Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Tank Visits Some Relatives

I left the KO-OP Monday after having a flat battery in the Tank.  I wasn't sure what caused it to go dead although I hadn't started the truck in nine days.  The battery is a 72 month battery that was installed July 2011 so it should have been good for several more years.  I opened the hood of the truck and walked around the back and by the time I got up to the front again a helpful fellow Escapee, Frank, who had the site next to mine was outside offering his battery charger.  The people at the KO-OP are just unbelievably friendly and helpful.  Jay, another Escapee driving by in his golf cart stopped and offered a bunch of good advice.  I think if I ever have a question about one of the Tank's systems I'll just go to an Escapee RV park, open a storage door on the outside of the Tank and take my cap off and scratch my head -- I'll probably instantly have Escapee's standing around me offering to help.  After getting the engine started I headed north up Arizona 95 to boondock on the BLM land near Lake Mittery in California.  My route took me past the US Army Yuma Proving Grounds where they have an open to the public display of fighting vehicles.

M-60 Main Battle Tank.....wonder if the Tank is a relative?
It's kind of cool to get up so close to these huge machines in this display park (climbing on the displays strictly prohibited!)

Display placard said this thing ways 60 tons!
 Rapping on the armor with your knuckles demonstrates how incredibly solid an actual tank is, and teaches you not to do that!

What better way to spend a 75 degree afternoon than looking at tanks?
Finally I had my fill of looking at armor and I left the park to go find a place to park.  I lucked out and got a beautiful campsite in the Californian desert.  It's perfectly level and elevated about 10 feet above the rest of the desert around it and my closest neighbors are at least a quarter mile away.  (Yay, no generator noise!)  Here's a peek:

The Tank's beautiful view of the mountains.
I hope everyone has a Happy New Year!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 27, 2013


I lasted 12 days in the BLM desert camping area north of Yuma before running out of fruit and vegetables.   I mostly follow the Paleo-caveman diet so running short on fruits and vegetables puts me in a tough way.  As a member of the Escapees RV club I was eligible to stay at their Yuma RV park so after filling a propane tank and restocking groceries I headed there.

The KO-OP rents out member's sites when they aren't in town.
Also, the KO-OP was having a potluck Christmas dinner so I'd be getting a really good holiday meal if I was willing to suspend following the Caveman diet for a day (I was!).  The park is located about 5 miles south of Yuma and consists of 154 spacious and landscaped sites.  Most of the sites have been purchased/long-term leased by the members of the KO-OP.  When the members are elsewhere in the country for extended periods they rent out the vacant site which is where the one I got came from.

There are 4 nicely kept cactus gardens in my site.
It's a little different staying at the KO-OP compared to "normal" RV parks.  For one thing most everyone here lives here so they all know each other but everyone I met was very friendly and welcoming, they like having renters for the empty spots too.  Everything at this park is very thoughtfully laid out and functions very smoothly.  It has a really nice heated pool/hot tub set up too.

You can see some of the fairly permanent RV's in the background.
The park charges Escapees $20 / night or $100 / week plus electricity so it ends up being cheaper than staying at a state park (although I haven't seen my electric bill yet but it can't be much.)  They don't take reservations so spots go on a first come basis but I didn't see anyone turned away while I was here.

Front of the spacious club house boasting 2 free pool tables.
I plan to buy another 14 day BLM sticker Monday the 30th and head back out to the area near the Imperial dam.  The gigantic annual Quartzite RV show starts around the middle of January and I want to hit it to see if I can find some parts the Tank needs.  My manufacturer went out of business in 2009 so I'm hoping vendors at the show might have what I need.

These folks have some SERIOUS shuffleboard lanes!
It was great staying at the KOFA KO-OP in Yuma and I'll come back for sure!  It's quite a contrast from boondocking on BLM lands.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nine Days In

I spent the last nine days in the desert north east of Yuma, AZ powered solely by the Tank's solar setup.  It has worked great, as much laptop time as I want, fully charged LCD TV, eBook tablet and cell phone.  It takes just a small amount of energy management and delaying charging until the middle of the day when the sun is at it's most powerful but very doable.  About 400 yards to the south of my campsite is the All-American Canal.

The canal is a great winter home for waterfowl.
It conveys water from the Colorado River into California's Imperial Valley and to nine cities. It is the Imperial Valley's only water source, and replaced the Alamo Canal, which was located mostly in Mexico. The Imperial Dam, about 30 miles northeast of Yuma on the Colorado River, diverts water into the All-American Canal, which runs to just west of Calexico, CA before its last branch heads mostly north into the Imperial Valley.  Over 500 people have drowned in the All-American Canal since its completion due to swift currents that can reach 30 miles per hour. Many of those killed are illegal migrants traveling across the US-Mexico border. Deaths peaked at 31 in 1998 after increased border security measures in San Diego pushed migrants to cross the border in other areas. In 2011 the Irrigation District began installing life-saving buoys in 105 straight lines across the canal

The buoy line is to save struggling swimmers.
To the west of my site is very rock-strewn rough terrain that more resembles a Martian landscape than anything here.  It's still pretty though.

Rough biking terrain!
Although this is desert there is an abundance of scraggly looking trees and small bushes throughout the area I'm in.

The tree in the middle has seen better days.
Temperatures have ranged from mid-50's at night to high-70's during the days.  This is a windy place -- winds most days average in the 20 mph range but I'm really enjoying the time here.  I'm permitted to stay here until the 23rd but I'm going to run low on "stuff" before then.  I probably should have packed the Coleman cooler in the back seat of the Tank with ice and more food but it didn't occur to me till I got out here.  Two weeks food is a lot to plan and I've learned a good lesson that it's a greater quantity than what you might think.  There's an Escapee RV park in Yuma about a half hour from here that I plan to move to for a few days when provisions necessitate, to do laundry, clean all the tiny little pebbles out of the Tank and make plans for January.  Boondocking rocks!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Campground Review: Beehive Mesa Long Term Visitor Area Martinez Lake, AZ

Still seeking somewhere warm to camp I headed towards Yuma, AZ from the Dream Catcher RV park in Deming.  After buying my 14 day LTVA (Long Term Visitor Area) permit at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office in Yuma I hit Walmart to stock up for a 2 week boondock in the BLM land around the Imperial Dam on the southern Colorado River.

                      Martinez Lake is a small 300 by 500 acre lake about 50 miles north of Yuma.  The LTVA camp area I selected is called Beehive Mesa and isn't really on the lake, it's a few miles south of it.

Just find a site not near anyone else and start camping!

The first three days at Beehive Mesa the wind blew a steady 25 miles per hour out of the north....continuously.  That coupled with temperatures in the high forties made staying in the Tank pretty mandatory.  Finally the weather got back towards normal (high 60's) and the wind let up on my 4th day.  Here's the review data:

Hookups:                         Nope
Fire ring:                          Yes
Water Access:                  No
Dump station:                   In the area
WiFi:                                No
Level sites:                       Yes
Laundry:                           No
Store:                               No
Pool:                                No
Shade:                              No
Verizon reception:             4g 3 out of 5 bars
Millenicom reception:        4 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                $40 for 14 days

As you can see from the reception data Verizon must have a 4g cell tower around here but I can't find it.  There isn't any sign on it but I think this is a view of Martinez Lake:

Martinez Lake---kind of small.
The BLM land here lies on both sides of a paved road.  You pretty much drive off the road along sandy 2 track roads until you see a fire ring made out of stones that has unoccupied space and that's your campsite.  I made sure to stay a few sites away from other campers so I wouldn't bother anyone.

The Tank's LTVA home for 2 weeks--or till I run out of food.
There is an Army munitions testing site within earshot of where I camped because I hear intermittent explosions that sound kind of like distant thunder now and then during the day.  Since I'll be here for a while I'll ride around on Wally the mountain bike and take some pictures and do another post on LTVA camping.  Here's a random sunrise photo:

To be honest I forget where I took this.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Rose Bowl, Baby!


Michigan State 34
Ohio State 24

2013 Big Ten Champs!

Now I have to camp in California for the next 23 days!  Pasadena here we come!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dreamcatcher RV Park Deming, NM

Weather became a concern as my Radar Now weather ap on my phone warned of coming temperatures in West Texas in the low-30's so I headed into New Mexico on I-10.  I'm a member of the Escapees RV Club so I thought I'd give a park in Deming, New Mexico that they run (and I get a discount at) a try.

                                 I usually try to stay in state or national parks for their superior scenery vs. commercial RV parks but given the goal of finding a campsite with electric hookups so I could utilize my space heater I pulled into Dreamcatcher RV Park in Deming, NM.

If you didn't like it you could go next door to La Quinta, I guess.
 Dreamcatcher Deming is really a huge gravel parking lot with a lot of hookup boxes.

They have made at least an effort to plant some trees.
Here's the review data:

Hookups:                      water, 20, 30, 50 amp, sewer    
Fire ring:                        no
Water Access:               no
Dump station:                yes
WiFi:                             yes (daily pay)
Level sites:                    yes
Laundry:                       yes
Store:                            no
Pool:                            no
Shade:                           no
Verizon reception:          4g, 2 of 5 bars
Millenicom reception:     3 of 4 bars
Cost:                             $18 / night (member discount)

I planned on only spending a single night at Dreamcatcher but they bribed me with free food!

I had to stay to get home made turkey soup the following night!
The people who operate Dreamcatcher RV Park are Escapee members themselves and they're just downright friendly.  Michigan State (my alma mater) plays Ohio State for the Big 10 football championship Saturday (tomorrow) and I'm getting outstanding reception on the Tank's little TV so now my plans are to stay here through tomorrow night so I can watch MSU win big on TV.  There's a big screen in the clubhouse but there's no guarantee I can get control of the remote at game time.

The clubhouse - big screen TV within.
So the adjusted plan is to depart for Tucson, AZ Sunday morning and hit the Anytime Fitness franchise there for a workout prior to heading for the BLM camping areas.  I know earlier I said Quartzite but there may be a warmer alternative further south that I'll let you know about next post.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Campground Review: Balmorhea State Park Toyahvale, TX

I left Kerrville after 2 nights and headed west on I-10 for about four hours until I reached the turnoff to Texas Highway 17 that led me to Balmorhea State Park outside of Toyahvale.  I'd read some good reviews of the park and was interested in seeing the spring fed swimming pool there.

Here's the review data:

Hookups:                    Water, 20, 30, 50 amp
Fire ring:                           yes
Water Access:                   no
Dump station:                    yes
WiFi:                                yes (only near the ranger office)
Level sites:                        yes
Laundry:                            no
Store:                                yes (but not food or bevs.)
Pool:                                 yes
Shade:                               no
Verizon reception:              4g, 2 bars of 5
Millenicom reception:        3 of 4 bars
Cost:                                $14 / night (off-season)

Balmorhea was built in 1936 as part of the New Deal's Civil Conservation Corp which was a program that the government used to give unemployed the opportunity to work and learn skills like carpentry, etc.  There are 32 RV campsites and also the Sans Solomon Courts Motel located on the park grounds with 18 small rent-able cottages.  On the other side of the park near the pool is the day use area with playground and picnic areas.  The biggest attraction is the gigantic, 25 foot deep spring fed pool that stays 75 degrees year around.

The depth marker on the other side says 25!
Although it was in the mid-sixties during my stay at the park it was extremely windy so I had to forgo swimming (hey, no one else was either!) but I can imagine how good 75 degrees probably feels on a July day here in West Texas.

How many parks do you know that have a high dive?
The pool is a big U-shape and is truly huge.  There is one high dive and 3 "normal" diving boards.

The pool bathhouse from the pool, concession stand was closed.
 All the buildings in the park, including the motel, were built in the same adobe wall - red clay shingle style by the CCC guys, even the campsite table shelters.

Spacious campsites, note the sparse West Texas vegetation.

When the spring fed swimming pool was built a wetland was destroyed.  In 1995 the State put in a reconstructed desert wetland.

Isn't "desert wetland" an oxymoron?
 I enjoyed the two days I spent at Balmorhea and recommend it.  It's a great value for $14 / night right now!  Heading to New Mexico in the morning.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Campground Review: Kerrville-Schreiner Park Kerrville, TX

On my way west from Austin  to my eventual destination of the BLM campsites outside Quartzite, AZ I stopped at Kerrville-Schreiner Park outside of Kerrville, TX.

The park was once a Texas State Park but the State gave it to the city of Kerrville which now operates it.  The park is a small 517 acre plot along the Guadalupe River.  There are 120 campsites for all types of equipment from bicycle, motorcycle, or car camping to super-sized motor homes and trailers.  Campsites range from general sites with no hookups to pull-through sites with water, 30/50 amp electrical hookups, and sewer connections. It has 40 RV campsites and 8 small cabins for rent along the river bank.  In an effort to convey a more uniform quantity of data I'll use the following table in my campground reviews going forward:

Hookups:                        Water, 20, 30 and 50 amps
Fire ring:                                yes
Water Access:                       yes
Dump station:                       yes
Sewer:                                  yes
WiFi:                                     no
Level sites:                            yes
Laundry:                                no
Store:                                    no
Pool:                                     no
Shade:                                  yes
Verizon reception:             3g 2 of 5 bars  
Millenicom reception:         2 of 4
Cost:                                 $21 / night (off-season)

Swim dock access on the Guadalupe River
Small amphitheater in front of the Rec Hall.
Rental cabin - 2 bunkbeds and a dining table AND an air conditioner!
Tank parked under the oaks at site 215..
I'd give Kerrville-Schreiner a positive mark except for one deal breaker -- the road noise!  The park is situated along Texas Highway 27 and my campsite was probably less than 500 feet from the road and was noisy.  For that reason I probably won't be back but if you're a sound sleeper you might not be bothered so much.  Heading west in the morning!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Eggnog Pie

One of my family's Holiday traditions is Eggnog Pie.  The typical response I get whenever I ask fellow RV'ers if they have ever had it is "What is that?".  Then after I describe it the almost unanimous response is "Mmmmmm....that sounds good!"  So, instead of the usual life on the road/ campground review stuff I thought I'd list the recipe that's been handed down within my family for generations and take some photos of my progress making it (somehow I am the only person in my immediate family who can manage to make this recipe...go figure!)


2 cups eggnog                                                          1 cup whipped cream
1 envelope plain gelatin                                             1 1/2 tsp. vanilla flavoring
1/4 cup sugar                                                           1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. salt                                                              1 - 9 inch graham cracker pie shell
1 can fruit cocktail, well drained

Ingredients in  my sister's kitchen in Austin.  Pie shell not pictured.

1) In a pan mix together the gelatin, sugar and salt.  Slowly stir in the eggnog.  Warm the eggnog mixture over LOW heat until the gelatin is completely dissolved occasionally stirring.  You will initially see little bubbles of gelatin in the mixture, then, as the temperature slowly rises there will be  fewer and fewer gelatin bubbles till they are dissolved.  Do not let the mixture come to a boil.  Chill the mixture in the refrigerator until it will "mound" slightly when dropped from a spoon.

No boiling and no gelatin bubbles!
2) After removing the now "mounding" eggnog mixture from the refrigerator fold in the almond and vanilla flavorings along with the fruit cocktail.  Then carefully fold in the whipped whip cream being careful to maintain the "fluffiness" of the whipped cream.  (I always add 1/4 cup of sugar to the whip cream while whipping it but this is up to you). 

3) Pour the final eggnog / whipped cream mixture into a 9 inch pie shell and chill in the refrigerator for 3 - 4 hours prior to serving.

I'm lazy, I buy the shell but you can make it if you want.
4)  Enjoy!

Not long for this world!
 One year I think I got some expired gelatin and the pie never "hardened".  Rather than trying to serve soupy pie I placed the pie in the freezer overnight and served it as kind of like an ice cream pie...it was non-traditional but still delicious!

Good luck with your pie and Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Vicksburg National Military Park

My daughter was scheduled to be inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa honors society on November 18th in Hurst, TX so I pointed the Tank west through Mississippi so I could be at this "must attend."   I-20 took me through Vicksburg, MS and afforded the opportunity to visit the Vicksburg National Military Park which commemorates the 1863 siege of Vicksburg by Union forces.  I'm a total history buff so this stop was a given.

Vicksburg's 300 ft bluffs controlled the Mississippi for the Confederacy
From the beginning of the Civil War it was obvious to both sides that navigational control of the Mississippi River was vitally important.  If the Union controlled it the Confederacy would be cut in two with Texas, Arkansas and most of Louisiana - a region crucial to the Confederates for supplies and recruits - isolated.  Set atop 300 ft bluffs overlooking the river Vicksburg was defended by riverfront artillery and a ring of forts on the land side containing 172 cannon.  President Lincoln called Vicksburg "the key".  He believed "the war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket".  In May and June of 1863 Union Major General U.S. Grant marched his 50,000 troops towards Lt. General John Pemberton's 33,000 Confederate Army of Vicksburg troops.  After two of Grants initial attacks were repulsed by the Confederates he decided to conduct a siege of the city and after receiving 20,000 additional Union troops the 45 day Siege of Vicksburg began.  A good accounting of the battle can be found here:  Vicksburg Seige   .

I paid the $8.00 admission to the park on an overcast / drizzling morning and headed for the Welcome Center Museum.  The museum contains about a dozen different scenes from the battle and siege.

Museum exhibit depicting Confederate troops in their trenches.
The Park is designed to drive through providing pull off parking at important locations.  The initial road in follows the Union trench system that ran outside the Confederate trenches.  A park map provides details about the 15 tour stops so that it's feasible to conduct a self-guided tour and foregoing the commercial tour groups that are available.  Despite the rain, which kept crowds away, I stopped at least 15 times.

A US trench marker along the tour road.
There were lots of Civil War cannon set up on both sides of the battlefield. I checked out the majority.

A Confederate 30 pounder, the biggest cannon they had.
Stop 6 on the tour is Thayer's Approach.  Union troops under General John Thayer stormed up this hill before getting repulsed.

Thayer's Approach offered one of the few cleared avenues.

One of the striking terrain features of the battlefield is how densely overgrown the vast majority of the battlefield is.  You literally could not force your way forward through most of it.  That's probably why most of the direct fighting and attacks took place in the few clearings.

Confederate positions were by the white tower.
The U.S.S. Cairo Museum, a part of the Park, exhibits an actual rebuilt Union gunboat that was used to shell the city from the Mississippi.  The U.S.S. Cairo was sunk while on a mission and was raised in the 1960's and rebuilt and placed in it's museum.

You get to walk right through the inside of the Cairo.
Coinciding with the July 3, 1863 Union victory at Gettysburg the July 3 surrender of the city of Vicksburg and the 30,000 man Confederate army there marked what most historians call the turning point of the Civil War.  I really enjoyed my tour of the park despite the rain.  I seriously recommend anyone driving through the area to reserve a half day or more to tour it.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Campground Review: Joe Wheeler State Park Rogersville, AL

Slipping further south from Tennessee to try to avoid the cold weather (unsuccessfully) I pulled into Joe Wheeler State Park just west of Rogersville, AL off US 72 in northwest Alabama.

Alabama parks have BIG signs.
General Joesph "Fighting Joe" Wheeler (September 10, 1836 – January 25, 1906)  was a Confederate cavalry commander during the Civil War.  For most of the war he served in the Confederate Army of the Tennessee and fought mostly in the Western Theater.  During his career in the Confederate States Army, Wheeler was wounded three times and had a total of 16 horses shot from under him.  The state of Alabama created the 2400 acre park along Wheeler Lake in 1978 and named it after the General. 

Lake Wheeler from one of the hiking paths.
The park has 116 full service campsites set up in three loops (I stayed in B loop) among 100 foot pine trees most with views of the lake.  Each loop has a bath/shower house and the one in my loop was very clean.  Unlike most parks here they take your money and then let you go pick out whatever campsite you want that is unoccupied.

View from site B-22.
I couldn't experience everything in the two days I stayed but the park offers a resort lodge, an 18 hole championship golf course, a 140 slip full service marina, a restaurant, a small country store with laundromat, lakeside rental cottages, 7.5 miles of hiking trails, tennis and basketball courts and a partridge in a pear tree.

Most of the trails keep the lake in view.
Verizon cell service came in at 1 bar of 4g and Millenicom  internet came in at 3 out of 4 bars where I camped.  Being chock full of groceries I didn't visit the restaurant but campers near me said it was pretty good food.   

A trail through the trees.
The park was huge and my two days were inadequate to get the full experience (where was the dang kayak when I needed it?).  I'll have to come back some time and bring my golf clubs, tennis racquet, basketball, kayak, fishing gear.....

Thanks for reading! 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Campground Review: Davy Crockett State Park Lawrenceburg, TN

Leaving Indiana after staying one night at the RV park at the Indiana State Fair ($30 for a tiny strip alongside the parking lot fence -- don't bother) my plans had been to find a Kentucky state park but after looking online I learned that Kentucky closes it's state parks for the season November 1.  Fortunately, Kentucky is a narrow state north to south so with colder weather pushing me south I drove into Tennessee to Davy Crockett State Park just outside of Lawrenceburg.

It says DAVID Crockett but he'll always be Davy to me.
While I prefer boondocking or staying in free campsites with the onset of night temperatures in the 30's I need to run my electric space heater that draws about 1000 watts and is way too power hungry for the Tank's solar setup.  Campgrounds cost money ($22/night at Crockett SP) but they provide 30 amp electric hookups.  The tank has it's own furnace but it's fan is shockingly loud and it wakes you up when it comes on at night.  The space heater is silent in comparison.  I got a nice waterfront site along Shoal Creek that runs through the park, the water was amazingly clear.

Shoal Creek behind my site.
I don't think there were any fish in the creek because the bottom showed through the crystal clear water and I'd have seen them.  There are two campgrounds in the park consisting of 115 campsites, I stayed in campground 1 with only one other RV besides the Tank in it.  You can also rent cabins there if you are sans RV.

Bathroom/showers were heated and very clean. 
Verizon 4g came in at two bars and Millenicom internet came in a 4 bars, Verizon must have a cell tower very near the park.

Foot bridge in a picnic area crossing a creek tributary.
The park was dedicated in 1959 and consists of 1100 acres of mostly hardwood forest.  My first site was under a giant oak tree that was dropping it's acorns.  When they hit the top of the Tank it sounded like someone was throwing golf balls at me.  I got moved to a site without the oak tree overhang and all was well.

Some more sites, note the hardwood trees.
It seems the further south I go the nicer and more open people get.  The park employees at the office were really friendly and helpful.  It's a great park and I'd definitely camp there again.

Thanks for reading!