Feb 23, 2015

Power Shortage - Alternatives and Solutions

The Problem: Our Four Wheel Camper’s power demand is often greater than our battery (2x group-24 AGMs) can supply.

Discussion: The fridge (4 to 5 amps while running) and the furnace (4 amps) are our two largest power users. Lighting is inconsequential as everything is LEDs with little demand. Between the two biggies, we can use somewhere about 50, 60, or more amp/hrs in a 24 hr. period during winter months. Since we have 75 amp/hrs available (50% of total battery capacity of 150 amp/hrs), you can see that just one day can chew up a good percentage of what we have. The solar panel (100 watts) is mounted flat on the roof so the angle to the sun is severe, especially in the winter. For maximum production, you’d want the panel pointing directly, squarely, at the sun. As it is, the panel will produce between 4 and 5 amps per hour on a sunny winter day here in Arizona… but that’s just for a few hours near midday. On a good day the system will pump a total of about 20 or 25 amp/hrs into the battery… about half of what we used. Now, depending on how much we drive, the truck’s alternator also charges the battery some. Short drives won’t add much, longer drives could get the battery back to 80% or so. In any case, we’re going downhill each additional day out.

Was it a mistake to order the camper with a 12v/120v compressor fridge? Possibly, but I’m not convinced. Like so many things in RVing, it’s all about compromise... pros and cons. On the pro-side, a compressor fridge is arguably safer as there’s no propane burner and open flame. It’s also not necessary for it to be level -- it’ll operate fine at as much as 30 degrees out of level. Our experience over our first 70 nights out is that we get as level as we can in the site and leave it at that. We’ve never had to take extraordinary measures, use blocks or other hunks of flotsam or jetsam to prop up a corner of the truck/camper for the sake of the fridge. On the con-side, it uses a little more power than I anticipated.

The furnace is a furnace, and we really don’t use it all that much. It’s usually off during the night and is used mostly to warm things up in the morning. My guess is that it is only a small part of our energy shortfall. I’ve toyed with the idea of replacing it with a Wave-type catalytic, and may do that someday. But for now we’re going to leave the furnace as-is.

During our first few days (nights?) with the camper last summer we noticed this shortage of power when camped in a very wooded campsite for a few days. Of course there the solar panel was contributing very little if anything to the cause due to lack of direct sun. We like camping in wooded areas and are not about take that out of our repertoire

And then we have cloudy days, right? Could even be a few in a row. Can’t make solar power on cloudy days… at least not much.

Possible Solutions: 1.) more solar panels 2.) buy a generator 3.) plug into the grid more often

Discussion: More solar panels may help on ideal sunny days, but what happens on cloudy days, or when we’re camped under a forest canopy? More solar is out.

The generator idea means we’d have to find a place to store it on-board. Then there’s the necessary gasoline… where do we put that? And furthermore, I’ve been one of the first to look down my nose at people with generators. You know… those "generator people" out there… loud obnoxious machines belching smoke and fumes and noise… I can’t stand it. And they’re probably just watching television when they ought to be outside communing with nature. Those, those… generator people!!

Plugging into the grid more often… in our case, it’d be every 2nd or 3rd night. The on-board charger would top off the battery just dandy and we’d be good to go for another couple nights. Hmmm. This might be the solution… except that… we didn’t buy this rig with the intention of going to full-hookup RV parks or KOAs or fancy plug-in campgrounds. We bought it so we could be off the grid, offline, for days and days in a row… lost up some lonely dirt road near the top of a mountain… a small clearing next to a babbling brook or splashing stream... places people rarely go. That’s why we bought it. So, NO, we’re not going to plug-in more… or at all if we can help it.

Our Solution: We put all this information into a couple big computing machines and let it grind away for a few days. We talked. We debated. We played “what-if” games, not to mention a few hands of "gen"rummy. And we decided to buy a generator.

Not just any generator, but a little Honda 1000. Why? First, we found that a Honda 1000 will fit perfectly into one of the bins under a dinette seat. Fit’s like a fine leather glove... like the bin was designed with that in mind. Second, was the fact that this little genny makes almost no noise (you almost have to feel it make sure it’s running), uses almost no gas (the half gallon tank lasts 6 or 8 hours), what little exhaust it makes smells like root beer extract (must be a Honda thing… would I kid you?), and it’s as light as a feather (under 30 lbs… OK, a large feather). It will power anything we have on board -- easily handling the charger and fridge at the same time with hundreds of watts left over.

This is how we’ve used it the first two times during our Mojave NP trip: Every 2nd or 3rd morning, when the battery is down to near 50% (12.2 volts resting), we fire up the genny and plug it into the 120v input on the camper. The on-board 3-stage charger begins to “bulk” charge the battery… throwing in a heavy dose of amps and volts (I don’t know… 5?, 6?, 7?, solar panels worth of juice?). After just an hour the battery is at 60% to 80% of full charge and we shut the genny off, stow it, and let the sun (and the truck, if we’re driving that day) finish charging the battery during the day. It all works as I’d hoped… even better than I’d hoped.

How about carrying that extra gas? Won’t have to very often, if at all. As I said above, the genny’s gas tank holds a little over a half gallon, which I estimate will last about 6 hours at it’s easy running pace. That alone should last us a couple weeks at the hour every couple days rate. I did pick up a 30oz. MSR aluminum fuel bottle, the kind backpackers use for stove fuel, and found it fits snugly and securely in the vented propane compartment. But really, we stop for fuel every day or two anyway, and it’s an easy thing to top of the generator tank at that time. Keep it simple.

So bring on the cloudy days and the heavily wooded forest campsites. We’re ready for ‘em. And we won’t have to plug in to the grid, ever.

Feb 20, 2015

Luminary Sky Lantern Litter

Hi. This is Dar.
Not usual for me to write on the blog, but I developed strong emotions about this topic and I needed to vent. So here it goes:

"How pretty and peaceful."
We stopped and stayed in Quartzite for a few days during the opening of the big RV Show in mid-January and connect up with friends there. Enjoying our first evening with our friends staying in the Dome Rock area, we noticed luminaries ascending into the night sky from some distance away on the other side of the interstate. The wind carried them over our area and eventually the candle would burn out. Had to be a couple dozen go up that we saw. At first I thought, “How pretty and peaceful.” Next came my questions: How do they work? What are they made of? What happens when the flame/light goes out? What happens if it comes down before the flame goes out? Can they then start a ground fire? What happens to the balloon?

Next day on a short hike, after viewing the previous night's sky show, Thom and I came across a couple of large colorful paper balloons stuck in the desert brush. My view was quickly changed from one of “How pretty” to one of “This is nothing more than litter!... and who's going to pick it up?” Obviously those setting them aflight aren't out here picking them up...I was.

They are made of colored tissue paper (paper is coated to make it fire resistant I later read) in the shape of a hot air balloon about 30 inches high and 24 inches around at the top. A bamboo stick bent in about a 12 inch circle formed the base of the balloon. These had a thin wire connected to the bamboo circle in a criss-cross pattern and the center of the wire apparently holds a “wax fuel cell” or candle. The idea is that after lighting the wax the heat fills the paper balloon, it lifts and it drifts into the air. It is then the air currents and temperatures that determine for how high and how far the balloon will fly. There are various names: Sky lantern; Wish lantern; Kongming, or Chinese Lantern.

In my research I found that many countries, states and municipalities have banned the use of these type lanterns on the basis of 1) Fire hazard – it is no longer a constantly attended fire. Example 800 acres burned in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2011 the result of a sky lantern. 2) Danger to domestic and wild animals – wires from lanterns that have landed in hay fields can become needles ground into hay fed to cows. Sight of a floating sky lantern have spooked some animals to run and get caught in fences. Small wild animals have gotten caught in the wire. 3) Interfere with air traffic – as in Sanya, China when too many lanterns from a festival remained in the sky near the airport delaying flights. 4) Mistaken as emergency flares at sea. 5) Litter – what goes up must come down. What is beautiful going up is an eyesore the next day. And who is responsible for cleaning it up?

Researching I found they are labeled as “Biodegradable”. What does that mean? How long does paper and wire take to biodegrade? In a July 31, 2009 article by Leo Hickman in the UK newspaper, The Guardian, he interviewed a supplier and was told the paper takes 6-8 weeks to biodegrade and the wire 9 months on average. WHAT!!!! And this is under ideal conditions that provide moisture and proper temperatures. While clearing ground on my parents farm to put in our RV pad a few years ago, we found lots of thin wire that had been there for decades and hadn't “biodegraded”. I'm standing here in the desert. How long will it take in a desert?!! We can find debris left from the gold rush era and still see tracks all over the desert, ground from Patton's tanks training here during WWII … that's over 70 years ago. The desert is very slow at decomposition. One manufacturer claims they don't use wire so it's more environmentally friendly. What does environmentally friendly mean?

We took another short 2/3 mile hike off Plamosa Rd north of Quartzite and saw 15 of these sky lanterns littering the ground in colors of white, pink, purple, orange, yellow. Colorful yes, but what just happened to our walk in the supposedly pristine desert. Maybe they're biodegradable, eventually, but it certainly isn't environmentally friendly from my view at that time.

Pretty or Litter? ... Looks like litter to me!

This was the week of the big Quartzite RV show. There are thousands of RVs out in the desert. I have tried to rationalize that most RVers are more conscientious about the environment; they are water and electric conservationists at heart as we live off limited water and electric while boon-docking; enjoy and revel in the beauty of our nation and it's parks and assist in their preservation. We've been full-time RVing for 8 years and I suddenly was ashamed by some in this group, to have un-thinkingly littered all over the place.

I could only reach 12 of the 15 lanterns to bring back and throw in the trash where they belonged. And I'm sure there were many more we didn't see. And this is just in the first couple days of the RV show. What's it like out there when it's all over a week later. Every little bit adds up. You know...my McDonald's bag, Kleenex and toilet paper are biodegradable, as are my paper plates and napkins, food waste, and body waste, but I can't just toss or leave these just anywhere I see fit.

These sky lanterns are unsightly litter the next day!

As the old sayings go:
“Don't Be A Litter Bug”
“Give A Hoot! Don't Pollute!”

Mojave National Preserve - Return to North Ranch

Sun rises over our Bouse boondock camp
Wednesday, February 11; Granite Pass Bdock, Mojave NP; 48 windy all night
Thought it might be the elevation or being near the pass itself that caused our windy conditions overnight, but, as we found out later in the day, it was windier than normal throughout a wider area around us.

Regardless, we slept well, woke late, and enjoyed the morning. Don’t have far to travel today… maybe as far as Parker and find a BLM camp out west of town.

Being on Granite summit, it’s just a short ways south on Kelbaker Road to I-40, which we took east. At Needles US-95 heads south, a roller-coaster up and down road if there ever was one. I’m sure they used a couple more miles of asphalt than they would have had the roadway been flat. I know, it’s to allow the desert washes to drain… but it was entertaining to say the least.

US-95 south of Needles. Roller-coaster surface. (Click to enlarge)

US-95 intersects with CA-62 at Vidal Junction… our path was east on 62. Clued in by some good friends who camped out here on BLM land in the past, we located the area but kept driving into Parker for lunch and a few supplies. With errands wrapped up we popped back and found an agreeable spot next to a deep wash.

And the wind blew.

The official weather guessers were predicting a general reduction in the wind as the afternoon progressed. But we didn’t feel it. As we toasted the setting sun (kind’a a ritual with us) gusts were still blasting the side of the camper. Didn’t sense any abatement, in fact it felt like it was getting stronger. Online we found local reports of gusts to 30 or more. And remember, the top part of our camper is soft-wall, which can make it sound worse. Hmmm. It's not that it wasn't bearable at all... we could have managed. But it wasn't as comfortable as we'd prefer.

Enough is enough. If we don’t have to be here why should we stay? We have wheels. So within 5 minutes, literally, we were buttoned up and back on the road. Destination? Not sure. We’ll first knock off the 40 minutes or so it takes to get to Bouse, take a reading on the wind, and decide from there.

When we got out of the truck in Bouse… almost no wind at all. Perhaps a very slight breeze. Possibly, being on the other side of the Plomosa Mountains made a difference? At any rate, we drove a few miles into the desert and found a spot just off the highway and not far from our favorite Bouse boondock.

It took exactly 4 minutes and 38 seconds to get set up again, resumed where we’d left off, and sat outside for a while enjoying the brilliant light show above. What a difference a few miles makes.

For the day: 187m; odo 20553, Bouse Bdock 33.843, 114.047, elev 1200; v. quiet and calm.

Thursday, February 12; Bouse Bdock, 52 sunny. V. nice morning.
After breakfast at a (the?) Cafe in Bouse headed back to homebase. Once again, the last week or so was exactly the kind of exploring and traveling we like to do.

For the day: 104m; odo 20656; back to North Ranch base

Feb 17, 2015

Mojave National Preserve - Exploring Days Three and Four

Kelso Depot
Monday, Feb 9 - Teutonia VFW b-dock Mojave NP; 47 sunny

Broke camp at our VFW/Teutonia Peak b-dock campsite and headed south. 6 miles to Cima, then another 19 to Kelso. This is all paved road, but most of it is very pot-holed and broken up. It requires a keen eye and quick reflexes to keep the vehicle from falling into one. It also seems that a lot of higher-end cars, Mercedes, BMWs, Cadillacs, etc., are using this road as a cut-through of some sort. They catch your eye if only because they're so out-of-place in this land of jeeps and four wheel drive. Las Vegas is just 40 or so miles north of the preserve, so I guess it’s possible these “high-rollers” are itchin’ to get there and try to win enough for the next car payment.

At Kelso we found the Kelso Depot. Besides being the main visitor center for the preserve, it also has an interesting museum and some interpretive exhibits that can educate the willing mind. The depot was constructed in 1924 by the Union Pacific Railroad. While it did have a lunch counter (The Beanery) and other facilities to service passengers, the depot also served as a boarding house for employees and staff working for the UP. Kelso was a watering stop along the main line and it was home base for a number of pusher or helper locomotives that were needed to provide additional power in assisting trains up the Cima Grade. As trains move northward the elevation increases by about 2,300 feet (a 2.2% grade) between Kelso and Cima (remember the Cima Dome from yesterdays post?), a linear distance of just 19 miles. The helper locomotives (steam engines in those days) would push trains up to Cima and then return to Kelso for the next train to assist. The crews slept in the depot.

The National Park Service refurbished the old depot a few years ago and brought much of it back to the way it looked in the 20’s. It’s a good stop and it’s in good shape. A fine piece of history. (see more pics in our online album)

From Kelso we headed south on Kelbaker Road, about 7 miles, to a road that goes to the Kelso Sand Dunes. Visible from most spots in the southwest corner of the preserve, the Kelso Dunes cover about 45 square miles and rise to about 650 feet above the surrounding terrain. This is one huge pile of sand… and one landform that’s hard to miss.

During the afternoon we hiked a ways into the dunes, explored the area, and found a b-dock campsite just a short distance from the dunes trailhead where we watched the reddish light from sunset add some bright color to the dunes.

For the day: 40m; odo 20,341; Kelso Dunes b-dock 34.890, 115.705, elev 2600

Tuesday, Feb 10 - Kelso Dunes b-dock, Mojave NP; 51 sunny, quiet
We have a light day today - not much to see or do. There’s a large historic mine site on the opposite side of Kelbaker Road from where we’re camped near the dunes. Dar thought we might attempt to get out there and see what’s around.

I estimated it’s about 5 miles or so out to the Vulcan Mine. There are a couple different roads that go out that way so I picked the one that appeared to be slightly shorter and in better condition. These are both Jeep roads. The first mile or so was slow but good going. As we moved along the road got worse, more washed out, and full of larger loose rocks. But we pressed on. At about the halfway point we came to a large wash with water-cut gullies. We stopped and I walked ahead to see things from a different vantage point. Just beyond the wash was a steep uphill section and it was very rocky as well. OK… how badly did we want to see the old mine site? Not bad enough to go further… at least with the standard issue road tires the truck came with. Remember… we’re not dealing with a little Jeep CJ here… it’s a 5-ton long-ish wheelbase truck. Perhaps I’m being over-prudent, but I didn’t feel like pushing my luck today. We did a standard 17 point u-turn and returned to the highway.

The last thing on the agenda for our visit was the Granite Mountains area at the south end of the preserve. These are a small collection of sharply peaked mountains made of (go ahead- guess now…) granite. We heard there were some decent boondocking sites near the summit and we thought we’d perhaps be close enough to pick up a good Verizon 4G signal from the Interstate just a few more miles to the south.

And that’s exactly what we did: found a superior place to make camp well off the main road and we had a pretty good 4G signal as well. So the rest of the afternoon was spent getting caught up on email, browsing, processing photographs, and writing (not too much writing). Near the summit like we were, the wind was significant, but we managed and enjoyed the stay.

For the day: 25m; odo 20366; Granite Pass b-dock 34.7935, 115.603, elev 3780; v. breezy

The last four days and nights were spent removed from civilization, radio, TV, and internet. It was wonderful - even after we returned to homebase, the TV hasn’t been on since. The Mojave National Preserve is high on our list… our kind of place. I think we’ll be back.

Feb 16, 2015

Mojave National Preserve - Exploring Day Two

Sunday, Feb 8 - HITW CG Mojave NP; 50° windy.

We’re told that February in Mojave is usually colder than what we’ve been experiencing, and often windy. We have the wind but we picked a good week to be here for the mild temps.

Woke after a good nights sleep, broke camp, and headed north on Black Canyon Road. At Cedar Canyon Road we drove east to the Rock House and kicked around there for a while. Originally built in 1929 by a disabled veteran from WWI named Bert Smith, he lived here for 25 years. It’s second long term resident was artist Carl Faber who lived here in the 1980s. It’s a stout structure with thick rock walls that’s held up very well through the years. It’s still used occasionally by the Park Service for special events.

Reversing course, headed west on Black Canyon Road, until it intersects with Kelso Cima Road. We stopped here for a bit to let ourselves and the truck stop vibrating from the rough corrugated dirt park roads. There are two other interesting views from this point: first, the Cima Dome, a large gently sloped volcanic landform that dominates this area of the park. If one doesn’t know what to look for you very well might miss it. Additionally, this entire area of the park is covered with Joshua Trees. A Joshua Tree forest. Miles and miles of Joshua Trees. In fact, it’s the largest and most concentrated stand of Joshua Trees in the world.

The second interesting thing is the old historic Mojave Road. As we were approaching the intersection with Kelso Cima Rd. we could see a brown line through the Joshua Trees for miles directly ahead and in alignment with the road we were on, heading west and fading into the distant hills. This is the old Mojave Road. Running east/west through the middle of the Preserve it’s existed for hundreds of years along this path, used by natives even before Europeans came to the west. Today, it’s still possible to bisect the preserve from one end to the other on the Mojave Road… but high-clearance and 4wd are highly recommended.

While we were out of the truck wandering around the first few feet of the old historic road, trail really, wondering if many folks still use it, a California Highway Patrol officer comes flying up, turns off Kelso Cima Rd, onto the old dirt road, and quickly bounces and bobs away into the distance in a flurry of dust. We looked at each other and again at the fading police car… and simultaneously started humming the theme song for the old 50s TV show Highway Patrol (starring Broderick Crawford). You had to be there to appreciate it.

I had filled the truck's gas tank back in Parker Arizona, taking full advantage of the lower prices in hopes that we’d be able to explore the Preserve and make it back to the sunshine state without having to shell out hard-earned social security dollars for California's higher-taxed fuel. Well, things can be deceiving out here. The unit of distance back east may be measured in minutes, but in the west it’s measured in hours. It also seems that as distances grow, gas tanks shrink… significant shrinkage. Many a traveler through the west has become convinced of the validity of an expanding universe, especially when looking for rest areas. Also, slogging along dirt and sand roads at 4 miles per hour, sometimes in four wheel drive, chews up a lot more gas than even the most persnickety planner could imagine. At any rate, we needed gas. And there is no gas for sale anywhere inside the Preserve.

Being the smart guy I am, I pulled out a map and found that we were only 25 miles or so from I-15, which makes up the northern edge of the Preserve, and an exit, an intersection where Cima Road and the Interstate meet. Resources also indicated there was a gas station there.

Now I understand the principle of supply and demand. I know, having taken a number of economics classes in college some years ago, that when supply is limited and there’s a strong demand for that limited supply, that prices might edge upward a bit… that it’s the invisible hand of capitalism at work… it’s what makes our nation great. But when we arrived and pulled up to the pump at the only gas station in sight, and I saw the price… well, I didn’t feel so smart. And I shed a small socialist tear. The same gas I was buying in Arizona for around $2 was being sold here for just shy of $4. And everything inside the C-store was similarly priced… times two. Wow.

By the time we pulled back onto Cima Rd. with a full tank and a few meager supplies, and headed back south into the Preserve, I felt like someone had stuck a gun in my ribs and lifted an extra $50 bill from my wallet. Beware grasshoppers.

About 12 miles from our economics lesson for the day, near the “white cross” VFW memorial to WWI veterans, we found a very agreeable boondock camp for the night. Not one of the two spots near the highway, this spot is back a good quarter mile down a dirt two-track trail… and was far more remote feeling than that quarter mile would indicate. We’re high here… on the flanks of the aforementioned Cima Dome, surrounded by Joshua Trees at about 5000 feet. With singing coyotes and a bright starry sky, sleep came quickly.

For the day: 62m; odo 20,301; Teutonia VFW bdock 35.317, 115.547, elev 5000, cool/cold

Feb 14, 2015

Mojave National Preserve - Exploring Day One

Saturday, Feb 7 - HITW CG Mojave NP; 47

HITW is Hole In The Wall… the area we’re in for a few days in Mojave National Preserve. We’re looking at this visit as a “survey course” of the Preserve, an orientation of the area and what it has to offer.

We started the day driving the 20 mile loop around the Mid Hills and HITW. We did it clockwise, starting at the campground, then south to Wild Horse Canyon Rd. which swings west and then north on the opposite side of the hill we're camped against, eventually connecting with Black Canyon Rd. which brings us back to our HITW camp.

Now, by “road”, don’t get yourself thinking about wide smooth asphalt or even a well cared for gravel roads. Oh no. Of the 20 mile length of this loop, 19.7 miles of it are dirt, sand, wash-out spots, ruts, and a lot of corrugated wash-board surface. Not the kind of road we'd take the bushouse on, ever.

Along this loop, we found a few places where roadside camping is permitted. I guess this would be as good a place as any to talk about camping in Mojave NP. First, there are two “developed” campgrounds… HITW campground (the one we’re in for two nights) and Mid-Hills Campground about 10 miles north. There is another group/equestrian camp, but since we’re not a “group” and we don’t have a horse, I’m not counting that one.

Besides the two campgrounds, they offer what they call roadside camping. The rule of thumb is that if the area alongside the road is large enough and it’s already been “disturbed” (a rock fire ring is a reliable tip-off), then you can camp overnight. The key is to reuse existing sites and to not disturb any new or natural area. We were given conflicting information from two different sources about “disturbed” areas that don’t have a fire ring. Another rule is no camping in washes or alongside paved roads. A plus for us is that most of these roadside areas are just inappropriate for larger RVs. Most RVers will shun most of these dirt roads and many of the roadside campsites are too small anyway. With our little truck and camper combo, we could go and stay almost anywhere in the preserve.

OK, back to the loop drive. It was slow going for sure, but that was OK as we had the morning to kill anyway. Stopped often and soaked in the view. This is relatively high country around HITW. Our campground is about 4300 feet and the north end of the loop, at the Mid-Hills Campground is a tad over 5000 feet. It can be breezy and cold.

During much of the drive on the north end of the loop there’s evidence of the big wildfire that swept through the area in 2005… a lot of evidence. Even though it’s been almost 10 years, nature is rebounding slowly, very slowly, as you’d expect in a dry sensitive climate like this.

Ducking in to Mid Hills Campground there are a couple dozen campsites on the far end that were spared the effects of the fire. All sites are available, it's just that many are kind of barren. Very few campers when we were there, and many of the sites are very small, really designed more for tenters than even small RVs. That said, we would have had no problem finding something that would work for us if we’d wanted. Because it’s situated on a high point in the Mid Hills, the view into the surrounding valleys is quite nice.

Not far from Mid Hills, as we continued the loop trail, is the intersection with Black Canyon Road. But just to the North of that intersection is a jumble of rocks that, from a distance and with a little imagination (and perhaps a little help from various mind-altering substances that may or may not be illegal??), look a little like a large turtle. We refer to it as turtle rocks, I don’t know if anyone else does. We found a little niche in the rocks that offered protection from the wind, had an early afternoon snack, and climbed around the rocks looking for, and finding, some really uniquely weathered granite blocks. One can camp here too, as it looks like it’s considered a valid roadside camping site.

So, then back toward camp, about 8 miles south on Black Canyon Rd. At 3pm, from the visitor center, we tagged along on a ranger-guided hike to some petroglyphs alongside the Rings Loop Trail. There are many petroglyphs in the Preserve, most of which are not publicized in order to protect them from curious vandals visitors. The ones we visited with the ranger are consider their “throw-away” collection… the ones tourists can visit and ogle and touch all they want.

After the guided hike of the petroglyphs, we continued the rest of the 1 mile loop on the Rings Trail, which is probably the signature hike of the preserve. The last few hundred feet of that mile are why visitors are attracted to it… it’s nearly vertical in a number of spots and they’ve driven large metal pins into the rocks, attached large metal rings to those pins, and let hikers figure out how to use them to climb the walls of Banshee Canyon and to the parking area/visitor center beyond.

After the hike we still had a half-mile or so to get back to the campground. We opted for a piece of the Barber Peak trail that cuts close to our campsite, which turned out to be a moderately strenuous hike… loose rocks on trail, vertical challenges both up and down, and, by that time, it was getting dark. On top of that, we were pretty pooped from a long day. It was good to get back to camp.

Later, while kicking back with an adult beverage, we did some cypherin’, and figured we’ve now spent 75 nights in the little 4 Wheel Camper. After we first got it and after a few nights in it, my positive vibe about it was waning a little - (maybe too small?). But since then and, it seems, the more we use it the better it feels and the better it’s working for us. The vibe is starting to grow again.

For the day: 22m, odo 20,239, HITW CG 2nd night; sunny, breezy, 70s

On top. We had just climbed out of Banshee Canyon.

Feb 13, 2015

Mojave National Preserve - Getting There

For reference, the Mojave National Preserve is a 1.6 million acre area in Southern California administered by the National Park Service. 1.6 million acres doesn't mean much to most of us, so to put it in different terms, it's roughly a square about 50 miles on a side. It's a sizable piece of geography for sure and it's our objective for the next week or so.

Three sets of mountains are aligned north/south down the middle of the preserve with broad reaches of desert on either side. Elevation ranges from 800 ft. to 7,929 ft atop Clark Mountain. While most of the acreage is considered part of the Mojave Desert, the southeast corner grades toward the Sonoran Desert and the northeast corner includes elements of the Great Basin Desert. So three of the four deserts in the USA come together at this point.

Originally planned to be a full fledged National Park, local resistance caused a change to the "preserve" status. The visible result of this difference in status is that there are private lands within the borders of the preserve and traditional activities like ranching and hunting are allowed.

For more information on the Preserve, click here.

Thursday, February 5
A pleasant sunny day for our departure from North Ranch, which was later than planned due to our tardiness with preparations. It might be a small camper but preparations are still a time consuming feature of our life. But that was OK as we only planned to make it part of the way today anyway. We're getting  familiar with the AZ-71 to US-60 route west but to mix things up a bit we made a right turn in Hope on AZ-72 toward Bouse. Stopped at the Ocotillo Inn for a burger and a beer.

Decided to drop anchor at our favorite desert camping spot, now called our Bouse Boondock. It was everything it was the first time... quiet, isolated, natural.

For the day: 98 miles, odo 20,036, Bouse Boondock 33.838, 114.043, elev 1200 ft, sunny 70s.

Friday, February 6
After a great nights sleep, the wheels were turning again toward Mojave. Route: Bouse, Parker, Lake Havasu City, Needles, and then the Preserve.

There were some desert races of some kind going on this weekend around Parker which caused a rare conjunction of desert dirt people with river people. It was busier and crazier than normal. And the whole strip along the Colorado River from Parker to north of Lake Havasu City was much more congested than I prefer. I'm glad we came this way if for no other reason than to remind me why I'm not a fan of the area.

Exited I-40 at Essex Road and drove the lonely neglected asphalt road north into the Preserve... met no other vehicle along the way. Black Canyon Road jogs to the right after 10 miles and took us to the Hole-In-the-Wall area (hereafter referred to as HITW). One of only two developed (but still rustic) campgrounds is here. After a quick orientation stop at the volunteer staffed Info Center, we found a spot in the campground and made camp for two nights.

For the day: 182 m, odo 20,217, HITW campground 35.0506, 115.3937, elev 4350, sunny 70s.

Photos:  click to enlarge any photo in this journal.  Also, if you're interested, we do have more pics from our explorations in our photo collection here.

Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...