With a Palomino 2902, we explore Michigan’s thumb and the shores of Lake Huron. We discover piers, lighthouses, and some seriously delicious shakes.
What’s with the name, “Michigan’s Thumb”? It seems so derogative. Does anyone call the nub of Erie, Pennsylvania, “Pennsylvania’s Pinky”? No sir. It’s time for Michigan’s thumb to rule. No more twiddling. No more feeling green with, “peninsula envy”. If it comes to a thumb war, so be it. Starting with this article, Michigan’s thumb is one digit that finally gets its due. No one will oppose Michigan’s thumb now.
For this important mission, we borrowed a Palomino 2902, a truck camper proudly made in the palm of Michigan, otherwise known as Colon. We had four days to complete the task at hand. It was time for a thumb drive.
We arrived at the Palomino factory with our naked truck around 9:00am. There, right out in front, was a 2011 Palomino Maverick Max 2902. Did we check in with the Palomino team before checking out the camper? Heck no. Angela and I opened the door and began our, “Oh, look at that” and, “Check this out” routine.
We had stopped at WalMart earlier that morning for groceries and RV supplies and immediately loaded the camper. That’s when Angela opened the fridge and laughed. “What?” I asked. “You’ll have to see this,” she replied. In the refrigerator, already cold, was a six-pack of local Michigan beverages.
“Those Palomino guys. They’re good,” I said. “They’re just trying to get a good article,” Angela replied. Of course she was right, but I can’t let a six-pack get in between me and my objectivity, can I? No way, Jose!
Unfortunately, the Palomino team had remembered the beverages, but forgot the swing out dually brackets for our truck. For those of you who are unfamiliar with swing out dually brackets, they allow for the front corner jacks to swing out to let the wider dually fenders pass by during loading and unloading. Once a camper is loaded, you then swing the brackets back in. Without swing out dually brackets, a dually truck would literally run right into the front jacks, which is never a good idea.
We let the powers that be know about the brackets and about ten minutes later they were installed by Todd Huggett, Service Technician, and Mike Kernagis, Palomino RV’s Service Manager. Todd literally used a forklift to hold the camper up above the rear of our truck while he installed the brackets. Maybe that’s the ultimate solution to easy loading and unloading, we’ll all just get forklifts.
You may remember Mike Kernagis’ article from last year, “ASK THE EXPERT: Maintaining Camper Seals”. We must refer dozens of people to that article every month. Not maintaining your seals is like not changing the oil in your truck. Eventually you’ll have a water logged camper, and a seized engine. Again, this is never a good idea.
With the camper loaded, we were all set. Mike handed Angela our truck keys and we headed east to see Truck Camper Magazine friends, Bruce and Kim Scott. Bruce and Kim had invited us to come visit them several times at the annual Mid-Atlantic Rally, and it was finally time to see them in their natural habitat.
That evening, Bruce and Kim took us out to tour their hometown. The highlight of the evening was a stop at Chick Inn Drive-In. Evidently, this is serious culture in these parts and the strawberry banana shakes were a mandatory experience. Perhaps I should be embarrassed to report that this was the first time I had ever been to a drive-in.
When Kim pushed the intercom to order our shakes, it went something like this:
“We would like four milkshakes please.”
“No. We would like four milkshakes please!”
Okay, it wasn’t nearly that bad. The funky garbled intercom was all part of the authentic, old-school charm. A few minutes after ordering, a girl came out with with what had to be one of the all-time best shakes I’ve ever had. It was basically liquid banana and strawberries.
If it had been any thicker, my ears would have imploded into my head from trying to drink it through the straw. Bruce took a few silly pictures of us with our shakes, laughing the whole time.
This is all highly relevant to truck camping because it’s a taste of the fun that’s on tap in the truck camping community. Here we were out with friends we would have never met, at a place we would have never known about, if not for the wonderful truck camping community. Thank you Bruce and Kim for a wonderful evening.
Tuesday morning had us publishing, “TCM STARS 2011 Part 1” from our camper in Bruce and Kim’s driveway using our trusty Verizon MIFI. With the story published, we said goodbye to Bruce and Kim and headed to one of the biggest adventures we’ve ever had as a magazine. In fact, this adventure was so big, and so amazing that it can’t possibly be contained within this article.
Where did we go and what did we do? For now, all we’re going to show you is a photograph (tease, tease).
We had planned to spend an hour or so at the above photographed location, but were there a whole lot longer. By the time we finally got back to the Palomino Maverick, the day was cooked, and we were fried.
Our next destination was Port Crescent State Park to camp for the evening. The park is nearly at the tip of Michigan’s thumb on the shores of Lake Huron. We had reservations for a beach side plug-in site so we could charge our laptops and enjoy the scenery. At least that was the plan. With the day running as late as it did, we arrived at Port Crescent State Park just in time to see the sunset.
The next morning Angela and I woke up early to explore the thumb’s coast. We packed up the camper, stowed our electric, and hit the road.
I almost thought Angela was swerving to miss a deer when she spotted a, “Scenic Point” sign in Port Austin. A minute later we were pulling into what would be another highlight of our adventure in Michigan, Veterans Waterfront Park. As you can see above, our camper fit into a normal parking space, or two, or is it three?
Located right on Lake Huron in Port Austin, the park features a Veterans Memorial, a public beach, playground, picnic tables, grills, and a half-mile walkway on a break wall. If you look carefully at the photographs, you can see the camper on shore as we go further and further out on the break wall.
The break wall is an amazing structure that stretches deep into Lake Huron. At the end of the break wall, there’s a post where it looks like generations have carved their initials, names, and love salutations. It’s a special place.
Our next destination was Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse, a free lighthouse park and museum about eleven miles south of Port Austin.
Translated, the lighthouse is called, “Point of Little Boats” to describe the shallow and hazardous water it was built for.
I was disappointed that we couldn’t actually go up into the lighthouse, but the small museum was excellent and full of historical artifacts, documents, and photographs. The second floor had a re-creation of the keeper’s dwelling complete with period furniture, beds, daily use objects, and memorabilia. It felt like we were stepping back in time. For anyone who is interested in lighthouses or the history of Michigan, this is a very interesting stop.
All of this thumbing around was making us hungry, so we followed a sign for, “Bathers Beach” in Harbor Park, Michigan and found ourselves at Trescott Street Pier for lunch. We parked our camper so that we could admire the lake and pier from the camper’s dinette and had a wonderful relaxed lunch.
These are some of the simple moments (fresh homemade lunches in amazing places) that make truck camping so much more than just travel and adventure.
At 1,015 feet in length, Trescott Street Pier was a bit anticlimactic after the half-mile long experience at Veterans Waterfront Park. Even so, it’s always fun to walk out onto the water.
From the end of the pier, we could see yet another lighthouse about a mile or so out to sea and our camper posing for more pictures on land. As a truck camping lunch destination, Trescott Street Pier was perfect.
On our way south down the east side of the thumb we drove into Lexington, Michigan. We made a left onto Huron Avenue and parked near the water again. The town was full of tourist shops and restaurants which we enjoyed exploring. Two ice cream cones and a few additions for Angela’s garden later, we were back on the road.
I’ve always had a fascination with the creative force of nature that was Thomas Edison and was excited to learn that there was a museum in Port Huron, Thomas Edison’s boyhood hometown.
The Thomas Edison Depot Museum was a small museum with hands-on interactive displays and a full-size train baggage car similar to the one Thomas Edison worked in during his early years. The self-guided museum tour was a bit expensive at $7 a person, and geared to a younger audience, but we enjoyed it.
Our truck camper waited patiently outside parked (correctly this time) in a regular parking spot as we admired an Edison phonograph and many other Edison inventions.
About 500 feet from the Thomas Edison Depot Museum, one of the most incredible things to ever happen to Truck Camper Magazine. A barge going full speed passed right through our truck camper! Don’t believe me? Check out the pictures. And people say there’s not a lot of room in a truck camper.
That evening we camped at a Super Wal-Mart near Flint, Michigan. Now you know you’re somewhere in the Mid-West when (a) on one side of your truck camper there’s a busy Super Wal-Mart and (b) on the other side of your truck camper is an ocean of corn stretching as far as the eye can see.
We parked on the side of the Wal-Mart where there are significantly less cars and you feel a little more out of the way. Once again, Wal-Mart was a convenient and free place to camp.
It was time to head back to Palomino and give our report. The plan was to fill with diesel and dump the camper’s grey and black tanks at Flying J before arriving at Palomino. Online, Angela had read that you could dump for $5 if you filled your fuel tank. While we weren’t exactly keen on paying to dump in the first place, the $5 charge was tolerable since it was conveniently on the way back to the Palomino factory. Flying J always seems to have a competitive fuel price and lots of space for larger rigs, not that we need lots of space with a truck camper rig, but it’s nice anyway.
The dump was locked tied into an electronic keypad system. When I walked in to pay for the $5 dump, the manager informed me that the dump offer was only for their Frequent Fueler Advantage RV card members. She explained that the card was free and gave me one. Great, another stupid membership card. Now you can’t even dump your tanks at Flying J without one.
About an hour later we arrived at Palomino. Angela and I immediately began reversing the process we had started just three days earlier and unloaded our stuff from the camper and put it in the truck. Once everything as out, we photographed the camper inside and out for our story.
Before we left Colon, we talked at length with Gene Cronin, Palomino’s National Sales Manager, and his team. They were very receptive to our feedback on our camper, and agreed with most of it. So what did we think of the Palomino Maverick Max? I’m glad you asked.
Our Impressions: 2011 Palomino Maverick Max 2902
The very first thing we noticed about the 2011 Palomino 2902 is its striking appearance (see the Harbor Park photos above). The bright fiberglass filon, the modern and tasteful charcoal grey graphics, and the large European style windows really set this camper apart visually. We heard lots of positive comments about how nice the camper looked during our Michigan thumb tour. It was sharp.
The slide mechanism that Palomino is using for the Palomino 2902 is the new Lippert drawer style slide. Not only does this offer a deep slide, but it also saves weight over more conventional slide mechanisms.
One unavoidable downside of the deep slide is that it blocked entry into the bathroom and camper while in. This is a reality most slide-out truck camper owners face all the time. As folks who tend to prefer non-slide campers, this was particularly irksome to us, but the floor space with the slide out fully extended was fantastic. Everything has trade-offs.
One curious design quirk about the 2011 Palomino Maverick Max 2902 are two doors in the rear skirt that open to… nothing. When you open these compartment doors, there’s just open space. When we asked Palomino about this, they explained that the 2011 Palomino Maverick Max 2902 is designed for both long bed and short bed trucks. When the camper is matched with a short bed truck, the dealer encloses these compartments with durable plastic enclosure. Building one camper for both long and short bed trucks helps to keep costs down and allows dealers to inventory one camper for both truck styles.
In all fairness, we used the driver’s side door to nowhere to better see the dump valves when we dumped at the Flying J. If nothing else, the doors to nowhere make for a fun show piece. Husbands all over the country will be saying to their wives, “Honey, you can take as much as you want with you as long as it fits in these two compartments”. Ha!
Palomino included a Honda eu2000i generator with the camper and I have to applaud their thinking. I’m sure to eventually get some hate mail from the built-in generator gang, but I think portable generators, combined with more efficient air conditioners and electrical systems, are the way to go. They’re cheaper, quieter, and seem to go forever on a gallon of gas. I’m overstating this a little, but I really do prefer the portable generator solution over built in generators.
What I didn’t care for was hanging this nice generator off the back of the camper for anyone to potentially steal or for road debris and the elements to take their toll. My preference would be to either store the generator inside the camper door, or inside the truck. Either way, it’s very encouraging to see these portable generators get traction with the camper manufacturers.
One external feature of the Palomino 2902 that down right surprised and delighted us was the rear electric awning. I shouldn’t gush, but I truly loved this awning. With the push of a button inside the rear door, the rear electric awning automatically extended. No awning poles. No awning issues. It just goes out. And if you want it only a quarter of the way out, or half way out, or three-fifths the way out, you can do that. Again, I loved it.
The control panel at the back door is very well laid out with more switches and buttons than we usually see. From this panel, you can turn on the water pump, turn on the water heater, turn on the lights for different areas of the camper, and check the battery and holding tank levels. For the owner of this camper, it will be very convenient to have so many controls and functions neatly gathered into one place.
Then I got to looking at this control panel and found a few more things we usually don’t see. For example, in the top right there’s a, “SCARE LIGHT”. Then there are buttons to check the level of not one gray tank, not two gray tanks, but three. Now I know this camper only has one gray tank, so these buttons must really be missile launchers or perhaps some other secret Palomino function. Come on Palomino, let’s put these extra buttons and switches to use. Perhaps one could be for jamming radar, or toast.
We have seen quite a few companies using what are essentially waterproof plastic lined bathrooms instead of molded fiberglass bathrooms. This approach saves weight and cost and gives the bathroom a little more room by having 90 degree corners rather than rounded molded fiberglass corners. Having 90 degree corners also allows wet bathrooms to feature larger counter tops and sinks.
The Palomino Maverick Max uses such a bathroom and to good effect. Where some wet baths are white on white with more white, the Palomino had color and texture with a wood framed vanity, laminate counter, and wood floor insert. The size of the bathroom was just enough for a using the facilities and taking showers. It isn’t luxurious, but rather practical, as a wet bath should be. It’s no secret that I prefer wet baths for their efficient use of space within the camper.
The one aspect of the 2011 Palomino 2902 Max that we initially struggled with was the dinette. At first, we found it to be too narrow to sit face-to-face as our legs didn’t have enough room under the table. We eventually discovered a way to sit face-to-face at the dinette that worked, but it required sitting quasi-indian style with one leg out into the main camper area. Another solution we found was to sit diagonally across from one another with one person closer to the window and the other more inside the camper. This worked beautifully when we had plates in front of us, or both laptops open.
Palomino explained that the dinette is as wide as possible given the space the slide-out needs on either side of the dinette, and the short-bed compatible floor length of the camper. They also told us that a significant improvement is in the works for the next generation of Maverick Max slide-outs.
We loved the large European style window with the dinette. It gives you an extremely clear and uncluttered view when you’re sitting in the dinette. We’re also big fans of the insulation qualities of the European style windows used throughout the Palomino 2902. In our experience, they really help to keep the camper cool or warm as needed, and are significantly better than single pane glass windows.
The kitchen in the Palomino 2902 was well laid out with raised mortise and tenon joint Maple wood cabinetry and dark hardware that made for a classy interior aesthetic. The tall faucet and large double sink were also nice touches and continued the warm, high-end look. Under the counter we found another rare touch for a truck camper, an in-line water filter.
Next to the kitchen area, the Genesis Technologies audio/video system was, by far, the best I’ve ever seen in a truck camper. It played almost everything including CDs, DVDs, MP3s, and MP4s. It doesn’t play Blu Ray discs, but I have yet to see that feature in a new camper. Perhaps most impressively, it offers a full-size USB port and a mini-USB port for charging an iPod or other USB devices, and a SD card reader for music media files. And look, there’s a 1/8” auxiliary jack. As an audio/video nerd, this is an awesome feature set. The Konka HD television in the overcab was top notch, too. Clearly this is another place where Palomino’s purchasing through the Forest River ecosystem pays off.
The aesthetics of the cabinetry continued with the refrigerator inserts. The refrigerator itself was a tried and true six cubic foot Dometic two-way refrigerator.
The overcab bedroom was tall, bright, and spacious thanks to a high ceiling, two insulated European style windows, a Heki insulated sky light, and no large cabinetry in the front nose area. Even without the front nose cabinetry, Palomino provided plenty of storage in the cabover including cabinets and drawers on both sides of the bed.
I actually prefer having minimal front nose cabinetry as has been the recent design trend. This not only saves camper weight, but it makes the overcab more open. It was also a very comfortable cabover to sleep in with Palomino’s standard Serta brand mattress.
With our mission completed, Michigan’s thumb can stand tall. It was a rewarding area to explore and we recommend a tour if only to walk the piers and explore the lighthouses.
The Palomino 2902 was the perfect companion for the adventure and has us looking forward to what Palomino is announcing this fall. We have it on good word that Palomino has some exciting new campers just about ready to announce. Of course we’ll announce them here in Truck Camper Magazine. If you need something to do until then, try thumb wrestling.
Thank you Michigan!