t really want to leave those out in the elements for a long period of time.

Ty Collins:
So, we’re up here in often rainy Seattle and do a lot of our testing and riding here, so absolutely okay to get the bikes wet. But if you’re planning on doing some longer term travel or than bikes are potentially going to be exposed to the elements for a longer period of time, often good to have the batteries inside with you, keeping them as close to room temperature for long periods of time as possible.

Ty Collins:
Covering them can also be a great option as well just to protect all of the even standard mechanical components from the rain, preventing rust and things like that. There’s a lot of companies right now that actually make hitch racks that are specifically for electric bikes. The ones that are specifically for electric bikes are really just going to be a lot more robust and handle the extra weight. We’ve partnered with an amazing brand called, Hollywood Racks, who make racks specifically for ebikes, and I believe you have one of those. Yeah.

Mike Wendland:
That’s all we have. Yep. That’s what we have. We’ve liked it. People always say, “Well how do you cover it? How much does it cover?” Well, I went to Walmart and I bought a motorcycle cover for like $11, and it covers both bikes. So, it doesn’t have to be, unless I’m doing something wrong, that’s not a big factor other than the fact that when we put them away at night, we always cover them. When we put them on the back of the RV, I often will cover them up as well, making sure I’m not missing it.

Ty Collins:
Yeah, perfect.

Mike Wendland:
If I’m not doing it right, let our people know.

Ty Collins:
No, it sounds like you’re a pro. You could probably help us out a lot in our messaging.

Mike Wendland:
Well, let’s talk about how to choose an electric bike because they come in all different styles. The city bike that you guys have, which is like a step-through is very comfortable, different styles. How do people, and I would probably go back and say it’s the same way you pick out a bicycle, you go sit on it and try it out. But, that’s a little harder to do with some electric bike manufacturers. So, advice from you, Ty Collins, on how to choose the right electric bike for you, for the listener?

Ty Collins:
Yeah, definitely. So, we as a company have always designed our bikes with a very specific use cases in mind. So while the design aesthetic is very important to us, our bikes are really, really built for function and how people are going to use it. So when looking at our bikes or really any bikes, what’s most important is number one, figuring out what am I purchasing this bike for? What use case am I looking to solve or use this for? Then also, what are my potential limitations.

Ty Collins:
So if you have a hard time swinging your leg over a high step bike, a step-through is going to be a really, really great option for you. About half of our models now are or a step-through variety, meaning it’s going to have kind of a swooping down tube that you can very easily take a step through. So for riders that potentially have mobility issues, injuries, surgeries, or maybe you’re on kind of the shorter side of the height scale, step-throughs are going to be a really, really amazing option.

Ty Collins:
Once you’ve kind of determined what frame style you want or need, looking at what type of riding you’re going to be doing. Are you going to be on paved streets? Are you going to be off road? Are you going to be a hybrid of the two? So, all of our tires are going to be a little bit larger than you would typically find on similar style bikes, just because we see a lot of added benefit for additional tire on the road.

Ty Collins:
Because you have the motor, it’s going to help you fight that added rolling resistance. So, some of our models have 4″ wide fat tires that are amazing for kind of the more all-terrain riding. They can even go in snow, sand, things like that. Whereas some of our more commuter focus models are going to have standard kind of mountain bike-esque tires.

Ty Collins:
If a folding bike is really important or maybe you don’t know folding is important but you know I only have so much room to store it, I have to be really mindful of that, a model that does fold is going to take up a much smaller footprint than kind of like a more full-sized bike that you might have to either store outside and put on a hitch rack versus fold and kind of stow on your cargo bay.

Ty Collins:
So, question number one is always going to be, how am I going to use this bike, and why am I looking to get a bike? Then once you figure that out, making the decision is a typically a lot easier than if you’re just going into a blind looking at a bunch of different models.

Mike Wendland:
Let’s do one last question, and that has to do with the shipping and the assembly. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “Well, that’s a problem about ordering it by mail. You’ve got to put it together.” How easy is it electric bike to put together when it comes into its box?

Ty Collins:
Yeah. So, knowing that the vast majority of our customers are going to have the bike shipped to them versus buying it from one of our showroom locations, we really try to make it as easy as possible. So when a bike arrives, it’s going to be about 85%, 90% assembled. All of the mechanical lines, all of the electrical lines, all of the components and everything is going to be pre-installed on the bike.

Ty Collins:
So for the most part, all a customer’s going to have to do when their bike arrives is take it out of the box. They’ll need to screw the pedals onto the crank arms, they’ll need to mount the handlebars onto the stem, and they’ll need to put the front wheel on.

Ty Collins:
So all in all, a very, very simple process. We have really detailed written and video instructions that you can follow along with. We also have partnerships with a number of nationwide bicycle service providers that can assist you with anything you might need throughout the process. Then, we have a very large dedicated support team that works right here out of our headquarters that are here seven days a week to answer any questions that people might have.

Mike Wendland:
I know that if I can do it, literally anybody can.

Ty Collins:
Yes, same.

Mike Wendland:
I put the second one together. The first one I had, I had it delivered actually to a friend down in Florida, where we happened to be. Then the second one, I was actually able to put together, and it’s that simple, that simple.

Ty Collins:
Yeah.

Mike Wendland:
Well Ty, thank you so much for helping us understand a little bit what is involved with an electric bike. Even though Rad Power Bikes has been a long time sponsor of the podcast, I think the information you presented is applicable to anybody that’s choosing an ebike. I said that was the last question, but I should also ask you, you have to be aware, I know from our podcasts and just the population with our viewers, that these have become essential equipment on many in RV these days.

Ty Collins:
Oh, absolutely. It’s really just an amazing tool for RVs for so many reasons. So, there’s a very practical kind of transportation aspect of maybe you can avoid on some trips bringing a tow car, maybe you can supplement the number of car trips you have to use. Then as you brought up, the level of fun is just almost not even quantifiable, especially for people that maybe used to enjoy bikes but for whatever reason, haven’t been able to ride for a variety of reasons.

Ty Collins:
One of the more amazing things, and one of my favorite things about the company is how many stories we’ve heard from people that hadn’t been on a bike in five, 10, 20, 30, 40 years, but have been able to get reintroduced into riding because of our bikes. Every single time I hear a story like that, it makes me smile because there is just such an amazing, simple joy about getting out and riding a bike.

Mike Wendland:
There is. I know when we now pick a place to boondock or a place to camp, one of the key things we like to see is if there’s a bike trail anywhere around, and that always helps us find a place.

Ty Collins:
Yep.

Mike Wendland:
Ty Collins from Rad Power Bikes, you’ve been a great guest. We’ll see you out there on the road, eh?

Ty Collins:
Definitely. Thank you so much, Mike. Always a pleasure to chat with you.

Here’s a link to a video review Jennifer and I did on our Rad Power Bikes.

The interview of the week is brought to you by SunshinestateRVs.com, where every new  motorhome is delivered to the customer free, anywhere in the country

OFF THE BEATEN PATH REPORT   

Patti and Tom Burkett

By Tom & Patti Burkett

Much of Texas, especially West Texas came into the United States because it was rangeland—valuable to ranchers for the free grazing it offered their cattle.  Even more surprising is the fact that after the Mexican American War and the Civil War had ended, there were tens of thousands of steers just running wild on those tens of thousands of acres.  Many’s the man who spent his days gathering a herd and built himself a reputation and a fortune from those wandering beasts.  Land there was in plenty, at least for a few decades.  What there was not enough of was water.  No rancher could keep and move a herd without access to a reliable source for watering his stock.

The Ernst Tinaja in Texas

Rivers answered one of those needs, and some owners were lucky enough to  have access to one that didn’t periodically run dry.  Those who could drilled wells and filled troughs from the aquifers deep below.  But what happened when a herd had to be moved to a distant pasture, or to a railhead for shipping to market?  One resource unique to the region is called a tinaja.  These unexpected and priceless pockets of water are formed when bedrock is eroded by an intermittent waterfall or by seepage and the freeze-thaw cycle.  They’re usually located in protected rocky areas, and trees quickly grow up to provide even more shade and reduce evaporation.

We first came across one of these in Big Bend National Park.  The description of says that this is one of three deep rock pools formed by seasonal water runoff and fed by a spring that opened after an earthquake in the early 1800s.  Its walls are steep and smooth;  so much so that animals attempting to drink regularly fall in and drown, their bones eventually sinking to the bottom.  We’d read that it was possible to see the bones of a mountain lion below the deep clear water.  We also read that Old Ore Road, the access to the site, was suitable only for high clearance four wheel drive vehicles.  What the heck, we said, let’s give it a try.

The Hueco “Tanks”

Our 1997 Roadtrek actually had no trouble with the road, if you discount the fact that five miles of washboard threatened to shake every single thing out of every single cabinet.  Along the way we passed the mysterious gravesite of Juan de Leon, where visitors often stop to leave a token of remembrance.  Running at about seven miles an hour, we did eventually reach the trailhead and gratefully climbed out for the half-mile trek to our destination.  It was as promised—deep and clear with nearly glass smooth sides several feet high, and we agreed neither of us would be climbing out if we fell in.

As we said, this was our introduction to tinajas.  Eventually we learned that these were more often called tanks by the cowboys who used them.  The most easily accessible ones we’ve come across are at Hueco Tanks State Park.  The three mountains contained in this 850 acre park shelter several tanks that provide water all year long.  Evidence they’ve been used since antiquity is provided by pictographs and petroglyphs scattered around the area, some perhaps 10,000 years old.  Early cattlemen and Texas Rangers carved their names here, too, though that practice is now strictly forbidden.

The park, 30 miles north of El Paso, is a favorite for bouldering, and its rock faces draw climbers from across the continent.  The year-round supply of water also makes it a fruitful area for birdwatching, and rock yoga is offered regularly.  A small museum, climbing shop, and full-service campground round out the amenities.  Come take a look at these better-known examples,

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