Category Archives: Western RV/Alpine Coach


I was sitting outside watching the Sunday Night Football game and puffing a cigar when a guy walking by alerted me to an unusual sight in the clear, dark sky above. It was a rocket streaking by west of us, heading southwest. I called for Donna to step outside – we watched as its glowing trail sped away leaving a “V” shaped wake in the sky. It abruptly disappeared when it escaped the earth’s atmosphere. It was the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching a SACOM-1A Radar Imaging Satellite. The first stage had already separated by the time we saw it – I wish I could’ve witnessed that.

Other than that, we haven’t been up to anything too exciting. I play pickleball on Mondays and Wednesdays in Ocean Beach and Tuesdays and Thursdays in Pacific Beach. Donna joins me about 50% of the time. The weather has been pleasant – low 70s in the afternoons and cooling by about 10 degrees overnight. We’ve had more cloudy days than I expected though. September and October are usually fairly dry and offer up great beach weather. We haven’t had that so much this year. The humidity remains higher than usual with partly sunny and breezy afternoons. We can’t complain though – there’s been plenty of rough weather in the other parts of the country.

On Monday night, Donna grilled wild Coho salmon with ginger scallion topping and served it with grilled shishito peppers and baby bok choy. It was a great combination.

Grilled salmon, shishito peppers and bok choy

Monday and Thursday I meet up with the guys for a cold one at Dan Diego’s. On Tuesday and Friday we hit happy hour at Offshore Tavern and Grill. Tuesdays are Taco Tuesday at Offshore and it’s a treat. They have oversized tacos with your choice of steak, chicken or carnitas for $3. If you want fish or shrimp, it’s a dollar more.

Wednesday night Donna made walnut crusted tilapia which she served with green beans and acorn squash with sage and nutmeg.

Walnut crusted tilapia with green beans and acorn squash

Donna is still following the Bright Line Eating Plan, so she has to meet certain requirements on portions and proportions of protein, fat and carbohydrates. It hasn’t affected me too much – I think I’m getting more vegetables and fiber than I usually eat though.

Before this turns into a food blog, I’ll mention one minor project this week. One of the door catches on the laundry room – that’s what we call the utility closet housing our Splendide combo washer/dryer – broke. There’s an Ace Hardware in Pacific Beach that’s an old-time full service hardware store. They had the replacement part I needed and it was an easy repair.

Tomorrow Donna plans to spend the day with her 13-year old nephew Connor while her sister is away at a wedding in Los Angeles. She’ll be gone from morning until late at night. I don’t have a plan at this point. I’ll have to get used to it – on Tuesday, Donna is flying back to Vermont to spend some time with her parents and visit with friends she hasn’t seen in a long time. She has a girls’ weekend planned in Wilmington, Vermont with two college pals who met 38 years ago when they were on a foreign exchange program in England. And there’s also a reunion planned with a group of people she worked with at one of her first jobs. I’ll be on my own for two weeks. I better get another quick lesson on how to operate the Splendide washer/dryer!


Birthday Surprise

We’ve had a relatively quiet week here at Mission Bay RV Resort. Most of my days were consumed with pickleball. I played from 10am until noon or 1pm Monday through Thursday. Monday and Wednesday I played at the Ocean Beach Recreation Center. Tuesday and Thursday Donna joined me at the Pacific Beach Recreation Center. By Friday, my legs were heavy – I’m not used to this much time on the courts – so I took a day off.

On Wednesday morning, Donna went out for breakfast with her friend Jana. While I was at pickleball and she was at breakfast, we had a delivery. I wasn’t expecting anything and Donna sent me a text saying she picked up the package at the office. When I came home from Ocean Beach, I had a surprise. Donna gave me my birthday present a few days early. She and Jana had set up a flat screen TV in one of the basement compartments. Donna figured I would enjoy sitting outside in the evening to watch football and enjoy a cigar – great idea!

New outdoor TV

Friday evening Donna made a variation of the pizza chicken dish called Sheet Pan Chicken with mozzarella, grape tomatoes, red onion and pepperoncinis. She served it over spaghetti squash and with steamed baby spinach.

Sheet pan chicken

Saturday was my birthday. I’m officially an old guy – I qualify for Social Security and I can get a senior lifetime National Parks Pass since I’m 62 years old now. Donna ran in a 5k race in the morning benefiting the Wounded Warriors Project. We’d planned to spend the afternoon at the beach, but sometimes the best laid plans go awry. The day kind of got away from us. Around 2:30pm we set out to find rental electric scooters. There are a few companies providing these in San Diego and they are usually plentiful around Mission Bay and the beach areas.

I downloaded an App from a company called Bird. We found one scooter right here in the RV park after searching around for a bit. Then I found another one by the Mission Bay Boat Club. Donna had activated the first scooter with her phone and I tried to activate the second one. For some reason, my phone wouldn’t connect with the scooter and I couldn’t activate the rental. I found another scooter near Campland where someone had left it off the path in weeds. I couldn’t activate this one either – my phone wouldn’t read the bar code. By then it was 3:30pm and we gave up on the scooter and beach idea.

The weather for the last week hasn’t really been beach weather. Usually at this time of year, there’s a marine layer of moisture that creates cloudy mornings. It’ll burn off by noon and the afternoons at the beach are nice. So far this year, the cloudy skies have lingered on most days and it’s been breezy. The weather pattern is being affected by hurricane storms south of here. The humidity has been much higher than normal.

Donna grilled bacon-wrapped filet mignon for my birthday dinner. She smothered them with sauteed mushrooms and onions. It was delicious with a side of grilled broccolini with tomatoes and roasted delicata squash with feta cheese.

Bacon-wrapped filet mignon with mushrooms and onions

After dinner, I treated myself to a glass of 20-year-old Speyside Single Malt Scotch paired with a Perdomo 20th Anniversary Epicure Connecticut cigar. I sat outside and enjoyed the smoke and drink while I watched TV. Donna’s out for a training run this morning – she’s running in a 10k in a few weeks. I’m going to watch Moto GP racing from Thailand, then NFL action.

Dragon Boats on the Bay

It’s already time to turn another page on the calendar. Goodbye, September. Hello, October. We’ve been in San Diego for a week and it went by fast. We had some things to take care of – Donna and I both had dental appointments on Wednesday, We got an hour and a half of pickleball in on Thursday at the Pacific Beach Recreation Center. I had to leave by 11:30am because I had scheduled an appointment to have an estimate for new slide toppers at noon.

Last year I wanted to replace the slide topper on one of our bedroom slides. It was showing wear and tear and I had made a repair to a small hole in it. I had a quote from Shade Pro while we were here, but I didn’t realize how reasonable their price was. The slide topper is a fabric covering on a roller that attaches to the outside of the coach and extends over the slide-out when it is put out. It keeps debris and rain water from collecting on the top of the room slide. I didn’t have the topper replaced last year.

When we were in Mesa, Arizona, I had two guys give me quotes on the replacement. That’s when I realized I  should have had done it here in San Diego. One of the guys in Mesa couldn’t get the proper fabric for it. The other guy said he would have to order the fabric from Dometic and it would be over $400 for parts plus another $200 or so in labor. Shade Pro has a shop here in San Diego – Spring Valley actually – where they custom-make the fabric for toppers and awnings. They offer both high-quality acrylic material in a variety of colors or lower cost vinyl toppers. They quoted $189 for materials for high-quality acrylic fabric matching the color of our current toppers.

When Rich from Shade Pro came out on Thursday, I told him I wanted a quote to replace all three slide toppers. The living room slide is 16-feet long and that topper was more expensive. The price quoted was $189 for materials for each bedroom slide and $239 for the living room slide. Installation for all three was $240. Total price for all three – $857 plus tax. Way better than spending about $600 for one! I told Rich I wanted to go for it. He asked, “Will you be here tomorrow?” I said yes and he said he could be back between 11am and 1pm to do the work. I was surprised they would have the toppers made up that fast. He said he would call the order in and the shop would have the fabric ready to go by the morning.

Over the summer, we encountered numerous thunderstorms including high winds at times. A tear started in the bedroom slide topper and somewhere in Colorado it shredded. The other two toppers were beginning to rip at the seam where they join the metal casing on the coach.

Torn bedroom slide topper – looks like a bird added insult to injury

Donna had a lunch appointment in Old Town on Friday and I stayed home for the installation of the toppers. Rich showed up a little past noon and went to work. The large living room slide was stubborn and he spent about an hour removing the old fabric and installing the new one. The smaller bedroom slides were easier and he spent about 20 minutes on each one.

New Shade Pro slide topper

I’m really happy with the results and would recommend Shade Pro if you’re in southern California. They have added service in Yuma, Tucson and Phoenix too, although it may take a day or two to get the fabric there.

My high school buddy Gary Stemple invited us to go for a boat ride on Saturday. He picked us up here at De Anza Cove around 2:30pm. He had a center console type fishing boat about 22 feet long from Freedom Boat Club. We cruised to the south side of the Hilton Hotel where an event was being held. It was the 9th annual dragon boat races at Tecolote Shores Park.

Dragon boat enthusiasts at Tecolote Shores

Dragon boats are canoe shaped vessels with dragon heads on the bow. They seat eight to a dozen or more paddlers, a tillerman and a coxswain that usually beats a drum for cadence. They were racing four boats at a time in various categories – women’s teams, men’s teams and mixed. It’s a real workout as they paddle furiously – especially with the windy conditions Saturday afternoon.

Dragon boats on the bay

We cruised over to the Freedom Boat Club at Dana Landing. They were hosting a party with food and drink on the grass. It was a fun afternoon. It made me think of something I read somewhere – The ocean is my potion, I’m getting my vitamin sea. We’re happy to be back in San Diego.

Sea Lion near Dana Landing

Donna’s sister Sheila picked her up Sunday morning. They took the Sea Eagle kayak to Shelter Island and paddled on San Diego Bay. When they returned in the afternoon, Donna put the Sea Eagle back in the trailer and retrieved our Weber Q grill. They hauled the grill to our site in Sheila’s SUV. That’s one hassle about Mission Bay RV Resort – we have to leave our trailer in the lot outside of the RV park and shuttle gear back and forth.

Donna roasted a turkey breast from Sprouts on the grill along with shishito peppers and delicata squash. The delicata squash has a thin skin that can be eaten – you don’t have to scoop the meat out of the skin.

Grilled turkey breast, shishito peppers and delicata squash

The weather has been a little unusual. The daily highs have been in the low to mid 70s and it only cools to the mid 60s at night. The humidity level is higher than usual – around 70%. I think this is an effect of Hurricane Rosa to the south. High surf is expected over the next couple of days. Yesterday the temperature hit 80 degrees and we should see upper 80s today with an overnight low of 70 degrees. We might need air conditioners today!


Cat’s Eye Surprise

I haven’t posted for a full week and the days seem a little blurry. We’ve been on the move since we left Maine in July with only a few week-long breaks. We left Indio, California Friday morning and made a short run to Hemet. It was an easy drive west on I-10 to Beaumont where we hit CA79 south to Hemet and the Golden Palms Village RV Resort there. We’ve stayed at this place a couple of times and I always forget how tight the sites are. We had a back-in site where we dropped the trailer and parked our coach next to it.

Tight sites notwithstanding, this park has some amenities we like. First off is pickleball – they have four courts and are in the process of building six more. This early in the season, the courts aren’t crowded, but once the snowbirds arrive they’ll be full. Donna and I played on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings  and had a lot of fun. They also have three swimming pools – Donna enjoyed time relaxing and swimming. The weather was hot – 100-degree highs so pickleball was an early morning activity.

Friday night Donna made shrimp with fennel and feta for dinner – this is always a favorite. She served it over spaghetti squash – a major player in her Bright Line Eating Plan.

Shrimp with fennel and feta

On Saturday she went to Stater Brothers grocery store and bought pork chops. This is something we rarely have. She pan fried them and served them with cauliflower fried rice. Cauliflower rice is an interesting dish – it’s cauliflower that she shreds in her food processor and it then substitutes it for rice. It’s a pretty convincing act as the cauliflower fried rice tasted authentic. Again, this dish fits her eating plan.

Pork chop with cauliflower fried rice and broccoli

We had some difficulty maneuvering the trailer out of our site when we left Hemet on Monday morning. While I was looking things over and formulating a plan, I noticed the right rear tires had low air pressure. Our rear dual wheels are linked with a system called Cat’s Eye. This system uses an air hose attached to the valve stem in each of the dual tires. It has a valve that will isolate the tires from each other in the event of a sudden pressure drop, so if a tire blows, they both won’t go flat. It also has a yellow ball in the valve mechanism that’s split in half. When the tire is inflated to a pressure higher than the set point, the two halves of the ball close on each other and the ball looks solid. If the pressure is below the set point, the halves separate and look like a cat’s eye. This set-up allows me to inflate both rear duals at the same time and ensures they are at equal pressure.

Cat’s Eye system

I saw the cat’s eye and knew we had to be below 90psi. I assumed we had run over a nail or screw exiting our site. I checked the pressure and it was only 73psi – we run 95psi in the rear tires. I got our Porter-Cable air compressor out of the basement compartment and filled the tires to 97psi. I wasn’t feeling too good about it as I didn’t know how fast it was losing air. The tire was fine the day before.

As we pulled out of Golden Palms Village RV Resort, I remembered the Les Schwab tire store half a block down across Florida Avenue. I pulled in there. I asked a guy there if they work on RV tires – he said they did. I told him what the issue was and he had me park the coach on the side of their shop where they had a roll-up door and air fittings. They were on it right away. A guy jacked up the coach and removed the wheels. This isn’t easy – the lugs nuts are torqued down to 450 foot-pounds and it takes a large. heavy-duty pneumatic impact wrench. Then you have to manhandle the wheel and tire which weigh over 120 pounds each.

He dunked the wheels in a large water tank and couldn’t find a leak. He thought the Cat’s Eye was leaking, but he couldn’t test it.

Leak didn’t show in the water tank

I put my air pressure gauge on each tire to see if one had a lower pressure than the other. When I put it on the inner wheel, I saw bubbles blowing around the valve stem. I showed it to the guy. The valve stem had worked loose. I don’t know why it was loose and why the bubbles didn’t show when he dunked it, but it was definitely leaking. He fixed the valve stem and put everything back together. I asked him how much I owed and he said, “Nothing – just remember Les Schwab next time you need tires.”  I tried to give him a tip for the hour he spent wrestling with our wheels but he wouldn’t accept it.

By the way, our Toyo 295/74 x 22.5 tires have over 37,000 miles on them and they still look new. These tires routinely run 200,000-plus miles on commercial trucks. I’ll have to replace them in a couple of years due to age – motorhomes typically don’t wear tires out.

37,000 miles and the tread still looks new

We rolled down I-15 and made our way to the Elks Lodge in Chula Vista. We had one more night before we could check in at Mission Bay RV Resort. Tuesday morning we drove to Mission Bay but arrived too early for check-in. So we waited in the parking lot at De Anza Cove. Donna took the opportunity to ride the Spyder up Clairemont Drive to Sprouts and stock up on groceries. I’d reserved our favorite spot – site 112 and we pulled in right at 1pm.

Site 112

We say we don’t have a home base – we don’t own a house or have stuff in storage anywhere. But, this is our sixth year at Mission Bay and we stay here typically for three months. We also spend the rest of winter in Mesa, Arizona – another three-month stay. So, if we have a home base I guess it’s here or in Mesa.

Yesterday we had a few clouds and the high temperature was 73 degrees. Overnight the low was 63 degrees. Today we expect cloudy skies and a high of 72. The next few days should be a little warmer with clear skies. This is why we come here!


*Just so you know, if you follow one of my links to Amazon and decide to purchase anything, you pay the same price as usual and  I’ll earn a few pennies for the referral. It’ll go into the beer fund. Thanks!


The Heat is On

Last Friday, Donna and I rode the Spyder down from our camp site to Williams. Historic Route 66 runs right through town. It’s split into two one-way streets a block apart with most of the businesses on the eastbound street. The old downtown area is a mixture of old west and Route 66 memorabilia tourist traps. We walked the length of the district from 5th Street to Slagel Street – a distance of about six blocks and back before stopping for lunch at El Corral. I should have heeded the sign which proclaimed “Fine Mexican – American Food.” I have a rule to never eat at a restaurant that boasts Chinese – American cuisine – I guess that rule should extend to Mexican – American. My meal was average at best. Donna enjoyed her taco salad though.

The main drag through Williams

We packed up Saturday morning. We loved our boondocking site in the national forest here but we had a couple of reasons for moving on. First of all, we wanted to find full hook-ups so Donna could catch up on laundry. We had been without a sewer hook up since we left Cañon City. We don’t run the Splendide washer/dryer when we aren’t on a sewer hook up because it uses too much water and would fill the gray water tank. We also planned to meet up with friends and family before we hit San Diego, so we needed to allow a few days for that.

Our boondocking site was about 7,000 feet above sea level. This meant we had cool nights with the temperature dropping to about 50 degrees. We like cool nights with a window open and a down comforter on the bed. Our route west on I-40 was mostly a downhill run. When we reached Kingman, 100 miles later, we were at 3,000 feet. We stopped there to get the coach washed at a Blue Beacon truck wash. It turned out to be long wait – they only had one wash bay and we were seventh or eighth in line. It gave Donna a chance to fix a salad for lunch and an hour later we were on our way.

We left I-40 at exit 9 and took AZ95 south to Lake Havasu City. Lake Havasu sits at an elevation of about 500 feet above sea level. We drove to the Elks Lodge east of town which is higher ground – about 1,100 feet above sea level. The Elks Lodge had full hook-ups and plenty of space to accommodate us without dropping the trailer.

The lake below the Elks Lodge – photo from Donna’s early morning run

We traded high elevation for high temperatures. The weather in Lake Havasu was clear, sunny and hot. The daytime highs were about 105 degrees and it only dropped to about 80 degrees at night. We had both roof top air conditioners running full-time.

Donna cooked up a nice meal for dinner. She made chicken thighs sauteed in white wine with onions and herbs and served over roasted cauliflower slices with garlicky spinach on the side. Delicious.

Chicken thigh with onion and herbs over roasted cauliflower

Donna found pickleball in Lake Havasu City, so Monday morning we rode the Spyder to the community center and played several games. It was great – the players were all friendly, the games were competitive and we had a lot of fun. I’m really liking my new Paddletek Paddle.

We left Havasu Tuesday morning around 10 am and headed south to Parker, Arizona where we crossed the Colorado River and hit CA62 west. We took this quiet route through the desert – the road surface dipped and rose like a roller coaster through some areas. We were familiar with this route as Donna and I traveled it many times while touring on our motorcycles. There’s a stretch that runs parallel to a railroad track for miles and people have created graffiti out of light and dark colored stones and wood rail ties along the sides of the rail bed. It’s amazing how many people have taken the time to spell out their names or put up symbols in the middle of an otherwise empty desert.

If we continued west on CA62, we would eventually hit Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree National Park, but we turned off onto CA177 and veered south to Desert Center and I-10. This took us up to the divide at Chiriaco Summit which separates the Chuckawalla Valley from the Salton Sea basin at an elevation of 1,706 feet above sea level. From there it was mostly a downhill grade to Indio.

We stopped at the Indio Elks Lodge and have 30 amp electric service and fresh water. We are the only rig in their RV park. Our purpose for stopping here is to visit friends – Kris and Tom Downey. They spent about three years on the road and now live here. Kris picked us up and we went to see their new house, then went to dinner. It was taco Tuesday night. Kris and Tom picked up the tab – thanks again for the tacos and beer!

It’s a little cooler here at night than Havasu was, but we’re still in the desert. Today Donna is going with Kris up to Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs. They plan to poke around town and maybe do a little hiking – the elevation there is 5,400 feet above sea level so it should be cooler. I plan to make a Walmart run, then stay indoors and read – the temperature here will be around 100 degrees this afternoon. Tomorrow we’ll move on to Hemet, California.


Standing on the Corner

We were packed up and ready to roll out of the La Plata County Fairgrounds in Durango, Colorado before 10am Wednesday. Our first stop was only a few miles south of town as we made a short detour on US160 west to the Giant Travel Center. They have a free dump station there, so I dumped and flushed our holding tanks. I’d filled the freshwater tank before we left the fairgrounds. Full fresh water and empty holding tanks – that’s how we like to roll. While I was at it, I stopped at the pumps and topped up our fuel tank – they had a good price on fuel – $3.15/gallon.

Our route took us south on US550 to Aztec, New Mexico. This route follows the Animas River. At Aztec, we hit NM516 to Farmington. I attempted to make a stop at the Walmart in Farmington for provisions but the lot was fairly full and trees made it a challenge to maneuver through. We rolled on south on NM371. In hindsight, I wish we would have taken US64 west to Shiprock. The route south on NM371 entailed a shortcut through Navajo land on BIA5. You know what the deal is with shortcuts – they’re never easy. If it was easy it wouldn’t be a shortcut – it would be “the way.”

BIA5 had little traffic but the surface had some serious frost heaves. It was so severe that launching over a frost heave flung all of the clothes in our closet off the hanger rod! Eventually we hit US491, which is a good road, and made our way to Gallup. There were elevation changes along the way, mostly rising and falling between elevations of 5,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level. The wind picked up out of the west-southwest. We made our Walmart stop in Gallup – it had a much easier lot for us to park in.

From Gallup, we headed due west on I-40. This is high desert country – mostly scrub land with distant mountains and rock formations. Like most desert areas, it isn’t as flat as it appears. You travel through a series of basins – gently climbing out of a basin only to start dropping into the next one.

We gained an hour as we crossed the Arizona border. At this time of year, Arizona time is the same as Pacific Daylight Time. When the clocks change back to standard time, Arizona will be the same as Mountain Standard Time – Arizona doesn’t change their clocks.

We stopped for the day at the Elks Lodge in Holbrook. Holbrook isn’t the most scenic stop – it’s more high desert scrub. For some reason I was picturing Holbrook as more mountainous with pine trees – I guess I was thinking of Heber-Overgaard. We were the only rig there and had a quiet night. This Elks Lodge wasn’t very active.

We pulled the slides in around 9:30am Thursday morning. Ozark the cat had already assumed her new favorite traveling space under Donna’s seat. Ozark takes note of us making the coach ready for travel and hides under the passenger chair. We left her there for last several weeks as we travel and it seems to be less stressful for her to ride where she’s comfortable.

We made a stop 30 miles west at Winslow. Again I topped up the fuel tank at the Pilot/Flying J there, then we parked on the street by the historic La Posada Hotel. We took a walk through the historic district and I bought a breakfast burrito at Las Marias cafe – it was disappointing as it was mostly filled with potato. It had very little chorizo and I couldn’t find any egg in it.

Historic downtown Winslow

Second Street, pictured above, is the old Route 66. When I came through here in 1976 – hitchhiking my way from San Diego to Longmont, Colorado – this was the highway across Arizona and into New Mexico. I-40 didn’t exist here at that time. I remember the town as a small settlement maybe three or four blocks wide with a truck stop, a few shops and lots of Native American people.

Now Winslow relies on tourism and has gone somewhat upscale. I think it’s a little sad that the town’s claim to fame comes from the 1972 Eagles hit song “Take It Easy” written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey. Here’s a short excerpt from a Wikipedia post:

According to Frey, the second verse of “Take It Easy” refers to a time when Jackson Browne’s automobile malfunctioned in Winslow, Arizona, during one of his trips to Sedona, requiring him to spend a long day in Winslow. In 1999, in responding to the lyrics that made it famous, the city of Winslow erected a life-size bronze statue and mural commemorating the song at the Standin’ on the Corner Park.

Of course photo ops abound around the park.

Donna taking it easy

Me, standing on the corner

We continued west on I-40 and as we neared Flagstaff, we were finally in pine forests. Off to the northwest, we could see Humphrey’s Peak – at 12,633 above sea level, it’s the highest point in Arizona. People think Arizona is all desert with saguaro cactus, but the north part of the state along the Mogollon Rim is high country with forests.

We crossed the Arizona Divide at 7,335 feet above sea level and pulled off I-40 at Williams. The main road through Williams is again part of the old Route 66. Williams is surrounded by the Kaibab National Forest. Our intention was to find dispersed camping on public land here. Donna found a reference to a camping area at the Benham Trailhead. We found it, but there were several rigs in close proximity there. We locked up the coach and walked across Perkinsville Road to another forest service road called Dogtown Road. We found a few likely sites there.

Dispersed camping in this area is free and you can stay up to 14 days. You are supposed to camp within 30 feet of established roads and can’t bushwack your way into the forest. As we walked back to our coach, a guy camping near the trailhead offered some advice. He said the trailhead area was noisy – we figured as much with so many rigs there. He said to go down Dogtown Road and look for a site on the south side of the road. He told us that cars and ATVs travel the dirt road during daylight hours and kick up dust – which the wind carries across the north side of the road. We followed his advice and found a good spot. There was a small trailer already parked in this particular spot, but the woman traveler it belonged to invited us to pull in as she would be leaving in the morning. She and Donna had a nice chat yesterday afternoon and said their goodbyes this morning. We plan to stay for a couple of nights. We’re at an elevation of 7,200 feet above sea level.

Our spot in the Kaibab National Forest

Meadow view from our window

I’ve mentioned the Bright Line Eating plan that Donna’s following. The night before we left Durango, Donna grilled turkey burgers. I had mine on a toasted onion ciabatta roll with avocado slices. This is what a Bright Line Eating plan turkey burger looks like.

Donna’s turkey burger salad

Last night, Donna made blackened tilapia and served it with sauteed veggies. She added a serving of spaghetti alfredo to my plate. Even when we’re roughing it dry camped in the forest, we still eat well.

Blackened tilapia, sauteed veggies and spaghetti alfredo

After dinner, we sat outside. I puffed a cigar and we stargazed. There isn’t much of what astronomers like to call light pollution, so the sky was filled with many more stars than you’ll ever see in a city. The temperature dropped fairly quickly – the overnight low was in the upper 40s.

Today’s forecast calls for a high of 81 degrees. The wind will pick up throughout the day with gusts over 20mph this afternoon. Tomorrow should be more of the same after an overnight low around 50 degrees. I think we’ll move on to Lake Havasu City tomorrow where it’ll be warmer, but we’ll be on full hook-ups and can run the air conditioners.


Paddles and Trains

Donna and I were getting ready to head out for a bike ride Monday morning when I remembered she said pickleball was scheduled at the recreation center next to the fairgrounds. We changed our plan and decided to go play there. We’d last played at the end of July in Springfield, Illinois.

While we were at the Elks Lodge in Colorado Springs, I mentioned the Monaco Windsor motorhome behind us that was part of the shuffle as we had to reposition the big rigs in the lot. The Monaco moved to a site with water and electricity. The license plate on the Monaco read “PIKLBLL.” After the move, I met the owner, Ken Porter. We talked for a while and I found out he was a certified pickleball referee and also a rep for Paddletek, a supplier of pickleball paddles. He and his wife also carry a line of pickleball clothing and make pickleball themed jewelry.

Ken was having trouble with one of the slides on his Monaco. He suspected the circuit board controlling the slide was bad. To get to it, he needed to remove the chassis batteries. He told me he hurt his back and asked if I could help. The two chassis batteries weighed about 50 pounds each. I pulled the batteries so he could check out the circuit board. It was indeed faulty – a solid state relay on the board was bad. He said he had this problem once before and the boards were no longer available, but he thought he could repair it. I told him to let me know if he needed any help and I would re-install the chassis batteries.

The next day, he told me the board got damaged when he tried to de-solder the solid state mini-relay. A couple of traces on the board burned. Ken is a pretty sharp guy and he showed me a circuit he had drawn up to replace the circuit board. The purpose of the circuit was to reverse the current to the slide motor so it would extend the slide when the DC motor ran in one direction, then he could reverse the current with a switch to retract the slide. His circuit hard-wired two conventional Bosch 12-volt relays to accomplish this. I looked his drawing over and it looked good.

The next day, he had the parts and he wired it. It worked like a champ. While we were at it, we talked about pickleball. I found out he had several paddles that were demo models he used at pickleball events. Most of them were very lightly used. He also mentioned that he custom wraps the grips on the  handles to fit the size of your hand. He said that a grip that was too large or too small in diameter can cause elbow pain right where the top your forearm joins the humerus. I’d been having this issue.

He checked the grip on my paddles – they were too small for my extra-large hands. I asked him if we could check out some of his Paddletek paddles. He set up a small single-wide net so Donna and I could try some paddles. I ended up buying new paddles for Donna and me. I liked the Paddletek Tempest Wave and Donna liked the Paddletek Bantam TS-5. I checked online and the Wave was going for $130 and the Bantam was $100. He gave me a package deal – both for $100. Can’t beat that deal. He re-wrapped my grip to fit my hand – Donna’s was just right for her.

New Paddletek pickleball paddles

We were anxious to try out the new paddles and this was our first opportunity. At the rec center, they had three indoor courts. We hadn’t played at all in several weeks and hadn’t played indoors since we left San Diego. The group we played with were intermediate level. Donna and I started off a little rusty. Plus, we found the new paddles to be more powerful than what we were used to. I think the thin air here at 6,500 feet above sea level also caused the ball to fly longer than we expected. We soon settled down and played several close matches and had a lot of fun. My elbow didn’t bother me at all.

I should mention Sunday’s dinner. Donna made a favorite with a new twist. She served beef ragu over spaghetti squash presented in the squash shell. It was a nice presentation and an excellent meal with fresh corn on the cob we picked up at the farmers’ market in Montrose Saturday morning.

Beef ragu over spaghetti squash

After a couple of hours of pickleball, my left foot was sore. I have pain near the ball of my foot toward the center, so no more pickleball for a while. Last night, Donna made pan seared salmon with ginger scallion topping, garlic cauliflower mash and fresh green beans.

Pan seared salmon with ginger scallion topping

This morning I got my Specialized Crave mountain bike and Donna’s knock around hybrid out of the trailer. We rode the Animas River Trail – a paved multi-use trail – to historic downtown Durango. We visited the train depot and museum. The museum is free and well worth the time.

Click to enlarge and read if you’re so inclined

The museum had much memorabilia – not all of it train related. They had restored old automobiles along with several rail cars and a Curtiss Model D airplane hanging from the ceiling.

Curtiss Model D Headless Pusher circa 1911

This is where the engineer controlled the steam locomotive – looks complicated

Donna on a luxury private car

Durango train depot

Train rides usually leave the depot to go up the narrow-gauge rail along the Animas River to Silverton. However, a mudslide a few months ago damaged the rail line, so if you want to ride the train you can get on a bus at the Durango Station. The bus takes you up to Rockwood Station where you can board and make the round-trip to Silverton, then catch the bus back to the station. We opted to pass on shortened route – it costs $89/person for a coach class ride.

The Animas River Trail is a nice bike ride. It was about three miles each way to downtown and back. It follows the river and rail line.

Path crossing the Animas River

Railroad bridge on the river

The temperature is in the low 80s this afternoon – about the same as it’s been all weekend. We’ve come to expect a passing thundershower in the afternoons. I’ll load the bikes and straighten out the trailer as we plan to move on tomorrow.

Million Dollar Highway

After our excursion to Black Canyon National Park, we were kicking back when I heard the sound of drums. Then I heard a bass picking up the beat, soon a few other instruments joined in. I walked across the Elks Lodge parking lot and saw a stage had been set up at the golf course across the street and a band was doing sound checks. Donna checked online and found a concert series sponsored by the city of Montrose with their last performance of the season scheduled for that evening – right across the street from the Elks Lodge! Two bands were scheduled to play and admittance was free.

First act onstage

We brought a blanket and sat on the grass. They had beer from a local brewery – Horsefly Brewing where we had lunch earlier – and a few food trucks. The first band was loud and played some original music and spacy covers of material that was almost unrecognizable. They were good – the lead guitarist seemed to be from the Frank Zappa school with chromatic scale solos hitting about a thousand beats per second. The second band also had original takes on covers that featured a reggae or ska beat. They had a horn section with a trombone, saxophone and trumpet. Good times.

Saturday morning we went into town for the farmers’ market. Donna wanted to stock up on veggies. I expected to find hot breakfast there, but there wasn’t any food service at 9am. I ended up walking to City Market for a plate of biscuits and gravy.

It was time to light the fires and kick the tires and we headed out shortly before 11am. Our route took us down US550 south. We wouldn’t leave this highway until we reached Durango. About 40 miles south of Montrose, we made a stop at Ouray. This small town is tucked in a narrow valley with towering mountains and canyon walls surrounding it. It sits at an elevation of about 7,800 feet above sea level. I found parking on the side of the road on the north end of town.

Parked in Ouray

It looks like we’re parked uphill – we were! Nothing is level in Ouray. We walked through town – uphill and checked out the shops. Crossing Main Street was also an uphill walk – the road crown is incredible. We popped into a shop along the way. Donna found a purse she couldn’t leave without and I bought a T-shirt.

Purple Peacock building in Ouray

US550 south of Ouray is known as the Million Dollar Highway. It’s a fairly challenging drive with steep grades, narrow lanes without shoulders and sharp curves and switchbacks. Speed advisories of 15mph on the switchbacks were the norm and we even saw one curve with a 10mph advisory. The speed limit is only 30mph for much of the way – it made me wonder why a slow vehicle turnout was necessary. We started with a steep climb out of Ouray and immediately passed through a tunnel – it was marked 13’10” clearance so we were okay.

13’10” clearance

Donna shot a few photos of her windshield view. I was concentrating on the road and didn’t get to see much of the views which she said were spectacular.

Fall colors

This high up in the mountains the aspen trees were already displaying fall colors.

Red Mountain – above the tree line

The first summit was the highest – Red Mountain Pass at 11,018 feet above sea level. From there we dropped into Silverton only to climb again to Molas Pass at 10,910 feet above sea level. After dropping down from Molas Pass we climbed again to Coal Bank Pass at 10,640 feet above sea level.

Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel

From there it was a downhill run into the Animas River Valley. We saw a runaway truck ramp and I commented on how it must be a heart-pounding moment when a driver decides to leave the highway and plow into a gravel trap.

A little while later, I thought I caught of whiff of something I didn’t like. I casually asked Donna to crack her window open. I smelled it again – hot brakes. I was perplexed. I hadn’t used the brake pedal all that much – I relied on the Jacobs Engineering Engine Compression brake most of the way. The Jake brake works well at controlling our downhill speed – I only used the service brakes for some of the sharper turns.

I slowly applied the brake pedal and my heart was in my throat as the pedal sunk to the floor, barely slowing us down. The brake fluid must have been boiling. There wasn’t any traffic to speak of, so I wasn’t too worried about having to make a sudden stop. But we were only about 10 miles from Durango and traffic would surely build and we would have to stop in town.

I still hadn’t said anything to Donna. I saw a slight uphill grade ahead with a wide shoulder. I slowed down with the Jake brake on high. I pulled off and pumped the brake pedal to build some pressure and got us stopped. Donna didn’t know what was up. I went outside and found the right front brake was overheating – the caliper must have stuck and been dragging. I told Donna what the issue was. I didn’t want to alarm her by telling her of the trouble before I got us stopped.

I let the brakes cool for a bit, then reversed and tried stopping. The brakes were fine. I had reversed to look for any sign of fluid leaking, but our spot was dry. We got back on the road. The brakes were back to normal and the caliper didn’t seem to be dragging. I’ll have to look into it further.

We’re at the La Plata County fairgrounds in Durango. The office is closed on the weekend but Donna made prior arrangements to reserve site 2. We maneuvered through the crowded parking lot without too much trouble and went past the rodeo arena, dropped the trailer and set up. We’ll pay up on Monday. The weather forecast calls for sunny days with highs in the low 80s and overnight lows in the high 40s. A passing shower is always possible around here, but no significant rain is in the forecast.

Rocky Mountain High

Wednesday night was our second and last night at Mountain View RV Resort outside of Cañon City. Donna prepared a Moroccan chicken kabob dinner she served over grilled veggies and rice (brown for me, cauliflower rice for Donna). We really like Mountain View – the park is well-maintained, clean and quiet and set in a beautiful location. And the owners are super nice.

Chicken kabob

Thursday morning as we prepared to leave I looked at the low clouds obscuring the nearby mountain top with some trepidation.

Low clouds

Our route across the Colorado Rockies would take us west on US50 over Monarch Summit at an elevation of 11,312 feet above sea level. I was concerned that we might encounter low visibility and there’s always the chance of sudden thunderstorms with heavy rainfall and high winds. We left a little after 10am to get over the pass by noon – the thunderstorms usually form in the afternoon. We started out at an elevation of a little over 6,000 feet above sea level, but quickly dropped into the Arkansas River gorge about 1,000 feet lower.

The scenery was breathtaking as we climbed. The last four miles to the summit are a relentless 7% grade. Driving big rigs at altitude can be difficult. Steep climbs at high elevation hit you with a double whammy. The air is thin, reducing power output at a time when you need all the power you can get. This is especially troublesome with naturally aspirated engines relying on atmospheric pressure to fill the combustion chamber with air. I’m not aware of any gasoline powered coaches that have forced induction (i.e. supercharging or turbocharging). Our Cummins ISL diesel has a turbocharger that can mitigate the effect of the thin atmosphere.

But, there are limitations. The Holset turbo on our engine is sized for performance, including excellent throttle response and good power output. However, at elevations above about 9,000 feet above sea level, it can’t completely overcome the lack of oxygen. At lower elevations under normal atmospheric conditions, it produces a little over 25 psi of boost, packing air into the combustion chamber to allow peak power. The last four-mile grade to Monarch is above 9,000 feet and we only developed about 20psi of boost. Turbochargers with larger compressors are commonly used in piston-engine aircraft for power output at high altitude, but those engines typically run at a constant RPM and throttle setting. A large compressor wheel on a motor vehicle would result in a lag in throttle response, poor drivability and a very narrow powerband.

I dropped the transmission down to third gear and let our speed fall to just under 40mph with the engine spinning 1,900 rpm. This kept the big radiator cooling fan turning quickly and also had the water pump spinning, moving the coolant quickly through the engine and radiator. The coolant temperature held at a steady 195 degrees.

Once we reached the summit, we quickly dropped about 3,000 feet of elevation. I used the Jacobs Engineering compression brake (Jake brake) to hold our speed down on the rapid descent. We didn’t encounter any adverse weather conditions and had great visibility over the top.

Our route took us past the Blue Mesa Reservoir at an elevation of about 7,500 feet. We had another short, steep grade up to Cerro Summit at 8,042 feet above sea level where we had full power and held good speed.

Our destination was the Elks Lodge at Montrose, Colorado. We arrived by 2:30pm after fueling up in town. We set up a dry camp in their lot before a thundershower came in. We had a quiet evening with passing showers. I watched some of the US Open, then turned to the first NFL game of the season. It was a bit of a yawner from my point of view.

This morning, I unloaded the Spyder and we headed out –  backtracking on US 50 about seven miles, then turning north on CO347 to the entrance of the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park. It was about 15 miles total to the park entrance. Black Canyon was designated as a National Monument in 1933  and redesignated as a National Park in 1999.

Black Canyon was formed through erosion from the Gunnison River. The river drops an average of 34 feet per mile through the entire canyon making it the fifth steepest descent in the country. At Chasm View, it drops 240 feet per mile. By comparison, the Colorado River drops an average of 7.5 feet per mile through the Grand Canyon.

Black Canyon has steep walls – nearly vertical in most areas. The average drop from the rim to the bottom is about 2,000 feet. We followed the south rim trail and made several stops to hike to viewpoints and take a few photos.

I tried to capture the fall-like colors on the mesa above the canyon. The scrub oak, balsam and berry plants had various shades of red, yellow and orange. The mid-day sun washed the color out of the photos.

On the way out, we turned off at East Portal Access Road. This steep road drops all the way down to the river. It has to be one of the steepest roads I’ve been on with tight turns and a rough surface. It was slow going. Donna likened it to an amusement park ride.

It’s no joke – I think it was steeper than 16% in places

At the bottom, there’s a pool where they divert water from the Gunnison River through a long tunnel to irrigate land around Montrose. The tunnel, built between 1905 and 1909, is 5.8 miles long and it’s been in use since then. In the winter when the water is low, the tunnel is closed off for inspection and maintenance.

Pool in the Gunnison River near the diversion tunnel

We came back to town famished around 1:30pm and stopped at the Horsefly Brewery for burgers. I paired my Southwest Burger with a red ale. Donna had her burger without the bun.

Tomorrow morning we’ll continue our two-night stop-over plan with a drive to Durango. We plan to make a short stop in Ouray – the locals here in Montrose pronounce it YOU-ray – to look around. Then we’ll continue south on the Million Dollar Highway over Red Mountain Pass at an elevation of 11,018 feet above sea level. We plan to stay at the fairgrounds in Durango for two or three nights.





Cañon City and Royal Gorge

I mentioned Donna’s Bright Line Eating Plan in an earlier post. It involves weighing food portions and also getting the required proportions of protein, grain, veggies and fat. That doesn’t mean we don’t eat well though – sometimes Donna tweaks things for my serving and it’s all good. Monday night Donna made a meal called pizza chicken. For this recipe, she fileted a chicken breast then pounded it flat – this takes the place of a pizza crust. She topped it with marinara sauce, pepperoni and shredded mozzarella cheese. She served my plate over spaghetti noodles while she used spaghetti squash for her serving.

Pizza chicken

Tuesday morning we said our goodbyes to Dave and Stilla and hit the dump station before leaving the Colorado Springs Elks Lodge. We were out of there before 11am and made a stop at the Walmart on the south side of town. Later, Dave sent me a photo Stilla took of us in the lodge Saturday night.

Donna, Corliss, Marvin, me and Dave (Stilla Hobden photo)

Our route took us down CO115 to US50. We lost elevation as we made our way to Cañon (say “canyon”) City. Cañon City sits at 5,343 feet above sea level. Our destination was about 7 miles northwest of town where we’re at an elevation of 6,300 feet above sea level. It’s a steady grade after you head out of town.

We stopped at Royal View Campground – they have the highest Good Sam rating you can get – 10/10/10. We weren’t impressed. The entry was narrow and the sites weren’t level. We left and backtracked a few miles to Mountain View RV Resort and we’re glad we did. This is a very nice park with level sites – we’re in a long pull through. The campground is covered with pea gravel and the sites have concrete pads with picnic tables and fire rings. It’s super clean and quiet and the views are great.

Donna manned the Weber Q  and grilled pork tenderloin she seasoned with cumin, allspice, and cinnamon and she served it with roasted Brussel sprouts and acorn squash. We didn’t go anywhere as the clouds were threatening and it was windy – thundershowers came through into the night.

Pork tenderloin

This morning we headed out on the Spyder and rode to the Royal Gorge Park just a few miles away. The Royal Gorge is a narrow canyon – about 300 feet across at the top – with a maximum depth of 1,250 feet. At the park, there’s a suspension bridge crossing the gorge and also a gondola and zip lines. We passed on the $27/person fee to get to the bridge and gondola and hiked the rim area instead.

The Royal Gorge was cut by the Arkansas River which  originates here in Colorado and flows southeast through Kansas, Oklahoma and – you guessed it – Arkansas where it drains into the Mississippi River. The end of the gorge is outside of Cañon City – about two miles west from the center of town. It’s about six miles long in a northwesterly direction and ends near US50.

Royal Gorge suspension bridge on the right, red gondola crossing in the center

Arkansas River in the Royal Gorge from the Rim Trail overlook area

Donna at the Rim Trail overlook area

An old locomotive – engine 499 built in 1902 – is displayed outside the Royal Gorge visitor center. The train never ran up at the top of the gorge – the narrow gauge track runs along the bottom alongside the Arkansas River. They have a two-hour tourist train ride through the gorge from Cañon CIty.

We left the Royal Gorge and rode the Spyder back down US50 toward Cañon City and cut off at Skyline Drive. This is a one-way route built in the 1930s with the use of prison labor from the Colorado Penitentiary. It heads southeast up a hogback ridge of sandstone and ends in Cañon City. It’s a little under three miles long and has several pullouts on the narrow one-way road. The road doesn’t have guardrails and the ridge drops steeply from either side.

Narrow road, no guardrails

Pullout on Skyline Drive

The road ahead from the seat of the Spyder

View of Cañon City from Skyline Drive – historic downtown in upper center

We stopped on Main Street in old downtown Cañon City and walked around.

Historic downtown Cańon City

Before we came back home, we stopped at Walmart for a couple of things we forgot to buy in Colorado Springs.

The high temperature today was about 72 degrees with a few afternoon showers and brief periods of sunshine. Tomorrow we plan to head west. The forecast looks favorable although sudden thunderstorms can happen at any time in the high mountains. We will certainly be in the high mountains as our route west will take us over Monarch Summit with an elevation over 11,000 feet above sea level.