Saturday, March 22, 2014

A desert vacation in Quartzsite, Arizona

My brother, Larry, is a rockhound from way back. He and his wife Terry went with us to the Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson last winter and at that time we discussed the possibility of going to Quartzsite.  We realized that it would be a different kind of camping than we were used to. It would be "boondocking", camping without sewer, water and electrical hookups.  It would also be camping where we wanted to (almost) and not where we were told to.  We could choose to camp in one of several Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs) operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or we could avoid those areas and find our own private campsite with as many or as few neighbors as we wanted.  We opted for seclusion.

Quartzsite is well known by snowbirds all over North America as a boondocker's paradise and as a result the LTVAs can get really crowded there in the winter months. The site we found was away from them. About eight miles south of town we found a gravel road that followed a pipeline easement. We took that west about a half mile across BLM land and there we found several areas of desert pavement that made perfect campsites. 

Desert pavement, or desert asphalt as it is sometimes called, is an area of small rocks that have naturally settled into a relatively smooth, level and stable surface. It can vary in size from a few square yards to thousands of square yards and there are untold numbers of places to camp. These areas are public land and you can camp there for free. The LTVAs are on public land also, but access is controlled at an entrance gate and there is a user fee associated with them.  The LTVAs offer a place to get water, unload holding tanks and dispose of trash.  The cost is $40 for two weeks or $180 for the season.  The open areas don't offer those services, but there are plenty of places in town where you can get them for a minimal fee.

Our campsite was nestled among several saguaro cacti and adjacent to a dry wash.  We had no neighbors, no traffic, no dust and, of course, no rain.  What we did have was a week of peace and quiet, a shady dry creek bed for daily walks and exploring, millions of stars at night, lots of time for cooking, cocktails,  visiting, and naps.  We made a couple of trips to town for shopping at the many vendors there, fresh water, and lunch at the Quartzsite Yacht Club!  That's right, a yacht club, and the closest body of water is miles away.

We spent about week there, then started back towards Albuquerque where Larry and Terry would catch an airplane back to Austin.  On our way back we stopped for a couple nights at Sky City Casino.  We aren't casino people, but it was convenient, uncrowded and  close to El Malpais National Monument, which we wanted to visit. 

We spent a day exploring the area before continuing on to Albuquerque.  We dropped off our fellow campers and continued on our way back home to Angel Fire where we would have to re-winterize the trailer until next time.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

What a trip!

Well, this trip is just about finished.  We spent last night in Oklahoma City and today we drove to Amarillo where we will spend the next two nights before continuing on home to New Mexico.  
Back in Amarillo it was another beautiful evening. 

We put about 8000 miles on our rig, so it needs an oil change. After towing the trailer through the Adirondack, Appalachian, Great Smoky and Ozark Mountains, it needs new brake pads as well.  So, Monday morning is going to be spent at the Ford dealership.  Tuesday morning is scheduled to be spent at the KZ dealer for a new awning to be installed.  During a rain shower we discovered that the awning had received some hail damage during last spring's hail storm in Amarillo. 

View of Lake Ontario from Four Mile Creek Campground. 

All in all it was a fantastic trip.  Some long days of driving, to be sure, but some great memories.  We saw how RVs are built and had ours repaired.  

Building RVs from the ground up. 

We saw three of the Great Lakes, Niagara Falls, and Boston, the birthplace of American independance.  We walked in the footsteps the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock; of Paul Revere, John Hancock, Sam Adams and countless other patriots.  
Site of the Boston Massacre which helped start the American Revolution. 

We saw the eastern US mountain ranges, Chesapeake Bay, the fall foliage that New England is famous for, and of course our kids and grand kids.  

We drove miles down the Eastern Seaboard on US 1. We enjoyed lobster in Portland, Maine, Lienenkugel beer in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, St. Julian wine in Paw Paw, Michigan, Ben and Jerry's ice cream, Green Mountain coffee and maple syrup in Vermont. In Amish country we bought Gugisberg cheese in rural Indiana and farm fresh vegetables from the flea market in Shipshewana.  In Upstate New York we bought apples from a roadside fruit stand operated by an immigrant who barely spoke English, but was proud just to be here.  We visited L.L. Bean's Flagship Store, Outlet Store and Home Store as well as other outlet stores in Freeport, Maine.

We spent nights in private campgrounds, state parks and parking lots. We spent some nights at various Cabela's stores and some at Cracker Barrel restaurants.
Dawn at Cabela's. 

Staying at Cracker Barrel usually resulted in letting them prepare breakfast for us the following morning.  Almost every breakfast they prepare includes grits and I came to the realization that I still don't understand grits. Where do they come from and what are they for?  They must have been invented by someone who was really, really hungry and had nothing else to eat.

We decided that our next trip might last as long as this one, but it would entail less driving and more camping. The only place where we spent more that 3 nights was in Shipshewana and that was because we were having repairs made first and attending the owner's rally later.  

We made some new friends along the way and look forward to meeting up with them somewhere down the road.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Quiet Power

Generating electricity without making a lot of noise is the goal of most people using a generator in their RV. Most campers want the convenience of electricity without the noise of a generator working, so searching for the best combination of low decibels and high wattage production can become a time consuming ordeal.  

Another factor to consider is fuel type.  Gasoline powered generators have a broad range of wattage capabilities and prices.  Gasoline is readily available and inexpensive, however, it has a relatively short shelf life and will gum up the fuel system if left in during storage.  Propane, on the other hand, has an indefinite shelf life but the generators are often noisier and more in the mid to upper end of the price spectrum.  Extra propane can be stored without fear of it getting old.  Diesel generators can be very quiet and the fuel is more stable but the generators tend to be less portable.

A third consideration is intended  use.  If you expect to run an air conditioner or heater, power tools, toaster, etc. you can get by with a simple generator.  On the other hand, if you may be powering sensitive electronic devices like computers or newer TVs, then you will want an inverter type generator.  These cost more but produce "clean" electricity which will allow electronic devices to perform properly.

After considering my needs I chose the Honda 3000is. It is an inverter type 3000 watt generator and runs on gasoline. I add Sta-Bil to the fuel to extend its life.  Yamaha offers a line of inverters similar to the Hondas.  Ryobi has a 2200 watt inverter that, like the Honda and Yamaha can be combined with a second unit to produce twice the wattage. The Ryobi unit costs about half as much as the others but it is new on the market and its quality is yet to be determined.

I mounted the generator on a receiver hitch type cargo carrier and secured it with a ratcheting tie down strap and a locking cable.  The power cable for the trailer can be extended from the back of the trailer adjacent to the generator so we could conceivably be pulling the trailer down the highway with the generator running and powering the air conditioner. 

While staying overnight in New Haven, Connecticut we saw these bad boys quietly working.

They are hydrogen powered fuel cells capable of generating 200 kilowatts.  My Honda produces 3.  The noise level was about the same or less than the Honda.  There was no exhaust smell, only a little steam cloud.  They supply the energy for the entire Cabela's campus.  It was pretty unbelievable.

Research, research, research.  If you find one you think you like, try to get the dealer to start it up for you so you can actually hear it run. Sometimes their idea of quiet and your idea of quiet aren't the same.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Small States - Big Color

As we drove away from Plymouth Rock with our souvenir chunk we had chipped off while no one was looking....OK, just kidding. Our souvenir parking ticket was all we took with us, along with some memories and photos.  We left Massachusetts behind and began a convoluted marathon day of driving. We wanted to stay off I-95 through New York City as we had been warned by fellow RVer's that the condition of the road was deplorable and had caused damage to their vehicle and some of the contents of their RV.  Even more of a concern was pulling the trailer through there in afternoon traffic.

The other matter to contend with was the fact that there were still four states we hadn't made it to and they were along the way to our son and daughter-in-law's home in Crystal City (Arlington), Virginia, where we intended to spend a few days.  Our GPS kept insisting we take I-95, so it became one of those times when we were really sorry we didn't have a paper map on hand, especially in New Jersey.  Usually when we crossed a state line we stopped at the first visitor center and got a map.  New Jersey was not so accommodating, so we were paperless.  In addition to that inconvienience, I had put my handgun in the trailer for this excursion through the state who thinks no law abiding citizen should possess one.  Therefore, as badly as I wanted to, I was unable to shoot the GPS. 

We routed ourselves through Rhode Island and Connecticut where we saw probably the most beautiful foliage of the entire trip.  We entered New Jersey needing fuel and following our Gas Buddy app's advice we wound up on the Jersey Turnpike, AKA I-95, and got into an argument with the gas pumpers at the fuel islands.  This must be some kind of union job because in New Jersey you can't pump your own fuel.  By law someone else gets paid to do it and you have no choice in the matter. Go figure.  It would be nice if they spoke English because we had no friggin' idea what they were telling us to do.  Imagine a whale swimming upstream against a thousand minnows and someone directing traffic in an African dialect.  You get the picture.  Anyway, that incident is fodder for another post entirely.

We managed to get out of New Jersey without any bloodshed, crossed through a little of New York and Pennsylvania then back into New New Jersey before entering Delaware.  We traveled out to Rehoboth Beach on the Atlantic shore and stopped at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant, whom we had previously called and made arrangements with to park on their lot.  At the beach we saw a couple of the thirteen observation towers which were constructed during WW II to protect the Wilmington Shipyard from potential attack by the Nazis.

Without a cloud in the sky we left Delaware and set out for Virginia.

Crossing Chesapeake Bay on the bay bridge while pulling a 5th wheel travel trailer on a windy day  required total concentration.  Because of its height, the narrowness of the spans (there are no hard shoulders), the low guardrails, and the frequency of high winds, it is known as one of the scariest bridges not only in the USA, but in the world.  Eighteen wheelers passing on the left coupled with no shoulder and a low guard rail on the right made for a memorable experience, to say the least.

We made it to Virginia without having a stroke or heart attack.  Aside from the difficulties and challenges encountered it had been a beautiful travel day.  The following pictures, taken in Rhode Island and Connecticut, are what the whole trip was about: fall foliage in New England.  Since there are few if any scenic turnouts and the shoulders are narrow or non-existant, these next pictures were shot from our vehicle while driving.  The pictures require no words.  They speak for themselves.

Now, that's what I'm talking about!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Plymouth Rock

Plymouth Rock, the site where it is believed the Pilgrims first set foot on land here, was a must see for us. It's history is, well, colorful.  It wasn’t until 1741, 121 years after the arrival of the Mayflower—that the 10-ton boulder in Plymouth Harbor was identified as the precise spot where Pilgrim feet first trod. The claim was made by 94-year-old Thomas Faunce, a church elder who said his father, who arrived in Plymouth in 1623, and several of the original Mayflower passengers assured him the stone was the specific landing spot.  As a result of his declaration it was decided to move the rock to prevent it being buried under a proposed wharf.

The rock proved to be too heavy to move, so the top part was cut off.  It was moved around town several times over the years, dropped, broken, cemented back together and had the date 1620 carved into it in the 1800's by a local stonecutter.

Eventually the top portion was reunited with the lower portion on the beach, but by this time it was only about 1/4 it's original size because people had been allowed to chip off souvenir pieces of it.

The Rock is now protected inside this structure, but available for viewing. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

A second day in Boston

Boston is an American history buffs nirvana.  There is so much history to see, hear and read about that it was not uncommon to encounter people who had to lay down in the parks or on the sidewalk in order to recover from the history overload they were experiencing. At least that was what I assumed they were doing.  We quickly decided to return for a second day.  Our trolley tour tickets were good for two days and we hadn't really scratched the surface of Boston's past.

On day two our first order of business was a Charles River boat tour.  We traveled down the river for several miles as the Captain narrated.  It was the end of their season so it wasn't crowded.

At one point we passed under a unique bridge.  The only place there where a boat can go under a train going under a car.  What if a plane went over, too?

We passed the campuses of both Harvard and MIT Universities.  Here we saw the Harvard rowing team's boathouse and a class underway.

The Longfellow Bridge, also known to the locals as the salt and pepper bridge because the towers look like salt and pepper shakers, is named for poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  It is currently closed to traffic while repairs are being made.

The foliage along the river was just beginning to turn.

After the river tour we followed the Freedom Trail. That's a 2 1/2 mile self guided tour through Boston pointing out many of the relevant sites in America's fight for freedom from British rule.  Beginning at the Boston Common where great speakers could pontificate.

Several cemeteries dating back to the 1600's are located along the Trail.  We saw where Paul Revere, Sam Adams, John Hancock and many other notable figures from American history are buried.

The Bell in Hand Tavern, oldest in America is right here!

Paul Revere's house is here too.

At the end of the day we navigated several streets that were not designed to accommodate modern day full size pickup trucks. In the end the prize was authentic Boston Cream Pie!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Erie Canal. An amazing feat.

As we left Niagara Falls we took a short detour through Lockport, NY. before continuing on to Vermont.  The Erie Canal had always fascinated me and my knowledge of it was limited to a song I learned in elementary school (you know, "...15 miles on the Erie Canal...").

The State of New York had wanted to become a major shipping port in the 1800's and the key was inland transportation of trade goods (furs, lumber, coal, etc) and supplies (fabrics, manufactured items, etc.)  Shipping goods to and from the Great Lakes by water would  give them that status, but portaging (unloading the boat and carrying everything, including the boat) as required to get around the various rapids and waterfalls was so labor intensive it made shipment by water impractical. Transporting by land in wagons was an option, but it was too slow.  A navigable water route would cut the shipping costs by about 95 per cent and establish New York City as a major trading port.  

Between 1817 and 1825 the 363 mile canal was dug primarily by hand and horses with a little bit of help from dynamite and steam engines.  Most of the manpower was provided by farmers along the route who were hired as laborers.  

At Lockport a "Flight of Five" locks was constructed. There were five locks for moving traffic upstream and five more for moving traffic downstream.

The old locks are still there and scheduled to be restored. 

During a  canal enlargement project from 1909 to 1918 two newer locks  replaced the old ones, but only on one side. The two new locks were able to do the work of both flights of five old locks and allowed larger vessels to pass through. 

Heck, today we would talk about it for eight years, spend eight more years doing environmental impact studies, eight years debating it in Congress, and another eight years of actual work.