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Hallmark Cuchara XL Review and Experience

After the first snow of the season, we ventured into Rocky Mountain National Park in a Hallmark Cuchara XL pop-up truck camper.

Hallmark Cuchara Experience and Review

The thought of camping overnight in a pop-up truck camper, in Rocky Mountain National Park, in mid-October, literally gave me the chills.  Like Ralphie’s, “You’ll shoot your eye out” warnings in A Christmas Story, I kept hearing a little voice in my head repeating over and over, “You’ll freeze your tushies off”.  I hate being cold.

When I called Matt Ward at Hallmark RV about my concerns, he assured me that their campers would keep us warm at temperatures well below anything we would face.  He even told me that we could literally bake ourselves if we kept the heat on full blast.  Given my concerns, turning the Hallmark into a portable life-sized easy bake oven sounded great.  Bring on the heat.

Of course monitoring the temperature of our hind-quarters wasn’t the only purpose of our trip to Denver.  We were eager to finally take out a Hallmark pop-up truck camper and put it through as many paces as we could find.  And where better to do that than Rocky Mountain National Park?

In the days leading up to our trip, it snowed in Rocky Mountain National Park and high temperatures were dipping into the lower to mid thirties.  This was going to be interesting.

DAY 1: Tuesday, October 12th

When an alarm clock goes off at 3:30am, there had better be a darn good reason for it.  On Tuesday, October 12th, the pre-dawn buzzer signaled the beginning of our much anticipated trip to Denver.  Before the day was through, we would be driving a Hallmark Cuchara XL deep into Rocky Mountain National Park.

An hour later we were at Baltimore Washington International Airport and doing the TSA hokey pokey.  Put your left shoe in, take your laptops out, put your right shoe in, and shake all your six ounce bottles out.  I love airports.

At least we were flying Southwest; the tickets were direct, our bags flew free, and the flight left on time.  Somehow we even arrived an hour early at Denver International Airport.  How the heck did they pull that off?  If you have to fly, Southwest rocks.

By the time we got our suitcases in Denver, Bill and Matt Ward of Hallmark RV arrived to pick us up.  What service!  We threw our suitcases into the back of Matt’s truck and headed right to Hallmark HQ.

Upon our arrival, we caught up with Debbie Ward, Andy Ward, Randy Wass, Jody Bolin, Mike Hastings, and the whole Hallmark team.  The culture at Hallmark is very family oriented and we always feel like old family friends when we visit.  In fact, we’ve talked to many Hallmark customers over the years who have told us of their own warm reception at Hallmark and ongoing friendly communications with the company.

But enough with the pleasantries, we’re on a mission.  Matt showed us the Hallmark Cuchara XL we were borrowing and Bill handed over the keys to his Dodge Ram 2500.  Yes, we were about to take out the President’s truck for a few days.  It felt a little bit like borrowing Dad’s car to go to the prom.  You know, that “I can’t get a scratch on this vehicle” feeling?  Bill even cleaned it out for us.

As Angela unpacked our suitcases into the camper, Matt showed me some unrelated top secret special order Hallmark projects for upcoming stories.  For now, all I can say is that Hallmark continues to push boundaries and explore just how custom a custom Hallmark can be.

Matt is usually the person who walks Hallmark customers through their new camper and makes sure they understand how it works.  Hallmark even has a special checklist that they hand to the customer to make sure every aspect of the camper and its operation is covered.  For example, if Matt forgets to cover how the hot water heater works, the list prompts the customer to ask about the hot water heater.  The manual that comes with a Hallmark is equally impressive and demonstrates Hallmark’s attention to detail and care for the owner experience.

After Matt’s camper demonstration (more on that later), we said our goodbyes to the Hallmark team, jumped on Colorado State Highway 66, and headed straight for the Super Walmart in Longmont.  We needed food and supplies for the following few days and the Super Walmart was right smack dab on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park.

This may sound odd, but there is a very real sense of excitement for me when Angela and I are loading up a truck camper’s refrigerator with food.  It’s as if a full camper refrigerator says, “Now you’re ready to go truck camping”.  To be clear, I don’t actually hear voices form camper refrigerators (I’m not quite that nuts), but a full refrigerator is often the final key ingredient to our truck camping adventures.

Entering Estes Park, Colorado

Turning back onto 66 towards Estes Park, we watched the snow capped Rocky Mountains in front of us grow bigger and bigger.  Just before we entered the town of  Estes Park, we stopped for a camper picture with the Estes Park sign and then pulled into the Estes Park Visitors Center about a mile down the road.  There we received confirmation that Trail Ridge Road was indeed closed due to icy conditions.  Hopefully the road would open the next day or we would need to change our plans.

A few miles west on Route 36, we turned into the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center.  Angela got another stamp in her National Parks Passport and asked about the campgrounds in the park.  The ranger informed us that all but one campground in the National Park, Moraine Park, was already closed for the winter.  More plans dashed.  We were starting to wonder if the park was trying to tell us something, or if we had planned this trip too late in the year.  Too late now, we’re going.
Entering Rocky Mountain National Park

Around 4:00pm, we handed our annual pass to another Park Ranger and officially entered Rocky Mountain National Park.  The normal entry fee is $20 for a seven day pass so our $80 “America the Beautiful” annual National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass was well on its way for paying for itself, and then some.  If you’re sixty-two or older the pass is only $10 and lasts a lifetime.

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Less then five minutes later, we came upon a herd of vehicles pulled haphazardly to the side of the road, and a rather large herd of elk.  This is a familiar scene for anyone who has visited a few National Parks and it’s always exciting to discover what everyone is looking at.  After a few minutes of looking at the elk from Bill’s truck, I did what any stupid tourist does and got out to take a few pictures.  Two days later I would realize just how stupid a decision like this can be.

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The drive to Moraine Park was spectacular.  The mountain range literally stopped us in our tracks.  It’s so easy to forget how beautiful nature can be.

When we arrived at Moraine Park Campground there were no park rangers on duty.  If you haven’t experienced self-registration in campgrounds before, this means you have to drive around the campground to find and select a campsite that’s not currently reserved.  Reserved sites are either occupied or have a small paper attached to the campsite number post.  When you find an open and available site to your liking, you return to the campground entry point, fill out a reservation envelope, stuff it with the required funds, and then return to the campsite.  It’s a run around, but it works.

We camped in site 185, one of the few spots left.  It was nice and level-ish.  As the sun was setting, the temperatures were beginning to fall.  The low that night was supposed to be in the mid-thirties and we were about to find out if our fears of freezing in a pop-up camper were founded, or fiction.  Then our worst nightmare struck.  When Angela went to turn on the heat, nothing happened.

As Angela fussed with the thermostat and I checked the propane tanks and levels, we were both thinking the same thing, “We’re going to freeze our tushies off”.  Everything looked fine, but no heat.  Then, finally, Angela tweaked the thermostat just right and the heat came roaring on.  By the cheers and excitement in our camper you would have thought we had been rescued from Gilligan’s Island.

So what happened?  Matt had checked the heater and even ran it for at least twenty minutes before we left Hallmark earlier in the day.  What we finally figured out is that the thermostat was faulty, probably due to the fact that our camper was a current floor model and had been subject to the use and abuse of a few RV shows.  Or, the thermostat just decided to fail at that moment.

Let’s take a minute and look at this in the proper context.  Truck camper manufacturers build truck campers.  They do not manufacture thermostats, water pumps, furnaces, water heaters, microwaves, air conditioners, fuse panels, fuses, fans, slide-out mechanisms, refrigerators, awnings, televisions, stereos, batteries, and many of the other components that make up a truck camper.  This may be shocking, but they don’t even make trucks.  All of that stuff is made by other companies who supply the RV industry and often back those products with their own separate warranties.

When we returned to Hallmark, we told them about the faulty thermostat and it was immediately replaced.  We don’t blame Hallmark for this issue any more than we would blame our home builder for our home thermostat failing.  As for the thermostat in question, it’s the exact same standard white thermostat we see in just about every truck camper and RV we see these days.  Stuff happens.  This is yet one more reason why it’s critical to have a good ongoing relationship with your truck camper manufacturer or local dealer.

With the thermostat crisis behind us, we made dinner on the propane range, washed dishes, and relaxed.  When we crawled into bed around 9:30pm, we were very interested to see how comfortable the Hallmark’s 60” x 80” queen size foam mattress would be.  In short, it was both firm and very comfortable.

That night the mountain winds picked up, and up, and up.  Powerful bursts of wind slammed into the camper with startling jolts.  To our delight, the Hallmark’s insulated soft-walls and propane heater were more than a match for the cold and wind.  The wind storm did wake us up a few times, but we were never felt a breeze in the camper or, more importantly, a chill.  Our tushies remained toasty.  Back to sleep.

DAY 2: Wednesday, October 13th

We awoke the next morning to the amazing sound of elk bugling about twenty feet from our camper.  Immediately I jumped out of bed, grabbed my camera, and rushed out the back door.  Two seconds later, I was outside, freezing, in my PJs, and the elk were long gone.  I had hoped to get a picture of the elk near our campsite, but evidently the elk had other plans.

There was no going back to bed after that, so Angela and I made coffee on the stove and ate breakfast.  Then it was time to find out just what it’s like to shower in a Hallmark Cuchara XL.  Could a pop-up truck camper really offer a shower experience similar to a hard side truck camper?

The answer is a definitive yes.  The wet bath in the Cuchara XL is small, but it has the size and amenities necessary for a real truck camper shower.  I was impressed.

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With our morning routine completed, we set out to attempt Trail Ridge Road.  Our Verizon cell phone and 3G internet service did not reach into the park so there was no way to find out if Trail Ridge Road was open without physically going there.  If the road was to open for the day, we would find out when we reached the point of closure a few miles in.
Trail Ridge was closed - on to Plan B.

It was closed.  Time for plan B.

When we learned that Trail Ridge Road would probably be closed the following day, we decided to explore every other nook and cranny of Rocky Mountain National Park.  First up on our nook and cranny tour was West Horseshoe Park and the Alluvial Fan.
West Horseshoe in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Aspens were stunning.

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I love warning signs that essentially say, “Go Back!”  What they should say is, “If you’re in a car, motorhome, or towable RV, GO BACK!  If you’re in a four wheel drive truck camper or Jeep, rock on you most awesome person you!”  I’ll talk to the park about these changes.
The Old Fall River Road was closed

Old Fall River Road is well known as a challenging one-way off-road experience with sharp switchbacks and step grades.  Unfortunately, it’s only open a few months a year and was already closed for the winter.  We’ll be back.

From West Horseshoe Park we drove east on 34, passed the Fall River Entrance Station, and stopped at the Fall River Visitor Center.  There Angela got yet another stamp in her passport before we traveled another mile east to Nicky’s Steakhouse.
Nicky's Steakhouse, Estes, Colorado

After a decent lunch, we drove into Estes Park to check cell phone messages, email, and make sure TruckCamperMagazine.com was still up and running.  With everything checked, we returned to Rocky Mountain National Park and headed down 36 to Bear Lake Road.
Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Our walk to Bear Lake was windy and brutally cold with plenty of ice and snow on the trail.  The ice in particular was quite treacherous, so we quickly turned around and headed to Sprague Lake.  Slip, slide, and away.

Approaching Sprague Lake, I saw something that reminded me of our first visit to Bob Mehrer’s house near Penticton, British Columbia.  A hundred feet or so from Bob’s house he showed us salmon in extremely shallow water as they tiredly fought their way upstream.  It was an incredible thing to see up close and in the wild.
Fish Close-Up

The pathway from the parking lot at Sprague Lake had a similarly shallow stream teeming with fish swimming in place a few inches from the bank.  You could almost touch them they were so close.  My camera has a wide angle lens with no zoom yet I was able to fill my lens with fish.
Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

The following walk around the lake was brisk and beautiful.  This is definitely a worthwhile stop.

That evening we returned to Moraine Park and made camp at site 5.  Every other campsite was either full, or not suitable for a truck camper.  If you go to Rocky Mountain National Park late in the season, make sure you get a campsite as early as possible.

Once again we made dinner, took some notes for this story, wrote a few postcards home, and went to bed.  And yes, I had my Nikon at the ready just in case the elk returned.

DAY 3: Thursday, October 14th

Elk Encounter

You couldn’t script this any better if you wanted to.  Just after our coffee, breakfast, and showers were done, two large elk calmly walked around our camper eating the tall grass and nibbling at the tree bark.  This time I got as many pictures as I could possibly want as they didn’t seem to be in any hurry, or care that I was standing there taking their picture.  Let’s just say that if elk had royalty fees, I’d be broke.

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As I stated on Day 1, it’s so easy to get comfortable around the elk or any wild animal that’s grown accustomed to humans in a National Park.  I had become too comfortable with the elk near our camper when our neighbor, who had been quietly breaking camp, loudly shook his tent while putting it away.  Instantly the elk bolted in different directions, one running about ten feet past me.  Had the elk been pointed in my direction, I would have been shish-ka-gordoned.

I can hear your future conversations now;

“What ever happened to that Truck Camper Magazine thing anyway?”

“I don’t know.  I think it got run over by a reindeer, or something.”

That ended my elk photo shoot.  After all, we had spent the better part of an hour photographing the elk near the Hallmark and it was time to go.
Peak to Peak Byway, Colorado

With Trail Ridge Parkway closed once again, we decided to leave Rocky Mountain National Park and drive the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.  We had driven this beautiful road last year in the Spring and looked forward to seeing it again in the Fall.  On our way, we stopped past the town of Ward for a quick picture and started our drive back to Hallmark.

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We even found a little off-road hill to take some pictures.  Yes, this is a beyond pitiful off-road experience, but it was there and we couldn’t resist.
Ward, Colorado

Overall it was a short trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, made shorter by the fact that Trail Ridge Road was closed and only one campground was open.  Did we let that ruin our experience?  Heck no!  We had a blast and loved all the snow covered mountains and elk close encounters.  We also enjoyed the opportunity to camp in a Hallmark and experience a pop-up truck camper in near freezing conditions.

Our Impressions: Hallmark Cuchara XL

The Hallmark Cuchara XL

It’s always fascinating to borrow a new camper for a few days and put it under the microscope of actually taking it truck camping.  Along the way, we learn an incredible amount about the camper, the company, and the community who owns and uses their products.

 

Raising the Roof

In the first half of this story I told you that Matt gave us a demonstration of how the camper worked before sending us on our way.  The most important aspect of Matt’s presentation for us was on the operation of the pop-up roof.  The Hallmark pop-up mechanism is an electric lift activated by a switch that looks more like a “fire that missile” switch than anything that belongs in a truck camper.  Matt called it a detonator switch.

Cuchara Detonator Switch

The roof lift procedure is very straight forward.  First you unhook four exterior latches, two on either side of the camper, forward and aft.  Depending on your height and the height of your truck, reaching these latches may require climbing onto the truck’s running boards or the camper’s rear bumper.
Top Latch on the Cuchara

I’m 6’3” and I found myself climbing onto various parts of the truck and camper to comfortably reach these four latches.  In reality, I could have stretched and reached them from the ground, but it was more comfortable, and perhaps more fun, to climb onto the rig.

With the latches released, you then open the rear camper door and push the detonator switch to the up position.  Immediately the roof begins to slowly rise all by itself.  I loved the simplicity and ease of raising the roof, but sometimes wished for a fast forward button.  A little over a minute later, the roof reaches its final altitude and the electric lift motor automatically stops.

That’s when Matt said, “Make sure you push the detonator switch back to the center or neutral position after you’ve lifted or lowered the roof”.  A few minutes later, Bill stopped by and said, “Make sure you tell them to put the switch back to the neutral position after they’ve lifted or lowered the roof”.  We got the message.

Lowering the Roof

Lowering the Hallmark Cuchara XL roof is a little more involved than raising it.  To start, you make sure there’s nothing protruding above the lower half of the camper wall.  Anything left on the bed or above this line will be driven into and possibly through the roof by the very powerful lift motor.  Matt said we could leave our bedding on the mattress, including our pillows if they were centered on the mattress, and still be okay.  We did exactly that.

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Next you need to make sure the soft wall material is bungeed front and back with the ceiling mounted bungee system.  This helps to bring in the soft wall material while the roof lowers.  And finally, Matt told us to turn the central Fantastic Vent on full-power, in reverse, as the top comes down.  The Fantastic Vent is so strong that it literally sucks in the pop-up soft-walls.

 

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With the interior bungee system attached and Fantastic Vent on full power in reverse, it’s time to push the top lowering detonator switch to the down position and close the rear door.  Angela and I both took turns staying inside the Hallmark as we lowered the roof, an interesting experience to be sure.  I liken it to the trash compactor scene in Star Wars, minus the monster that almost ate Luke.

Once the top is down, you put the detonator switch back to the neutral position and secure the body of the camper to the pop-up roof with the four exterior latches.  When the last latch is attached, you’re ready to go.

Building the Bathroom

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The fully-featured wet bath in the Hallmark Cuchara XL has full-height hard walls.  For anyone who has overlooked a pop-up truck camper because they wanted a hard wall bathroom, this is something you need to see and experience.

What makes the hard-wall bathroom possible in a pop-up is an intricate fold-down wall system that needs to be assembled when you put the roof up, and disassembled before you put the roof down.  There’s a microswitch to prevent the roof from being lowered while the bathroom is still assembled.

Let’s pretend that you just arrived at your campsite and you want to assemble the bathroom.  To start, you lift the panel that’s on top towards you until it’s at a 90 degree angle.  Then you bring the upper and lower halves of the bathroom door together and secure them with a latch.  When the door latch is secured, the wall holds itself in place.  Next you push the second wall up and latch it to the first wall inside the bathroom.

The whole process takes about thirty seconds.  This may sound silly, but I thought it was fun building the bathroom and taking it down again.  It’s a pleasure to use something so well designed.  The down side of all this is that you can’t use the bathroom, even just the toilet, when the bathroom walls are down.  For those of us who enjoy pulling over to quickly use the camper bathroom are going to need to do the pee-pee dance for a few minutes as the top goes up and the bathroom walls are assembled.

Cuchara Bathroom

Once the bathroom is assembled, it’s very impressive, especially for a pop-up truck camper.  The lower half is molded fiberglass with an inset sink, ample counter space, and a storage compartment for toilet paper and supplies.

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The shower nozzle was a cut or two above the quality we normally see in a truck camper as was the porcelain toilet.  This has to be the nicest toilet we’ve ever seen in a truck camper.  And because this is a pop-up, there’s even a window in the bathroom.

The fiberglass bathroom floor pan had channels along its perimeter which didn’t seem to move the shower water towards the drain.  This very well could have been because of the angle of the camper while we camped (I didn’t have a level with me to check).  If possible, I’d also like to see a simpler one-piece solution for the shower curtain than the multi-piece curtain set-up the camper currently has.

Space and Storage

Hallmark Cuchara XL interior

When all the windows are open, the Hallmark Cuchara XL feels extremely open and bright.  I can only imagine camping somewhere like the Grand Canyon’s North Rim and enjoying the nearly 360 degree panoramic view this camper offers.  For someone who’s looking for a pop-up truck camper that allows you to stay visually connected with the environment you’re camping in, this camper delivers.
Hallmark Cuchara XL interior

The cabover sleeping arrangement in the Hallmark Cuchara XL is east-west necessitating one of us to climb over the other to get in or out of bed.  The primary advantages of an east-west arrangement is that it shortens the length and reduces the weight of the camper.  Both of these factors are critical to the true purpose of a pop-up truck camper; go anywhere.
Hallmark Cuchara XL Overcab Storage

Under the overcab bed of the Hallmark Cuchara XL is a huge molded fiberglass storage area.  To raise the bed and access this storage, you pull up on a plastic strap.  It takes a firm pull to get the bed to initially lift, but then two gas struts assist the bed lift almost effortlessly.  Pulling the bed back down takes about the same degree of initial effort before gravity kicks in to help out.

Once the bed raised, the available under bed storage is simply amazing.  We could easily fit all of our clothing for a week with room to spare.  The clothes would then act as further insulation under the bed; never a bad thing.

As a side note, why don’t we see this style of under bed storage on hard side truck campers?  With this feature, I would bet that the Hallmark Cuchara XL has more overcab storage than all but the largest hard side campers.  Best of all, the under bed storage is out of the way.  Maybe we’ll have a pop-up vs hard-side camper storage showdown someday.

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Overall, the interior storage in the Hallmark Cuchara XL is excellent.  It truly feels like anywhere there was an opportunity for storage, Hallmark made it available.  This is most clearly demonstrated under the kitchen counter where there are two small pull-out drawers and two pop-down storage areas.  It would have been easier and cheaper for Hallmark to just make this area a solid panel, but giving the owner two small drawers and two small storage areas is a huge benefit.
Hallmark Cuchara XL Upper Storage

At the mid-point of the camper are two upper storage compartments, one on the driver’s side and one on the passenger’s side.  These are made of heavy-duty white plastic with wood “roller-desk-style” doors creating an elegant and low-weight solution to ceiling mounted cabinetry.  When we weighed these cabinets during our 2010 Hallmark factory tour, we found they trimmed twenty-six pounds out of every Hallmark compared to the all-wood cabinets they replaced.

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Another feature of the Hallmark that caught our attention was the lift-up vanity.  Directly across from the bathroom, the lift-up vanity features a small storage well and mirror and is perfect for shaving, combing your hair, or checking that perm is still holding.  Under the vanity is a three-cubic foot refrigerator and more cabinetry storage.

Kitchen and Dinette

Hallmark Cuchara XL Kitchen

The kitchen in Hallmark Cuchara XL is well laid out and organized and features a gorgeous one-piece fiberglass granite coat countertop with an inset dual sink, three-burner propane range oven, and cabinetry storage.

The one place I was a little disappointed with the Hallmark cabinetry was with the differences in the cabinetry wood colors.  While the construction quality of the cabinets was excellent, the wood color of the cabinets did not match the wood color of the cabinet doors.  When everything else in the camper interior is taken to such high levels of quality and aesthetics (the above mentioned countertops for example), the cabinet door color differences stood out.  When I talked to Matt about the cabinets, he agreed and said Hallmark was working on it.
Hallmark Cuchara XL Kitchen

We found the kitchen in the Hallmark Cuchara XL to be intuitive to use and highly functional.

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The dinette in the Hallmark Cuchara XL is a U-shape dinette but works well as a face-to-face dinette for two.  As a face-to-face dinette, it feels like a small two-top table in a restaurant.  One neat feature of the table is that it can be moved in and out from the passenger side wall.  When we weren’t using the dinette, I pushed the dinette table towards the side wall to give the interior of the camper more space.

Sitting at the dinette, there’s plenty of room for your knees and feet.  Like many truck campers both pop-up and hard side, the angle of the sitting position is about 90 degrees making the dinette supportive and comfortable, but not for extended sitting.  This is a common problem with truck campers and I’m hearing more and more about it as our core demographic gets older.  Hey, it happens to the best of us, if we’re lucky.

The sturdy dinette table is the same fiberglass granite coat as the kitchen counters.  The table is also easy to remove to make the dinette into a bed.  Hallmark even has a clever storage cradle on the ceiling of the overcab to store the removed table top up and out of the way.

The two lower windows in the dinette are large, single pane glass.  To compensate for the lack of window insulation, Hallmark provides snap-on layered insulation.  The snap-on insulation is comprised of the same material their insulated soft wall is made from and finished with the interior fabric of your choice.  We found this window insulation to not only be effective during our cold temperature nights, but also very attractive.

Speaking of soft walls, the insulated soft walls did their job in the cold weather.  I was really skeptical that a pop-up truck camper could stay warm in temperatures that dipped into the mid-thirties, but the Hallmark did just that three nights in a row.

LED Lights and Other Details

Hallmark Cuchara XL interior LED Lights

Matt Ward is well known for his LED light fetish.  This was on full display in the Cuchara XL which featured LED lights throughout the interior and exterior.  Of particular note are the round LED lights under the upper storage compartments.  There are actually two functions to these lights.  First, they act as kitchen counter and dinette lights.  Second, a red LED light on each round fixture stays lit at night to guide your hand to the lights (they switch on with a press) and to maintain a red night light in the camper.

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The thermostat, hot water heater switch, speakers, stereo, and tank and battery monitor are located on the front wall and under the forward kitchen counter.  Just inside the rear door are three on-off switches that allow the owner to turn on and off the electric throughout the camper interior.

Pop-Up versus Hard Side Thoughts

Borrowing the Hallmark Cuchara XL was particularly interesting because it was the first time we had ever camped in a fully self-contained pop-up truck camper.  In other words, we could compare every function of the Cuchara XL to our experiences in hard side campers.  It’s not exactly apples to apples, but it’s close enough to make for a fascinating comparison.  To make matters more interesting, we had camped in relatively cold weather for three nights and used every function of the camper we could think of given our time and location constraints.

After three days and nights in the camper, I can comfortably say that the differences between using a fully-self contained hard side camper and the fully-self contained Hallmark were much less than I would have thought.

There’s no getting around the need to pop-up the roof to use the camper, but this is not that different than needing to slide out side-walls in a hard side.  Essentially, the electric roof in the Hallmark is a slide-out, only it reveals vertical rather than horizontal space.  Maybe Hallmark should call their campers “full-roof slide-ups” instead of “pop-ups”.  Either way, you have to slide-up or slide-out to use your camper.

Once the roof is up, the Hallmark essentially gave us a hard-side camper experience.  Everything we have grown accustomed to in hard-side campers was there.  The only reminders that we were in a pop-up came when the wind moved the soft walls or when an outside noise traveled through the soft wall.  Hard side campers do insulate and isolate you better from the outside world, but I was very happy to discover the difference isn’t nearly as significant as I would have thought.  If you’re a hard side truck camper owner who’s pop-up camper curious, the Hallmark Cuchara XL will surprise you.

Wrap Up

Clean and Neat under the cabinets

A true test for the overall quality of any truck camper is to open the cabinetry and compartments (inside and out) and look at how well the wiring, plumbing, and other materials are fit and finished.  We’re happy to report that the Hallmark passed this test with flying colors.  Every cabinet and compartment revealed a clean and neat presentation.  It’s always a relief to see this level of quality in places where some customers would never look.

Our overall impression of the Hallmark Cuchara XL was that of an extremely well made pop-up truck camper.  The structure and fit and finish of the Hallmark was first rate, easily among the very best we see in the industry.

I attribute this level of quality this to two primary factors.  First, Hallmark’s floor plans do not change year to year, but are rather refined through experience and the discovery of better materials, components, or techniques.  Second, Hallmark’s management team and manufacturing team, with few exceptions, has been steady and consistent since our first factory tour in the summer of 2007.  Right through the recession, Hallmark has stayed the course, kept their team in tact, and continued to refine and improve their campers.  It shows.

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