from Tipi - A Modern How-to Guide

©2003 by Javier and Dyanne Fry Cortez

A tipi is the original American mobile home, designed and perfected by the Native American Plains tribes. You could say it's a descendant of the skin shelters used by prehistoric hunting parties; an ancestor, perhaps, of the recreational vehicles that ply today's interstate highways. Centuries of innovation have served the human urge to pull up roots and seek new horizons.

On the timeline of travel technology, our personal view is that the Plains Indians got it just about right.

A tipi is less portable than the lightweight nylon tents carried by modern backcountry campers, but it's a darned sight more livable. You can build a fire inside and sit around it on a frigid night, trading ghost stories with your guests. You can "turn on the fan" by rolling up the sides on a hot afternoon. You can even stand up to pull on your pants.

On the other hand, a tipi will go places a motor home or travel trailer won't—especially when the trailer in question is one of those huge fifth-wheel contraptions. A set of tipi poles will ride atop an average-sized truck or van, while the canvas and furnishings fit neatly inside. No extra wheels are needed, and there's no problem with mountainous, winding roads.

Sure, the tipi lacks a few modern conveniences. Recreational vehicles have indoor flush toilets, dishwashers, central heat and air, TV, even Internet connections. RV camping, we suspect, is a lot like not camping at all. We feel safe and cozy in our tipi, but we're always in touch with the great outdoors. The pole framework creaks and sighs with the wind. On a calm night, we can see stars through the open smoke vent. We hear the morning songs of birds and the night noises of insects. Occasionally, an emerging cicada will attach itself to our canvas wall as it sheds its earthbound skin and spreads its miraculous wings. Sometimes we're lucky enough to catch it in the act.