There is no free in liberty.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Changes in Altitude 6/27/2009 Part 2

The last time I was in Death Valley I had come in the way we were leaving this trip, but that had been a winter visit. Though it was cold and snow rested on the higher elevations, travel was not a problem. This summer trip was not so easy in comparison. I would have thought my previous experiences in Death Valley would have been helpful, but this trip has brought to light 15 years of details lost from memory by the too frequent "Oh yea, I recall that" moments...

While filling up at the station a fellow pulled in across the island from me. He was alone and had been driving the road I intended to take. He was in a dusty Jeep which lent him an aura of familiarity with the area. Being a little nervous about the climb out of the valley to come, I thought I would ask him a few questions about my coming drive. "No problems.", he said.

A few miles after pulling out I noticed that the A/C had shut down. This concerned me as I liked the A/C, but we didn't set off on this trip expecting problem free cruising. We buzzed the windows down amid protests of wind from the children. I was surprisingly comfortable but I wasn't sitting on the sunny side of the car. ;)

Eventually the hill became too much for 3rd gear causing the van to dramatically shift to second; I glanced at the tachometer. This was when I noticed the temperature gauge had begun its move toward the red. If the air hadn't already been off I'd have turned it off at that point. I quickly reconnected the OBDII scanner so as to watch the temperature in detail. We pulled off of the road when it reached 240 degrees. The break lasted 10 or 15 minutes before we could attempt a few more miles. Scratching our way off the gravel and onto the road we gained a couple more miles before having to stop again. We repeated this three more times before cresting the pass at nearly 5000 ft.

Once atop the pass we could see the road we were currently on crossing a second valley ahead then disappearing in the rugged hills beyond. Sigh; another climb out of another valley. I could remember nothing of this on previous visits. I guess the terrain didn't push the capabilities of the vehicles then. Within minutes of cresting the hill the van's temp. was back to normal. I tried the A/C. And it worked! We were back to comfortable cruisn'. Apparently the "problem" was not a problem after all. The computer noticed the high engine temperatures before I did and automatically shut off the A/C . That is the sort of nannyism I like!

On our second climb out of the second valley I allowed the auto A/C shut off to alert me that the engine was warming. I handed the OBDII scanner to Kat so she could watch for 240 degrees. This time we had to stop only twice to let the van cool. Unfortunately the rough nature of the terrain forced us to drive beyond 240 degrees both times as a break down lane was no always immediately available. In the end I was getting accustomed to our limitations, and used the cool down breaks to kick rocks and enjoy what was normally drive-by country. ;)

A short time after putting the second climb behind us we were looking at the Sierra Nevada's. Of course, we didn't know it at the time; they were just stunning mountains. Between us and the the Sierras was a dry lake bed created by Los Angeles' thirst. It was once Owens Lake at around 3500 ft above sea level. On the Map it is now called Owens Lake (Dry). Apparently the area was turned into a 'dust bowl' as the Owens river that fed Owens Lake was diverted to LA. In response the area sued LA and LA was forced to rectify the problem. Even now there is no lake and dust devils still thrive.

We learned this at a visitor's center that serviced Inyo National Forest. California never sent us the packets of travel info we had requested in the months before the trip so the visitor's center was pleasant surprise. In it Kat gathered campground info while I walked with the kids around the displays. Trey took a shine to a relief map that reflected our full day's travels and we were surprised to find we were nearly under Mt. Whitney; the tallest mountain in the lower 48. As we were leaving I noticed that the camper had suffered from its trek trough Death Valley. The heat had caused bubbles to form under a fiberglass joint on the exterior. Sigh.

After a quick and overpriced stop at the grocery store in Lone Pine we began the drive up our final mountain for the day. As usual, we looked for the highest altitude campground we could find. In this case that was Whitney Portal camp ground at around 8000 feet above sea level.The first part of the ascent was easy third gear cruising through some very cool rocks. One of the rocks the children dubbed Monster Rock. Later the real climb began and our van was finally forced into 1st gear; I then locked it in. Although I was no longer worried about over heating - it had cooled to around 60 degrees - I was getting concerned with the fact that we had no more gears to down shift into. We were all in on this climb. No room for U-turns, No backing down, No more gears to down shift into. But, there were excellent views of our path taken across Owens Lake (dry) hours earlier. ;)

We finally pulled into Whitney Portal Campground. It was simply the most gorgeous campground of the trip. It was strewn with white boulders large and small. Campsites were nestled among them and large pines provided shade when the mountains did not. The loop twice crossed, with timber bridges, a large white water stream that sliced through the middle of the campground. It was perfect and it was FULL. This would not be our home for the night. I got no pictures of this campground so all pictures here are borrowed. Thanks go to the owners in the file names of the pics.

While Katrina was talking with the campground host I had to pull forward to let a car behind me pass. I tried, but the van sputtered and misfired. The poor Sienna had almost had enough but seemed to recover.

We left Whitney Portal behind and began the frightening ride back down the mountain. I acted Fonzie cool for Katrina and the children. In reality I was totally spooked. Even with the trannie locked in 1st I had to ride the brakes as pulsing didn't work well. We would gather too much speed when I let off the brakes. Soon the brake pedal began to feel like ice, the rotors likely red with heat and refusing to accept more. We found a rare pull off and basked in the acrid smell of abused brake pads. We repeated this multiple times amid sheer drop offs and hair-pin turns, each time hoping a pull off would appear when needed.

Eventually we pulled into Portagee Joe Campground, a campground we had passed on the way up and made camp as the sun set while the children explored a strangely quick running creek behind the camper. Elise immediately lost one of her flops to the rushing water. What was strange about the creek was that we were on essentially flat ground but the creek was quick deep, narrow and disappeared into a culvert at the far end of the campground. We kept them occupied with dinner and water guns until bedtime.

We had started the day at 8500' in McWilliams campground, dropped to -275' at Badwater, climbed to nearly 5000' as we exited Death Valley only to drop to 1500' in the second valley, and then hit close to 5000 again on the other side. There we drove past Owens Lake at 3500' and climbed to Whitney Portal Campground at 8000' only to backtrack to Portagee Joe Campground at 3750'.

Changes in altitude. Perhaps I should consider building an airplane for my next project. ;0


Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Castle

I just finished watching The Castle. It's an Australian movie. Humorous, real, strong family, and most importantly, positive. Much enjoyed and recommended.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Falling Bears

My first thought when I saw this was of the awful sight of the 9 -11 twin tower jumpers.

Later I wondered why a European add would use what appears to be an American city; at least as defined by the automobiles on the street. I assume it is all a part of "the America is evil thinking" in the eyes of those who lost their ideological home with the fall of the Soviet Empire and co opted the environmental movement.

Lastly this add seems awfully silly in light of the leaked poliscientist E-mail news this past weekend.

It's just the weather and, surprise, it changes.....my contention for 24 years. How so many could accept something that runs so counter to everyone's daily experience is beyond me. Evolution is change, nature is change, local weather is change but we have been asked to believe global weather should be...static and any change should stop. Nutty. But, hey, it puts us under the yoke of bureaucracy.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Mazda Miata at 20

In an effort to build credit I bought one of these used shortly after college. Unfortunately it and Kat's Ford Probe were casualties of our first belly swelling.

My desire to have a Miata began as a child in the passenger's seat, and occasionally on the parcel shelf behind the seats, of my father's 69 MGB. I vividly recall night drives from Concord to Charlotte looking not forward, but up through the trees, a kind of fractured tunnel imparting an unfamiliar sense of speed.

Thirteen years later I had a reliable MG of my own thanks to Mazda. Sitting at lights in the rain reminded me of camping only I was dry. I commented as much to an attractive redhead I was exploring at the time. She replied, "I wouldn't know; I'm a princess.". The Miata outlasted her.

Thirteen years after that Mazda celebrates the Miata's 20th.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Ever taken a two million dollar drink? This driver did and it was caught on camera. Ouch!

You might want to mute before playing.

Silly and Confusing

Today feels like a Saturday. My oldest son, Trey, slipped under the influence of H1N1 earlier in the week and shortly afterward the rest of my family fell ill including myself. Currently, we are cocooning for the day as we divine the extent of our illnesses. So we are all at home in our PJs in the middle of the week. In short it has become a lazy Saturday.

H1N1. Why are we naming things with number/letter combinations? At one point Acura's top model was the Legend. It had name recognition. My mom even knew what it was. Honda dropped the Legend nomenclature in favor of RL? TL? CL? I'm not sure which. Honda subsequently regretted the loss of their Acura Legend name recognition. Our Gov. dropped "Swine Flu" for "H1N1" due to some stupids culling a handful of pigs. It seemed a silly and confusing move to me.

Acura TL, H1N1, ML63AMG4WD, XC902WD. These "names" are more akin to passwords. As a kid I recall passwords being relegated to playing clubhouse. Passwords had a sense of childishness. Now I have trouble recalling which password I used where.

Whatever, It's a Saturday...sort of.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Moving Along With the Hoover Dam Bridge

It appears Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge is moving along. It looked only modestly different from when my family was there in late June of this year. My Hoover Dam post is here.

In my poor Germen accent, "My papers were not in order." and unfortunately I was unable to get pics like these...

They haven''t closed the gap yet, though.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Changes in Altitude 6/27/2009 Part I

For weeks we had been telling our children we were going to California. It didn't mean much outside of automotive prison to them. Well, on this day they finally set foot on Cali. soil.

We left McWilliams Campground fairly early hoping to make Death Valley before the heat set in. Over the past few days we had made 4 or 5 runs down our mountain but this would be our last trip down our from our alpine home, and I wanted to capture the decent from from pine forest to scrubby pine to Joshua Tree desert... on pixels. We passed a biker grinding his way up the way we had come, and well...he still has my respect.

We hit the hi-way and headed toward Death Valley. Needing fuel we planned a stop at the next town fearing California fuel prices. As it turned out that town was Mercury and it consisted of two gas stations and one military base. At least, we decided it was most likely a military base. Inside the station we bought some bottled water for inside the van. We had a few gallon jugs stored in nooks throughout the camper, but I felt it was best to keep them for ready for any dicey situations that may come up while in Death Valley. The clerk immediately pegged me as a North Carolinian; he instantly set off my gaydar. :) Apparently he had grown up in Albamarle NC, a town I often drove through on my way to Chapel Hill during college. It was nice to see someone from home.

It was getting close to noon when we stopped at rest area at the intersection of 95 and 373. Some unlucky folks thought the intersection a good location for jiffy type stores. I don't know where they went wrong in their thinking, but the decay spoke for the reality. One building was boarded and the the other was starving.

Filled with PB&J we headed into Death Valley by way of 373. Sixteen miles later we entered California. Cali. itself was never our goal, but it had somehow grown into one. The ingrained "Cali or Bust!" history? Was it all the "We're going to California." explaining to the kids? Whatever. We crossed the California state line!

Into Death valley.

Our first stop after entering the park was a potty break at a pit toilet. Pit toilets don't work well in the heat. Yuk. Our next stop was at a view point over looking the valley. The park had closed off what had been a nice drive up to the viewing area and turned it into an extremely generous foot path. Ian volunteered to go with me while the others remained behind in the A/C. We trudged up the hill together in the heat. I don't know what he expected to find up there but he didn't find it. Once there he came to a stop and suddenly donned his unwound toy soldier look. He does that when he doesn't get what he wants. His head drops and his shoulders go slack. Disappointment. It was a perversely wonderful experience for me. He soon perked up and I got a few more pics of him with the valley in the distance followed by some of him walking back to the van. An excellent moment.

It was hot enough after entering the valley that turning off the van would likely mean a permanently hot van for the day. The A/C would simply never be able to catch up again. It was that hot. And it only got hotter at Badwater. Although there are lower points in the valley they require a walk and the family wasn't up to a hike. Badwater is conveniently and more importantly safely located just off the road. No thirsty walks.

We all walked down to the lake bed leaving the running van behind. There was a breeze consistently blowing off the dry lake bed. Ever feel the whosh of warmth from a quickly opened oven? That was the unending breeze blowing off the lake! I like experiencing the unexperienced but my family was calling it for what it was. Uncomfortable. I would have enjoyed swimming in the heat a little longer, but the family was scattering. I might have to entitle the photo of them in front of the dry lake "the scattering" as I couldn't squeeze off the shot quickly enough. They were chasing visions of A/C. So yep, that was our six minutes of Badwater.

The gas tank was getting a little light (not a good thing) so after a stop at the visitors center we made our way to Stovepipe Wells. Even at 118 degrees it was noticeably cooler at Stovepipe Wells than at Badwater. Heck, it was almost comfy at Stovepipe Wells. Gas, food, water and camping were all there. We fueled up and began the climb out of the nearly 120 degree Death Valley with the trailer in tow....


Friday, November 13, 2009

The good man...

I have been quiet about Bush as I have felt somewhat mixed in regard to his legacy. I tended to run afoul Bush during his administration mostly due to my libertarian leaning sensibilities, but I find I miss him now. I miss Bush's class. I miss having a good man in the White House.

Amid the more frequent comments emanating from the media lamenting the loss of Bush comes this from the progressive Hillbuzz.org.


...As we will always be grateful for what George and Laura Bush did this week, with no media attention, when they very quietly went to Ft. Hood and met personally with the families of the victims of this terrorist attack.


The Bushes went and met privately with these families for HOURS, hugging them, holding them, comforting them.


We hope someday to be able to thank George W. and Laura in person for all they’ve done, and continue to do. They didn’t have to head to Ft. Hood. That was not their responsibility.

The Obamas should have done that.

But didn’t.


Thank goodness George W. is still on his watch, with wonderful Laura at his side.

We are blessed as a nation to have these two out there…just as we are blessed to have the Clintons on the job, traveling the world doing the good they do.


I miss President Bush.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vanity Plates and Gov. Stupidity

A Florida court judge finds expression of personal belief unconstitutional.

The court got this wrong on three counts.

First, vanity plates are not Gov. saying anything about anything as the plates are an expression of that particular tax payer; nor is the Gov. establishing a religion through the vanity tag as the Gov. is not expressing anything in the first place.

When I see the vanity plate "NASTY XB" around town I don't take from that the Gov. is dissing Toyota Scion or giving it props.

The court ruling does, however, restrict one's "...free exercise thereof..." which is forbidden for the Gov. to do, and is the second point where the court got it wrong.

The court got it wrong a third time by seeing a law being created where no law was being created. There was only an option to express one's personal beliefs.

Just for reference:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ...."

So just where is this "separation of church and state" I so often see referenced?


Friday, November 6, 2009

Last Day in Vegas 6/26/2009

We took the advice of the locals we met at the campground when planning the day. One of our required visits was the Hoover Dam and on Mannie's wife's suggestion we scheduled a pre-noon visit to the dam. After that we expected the heat would drive us inside so a second try at the casinos seemed a prudent choice. Caesar's palace had an antique car exhibit I felt we might all enjoy. Even Kat wanted to see the Duesenbergs.

As we had hoped, we got to the Hoover Dam at around 10:30 AM. We drove down the mountain from our campground with the windows down, but before entering Las Vegas they had been raised and the a/c flicked on. Once at the dam it was warmer still, and getting hot. The 9-11 check-points also made the early arrival a wise choice. Our wait for the cursery glanse by the guards was not long but still gave us enough time to enjoy views just outside the window that would have otherwise been lost to speed.

Before we got to the dam we caught sight of the new 9/11 bridge still under construction. I suspect a PBS special will eventually air a show chronicling it's construction as it seems to be quite an undertaking. Our vacation days happened to coincide with the final stages of the arch's construction. It appeared to be awfully precarious missing the final piece of the arch. It was cool site and will one day help date our Hoover Dam pics with a glance.

We drove past some parking areas that charged for the service and continued across the dam. I suspect that the new bridge will eventually eliminate auto traffic across the dam and relegate the dam to foot traffic only. Considering the amount of through traffic I suspect the dam tourism experience will be enhanced. For our visit at the time I enjoyed the history of being able to drive across the thing myself.

We lucked into a free parking space that had just been occupied and made our way to the dam on foot. The lake level seemed much lower than on my previous visits a decade earlier. On my previous winter visits I had thought that the low level was part of an annual lowering of the lake to absorb heavier rainfall during other wetter periods of the year. This was a summer visit, though, and Lake Powell was even lower than on my winter visits. Humph.

The art that adorned the dam was astounding to my mildly art educated eyes. I felt it was Art Deco at its best and wonderfully expressed man's mastery. I couldn't help but think of Ayn Rand and feel immersed in the pages of Atlas Shrugged. I imagined that the art must get under the skin of the liberals in the know.

The gift shop had little of interest to us, except for water. We wondered around in the crowded swamp-cooler cooled shop briefly then relaxed with our water outside on the patio. It seemed the walking, heat, hunger, and thirst had conspired against Trey and he didn't mind showing just how uncomfortable he was. The patio break under wire mesh umbrellas alleviated much of that discomfort, though. Once again, I enjoyed the people watching.

With that we retraced our path back to Vegas by way of a McDonald's. The McDonald's had TV's tuned to boredom TV (CNN) and while eating lunch we received the sad news of Michael Jackson's death. I wasn't a fan, preferring instead the likes of REM, U2 and later Nirvana, but Michael Jackson's impact was unavoidable and he became a part of my life despite my preferences. His death disturbed me. Katrina said much the same. Sad.

Caesar's Palace offered free parking for those who are able to find it. We wound our way from the back of the casino to the front on the strip where the valet parking area was three times before we spotted a little sign that pointed to the self parking area. A short walk and an elevator ride up a few floors took us to the antique car display.

We were dissapointed to find the Duesenberg room no longer held Duesenbergs. I later learned that the owner of the fleet of classics had passed away and apparently the Duesenberg room had followed his lead. It was sad loss on two counts, but even without the Duesenbergs I recommend this museum. The array of cars doesn't lend itself to any one facet in collecting, but rather touches on many at the same time. In short it's a good visit and managed to wear even Ian to exhaustion.

After Caesar's Palace we visited Luxor for their Titanic exhibit. Trey had a long running fascination with the Titanic story and we unfortunately missed a similar exhibit while it was in Raleigh. When we learned of the one in Luxor we decided to rectify the earlier mistake. In the end the cost of buying tickets for a family of five was prohibitive. We left after a little sightseeing in Luxor. The kids got a kick out of the water massaging machine and I couldn't help but scoff at the oxygen bar. People were paying for the stuff. Sigh.

Our family got all the O2 needed during our last night back at the campground.

Final pic, lifted from the net.