Agua Caliente contemplations

Last Sunday we arrived at Agua Caliente as temperatures soared in the 90s, requiring air conditioning that first night, but by the next night I was wearing long johns as a rare early October storm from the Gulf of Alaska began moving into the area, bringing rain to the San Diego coast and high winds and unseasonably cool temperatures to the desert.

We came prepared to celebrate Oktoberfest.

Larry brought items prepared at home such as Jäger-Schnitzel (American version: Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup simmered with pork chops), Würzfleisch (East German chicken stew), and Kartoffelsalat (German potato salad).  We also brought leberwurst (liverwurst), bratwurst on skewers made of rosemary branches from our backyard, Beck’s Oktoberfest Lager, and German steins.  Additional items such as corn beef, corn on the cob, and pita bread provided meal flexibility depending on the weather and how we felt at the time.

By Tuesday, cool breezes made for a comfortable hike through Moonlight Canyon Trail, where I had a close encounter with Bighorn Sheep last January.  (The park rangers were impressed with my photo journal of this event made with iPhoto’s book-creation tool.)  I saw no sheep, but I was impressed with a large California Fuchsia, a.k.a. Firechalice, on the trail with a profuse display of scarlet flowers that we have not seen before because it blooms August to October, when we usually are not here.  A Rufous Hummingbird was seen nearby.  The flowers supply hummingbirds with food for the start of their southward migration.

I discovered a scorpion in the park restroom sink as I was about to take a shower.  I helped it out with some tissue paper and coaxed it out the door, but it quickly darted back under the door, so I chose another shower and now keep a closer eye out for creatures in restrooms (and those that like to take shelter in our trailer tire covers).

After the shower, I enjoyed Larry’s corn beef – Swiss cheese pita wrap served with chips, tomatoes, and Beck’s Beer.

This was usually followed by afternoon reading or napping.  At bedtime, I continued reading out loud Harry Potter.  We are currently reading Book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Before the gusty winds arrived, we enjoyed mellow evenings under the moon and stars.

On Thursday, we listened with sadness to a BBC tribute to Steve Jobs, which included his words of wisdom spoken during his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life… Have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition.  They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

Nailing it… a TPMS encore

As we meandered our way through the campground, we discussed our usual plan upon arrival at our site.  We approached our campsite and Larry got out and walked ahead and into the site, especially looking for nails, screws and any other potential hazards.  I saw him reach down and pick up an object.  “Found a nail,” he said over the two-way radio, “OK, you can back in now.”

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As Rich mentioned in “Something screwy in campgrounds” in his Tour of America blog, “… all the flats we’ve gotten, all of them have been from debris we ran over in campgrounds.  We’ve never had a blowout or flat on the road.  This is because campgrounds are often full of debris left by previous campers, hidden in the gravel.”

I carefully backed the trailer into the site, unhitched and set up camp.

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I have written about the importance of having TPMS, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, and recently, why I have two TPMS systems.  Another benefit of having TPMS is that tire pressures can be quickly and easily checked even though the tires are covered and have folding chairs and coolers in front of them.  It is reassuring to check the tires a day or two after pulling in to make sure they are maintaining the proper pressure.  I could also see how the pressure fluctuated depending on the air temperature.  Here in the desert the tire pressures increased 2-3 pounds per square inch from morning to noon.

This week at Agua Caliente County Park the wildflowers were blooming and the nails were proliferating, especially in our fire ring.

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Nails!  So that’s why there are so many nails and screws at campsites.  Campers bring in lumber with nails and screws and use it as firewood!  And as this lumber is cut or broken to fit the fire ring, nails and screws are set adrift.  Those nails and screws that make it into the fire ring don’t always stay there.  The base of our ring did not make continuous contact with the ground and I could see nails escaping, some seemed to be actively crawling toward our truck’s bare tires!

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One nail came close… and met its master… the heavy duty tire equipped with TPMS.

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TPMS – Update

A tire losing air and going flat can often be felt in the primary vehicle, but if this happens while towing a trailer you might not become aware of it until expensive and possibly catastrophic damage occurs to the trailer tire, rim and trailer.  I purchased the Doran Tire Pressure Monitoring System and began using it in November, 2008.  See my comprehensive article, “Tire pressure monitoring system“, which shows how I set up the monitor in our F-250 Super Duty truck.

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The system has performed flawlessly for over two years.  A few months ago, I began to notice an occasional loss of signal from one of the sensors.  I contacted Doran Mfg., LLC and received excellent customer service.  Per their instructions, I sent back the sensor for evaluation.  I was told the processing time would be about three weeks.  In the meantime, we already had camping reservations for an upcoming Agua Caliente Park trip and would not think of leaving home without a TPMS, which gave me an opportunity to purchase and try another popular brand, Pressure Pro, during the interim.  The Pressure Pro monitor and 4 sensors arrived quickly, were easy to program and install, and performed well.

Shortly after I returned from this trip, I received a new sensor from Doran.  See their YouTube video, “Doran Mfg. WTS Outdoor Adventure“.  Additional sensors can be purchased so that both the truck and trailer tire sensors can be monitored on one monitor.  But since I now have two separate monitoring systems (one for the truck tires and one for the trailer tires), I have the peace of mind knowing that should one fail, I can always use the other for those crucial trailer tires.  The two systems mount nicely in the truck as seen below.

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Earlier this week, I used both systems for our return to Borrego Springs, California, for camping during the beginning of the desert wildflower displays.  Whether we go over or around the mountains to this location, there are often few turnouts, so it is important to know if a tire is losing air before damage occurs.

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Over the phone, Doran Sales Representative, Debbi Gerdes (seen in the video mentioned above), told me that people tend to over-tighten the sensors when screwing them on the tire valve stem, which can cause the inner O-ring to bulge out or become loose and can lead to failure of the unit.  Debbie advised to just get them barely tight enough to seal.  She also said that the seal is not normally visible on the sensor, but if it is seen, it could be gently pressed back in place with a dental pick.

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So even if a trailer tire blows out, I’ll know about it immediately. Both monitors emit an audible alert if tire pressure goes out of normal range, so I can keep my eyes on the road and my hands on the wheel and enjoy getting there.

Tiki time in the mountains

Temperatures are rising in our nearby deserts with current average highs over 100o, so it was time to catch the mountains before they also become too hot for us.

dsc_0038-flag-day-in-the-mountains.jpg Our F-250 easily towed our 23′ Safari up from the Pacific Coast to our favorite wooded mountain campsite in the Cuyamaca Mountains, near Julian, California, at an elevation of 4200′.

Julian, located in a mixed pine-oak woodland, was the seasonal home to the Native American Kumeyaay people, who were displaced after the American Civil War by displaced Confederate Veterans from Georgia.

We strategically backed the trailer into the sun for the solar panels and parked the unhitched truck near the shade, where we and the Corgis often relaxed and chilled out during the heat of the day.

We raised the American flag high in honor of Flag Day.

We bring a large cooler filled with food and ice on every trip, which we usually take out of the truck and place in a shady area.  But it periodically had to be moved out of the moving sun or protected from night creatures, such as raccoons in this case.  So we found that it is more convenient (and the ice lasts longer) to leave it in the truck cargo area with the Retrax locking cover retracted for ventilation and cover it with a large truck sun shade to keep it cool.

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Since we had five nights reserved here, I brought along our REI dome tent that I had brought out here two years ago and set it up to relive the joys of tent camping and being close to nature and the elements, at least for a night or two (this might become an annual event).  The Tiki, which we renamed “Iz“,  also came along to enjoy the elements, especially the sun, which almost always makes him high.

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This campground is known for its wild turkeys, and one morning I found one that likes to take a walk in the sun.

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Later in the day, jumbo shrimp, bell peppers, onions, and leftover salsa fresca were stir fried on the Volcano 2 stove using the propane attachment.  As the sun set, we sipped Kahlúa in half and half cream in sherry glasses while we were entertained by bats dancing through the sky in search of insects.

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Tasha and I spent two nights in a row in the dome tent guarded by Iz.

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We listened to the evening breezes rustling through the hillside forest trees, sounding like the ocean surf at times, as the first quarter of the Strawberry Moon slowly descended the western night sky.

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We awoke at first light to the chorus of morning bird songs as our midsummer night’s dreams lingered in our minds.

Earthquakes and volcanos

Our Easter brunch family guests had just left and I was setting up the laptop computer when a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck 100 miles away causing our house to rock and roll and prompting me to call our newly acquired Corgi, Tasha, to join me out on the patio, followed by Larry and Corgi, Mac.  We watched as our fish pond noisily sloshed back and forth.  Two wine bottles and a clock had fallen over but were not damaged.   Thousands of aftershocks continue to be reported (including a 4.7 earthquake this morning), and it is estimated that earthquake-related damage in nearby Imperial County will eventually be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

One week later we returned to Anza-Borrego Desert for five nights of camping in a region that lies across one of the most active seismic systems in North America, according to Geology of Anza-Borrego: Edge of Creation, by Paul Remeika and Lowell Lindsay, 1992, Sunbelt Publications.  After passing over Earthquake Valley fault at Scissors Crossing, we stopped just outside Tamarisk Grove Campground (the second largest campground in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and now only open on weekends due to California’s budget crisis) for a look at the profuse yellow flowers of the Brittlebush.

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According to Diana Lindsay in her book Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things, 2001, Sunbelt Publications,  Tamarisk Grove is named for a stand of Athel tamarisk trees (Tamarix aphylla) planted as a shade tree and windbreak.  The campground was originally a San Diego County prison camp, established in 1929 to relieve crowding in the county jail.  Nearby are the Cactus Loop and Yaqui Well trails.

After a brief stop to take photos, we continued on to our Borrego Palm Canyon campsite.  Later in the week, our friends (and veterinarian) Bob and Theresa arrived with their 30′ Airstream Classic with slide-out.  Several times Bob spotted Bighorn Sheep and lambs on the ridge overlooking the campground through his telescope.

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A volunteer in the Visitors’ Center reported that the peak in the wildflower season here was two weeks ago, but we were pleased to see many plants still blooming, such as the Indigo Bush (Psorothamnus fremontii), named after John Charles Frémont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890), the first presidential candidate of a major party to run on a platform opposing slavery in 1856.

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While walking our Corgis along the campground road, we spotted Purple heather (Krameria erecta), seen below.

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While the Iceland volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, was spewing out ash and disrupting flights across Europe, our Volcano II Collapsible Stove was deep-frying Chinese spring rolls.

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This stove was purchased at a promotional demonstration at Costco earlier this year and this is the first time we brought it along while camping.

This portable, efficient and versatile stove can use propane gas, charcoal and wood.  It collapses and travels in the case provided.

Although it was not clear in the Owner’s Manual, we eventually found that the propane burner gas flames can be optimized by adjusting the air vent found on the underside of the propane burner (see below).dsc_0031-adjustable-air-vent.jpg

Our wok ring was added to support the Dutch oven.

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The spring rolls were stuffed with pork, shrimp and cabbage.  Once the oil was at 350o, the spring rolls were deep-fried.

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The stove worked wonderfully and produced delicious Chinese spring rolls seen on our campsite picnic table decorated with Peruvian Lily (Alstroemeria) flowers from home (a flowering Creosote bush, Larrea tridentata, is seen in the background).

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After dinner we enjoyed balmy desert breezes and watched the stars.  During the heat of the day, we turned on the air conditioner and read and napped…

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And listened to music and contemplated life through a dog’s eyes.  See the touching PBS film, Through a Dog’s Eyes.

We are learning to take our time and smell the flowers while time is still on our side.