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Black Rock Desert

2006-15-11 (E)

Another few weeks, and another number of adventures.

We left off last time at the Currie Hills in Nevada, where we headed off of the highway and found a nice secluded camping spot in the middle of some rolling hills, sage brush, and juniper trees.
Curey Hills

The next day we headed out for a hike up the tallest hill around (just in front of the solar panels in the photo above. On the way up we startled at least 4 jack-rabbits that we saw, and probably a number we never noticed. They would wait till we almost stepped on them before bolting.

At the top of the local peak we found a nice viewpoint and settled down for lunch. A 6' rock cairn was next to us, and a few minutes into our meal we heard and then saw a huge golden eagle soar up the back side of the hill with intent to land on it. Upon seeing us he aborted the landing and we could hear the strain as he frantically pumped his 6' wingspan only a few feet away from us. It was a magical view, but of-course the camera was packed away in its bag.

The next day was essentially a bit of traveling. We passed through Elko, NV and picked up some groceries, water, and an hour or so of relaxing and reading the local news at a coffee shop in town. We ended the day camped a bit outside of Winemucka, NV on the road towards Gerlach and the Black Rock desert.

The following day found us winding our way towards the Black Rock desert on an 80 mile dirt county road which made its way through old dry lake beds and dry barren rolling hills. Finally we dropped into the valley of the Black Rock desert and saw the largest flat expanse of an old dry lake bed we had yet encountered, surrounded by hills of multiple colors.
Edge of Black Rock Desert Near Sulphur

We passed through Gerlach, NV but it was unremarkable, with one gas station, one restaurant, and nothing else of note. As we were in the market for a camp-site we decided to try out the lake-bed and just started driving. After about 8 miles of nothing resembling a bump we just coasted to a stop and setup camp.
Black Rock Desert

Satellite imagery from Google showed that we were on the southern edge of "Black Rock City" where the annual Burning Man festival takes place, but there was no sign of it remaining. The ground is just compact dried silt, covered with tire tracks that have been laid down since the last rain. Once every hour or two we would see the dust cloud from someone driving across the desert, usually miles away. Anything smaller, like the vehicles themselves, would be hidden by the mirage effect when the sun was up.

The next day we took another break from travel and just explored the area on the dirt-bike. We rode for about 10 miles to a set of multi-colored hills on the edge of the plain, explored the interface where the silt from the lake turned into dunes with a few plants, and then returned. During the ride we would encounter the odd black rock or survey marker, and nothing else but faded tire tracks and the odd foot-print. Often we were the only vehicle since the last rain, and there were no tracks or other indicators of movement aside from the wind. With the hills so far away even the parallax of the features on the horizon was barely noticeable.

The following day we left the ultimate in flat and went north-west into California, past Goose Lake, into Oregon, and found a good stopping point on top of Drake Peak a few miles outside of Lakeview, OR. The peak was quite high, and we had a nice view of Mt Shasta in California, and the smoke plume from a fair sized forest fire somewhere north-west of Goose Lake.

A hike to a neighboring peak of similar height the next day gave us a good bit of exercise, though the wind was blowing a good 40mph at both our van and the top of the other peak. We ended up pulling the roof down upon our return to stop the van from shaking so much with each gust.
Drake Peak's Neighbor

Morning welcomed us with continued wind, and an overnight low of 15deg. The van was sitting just above cloud-base, so clouds were condensing around us, the moisture freezing out on the van and grass, and then dissipating as the wind blew down the other side of the hill. Most of the van was covered with about 1/2" of hoar-frost and the sun was making the wispy clouds glow as they billowed about. It was quite magical, though chilling to the bone when I had to go outside and tear down the satellite system for continuation of our travels.
Amy and Sportsmobile in the morning

That day was not terribly picturesque, though we did drive past the salty Abert lake and along the bottom of the Abert bluff which is supposedly one of the longest exposed faults in North America. The land in this area was covered in sage with periodic evaporated lake beds, though a few still had a bit of water this late in the year.

That night was spent a few miles prior to entering Bend, OR, where we hoped to pick up some supplies and explore the next day.

Bend was a town we had never really visited before, though we had passed through. This time we headed into the down-town area, parked the van, and walked around. It actually seemed quite lively and prosperous compared to the small towns and villages we had been passing through for the last few weeks. We easily found a nice restaurant for lunch and a place to sit for a few hours while I signed into work.

Since we left town a bit late the night was spent in a gravel pit just off the high-way. A bit of litter from prior dumping, but other than that a nice secluded spot considering how close the road was.

The next morning, Friday, had us due at an off-road motorcycle track outside Goldendale, WA for a 25 hour team enduro race a friend had talked me into. We arrived at the track in the mid afternoon and started to setup camp and prepare for the beginning of the race the next morning.

For the race we had a team of 6 people, so each person would have about 4 hours of riding time. The track was 18 miles in length, winding through an old ranch on about 800 acres, with each lap taking about an hour. I was slotted in for the 3pm, 12am, 2am, and 6am laps. Having never raced a motorcycle before, I was sure I would be the slowest in the team, and I made good on that promise.
Erik before first lap

The track was very harsh as the area had not had any rain in weeks. The dirt is old volcanic ash, and the rocks are similarly volcanic. With all the bikes pounding through the course every corner became a big pile of dust with no real grip or substance, and large rocks likely hidden underneath ready to rip the front wheel out of your control. As I was running a kick-start bike, I spent about 53 minutes actually riding in the first lap, and the rest of my 1hr 10min was made up of kicking to start after various crashes and subsequent flooding of the engine.

2006/11/23 (E)

A few weeks in the Seattle area and a bunch of work done on the van again. I suppose it never will end, but sometimes it would be nice to be able to keep going for a while without a list of to-do's piling up.

  • Moved shelf bracket rails further back in cabinets so that the back of shelfs can have weight on them without falling down
  • Installed wall anchors to keep the wall paneling from pulling away from the cabinetry and stripping the screws holding the two together.
  • Fixed coat-hanger which had broken a few weeks prior
  • Added some more insulation around the cook-top exhaust pipe as it was still melting plastic bags that rested against the pipe
  • Moved the radio ON switch to the dash next to the radio (having it at the other end of the cabin by the sink was a hassle since both that switch and the on-button on the radio had to be toggled when we wanted radio when parked)
  • Replaced the air-compressor ON switch with a switch with an indicator LED.
  • Took the van to a local Ford dealer to look at
    • Loud resonating noise at about 1500rpm that has been in the van since soon after we got it. The noise only shows up after the engine is warmed up, and sounded to me like it came from the exhaust system. (they re-torqued header bolts... After pickup I found this did not solve the problem)
    • Hissing noise from the steering column when not turning. (power-steering pump replaced, noise is not as pronounced)
    • Oil leak that makes the bottom of the engine and transmission collect a lot of dust. (gave me dye to put in oil 500 miles before visiting a shop again)
  • On our receipt of the van, the loud exhaust noise was still there, so I tore the entire exhaust system off, from the headers to the catalytic converter, and found that the cause was a missing mounting bolt on the turbo-charger. Replacing this bolt and torquing it down eliminated the noise.
  • Oil & filter change
  • Fuel filter change
  • Replaced the main cabin fuse box with a Blue-Sea marine fuse box. The one used by Sportsmobile was cheap, and just bumping the fuses would cause the lights to flicker. It also did not have enough circuits for our van, and so the furnace, coolant heater, etc were all on in-line fuses hidden behind the water tank.
  • Ran a seperate circuit to the computer cabinet so that the water-pump, stove, and fridge don't pull down the voltage to the computers (an issue when the batterys are low, and a cycling of the fridge can reboot the computer).
  • Number of other small fixes.

Overall the trip to the dealer, and not having the van for 3 days, was not really worth it. Nothing they did really improved anything. We did get a new program flashed in the computer for some emissions recall, and a replacement exhaust sensor, but nothing that changed our driving experience. It was all waranty covered, so we are not out any $, but the hassle of pulling out all of our stuff and then putting it back in, coupled with the disappointement of the problems not be addressed by them was very frustrating (especially when I found the main problem after about 2 hours of my own uneducated investigation).

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