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?”


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.



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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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


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.


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


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.


Ukulele Strumming and Airstreaming

What is in a name? That which we call a ukulele by any other name, would still sound as sweet. Aloha!

How sweet they are, our Airstreams. A growing number of us are also finding sweetness in a musical instrument that is easy, fun to play and nicely compliments our Airstream lifestyle: the ukulele. It is small, light, and easily stored and transported. When brought out of its case, it immediately works its magic as it brings happiness, a sense of wellbeing, and smiles to everyone nearby.

WARNING: Reading the following may cause “ukulitis” akin, or worse than, “aluminumitis”.

Last December, I witnessed this magical event when Airstream Life publisher and editor, Rich Luhr, and his daughter, Emma, played their ukuleles at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California. Although Rich is a beginner, he sounded great, with only two weeks of practice and a weekend of instruction from fellow Airstreamer and ukulele player, Tommy Green. Rich’s case of “ukulitis” illustrates that ukulele strumming and Airstreaming go hand-in-hand. He expounded on this in his Tour of America post of January 27, 2008.

So in a journalistic effort to explore this topic, I visited the special exhibit, “The Ukulele & You – America’s Enduring Love of the Jumping Flea”, at the Museum of Making Music, in Carlsbad, CA. Visual histories of the ukulele, as well as many varied shapes and sizes of ukuleles, were on display throughout this delightful museum, complimented by helpful and knowledgeable docents.

I learned that the ukulele is a descendant of the four-stringed musical instrument known as the machete, brought to Honolulu, Hawaii, from the Portuguese Madeira Islands onboard the bark, Ravenscrag, by several men, including wine barrel maker, Augusto Dias, in 1879. Dias, along with shipmates, Manuel Nunes and Jose do Espirito Santo, made the first machete/ukuleles.

Some say that the ukulele got its name from the nickname given to Edward Purvis due to his fast strumming and animated style as he played before the court of King David Kalakaua. Ukulele means “jumping flea” in Hawaiian. The ukulele quickly became the favorite musical instrument of King David Kalakaua and the Hawaiian people, and became symbolic of Hawaii and Hawaiian culture.

The significant beginning of the popularity of the ukulele on the mainland began with the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The Hawaiian Territory built a pavilion that exposed thousands of exposition attendees to Hawaiian culture, including the ukulele.


As I toured the “Ukulele & You” exhibit, the variety of shapes, styles, sizes, and materials of the ukuleles amazed me.

I came across a particularly historic and interesting ukulele. It was Richard Konter’s Martin uke, used to entertain his shipmates on Admiral Byrd’s 1926 Arctic expedition. This ukulele was eventually signed by his fellow crew members, as well as several senators and President Calvin Coolidge.

Some significant ukulele players include Sam Kamaka, Bill Tapia, Herb Ohta, Arthur Godfrey, Lyle Ritz, Michelle Kiba, Janet Klein (featured in Rich Luhr’s Tour of America, Ukulele Song of the Day post of February 4, 2008), and my favorite, Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole, whose CDs are deeply moving and very beautiful.

Now back to my original thesis: the connection of ukulele strumming and Airstreaming. For enlightenment, I asked two notable Airstreamers about their ukuleles and how well they work with their Airstream lifestyle.

Rich Luhr says that he has a Kala brand, curly mango wood, tenor uke and likes it because of its sound and larger fret board (He gave his smaller soprano uke to his daughter, Emma).  “I chose uke as an instrument to learn because it is portable, light, fun, and a solo instrument that people can sing along with. Nobody wants to hear a trumpet around a campfire”, Rich says.

Tommy Green says that he owns and plays about fifteen ukes, from 1920’s Martins to ukulele banjos, to Favilla baritones. Tommy is an original member of the Moonlight Beach Ukulele Strummers and started his own Strumming Streamers (Airstream ukulele group). He says, “It is so much fun. It works awesome in the Airstream lifestyle. It is small, easy to transport, and sounds terrific. Practice can be anywhere.”

So now I have succumbed to ukulitis and bought my first ukulele, a mango wood, Kala concert ukulele.

How sweet it is.

Ukuleles and Airstreaming

Could ukulele strumming and Airstreaming have a connection? I’ll explore that in my next post. Rich Luhr explored it in the January 27th post in his Tour of America blog.

The bottom line is that they both make us happy and excited. I was so excited upon getting my first ukulele today that I just had to share a photo and a preview of my next post. I’ll warn you though, this happiness is contagious!

The photo shows me strumming a ukulele for the first time and it’s a brand new Kala Mango Concert Ukulele. Strumming next to me is Roy Good, Manager of Giacoletti Music, in Carlsbad, California. Good vibrations and wonderful instruments abound and thrive here.


Thriving… that’s the connection.  See more, do more, live more through happy, ukulele strumming and Airstreaming!