New Year’s under the blue moon

We celebrated New Year’s in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park under the light of the blue moon.  A blue moon is the “extra” full moon in years that have thirteen full moons and occurs every two to three years.  In early English usage, some interpret this “blue moon” as relating to absurdities and impossibilities.

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For us, it was a time to relax and enjoy the ambiance of this peaceful and beautiful desert setting.

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Larry brought along a juniper wreath made from the Hollywood junipers from our home, which looked quite festive as it held a candle lantern on our picnic table (seen above).  He also brought two delicious homemade artisan sourdough bread rounds, made using the “No Knead Bread Baking Method” (seen below).

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I joined Charon and Alex, Rich, and Bert on a hike up Hellhole Canyon.

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dsc_0057-hellhole-canyon.jpgHellhole Canyon hike is a popular introductory backpack trip for many youth groups.  It is located south and west of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center that climbs up toward Culp Valley.  According to Diana Lindsay in her book, Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things, 2001, Sunbelt Publications, this canyon was named by William Johnston “Wid” Helm, who used the canyon to move his cattle on and off the desert for winter grazing.  He reportedly said that this canyon was “one hell of a hole to get cattle out of”.

A sign at the beginning of the trail alerted us that mountain lions have been sighted in the area.

Bands of ancient metamorphosed sea beds can be seen on the north canyon wall.

Indeed, we found a marine shell here (as seen below, held by Rich).

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Also along this canyon we saw new growth (due to recent rains) of lush, green ovate leaves and bright red flowers of the Ocotillo.  This provided an opportunity for Bert to use his photographic skills and capture a stunning image of the blossoms.

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Bert wrote in his recent post, “Hellhole Canyon — Or What’s In A Name?“, “To dramatize the flowers I needed two strobes, which I always carry. I then set the  camera to manual mode, enabling me to overpower the light from the sun. To do that I set the shutter speed to 250th of a second and the aperture to f-22 or less.  Look through the view finder of your camera and you’ll see the dial (at least on the Nikon D300) shows an under exposure of about three stops. Without the strobes your picture would be mighty black, but the strobes are set correctly, and they illuminate the subject. However, you’ll need an additional set of hands to hold one of the strobes.”

I gladly became the additional set of hands, while picking up photography tips from an expert!

My next article will cover what Bert and I experienced and photographed during an evening hike up Ghost Mountain.

Meanwhile, I’ll relax to the music of Blue Moon, accompanied by ukulele.

Desert Holidays, Part 2

Borrego Springs, California, is located in Borrego Valley, in an area once named San Gregorio by Juan Bautista de Anza, who led an expedition through here from Tubac, Arizona, in 1774, to find an overland route to bring supplies and reinforcements to the newly established Spanish presidios and missions in CaliforniaBorrego Springs is a small community that prides itself in not having traffic lights. Instead, it has a park-like hub called the Christmas Circle, possibly named because Salvador Ygnacio Linares was born on Christmas Eve in nearby Coyote Canyon on Anza’s second expedition through here in 1775, according to Diana Lindsay in her book, Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things, 2001, Sunbelt Publications.

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(Seen in the background of the above photo is Fonts Point, named after Pedro Font, a Spanish priest and diarist on the second Anza expedition, according to Diana Lindsay.  This bluff offers a spectacular view of the Borrego Badlands.)

Within the Christmas Circle is a pleasant, grassy community park that presents the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce Farmers’ Market every Friday, 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., November to June.

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Farmers’ markets, sometimes called greenmarkets, provide locally grown produce harvested at its peak flavor and nutritional content and, since this produce does not travel far, farmers’ markets help conserve fossil fuels.  The farmers’ market experience has been likened to outdoor markets traditionally held in villages and town squares throughout the world and provides a less rushed opportunity to chat with vendors and shoppers, while one samples local foods and learns about local culture.

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California is the largest producer of food for the country.  How food makes its way to the dinner plate is the subject of an excellent KPBS San Diego Envision 30 minute documentary, “Food”, seen here.

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This KPBS program (along with this one) points out that San Diego produces 95,000 tons of oranges each year, and most of them are shipped to foreign countries willing to pay premium rates for some of the tastiest oranges in the world.  Ironically, most of the oranges San Diegans buy come from Australia, South Africa and Peru because we like our oranges to be seedless, pretty and easy to peel.  Larry and I now prefer to buy our oranges at farmers’ markets because they are sweeter and tastier.

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We are lucky in San Diego to have 42 farmers’ markets.  Find your local farmers’ market here.

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Seen on our holiday dinner table are sweet Medjool dates, shards of Gouda cheese, Garlic and Fine Herbs Boursin Gournay cheese on crackers, sun-dried tomato-cilantro hummus, and strips of Larry’s homemade and very delicious sourdough bread, made following the “No Knead Bread Baking Method“.

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And after dinner, visions of sugar-plums danced in our heads.

Cuyamaca Indian summer

The summer heat is over and the seasons are changing quickly now, so for us it means the beginning of our fall and winter camping season.  Although it is still too hot for us in the desert, we traditionally enjoy experiencing the fall harvest season in our local Cuyamaca Mountains.

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At the end of last season our trailer got its annual major washing, which was followed with a thorough washing of all trailer awnings.  Just prior to starting our new season, I applied 303 Aerospace Protectant to the seals of our Fan-Tastic Vents, windows and doors to protect them and keep them from sticking.  Then we refilled our propane tanks and checked the operation of all equipment, including the hot water heater, water pump, stove, oven, furnace and refrigerator.  Vent screens were cleaned and the trailer was vacuumed.  Tire lug nut torque checks were done along with checking air pressure and installing tire pressure sensors.  The fresh water tank was topped off and our solar panels were cleaned in anticipation of camping without hookups in the Cuyamacas.

Larry prepared the menus and food, including the baking of the buttery, rich and very delicious French apple tart seen below in its tart pan just out of our home oven to tie in with the seasonal apple harvest festival celebrated in nearby Julian, Ca.

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Indian summer is an expression indicating sunny and warm weather in autumn when the leaves are turning color, often after the first frost, and before the first snowfall.  Days before our outing, Julian’s morning low was 31 degrees and we departed in the midst of a hazardous weather outlook for all of extreme southwestern California.  But within two days we experienced Indian summer in the mountains.

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Besides the periodic California Santa Ana fires, another drama is being played out here and other areas of San Diego’s East County.  Thousands of oak trees are dying from infestations of the gold-spotted oak borer, which may have spread under bark of firewood.  The public has been urged not to transport firewood in or out of the county until more is known about this problem.  Even as we were camping, we could hear dead and/or hazardous trees and undergrowth being cut and turned into chips for mulching areas of the park.

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Some of these oak trees were quite large, such as the one below seen on my morning walk.

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Also seen during my morning walk were a Rio Grande Turkey hen and her two fledglings emerging into a clearing.

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The fledglings foraged while the hen kept a sharp eye on me.

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It had been chilly when I left the trailer for my walk, but when I returned, freshly baked Pillsbury Buttermilk Biscuits greeted me, along with a very warm trailer (we found no need to turn on the furnace on chilly mornings when anticipating baking with the oven).

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One of a set of small, battery operated LED flickering tea lights (seasonal item Larry found at Costco) is seen in the votive holder above.

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By the afternoon we experienced the Indian summer temperature of 80 degrees.  We used our new Endless Breeze 12-volt fan for the first time and Larry reports that it worked beautifully.

This fan is made by Fan-Tastic Vent and is available at Camping World (we ordered ours online from Fan-Tastic Vent).

It plugs into our trailer’s interior DC outlet.  Maximum current draw is reported to be 3 amps (easily supplied by our solar panels).  It also comes with clips for attaching to pet crates.

Our fall harvest/Halloween dinner table setting included pumpkins, Indian corn (also called maize), a turkey-shaped wicker basket containing Pineapple Guava, and a floral display of Plumeria (guava and Plumeria are from our yard).  The Pineapple Guava is sweet and juicy and is especially enjoyed by our pug, Pau Hoa.

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And so during this golden fall harvest season, we are thankful to be able to return to and experience our beautiful parks with our loved ones, whether we are vividly awake… or enjoying Golden Slumbers.  

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Trailer awnings

When we first placed our custom order for an Airstream factory-installed solar power system at the time of the build of our Safari trailer, we were glad that we also ordered their Full Awning Package, which consists of awnings on all three sides.  This enabled us to stay cooler and more comfortable while camping, especially in our desert heat.  Our awnings have performed flawlessly and we expect that they will continue to do so for a long time, provided that they are properly used, maintained and cared for.

Awning operation

Opening and closing the patio awning can be a bit tricky, so we were glad that we videotaped the tech as he opened and closed our awnings during the initial walk-through when we picked up our trailer at the dealer.  See Zip Dee’s instructional video, “How To Operate Your Zip Dee Patio Awning“, made earlier this year in conjunction with Airstream.  This video is a good review and has useful tips, even if you have been using your awnings for years.

Awning cleaning

Each year we are scrupulous in doing our annual wash and wax job of our trailer, especially after camping next to the ocean, but I have not cleaned and lubricated our awnings, until now.  Our awnings are individually handcrafted by Zip Dee using Sunbrella acrylic fabric treated with a fluorocarbon finish that makes it water repellent and stain resistant.  Over time, dirt can get embedded in the fibers, which can lead to mildew, stains and decreased life of the awning.  Zip Dee recommends a thorough cleaning every two to three years using a mild soap solution in cold or lukewarm water, followed by thorough rinsing.  See Zip Dee’s instructional video, “Cleaning Your Zip Dee Awning Fabric“, made earlier this year in conjunction with Airstream.  Before I began, I also reviewed the detailed instructions, “Awnings care & cleaning“, from Sunbrella.

Last weekend’s heat wave in San Diego was a perfect time to clean our awnings.  After selecting the appropriate straw hat and yellow Hawaiian shirt, I pulled out the awning and hosed it off.

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I then scrubbed the awnings with an extended-handled, soft bristle brush and a solution of one quarter cup of liquid Ivory Snow in two gallons of cool water.  Ivory soap was invented in 1879 by James Norris Gamble, and the phrase, “99 44/100% pure” first appeared in its advertising in 1882.  Last week I went shopping for the Ivory Snow Flakes that I grew up with (as seen in this vintage Ivory Snow Flakes commercial) and I was disappointed to learn that Procter & Gamble had stopped making Ivory Snow Flakes in 1978.

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I then rolled up the soapy awning, allowing it to soak for about 15 minutes.  Then I re-opened the awning and thoroughly rinsed it off on both sides (It was necessary to get on a step ladder to rinse off the dirt and soap on the very top where the awning attaches to the trailer).  I then left the awning fully extended to thoroughly air dry (which only took about two hours on this hot summer day).

Awning lubrication

After the cleaned awning was dry, I lubricated the hardware with silicone lubricant spray (I avoided WD-40, oil or grease which could attract dirt).  See Zip Dee’s instructional video, “How To Lubricate Your Zip Dee Awning“, made in conjunction with Airstream.  As shown in the video, I slid the tube off of the rafter arm bar and I lubricated the ratchet stud (knob) and the slot exposing the spring and worked the lubricant in by pushing the tube on the ground several times.  (Refer to Zip Dee’s Parts List for hardware terminology).

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I then used a tooth brush to clean the dirt off of the teeth on the rafter arm bar, which was then sprayed with silicone lubricant and the excess was wiped off with a clean cloth.

43-rafter-arm-teeth.jpgI then slid the tube back onto the rafter arm bar and reattached the rafter arm to the awning roller shaft and extended the main arm fully for cleaning.  I sprayed the main arm with silicone and wiped off the excess with a clean cloth.

The roller shaft was then sprayed and worked back and forth several times as seen in the video.

This was then repeated on the arm on the other side of the awning.

Other instructional videos are also available from Zip Dee such as:

Straightening a Bent Main Arm Bar

Adjusting the Main Arm Bars (to fit the Clamp Wheel)

Ratchet Stud Replacement

Awning safety

We learned early on how quickly weather conditions can change, especially when camping in the desert, and that it is a good idea to not leave an awning extended during windy or rainy conditions.  We also learned that one good precaution to take when there is possible rain nearby, is to leave one side of the awning lower than the other to prevent accumulation of water which could weigh down and bend the supporting arms.

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We have also learned that it is best to retract the awning whenever leaving the trailer unattended or when going to bed for the evening.  By the way, it is easy to bump into the opened awning support arms (especially when entertaining), so we periodically hang festive decorative items on them, such as these Chinese flutes, for increased visibility.  Finally, prior to towing, we make sure that the patio awning is secured by the top travel lock (hook) and the two side clamp locks, the street-side awning’s top hook is secured, and the rear awning is rolled up.

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Now it’s time to cool off, relax, and watch this video of snowy scenes as Airstream Professionals visit the Airstream Service Center in Jackson Center, Ohio.

Diesel power

We contracted “aluminumitis” over three years ago and after much research we settled on the 23′ Safari SE Airstream trailer.  But before buying the trailer we had to decide on the proper tow vehicle that would best meet our needs.  I quickly found out that this would not be a quick and easy process.  I found a plethora of tow vehicle threads and opinions on the Airstream Knowledge Sharing Forums.  Aside from which brand to buy, it seemed that the first decision had to be which fuel-type to select, gas or diesel. So I started the thread, “Gas vs. Diesel in the New World“, which yielded 15 pages of discussion.

The selection came down to factors of power, geography/topography, and longevity.  It seemed to us that the diesel truck would be better suited to carry us, our dogs, and our “stuff” (cooking equipment, tables, chairs and mats) and pull our trailer up and over our nearby mountains, and continue to do so well into our retirement.  So it was “Diesel for me in the New World“.

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Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913), a German engineer, designed and patented in 1892 an internal combustion engine, the diesel engine, which uses the heat of highly compressed air to ignite a spray of fuel introduced after the start of the compression stroke.

Karl Benz is generally regarded as the inventor of the first gasoline-powered automobile in 1886 and he was a pioneering founder of the automobile manufacturer, Mercedes-Benz.  His company, Benz & Cie designed the first truck in history in 1895 and was the largest automobile company in the world in 1899.

Gottlieb Daimler (1834-1900), another German engineer, invented the first high-speed petrol engine and the first four-wheel drive automobile.  Daimler and his lifelong business partner Wilhelm Maybach in 1890 founded Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) which began to produce the Mercedes model of 1902.  DMG merged with Benz & Cie in 1926 and adopted Mercedes-Benz as its automobile trademark along with its logo, the three-pointed star which represented Daimler’s motto: “engines for land, air, and water”.

Modern diesel engines have come a long way from the first one and are much more complex (see this animation).  Modern diesel vehicles of today have also come a long way, as seen in the Mercedes-Benz GL Class SUV, which features Blue TEC diesel technology.  This technology reportedly reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%.  A blue urea solution is injected into the exhaust gas flow releasing ammonia which breaks down the nitrogen oxides into harmless nitrogen and water particles in the catalytic converter.

Ken Gross tells more about the Mercedes-Benz GL and diesel power in this video of his test drive in Iceland (shown on You Tube).

Did you know that the Popemobile most often used by Pope Benedict XVI when traveling abroad is a modified Mercedes-Benz M-Class sport utility vehicle (as seen here in Brazil)?

As mentioned above, we chose a diesel truck because we haul a lot of equipment.  We are very happy with our 2006 F-250 Super Duty diesel truck, which comes with a 6.0 Power Stroke V8 Turbo diesel engine, Tow Command integrated trailer brake controller, and tow mirrors (seen on left in image below).

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Rich L chose the 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL320 and I say, Congratulations and Welcome to the world of diesel power!