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Camping in Moab, overlooking Arches and La Sal Mtns.

12/12/2005 (E)

Sorry for the delay in the updates, but we have been frantically busy over the last few weeks.

After returning to Salt Lake City from our friend's new place in Mountain Home, ID, we had to prepare for a trip I was to make to Bellevue, WA for a week at my office. Amy stayed at her sister's place (and took lots of yoga at a local studio) while I flew up for Monday (28th) through Friday. The weather was cooling significantly as I left SLC, and when I returned it was in the 20s in the middle of the day.

Although the temperature in the van had stayed a bit above freezing (from periodic runs of the furnace, and sun heating during the day), the water pipes had frozen somewhere, likely where they travel above the rear door to get from the driver's side (where the tank is) to the passenger side (sink). We cranked the furnace up to about 70 deg and left it on all night (that was due to drop to about 6degrees f) which succeeded in freeing up the clogs, though they re-appeared the next day when we left the furnace off for a few hours.

Upon returning we were simply waiting for our new solar panels which, by now, were 3 weeks past-due. The panels finally showed up the monday after I returned from Washington.
Kyocera 125 solar panels

We spent the second half of Monday driving around getting hardware to mount the panels on the roof of the van. The length of the panels is nearly the same as the width of the penthouse roof, so mounting them sideways would be optimal. We finally settled on two 4' pieces of 2" angle aluminum bolted to the roof, extending a couple feet past the front of the penthouse roof, with the panels themselves pop-rivited to the pieces of aluminum. Removal of the panels will require drilling out the rivets, but this should not be a very common issue, and rivets are cheap.
Kyocera panels installed on roof

Tuesday we tried to do the panel install, but the weather started to change, and the snow started falling about half an hour after I started the work. The snow and just below freezing temperatures made the roof very treacherous, even with the traction pads in place, and the snow also interfered with the silicon rubber I was using to seal the holes from the old front panel mounts (the old 80watt panel was being removed). We decided that we should try again the next day as the forecast called for colder weather with clear skys.

Wednesday turned out to be a very nice day, with temperatures about 20f and clear sunny skys. After sweeping off the roof, I was able to complete removing the old panel and installing the new panels by early afternoon. At the end of the install we had 11.9amps coming in from the array at about 2:30 in the afternoon, which is more than we had ever seen coming in before even at noon in the summer.

Thursday we headed out, aiming generally towards Moab, UT to get some mountain biking, hiking, and some exploring of off-road trails in the van. We ended up leaving in the afternoon after packing up, and thus had only hit Soldier Summit (a bit over 7k feet) as the sun was starting to set. We found a dirt road (theoretically, there were about 6" of snow all over) and, after locking the hubs, headed a mile or two out away from the highway to setup camp.
Camped near Soldier Summit, UT

This turned out to be, by far, the coldest night we have yet experienced in the van. By the time we were heading to bed (after dinner, a movie, and some reading) at 10 the outside temperature was around -7 degrees (we saw -9 for a few minutes). Just before the movie I had noticed the temperature dropping towards the single digits and had run outside to dump a bunch of anti-gel in the fuel tank, hoping this would keep the furnace running, and would get through the engine fuel system quick enough to keep the filter from plugging in the morning (most winter diesel we have been getting lately has only been rated down to 0deg F before it starts to wax up)

Friday morning the temperature rose fairly quickly with the sun, and we had no problems starting the engine or driving out. We reached Moab around noon, grabbed some supplies at the grocery store, had lunch at a cafe we had visited a few years earlier, and got some trail guides at the local visitors' info center (hiking, biking, and 4x4). Since we had found a nice free BLM camping area a few years earlier, we headed back there, and this time had out pick of where to stay as no-one else was around.
Moab camping area

Saturday we did a couple hours of bike riding around the area we were camped. There is a large network of jeep trails in the area, so we just rode around them between mesas, sand dunes, and big open slabs of sandstone. We found a way to climb up to a ledge about half way up the nearest Mesa and enjoyed the view before heading back to the van for some lunch and for me to sign into work and get some stuff done.
Amy Mountain Biking

Sunday we hiked around instead of biking, but kept the van in the same spot. The temperature was peaking in the mid 30s, which was nice for strenuous biking, hiking, and climbing on the rock formations.

The extended period of sub-freezing temperatures the van has been in has been interesting and we have learned a few things:.

  • If we leave the furnace at the lowest setting (50deg) then the plumbing doesn't freeze, but it won't thaw already frozen pipes in a reasonable amount of time, that takes a few hours of 70+ degrees inside.
  • The gray water tank, being outside, freezes solid at the exit, and becomes rather useless. We are still trying to figure out a solution to this. Leaving the valve open doesn't work, as the water freezes at the exit first, and then backs up. Leaving the valve closed and adding some non-toxic anti-freeze helps, but the valve still gets frozen, and then cannot be opened.
  • The penthouse, with the insulated curtains Amy made, keeps the interior comfortable down to about 0deg. Below that the cold air pouring off the penthouse walls becomes uncomfortable and we drop the top and sleep below.
  • Other than the penthouse canvas walls, the floor is the coldest surface in the van. We have taken to wearing down booties (from REI) which keep our feet warm.
  • Voltage increases in lead-acid batteries as the temperature drops. So much so that the alternator will NOT charge the batteries above about 85% in our current situation. I am looking into a smarter alternator regulator that takes a battery temperature probe to adjust the charging voltage. Similarly I think we will get a temperature probe for the solar charge controller (though I can manually adjust the charge voltage if needed)

12/13/2005 (E)

Another day of fun outside of Moab. After getting up, doing some work, and Amy washing her hair (since the weather had warmed and the grey-water tank thawed and could be drained finally), we packed up and headed out to try a local "Moderate" difficulty 4x4 trail. We chose a rather short one, that was near to our preferred camping area.

The trail was interesting. Mostly sandy road, with a few rock climbs and decents with large rocks to avoid. There were also a number of places where we traveled across solid rock valleys, with no dirt, sand, or plants, just little rocks on the big rock. At the end of the trail a very scenic overlook dropped away in front of us, with whole valleys and hills made out of solid, multi-colored, sandstone.

A few of the rock climbs showed the value of differential lockers, with one of the back wheels and one of the front deciding to spin up and the van going nowhere. This was solved with patience, backing up a bit, placing some rocks to make a more even ramp for the affected wheels, and trying again.
First Rock Climb

Our home did display some fairly impressive articulation for a full-size van, and we did not have any significant difficulty getting to the trail end (where we made lunch) and back.

We ended up camping in a spot we had scouted out a few days earlier on a hike. Closer to the local mesa, it offers a bit more privacy, a different view, some shielding from the wind which has been picking up, and warmer temperatures from the sun on the rock face both below and behind us.
New Camping Spot

Up close the scenery is beautiful and magical as well, with small globules of red rock everywhere... We did a bit of bicycling after setting up camp so that Amy could wish happy birthday to an old friend via cell phone (reception only in some areas).
New Camping Site

12/21/2005 (E)

Well, back in SLC again after an adventurous week.

The major bit of the last week was in Moab, where we headed out to drive the "White Rim Trail" through Canyonlands NP. This is over 100 miles of slow 4x4 road winding along the edge of the cliffs down to Colorado and Green rivers.
White Rim

The scenery was fantastic, and the drive took us 3 days, with an average driving speed somewhere around 10 mph. We entered from the "Schafer Trail" at the end of Potash road, where a large salt and potash mining operation sits, traveled the trail to Canyonlands where it turns into the White Rim, and a few days later exited at Mineral Bottom road. We never actually passed any entry booths, and saw only 1 other person in the whole trip, a lady driving out in a Subaru the first day not too far from the road down from the main entry station.
Schafer Trail

The first part of the road, while very near steep drop offs in places, and rather bumpy, would be easily passible in even a passenger car with care. That first night we camped only about 17miles in at Airport Tower Camp. We arrived as the sun set, and I spent the first hour pulling our drive-shaft off so I could get measurements for a replacement (I found that I had dented it when off-roading a few days earlier, when a rock popped out from under the spinning rear right wheel, and dropped the van on the drive-shaft).
Airport Camp

The second day, near the middle of the trail the conditions worsened till there were some sustained 20degree climbs, rock ridges to pass over, and a few places where the overhang was low enough to brush our bicycles when all the way to the edge of the road (when Amy starts screaming). We camped that night at Murphy Camp with some awesome views (The camping area is on a ridge that must be climbed and then decended, so it has a good view all around).
Camp Murphy

The following day we headed down from the Murphy ridge, and the road conditions begain to improve again. The road decended after a while to very near the level of the Green river, and then begin probably the most nerve-wracking set of steep tight switchbacks up a hill, though not difficult to drive. At the top of the climb there was a hike out to an old Indian ruin, which was well worth the couple hours it took.
Indian Ruin (Fort Bottom)

The trail to the ruin crossed some very unique features, over very narrow rocky ridges, hills of what seemed to be bentonite clay, and various forms of rock. The ruin itself consists of a couple of cylindrical rooms built out of stacked rock.

After returning from the hike (3pm) we quickly headed out and soon met the Mineral Bottom road, which is nice, wide, and smooth compared to the last 3 days of driving. We hit Moab just at dark, filled up on fuel, and returned to our old faithful BLM camping area for the night.

The next day (Sun) we woke up before sun-rise, packed up, and begain the drive back to SLC to get there in time for some dental appointments on Monday.

Tuesday I headed to Ogden, UT to pick up the new drive-shaft from Tom Wood's Custom Drive Shafts, where they let me observe the final balancing and do the swap in their garage. Both of us noticed the difference immediatly, the vibration from the dented shaft was gone, and the van infact seems much smoother than it ever was, even before the damage to the original.

Wedsnesday yielded a trip to the local 4 Wheel Parts shop to get our ARB locking differentials dropped into the axles. Since all of my major tools are packed away in Baker, we figured that having them do the install would be the most time efficient (even though we hate having others work on the van). The install took all day, and only finished about 9pm. I will do the plumbing and wiring at my leisure.

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