Desert dreams of rain and flowers

I woke up from my dreams to grab my Nikon camera to catch the sun before it bore down on the Airstream Safari trailer, flowers, and bighorn sheep, as a heat wave broke over the San Diego area.

DSC_0307 Heat before sunrise

It was already warm even before the sun pierced the horizon of the Anza-Borrego Desert.

DSC_0321 Burning desert sunrise

Ocotillo leaves and flowers were shriveling up while back at camp, the trailer was making a valiant effort to keep cool by flying its sails and having all windows and vents open and numerous fans running. (See “Desert heat“)

DSC_0149 Airstream sails flying

By early morning an important decision was made to close up the Safari and turn on the air conditioning for our and our corgis’ safety and comfort.  Dogs can get hyperthermia easily as we found out when our corgi Tasha vomited several times late one afternoon, but quickly recovered the next day (See signs of heat exhaustion).

DSC_0010 Larry acesses desert heat

Before it got too hot, we chatted with our neighbors, Bev and George, who were thrilled to see a mother quail and four chicks again this spring (as they had in previous years).

DSC_0446 Quail and 4 chicks

George delighted in showing me the Desert Willow,* Chilopsis linearis ssp. arcuata, flowers frequented by hummingbirds.

DSC_0015 George & Desert Willow

DSC_0083 Desert Willow flower

The spring desert wildflower season is now winding down, but the Desert Agave, Agave deserti, looked triumphant with its yellow flowers on tall spikes, as I hiked the Moonlight Canyon Trail.*

DSC_0051 Desert Agave flowers

Although bighorn sheep are known to eat agave and other cacti such as hedgehog cactus, they seem to prefer to eat softer textured plants when available.  As the desert vegetation begins to dry up, the bighorn sheep have been seen coming down off the nearby protective mountains and hills in search of food near the campsites.

DSC_0195 Bighorn sheep grazing in campground

After their campground picnic,* they retreated to a nearby hill to rest and talk.

DSC_0303 Bighorn sheep resting

As I gently, quietly, and slowly approached, some of them seemed to recognize me from my first closeup encounter with them five years ago.  The 14 sheep in this herd, positioned themselves to detect danger from any direction, yet seemed perfectly relaxed during my 40-minute photo shoot.

Agua Caliente Bighorn sheep herd (14)

For me, it was like a dream… and a fitting way to say “Goodbye” until we return next season when the cooler air, rains, and flowers return.  I waved to them as I left them to dream of rain and flowers in the desert sand.*

DSC_0111 Red Torch Cactus

Red Torch Cactus, Echinopsis huascha  (Near Agua Caliente Regional Park Entrance Station)

*This is a YouTube video.

Tire pressure monitoring system II

Special Trailer (ST) tires have a maximum speed rating of 65 mph,* and if exceeded or if the tires are under-inflated, the tire temperatures increase, causing a weakening of the tire structure, which can lead to a shortening of the life expectancy of the tire and/or a catastrophic accident.* We have learned the importance of continuously monitoring the tire pressures (and our speed) from preflight to our arrival and midway during our stay and during our return trip home.    To facilitate this, we have relied on a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) since 2008, first with Doran, and then with PressurePro since 2011 (See “TPMS-Update“)

DSC_0005 PressurePro monitor

Typically, two or three days before departure, I install the sensors on the tires and adjust the tire pressure to be as close as possible to the specified maximum 50 PSI cold for our ST 215/75R14 Goodyear Marathon tires for the expected temperature at the time of departure.  (Our tow vehicle’s truck tires also get the sensors and have a cold PSI of 60 for front and 75 for rear tires.)

DSC_0200 ST Tire, PSI spec- cold 50

I keep a running log of the pressures and temperatures for each trip, which is started at the beginning of our trailer trip prep week and detailed in my post “Airstream Safari trip notes.”

DSC_0123 Tire pressure logOn the left is the log for our December trip.  The sensors were installed on Thursday and I noticed that the street-side rear sensor pressure reading was lower than the other sensors, which may indicate a slow tire or sensor leak.  I added air to this tire on the following day.  Early Saturday morning, the outside air temperature was 40°, and I noticed that the rear curbside sensor was not transmitting a pressure reading until it warmed up to 50°.  We departed Sunday afternoon and when we arrived at our campsite, I discovered a 1″ washer head machine screw embedded in our rear curbside tire as I was covering it for the night.  The next day, our PressurePro monitor confirmed my fear that the screw had penetrated the inner tire.  I replaced this tire with the spare and documented this in my post, “A Marathon tire repair.”

DSC_0015 I" machine screw in tireWasher head machine screws, commonly used on automobiles and motorcycles, are often encountered on highways and back roads, and I suspect that the washer head, when run over, causes the opposite end to rise towards the tire and puncture it straight on.

We find the most screws and nails in campgrounds, often brought in with firewood by campers, as seen in my post, “Nailing it… A TPMS encore.”

This camping season, our PressurePro TPMS sensors became 5 years old and were showing their age.  As seen in the log above, one was not transmitting a pressure reading in the early morning cold and another was very slowly leaking air, confirmed by temporarily putting another sensor in its place.  I contacted PressurePro and they sent me 4 new sensors for my trailer at a discounted rate, along with a Sensor Seal/Installation Tool Kit, that I will use to upgrade the truck’s sensors.

DSC_0012 New PressurePro sensor

An obvious improvement in the new sensors is that each sensor has a unique green identification number displayed on its side, which decreases the chances of placing a sensor on the wrong location.  (Each sensor is programmed for each tire location and I place each sensor in a zip lock bag assigned for each tire location when not in use, thus prolonging the battery life.  See how to set up the PressurePro tire pressure monitoring system in the video, “Protect Your RV with a TPMS“*)

A less obvious, but more important improvement is that the new PressurePro sensors now have a new Sensor Seal, a two-piece valve system that uses a hard plastic depressor to more fully depress the valve and yet, provides a hard stop during installation, protecting the seal. (Older sensors were often over tightened, resulting in damage to the O-ring seal.)  Older sensors with the one-piece seal can be upgraded by using PressurePro’s Sensor Seal/Installation Tool Kit that contains 10 sensor seals and a seal installation tool.

A tire pressure monitoring system adds to our peace of mind while on our safaris, where we’d rather come face to face with a coyote than with tire trouble!  (See Author’s update below regarding high temperature alerts and other PressurePro improvements.)

DSC_0046 Coyote in my face

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

RV refrigerator drain tube failure

Our Airstream Safari trailer became 9 years old last December when I discovered that our Dometic refrigerator drainage tube was falling apart behind the lower, vented, outside panel door of the refrigerator compartment.  The OEM white, thin plastic drainage tubing becomes brittle and falls apart, some say as early as 3-years old,* undoubtedly accelerated by being near heat.

DSC002 Broken refrig drain tube

This was not an immediate problem because water only drains out of this tubing when defrosting the refrigerator or when condensation forms and drips from the cooling fins, and we live and camp in a relatively dry climate.  Typically, we can go 2-3 trips before needing to defrost the refrigerator.

(Defrosting for me goes quickly: I choose a warm afternoon and place a fan on the covered lobster sink directly across from the opened refrigerator door. I turn off the refrigerator, prop open the freezer door and, as the fan blows warm air into the refrigerator, I use chopsticks to gently nudge the melting ice sections off the fins and slide the chunks toward me and catch them in a Tupperware lid and deposit them on nearby plants.  Water that drips from the fins is collected in the condensation drain pan and flows through its bottom hole into the Dometic white drain pipe with cup, which connects with the drainage tubing on the backside of the refrigerator.)

After our third trip to the desert and coyotes this season,* it was time to replace this failed part, so I rustled up three feet of a more durable, vinyl plastic hose from our local West Marine store.

DSC126 PVC tubing from West Marine

Shields Rubber Series 162 Polyester Reinforced Clear PVC Tubing, 1/2″ ID (inside diameter).  I chose this tubing over the clear vinyl tubing because it is reinforced, can tolerate hot water (or being in a hot space such as near the boiler tube), more flexible and is slightly less expensive than their clear vinyl tubing.

DSC134 Shield's Rubber Series 162 PVC tubing

We saved the original Dometic drainage plug (seen above), which is valuable because it keeps critters out of the tubing and currently costs $11.99 to replace!

Some have found that the only way to gain access to where this OEM tubing connects to the Dometic drain pipe in the back of the refrigerator is to move, tilt or slide the refrigerator towards the trailer interior, which involves disconnecting the gas, AC and DC power, and foot screws!  In our case, I was able to reach this spot with my hand.  The old tubing was easy to remove because it disintegrated as I touched it!  I reviewed RV refrigerator condensation drain tube videos such as this one.*  The new tubing was attached to the protruding end of the Dometic white drain pipe seen below.  Larry held the pipe/cup from inside the trailer while I pushed the new tubing into place.

DSC142 Dometic drain pipe with cup

Cable (zip) ties were used to secure the tubing connection and to keep it away from the boiler tube seen below.

DSC150 Drain tube held by cable ties

Once the tubing reached the refrigerator compartment floor, it was brought to the opening of the space and secured by the OEM black vinyl coated loop hose clamp and Phillips head screw.

DSC153 Drain tube held by loop hose clamp

At this point, the tubing was trimmed and the Dometic drain plug was inserted.  Refrigerator water is now properly channeled and free to flow under the lower refrigerator access panel door and exit the trailer.  I am confident that this tubing will last for many years to come!

DSC158 Drain tube top to bottom

And future refrigerator defrosting with this upgraded pipeline* will almost be as much fun as surfing the tube!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

A Marathon tire repair

Cold and darkness were rapidly descending as I was completing our trailer unhitching for our holiday camping stay in the desert when I noticed a screw in the Marathon tire as I was placing the tire covers for a long winter’s nap.  My hopes that the screw did not fully penetrate the tire were dashed the next morning when our PressurePro tire pressure monitoring system showed 21 psi for this tire, which should have been 50.

DSC_0013 Screw embedded in tire crown

After breakfast, I carefully unscrewed it with pliers and was amazed at its length of 1 inch.  It turned out to be a Torx hex washer head self-tapping machine screw* commonly found on automobiles and motorcycles.  I marked the puncture site location with masking tape (and later the wheel & drum to make sure the wheel was replaced in the same position per the Airstream Owners Manual).

205 Torx hex washer head machine screw

As the tire went completely flat, I consulted The (nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance, which has 12 pages devoted to tire care, repair and issues.  This guide reminded me that when accessing the spare tire,* just pull out the cotter pin and hold up the handle while removing the bolt, rather than doing it the hard way of removing the lower nut and bolt as seen below (which I have done before)!

DSC_0029 Accessing spare tire

The trailer’s stabilizing jacks were raised before placing the truck jack under the exposed section of the trailer’s frame between the wheels.

DSC_0027 Tire jack placement

Before raising the trailer, I made sure the opposite side trailer wheel chock was in place and I loosened the lug nuts with a cross-type 4-way lug wrench that enhances leverage.

DSC_0020 cross-type lug wrench

The trailer was then raised, the flat tire removed, and the spare put in place.  I hand tightened the lug nuts before lowering the trailer.  Once on the ground, the spare tire lug nuts were then tightened with a torque wrench.*  Our Airstream Owners Manual reminded me to tighten the lug nuts on the spare steel wheel to 95 foot-pounds, rather than 110 for our aluminum wheels, and to recheck the torque at 10, 25, and 50 miles (I rechecked ours at 25 and 65 miles on the way back).

DSC_0022 Torque wrench to tighten

Once back in San Diego, I took the flat tire back to where we bought our replacement Goodyear Marathon tires, San Diego Tire & Wheel Outlet.  Per the Tire Industry Association,* this tire was repairable because the puncture occurred in the tire crown (and not the shoulder or sidewall) and was not larger than 1/4-inch (6mm), ours was 4.8mm.  The tire was removed from the rim so that the inside could be thoroughly inspected and repaired.  The inside puncture site was prepped by buffing and applying vulcanizing cement and after it dried, a mushroom-shaped patch-plug was applied.

394 Mushroom patch-plug close-up

393 Plug part of mushroom patch:plug

The patch-plug keeps water from entering and rusting the steel belts.  The plug was trimmed and now the tire is set to go and we’re ready to roll into a new year of living riveted!*

DSC_0397 Tire repaired correctly

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Polar Safari Holiday Express

DSC_0043 Polar Safari Express arrives

The corgis and I were cozy and enjoying the warmth of the early morning sun rays streaming into our Airstream Safari trailer as Larry, bundled in a parka, was mesmerized by birds feeding by the Palo Verde tree and the changing glowing colors bathing Whale Mountain.  A windy, cold storm had just passed through and brought ice to our dogs’ water bowls.  (Baby, it was cold outside.)*

DSC_0107 Sunrise & wildlife gazing

I ventured outside just in time to hear Larry say in a low voice, “Bill… a coyote!”  I looked across the park road and saw a very healthy, well-fed looking, beautiful adult coyote staring at Larry.

DSC_0110 Adult coyote, Agua Caliente

The coyote then took a look at me and went down through the creosote bushes followed by an adolescent and two pups.  The next morning, word spread throughout the campground that someone’s Chihuahua was off leash, chased something near the Nature Trail, yelped and then disappeared, which illustrates why San Diego County Parks require dogs to be closely attended and on 6-foot leashes!

As the sun rose, our campsite warmed and more wildlife emerged, such as the Hairy woodpecker pecking on our Palo Verde.

DSC_0178 Hairy woodpecker on Palo Verde

We brought along our birdseed feeder, but forgot to bring the hummingbird feeder, so we made our own, a wire-suspended glass tumbler filled with nectar (1/4 cup sugar to 1 cup of water) and topped with plastic flowers and a red piece of plastic that attracted the Anna’s hummingbird.

DSC_0361 Anna's hummingbird, rock tumbler

By late morning, the festive sun lit up our holiday table display.

DSC_0311 Winter holiday table

One of the items in this display is an Airstream-shaped pillow covered with a metallic silver lamé fabric that is now eight years old and shedding tiny silver particles that can be seen on the beaded palm tree trunk in the above and last photo of this post.  One of these silver specks landed in Larry’s eye, which resulted in a 4-hour visit to our local emergency room for removal upon our return to San Diego.  The pillow has now been retired!

Agua Caliente County Park had its own seasonal display in the form of Sweet Acacia, Acacia farnesiana, yellow flower puffs.

DSC_0293 Sweet Acacia, Agua Caliente

The days are now short and the nights have grown long but brightly lit up with our holiday lights.

DSC_0279 Camp night decorations

I especially enjoyed gazing in awe at the peaceful beauty of our hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah)…*

DSC_0255 Hanukkiah

… and thinking about what’s really important and beautiful in this world (real love).*  At this time of year, I also like to revisit the words and last sentence in Chris Van Allsburg’s book, The Polar Express,* “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”

DSC_0303 "the bell still rings for me"

*This is a link to a YouTube video.