The desert sun beats down on the alabaster landscape of White Sands National Monument, 230 square miles of gypsum dunes in southern New Mexico. Hot? Oh, brother. Unbearable? Not at all. The marriage of modern technology and the ancient art of tentmaking has enabled present-day nomads—be they Arab tribesmen or American campers—to keep their cool inside such shelters as the Optimum 350 (right), a multiarched structure of cotton canvas by Bill Moss of Moss Tent Works. Although he designed it to withstand winds of 80 mph and to reduce 120° desert heat to 85°, Moss obviously had an eye for esthetics as well. "A tent to me is a piece of sculpture you can get into," he says. As the tents on the following pages illustrate, Moss' philosophy is shared by other American manufacturers.
The basic Optimum 350 provides 350 square feet of elegant cover for six persons ($1,000). An inner shell with doors, floors and windows adds another $1,500.
On New Mexico cliffs where the Tewa Indians once dwelt, the soot from their long-extinguished campfires still clings to dark cave walls. In contrast, Tent Works' airy, teepee-shaped Star Gazer has walls coated with Urethane and a net skylight. The free-standing tent weighs six pounds, with its rainfly ($249).
Early Winters sends in the Starship (above), a Gore-Tex dome that sleeps two or three ($395). Nestled beside an adobe wall in Pueblo de San Ildefonso, N. Mex., the Trillium (left) by Tent Works has three alcoves and sleeps up to six ($435).
For fair weather the Solus (top) from Tent Works is little more than netting stretched on an aluminum pole. Attach a rainfly and the 3½-pound tent also offers foul-weather shelter ($149). The North Face VE 24 geodesic is a tent for all seasons, but the two-man unit is particularly useful in snow country ($300).
Sitting like prehistoric birds on a sea of sand, these nylon Parawings from Tent Works are graceful successors to the old tarp. The wings are hyperbolic paraboloids, no less, and they shed both wind and water. The 12-foot size weighs only 1¾ ($55), while the 19-footer weighs in at 4¾ pounds ($119).
Inflation fighters: 5¬¨¬®¬¨¢ coffee, a bicycle and a two-pound Pocket Hotel from Early Winters that measures 7¼' x 2' ($150).