December 18, 2017

Dirt Orcas

We were contacted a few weeks ago to do an email interview with Paul Strubell over at Dirt Orcas.

"Dirt Orcas is a site that celebrates the people who share a love of overland travel, the vehicles that they depend on to transport them to adventurous places, and the shared love of wildlife and nature that drive that adventurous spirit. In addition to essays, interviews, and fun videos, Dirt Orcas offers everything from overland related product reviews to trip planning, guided trips, and field advice.
The name Dirt Orcas comes from the pod dynamic of orca whales. A group that travels in highly sophisticated ways. They communicate and relate to each other. Passing down information through generations and to other pods. The vast community of overlanders and adventure motorcyclists are similar in this respect. We all share and exchange information, helping one another as we travel and learn ourselves. We just happen to do this travel over land (dirt) instead of by sea."

I love the analogy of the communication amongst whales...an exchange of like-minded travelers...which is one of the reasons we are on Instagram, Facebook and we blog! 
The site features lots of interesting 'overlanders'; explorers, bikers and wanderers and this time he featured us!  He asked really great questions too, not just about the mechanics of travel but the ever-elusive "why"!  

Check out the interview and his site!

Check out our interview at Dirt Orcas!

December 17, 2017

Death Valley

We left Trona Pinnacles on Monday and drove a couple of hours along a lonely road to enter the West side of Death Valley, near Panamint Springs.  As per our normal routine, we didn't really know where we were going, as far as camp sites...we just headed into the heart of the park to check things out.  

We decided to dry camp in Furnace Creek for at least a couple of days while we did some further exploring. "Surely there is more to this park than what we have seen thus far," is what we were thinking.  And, while Death Valley is very unique, and photographically speaking would be kind of amazing in inclimate conditions, we thought of it more as "she has a good personality" this time around!  Lots and lots of flat, dry, colorless and oftentimes lifeless land!  It is the lowest and hottest and driest place in the United States...and those superlatives were fairly unremarkable on our first visit here.  

Fortunately, it wasn't the hottest, it was, in fact, quite lovely.  And it was low...we visited the lowest spot, Badwater, at 282 feet below sea level.  And it was dry...so dry that we found our way to the only source of water in the area, the Furnace Creek Inn's warm mineral pool, several times during our stay!

We also visited Artist Palette and though it wasn't overwhelmingly colorful, the muted tones did provide me with some inspiration.

Artist Palette...this would be remarkable with a little bit of rain...

Artist Palette

Mike went out to Zabriskie Point for sunrise, and again for this beautiful sunset...

Zabriskie Point

 We hiked around out at Mesquite Flats (ironically named tall, rolling sand dunes)...

Love the rim lighting on the front edge of that dune...

Mike, doing his thing!

I love the geometry of this image...

And we did a fun, moderate hike up Golden Canyon (and into some tight, twisty canyons) to Red Cathedral for a pretty cool panoramic view...

Plenty of sunshine!

Twisty, up and down canyons!

These loose rocks were not my favorite hiking surface, but the canyons were pretty cool!

We thought it was a whale!  Do you see it!

The view from Red Cathedral

 And we enjoyed our campsite, the bike paths, using our smokeless firepit, sunsets out our screen-free window...and the starry night skies...

Tilted up solar panels in order to maximize the low sun.

We took out the screen in the back to optimize the view (and also took out one from the side)!

We had fun creating this image...me on the inside with alternating lights and Mike on the outside taking the shot!

We didn't write Death Valley National Park off...it certainly had it's charms (we ended up staying for 6 nights!)...next time we will likely find a good boondocking spot (look for the Pads on Campendium), hang out at the pool again, do a little more hiking and simply enjoy the quiet.

Our solar set up!

Several people have asked about our solar set up and the equipment we have so I thought a blog post about our system would be helpful.

We knew starting out that we would be doing some boondocking and plenty of dry camping so solar was always going to be part of the modifications we would add to the Airstream. We considered, briefly, using a generator for battery charging and those times when there may be some high electrical needs but liked the idea of solar for its simplicity, clean energy and quiet operation. Not having a generator also means no extra fuel to carry around and less equipment to haul in the bed of the pickup. You can get propane powered generators that can run off of the same propane tanks on the Airstream but the idea of the extra equipment and the noise that they generate didn’t really appeal to us.

We had a simple solar set up on our Sportsmobile, prior to buying the Airstream, so we had a little knowledge about panels and batteries but knew we needed someone with a lot more expertise than we had. Our research on Airstream Forums led us to make a call to Lew Farber. From the Forum we could tell that Lew had the knowledge and experience and that he would do a first class job. 

We contacted Lew in November 2016 to start the discussions knowing he would be in Hood River, OR for the summer and we planned to be making our first extended trip with the Airstream at the end of May as we would be heading for the Oregon Coast. We thought that if he had a time slot open, we could drop the Airstream off with Lew while we were at the coast for two weeks and then pick it up after our stay. As it turned out, that’s exactly how it worked out.

We had several conversations with Lew over the first few months about panels, batteries and whether we needed to upgrade the inverter. Our Airstream, a 2017 27FB International Signature, came with the standard Interstate batteries located in the box on the tongue, a 1000 watt inverter, and a simple converter for charging the batteries. We also discussed the advantages and disadvantages of AGM batteries vs Lithium and the size and number of solar panels that we needed, and could expand to, given the roof area we had. Lew put together several options and what each would cost. It didn’t take long to know that we had made the right choice to have an expert like Lew design our system and educate us on our options.

Lew works with AM Solar out of Springfield, OR for all of the equipment and does the installation himself at his shop across the River from Hood River in Bingen, WA. (Lew is an authorized installer for AM Solar)

In January of 2017, we sent Lew a small deposit to assure a spot on his calendar for June 1st. The plan was for Lew to purchase and install the following major pieces of equipment:

4 - 100 watt SP100 high effeciency monocrystalline solar panels with mounting feet and tilt bars

1 - 300 amp hour Victron LiFePO4 (Lithium) battery

1 - Magnum MS2000 Inverter/Charger

1 - Victron Bluesolar MPPT charge controller

1 – 200 amp Victron Battery Monitor

1 - Soft start on our rear air conditioner

1 – weBoost cellular booster/amplifier with larger, enhanced antenna

Having the 300 ah Lithium batteries and the soft start allows us to run the air conditioner for 1 to 2 hours on the battery bank without being plugged in to shore power or a generator. 
We also have a blue tooth monitoring system that runs through an app on our iPhones which allows us to monitor our panels and batteries.

The battery, battery monitor, charge controller and inverter/charger are all located under the bed. The panels, of course, are on the roof. All the wiring is run down through the refrigerator vent so no penetrations were made in the roof, including the weBoost wiring. The panels and weboost antenna are mounted with double stick tape and Dicor sealant, also assuring that no mounting holes were made in the roof.

I won’t go into details about the equipment and the specifications. If you are interested, AM Solar (amsolar.com) has a great web site and discusses equipment options, specifications and advantages and disadvantages of each component. Lew at Solar Tech Energy Systems has been in the RV and Marine solar installation business for many years and is recognized as one of the top providers/installers in the United States. He spends his winters in Naples, FL and summers in Hood River, OR. You can contact Lew, if you are interested in working with him on a solar setup, for your RV or boat at 4rvsolar@gmail.com.

We have been on the road for 7 months and have relied on our solar many times. It has never failed us and we know that if issues arise, Lew is just a phone call away!


A drone shot of our new panels, right after the install.

MacKerricher State Park, panels tilted to better capture to the sun.

Trona Pinnacles


I know this is too far away to see the solar panels, but what a cool shot, huh?!!!

Parkdale, OR...we didn't see a lot of sun in these trees, but we sure enjoyed this spot.

Walmart in Butte, Montana

Trona Pinnacles

Death Valley, Furnace Creek

Mounting of the tilt bars

Battery, inverter/charger, charge controller and battery monitoring system under the bed.

If we can help answer any further questions, please don't hesitate to send us an email or give us a call!

Visalia, California to Trona Pinnacles...a.k.a. the city to the moon...

We left Yosemite, vowing to return many, many times...and headed south, not really certain of our next stop, but headed in the direction of Death Valley...largely driven by the idea of staying warm, chasing 70 degrees or so!

A few hours on the road, mostly through farm lands, lots of orchards of one kind or another, and more and more traffic, we pulled into the KOA in Visalia.  There wasn't anything particularly special about this campground, but it was a nice place to regroup...lots of laundry had piled up, Gracie needed a "deep clean" (30 minutes top to bottom!)...and there was great WiFi, so it was a good opportunity to catch up on bills and emails and Facetime with the kiddos!

KOA in Visalia, CA...good laundry and WiFi!

We left there on Thursday and headed farther south to Trona Pinnacles.  I had never heard of Trona Pinnacles until Instagram...and lots of people we follow, fellow RV'ers as well as photographers, had been there...and it was so unusual it became a must-see stop for us.  (We spent the night at a little RV park in Lake Isabella on our way, to break up the trip a bit.)

As you drive towards the turnoff road to Trona Pinnacles, a few miles West, there is a point of interest worth checking out, called Fish Rocks...it's random and kinda cool and a good place to stretch your legs!  You've likely seen an Instagram photo of it, it's pretty popular for those who are traveling this desolate highway!

Fish Rocks!

We turned down the gravel road towards Trona and you could see these weird mounds on the horizon...and not much else!  It looked a bit like we were doing a lunar landing...  The road in was a bit washboarded, but we just eased our way in, stopping once to check that Gracie's cabinets were staying closed (yeah for bungee cords!).

Looks like the moon, right?!

Once we were there, in the main parking area, we walked around the Pinnacles, trying to decide where we wanted to be and how badly we wanted to risk bottoming out on the roads that wind in and around the mounds.  We chose to just park it in the nice, easy, level parking area...which gave us a spectacular view of the sunsets and the rock formations.  (This kind of camping is often called dry camping, or boondocking...it's free!  You have to check the area for the rules and regulations, but oftentimes BLM land or Forest Service land is available for this camping...being careful, of course, to leave it better than you found it.)

Our "Outland FireBowl" is one of our favorite purchases!  Smokeless, on demand campfire!

This was the first night...the best sunset!

Told ya...middle of nowwhere!

We hung out for threee nights here, hiking around the pinnacles, exploring little caves and enjoying the beautiful skies...especially the night skies.  We were here for the SuperMoon, the largest, closest full moon of the year...and we were also witness to a movie being shot in this desert landscape!  An Alien sci-fi movie set appeared one morning, complete with about 40 crew members and a half dozen actors...  Apparently, many sci-fi movies film out here...perhaps you can see why...

I wouldn't describe it as pretty...rather, unique!

We got lots of sunshine!

And saw the SuperMoon rising, through some clouds.

Mike, keeping an eye on Gracie.

The wind blew a bit, but the dirt is surprisingly very compact and barely shifted at all.

Gracie was well suited for this desert experience...our solar setup worked like a dream and the inside was nice and cozy!

Kind of looks like an ad!

I did a little redecorating for the holidays while parked here in the middle of nowhere! 
Hung up a banner and we had purchased a tiny little Charlie Brown Christmas tree too!

Next up, let me tell you about our solar!

December 4, 2017

Thankful at Yosemite!

We left Palo Alto and headed towards Yosemite National Park, really excited to see this park that had been on our wish list for quite some time.  We stopped short of the park to get our supplies and to fix a couple of things that needed fixing (constant adjustments!) and stayed a couple of nights at the Vista Ranch and Cellars, an amazing Harvest Host spot outside of Merced in a little blip of a town called Tuttle.  (If you aren't familiar with Harvest Host, they are a membership network of wineries, farms, museums and such that have space for RV'ers to overnight in exchange for, as an example, a wine purchase or admission to a museum.  We LOVE being members and have had nothing but great experiences with Harvest Hosts!)

Gracie, enjoying the quiet at Vista Ranch

We left Gracie behind and drove up and into the park on Saturday (crowds!) to check things out and figure out a place to stay and we came across a small, private campground about 8 miles from the park entrance that seemed like a good choice for us, so we made reservations and returned the next day to set up camp.

We spent the next week hiking and exploring this incredible park, figuring out very quickly that this is one park we will revisit again and again.  It's incredible!  

In summary, we hiked the Mist Trail up to Vernal Falls and beyond towards Nevada Falls, up the John Muir Trail to Clark Point and then back down to the valley floor...highly recommend!  Be prepared for steep inclines and plenty of work for your quads, especially on the 600 plus rock steps leading up to the falls!  Bring snacks and hang out at the view point, it's really beautiful!  

We also hiked out to and past Mirror Lake, which wasn't much more than a pond this time of year, but a really nice trail and not incredibly busy.  And we hiked over to the base of El Capitan because I became completely enamoured with this 7500 foot monolith, with it's tallest face being 3000 feet of vertical rock (with a beautiful heart etched into it!), so much so that I just wanted to touch it!  Several of our evenings we ended up at Tunnel View, easy to get to from the valley floor and an amazing viewpoint!  And twice we went to Glacier Point, where Half Dome practically reaches out to beckon you!

You really can't go wrong in this park...just put on your boots and hike it!  Whether it's the valley floor loop, with stops along the way (to Lower Yosemite Falls, for example) or more ambitious inclines (Half Dome is now on my list, which would include some mountaineering and challenge any fear of heights)...you can't go wrong in this park.  Even with the crowds we encountered in this shoulder season, once you get on a trail you can easily find yourself alone in the wilderness.

(A note...if you are interested in Yosemite, or climbing, or history or adventure stories...watch Valley Uprising on Netflix!  It's sooo good!  And it'll make you a fan of this park and the sport of climbing!)

We celebrated Thanksgiving while here in Yosemite...with a mini-Thanksgiving spread including baked ham and garlic red potatoes (that I cooked in Gracie!)...and we feel especially grateful, for our ability to do these adventures and see this incredible country!

From Yosemite we headed south, towards Death Valley...with a few stops along the way.

Tunnel View

Glacier Point, that's Half Dome beckoning me!

Another look at Tunnel View

El Capitan

Moody Half Dome, Ansel Adams style.


Not a drone shot, just me, hanging over a ledge!

Vernal Falls

Vernal, from the top down!

For perspective...see the little ant people!

You could sit here all day and watch the light change...

Merced Grove, a Sequoia Grove off of Hwy 120, Northwest of the valley

On the way to Clark Point, a view back at Vernal Falls

Love the backdrop of rock!

Mirror Lake

The textures of Half Dome

Half Dome from below, lit up in the evening sky

Glacier Point

Mike loved this view of Half Dome

Until next time...



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