California Mountain Camping

On Earth Day we arrived for four nights of non-hook-up camping at our favorite mountain campground, William Heise County Park, near Julian, California. During this second year of camping with our Airstream, we are learning to appreciate the rhythm of the seasons and the variety of topographies and micro-climates that are within a two-to-three hour drive from our home in San Diego. This is becoming increasingly important to us as the price of fuel sky-rockets, leading some to wonder, “Is this the beginning of the end?”

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So at this time of year, as our nearby deserts heat up, we find comfort and interest in the Cuyamaca Mountians. The air was still cool, the flowers still blooming, and the turkeys were frolicking when we returned to William Heise County Park.

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This park is located near Julian, a former California gold-mining-boom-town, and now a quaint apple-growing center, visited by many people, especially during the fall Apple Days and Bluegrass Festival. Occasionally, it is also visited by the Plague Doctor.

This area is also plagued by wildfires, especially during the Santa Ana wind conditions prevalent in late summer and early fall. The October 2003 wildfires burned 70% of William Heise Park. Seven miles of pleasant, wooded loop trails provide opportunities to follow the stages of re-forestation that occur naturally after fires.

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During this second year of camping, we are also learning to keep an eye on naturally loosening screws in our Airstream. On this outing, Larry heard something drop as he was closing a window. The tiny hex screw that holds the gray plastic knob on the window-opening-arm-bracket had fallen out and was luckily found.

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Last year Larry assembled two bags of essential tools, which included two sets of hex keys (also known as Allen wrenches) of various sizes. Larry used the 1/16th inch hex key to screw it back in and tighten all of the other window knob screws which had begun to loosen.

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This underscores the importance of making and maintaining an essential tool bag.

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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.

Spring Wild Flowers

It might be snowing where you are, but it’s spring wild flowers in Anza-Borrego Desert, CA., as we take one more look at the spectacular view and cherish the memories of a very special and magical Safari trip. Last week we joined Rich C. and Sadira at Palm Canyon Campground.

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Warm, early morning sunlight bathed our trailers and wild flowers.

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Our Pug, Pau Hoa, and Corgi, Mac, always enjoy early morning walks with Larry.

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Fields of Wild Heliotrope and Desert Chicory dance in the mid-morning sun.

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Our MacBook Pro also seemed to enjoy the early morning sun while sitting on our credenza next to a very helpful reference, The Digital RV, Second Edition, by R.L. Charpentier.

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Larry has been composing Airstream songs while serenading Pau Hoa with his ukulele.

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Meanwhile, I joined Rich C. and Sadira on a hike up Ghost Mountain, and this time I remembered to bring my water bottle. Rich C. remembered to bring his Vermont Smoked Beef Jerky, and Sadira brought her smile.

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All Aboard…

This is the History Safari Express. All aboard!!!

As our Airstream Safari makes the rounds in Southern California, we will stop along the way and savor historical aspects and highlights.

At times we will utilize our Renaissance fair and docent skills in bringing history alive to illustrate a historic point. A recent example was that while camping at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with the Luhrs’, I portrayed the Plague Doctor as Larry talked about the plague and how it still is a current concern. See Rich Luhr’s Dec. 19, 2007 Tour of America post, “Characters“.

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We will also share the ongoing history of our custom-ordered Safari built in 2006, the 75th Anniversary of Airstream. Two solar panels were installed during the build. We will touch on its performance history in a variety of settings and conditions. We will share our ongoing improvements, new ideas, items, and seasonal decorations that enhance its ambience.

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Larry enjoys cooking and might be enticed into discussing some of his techniques along with some historical notes on a variety of foods including Chinese cuisine. For our December outing at Anza-Borrego, Larry prepared jook (Chinese rice congee), which we shared with the Luhrs’ while discussing its value as food therapy.

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We returned to Palm Canyon Campground at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for an extended New Year’s weekend celebration with our friends Bob and Theresa. I joined them for a mid-day side-trip in their 4WD over a wash to Fonts Point with a spectacular view of the colorful Borrego Badlands. Fonts Point was named after Father Pedro Font, the diarist on the second Anza Expedition to California in 1775, bringing colonists to establish the pueblo of San Francisco.

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Thank you for hopping on the History Safari Express. On our next stop, we will be taking a hike up Palm Canyon, the most popular canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which is now celebrating its 75th Anniversary.