Ocean breeze

Surf’s up and cool ocean breezes are zipping up and over our South Carlsbad State Beach bluff campsite where we enjoyed a break from the desert heat. We camped for four nights on the edge of a 3-mile long bluff, where we were bathed in the continuous sounds of the wind and surf. Seagulls sailed by, both inside and outside the trailer.

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Seagulls by John Perry

The area of Carlsbad was once inhabited by the Luiseno Native Americans who had a village near the Agua Hedionda Lagoon which was a resting place for Gaspar de Portola and Father Juan Crespi on their expedition up the coast in 1769 to establish outposts and missions for Spain. In 1883 the Santa Fe Railroad passed near here and land was opened to homesteaders and real estate speculators, including John Frazier who tapped an artesian spring yielding mineral water which was thought to be curative and likened to the old Bohemian spa of Karlsbad (in Czechoslovakia).

Five miles north of Carlsbad is Oceanside, where Marshal South, once known as Oceanside’s Poet Laureate, met his wife-to-be, Tanya, whose parents were orthodox Jews from the Russian Ukraine and emigrated to New York in 1906. See an image of Marshal and Tanya’s “honeymoon accommodations” while camping on an Oceanside beach in 1923.

Marshal South probably would have found our trailer accommodations interesting even though he apparently had no desire to use or generate electricity at Yaquitepec. Here at South Carlsbad State Beach we are self-contained and, with our two solar panels, we generate more electricity than we use during the day, even through the marine layer. Typically by late morning each day our AGM batteries are 100 percent at 13.5 volts.

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If we did a lot of this coastal camping, a portable wind turbine could possibly take advantage of the almost constant ocean breeze.

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We found that this South Carlsbad bluff is really the turf of the California Ground Squirrel.

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 Their accommodations are underground burrows on the other side of the fence and their favorite activities are surveying the campers and obtaining campers’ food and water. Bungee cords were used to secure outdoor items that contained food or other items of interest.

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A family of nearby squirrels paused for a moment and seemed mesmerized by Larry’s ukulele playing and singing.

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 More beautiful sunsets and summer breezin’ are just around the corner.

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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).

Down the shore

Our local mountains are heating up, so its time to take our Safari to the beach, or as we say in New Jersey, down the shore. Although our 23′ Airstream Safari is right at home anywhere we take it, it seems to be especially happy to be strategically positioned on bluffs overlooking the beach where it can enjoy staying cool in the gentle breezes, while its solar panels soak up the California sunshine.

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We returned to our favorite non-hook-up beach campground, South Carlsbad State Beach, less than an hour’s drive from San Diego. The premium sites, adjacent to the beach, usually need to be reserved ahead of time. Most of these sites are now booked through Labor Day. We purposely avoided the noisy and rowdy crowds of Memorial Day and enjoyed four days of listening to the relaxing sounds of the waves

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While watching the pelicans and seagulls glide by at eye level…

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Stairway access to the beach is nearby…

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The beach and adjacent bluffs are quite picturesque…

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Especially when viewed while boogie boarding

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Larry featured homemade Spring rolls, containing pork and shrimp, which were crispy and delicious.

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I brought along good reading material, such as The Digital Photography Book, by Scott Kelby. That, along with the owner’s manual, should help me get the most out of my new Nikon D40 camera.

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This is my first digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera and I am learning to use it in a variety of light conditions. (In the photo below, darkness has already descended, and the site is only lit up by a waxing moon. No flash was used.)

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I’m also having fun using the Nikon 18-200 mm VR zoom lens, in this case to capture one of those aggressive squirrels that frequently got up on our picnic table and nibbled on anything in sight, including our flowers and roll of paper towels.

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I then remembered the cats’ reaction to Tommy and Rich playing their ukes at Anza-Borrego last December, and the ukulele frenzy seemed to work on the squirrels, too!

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Airstream and Earth Day

In 1969, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed a national environment event which led to the first Earth Day observance on April 22, 1970. It is now viewed as a worldwide effort to promote the health and protection of our global environment and resources.

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Forty-three years earlier, William Hawley Bowlus supervised the construction of Charles Lindbergh’s plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, at Ryan Airline Company in San Diego in 1927. In 1934, he applied aircraft monocoque construction techniques and used Duraluminum in making a streamlined travel trailer, the Road Chief. Two years later, a salesman for the Bowlus-Teller Mfg. Company, Wally Byam, bought the company, founded Airstream, and made their first trailer, the Airstream Clipper, based on the Road Chief.

The sleek, streamline design of Airstream trailers now seems to be a timeless icon of natural beauty in form and function that works well with the environment rather than against it. The Airstream’s shiny exterior reflects the gleaming sun, sky, and natural beauty wherever we take it. Its low profile design also means that it helps us be more fuel efficient when towing, as well as safer in wind-advisory conditions.

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The Airstream trailer enables us to experience a variety of terrains and get close to the natural beauty of our planet Earth. It also reinforces good conservation efforts and habits as we learn to be frugal in the use of the trailer’s supply of water, propane and electricity. Airstream also inspires us just by being visible through our living room window.

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It motivates us to maintain and conserve what we already have (the greenest building is one that is already built), as well as to add additional alternative energy systems such as solar and wind power technology.

Airstream energizes us to observe, celebrate and live Earth Day, every day. Earth Day activates us to become more aware of environmental concerns and current issues. One issue is the threat to our local, state and national parks due to budget cuts during the downturn of our economy; California and Arizona are two good examples.

For more information on Earth Day and keeping current on green issues, check out some of these links: earth911.org, epa.gov/earthday, treehugger.com, and if you have a cat, see naturesearth.com. Then get your favorite beverage, sit back and enjoy music to celebrate Earth Day.

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Happy Earth Day (and Happy Birthday Emma)!

Safari Solar Power

Solar power is rapidly progressing from merely a “feel-good” issue to an increasingly impressive alternative to fossil-fuel derived electricity, especially as the cost of fuel escalates and the state of the economy deteriorates. Our Airstream factory-installed solar charging system, utilizing two 53-watt solar panels, enables us to enjoy our favorite style of non-hook-up camping in the solitude of nature, away from noisy generators and crowds.

We recently returned to our favorite desert non-hook-up site at Vallecito Regional Park nearby Ghost Mountain and raised our Earth flag.

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The Airstream factory installed two solar panels at our request as part of the solar option, custom order. I interviewed an Airstream representative who told me that Airstream first installed solar panels in 1994, and that most Airstream trailers were pre-wired for the solar option starting in 2000. Solar panels can also be added as an after-market item as described by Rich Luhr in his Tour of America blog.

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Our solar charging system consists of two 53-watt solar panels, two Lifeline AGM (Glass Mat) batteries, a charge controller, and panel display. Take the tour of our trailer and join the discussion at airforums.com. Rich Luhr’s system helped him to recharge his batteries after freezing nights and furnace use at Yellowstone. We are pleased with our system which has consistently recharged our batteries to 100% by mid to late morning every camping day.

We also continue to make progress towards more efficient energy utilization as technology continues to improve. For example, with our new MacBook Pro we can now watch the same DVD of the opera Carmen, and yet use much less power by not turning on the trailer’s LCD and 600-watt inverter.

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The following morning, we recharge the laptop and other small electrical appliances (2-way radios, portable speakers, cameras) with the Kensington Ultra Portable Power Inverter 150. This product works well and uses energy more efficiently than our 600-watt trailer inverter.

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The following two products kick efficient energy use up a notch. With minimal power, the iPod touch presents your favorite videos, internet sites, music, etc., which can be listened through its lightweight earphones. A group can also enjoy sitting around a picnic table in the evening and watching a movie when the iPod is attached to the i-F3 Portable iPod Speakers, rechargeable dock station, and built-in FM radio and alarm clock.

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Or you could make your own music and use even less power. Here Larry is practicing his ukulele while listening to a recording of Iz on the iPod.

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I’m learning to play “The Universe Song”* by Eric Idle and seen in the Monty Python movie, “The Meaning of Life“,* that reminds us of our place in the universe and that the sun is the source of all our power.

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Additional information on choosing and designing a solar system for your Airstream can be found in Michael and Susan Snowden’s article, “Powering Your Airstream with Sunlight”, in the Fall 2005 issue of Airstream Life.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.