Camp Westfalia

Author Archive for Jeffrey Lee

Winter Van Camping

Tips and advice for staying warm while van-camping

Photo: highsierra, Samba member

Photo: highsierra, Samba member

Most camper vans are put away during the colder months. But we’ve found winter to be a great time for a weekend getaway, with none of the crowds, bugs, or excessive heat of summer.

Off-season camping means you usually have your choice of campsites, too. In fact, we often find ourselves the only residents of the campground!

And winter can be a spectacularly beautiful time to see the great outdoors in a whole new light.

Here are some tips and advice for staying toasty during your own winter van-camping ventures.

Prepare your Van


  • Before embarking on winter camping forays, make sure your Vanagon’s heating and ventilation system is in good working order. Check that the front and rear heater cores are flowing correctly, and are not plugged with mineral deposits, etc.. Ensure that the heater-control valves are functioning well, and the front forced-air flaps are sealing properly to prevent the entry of cold air.
  • Use a winter-grade motor oil as specified in your Owners Manual for the temperature range you plan to drive in: 10W-40 for -5 to 50F (-20 to 10C)
  • Make sure that your coolant mixture offers the correct freeze protection for ambient temperatures. Use a simple tester to ensure you have the correct blend of water and anti-freeze.
Photo: vanis13, Samba member

Photo: vanis13, Samba member

  • Check that your tires are in good condition, with adequate tread. For better traction in snow and ice, you can also deflate your tires to the lower end of your safe load range.
  • Use an antifreeze fuel additive suitable for your specific type of fuel (gasoline or diesel) to prevent fuel gelling or freezing.
  • A winter road kit can help get you out of a snowy jam: jumper cables, tire cables or chains, a small snow shovel, extra fuel, a blanket and additional winter clothing, etc..

While Driving

  • A set of cushy seat covers can help keep your bum warm on long cold drives.
  • Take occasional breaks to warm up; pause during fuel stops at convenience stores to warm up with a cuppa coffee or hot cocoa for the road.
  • When driving in especially cold weather, wear additional comfortable winter clothing if necessary: gloves, hats, heavier socks. These are easy to add or remove as needed.
  • Breakdowns are always an inconvenience, but can be especially dangerous in cold or snowy winter weather. Always keep good winter clothing close at hand, as well as some food, water, any crucial medications, etc..

While Camped

  • Photo: mpabegg, Samba Member

    Photo: mpabegg, Samba Member

    Choose a campsite that offers good protection from winter winds. Pine forests generally offer more wind protection than leafless deciduous trees.

  • A site with eastern exposure will allow the morning sun to help warm your van. If at all possible, avoid raising your Westfalia popup roof, to conserve heat, but if you must, orient the rear of your Vanagon into the prevailing wind to reduce your heat loss.
  • Perhaps the single best way to stay warm while camped is some sort of a space heater. Of course, there are several types available: electric (110-volt), small portable LP (liquid propane) heaters intended for camping, and permanently installed RV furnaces fueled by LP or diesel.
  • Be sure to utilize a small battery-operated household carbon-monoxide detector whenever using a fueled space heater, to prevent CO poisoning.
  • If 110-volt AC campsite shore power is available, an electric blanket can be a great way to stay toasty while sleeping or lounging in your camper.
  • If you have one installed, use an engine block heater to help with starting on especially cold mornings; be sure you carry an extension cord and choose a campsite with a power source.
  • As when driving, warm winter clothing can help take the chill off when camped. Common synthetic outdoors gear (pullovers, caps, gloves, socks, etc.) is all you’ll need.
  • Add a thermal-fleece liner to your three-season sleeping bag for additional winter warmth.


  • Put some hot water in an uninsulated camping water bottle and stow it at the bottom your sleeping bag, to keep your feet warm through the cold night.
  • The shorter daylight hours of winter mean more time spent lounging in your van, so bring plenty of games, books, and digital entertainment.
  • In the morning, bring your daytime clothing inside your sleeping bag with you to warm it up for several minutes, to avoid putting on icy clothes.
  • Add a set of thermal covers to your van’s windows to help retain heat. This series of infrared photos provides some valuable insights into areas of heat loss in a Vanagon Westfalia, and offers some tips on insulating your own camper.
  • If you ever need to remove your van’s interior panels or cabinets for other work, take the opportunity to add more insulation wherever you can.

Following these tips will keep Jack Frost from nipping at your nose while winter camping in your van, and help you enjoy a safe and unique camping experience.

Have any tips for your fellow winter van-campers? Leave a suggestion or question below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Instant Eats: Breakfast

Grandma always said breakfast was the most important meal of the day, to get you started on a full tank. So, pick your fuel: carbs, proteins, or sugars!

All recipes are made to serve two, but can be easily multiplied for larger groups.

Berry-licious Yogurt Parfaits

Buy these finished parfaits in most large grocery stores, or prepare your own ahead of time at home and take them on the road in your fridge or cooler, or make ’em in camp.

In two 16-ounce glass Mason jars or similar sealable serving containers, add 1/2 cup Greek yogurt to each jar, followed by a drizzle of honey, and a layer of your favorite fresh fruit or berries. Top with a handful of granola (the fruit will help keep the granola high and dry so it doesn’t get soggy). Be sure to leave a bit of headroom in the jars, so whenever you decide to enjoy your parfait, you have space to mix it all up first!

Loaded Oatmeal

This hot breakfast staple can be pre-mixed at home and then quickly cooked in camp.

Combine a cup of regular or quick-cooking rolled oats, a 1/4 cup each of chopped dried apricots and tart dried cherries, 1 tablespoon light brown sugar, and a dash of salt; stir or mix in a bowl and store in a sealed container for up to 14 days.

In a separate container, combine 1/4 cup each of the toppings: chocolate chips, toasted unsweetened coconut flakes, and roasted hazelnuts.

Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil and stir in the oatmeal mix. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand until most of the water has been absorbed, about 5 minutes. Serve with toppings, pomegranate molasses, and milk.


Hot Ham and Swiss Croissants

Slice a couple of croissants and spread a teaspoon of honey mustard inside each one. Pile some thin sliced ham onto each bottom half, then a slice of Swiss cheese. Assemble them into sandwiches and set inside a 10-inch frying pan; cover and ‘bake’ on very low heat for 5 minutes, flipping halfway through until the ham is hot and the cheese melty.

Cream of Wheat Instant To-Go singles, hot cereal in a cup

You’re supposed to add water to this convenient cup, then heat in a microwave oven to make a single serving of hot instant breakfast cereal. But it works just as well to boil the water in a tea kettle or small pot, pour it into the cup over the Cream of Wheat, and steep for a couple of minutes. Available in a variety of flavors, or add your own fresh or dried berries or fruit.

Smoked Salmon Bagels

Slice a couple of pumpernickel or other bagels in half, smear with a bit of chive or other flavored cream cheese. Make into sandwiches using a few thin slices of cucumber, 5 ounces of thinly sliced smoked salmon, a few rings of sliced red onion, and 1/2 teaspoon of drained non-pareil capers.

Finally …

Try these quick and easy breakfast ideas on your next camping trip, and look for ways to adapt your own favorite home recipes for the campground!

Tracking Down Engine and Other Fluid Leaks

How to find and identify leaking oil, coolant, fuel, and other automotive fluids.

We’ve all been there. You move your van to a new spot in the driveway and discover a new stain. Or, you just get settled in your campsite when your partner asks, “Dear, what is this colorful puddle under the van?”

Once, on the way home from a solo camping trip, I stopped for fuel and went inside to pay. As I stepped back outside, I spied a trickle of a mysterious fluid on the pavement, an inch wide and fifty feet long, leading me back to my van.

Even old Vanagons should never drip their lifeblood on the road or driveway. The loss of vital fluids can lead to severe engine or transaxle wear, overheating, failed brakes, or a catastrophic vehicle fire. Repairing such leaks is important, but determining their source is often difficult.

Here’s how.

Keep Looking Up

Most automotive fluid leaks generally stem from a single source, a root, if you will. Gravity being what it is, this source will usually be higher than the drip or stain. So, start by carefully following the leak upwards towards the highest part of the stain. In all likelihood, its initial source will be somewhere near here.

This is much easier if you make a habit of maintaining a clean and tidy engine compartment, which makes such leaks and their sources more glaringly obvious. Sometimes however, gravity, engine vibration, and air flow all conspire to divide and disperse the leak, so that by the time you notice the first alarming drip, half the engine is stained and there is no obvious culprit.

A Clean Engine Room is a Happy Engine Room

If you don’t typically keep things clean down there, or the engine has been leaking for awhile, it’s probably a real mess, and tracing the leak in a logical and rational fashion may be impossible. So, clean it now. Get some good spray-on engine degreaser and either use a garden hose in the driveway, or drive to an automated car wash with an underbody spray. Following the directions on the degreaser, spray the dirty bits, let it soak for awhile, scrub with a stiff brush or scraper to loosen as much oil and other gunk on the engine or gearbox as possible, then rinse. Repeat if necessary.

Let it air dry, or run the engine a little bit to evaporate the water, or towel it down with some clean rags, so it’s clean and dry. If there are any lingering stains, spot-clean those by hand until it’s clean-clean!

Now, if you jump in and drive it twenty miles, it will probably start leaking and flinging fluid all around and you’ll have to start all over again. Instead, run or drive it only long enough to create a small traceable leak, and not long enough to thoroughly flood the area again. Then pull over somewhere safe and inspect again with a bright light and a few rags and maybe a flexible inspection mirror. (Be careful to avoid burns, as the engine and exhaust is probably starting to get hot.) If you did a thorough cleaning job, any small leaks should now be much easier to spot on that shiny-clean engine. Take a good look around the area of the original leak.

Find It, and Fix It

What do you see? Any new leaks? If so, wipe them down with your rags until clean. Again, be sure to look a little higher than you might expect.

Either way, drive another mile or two and pull over and look again. If the leak has returned, you’ve found your problem. And you now know where to focus your attention, and to apply your talents, and perhaps a bit of sealant. If not, then drive a couple more miles and repeat. You know it’s gonna leak again, you just need to catch it in the act.

Assumptions, Inferences, and Conjectural Postulations

When you first discover it, avoid the mistake of presuming to know what the leaking fluid IS. The hydraulic fluid used in the Vanagon braking and manual-clutch systems, for example, can look like clean motor oil. Diluted yellow-green anti-freeze coolant looks an awful lot like the yellow-gold color of diesel fuel.

Coolant and hydraulic fluid can feel somewhat ‘sticky’ between your fingers; the coolant may smell sweet. Transaxle gear oil usually has a high sulfur content, smelling like rotten eggs. Before barking up the wrong tree, try to determine by feel or odor exactly what the leaking fluid is.

Once you’ve narrowed down the area of the source, look for the actual leak. Hose clamps, broken fittings, seals and gaskets between mated parts, fill & drain plugs, are all common culprits. Once you’ve confirmed the source, you can proceed with confidence and begin remedying the problem.

Of course, though we’ve been focusing here on the engine compartment, all of the above also applies to leaks elsewhere on the van: brakes, CV drive axles, radiator and coolant pipes & hoses, and more.

Now that the engine is clean and dry, make some ongoing effort to keep it that way. A tidy engine and drivetrain will alert you to future leaks early on, before they become a bigger problem, and will help you identify their causes.

Keep on vannin’

Essential Apps for Van-Travel

Navigation and travel apps for your mobile device help you find campsites, points of interest, and the routes to get there, or even to make reservations while you’re still en route.

Here are some of the Camp Westfalia crew’s favorites …



Among all the other great features of VanAlert is a directory of user-submitted favorite camping spots to help you find a place to call home for the night. You can even find other VW Vanagon/Bus owners who have volunteered the temporary use of their driveway for short stays while traveling.


Kampnik is built on the venerable database of more than 13,000 campgrounds in the United States and Canada with a focus on public car-accessible campgrounds whose existence and location has been verified by a human. With Kampnik, you can find public campgrounds in National Parks, National Forests, Provincial Parks, State Parks, City and County Parks, and more on federal, state, provincial, and local lands. From beaches to mountains and rivers to deserts, Kampnik will help you find campgrounds for the places you want to go.


iOverlander is a free site (and phone apps) created to help overlanders on the road find their next destination. Please help us make this site great by updating our information and adding places you have been.


The number one camping app for iPhone, iPads and iPods. From resorts to hike-in spots. Amenities, maps, truck stops, rest areas, Wal-mart and casino parking, RV dealers, sporting goods stores and much more. Two modes: one uses GPS and maps that you can filter. One is an offline manual lookup mode for when you don’t have service.


Plan your next adventure using the WikiCamps Trip Planner. Create unlimited trips, add multiple locations, notes, and custom map pins. The ultimate camping companion for your smart phone, tablet and Windows 10 PC. USA’s largest database of campgrounds, RV parks, backpacker hostels, points of interest, dump stations, visitor information centers, water taps, toilets, showers, and more.

KOA (Kampgrounds of America)

Search KOA’s huge selection of campgrounds to find your perfect fit. Search by city, state or attractions. Or find a nearby KOA campground based on your current location. Get detailed campground descriptions, hot deals, driving directions, as well as descriptions of local attractions and local and campground activities.


Enter where you want to start and finish your road trip, and then discover the coolest “off the beaten path” places along the way. Our database includes millions of the world’s most fascinating places, making planning the unexpected easier than you thought. Road trip planning can be tedious… and what do you get from it? Most of what you find online will funnel you into the same places, filled with other travelers. It can feel like you need a local guide to get an authentic experience on your trip, but Roadtrippers helps you escape the tourist bubble and find the coolest stops.

Ultimate Campgrounds

Thousands and thousands of public camping sites across the US and Canada – free, dispersed and formal campsites

Freecampsites is the primary source for information on free campgrounds and boondocking locations. We believe that free camping sites are often the most beautiful and peaceful camp sites. There are many free camp sites, but they can be difficult to locate. Here, we provide a simple, map-based search engine for free and cheap camping locations. It is also a platform for sharing locations you have discovered with others.


Book unique camping experiences on over 300,000 campsites, cabins, RV parks, public parks and more. Hipcamp is everywhere you want to camp. Search, discover and book ranches, farms, vineyards, nature preserves & public sites for camping across the U.S.
From public parks to private land, we’re the most comprehensive guide to camping in the nation.


Perhaps the most wide ranging of all the camping apps, Park4Night helps you find camping and parking spots from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Search user-submitted parking & camping spots on your smartphone or car GPS unit, enjoy your camp, then leave your new comments or updates for future travelers.

One intrepid Camp Westfalia reader reports having wild camped all over Europe using this app.



Waze helps riders and drivers get where they’re going—faster, smoother, safer, and happier—while working to beat traffic. Traffic starts with us, but it can end with us, too. Waze develops practical solutions that empower people to make better choices, from taking the fastest route, to leaving at the right time, to sharing daily commutes.


Over the last 15 years, GasBuddy has saved users over $2.9 billion dollars. Download our easy-to-use app to start saving at the pump, complete fun challenges and win free gas today


Chimani is the leading national park mobile app. Our intuitive app draws on the power of GPS-enabled interactive mapping technology to guide your national park adventures. Chimani’s national park guides include descriptions of points of interest, trails, amenities, and more. “No service” when you’re out in the wilderness? No problem. Chimani’s app works with or without WiFi or data signal. Chimani’s app is free to download from the Apple Appstore and Google Play.

Dark Sky

Dark Sky is the most accurate source of hyperlocal weather information. With down-to-the-minute forecasts, you’ll know exactly when the rain will start or stop, right where you’re standing. It’s almost like magic.
Powered by our own homegrown weather service, Dark Sky is the best source of accurate weather forecasts to help you plan your life.

Star Walk

Star Walk 2 is an exquisite stargazing tool that combines astronomical data with premium technology to deliver an effortless journey through thousands of stars, comets, and constellations. All you have to do is point your phone or tablet at the sky.

What’s Your Van Plan for This Year?

The New Year is a great time for a fresh start.

Never mind the resolutions to spend more time at the gym and less time watching cat videos (we both know that’s not gonna happen). The real question is, what are your plans to get your campervan in tip top shape, and enjoy some great traveling this year?

Most vans (and van owners) are inactive this time of year, so now’s your chance to set some goals, make some plans, and resolve to make this year even better than last.


Some aspects of traveling and camping in a decades-old camper van are necessarily mechanical, and require ongoing maintenance. Reliability is of the utmost importance, especially if you want to avoid breakdowns while far from home. Regardless whether you hire out your van’s mechanical work, or turn the wrenches yourself, here are some items to ensure are in top form.

Fuel Lines

The VW Bus and Vanagon Transporters certainly have their quirks, but the fuel system is perhaps the most potentially dangerous and deadly. Too many vans have been lost to fire due to neglected fuel systems. Old and brittle plastic connectors, rusty clamps, and rubber hoses deteriorated by modern ethanol-laced gasoline can all cause leaks. Gasoline injected into a hot engine compartment is a recipe for disaster for you and your family.

So, if you don’t know when these parts were last replaced, inspect and replace them before embarking on summer road trips. Use fuel line rated for use with ethanol fuels, and the correct pressure rating for your electronic fuel injection system, with quality fuel injection clamps. Here’s a good write-up >

The Big List

Most Vanagon owners keep a running to-do list of needed mechanical repairs, fixes, and other maintenance. These often get lost in the heady days of summer when the highway and the forest call, so start working on those procrastinated loose ends now when you have no impending trips.

If you have not been religious in your maintenance, or the van is new to you and of unknown provenance, a good place to start is the 15k, 30k, and 90k-mile maintenance items on the lists found in the back pages of the Bentley manual. Just start at the top and begin working your way down. You won’t get it all done in one day, of course, but in pretty short order you’ll be able to inspect, adjust, or replace everything needed to get your ride ready.

These will include the following, and a whole lot more:

  • Fluids: oil, coolant, brake and clutch, windshield washer
  • Filters: oil, fuel, air
  • Belts & hoses
  • Lights: all interior & exterior
  • Wires: battery, starter, alternator, grounds, etc.
  • Battery: clean, inspect, charge, and test
  • Tires: inspect for wear and cracks, rotate, treat with UV protectant
  • Jack: factory jack or aftermarket, plywood support plate for use on rough ground

Record everything you do in a simple logbook, with date, mileage, and any notes, so that you can look back later for reference. Once you’ve got caught up on all this delayed maintenance, it will be a simple matter to keep up on the recommended intervals.

Outfit for Travel

If you’ll be spending a lot of time driving and living in your campervan, you’ll want to make it as comfortable as possible for you and your companions. Organize the cab, kitchen, and other living areas so you’re always ready to roll!

  • Charging jacks & cords: USB, phone, cameras, etc.
  • Maps, gazetteers, guidebooks
  • Logbook to track fuel & oil usage
  • Beverage bottles & travel mugs
  • Kitchen kit: all pots & pans, plates, utensils, containers
  • Food staples: your favorite non- or semi-perishable pastas, rice, spices, canned goods. Store in hard plastic containers to prevent spoilage and pests.
  • Bedding: sleeping bags, blankets, pillows
  • Heaters (electric or LP), cooling fans
  • Emergency tools & parts, fire extinguisher
  • Vehicle Recovery & Extraction: folding shovel, 12-volt air compressor, traction boards or tire chains, recovery & tow straps

Check & Test all Camping Equipment:

Other Activities

Sometimes the campervan is the means to another end—biking, hiking, paddling, skiing, fishing, etc.. Make sure your other equipment is ready for the season:

  • Roof or trunk racks, cargo boxes
  • Trekking poles
  • Binoculars
  • Gear bags or boxes

Travel Plans

The entire purpose of all this preparation is going places! Now, in the doldrums of winter, is a great time to start thinking about sunnier days and destinations close and far. In fact, poring over maps and planning a getaway is often the only thing that gets me through a dreary winter.

You and your travel mates no doubt already have some destination ideas, what season to go, and what sights and other activities to take in. How long will it take you to get there and back? How long to stay in each place?

One you’ve discussed and have a rough idea, start collecting info to make your goal a reality:

  • Travel guide websites
  • Maps, gazetteers, guidebooks
  • Relevant apps for navigation, finding attractions and sites, camping, etc.

Shakedown Cruises

Once you’ve attended to most of the points above, start taking your campervan on short trips close to home, then progressively longer and longer trips. This will give you opportunities to inspect your work, and to ensure your van is up to all those big miles and long days you have planned.

Traveling and camping in a vintage campervan, whether close to home or far afield, should bring plenty of adventures. But not mechanical misadventures. Once you’re reasonably confident in the reliability and comfort of your ride, hit the road!

Making the Most of Stay-at-Home Orders, for Van-Campers

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have chosen to self-quarantine in our homes for the next several weeks. Cancelled trip plans, indefinite isolation, travel restrictions, Spring fever, and information overload can all be a recipe for anxiety and boredom.

We are van-campers, damn it! We are not homebodies, and we crave the hills, forests, seashores, and deserts!

Still, few are perhaps as well suited to such home confinement as those of us who travel and live for weeks on end in a rectangular steel box barely larger than the Eagle lunar lander. We can do this!

Here are a few ideas to help you maintain and improve yourself, your home, and your Vanagon!

First, Protect Yourself

Just as the airline flight attendants explain, in case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, first don your OWN oxygen mask, before attempting to assist others with theirs. Making sure you’ve got oxygen first is crucial if you want to be alert enough to help others.

The same is true while living under the COVID-19 health crisis; keep yourself healthy and sane so you can assist those around you.

Care for Family & Neighbors

Current health protocols suggest that, unless a member of your household is exhibiting early symptoms, or you have reason to believe someone has recently introduced the virus into your home, you can live your life as usual while under Stay-at-Home orders. So, you don’t need to practice ‘safe-distancing’ with healthy household members.

Feed and clothe your kids, enjoy meals with your partner, watch movies and play games with the whole fam together.

But beyond that, check in with neighbors or relatives near and far, especially the elderly or those who live alone (from a safe distance, of course). Ask if they need anything: food, medications, their dog walked, the trash bins taken out to the street, etc..

Use phone, email, or neighbor-to-neighbor online communities to communicate and coordinate with others to ensure that everyone in your area is getting the support they need.

Care for Your Home

A lot of people are using time confined at home to … take care of the home!

Clean the basement or garage, rake the lawn, weed the garden, clean the gutters (well, maybe that one can be procrastinated a little longer). But do be extra careful when doing these neglected household projects: an urgent-care physician friend recently reminded me that slicing your foot open with the lawn mower is always bad; but doing so now, when ER staff are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, is an especially dumb idea. They don’t want you now, and you don’t want to be there!

You might also consider preparing a room in your home in case someone does get sick. Ideally, plan to set aside a separate room with a bed or couch, preferably with it’s own attached bathroom, where a household member could rest and recuperate in isolation from other family.

In advance, collect some supplies to help care for any ill family members:

  • Extra bedsheets & blankets
  • Gatorade, juices, or other fluids for proper hydration
  • Acetaminophen fever reducers
  • Over-the-counter medicines may help with other symptoms
  • Digital thermometer to monitor fever
  • Room humidifier to help ease a sore throat and cough

More information on caring for a sick household member:

Use the Internet

Unlike previous epidemics requiring social isolation, we now have far more ways to keep in contact.

Phone calling & text messaging, social media, email, video chat, and a plethora of apps now allow us to easily communicate with friends and strangers around the globe. Please use them, to take care of loved ones near and far, to educate and entertain yourself, and to share your thoughts and plans.

We’re all stronger when we stick together, even when we’re apart.

Preserve Our Economy

The other crucial front on which we must fight this threat is the broader economy.

For better or worse, most every citizen of the world is an active participant in some way of the wider financial world, and this pandemic has thrown it right off the rails. To put it back on track will require the efforts of everyone doing what they can.

To the extent that you can, support local small businesses, especially those most impacted by this pandemic:

  • restaurants, bars & pubs
  • brick-and-mortar retailers
  • providers of goods or services with elastic demand that are not seen as necessities

Consider ‘buying it forward’ by purchasing online gift cards from those businesses that you care about and want to help preserve. Think of it as an investment in a vibrant and thriving future economy, populated by the kind of businesses you believe benefit your community.

Of particular interest to those of us who love old Vanagons & Transporters, please consider ordering parts and supplies from your favorite Vanagon vendors, local or distant. Most of these are surprisingly small businesses, serving a narrow specialty niche that can be especially hard hit by larger economic contractions. Help keep them afloat by ordering Vanagon parts for your next big project, or just stock up on consumables you know you’ll be needing in the future anyway: filters, belts, brake shoes & pads, etc.. Your support now may help determine whether they are still able to serve you tomorrow.

Organize Your Stuff

A bit of down time at home is a good opportunity to clean and organize your camping gear, tools and parts, workshop area, etc.

But don’t stop there; if you continue cleaning out the garage of all that old scrap wood, leaky garden hoses, and that treadmill you never use anymore, you just might be able to fit the car or van in there again!

Start Planning Your Road Trips

Eventually, we’ll be able to ‘flatten the curve,’ travel restrictions will be eased, and we’ll all head screaming for the wide open spaces. Start working out some possible destinations and time frames, camping spots, and sights to see along the way.

Planning a Road Trip

Or, get inspired, get educated, and get handy with a good travel or Vanagon book:

Your Van Plan

As the weather improves, take the time to start working out any big mechanical repairs or upgrades you’ve been putting off. Organize your work space, collect the tools and parts, and start getting your van ready to go!

What’s Your Van Plan?

Get Cooking

Now, while you’re stuck at home all day and eating in, is a great time to try out some new camping recipes.

Experimentation is always best done on familiar ground, like your home kitchen, where you have a pantry full of backup options. So, find some new recipes (or create your own) that might be easily made in the campervan and practice them at home.

Get Out

If conditions and local health officials allow, get outside.

Rake the lawn, trim the hedge, walk the dog, ride the bike, work on the van, but go outside. The sunshine, the fresh air, the wave from your neighbor, all contribute to a healthier and happier you.

We Can Do This

Together, we can “flatten the curve” and begin to resume our lives.

Remember to reach out to friends and family for help and support when needed, and make the most of your time at home.

Watch for an upcoming article on proper and safe hygiene while traveling and camping. And stay in touch with Camp Westfalia on Facebook, or get Crosswinds, the free newsletter!


World Health Organization, Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Government of Canada, Public Health, Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Route 66 (sort of) to the Grand Canyon and beyond

A three-week, 5000-mile road trip loosely following Route 66 from central Illinois to the Grand Canyon. With a few side trips …

We leave Beigeville Heights, Wisconsin, on a Friday morning and drive directly south, then turn to the southwest at Bloomington, Illinois, when we catch Route 66.

Or, perhaps I should say “the nominal Route 66.” Safety improvements, replacement of bridges and railroad crossings, traffic congestion, all led to various bits and pieces of the designated Route being realigned numerous times since it was first established in 1926. So when one sets out to get one’s kicks on Route 66, one must ask, “When? The Route 66 of the 1930’s? Of the 1950’s? Before or after US Interstates 44 and 40 superseded the original Mother Road?”

In some places we find original concrete, in others the route is a barely-visible dirt path cutting across sagebrush country. Interstates 44 and 40 were in some places laid directly atop the old roadbed, in others were built miles away from the original route. In many places, the original Route 66 can now be seen closely paralleling the new Interstate as a frontage road.

Near Auburn, Illinois, we find a couple miles of an early brick-paved section of the old Mother Road.

In our hasty packing for the trip we have both forgotten adult beverages. Fortunately, it is in no short supply here in the town of Bourbon, Illinois.

Fill ‘er up, please!

In sleepy Spencer, Missouri, we find a place to fill up the van, too. Only 14.7 cents for a gallon of Ethyl!

Just a mile east of Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, I spot my first of the legendary “Muffler Men,” this one now repurposed as “2nd Amendment Cowboy.” A plaque near his boots (complete with spurs) features the pertinent quote from the US Constitution.

We arrive at Tucumcari, New Mexico, and take a room at the classic Blue Swallow Motel, then cruise the original Route through town at sunset to check out some vintage and retro gas stations.

In Arizona we stop at Petrified Forest National Park. About 225 million years ago, trees that fell into rivers here were buried by volcanic ash sediments, and eventually fossilized in remarkably original appearance. Whole logs, some 40 feet long and 3 feet in diameter, now lie intact on the ground, their bark, knots, and even growth rings clearly visible.

In the parking lot, some Italian tourists express disappointment that the ‘fossilized forest’ is no longer comprised of standing trees …

One day I find this 1.5″ red-winged waspy thing eating dead bugs off the front of the Vanagon. Turns out it’s a Pepsis Wasp, whose sting is considered the most painful of all animal stings. It was described by one researcher as, “Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.” It won’t kill you, but it will likely be the longest three minutes of your life.

“They are also called tarantula hawks because the females hunt tarantulas (and other large spiders).”

“Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,
Such a fine sight to see.
It’s a tired old man in a camper van,
Slowin’ down to find a place to pee.”
(with apologies to Glenn Frey)

We start the morning by driving a couple miles of the original-original Route 66 (now gravel). Then, on our journey to the Grand Canyon, we pause to visit the SECOND largest hole in the ground. Meteor Crater is 3/4 of a mile in diameter, over 500 feet deep, and was formed when a 150-foot meteorite struck at 29,000 MPH. Though not a National Park, this private, family-owned operation boasts perhaps one of the best such visitor centers/museums we’ve ever been to (and that’s quite a lot). Especially if you’re kind of a space-science nerd. We also highly recommend the one-hour guided rim walk; our local Navajo-Hopi guide really gave some great scientific and cultural context to this strange and spectacular place.

On our way through Flagstaff, Arizona, we finally learn the unfortunate source of those singular smoke columns we’ve been seeing on the horizon the last couple of days.

Quite by accident, we take one of the most beautiful scenic drives we’ve enjoyed so far on this trip, following State Route 89A down through Oak Creek Canyon, dropping nearly 2000 feet in 15 miles, into Sedona. We take a room for a few nights and enjoy day hikes, a ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad, and a sunset Jeep tour into the local hills.

Over breakfast on our final day here, another guest visiting from Phoenix complains that they have not seen any wildlife during their trip. I mention that last night while strolling back to the B&B with our Thai takeout boxes, we saw three coyotes cross the street, just a block from here. She clutches her purse and appears worried.

Eager to escape the utterly maddening traffic of Sedona, we climb back up Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff. We briefly cruise a few blocks of old Route 66 through downtown Flagstaff, then make a detour from the Mother Road. There are other roads to drive, and other sights to see, so we turn north toward the Grand Canyon, and are rewarded with a wonderful drive up through high desert ponderosa pine forests which open out to broad views of the San Francisco Peaks.

We enter Grand Canyon Village, claim our reserved campsite, then hurry to Trail View Point for our first glimpse over the South Rim.

Over our many years of Westy traveling in North America, we’ve seen a lot of big stuff. We’ve dipped the wheels in both oceans; driven the 1500 miles around the world’s largest freshwater lake; crossed the Continental Divide countless times, sometimes as high as 11,000 feet; and camped below a prehistoric waterfall which was once five times the width of Niagara with ten times the flow of all the current rivers in the world combined.

But nothing prepared me for the depth, the breadth, the utter scale of the Grand Canyon. For the first several minutes, I just stand there dizzily clutching the handrail like a dope, my eyes ratcheting in and out like a digital camera unable to auto-focus on its intended subject.

I finally recover, we drive to the next overlook, and it happens all over again.

Really, just a nearly incomprehensible magnitude of space …

For most of the peak season, the only way to see the western portion of the South Rim is via the National Park Service shuttle buses. They’re free, easy, they run every 10-15 minutes so you can hop on and off as you like, and they prevent the dangerous, frustrating, polluting traffic jams that used to plague the park. We ride the bus for much of our sightseeing the next day, and highly recommend this break from driving your own Bus.

The next day, we drive from Mather Campground to the east entrance along the Desert View Drive, then return the same way, stopping at all the viewpoints and other sites.

In the morning, we leave the South Rim via the same east entrance and head to the North Rim. This turns out to be one of the most dramatic and visually stunning scenic routes of this trip so far. Up the Little Colorado River gorge, then up the Marble Canyon flanked by the Vermilion Cliffs, over the soaring Navajo Bridge, then up the Kaibab Plateau to the North Rim Campground. Map.

The lodge and cabins are closed for the season, but the campground is open, so we settle in for a couple of 26-degree nights.

It took about a full day for my feeble brain to finally comprehend the immensity of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, and upon arriving at the North Rim, I have to start all over again. In addition to being 1000 feet higher in elevation, the North Rim is also set back from the Colorado River 2-3 times further than the South Rim, with more spectacularly carved side canyons.

Also, a mere fraction of the crowds. Though still a fair number of narcissistic numbskulls (as seen above) who happily scamper beyond the designated barriers to take Instagram selfies posing on the precipice. Each year, of course, several fall to their deaths …

An enjoyable way to visit many of the scenic overlooks is a drive up Cape Royal and Point Imperial Roads, the latter of which offers a view from the highest point in all the Grand Canyon (elevation 8800′). So high, in fact, that the bag of Caramel & Cheddar Popcorn we purchased in eastern New Mexico (4000′) now spontaneously bursts open.

On our way from the North Rim to our next destination, we take a 30-mile backcountry byway on washboard gravel through the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The twisted and warped landscape here was formed when two tectonic plates collided 40 to 80 million years ago. Pretty quiet today.

In Page, Arizona, we take a room where we can keep a close eye on our beloved vintage van. Or, perhaps the van is keeping an eye on us?

The next morning, we enjoy a guided cruise in Lake Powell to visit Lower Antelope Canyon.

Later, we tour Glen Canyon Dam, the controversial 700-foot-high concrete arch-gravity dam which holds back 27 million acre⋅ft of water to form Lake Powell, one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the U.S.. The hydro-electric generators also produce 5 billion kilowatt hours each year, or enough to power 330,000 homes at any given moment.

We depart in the morning for Bryce Canyon National Park, take a site at Sunset Campground, then spend the rest of the day tooling along the main park road enjoying all the scenic overlooks and viewpoints.

The drive northeastward from Bryce Canyon on US 12 starts off scenic enough but mile by mile, as we continue through Cannonville, Escalante, and Boulder, the country grows increasingly dramatic. By the time we swing eastward at Torrey and enter Capitol Reef National Park, the jaw-dropping bluffs and cliffs are ablaze in gold and crimson as sunset approaches.

We discover the campground at Fruita, Utah, has several cancellations due to the sudden cold snap, so we take a site and settle in. After a day of motoring across the rocky, barren land of the Kaiparowits Plateau, we find the tiny former community at the junction of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek a veritable oasis. Now preserved by the NPS for its historical value, the small farm and orchard complex was a small, isolated community of largely self-sufficient Mormon farmers and other frontier folk. The orchards of her residents prospered, offering apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, and plums, and by 1900 Fruita was known as “the Eden of Wayne County.”

The broken and jumbled landscape here is the result of a hundred-mile long warp in the Earth’s crust that formed between 50-70 million years ago, along an ancient buried fault line. Today, the rock layers in Capitol Reef reveal ancient environments as varied as rivers and swamps, deserts, and inland seas, recording nearly 200 million years of geologic history.

In the morning we follow State Hwy 24 along the Fremont River as it tumbles down the rocky canyon. Like so many other routes in this area, the 40 miles to Hanksville, Utah, is a dramatic and stunning drive.

We plan to begin our eastward swing here, cutting across the midsections of Utah and Colorado and eventually homeward. But a pair of winter storms is sweeping down on the region, predicted to drop 4-10″ of snow before we’re able to cross the central Rockies. So, instead we scoot south from here to Albuquerque to steer clear of the storms, rejoining Route 66 and retracing our route along I-40.

We have clear sailing with a favorable tailwind until Santa Rosa, New Mexico, when the expanding gray storm front swells to overtake us. We are soon surrounded by strange twisting wraiths of freezing fog, pelted by snow-hail, and the Westy windshield becomes glazed with icy sleet. A sense of impending danger descends, so we pull off the highway, take one of the last available rooms at Tucumcari, and order a pizza. Throughout the night, we hear almost constant sirens on the nearby Interstate …

The next morning, under clear and cold skies, we resume our homeward drive. Every few miles are marked by a car stuck in a culvert, or an overturned pickup, or any number of crashed semi-trucks. In a couple places, there is nothing left but a rectangle of black and charred pavement and a road crew scooping up a smoldering pile of twisted steel.

We are fortunate in so many ways, and carefully thread our way home along the Mother Road …

Camp Westfalia Book Shelf

Travel Aids

Vanagon travellers tend to wander off the beaten path, and these old-school travel guides will help you find your way, enjoy the scenic drive, and discover a sweet campsite, even when you’re off the grid.


If a good map or atlas helps you with the ‘how and where’ of a road trip, these epic travelogues will inspire you to find your own ‘why.’

Workshop Manuals

Though few modern cars are as easy to work on as the Vanagon / Transporter, these workshop manuals will not only help you be a better partner to your Vanagon, but also to reclaim the lost art of self-reliance and independence.

Replacing the Vanagon Engine Cover Insulation

Remove the old rotted and crumbling insulation beneath your engine cover and replace with this slick modern upgrade.

The Vanagon’s engine, as you undoubtedly know, is located in the rear of the vehicle, and is accessed via a large opening in the rear deck, covered by a lid. The underside of this lid is covered with a sound-deadening heat insulation. The older metal deck lids use a synthetic batting, while the later fiberglass lids utilize a foam rubber.

Regardless the type, after 30-40 years the insulation has usually disintegrated, and absorbed dirt and oil, no longer providing sound-damping, and creating a potential fire hazard.

I replaced mine with two 1/2″ layers of EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foam, intended as flooring in home fitness rooms. EVA is resistant to chemical, oil, and fuel spills, and provides thermal insulation and acoustical damping properties.

Easy to cut and shape, this modern lightweight, closed-cell foam comes in 24 x 24″ (60 x 60 cm) interlocking tiles, is affordable, easy to apply, and should last for many years.

Get it here!

We’ll start by removing the original sagging insulation, cleaning the engine lid, then apply the new foam!


Optional Materials:

  • rigid polystyrene foam insulation scraps, 2 x 3′
  • acetone
  • silicone sealant
  • FatMat, a self-adhesive acoustical insulation, 8 square feet


Optional Tools:

  • pressure washer
  • green abrasive scouring pad

Step 1: Remove the old insulation

Lay the engine deck lid upside-down on a workbench or sawhorses. Take some photos or measurements of any depressions molded into the original foam; these provide clearance for various engine components and you’ll want to include these in your new insulation later.

Begin working loose the old foam using a utility knife and a sharp 1.5″-wide putty knife or paint scraper. An even narrower scraper may be helpful in removing the foam from the corners and recesses of the lid.

On certain model years of the Vanagon, this foam insulation is embedded with a chicken-wire-like mesh; remove this as well.

Remove as much of the old foam bits as possible, to ensure a good clean bonding surface. A home pressure washer is effective for stripping and cleaning the engine cover. Pay particular attention to the raised areas of the corrugations, as this is where the new foam will be glued.

If necessary, scrub the surface with an abrasive scouring pad dipped in acetone or other solvent to remove as much of the old adhesive as possible.

NOTE: Two layers of 1/2″ foam will be 1″ thick, of course, and this may be somewhat thicker than your original foam. In addition, I had recently installed a different engine which was a little taller than the original power plant, necessitating different clearance areas in the new deck lid insulation.

Just to keep it all straight, I rigged up some scraps of rigid polystyrene foam insulation at exactly the same final depth of the new deck lid insulation, so that I could visualize where I needed to cut relief areas (cardboard will work too). I then used these scraps as a pattern to make matching relief cutouts on the new foam. Remember to label the Top and Bottom sides of your template to avoid errors!

Step 2: Cut new foam to size

Starting in one corner, measure for your first section of the new foam. There are two lateral reinforcing ribs running across the decklid, which you’ll need to work around.

The EVA foam tiles feature interlocking ‘jigsaw’ edges, so snap a couple of tiles together into one piece before cutting. Focus your attention only on the first layer for the moment; you can use this as a pattern for the second layer.

The foam is easily cut with a utility knife and a metal straightedge. Cut a piece to fit the main center area first, then the narrower sections at top and bottom. Remember to provide clearance areas for the latch mechanisms. From your scraps, cut smaller pieces to fit any remaining bits.

Repeat to make the second layer, staggering the jigsaw seam with the first layer, and adding any relief areas.

Step 3: Glue foam into place

My first attempt to glue the foam tiles into position using a spray adhesive did not work well, and soon came loose. I’ve had good long term results using a good contact adhesive instead.

Following the maker’s directions, use a brush or small roller to apply contact adhesive first to the raised corrugations on the deck lid, then across the entire porous underside of the first foam layer. Allow both to dry about 15 minutes, then carefully fit the foam and press into place.

NOTE: this dry-fit method provides a much stronger bond, but allows NO time for repositioning your work pieces, so you must get it right on your first try.

Repeat for the smaller areas, then for the entire second layer.

Consider using silicone sealant or other caulk to seal the ‘jigsaw’ seams.

The outer groove running around the perimeter of the deck lid should be likewise sealed using 3/4″-wide closed-cell foam weatherstripping.


For additional sound-damping, you may consider adding a final layer of FatMat, a self-adhesive acoustical insulation, over the EVA foam.

Finally …

Test-fit your deck lid to check for any clearance issues, then apply some Armor-All or other protectant to help keep it clean.

This new foam is fuel-, oil-, and heat-resistant, and will provide effective sound and heat insulation for many years to come.

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below!

Vanagon Cooling System Overview

New owners often find themselves mystified by the cooling system of the Vanagon. Which is understandable, considering that it’s kind of an oddball setup.

A little historical context and a quick tour should help ‘splain things.

Most water-cooled cars, including the one you probably use as a grocery-getter, has the engine up front, right behind the radiator. So, the entire drivetrain is in one compact package.

Like all previous Volkswagen vans, the Vanagon/Transporter’s engine is located in the rear of the vehicle. But, unlike all previous Volkswagen vans, the 1983-and-later Vanagons are water-cooled.

A water-cooled engine relies on a radiator to dissipate heat, and the best location for a radiator is out front in the stream of fresh, cool air. To connect this rear-mounted engine to this front-mounted radiator there is a pair of long steel or plastic pipes running the length of the Vanagon’s underside.

In this regard the Vanagon/Transporter is indeed an odd duck, but at least it’s in good company; other notable production vehicles to utilize this unusual arrangement are post-1998 Porsches and the DeLorean DMC-12.

This design also calls for a separate coolant expansion tank and a coolant reservoir located near the engine in the rear, and here is where much of the confusion commences …


Let’s take a quick lap through the Vanagon cooling system.

When you fire up that little waterboxer or diesel and hit the road, excess heat from the cylinder heads is immediately transferred to the liquid coolant, which the water pump circulates back through the cylinder jackets & heads again, in a short closed loop. This prevents over-cooling and helps the engine quickly warm up to proper operating temperature.

Once the coolant reaches about 190˚F (87˚C), the thermostat opens and begins routing coolant via the long coolant pipe way up to the radiator. Here, fresh air draws away the excess heat, and the now-relatively-cool coolant goes back to the water pump and engine via the return pipe, completing its circuit.

Expansion Tank

Like any liquid, engine coolant expands as it is heated. As the name implies, the Expansion Tank manages this expansion; a pressure-sensitive valve built into the tank cap allows excess coolant to vent via a small hose to the Refill Tank. In a well-functioning closed system, the Expansion Tank will always be completely full of coolant, with no air space.

The Expansion Tank also has a built-in coolant level sensor, which detects a low fluid level and triggers a flashing red warning light in the dashboard temperature gauge. This same warning light may also be triggered by separate coolant temperature sensors, located elsewhere.

Refill Tank

This excess coolant flows to the Refill Tank, located just inside the license-plate access door, and which serves as a coolant reservoir. When the engine is turned off and begins to cool, the coolant in the system now contracts, and an equal amount is drawn back into the Expansion Tank from the Refill Tank. The Refill Tank’s volume will rise and fall with coolant temperature, between the MAX and MIN marks.

NOTE: These tanks are often and variously referred to by owners and even by the vaunted Bentley Workshop Manual as the reservoir, pressure, overflow, or burp tanks, sometimes interchangeably, which certainly doesn’t help matters. Expansion and Refill tanks are the terms most consistently used in both the Owners Manuals and the Bentley.

Heater Circuit

In addition to these basic system components, there is also a heat exchanger located inside the dashboard, with standard controls on the front dash panel, as well as a secondary heating element beneath the rear bench seat.

When the dash temperature control is set to “Warm,” a valve is opened, directing hot coolant from the engine to the heat exchangers to provide warm air for the cabin. This coolant is then routed back to the Expansion Tank for re-distribution.

Self-Bleeding Basics

In a later article I’ll cover how to properly bleed the cooling system of all air bubbles after a coolant change or other work. But, it may be helpful here to understand the interaction of the Expansion and Refill Tanks in daily operation.

Though in theory a closed loop, the Vanagon’s cooling system can sometimes develop bubbles or pockets of air, caused by incomplete bleeding following a coolant replacement, a leaking hose or clamp, or by a failing cylinder head gasket allowing exhaust gases into the cooling system.

These air bubbles will tend to (but not always) make their way to the coolant Expansion Tank, where normal operating heat and pressure will usually expel them to the Refill Tank.

As any child with poor table manners knows, a drinking straw in a glass of chocolate milk allows bubbles to be blown into the glass, but only liquid can be drawn back up. This is exactly how the Vanagon Refill Tank functions; it accepts both coolant and errant air bubbles from the Expansion Tank when hot, but sends back only liquid coolant as the system cools. In this regard, the Refill Tank functions as a sort of one-way valve, serving to ‘self-bleed’ air bubbles out of the system to a great degree.

I hope this clears up some of the common questions about the Vanagon cooling system!

In future articles, we’ll look at proper cooling system care and maintenance, how to bleed the system, common symptoms and problems, and more!