Chinese New Year in the desert

There was a wind advisory for Interstate 8 East travelers so we did a short hop over the mountains via Banner Grade and safely landed and set up camp under the brilliant evening “star” Venus.  Our landing day weather was clear with temperatures in the seventy’s.  It was an auspicious beginning.

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Below Ghost Mountain in the Anza-Borrego Desert, we raised our Earth Flag and set out a pair of Chinese bamboo flutes.  According to Feng Shui, bamboo flutes are generally hung by red cord with tassels and represent qualities of power, safety, peace and endurance.

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We celebrated the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Earth Ox, with decorations inside the trailer…

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and hung Oriental lanterns from the nearby Mesquite tree.

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Larry made deep-fried Chinese pork-shrimp dumplings, shaped like gold ingots for prosperity and served with plum sauce for a sweet new year.

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After dinner, I enjoyed the ambiance of the Mesquite trees embracing our camping space while I continued further explorations of night photography.

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I also continued to contemplate the mysteries surrounding Ghost Mountain, Yaquitepec, Marshal South and his trips to nearby Julian, and why some in Julian still refer to him as a “useless oddball”.  Last week writer, photographer Bert Gildart again hiked up Ghost Mountain to Yaquitepec and wrote why he is still fascinated with the Marshal South story in his post, “Nonconformist Marshall South and the Stubborn Fishhook Cactus“.  A few days later I joined him on a trip up Banner Grade to Julian where I showed him the gravesite of Marshal South and we went on to photograph the frieze that Marshal painted in the former Julian Library.  In my next article, “Desert trails and mysteries”, follow along as Bert and I visit Marshal’s gravesite and the library while we grapple with the mysteries surrounding the Souths’ and Julian.

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Airstream Alley, part two

Cooking, feasting and entertaining our way into the New Year(s)…

This alley-not-a-rally had no scheduled, organized activities and events.  Even dinner details were decided at the last moment.  We set up our base camp (which faced away from the main campground) with picnic tables, umbrella, flagpole, lights and mats.  Participants and dishes varied from night to night as our spontaneous rolling party continued.

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Rich and Eleanor’s 2005 30′ Safari Bunkhouse is just ahead of ours, followed by David and Ari’s 2006 28′ Safari LS Slide-out.  Larry made siu mai, a form of dim sum as our Pug, Pau Hoa supervised.

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These pork and shrimp siu mai were then steamed for 20 minutes in the steamer seen here.

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Meanwhile, Rich and I played “The Galaxy Song” on our ukuleles.

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A pre-dinner “Ain’t Misbehavin‘” was played by Rich on his tenor uke.

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Seen at the dinner table on one of the feast nights were David and Ari, who brought tomato-shrimp pasta, stir-fried vegetables, and cheese cake.   Eleanor brought curried beef and a spicy, Indian curry lentil dish with macadamia nuts.  Terry and Greg brought Chinese spring rolls on one night and a pumpkin pie fresh out of their 19′ Safari Bambi’s oven on another night. (We are bundled up due to temperatures in the 40’s at night, but wear T-shirts during the day when the temperature is in the low 70’s.)

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You can see above that, besides the Oval Office, remnants of Rich’s “Beach Club” fabric also made their way to our cushions.

Seen below are Bill and Beth who brought an assortment of sweets that included nut bread, caramel corn, and Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, based on a recipe by Shirley Corriher (the recipe and how to bake the perfect cookie is found here).  Bill and Beth’s 1979 23′ Safari is pulled with a 1977 Lincoln Continental.  In addition to siu mai, Larry made coleslaw with sesame seeds.  Eleanor brought string beans and a salad with pomegranate seeds.  Also seen here are Bob and Theresa who pull a 2008 30′ Classic Slide-out with a F-350 dually.

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After-dinner entertainment was supplied by Larry and Emma who animated Griff, a griffin shoulder puppet that Larry found at Renaissance Faire.

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The following morning, just before our hike up Palm Canyon, Rich savored the very sweet and juicy navel oranges given to us by Ron and Aldrene, who have a 16′ Bambi.  Highlights of our adventurous hike up Palm Canyon will be featured in Airstream Alley, part three.

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Each year we celebrate three New Years (Rosh Hashana, Western new year, and Chinese New Year).  The new Chinese New Year, the Year of the Earth Ox, begins with the new moon on January 26 and we already have a string of auspicious, red Chinese firecrackers hanging on our pod bay door. The focus of the new year is on our family and friends. Larry is already at work researching Chinese recipes and I just found an Astro Chinese New Year 2009 Song.

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Happy New Year, with health, wealth, and prosperity.

Happy New Year galaxy travelers

We rested and feasted while home for the holidays and kept warm and dry while our space ship enjoyed a natural washing from the recent winter rain storms along the coast of Southern California. Gas prices have now hit a five-year low and our sun now smiles down on the great Southwest, just in time for us to drive to Dos Picos Regional Park for a pre-New Year’s celebration with fellow galaxy travelers, Terry and Greg from Tucson, Arizona.

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We brought Larry’s homemade lentil soup with chicken, sausage and bacon, along with pork tamales, and chocolate biscotti.  The weather was on the cool side, but the food and hot tea warmed us up.

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(Sadie, their blond cocker spaniel, sits next to Larry, while Annie, a black cocker spaniel sits under the table, Greg is wearing the ball cap and Terry is wearing the yellow shirt.)  Terry (sometimes known as Tucson Terry) is known on Airstreamforums as TBRich where he features his travel thread “AZBAMBI… On the Road Again…“.  He also maintains his web site of the same name, which features a detailed log of their travels along with a plethora of beautiful and colorful photos. Through AZBambi Decors, Greg and Terry help others customize and personalize their Airstream interiors by making custom slip covers for the dinette, along with curtains, bedspreads, window valances, pillow shams and throw rugs. Greg made the new dinette cushion slip covers for the Luhrs’ seen here.

After lunch I enjoyed hiking the Nature Trail of Dos Picos Regional Park, located in San Diego County. Dos Picos is Spanish for “two peaks” (which are nearby) and is in a small valley filled with oak trees and surrounded by ranch land and steep rocky slopes. The Ipai (Kumeyaay) Native Americans lived here 7000 years ago. They gathered the abundant oak acorns and ground them into meal. The wide range of habitats supports birds, coyotes, foxes, possums, skunks, and raccoons. Due to the recent rains, moss grows abundantly on the rocks in shady areas.

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Along the trail I spotted a boulder that looked like a large skull.

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Snow covered the Cuyamaca Mountains in the distance.

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We re-grouped and spent the afternoon chatting.

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We talked about everything… their new interior LED overhead lights, fabrics, cushions, accessories, camping, traveling, cooking and food,  pets and even politics.  Well, New Year’s is a good time for A Year in Review – 2008… and a good time to raise our concerns for national lands and the wildlife therein (as recently done by writer and photographer, Bert Gildart)… and a time for contemplating New Year’s resolutions.  As darkness descended we talked about the Man in the Maze symbol, often used in the American Southwest by Hopi silversmiths.  According to O’odham oral history, this design depicts experiences and choices we make in our journey through life.  Greg then showed us his watchband with two A-Man-in-the-Maze gold and silver jewelry pieces made by Jason Takala (of the Hopi tribe) who specializes in Hopi Overlay Jewelry.

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I seem to recall seeing that symbol and title used somewhere else… let’s see.

We said our “See you on the road” to Terry and Greg and attempted to return to home base, but found ourselves repeatedly going in circles through the dark maze of the campground until a Park Ranger led us from darkness to the light of the Ranger’s Station at the park entrance.  Tomorrow we will reactivate the mother ship, recalibrate the flux capacitor and continue preparations for traveling to a warmer climate to greet the sun, travelers, and the new year.

Today Terry and Greg moved to William Heise County Park near Julian, CA.  I just received their report that it is cold, 35 degrees. (Current weather in Julian: temperature is 33 degrees and will drop to 22 degrees by midnight). Terry reports that the campground looks like an active lumber cutting camp with freshly bulldozed mud banks and torn up remains of trees”. He said the ranger reported that the heavy snow there earlier in the week had brought down many limbs, branches and whole trees! Hang in there, Terry and Greg, the weather in Anza-Borrego will be 70 degrees when we rendezvous there on Tuesday, and sunny through the week, which should be topped off nicely by the Quadrantids meteor shower during the pre-dawn hours of January 3.

Happy New Year! Galaxy Travelers and everyone, everywhere… Let’s toast to the New Year with champagne… or grapefruit juice… and Drive the Cold Winter Away!

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Full Moon at Ghost Mountain

My timing was off so we arrived below Ghost Mountain just as the sun was setting, but my spirits were rising along with the anticipated full moon during the second week of November. We’re now on Pacific Standard Time and the shortening of the days is not helpful, except for my skin. (See my August 24th post on Sun Safety.)

Ghost Mountain is located in what is now called Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, in the eastern side of San Diego County. It was the home of poet, author, and artist Marshal South and family from 1930 to 1947. On this dry and sun scorched flat just below the top of the mountain, Marshal built his adobe home, which he called “Yaquitepec“, which means “hill of the Yaqui” after the fiercely freedom-loving Native American Indians of Sonora, Mexico. Due to his successful article, “Desert Refuge” in the March 11, 1939 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, he received a contract with Desert Magazine to write monthly articles on his experiment in pursuing a primitive and natural life style, along with his reflections on family life. (He and his wife raised three children and home-schooled them.)

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Wally Byam, designer of the Airstream travel trailer, wrote a letter to Desert Magazine, in the March 1941 issue, praising Marshal South for setting the example of escaping the treadmill side of life, along with being “slaves to businesses, jobs, possessions and conventions” and for living his dream of going back to nature and depending on minimal stuff. Read more about this and see photos of Yaquitepec along with Marshal South and family in the article, “Marshal South & Wally Byam – Parallel Roads, Different Destinations”, pages 36 to 39, in the Fall 2008 issue of Airstream Life.

Additional information, along with the complete collection of his writings from Desert Magazine, is contained in the book, Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles – An Experiment in Primitive Living, edited by Diana Lindsay, Sunbelt Publications, 2005. The newly released DVD of John McDonald‘s full length and uncensored documentary, The Ghost Mountain Experiment, is now available and previewed here.

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Just as I had hoped, the Beaver Moon, also known as the Frost Moon or Snow Moon, rose shortly after setting up camp and bathed the trailer and landscape with beautiful, reflected sunlight which was thirstily absorbed by my Nikon D40 camera set on Auto (Flash off) Mode, as previously illustrated and described in my Cuyamaca spirits rising article.

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Rich Luhr pointed out the fun of experimenting with nighttime star photography in his article on his visit to Navajo National Monument, Az, earlier this fall.

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The above is really sunlight bounced off of the moon as evidenced by the candle light inside the trailer and the stars above.

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It really was nighttime as Larry deep fried potatoes and cauliflower while I cooked steak on the hibachi.

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We enjoyed the after dinner glow (Pug is wearing a red lighted collar for safety from REI) as we listened to the crackling fire and coyotes yelping in the distance…

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And look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends.

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If you are in the area, instead of shopping at the mall for more stuff after Thanksgiving, you could take advantage of a special event this weekend in Anza-Borrego, the screening of John McDonald’s The Ghost Mountain Experiment, 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 29, at the Borrego Springs Performing Arts Center.

Happy Thanksgiving!

End of summer dreams

Thanks to Dwayne and Aaron of Southwest Coaches, “Where Dreams Come True”, our end of summer trip-to-the-beach dream eventually did come true. But it was a different picture just one week ago. Just after I had unhooked our 30 amp shore power cord from the trailer, in preparation for washing the trailer, just prior to our scheduled three night camping outing at South Carlsbad State Beach, I heard some brief, but unusual, street-side clicking sounds near the area where the converter is located. I washed the trailer and reconnected the shore power.

The next day, while I was doing interior cleaning, I had two Fantastic fans running and some lights on. When I happened to glance at the Sunexplorer (solar power) monitor, I was shocked to see it reporting that the AGM batteries were at 45%. (They are normally at 100% when connected to shore power.) That evening I posted the problem on airforms.com and got useful information and support. (See jd’s excellent troubleshooting tips and photos in this thread.) Setting the “Use/Store” switch to “Store” did seem to keep the batteries from draining lower during the night (thanks 2air’). The solar panels were able to bring the batteries back to 100% during the day (and thus helped to save the batteries during this crisis). But as the sun set, I could see that the batteries were not holding their charge like they used to. What was needed after that drop to 45% was for the batteries to get charged to the maximum for a couple of days on shore power via the converter.

Testing with a digital voltmeter showed that my Parallax 7300 Series electronic power converter was not working correctly because the voltage reading at the positive and negative battery connections at the converter showed 9.5 volts (my Airstream Manual states that if the reading here is not between 13.8 and 14.0 volts, the converter needs to be serviced or replaced).

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(This photo shows the reading of the voltage of the converter after it was replaced by Southwest Coaches.)

The other indicator that the converter was not charging the batteries was that when testing the voltage at the battery terminals, the voltage remained the same, regardless of the shore power being connected or disconnected. (You would normally see a higher reading at the battery terminals when the shore power is connected.)

So our end of summer trip to the beach became a trip to the dealer and we reluctantly canceled our camping reservations. Fortunately, our Parallax converter was still within the two year warranty period, and, with our local Airsteam dealer, Revolution RV, suddenly out of business, we journeyed 83 miles up the coast (a two hour trip in morning rush hour traffic) to Southwest Coaches, in Irvine, CA., where we originally bought our trailer. When we placed our factory order with them almost two years ago, they gave us a good deal, and when the trailer arrived, it got an excellent prep, and we got a thorough walk-through/orientation from Aaron.

When we arrived, Aaron confirmed that the converter (bottom half) needed to be replaced, and not only replaced it, but also checked and replaced the notorious, black water tank sensor, and re-calibrated all of the system monitor sensors, and all within an hour’s time.

So we were back on the freeway, happily headed south at 11:30 a.m., when I thought we have everything we needed to camp, wouldn’t it be fun if a beach-side campsite were available. We quickly assessed our provisions and resources (and were glad that we had brought the dogs along) and pulled into South Carlsbad State Beach. The very friendly ranger told us we were in luck because this nearly full campground just had an unexpected early departure from a beach-side campsite. We took it!

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Even though it was just for one night, it was wonderfully therapeutic after dealing with the past week of stress and two months of not camping. We and our dogs enjoyed relaxing to the sounds of the waves, birds, and ocean breezes.

My two week topical chemotherapy treatment of actinic (solar) keratosis ended a week ago and the rather large red area on my cheek was starting to fade. The area had been unsightly with white whiskers sprouting through, until I bought an electric razor (Remington Microscreen 280), which comfortably brought them under control. This razor has additional benefits when camping by not adding whiskers to the sink drain and by saving on water usage… and it will be recharged with power made by the sun when boondocking.

Sun safety not only means protecting skin with sunscreen and wearing broad-brimmed hats, but also protecting eyes with a good pair of sunglasses. After each of my cataract eye surgeries I was provided a pair of Dioptic Solar Shield sunglasses. By the way, some scientists are now saying that there is no such thing as a safe tan.

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So on this beautiful, sunny day at the beach, a fellow passed by and said, “Thanks for doing that!”, as he pointed to our American flag at half-mast… (it was 9/11 Remembrance Day). I said, “Yes, it’s a sad day to remember.” “No!”, he said, “It’s a happy day… we have our country, and our loved ones…”, and he gave a smile and a thumbs-up gesture.

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Yes, it turned out to be a happy day indeed. And the following day was happy, too, when we brought our trailer home and connected it to shore power and saw that the converter was now working. After two days of charging up the AGM batteries with shore power they are fully charged and retain their charge when shore power is disconnected.

So I, for one, have had my fill of the sun for awhile, and look forward to the shortening of the days and the lowering of the sun in the southern sky.

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This weekend we are enjoying the clear night sky with the full moon as we celebrate family and friends during this Chinese Moon Festival period…

Eleanor Luhr provides additional background information on the Moon Festival, in the September 15, 2008 Tour of America post, “Celebrating the Harvest Moon“, which includes photos of Eleanor and Emma making moon cakes (Thanks, Eleanor and Emma!)

Happy Moon Festival! (and hope you catch your reflections… and dreams!)…

Now “Fly Me to the Moon“… (let me play among the stars)…

or simply, “Nightwish“…. (sing to me, my angel).