Friday, April 30, 2010

When a Telephone Pole Becomes a Self Storage Facility for a Woodpecker

Our new front gate

The first day we were here, Sandy spotted a neat looking woodpecker. A little while later we both spotted the same type of bird and Sandy looked it up in our National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America. It is an Acorn Woodpecker. More about him in a moment.

An Acorn Woodpecker rests on a tree near our motorhome.

Yesterday when we went for a walk we passed a telephone pole. Something about the texture of the pole was different, so I walked back a few steps to take a closer look. Every nook and cranny and crack in the pole was stuffed with acorns. Aha, I thought, clever squirrels. As we walked away we could see four Acorn Woodpeckers land near the top of the pole. I assumed the woodpeckers were taking advantage of the hard work of the squirrels. What’s the old saying: never assume anything?

When we got back to the coach I looked up Acorn Woodpeckers on Wikipedia and learned some fascinating facts. First, Acorn Woodpeckers love the California Sierras as much as they love acorns; hence their name. According to Wikipedia, in some parts of their range (e.g., California), the woodpeckers create granaries or "acorn trees" by drilling holes in dead trees, dead branches, telephone poles and wooden buildings. The woodpeckers then collect acorns and find a hole that is just the right size for the acorn. As acorns dry out, they are moved to smaller holes and granary maintenance requires a significant amount of the bird's time.

Looks like some nuts have been consumed

The acorns are visible, and the group defends the tree (or telephone pole) against potential cache robbers like Steller's Jays and Western Scrub Jays. Acorns are such an important resource to the California populations that Acorn Woodpeckers may nest in the fall to take advantage of the fall acorn crop, a rare behavior in birds.

Kind of cool to learn something so unusual while enjoying this beautiful park.

There are many flowering bushes here in Park of the Sierras

Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Sneak Preview of Yosemite National Park

Some days we just kind of wing it.  Actually, lots of days are that way.  Following breakfast we decided to drive into the nearby mountain town of Coarsegold and then on to Oakhurst. 
Typical scenery as we drove into town 

While in Coarsegold we stopped at the local post office to pick up our mail.  I needed to find a general dentist to make an appointment to get my teeth cleaned, and we hoped to find a dog groomer for Trixie.  Missions accomplished.

These flowers were outside the post office.  Doesn't look like the post office in Barrington, IL

We also wanted to drive the 30 some miles to the south entrance of Yosemite National Park to kind of check it out.  Now, you might ask: how does one "check out" a 12,000 square mile national treasure?

Well, we started by talking with one of the attendants at the south entrance and telling her that we had never been in the park and needed some information.  She gladly gave us a 4-color brochure and  the April 14 to May 25, 2010 Yosemite Guide.  We took those home to formulate our plans.

We haven't seen snow on trees since March of 2009

On our drive up into the High California Sierras we went from an elevation of 2,000 to just over 5,000 feet.  It had snowed at the higher elevations of the park last night and as we drove higher the trees became covered with snow and the air became colder.  We also saw signs informing motorists that tire chains or snow tires on cars were required. That was another reason we didn't want to drive into the park today.

We did see some great scenery.  We will be back to the park and more than once. After all we have from over 12,000 square miles from which to choose our visits.

So stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In the Central California High Sierras

We pulled out of the Orange Grove this morning at 8:30 and headed north and west into the California Sierras. We arrived at our destination about 12:30. About 20 miles from the park, I pulled into a gas station and took on 125 gallons of diesel fuel. It took forever since we were not at a truck stop where the hoses force diesel fuel into a tank at an alarming velocity. It took at least 15 minutes, partly because the idiot behind the counter did not set the pump to NOT shut off at the $75 mark. Once we got her to understand that we needed a LOT of fuel she set the pump to run until our tank was full. By the way, we paid $3.39 per gallon.

As we drove here, the landscape was abundant with luscious farms. We passed miles and miles of bright green vineyards, peach orchards and other fruit trees we could not readily identify.

We are in the Central California High Sierra Mountains about 40 miles north of Fresno, CA. It is a beautiful location. We will be here at Park of the Sierras SKP Resort for the month of May. The park is an RV membership co-op campground for Escapees RV club members. Because we are members of the Escapees organization we are able to stay her for a nominal cost of $10/night, plus electricity.  For our non-RV readers, SKP is a phonetic abbreviation of Escapee.

The Escapees organization also hosts one of the better RV on-line forums and was a major source of information as we researched this lifestyle.

When we arrived Sandy went into the park office which is connected to the huge activity center. One of the park residents, John, led us to our spot. He instructed me to follow his pickup. When we turned off the main park road I thought he was taking a short cut as he drove over an area that was no longer paved. Where he wanted me looked so un-level that I didn’t think the site would work for us.

I hesitated – after all we weigh 17 tons and I didn’t want to get stuck. John hopped out of his truck and waived and guided me into this spot. The coach self leveled without any problems. Whew!

Fortunately, we have great internet phone service but marginal cell phone signal strength. But, we are able to make outgoing phone calls on Skype.  So if you try to call us you will probably only reach voice mail.

We are again in a rural/natural setting. This time I am being pro-active in rodent deterrent. I have a work light in the motorhome engine compartment, and Sandy and I put down a square of rope lights underneath the engine compartment and we have propped open the hood of the Honda to discourage squirrels and chipmunks from making nests.

Later in the afternoon we drove around the park. We were cautioned NOT to go without their map as there are five miles of park road and not one of them is in a straight line. I took a few scenic shots and some flower photos to give you an idea of what it looks like around here.

I took this last photo at dusk as storm clouds moved away from the park.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Déjà Vu – or A Night in the Orange Grove

When I was a kid I remember going through the big stores in downtown Chicago and noticing the overwhelming scent of perfume in the department where perfumes were sold. It is a similar thing here at the Orange Grove RV Park in Bakersfield, CA where we are spending one night.

The orange crop has already been picked, but there are enough blossoms remaining to push a heavy scent into the air. Think dime store fragrance. A little goes a long way.

We departed from Parker, AZ this morning at 7:30 and pulled in here this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. We covered about 330 miles, which is a little more than we like to do, but we wanted to give us a shorter drive tomorrow when we head northwest to Coarsegold, CA and will spend a month at the Park of the Sierras. Tomorrow’s trip is 150 miles.
On the way here we passed a small town called Boron. Those of you who took chemistry know that Boron contains sodium borate decahydrate (Na2B4O7•10H2O), better known as borax, the third most important boron compound. Borax is used in laundry products and as a mild antiseptic. Perhaps the most popular brand is 20 Mule Team so well known that a local road carries the name. See photo below.

Stay tuned

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Bouquet from the Desert

I've been saving most of the pictures I've taken of desert flowers.  Here they are for your enjoyment.

Stay tuned

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Another Good Day in Arizona

It is not summer in Arizona, but by Illinois standards 88 degrees sure feels like it.

This morning we spent some time next door talking with Carol and Harold Thornberry.

We asked them about their wood carving and coaxed them into showing us some of their handiwork. They have created some very impressive pieces of art and have a lot of fun in the process.

These long and narrow whimsical wood carvings are called Hobbit Houses. They are carved from the bark of  Cottonwood trees 

I made a small but important upgrade to the motorhome today. Whenever we are parked for as long as two weeks we have gotten into the habit of starting the coach's diesel engine and letting it run for about 30 minutes solely for the purpose of re-charging the engine batteries.

By installing a device called Trik-L-Start we no longer have to do this. Whenever we are connected to shore power, Trik-L-Start borrows a very small amount of power from the coach batteries to keep the engine batteries fully charged. For me, one of the best aspects of this improvement is that I installed it myself in less than 10 minutes.

Around four o’clock we walked over to the campground marina where they have a small restaurant. We had an excellent cheese pizza and some pretty decent margaritas. We were pleasantly surprised when Carol and Harold showed up and joined us. These kinds of impromptu friendships and get-togethers help enrich our life on the road.

Before sunset Sandy went outside to roll up our awnings.  Carol came over and gifted Sandy with a round rock she had painted to look like a turtle.  It makes a perfect stepping stone for the birds to get into a dish full of water.  Carol is also an accomplished painter as you can see from the turtle. We will miss our new friends but hope to meet up with them down the road.

Stay tuned

Saturday, April 17, 2010

London Bridge is not falling down

 Friday we went into Lake Havasu to see London Bridge.  In the early 1960s an innovative real estate developer named Robert P. McCulloch bought the exterior granite and masonry portions of London Bridge from (where else?) the City of London.  He had all the pieces numbered for accurate re-assembly here in Arizona.  The actual bridge deck is new, and the entire structure was completed in 1971.

Who knows, perhaps "Jack the Ripper"
stood beneath this very lantern to contemplate
his new relationship with Scotland Yard.

This canal runs under London Bridge and into Lake Havasu

In the evening we went to a local restaurant for the Friday Night Fish Fry and were joined by neighbors Carol and Harold Thornberry, who live near Portland OR and spend winters in Arizona

Today Sandy is planning our travel from here into California and then up the coast of Oregon and over into Montana.  I kind of puttered around the coach: organized some tools and did a few miscellaneous items not worth mentioning. But I did capture this idylic scene along the banks of the Colorado River.

We have not had any good sunsets for the past few weeks so I will end with this floral photo

Stay tuned

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Good Day in Arizona: Nothing Went Wrong!

A view of the park from the surrounding foot hills

We are camped in Buckskin Mountain State Park alongside the Colorado River. The river is beautiful and the park is very well maintained. There are lots of mature trees planted between RV sites which impart a tranquil and serene atmosphere. It is a pleasure to be in the park.

The Colorado River passes alongside our park

This morning we took a hike into the foothills overlooking the campground. Just across the river is California. As we neared the first vista point on the trail we heard and then saw some of the wild burros that inhabit parts of southwest Arizona and southeast California. Legend says that they are descendants of burros abondoned by gold and silver miners. Too bad we were not close enough for photos, but we could easily see them across the river with our binoculars.

Parker Dam was built between 1934 and 1938

Our next stop was at the Parker Dam on the Colorado River. This is the dam that creates Lake Havasu and is an important source of hydro-electric power. Since 9/11 security restricts access to parts of the dam so getting good pictures was not as easy as I would have liked.  From Wikipedia here are a few facts about Parker Dam.  The dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam that crosses the Colorado River 155 miles downstream of Hoover Dam. It is 320 feet high, making it the deepest dam in the world. The dam's primary functions are to act as a reservoir, and to generate hydroelectric power. Half of the electricity the plant produces is used to pump water along the Colorado River Aqueduct, and the rest is sold to utilities in California, Arizona and Nevada.

Next we drove into nearby Parker and stopped at the local casino. After a nice lunch and about 40 minutes of playing the nickel slots, we quit while we were ahead. We won just a little over $8.00. Woo hoo!
Later in the afternoon we spent quite a bit of time talking to our neighbors Harold and Carolyn from Oregon. They are really friendly people, and we swapped experiences and talked about resources and we all learned new things. One of the best things we learned from talking to them was that our intended next stop in Barstow, CA is kind of a windy and lackluster desert town. So Sandy cancelled that reservation and added the week to the front end of our stay in the next location after Barstow.
Sandy also made some delicious chocolate chip cookies and gave a big bunch of them to the ranger who helped us with our car/tire issue when we came into the park on Tuesday.  My job is to make the remainder of them disappear.

An image from our morning hike

All in all -- a great day on the road.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining and Unique RVs Found Along the Way

When we arrived at Buckskin Mountain State Park near Parker, AZ yesterday we had an unfortunate incident. The campground road takes a somewhat hard turn into the Ranger’s Check-In gate. I somehow managed to get the left-front tire of the Honda up on the curb. When I pulled the motorhome forward the front wheel dropped down to make contact with the pavement – as planned. What I didn’t plan on was having the aluminum TPMS valve stem on the Honda being sheared off. Instant flat tire and instant big problem, but our roadside service Coach-Net came to the rescue.

Last September we had a valve stem shear off on a high curb on the way to Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. It was $180 to replace, plus the long drive to Joliet, IL and back. So now in addition to forking over another $180 , I was looking at a 120 mile one way trip over highways where someone going 50 mph is gonna get a lot of horn honking and dirty looks. The nearest Honda dealer is in Yuma, AZ and I was planning on making the trip in a day or so.

Today we drove to Lake Havasu to Wal-Mart. As we drove there I was complaining about having to make a drive all the way to Yuma to replace a TPMS stem when we already have Pressure Pro Tire Monitors on the Honda. It would be wasted money, time and fuel. Unfortunately, by federal law, a tire dealer cannot make a TPMS system inoperable. We found this out last fall when we had to replace the first Honda sensor. As we were driving this morning, I spotted a Discount Tire store and had Sandy pull in. I went in to talk to one of the service writers. He told me what I expected to hear: that they couldn’t do what I wanted, but they had a solution. They removed the sensing/transmitting portion of the Honda TPMS and permanently affixed it to the inside of the wheel. So now the Honda Tire Pressure Monitoring System is still operating, but we could put regular tire stems on the Honda, thereby eliminating the need to drive 240 miles round trip and incur a big expense. Our Pressure Pros still protect us.

While we were at Discount Tire, we had new tires put on the Honda. We were within 1/32 of an inch from the point where tires should be replaced so we got that taken care of – and got a $100 refund in the process. So problem solved and money saved. I call that a silver lining to a cloud.

Now, for those of you who like to see pictures, over the past eight months I have been taking pictures of unusual RV’s that we have seen. These are unique and one-of-a-kind. Hope you enjoy.

Stay tuned

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tires, air compressors and generators

This will fill you in on the last few days in Tortilla Flat, AZ

Just like with real estate,  things wear out on "wheel estate." 

We bit the bullet and got six new tires for Moose in Cottonwood on Thursday April 8 (only $2400 plus the $20 I slapped on Joe, the tire guy, who did a careful job and used the biggest wrench I’ve ever seen to ensure that each lug nut was hand tightened to the Foretravel specs of 450 foot pounds of torque.

The next day we had a new slide out motor ($707 with labor) installed at Al’s RV Service in Glendale. In keeping with the theme of taking care of the coach, we decided to use the next few days to hang around the coach and do some maintenance.

The twisting mountain road to and from Tortilla flat has some tight turns with tree branches too close to the side of the road and our poor coach has picked up a few scuff and light scratches. Some of them run the full length of the motorhome. I‘ve never been fond of the hard work of using rubbing compound and the job was almost overwhelming until I decided to buy a hand-held electric buffer at Walmart. Another tool for me, Yeah! I can use the buffer to apply the rubbing compound as well as to do the finish buffing. Those scratches disappeared like magic. It’s a good thing the clear coat applied over the paint on our coach is extra thick and so far (knock on wood), scratches have not gone into the paint.

My next chore was to change the oil and filter for the diesel generator. I had never done this, so I consulted with friend Gary Omel, who owns the same coach as ours and used to be a technician at the Foretravel factory. Gary gave me a few tips that were really helpful. I spilled less than a teaspoon of old oil. Sandy helped me add the oil and to pour the used oil into the same plastic bottles that held the new. Walmart gladly accepts used oil, which makes for total recycling.

Then very early Monday morning before the sun started to heat up the tires I checked the pressure in all six tires and made adjustments. The two tires on the front axle carry a little over 13,000 pounds so we run with 120 psi in those tires. The four tires on the rear axle carry about 20,500 pounds, but since there are four tires to support this load we only need to fill them to 105 psi. Getting the correct pressure in the tires is a real challenge. Between the gauge on the portable air tank, the gauge on the Pressure Pro tire monitors and a high quality digital pressure gauge I picked up at the Yuma rally, I find a spread of five pounds. Correct tire pressure is critical in a heavy motorhome, so when we were getting new tires I checked my digital gauge against the gauge used by the dealer. The reading was identical. So my standard of reference is my new digital gauge. I can still use and rely on the tire monitor inside the coach that monitors the pressure in each tire as we motor down the road, I just keep in mind that gauge reads about 3 psi lower than actual pressure. Is your head spinning yet?

Cleaning Day -- Monday

Our preference is to give the coach a thorough interior cleaning the day before we travel. That way when we set up at our new location, we start with a clean house. Once the coach was clean, we showered and drove two miles over to Canyon Lake for lunch. We sat on the covered patio and enjoyed a million dollar view of the lake and flower covered mountains. A cool beeze added to our enjoyment.

The old western town of Tortilla Flat is charming but rundown. There are three establishments: a small store that does most of its business selling ice cream cones, a big bar/restaurant with live music several days of the week and a mercantile with more tacky souvenirs than most people collect in a lifetime. But it was nice to have it within walking distance as a reminder of civilization.

It has been a good campground and we have enjoyed our two weeks here, but we won’t be coming back. We have discovered that internet and cell phone service is really important – especially when issues with the motorhome arise.

Stay tuned.