Category Archives: Elks

The Road North

When we pulled out of Lake Shastina Tuesday morning, we vowed to return for longer stay in the future. It’s such a beautiful and quiet setting. Our route took us north on Big Springs Road to County Road A12 – also called the 97-99 Cutoff. This took us west to I-5. We were surprised at the number of large houses we passed along the way. I wondered aloud where the money was coming from and whether these were primary residences or vacation homes. It’s a pretty remote area.

We drove north through Yreka and crossed the border into Oregon. A few miles past the border, we reached the Siskiyou Mountain Summit – this is the highest point on I-5 at 4,310 feet. Once we were over the pass, we hit a seven-mile 7% downgrade. We dropped over 2,300 feet of elevation. I was thanking Jacobs Engineering for their marvelous engine compression brake – affectionately known as a Jake brake. The Jake brake on our Cummins ISL engine has two settings – low and high. By toggling back and forth between the two, I was able to control our downhill speed without using the regular service brakes – I only stabbed at the brake pedal a couple of times when we approached tight curves in the road.

We passed through Ashland and Medford. The interstate has a series of summits as it undulates through the mountains. We would quickly climb a thousand feet or so, then immediately drop back down only to repeat the process time and again. We crossed both the south and north Umqua River. North of Roseburg, we pulled off at Sutherlin – a small town on the North Umpqua River. Our destination was the SKP Timber Valley RV Park. As Escapees members, we were able to dry camp in the park for a five-dollar fee.

We found a site long enough to back into without dropping the trailer and set up.

Our site at SKP Timber Valley

Donna had a Skype call as a guest speaker for an online organizing course. She set up shop outside to take the call.

Donna’s office Tuesday afternoon

A park member served as the welcome wagon and stopped by to drop off gifts. She gave us a cat toy made by someone in the park and Ozark the cat loves it. The toy has a wild turkey feather sewn in. We saw a couple of turkeys as we entered the park.

We had a quiet night but after sunrise, I woke up several times to the sound of turkeys gobbling. After slumbering for a while longer, I got out of bed. I saw wild turkeys strutting in the street in front of our coach. I went outside as they were moving away from us and tried to get closer to them. Wild turkeys are usually very wary creatures and it’s not often that you can approach them. These turkeys were obviously used to people in the park and came out of the woods to forage around – they didn’t seem too afraid of people.

A couple of them were strutting with their tails fanned out and feathers puffed up. I managed to get close enough to take a couple of photos.

Wild turkeys struttin’ their stuff


Walking back to the coach, I saw a jackrabbit slinking through a site.

Jack rabbit slinking away

There’s no shortage of wildlife in the area!

We hit the road just before 10am and continued our journey northward. We were still in hilly country but the climbs were short followed by short descents until we reached Eugene and then the terrain was flatter through the Willamette Valley.

Cruising along on the flat terrain, I noticed our transmission temperature seemed abnormally high. It was running around 210 degrees. The engine coolant temperature stayed normal – ranging from 180 to 195 on climbs and staying around 182-184 on the flat stretch of road. I thought it was odd. After a while, the transmission temperature started to increase again. When it reach 220 degrees, I became concerned. There was a rest stop a few miles away. By the time we pulled off at the rest stop it was at 224 degrees – much higher than I’ve ever seen in the past.

With the engine idling and the transmission in neutral, the temperature quickly dropped to 184 degrees. I used the Allison transmission key pad to check the fluid level and interrogate the control unit for trouble codes. The fluid level was fine and no diagnostic trouble codes were recorded. I found my Allison manual and read through it. It said high temperature is worrisome when the sump temperature exceeds 250 degrees, so we were still in safe territory. However, it wasn’t making sense to me. Why was the transmission running that hot when the engine temperature remained normal and there wasn’t any reason for the drive train to be under more stress than normal?

We got back on I-5 and continued on our way. The transmission temperature remained normal for several miles, then started climbing again. When it reached 211 degrees, I shifted down from sixth gear to fifth gear. The temperature dropped to 204 degrees. I still can’t make sense of this. As we approached Portland, I shifted back into drive and the transmission temperature stayed in the 190s.

Driving through Portland, Oregon is one of my least favorite drives – it ranks right up there with Seattle. We hit I-84 on the south side of the Columbia River and followed it to I-205. This took us over the Columbia River and into Washington. We pulled into the Vancouver Washington Elks lodge around 2:30pm.

Our dry camping spot at the Vancouver Elks Lodge

We plan to boondock here for two nights. Our thinking was Donna could get some bicycle mileage in here – she bicycled when we stayed here last year. While we were driving, Donna had a beef stew in the crock pot. The aroma was wonderful! After we set up and paid for two nights, we took a walk to the Fred Meyer Supermarket about a half mile from here. The crock pot stew continued to simmer.

Then we went into the lodge for a cold one. When we came back to the coach, I was reading a book when I thought to check the battery condition. Oh no! The inverter was powering the crock pot from the house batteries and I had run them below 12 volts! I went to start the generator but it was dead. Hitting the start button did nothing.

I started our engine to put some juice back into the batteries from the alternator. I still couldn’t get anything from the generator start button. It didn’t make sense to me, we had run the generator that morning without any issues. I went out checked the connections at the battery bank. Sure enough, the cable that runs up to generator had corroded and pulled out of the connector.

I made a temporary fix by clamping the cable to the terminal with Vise-Grip pliers. Today I’ll have to clean the cable and connector, strip the insulation back and reconnect the cable.

MacGuyver temporary solution.

With the temporary fix in place, the generator fired up and recharged the batteries.

Meanwhile, Donna dished out the stew and it was excellent!

Crock pot beef stew

This morning we woke up to rain. I hope it clears up so Donna can get her ride in and I can work on the generator/battery cable.

Mistakes and a Mishap

Before we pulled out of Golden Village Palms in Hemet, I realized I made a mistake when I booked our time at Park of the Sierras in Coarsegold. Donna had a coupon for $50 off the weekly rate for first time visitors. So, I booked a week beginning Friday, May 19th. This would mean we would leave on Friday, May 26th. I should have consulted a calendar before I made that reservation. Leaving on Friday, May 26th means we would be hitting the road at the start of Memorial Day weekend. Not a good time to be on the road.

I called the Escapees Park of the Sierras to see if I could extend our stay through the weekend. The first woman I spoke to wasn’t sure if it was possible. She put me on hold, then the woman I originally booked the site with came on the line. Her name is Melinda and she reads this blog. Melinda fixed me up by blocking our site through the end of the month. Thanks, Melinda!

We left Golden Village Palms just after 11am. We had a short drive ahead and I figured it would take about two hours. I thought about going up CA79 to Beaumont, then hitting I-10 and looping through Highland to I-215. Our GPS suggested taking CA74 west directly to I-215 north until it merged with I-15. This was a simple route and GPS said it would be faster, so I went with it.

We hit a snag just 12 miles down the road. The on-ramp from CA74 to I-15 north was closed for construction. No detour signs. I should have just got onto I-215 south and turned around at the McCall exit only a mile or so down the road. Instead I went west and looked for a way to get back on I-215 north. I made a mistake and ended up on a dead-end road. Luckily there was a large parking lot by a train depot where I turned around. We ended up taking a drive through old downtown Perris (it’s doubtful they see many big rigs passing through!) before we found I-215.  So much for a simple drive.

Although it was midday, I-215 was bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go traffic past March Air Reserve Base and through Moreno Valley. Once we were past I-10, the traffic thinned out as the freeway was up to seven lanes wide in places.

Light traffic on I-215 north of San Bernardino

At Tejon Junction, we took CA138 west all the way to Palmdale. We found the Elks Lodge without any trouble despite the inability of our GPS to locate the address. There were only a few rigs in the RV area and we had many sites to choose from. We tried a few of them but our length was a bit much for most of the pull-through sites. We finally settled on a site on the west side of the RV area. We had 30-amp electrical service. We didn’t need sewer or water for the overnight stay, so we were good.

Palmdale Elks Lodge

We entered the Elks Lodge through a driveway on the west side of the property. When we pulled out on Friday morning, I looped around the RV area and headed for the driveway on the east side of the property. This turned out to be a mistake. This driveway slopes at a steep angle and the there’s a sharp dip where it meets the road. The jack on the front of our cargo trailer dragged heavily on the tarmac with a loud screeching sound. It stopped us dead in our tracks for a moment – I was afraid we might be stuck, high-centered on the jack – but we carried on.

Down the block, I pulled over to survey the damage. It wasn’t pretty. The jack was bent and we’ll need to have it replaced soon.

We followed CA138 to CA14 north and then got on CA58 which took us over Tehachapi Summit. Tehachapi Summit is 4,064 feet above sea level. Once we were over the summit, it was a downhill run to CA99 and Bakersfield in the California Central Valley. The Central Valley is less than 300 feet above sea level.

Outside of Fresno, we topped up the fuel tank at a truck stop. I made a wrong turn but once again I found a large parking lot so I could get us turned around to enter the truck stop. One thing I noticed on the drive up CA99  – our transmission fluid temperature was unusually high. I monitor the ATF temperature on our ScanGauge-D. It reads a sensor that sends data to the Transmission Control Module. It usually runs around 180 degrees. I was seeing 206 degrees. This isn’t dangerously high, but I wondered why it was hotter than I normally see. The engine coolant temperature stayed in a more normal range of 180 to 195 degrees – depending on whether we were going uphill or not.

When we merged onto CA41 north toward Yosemite, I figured out why we had higher ATF temperature. When we were on CA99, we were heading in a northwesterly direction. CA41 took us due north. The wind was quartering from the northwest. All the time we were driving up CA99, we were in a direct headwind. It was blowing steadily and I didn’t really take any note of it. The added drag of the headwind put a higher load on the powertrain. The Transmission Control Module communicates with the Engine Control Module and monitors the load. With higher loads, it increases the line pressure in the transmission. Higher fluid pressures results in increased temperature.

Once we were on CA41 and no longer driving directly into the wind, the transmission temperature dropped to 188 degrees. Mystery solved. CA41 brought us into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range.

We checked in at Park of the Sierras around 2:30pm and we got to meet Melinda face-to-face. We’ll have to get together for pickleball at some point. The check-in process is rather involved. They spend a lot of time going over park information. It took about 20 minutes. They had us drop the trailer in a dry camping area – no charge for the trailer.

Damaged trailer jack in the dry camping area

Then two guys in golf carts led us to our site. They directed me into the site which would have been pretty tricky without them – they obviously do this often – and we were set up in no time at all. The park is hilly – our site sits at an elevation of 1,886 feet above sea level.

Park of the Sierras site 303

Our site is quiet and we feel like we’re nestled in the woods. Donna made fish tacos for dinner and we enjoyed them al fresco on our deck.

Dinner on the deck

The trees have my satellite dish blocked. I won’t be able to watch this weekend’s Moto GP race from Le Mans, France unless I download coverage. We have cable here, but it doesn’t include BEIN Sports channel which covers the race. Next weekend, I can use the cable for the Formula One race at Monaco.

Speaking of Moto GP…in 2006, the championship was won in the last race of the season by an American rider, Nicky Hayden. Nicky currently rides in World Superbike for the Ten Kate Honda team. I first saw Hayden at Laguna Seca in the ’90s when he rode in the AMA series. Nicky was on a group bicycle ride near San Marino, Italy last Friday. Many motorcycle racers train on bicycles – it takes a high level of fitness and endurance to race at the world championship level. Nicky was hit by a car and is in critical condition at Cesena hospital. He has a brain injury and is on life support. My thoughts are with Nicky and his family.

Today we plan to explore the area. We might head into town – maybe go all the way to Oakhurst which is about 12 miles away. The weather forecast for the next 10 days calls for upper 80s and 90-degree temperatures with no rain expected.

A Chance Encounter

Our three-night stay in Hemet passed quickly. Tuesday morning I went outside around 9:30am and was surprised to hear people on the pickleball courts.I didn’t think enough people were in the park to play pickleball. When we stayed here before, most of the snowbirds pulled out in April and the pickleball activity was finished. We planned on heading down to Sun City (Menifee) around 11:30am to visit my step-dad, Ken, so I didn’t go to the pickleball courts.

Also, it was pretty windy and cool. The temperature never went above 65 degrees for our entire stay here – about 20 degrees below average for this time of year. We rode the Spyder to Sun City and arrived at Ken’s place around noon. His cleaning lady was there, so we sat in his TV room and talked until she finished her deep cleaning of the house. She had been at it since 7:15am and spent five and half hours cleaning.

We drove in Ken’s car to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. Ken generously bought our lunches and we enjoyed talking while we dined. We headed back to Hemet around 2pm. On the way back, we made a stop at WinCo foods to pick up a few items. When we stayed here before, we always shopped at Stater Brothers – I didn’t know at the time what a great supermarket WinCo is. I found a 22-ounce bomber bottle of Stone Tangerine Express IPA for $4.12 – bargain!

Donna planned to have her friend, Connie Kippycash, join us for dinner on Tuesday evening. Unfortunately Connie was suffering from a sinus infection and had to cancel. So we just relaxed and had leftovers for dinner. It looked like rain was imminent, so maybe it was best to relax indoors.

Wednesday morning Donna and I hit the pickleball courts. There was only one other player so we played a couple of games where we rotated through a two-on-one game. After about an hour, another player arrived and we played a couple of doubles games. They were older and the level of play had me holding back. It was fun nonetheless.

Wednesday evening I grilled herbed boneless, skinless chicken thighs on the Weber Q.  When I was younger, I always preferred the white breast meat. Nowadays I find the dark thigh meat to be juicier, tender and more appealing. Donna served it with a medley of roasted baby squash with feta cheese and quinoa.

Grilled chicken thighs with baby squash and quinoa

This morning I need to pack a few things in the trailer – the grill and grill stand, a few chairs and the Spyder. We’re not in any hurry. Our drive will take us north through San Bernardino and over Cajon Pass. We plan to stop at the Elks Lodge in Palmdale – about 100 miles from here. Tomorrow morning we’ll continue north to Coarsegold in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Yosemite National Park.

I don’t want to delay our departure here too long – the Elks Lodge is first come – first served. I made a reservation at the Escapees Park of the Sierras campground yesterday. We’ll stay for one week. At first, the woman on the phone told me they didn’t have any sites available for a rig of our size. Then she had me hold for a couple of minutes and told me she had one site, but we would have to drop the trailer away from the site. She asked me if I wanted to do that. I told her it wasn’t ideal, but we’d take it.

After I gave her my check-in information, she asked me if I write a blog. I said yes. She said you just went to Hemet, right? And you’re an avid pickleball player and your wife is Donna. I was stunned. I laughed out loud when she told me she had been following this blog for quite a while. We plan to get together for pickleball after we arrive. I was so surprised at the chance encounter that I failed to ask her what her name is!

After three cool, cloudy days, today we have abundant sunshine. The temperature should reach 80 degrees today and the next week in Coarsegold should be in the upper 80s. Sounds good to me!



A Better Site

Donna’s left shoulder has been giving her trouble since she took a fall at the ice skating rink in Santa Fe, New Mexico in mid-September. She hadn’t fallen on the ice in years, but some kids on the rink distracted her and she caught an edge and fell. Donna’s sister, Sheila, is a physical therapist. Wednesday morning Donna had an appointment to see her to have her shoulder worked on. Meanwhile, I continued preparation to move from our site for one night.

We were in no hurry – I planned to move only about 20 miles away to the Elks Lodge in Chula Vista. I tried to contact the lodge to confirm site availability, but they didn’t open until 1:30pm. I wasn’t too worried about it – their web site said they had plenty of room and had never turned an RV away. I thought about the lodge in El Cajon, but when I phoned them I was unpleasantly surprised by the rude person on the phone. She told me she couldn’t guarantee space for us and they don’t take reservations – I would have to show up and take my chances there. This is common practice at most Elks Lodges, but they’re usually quite friendly and tell me if they think they can accommodate us.

I parked the Spyder in our trailer which we left in the overflow lot at Mission Bay RV Resort. The drive to Chula Vista was easy and the midday traffic was light. The Elks Lodge is located on a terraced bluff on the south side of Telegraph Canyon Road. They have 27 sites with hook-ups and also provide dry camping. I wanted a dry camping spot – no need to hook up for an overnight stay. The camp host directed me to a level area of the lot and said I would be fine there. We had a nice view of trees and shrubs on the hillside but also had road noise from Telegraph Canyon Road which is a busy thoroughfare.

Door step view at the Chula Vista Elks Lodge

After putting the jacks down and slides out, we walked to a shopping center about half a mile away. We found a Chinese restaurant there and had lunch. The portions were large and we both brought half of our meals home in box containers.

Later we went into the lodge for a cold one. As usual, the lodge bought a second round for us since we were first-time visitors there. Back at the coach, I opened a bottle of beer Donna bought for me. It was an interesting IPA from Modern Times – a local San Diego brewery. The beer was pale and obviously unfiltered. It was tasty but the mouth feel is what set it apart more than anything.

I read the label and saw it was made with Simcoe, Oregon Horizon and Amarillo hops. Oregon Horizon was a new hop to me. But then I saw what made this IPA different. The grain bill was pale malt (barley), white wheat and oats. Wheat and oats in an IPA is different for sure. I like this beer.

Modern Times IPA

Ozark the cat liked the change in surroundings. She spent a lot of time looking out the screen door at whatever was in the shrubbery. She also spends a lot of time in her window mounted shelf-bed.

Ozark in her favorite place

We pulled out of the Elks Lodge around 11:30 am. I made a detour on the way back to Mission Bay to stop at the Chevron station on East Balboa Avenue on the west side of highway 163. They have diesel at a reasonable – for California – price and I know I can get our rig in and out of there. There aren’t many places to get fuel for a big rig in the San Diego area.

It only took 35 gallons to fill the tank, but I knew I would want to boondock on our way to Arizona next month and we would need plenty of fuel for the generator – it won’t deliver fuel from the tank to the generator if we’re below 1/4 tank. It was also a good idea to do this while I didn’t have the trailer behind us.

Back at Mission Bay RV Resort, we were assigned to site 115. This is a much better site than 120 where we spent the last two months. In 120, we had trees that dropped foliage into our site, not to mention the birds that roosted in the trees every night and left their calling cards. The trees also blocked my Dish satellite reception. Site 115 is open with only one small tree.

I reactivated the Dish Network service and have great reception once again. I also replaced the filter elements in our water filtration when I set up. We have a two-canister filtration system. The first canister has a 10″ spun polypropylene sediment filter that filters down to five microns. This removes any sediment like sand or rust particles. The second canister has a fiber block carbon element that removes cysts and chemicals.

The sediment filter lasts about four months of full-time use. You can visually see the filter loading up with sediment. The second filter lasts six to 12 months. It can’t be visually inspected so I replace it after two sediment filter changes or every eight months or so.

We have a third anti-bacterial filter on the water dispenser at our kitchen sink. I need to replace this one as well. It lasts two to three years. It’s a bit of a chore to change, so I haven’t been too anxious to get after it, but it’s on my “to do” list before we leave here.

Spun polypropylene sediment element – old on the left, new on the right

Fiber block carbon elements

Since it was Thursday, I made the usual stop at Dan Diego’s for a cold one with the guys. Mike, the bartender, had special pricing on bottled beer again. This time I tried a Belgian Blonde Ale that was outstanding and priced at $3/bottle. What a bargain!

Maredsous Belgian blonde ale

I watched the Thursday Night Football game back at the coach. Rain moved into the area before the game ended. The rain continued through the night and it’s raining off and on as I type this. The weather guessers say the rain will move out of here this afternoon.

A Day Away

I have just a quick post this morning.

Yesterday, Donna and I went to the Pacific Beach Recreation Center for pickleball – Donna hadn’t played for a couple of months. I was pleasantly surprised to find Hans Kohls (Metamorphosis Road) at the rec center. We had a good time over a couple of hours of games. Donna wasn’t too rusty and I enjoyed playing a few games with Hans.

We’ve reached the 62-night limit here at Mission Bay RV Resort – you must exit the park for at least 24 hours after 62 consecutive nights. This is better than the policy in the past which limited stays to 31 nights. They consider a month-long stay to be 31 nights, regardless of the calendar month.

We’re still deciding on where to go for our 24-hour exile. I’m favoring an Elks Lodge. There are four lodges in San Diego county with RV facilities – Chula Vista, El Cajon, Vista and Oceanside. We really don’t need hook-ups – just a dry camping spot for the night.

We’ve moved most of our outdoor gear to Sini’s site for the 24-hour period which makes it easier. We just walk our stuff to her place and then we’ll walk it back to our site when we return. It’s so nice to have friends in the neighborhood!

I also checked our tire pressures and found them to be three to five pounds per square inch low. So I broke out the air compressor to correct the tire pressures. This is something that should never be ignored. I also pulled the windshield covers to put them away while they’re dry – I like to do that the day before we leave to ensure that they’re aren’t wet from overnight condensation, morning mist or rain. I’ll park the Spyder in our trailer, which will remain here while we go away. We’ll return Thursday for another month in San Diego.

I have to add a couple of links. We’ve been featured in an online publication called  MRV The Buzz in an article about full-time RVers here. I don’t think this qualifies us for celebrity status by any means, but it’s kind of cool. Donna also got a link to one of her dozens of television broadcasts from her trip to Atlanta. You can view it here.

With the moves over the next two days, I probably won’t post again until Friday.

There and Back Again – Part Two

The last post ended with us finishing a 400-mile day at the Seven Feathers Casino. Seven Feathers is located between Roseburg and Grants Pass, Oregon. The casino is very RV friendly – they have a full service RV park on the west side of I-5 and a dry camping RV lot on the east side adjacent to the casino. We stayed overnight in the free dry camping lot.

Monday morning, as we approached Grants Pass, the terrain became hilly. I drove about 40 miles to the Manzanita Rest Area at milepost 61 and stopped there. After letting Sini’s golden-doodle dog, Ziggy out for a break, she took over driving.

The hilly terrain became mountainous as we crossed the Siskiyou Range and topped out at Siskiyou Summit more than 4,300 feet above sea level. This gave Sini a chance to experience driving up steep grades and once over the summit, she had to control the coach on a long descent.

When you’re climbing a grade in a motorhome, you want to maintain momentum. This requires a vigilant watch of the rearview mirrors so you’re aware of faster car traffic overtaking. When you have a slow moving tractor-trailer rig ahead, it’s good to time your move to the left lane to pass the slow moving truck with a break in the left lane traffic. If you slow down and stay behind the slow truck, you’re stuck. You probably won’t be able to overtake once you’ve slowed down too much. I explained this to Sini before she took the wheel. She did a great job of staying aware of the traffic situation and maintained our speed over the pass.

On the long downgrade to Medford, Sini made good use of the exhaust brake (sometimes called a PacBrake) and used good braking technique to avoid overheating the brakes. The exhaust brake helps to slow the coach. It’s not as effective as the Jacobs Engineering two-stage engine compression brake on our Alpine Coach, but it works well enough.

A little over ten miles into California, we hit the rest area at mile post 786. Sini had over an hour at the wheel and gained valuable experience handling the coach in the mountains.

Sini is all smiles at the wheel

Sini is all smiles at the wheel

I took over driving again when we left the rest area. It was familiar terrain as we drove through the mountains past Mount Shasta. Before we left on this trip, I wondered how the National RV Tradewinds coach would handle. It’s built on a Freightliner chassis and it’s powered by a Caterpillar 3126B six-cylinder diesel. The 3126B has a displacement of 7.3 liters (439 cu. in.) – smaller than the 8.9 liter (543 cu. in.) Cummins ISL in our Alpine Coach. The turbocharged 3126B provides 300 horsepower and 860 lb-ft of torque versus the 400 horsepower and 1200 lb-ft of our ISL. However, the Tradewinds is a lighter coach than ours by about 5,000 pounds. I found the power of the 3126B to be adequate and the handling of the Freightliner chassis was better than I expected.

One of the things that helps make the Tradewinds easy to drive is the shorter wheelbase compared to our Alpine Coach. The Tradewinds is about 36 or 37 feet long overall and has a wheelbase of 208 inches. Our Alpine coach is 40 feet overall and has a wheel base of 278 inches. The extra five plus feet between the axles is noticeable – the shorter wheelbase makes it easier to maneuver.

Our next stop was at the Olive Pit in Corning, California. This is a favorite stopping point for Donna and I – we always stop there when we pass through the area. We stretched our legs and shopped – I bought a couple of jars of bleu cheese stuffed olives. Sini and Linda made purchases as well.

I thought about stopping at the Rolling Hills Casino where Donna and I stayed last spring, but we wanted to get a few more miles under our wheels. Sini took over driving again when we left the Olive Pit and had the opportunity to drive through town and down a two-lane road. While she was driving, I was looking ahead on my smart phone. We wanted to stop somewhere with a sports bar so we could have a cold one and watch the Seahawks on Monday Night Football – Sini is a Seahawks fan.

I found the Colusa Casino about 60 miles down the road. I phoned ahead and found they offer free overnight RV parking and they had a sports bar. Bingo! Sini pulled into their parking area and we found a large, level gravel lot with striped pull-through RV spaces. Perfect! We put in about 330 miles for the day.

I was back at the wheel Tuesday morning and drove through Sacramento where we hit US99. This took us through Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and eventually Bakersfield. I told Sini I thought we could make it to Tehachapi and stay at the Mountain Valley RV Park where Donna and I stayed two years ago. We had a plan – but it was soon dashed. Sini found out the Mountain Valley RV Park was closed for the winter. Tehachapi  is nearly 4,000 feet above sea level and it gets cold in the winter.

Sini continued searching for a place to stay for the night. She found an Elks Lodge in Mojave, but no one answered the phone or returned her call. Then she found an Elks Lodge in Palmdale. The original plan was for Sini to get more driving time on Tuesday. However, once we decided to press on to Palmdale, I stayed at the wheel and kept our speed over 65mph. I wanted to get there before dark – remember the electrical problem with the taillights?

We didn’t make it before sundown and I drove the last 20 minutes with the lights on. The Elks Lodge in Palmdale had electric and water hook-ups in pull-through sites for $20. When we parked, Sini saw the taillights on the toad were working. It must have been a poor connection at the plug that worked itself out as we drove. We went into the lodge and had a drink while we watched the election returns. I had put in 400 miles and nine hours at the wheel. I was whipped. We had covered nearly 1,200 miles altogether and were less than 180 miles away from Mission Bay.

Wednesday morning Sini drove out of the Elks Lodge. She had the opportunity to drive through city streets then we hit highway 138. There was construction on this highway and Sini had to run the gauntlet. Concrete barriers were on the right side of the lane with no shoulder – only inches to spare on the right while she hugged the center line on the left. Oncoming trucks created pucker factor at times. This went on for a dozen miles or so.

Then we hit I-15 south and drove into heavy traffic in San Bernadino. We took the I-215 route – Sini was driving 60mph on an Interstate seven lanes wide. The right lane was filled with tractor trailer rigs. We were in the number two lane with cars flying past at 80 mph. At times she had tractor-trailers on both sides. We stopped for fuel in Menifee after a couple of hours of high stress driving. Sini had earned her wings – after that stretch, I thought she could drive the coach anywhere.

I drove the final leg to Mission Bay RV Resort. After she checked in, I told Sini she was driving – it was time for her to learn how to back in to an RV site. She had already looked a the site location and had a plan. She wanted to circle the park so the site entrance would be on the driver’s side. She felt more comfortable backing in from that direction. I went over hand signals with her and got out to direct her. She backed in and positioned the coach in one shot! No more driving lessons needed for this gal!

Sini, Linda and Ziggy at Mission Bay

Sini, Linda and Ziggy at Mission Bay.

You might be curious about sleeping arrangements on our road trip. Sini and Linda shared the bedroom in the back of the coach. I slept on a blow-up mattress in the living room with Ziggy on her dog bed. Ziggy is the mellowest creature – she never barked on the trip and slept quietly through the nights.

It was an exhausting road trip, but we accomplished what we set out to do.

Sini and me at Mission Bay

Sini and me at Mission Bay

Manby Hot Springs Adventure

We had fine weather on Monday and went out to explore. I worked out a route on Google maps that would take us on a loop to a few sights we wanted to see and bring us back to the Taos Mesa Brewing Taproom.

We rode through town around 11am and hit NM522. We took this state road to a county road marked B-007 which would lead us to the trailhead of Manby Hot Springs. The county road was paved for the first few hundred yards, then became a gravel road which quickly deteriorated into a rutted dirt road.

County road B-007

County road B-007

It was treacherous on the Spyder – we have less than five inches of ground clearance. I continued slowly and picked lines to keep us out of the deep ruts. I felt like the road was better suited for a mountain bike! The road was unmarked, I had to stop a few times and find my location on my smartphone before proceeding through intersections.

It took a while as I was only going 10-15 mph, but we eventually found the trailhead above the Rio Hondo River.

Rio Hondo River below trailhead

Rio Hondo River below trailhead

It was about a mile from our parking spot to the hot springs next to the river. The trail was steep and rocky in a few places, but it was mostly fairly easy going.

View of the Rio Hondo about half way down the trail

View of the Rio Hondo about halfway down the trail

Supposedly the movie Easy Rider used these hot springs as a setting for the swimming scenes at the hippie commune. I guess things can really change over the course of 45 years – the movie was filmed in 1968 – but the springs aren’t nearly as large as the pools in the movie.

Rock cairn by the Rio Hondo

Rock cairn by the Rio Hondo

Donna soaked in a pool that was supposed to be about 97 degrees but she said the water didn’t feel that warm.

Donna magically disappears in the hot spring

Donna magically disappears in the hot spring

We hiked about 30 minutes up the trail back to the Spyder. I decided to take a different route out of there. County road B-007 became Tune Road – according to the map – there weren’t any signs. If we followed it, it would take us to US64, about four miles down the dirt road. This turned out to be a better route. It wasn’t rutted, but I still had to keep our speed down due to the washboard surface. There were a number of nice, large adobe homes along this road. A UPS delivery truck passed us on the way out. I can’t imagine driving a UPS truck on these roads day after day.

We followed US 64 west to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. There’s a rest area on the southwest side of the bridge and several vendor tables along the roadside with native jewelry, gems and rocks, pinon nuts and spices. This is a popular stopping place to take in the view of the gorge from the bridge.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge

We walked out on the bridge. The bridge has a concrete sidewalk on both sides and viewing platforms in the middle. We took a selfie by the platform on the south side. It had an emergency phone with a direct connection to a suicide hotline! There have been a number of suicide jumps off this bridge.

Rio Grande Gorge viewing platform

Rio Grande Gorge viewing platform

We continued on US64 a few more miles to the radical Earthship Biotechture community. This is a supposedly self-sustaining community with functioning dwellings incorporating passive solar energy, thermal mass construction and integrated water systems. Water comes from rainfall, there are no wells here. Indoor gardens supply food sources.



Passive solar heat

Passive solar heat

Another Earthship

Another Earthship

Rain runs off the steel roof panel and down the channel on the right

Rain runs off the steel roof panel and down the channel on the right

The run off from the roof is directed to a catch basin and drained into a filtration system

The run-off from the roof is directed to a catch basin and drained into a filtration system


Thermal mass construction

Thermal mass construction

It’s a real oddity in the middle of nowhere. They have been here since the 1970s.

We rode back to Taos and stopped at the Taos Mesa Brewing Taproom. We had a late lunch/early happy hour with a really good wood-fired grilled pizza and a few samples of their excellent beer.

As we were getting ready to leave, a few raindrops started falling. We were able to take a back road and outrun the rain shower instead of sitting in traffic in town as the rain came down. Later, Donna went out for dinner with her friends, Kenton and Ricky Pass. I stayed home and watched Monday Night Football – it was double-header night.

On Tuesday morning, we prepared for the road and headed out of Taos Valley RV Park at 11am. We planned to find a boondocking spot for the night before we check in at Los Suenos De Santa Fe RV Park on Wednesday. We changed our plan on the fly a few times. We considered stopping in Espanola where we hit US285, then thought we would go on to a casino near Santa Fe. Espanola sits at an elevation 5,600 feet above sea level – we dropped down from 6,800 in Taos. We eventually decided on the Santa Fe Elks Lodge.

The description said there were two acres of RV space, no hook-ups. Plenty of room for big rigs. I usually look at Elks Lodges on Google Earth to confirm the best entry and where to turn around if necessary. I didn’t do this since we made the choice while I was driving.

I missed the first driveway but there was a second driveway 200 yards down the road. Another motorhome was behind us and followed us up the driveway. As I approached the lodge, I had to choose – stay right and drive in front of the lodge or go left around the lodge through a parking lot. I chose right since I wasn’t sure if I could get turned around in the parking lot. The motorhome behind us went left.

He made the better choice. I ended up making a tight left turn past the lodge where the road narrows and there were trees overhanging on both sides. In hindsight I should have gone straight and turned down the first driveway – then I could start over. But I didn’t. I tried to cut the turn as deep as possible but still ended up with tree branches on the left side of the trailer. I’ve driven over 6,000 miles with the big car carrier trailer without incident. Now, after the last two stops, I’ve put scratches on both sides of it! Dang!

We hung out at the lodge and had an uneventful night. In Santa Fe we’re back up to an elevation of 7,200 feet above sea level. Today we’ll move to the RV park for a weeklong stay in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The weather forecast looks favorable with the temperature in the 70s and a 20% chance of passing showers.

Eagle Nest Lake

We got a late start leaving the Elks Lodge in Colorado Springs. Donna wanted to go for a run in the morning. While she was out I puttered around and cleaned the HWH hydraulic leveling jack rams with WD-40. By the time we filled the fresh water tank and dumped and flushed the holding tanks, it was after 11am.

Our first stop was just a few miles down I-25 at the Walmart where I picked a couple of cases of drinking water and Donna bought a few groceries. Then we hit the road in earnest. A few miles down the interstate – near the field where Brad landed the Heart’s A’Fire on Saturday at the Mesa Ridge exit, there was a bad accident blocking the northbound lanes. It was a visual reminder to be alert and drive defensively. A smashed car was being loaded onto a flat-bed truck and a high-cube type delivery truck was lying on its side across the lanes. Traffic was completely stopped as the State Patrol directed all northbound traffic onto the off-ramp.

We’d decided to head down to the Cimarron Canyon area in New Mexico. Our route took us down I-25 about 160 miles to the New Mexico border at Raton Pass. This pass is part of the old Santa Fe Trail in the eastern Sangre de Cristo Mountains and has an elevation of 7,834 feet above sea level. On the south side of the pass, we encountered rain.

We stopped in Raton for fuel at a small truck stop. The pumps weren’t the high speed nozzles I’ve become accustomed to at Pilot/Flying J. It was just a standard automobile type and it took about 20 minutes to pump 63 gallons of fuel. I can usually fill up in five minutes or less using two high-speed nozzles.

About 10 miles south of there, we left I-25 and hit US64. This took us past the NRA Whittington Center and through the town of Cimarron. Donna found sites at Cimarron Canyon State Park that appeared to be big enough for our rig. She phoned the ranger and he told us we should check out the first campground – it had the longest sites. The State Park system here uses Reserve America for its reservation system. One of the issues I have with Reserve America is it doesn’t allow you reserve on the same day as you arrive – you must make reservations in advance.

Not all of the sites in New Mexico State Parks are reservable though. They keep a number of sites in each park available for what they call “walk-ups.” We were counting on snagging one of these. Since it was day after Labor Day, we expected most of the campers would have gone back to their workaday lives.

Before we got to Cimarron Canyon State Park, Donna found another park about 10 miles further down US64. It was called Eagle Nest Lake State Park. She hadn’t seen this park before and it isn’t listed on our Rand-McNally RV GPS. We decided to take a look at Cimarron Canyon, then proceed to Eagle Nest Lake and make our choice. Eagle Nest Lake sounded good – long pull-through sites with lake views.

The sites at Cimarron Canyon weren’t too appealing. So we continued on to Eagle Nest Lake (map). The entrance to the state park has a visitor center and a self-serve kiosk for day use and camping. At the stop sign, the sign above the kiosk warns not to enter the park without paying first. Here’s the thing – the self-serve kiosk at the entrance is about a mile from the campground. When you fill out the self-serve form, you’re supposed to enclose cash or check and drop it into a lock-box. So far, so good.

I filled out the form, then the last blank said to enter your site number. What? How could I know my site number if the campground is a mile away? Even if I’d been here before and knew what site I wanted, how could I know if it was open or if another “walk-up” had already taken it? The visitor center was closed, so we drove to the campground and made a couple of loops to check the sites out. We decided on site 16 – a 62-foot-long curved pull-through that easily fit our 64 foot rig. It also has our door facing the lake. Nice.

I drove back to the park entrance, Donna wrote our site number on the form and dropped it in the box. We paid for two nights but will likely extend. Campers are allowed up to 14 nights before they have to leave the park for a minimum of one week. We’re dry camped – there aren’t any  hook-ups here. The cost is $10/night and they have a fresh water fill station that we’ll hit when we leave.

We’re at an elevation of 8,215 feet above sea level, so It’s a lot cooler here. Plus light rain was still falling when we arrived so we didn’t get to explore.

Sunset at Eagle Nest Lake

Sunset at Eagle Nest Lake

Overnight the temperature dropped to the 40s and we were comfortable under our down comforter and blankets. It’s totally quiet here – almost eerily quiet after spending the past week in a city. I’m loving the change of pace.

This morning, it’s about 60 degrees as I type this at 10am. The expected high is 72 degrees with partly cloudy skies.

Lake view from our site

Lake view from our site

Another view from our site

Another view from our site

The camera perspective doesn’t do justice to our view. It’s a beautiful spot. Eagle Nest Lake has a small village a few miles from the campground. We plan to take the Spyder out and look the place over. At some point, we’ll head west on the Spyder about 30 miles to check out Taos, New Mexico.


Donna Sails Water and Wind

After watching the Moto GP race and napping Sunday afternoon, Donna made beef ragu over spaghetti squash for dinner. We had hit the hotel pool briefly before dinner and got the scoop on the night’s social event. Someone in the group – it seems like there’s a little controversy over how it came about – secured a reserved conference room on the third floor of the hotel for a round of Cards Against Humanity and other nonsense. We were in – we came back around 8:15pm to see what was up.

We found the conference room and the party was already rocking. After an hour and a half of this crazy game and adult beverages, I was feeling like I needed to bow out. Nothing good would come from the lack of sleep, physical work and abundance of adult beverages I partook in. I loudly announced it was time for me to hit the sack and found my way home. Donna soldiered on for another hour before the game ended, then she joined me. We hear things got interesting after that.

I slept like a rock until the alarm woke me at 5am. I got up and fired up the generator and started the Keurig coffee maker. Donna was up as well – she needed to ride to Memorial Park with me and the crew this morning as she was invited to take a balloon ride today.

At the park, we started with the morning pilot’s briefing as usual – Donna hadn’t been to this before. She discovered the pilot’s briefing includes donuts, bagels and coffee. The briefing was all positive and the weather outlook was good.

We walked back to our launch area, then stood around while our pilot, Brad, sussed out the wind conditions. The weather forecast at the morning pilot briefing has been suspect at best – in fact they were 100% wrong so far. Brad made the decision on how we would orient the envelope and we started laying out the equipment. Once again, we had a large crowd of spectators.

Crowd of spectators in our launch area

Crowd of spectators in our launch area

I don’t mean to brag, but I should add a footnote here. Our pilot, Brad, and the Heart’s A’fire balloon own a great advantage. We have a dedicated crew that works together, knows what needs to be done and how to do it, and each of us collectively take our stations in turn and get the job done. Many visiting pilots rely on volunteer crews that have never worked together or maybe never crewed a balloon before. Props to these volunteers – they’re needed and much appreciated by the ballooning community. But this scenario means the pilot must direct each step of the operation and double check all of the work. Of course, Brad inspects all of the critical work, but he’s in a position where he can work on public relations and think about the upcoming flight knowing his crew will have things ready. I’m proud to be part of this crew.

We set the equipment out and started the Honda gasoline powered fan to inflate the envelope. I take the left side (viewed from the basket) and Daren takes the right side. We have to hold the throat of the envelope open so the balloon can inflate. We also have to keep the balloon stabilized so it doesn’t start rolling from one side to the other as it inflates. The sponsor banner makes this difficult because it’s heavy and wants to roll to the ground.

As the balloon inflated, the ground wind kicked up. It was variable – coming from the west, then north and then northeast. As the balloon filled with cold air, the wind was trying to roll it away from me. I usually invite photographers and people with children to step up next to me during this phase so they can have a look up inside the balloon as it fills. Today it was spectacular as the top of the balloon has a heart that was backlit by the morning sun. I do this due to following Brad’s lead – he’s a huge ambassador for ballooning and encourages spectators to get up close and get excited.

I was soon unable to even think about the spectators as the wind tried to roll the envelope away from me. I spent the next 30 minutes wrestling the ropes to keep it from rolling over as we cold-filled the balloon with the fan – it was far more difficult than I’ve experienced.

Then Brad decided to fire up the burners and heat 90,000 cubic feet of air. We got the balloon upright. The next 45 minutes were agony for me. Brad kept the balloon inflated with bursts of flame, but it was just another static display. The winds aloft had a shear that would take the balloons north-northwest to restricted air or over the Gardens of the Gods. Sending 60 hot air balloons into restricted air space was a no-go and trying to land in the rocky Garden of the Gods would be a disaster.

Brad has the right temperament for a hot air balloon pilot. He was patient and kept the envelope inflated while I kept my weight on the basket rim. He said, “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were flying than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.” Finally Brad told Donna to get in the basket. Balloons were launching. We’d burned a lot of fuel by then, making the flight decisions more critical.

The launch controller came to our site and directed us out. Brad added heat to the balloon and the basket got light. We walked it out 20 yards while Brad hit the burners and they were off!

Donna's launch

Donna’s launch

Donna had a real treat. They flew over the ridge and trees, then descended into the lake at the park. Brad expertly dropped the balloon and had the basket floor two inches under water while Donna hoisted herself on the basket rim. They sailed the length of the lake – the balloon acting as a sail while the basket skimmed along. Then Brad hit the burners and they climbed above Colorado Springs. The winds aloft carried them to the northeast. I wish I could’ve captured a photo of the dunk in the lake, but we were dealing with crowds of spectators as we tried to follow in the chase rig.

After a while, we saw them descending back toward the park. Brad read the wind perfectly and had them on track to land near where they launched. By then, though, we were on the wrong side of the park and would have to run the gauntlet through spectators again to get to where they would land.

When Yonnie stopped the vehicle for spectators, I bailed out of the truck and said I would run to the landing zone. It was a little over half a mile, but I got there well before the vehicle could make it. The balloon was already down without incident. But here’s the thing – when I signed on to be a crew member, I felt it also meant I took on a responsibility. Every time that balloon goes up on my watch, I need to do everything in my power to make sure it and its occupants land safely.

Donna at the landing site

Donna at the landing site

The bummer is Donna’s smartphone. After take-off, it froze. The camera wouldn’t work. She had opportunities for fantastic shots as they sailed the water with reflections of balloons on the lake surface, but it wouldn’t cooperate and she was too taken in by the sights to mess with her phone/camera. I don’t blame her, but it was a bummer nonetheless.

Back at the hotel we said our goodbyes – until we meet again soon in Albuquerque. They were all looking forward to a night back at home in their own beds – that’s an advantage we enjoy. We’ve been home in our own beds the whole time and will be in Albuquerque as well.

We moved back to the Elks Lodge and need to figure out where we’re going next.



Bad Dry-Camping Etiquette

Life on the road can be full of fun and adventure, but’s that’s not always the case. Maybe I’m just being grumpy, but I won’t sugarcoat yesterday’s misadventures. We woke up to blue skies and the promise of a better weather day here in Colorado Springs. I still wasn’t feeling 100%. I have a cough left over from the bug I picked up and each time I cough, it sets a pounding headache for a few minutes.

I unloaded the Spyder. Our neighbor was checking the tire pressure on his Airstream travel trailer and found a tire with very low pressure. He asked me if I could locate a Goodyear dealer as he didn’t have wifi access. I found one three miles down the road. Then I looked the map over and found a route to the Hotel Elegante. That would be our first stop – a reconnoitering run before we move our rig there. From there, I looked at what appeared to be an easy route to Manitou Springs where we could do some touristy stuff. I wasn’t up for hiking Garden of the Gods which was the other option we considered.

Instead of jumping on I-25, I took the back way to the hotel down Las Vegas Street. I was looking for Janitell Road which would take me right to the hotel. Somehow I missed it. Then I was looking for Lake Avenue, not knowing it was called Circle Drive where it crosses Las Vegas Street. This changing of road names with no apparent logic would continue to get me. I ended up going way too far south and had to circle back until I found Lake Avenue west of the hotel.

We found the area where we’ll be allowed to park and scoped out our choices for a site. I also confirmed with the hotel registration desk – they told me I would just have to pay $35 for a pass and we would be good for Thursday through Tuesday.

When I checked out the route from the hotel to Manitou Springs, it looked pretty straight forward. Follow Lake Avenue west, then go north on Cresta to US24. Well, I should have looked at more detail. When Lake Avenue reaches the Broadmoor Resort, there is a series of roundabouts. In each roundabout, I encountered drivers that didn’t know how drive them. The rule is, the vehicle in the traffic circle always has the right of way and should keep moving. The vehicle entering the traffic circle must yield until there is a sufficient break to enter. I had drivers coming to a stop in the roundabout to let me or other vehicles enter, throwing the whole thing into chaos.

Anyway, at the first roundabout, I took the first right to stay on Lake Avenue.  But it wasn’t Lake Avenue, it was called Lake Circle. The next roundabout didn’t have an exit for Lake anything. There were two choices – Mesa or Mesa. I took the second Mesa and 300 yards later the road name changed to Park Avenue. I was confused. Another few hundred yards and now the road was called El Pomar. El Pomar hit Penrose at a T-intersection. I turned right on Penrose and the next thing I saw was a sign calling it Mesa Avenue! I tried to visualize the route in my head and use dead reckoning. This didn’t work so well as many of the roads go into box canyons with no exit.

We finally backtracked after looking at Google Maps on my phone and tried the other Mesa Avenue – we’d been on few roads called that by now with no sense of logic to it. Suddenly I was on Cresta. Yay! But then I missed US24 – just spaced it out. We ended up in Old Colorado City where I took the main drag – Colorado Avenue northeast. This was the right direction. After a while, Colorado Avenue became Manitou Avenue Business Route 24 and we found our destination.

Manitou Springs is a lively old west town. The main street had many shops, restaurants and pubs. There are also nice city parks and alleyways with merchants. We walked the main street and checked out menus and settled on a Mediterranean diner. I wasn’t feeling up to par. I ordered a Gyro but could only eat half of it. It was a little dry and could’ve used more tzatziki sauce.

Manitou Springs

Manitou Springs

The walk through town was taking a lot of effort for me. I hope I regain my strength – I’m due to start crewing for the Heart’s A’Fire hot air balloon on Friday.

Homes on the southwest side of town are terraced into the mountain side with steep entries

Homes on the southwest side of town are terraced into the mountain side with steep entries

Fountain Creek runs next to the sidewalk at Soda Springs Park

Fountain Creek runs next to the sidewalk at Soda Springs Park

We decided to head home after lunch. I had a much easier time finding my way home. We made a stop so Donna could buy some gardening tape to help support her tomato plant. When we pulled back into the Elks’ Lodge, I could hardly believe what I saw.

While we were out, someone decided to set up their travel trailer. Fine. There is lots of open space in the back lot.

Lots of open space

Lots of open space

More open space

More open space

But this guy decided he needed to be in the area right next to our door. He set up his travel trailer so were facing door-to-door ten feet apart. I could understand it if the lot was full, but he had a ton of space to choose from.

Our new neighbor

Our new neighbor

This is what you call bad dry-camping etiquette.

Our new doorstep view

Our new doorstep view

They weren’t here when we arrived and didn’t come home until 10pm when they fired up their generator and set out a grill and chairs. We’re pulling out this morning anyway, but I have to say some people have no sense at all.

Donna went for a bike ride while I took an afternoon nap and by chance met a guy who works for the parks commission and is an advocate for the bikeways in Colorado Springs. He was on his way to a meeting on his Tern folding bike with panniers. He apologized for lack of signage on the trails and pointed out recent improvements as they rode together for about 20 minutes.

I met with an insurance adjuster at 4pm. He was a nice guy and knowledgeable enough to see this was more than a cosmetic issue resulting from the deer colliding with our coach. I was happy to hear that as I was concerned that the insurance may try to downplay the issues. We’ll have to continue to work out how we’re going to get the fiberglass siding on the living room slide repaired.

It’s time to start packing the trailer so we can move on to the Hotel Elegante today.