Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sequoia National Fiasco!

We had just returned from a week at Locust Point in the Kaibab National Forest, on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, where we didn’t see another soul (except for one van full of mountain bikers) the whole time.  So we decided to spend another week and a half among the trees.  This time we chose to stay a little closer to home at the Sequoia National Forest.

As with most of our trips, we started by visiting my wife’s father in Redlands, California, about 70 miles from our house in Hermosa Beach.  The parking near his duplex at the retirement village is not level so we dry camp in the administration’s parking lot.  They have no problem with this as long as we’re gone by 8 am when the worker bees show up. 

Redlands is a good starting point, as well, since we can drive through Los Angeles when traffic is the lightest and still be positioned near I-10 for East travel and I-15 for North-South.  If we’re going on the West side of the state, we start from home. 

The first stop was for fuel.  We pulled into a Shell station just off the 15 in San Bernardino.  It was still rush hour (or, more precisely, rush hours) so there was quite a line at the pumps.

We were able to pull in behind a small pickup that was using the first pump on the island.  We pulled close enough to get the trailer off the street but not so close as to block anyone from passing in front of us.  When the pickup finished, we assumed he’d just drive forward since there was no one in front of him.  We wanted the second pump so that the Casita would not be blocking others.  But, no, he has to back up and he kept gesturing for us to let him out.  We couldn’t back up but he could have gone forward without any problem.  He jockeyed back and forth until he could get out, then scowls at us as he leaves.  There was absolutely no reason for him to need to back up since going forward would have had him on the road much quicker. 

We took I-15 to US 395 and stopped for breakfast in Kramer Junction.  Then it was CA 58 to CA 99 in Bakersfield.  Heading north, we decided to stop at the Bakersfield Flying J for gas, fresh water, and to dump the holding tanks. 

The RV lane was closed and the auto islands had long lines so I figured we’d just dump the tanks and get fuel later.  I found the dump and saw that I’d have to drive around counter to the traffic flow because the sewer was on the wrong side of the trailer.  It was also locked and had a sign that said to get the key from the cashier. 

While Nancy went in to get the key, I drove around the fuel islands and got close to the dump.  But not close enough.  A truck at the propane tank was blocking me, and the dump was in the back of the knee of a dogleg curb.  I pulled past it then backed in without my wife to guide me, so I had to keep getting out to make sure I wasn’t about to hit the truck.  Of course, as soon as I was in place, the truck drove off. 

A few minutes later Nancy came back and said that the dump was inop.  Figures.  It would have been nice if they’d posted a sign to that effect.

There was no way that I was going to get gas at the J so we pressed on.  We still had to go through Visalia since we were going to take CA 245 north into the forest.  We would get fuel and lunch there. 

This was our first trip with the 2006 Chevy Tahoe and one of the new-to-us toys was a GPS navigation system.  So, of course, I was playing with it while I drove along.  Nancy was using the paper map and suggested a shortcut at Tulare and taking CA 63 eight miles up to Visalia.

After an hour and half tour of the impressive CalTrans highway maintenance display along highway 63, we made it to Visalia.  We got fuel, but no food. 

Highway 245 was new territory for me.  It turned out to be one of the twistyest (that may not be a real word, but it fits) roads I’ve ever been on.  The scenery was nice, Nancy said.  The odd thing was we only passed two other cars.  And, they were both cream colored PT Cruisers. 

We went to the Sequoia NF without a Forest Service map but planned on picking up one at the Visitor’s Center.  They didn’t have any.  No problem…I’d printed off several from my GPS planning program, so I had maps of the areas I thought looked most interesting.  Plus we had the software on the laptop and could transfer waypoints to my handheld GPS unit.  Still, I really prefer having “analog” maps. 

We drove to the Big Meadows area and were surprised at how many people where there.  Of course that’s the problem with summer camping in mountains so close to large metropolitan areas.  That’s defiantly not a problem at the North Rim. 

We drove almost to the end of the paved part of the road where it was only a single lane.  At a bridge near Horse Corral Meadow, I was able to turn around and head back to Big Meadows.  Just as we got to the meadow we spotted a large isolated site that we’d missed the first time.  We pulled in and set up at about 6 o’clock.

While having dinner, a guy with a pop-up trailer pulled up next to us and asked how long we planned to stay because a large group was due the next day.  We told him we’d probably be there at least 3 days. 

The next morning a large Class A pulled in right next to us.  A woman came over and said that this was their regular spot for family get-togethers and that there was a 5th Wheel coming along soon that would park on the other side of us.  We were a bit dumbfounded by her attitude but it was a very large site and I know about family gatherings.  I was actually considering letting them have the spot since I wanted a site with a view, which this one didn’t have.  But, unfortunately for her, she kept talking.  She said that they only live 22 miles away and come up here all the time.  At Christmas they even decorate the trees!

I wish I’d had a cigar.  I sat down on the lounge chair, leaned back, and pulled my hat over my eyes.  She stomped back to her RV and a few minutes later took her little dog for a walk.  That’s when our six-month-old puppy, who’d been snoozing under the trailer, got interested.  He came out and sat between the two RVs and watched them.  He’s an Akita…and weighed 80 pounds at the time.  As she was walking back, she saw Kumori, picked up her dog and disappeared into the RV.  A few minutes later they drove off and parked in a small site about 50 yards away. 

Later that evening they flagged down a Ranger and my wife decided to walk the dog and eavesdrop.  She heard the Ranger tell woman, “They were there first and that’s that. ”

The next day we topped off the fresh water tank and drove to the Dorst Campground in Sequoia National Park to refill our three 7-gallon Auqa-Tainer water jugs and check out the RV dump for our egress.  On our way to the campground we spotted the granite dome that Dan and Felice snagged on their trip in May.  When we returned about an hour later it was still unoccupied.  We decided to move to it.  We hooked up, packed up, and were back there in about 25 minutes.  We got back to find a 5th Wheel parked there. 

Well, it was only Wednesday and already too crowded to my liking.  We decided to drive through the National Park and poke around the southern section of the Sequoia National Forest.  Just past the Dorst campground we saw a sign that said “Road work ahead.  Expect one hour delays. ” Great.  We past one turnout but it were too small to try to make a U-Turn with a trailer. 

At 2:00 we pulled up to the end of a line of stopped cars.  A flagman came over and told us that we would be escorted through at 2:30 and that it was OK to get out of the vehicles. 

We hadn’t eaten lunch yet so we went back to the Casita to eat and wait.  Outside we watched people climbing down the slope into the forest to relieve themselves.  I felt kind-of guilty having our own toilet and not sharing.  OK, I didn’t feel all that guilty. 

At 2:30 we were on our way again…for about 20 minutes.  Then we stopped for another 25 minutes.  I guess we got off easy with only 55 minutes lost instead of the promised 60. 

We didn’t have time to stop at any of the park’s tourist attractions, which was just as well as they seemed to have attracted plenty of other tourists.

Not far after the General Sherman Tree the grade became 8% and lower gears were required.  Since this was the first trip in the Tahoe, it was by default the first trip into the mountains with it.  Apparently the brake controller was not set high enough because about halfway down the steep section we pretty much lost the brakes. 

Nancy was driving and pulled into a turnout.  I could smell the brakes, so I was sure that they were over heated.  Just to be positive, again because this was a new vehicle to us, I decided to check the brake fluid level.  While I was feeling around under the hood for the latch, I saw that a rattlesnake was admiring my left boot.  I never wear boots while we’re driving, but we weren’t supposed to be driving were we? We were supposed to be hiking around the vicinity of the granite dome that we were supposed to be camping on. 

The rattler and I both made a tactical retreat (although, he wasn’t very big.  I think I could have taken him). 

The brake fluid was fine and we just waited in the Casita for the brakes to cool.  After another half-hour or so lost we were on the road again.

I stopped at the visitor’s center at the south end of the park and Nancy went in to see if they had the Forest Service map that was not available at the north entrance. 

While she was inside, I was playing with some of the other new gadgets on the car.  It’s my wife’s SUV and I hadn’t spent much time learning how to use all the cool stuff, many of which are controlled from the steering wheel.  I was poking through the buttons when suddenly the OnStar woman started screaming at me. 

We’d run into this problem before on the test drive with the salesman.  He couldn’t figure out how to turn it down…or off for that matter.  And we still hadn’t.  I rolled up the windows because people were starting to stare.  I normally carry foam earplugs…but not this day.  Finally I managed to hit the correct combination of buttons and it stopped.  Whew! Then I set it off again.  I shut it off much quicker this time.  I think I’m getting the hang of it. 

The upside was that the visitor’s center had a map. Yea, one point for our team!

Unfortunately, this small victory was not enough to convince me that our luck was changing.  We decided that we’d had enough.  Even though we had 5 more days for camping I realized that camping this time of year was not for us, at least not in areas where others want to go.  We headed home. 

During our retreat we stopped for gas on CA 99 near Visalia at a station that offered a free bag of oranges with every fill up.  We filled up, walked the dog, and got the free bag of oranges.  Then we drove off leaving a 16-dollar 7-gallon Aqua-Tainer sitting next to the gas pump where it was placed when it was moved to get the dog out of his crate.

We discovered this when we stopped for dinner at a rest area south of Tulare.  This rest area was a nice surprise.  It offered plenty of parking, free WiFi, and an RV dump.  It also had a spot off the asphalt under a large tree where we could park and fire up the generator for the air conditioner while we ate.  It would have been a good place to spend the night but it was only about 7 pm and not yet dark.

After a leisurely dinner and licking our wounds, we hit the road again with plans on overnighting at the Frazier Park (Lebec, really) Flying J Truck Stop. 

We pulled into the Flying J at about 9pm and found a nice level spot for the evening.  This last night, in the truck stop, turned out to be the best night of the trip. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Yosemite Valley

My wife and I just returned from 4 days in Yosemite Valley.

The water pump that failed us on the way home from Rice, TX last week, arived just in time for our 4 day trip to Yosemite Valley.

The first night we stayed in a casino parking lot. We had a nice meal at one of the casino's restaurants and and turned in with Security riding bicycles around us all night.

After a nice quiet nights sleep, we drove about an hour more to the valley.

Due to construction delayed by Global Warmi...er, uh, unusually heavy snowfall, our less than desirable site at Lower Pines Campground was switched to an "on the river" site at North Pines. Oddly, Upper Pines Campground was nearly empty.

The weather while we were there was from roughly freezing at night to mid 50s during the day. There was also a very light accumulation of tourists.

Friday, March 28, 2008

New Casita Travel Trailer

My wife and I drove from Los Angels to Rice last week to pick up our new Casita SD 17 travel trailer.

As we entered Phoenix, the traffic slowed almost to a stop. After about half an hour, we passed the reason for the hold up. The westbound side of the freeway was closed due to an apparent head-on collision. The eastbound side was slow due to rubbernecking, us included.

South of Phoenix we came to another near complete stop. It took an hour and a half to go nine miles! Traffic was directed off the freeway at the Casa Grande turnoff due to another freeway closing. Most of the drivers must have been playing follow the leader because they all turned right and continued crawling along in single file. I’d lived many years in Tucson and knew the area fairly well. We turned left and zipped a few miles east then south again to Eloy, near Picacho Peak, and back on the I-10.

The delay, while frustrating, did allow us to enjoy a beautiful sunset near Bowie.

We pulled into Deming, NM at about 9:30 pm local time and checked into a motel. Apparently Deming closes at 10:00. We drove around looking for a place to eat and found a KFC that luckily stayed open until 10:30. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Wal-Mart for beer and spotted a Casita nestled in between a couple dozen larger rigs hunkered down for the night.

Monday the 17th was a buffer day in case we couldn’t make it in two days. We stayed with my sister just outside Fort Worth. That night the thunderstorms started.

We got up early Tuesday morning, March 18th. It’s an hour and a half drive from my sister’s to the factory and we were shooting for the 10 o’clock hookup. We left Ft. Worth at 7:30 so that we would have an hour buffer.

We drove along I-20 in a Texas downpour and found the US 287 transition without any trauma.

Being the master navigator that I am, (hence my screen name) I had planned a primary and alternate route to Rice. The map was neatly folded for easy use in the car and placed in the folder for easy access. As we drove through the raging storm, the folder sat quietly on my sister’s kitchen counter. No problem, I had the routes memorized.

It was dark, wet, and windy and the NOAA weather alarms made sure that I wouldn’t get a nap as my wife drove. (FYI: Texas weather alerts keep you well informed of areas of high winds, heavy rain, tornado sightings, flood warnings, and locus swarms. Unfortunately, they give them by counties, and they have lots of counties, and they’re all very small. If you don’t know what county you’re in you might as well turn off the radio.) We crossed the leading edge of the front at about Mansfield and just had moderate to light rain the rest of the way to Rice.

We pulled into the Casita parking lot at 9:00. After a visit to the head and a cup of coffee, the maintenance supervisor hooked us up and gave us a two-hour training tour.

We had brought almost everything we wanted to outfit the trailer and, after the tour, we took about a half an hour to load everything on board.

By the time the paperwork and everything was done, it was 1145 or so. They suggested a propane station in Ennis to fill our tanks and recommended the BBQ restaurant next to it for lunch. By the time we found the station, it was closed for lunch, and the cold front had caught up with us. It was 12:15 and the sign said that the shop would open at 1:00. We went next door to Bubba’s BBQ and got take-out and had lunch in the Casita.

We watched the clouds get lower and darker and the rain get heavier. At 12:45 an LPG delivery truck pulled into the station and a little old guy got out and limped over to us, knocked, and asked if we needed propane. He said that someone had called him and told him we were waiting. He wanted to get us fueled before the electrical fireworks started. In the half our or so that we had been there, the temperature dropped 30 degrees.

I called my sister and had her pull up a live Doppler radar website and give me a briefing on where the heaviest thunderstorm cells were. We drove through Ennis and headed back to her house on 287. The rain at times was so heavy it was hard to see and the winds were reported as 30 mph gusting to 45 in the Waxahachie area.

The little Casita behaved beautifully and I caught myself driving 60+ several times even though I was trying to drive conservatively. We did hydroplane several times and the wind blew the Pathfinder and Casita sideways across the highway as one unit.

By the time we got to Midlothian, the rain and wind was so heavy and the creeks were flooding over the highway so I decided it was time to hunker down for a while.

I called my sister and she told me that we were in the worst of it at the moment and that we had a shot at beating the next heavy cell if we left as soon as possible.

The rain let up a little and we hit the road again. We heard on the radio that DFW airport had been shut down due to tornadoes spotted nearby. I told my California-native wife to keep her eyes out for cyclonic action and pressed on. I’d spent most of my early life in Texas and Oklahoma and had yet to see a tornado but always wanted to…now was not the time for that. We’d paid for a whole egg, not an omelet.

As we hit the outskirts of Ft. Worth, the worst was behind us and the death toll was five or six. It rose into the teens the next day.

On the return trip, we spent the first night east (south on a lensatic compass) of El Paso in a rest area. After a very good nights sleep, I took a shower in the Pod (the water pressure was better than at home) and just after I finished, the water stopped. I thought I had run out of water since I only filled the tank about half way but it was too dark to see. (I later learned that the pump failed. I called Casita and they shipped out one to our house as we were still on the road.

Somewhere between Las Cruces and Deming, while my wife was driving, an eighteen-wheeler was passing us. Just as his rear wheels got even with the driver side door, one of his tires blew. It was LOUD and even with the doors closed and the windows up we felt the concussion. Rubber and gray smoke covered the Pathfinder. We pulled off at the next opportunity and checked out the Casita and TV. Nothing…not a scratch.

The plan had been to spend the night at the City of Rocks north of Deming, but my hyper-detailed planning had overlooked the tiny fact that this was Easter weekend (they keep moving it!). We pressed on to Lordsburg and took US 70 to Globe, AZ and then US 60 to Apache Junction. (My wife really like that part…well, except for when I kept pointing out interesting sights while I was driving the fast winding road into the Valley of the Sun.)

We spent the night at the AJ KOA since the water pump was inop and pressed on back to L.A. just in time to join all the other Spring-Breakers and Easter holidayers on the freeways.

About 40 miles from the house, the yellow fuel light came on warning me that we were down to three gallons (I guess). I pulled off, dumped the 5 gallons of generator fuel into the tank, hit the head and hit the road.

Parking is a problem in our neighborhood so I had arranged for my son and a neighbor to grab a couple of spots in front of the house for us. When we got off the freeway I gave them a heads-up that we were nearby. When they saw us turn the corner at the end of the block, they moved and I pulled in.

The end.

Well, actually, the beginning of the adventure.