Nevada and California while heading to the next contract in Fort Bragg, California
CAIRN TRAVELER VLOG | EP 43
This is a bit of a long one but with tons of adventure and awesome footage. Join me as I return to Fort Bragg, California for the next contract. I stop at some awesome parks around Las Vegas, dry camp with the Airstream in the Alabama Hills, summit Mount Whitney, and catch a few more beautiful stops on the way back.
Be creative and find your adventure this week!! ✌️😎
I did not notice until editing the footage for this video that Adobe Premier had struck again. With the last update, HLG 2100 (I.e. iPhone footage - which I use most often) is not automatically adapted to a Rec. 709 sequence, leaving the clip very overexposed. Unfortunately interpreting the footage manually seems to profoundly desaturate the video colors (this can be observed by the difference between the iPhone and GoPro video coloring, or by comparing iPhone video from say a month ago before the update, or by simply comparing the clip in Premier to the same file playing in MP4 format in QuickTime). I have tried to correct some of the footage manually with Lumetri Color and adding back saturation but as I try my best, I can’t seem to get it back to real life conditions. I have since found and turned off the HDR recording setting in the iPhone so that it now records natively in Rec. 709, however that still leaves a ton of backlogged HLG 2100 footage that it seems will never be the same. As I did not notice this prior, it also means that some VLOGs (including my last montage of adventure in the Four Corners - which I am quite proud of and feel some of my best video work) are lacking in color quality which I find quite irksome.
The Journey Out and West
As is my usual, I like to sleep after my last night shift into the afternoon and then pack things up and head out through the night (skipping a ton of traffic). I stopped around 5:30am at a truck stop to take a quick nap till sun up.
I few notes on Airstream performance during our travels. I left the campground in New Mexico with a full tank of fresh water as I was planning to dry camp in the Alabamas for multiple days. This did not produce a noticeable burden on towing, however I40 is pretty much a straight (and flat shot) until Flagstaff.
I continued to try to correct for and troubleshoot the brake controller issues with my Tekonsha P3 Brake Controller - displaying error messages “Output Short” and “Overload, no brakes” when attempting to brake. I have been uncertain how much braking control is actually being exerted on the Airstream, many times feeling the truck pushed by the Airstream when attempting to stop (and thus having to remember to leave extra room for coming to stops) - this effect could also be felt when trying to slow down on downhills. A previous attempt to test the wiring on the controller itself did not yield any useful information. My worst case scenario was that the brakes or their components on the Airstream were actually damaged in some way - when I first towed with the Airstream, I forgot to adjust the voltage coming from the brake controller and the brakes got the full 14 volts and ended up with a little smoking when I braked (per the Airstream manual, the “maximum threshold” is only 2 volts). For this trip though, I decided to replace the brake controller with a new one (same model) and use dielectric grease to increase the connectivity on the seven-way hitch pin. I can report that this DID NOT alleviate the issue and the new controller displayed the same message as before. Despite the 2 volt “maximum threshold” (which may simply mean something else entirely), I decided to start playing around with raising the voltage and lo and behold this works - finally settling around 7.5 volts which is effective but keeps brakes from seizing on attempting to brake.
My general way of travel is to see as many places as possible in a survey fashion and then mentally mark the places that are worth revisiting. Having hit Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Recreation Area on the upper Colorado River, I wanted to hit Lake Mead (”America’s First Recreation Area”) on the lower as well and this was my first stop for the morning. I briefly stopped at the visitor’s center and then drove by to catch just glimpse of the Hoover Dam but continued on, having several locations around Las Vegas that I really wanted to see. All in all, from a brief survey, I would recommend the striking and towering cliffs of Lake Powell over the Lake Mead areas.
One of the things I love most about traveling across the country is being able to witness how history and geography interconnect. I have seen the Green River through the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. I have been whitewater rafting on and lived beside the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs while I worked a contract in Avon, Colorado. I have been to Canyonlands National Park and looked out on the Green and Colorado Rivers meeting before they flow down (as the Colorado) into Lake Powell. I have jet skied on Lake Powell at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. I have hiked rim to rim in Grand Canyon National Park and crossed the Colorado as it wove its way around Phantom Ranch. I have crossed through Lake Mead National Recreation Area as the Colorado becomes the Nevada and later California border with Arizona. And I spent my first experience on the road and dry camping in the desert in Quartzsite, Arizona and crossed the Colorado just a few miles away into the Blythe, California to get groceries. It’s amazing to look back at these experiences across the country and see them all tied together by the great Colorado River.
Let me just say that I cannot recommend this location enough and I wish I had had more time to hike in this area. The visitor’s center is excellent as are the exhibits, there is some wildlife in the form of desert tortoises to take in, and the rock formations in all of their colors are staggeringly beautiful. As a Bureau of Land Management site (at least at the time of this writing), this is both a dog and drone friendly site. There was also 5Ge cellular connectivity for most of the loop scenic drive.
One note on use of the DJI Mavic 2 Pro and it’s batteries here. As I knew I would be droning, I charged all three of my batteries to 100% as part of my camp tear down and packing up checklist. Regardless, these batteries are NEVER fully charged when I go to use them - usually starting around 70-80% of full - which is very annoying. For lithium batteries, the discharge when not in use is some of the worst I have ever seen - hopefully DJI will make improvements in the future.
This is a rather new National Parks site and aside from one vehicle that was leaving when I arrived, there was no one else there. There is no visitor center here and no overt trails so Hiker and I just wandered around. There are several short tunnel-like structures here. We didn’t find any fossils to speak of but the area wasn’t well explained so that may have been in a different part of the area. Typically, National Parks sites are in pristine condition but there was quite a bit of trash strewn throughout the area - I attribute this to just being a newer site and not completely worked into the system yet. The final verdict was that this site was a bit underwhelming.
On the opposite side of Las Vegas from Red Rock Canyon, this is another astoundingly beautiful park and the first state park in Nevada. I am so glad this was our last stop of the day and we arrived at sunset as the lingering rays painted the rocks in truly fiery oranges and reds. There were Bighorn Sheep in the area as well which provided some entertainment. This is another location I would love to revisit and spend more time hiking and exploring. Unfortunately the visitor’s center was closed we when arrived so I can’t report on that.
Originally I had planned to try to incorporate the NPS’s Mojave National Preserve into this trip but in the end it lay too far out of the way to be practical and beside that, with a brief bit of research on their website I found that the roads often became washed out and since we just finished the monsoon season in the desert, I did not want to chance getting stuck on an unpaved road while towing the Airstream so Mojave will have to wait for another day.
After this, it was on to California and towards the Alabama Hills. Night fell as we passed through Death Valley National Park and I actually got a “brakes overheating” warning. Sometimes when you’ve been traveling for a while in an air-conditioned vehicle, you lose track or are not aware of the conditions outside. The visual conditions had rapidly declined since entering Death Valley with California wildfire smoke becoming thicker and thicker (high beams being worse than useless in this much as they are in fog). Having seen no one in quite some time, I decided to just stop on the road and get out and take a break, however I would say temperatures were somewhere between 90-100, extremely smoky, with volcanic rock strewn by the sides of the road, like stepping out into a literal hell. After this short break to relieve our bladders, we got back in the much more comfortable truck and continued on to end this night of heat and smoke.
We arrived to the Alabama Hills in the dark (something you know I do not recommend when setting up camp) but thankfully I kind of knew the area from the last time I was here with the RPOD and a part of me really wanted to find the same spot I camped with the RPOD to experience it with the Airstream. I’m not sure I did find the exact spot but it was very similar and despite a bit of a leveling challenge, it was a lovely camp for the next few days.
A little lingering smoke hung in the air in the morning (which seemed worse in the evenings) but the view out across the Alabamas and on the Sierras and Whitney Portal was jaw-dropping. I had planned to get settled this first day and then head in to the Interagency Office in Lone Pine to see if they had any unclaimed summit passes to release from the lottery. One of my general life goals is to summit the highest peak in any state I work (and any others if possible). I intended to attempt Whitney when I worked in California from 2019-2020 but as the COVID 19 Pandemic hit, many areas of California went on strict lockdown and travel became restricted. This became a tentative goal for 2021 but I wasn’t sure I would be able to get a permit for Whitney - I entered the permit lottery but was declined so I thought this goal was out for this year. But it turns out that the lottery season had already ended and registration for The Whitney Summit Trail was now open to all on a first come, first service basis.
North Carolina - Mount Mitchell (6,684’) *Also the highest point East of the Mississippi River
AND NOW . . .
California - Mount Whitney (14,505’) *Highest peak in the lower 48 states
After a good night’s sleep, I started up for Whitney Portal around 5am with temperatures in the 40-50s at that elevation (8,300’).
I had attempted Whitney summit back during my National Parks road trip vacation in 2018. I reached approximately 12,000 feet in the ascent but it turns out that during that time of year with snow still on the mountain, that if you did not start early enough (4am or earlier) and reach this area before 11am, the snow would be too soft to continue. Bottom line, I and the folks I was hiking with had to abort as we were falling into snow up to our waists and could no longer make sufficient progress. This time, the only snow was a small patch that had escaped the sun near one of the glacial lakes.
It was a beautiful hike with great weather and the colors of the non-evergreen foliage had just started to change for autumn with brilliant yellows and oranges lining the paths. The sun slowly rose and trickled over the mountain sides gradually lighting the valley. I passed several beautiful lakes with crystal clear reflection of the surrounding mountains.
Eventually I passed the highest location where I had been before, about a third of the way up the 99 switchbacks leading to the final Whitney Crest Trail. These were more difficult and the distance was longer than I thought to where the Summit Trail met the Crest Trail and the turnoff for the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail branch from the other side of Whitney. Looking back on Sequoia National Park from the Crest Trail, the smoke wafted over the western mountains and the smell of burning Redwoods was in the air - Sequoia National Park was on fire (the KNP Complex Fire in California) with some of the oldest trees on record threatened. There were then several more miles to go over narrow precipitous trails winding around rock scree fields until I finally reached the emergency shelter hut on Whitney Summit. I found multiple geological survey markers from multiple years as well as an engraved wooden plaque (though this was from 2020). I signed the register and took tons of pictures and videos, having accomplished a goal that I thought was out of reach for the year.
The hike down was of course much easier (and faster) for a total of over 24 miles, the last five or so of which I finished in the dark while listening to podcasts. After a wearied but exhilarated drive home, I arrived to the Airstream to find it dark and the batteries completely drained (something I had a heads up about due to my sensor gateways going offline late in the afternoon) - I realized I had accidentally left the fan going and it quickly drained the batteries. I had to pull out the power cord and 20amp adapter to plug into the Goal Zero YETI 1400 (lithium battery). I also started up the truck to use some of the seven-way charging to help bring the batteries back to a high enough capacity to have the lights and other minor features back. Nonetheless, this complete drain left the Airstream charge status behind for the rest of the stay as I used the next few days to rest and recuperate from the long hike with some delicious grilling and lovely sunsets.
The Alabama Hills are amazingly beautiful and I can’t believe I was blessed to experience camping there with my Airstream home while also getting to achieve a major goal of summiting Mount Whitney. I was also able to experiment with some night astrophotography which turned out quite well - The Milky Way, the Sierras, the Alabamas, and Whitney Portal under the stars.
Airstream Life and Small Upgrades in the Alabama Hills (BLM) | California
One of my biggest mantras of RV life (whether Airstream or any other brand) is to live with something the way it is for a while before deciding on a change.
Maintenance - Treating the Window Seals
Airstreams are somewhat known for having quality but “sticky” windows. The rubber gaskets around the windows often form a very strong bond with the glass pane (this is specially true in high temperature situations). Occasional lubrication with 303 Automotive Protectant can alleviate this issue to a point but does not completely solve the problem. Part of the issue here is that the leverage point of the window lift henges are mounted towards the top of the windows which actually means that you have very little leverage at all and you may find yourself frequently going outside to break the seal with a knife blade before attempting to open the windows. Stay tuned for a more effective solution to this issue coming up in the next few months.
Maintenance - A/C Intake Vent Filters
While this does not have much to do with dry camping (as the A/C units were not used), this is nonetheless something I’ve found VERY helpful. Particularly in dry or desert conditions where there is a lot of dust, you will find that without intervention, the dust will just recirculate around the RV, accumulating near the vents and collecting on surfaces. Beyond this, ultimately all this dust is going up and through the A/C unit itself and will eventually cause a damaging level of build up. The original filter from Airstream is just a rather porous metal mesh build into the four ceiling air intakes but you can reinforce this with vent register filter material which can be found online or in most home improvement stores such as Lowe’s or Home Depot. I have found this makes a major difference and cuts down on the amount of dusting and vacuuming I have to do.
Know Your Battery Voltages
I was unclear on this when I started this dry camping adventure and as such, had a day that completely drained my batteries. For all intents and purposes, lead acid batteries (which are currently what I am using) are considered discharged at 12 volts (equivalent to 50%). To discharge lead acid batteries past 50% can be damaging to the batteries. It is also important to know that in situations of draining the batteries down to close to this discharged state is when you need to be the most careful about checking the water levels in batteries. I have this set up as a monthly check for the Airstream but have only ever had to add water once in almost 2 years of being on the road (but that being said, we are typically at a campground with full hookups and not really using the batteries).
Goal Zero Solar Setup
Since the days of the Forest River RPOD, the Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Lithium Power Bank and the Goal Zero Boulder 200watt Briefcase have been my method of recharging the rig batteries while dry camping. I have also typically used this to power any charging devices and multimedia systems (TV, laptop, monitor, speakers, etc.) instead of using the house batteries which extends their capacity. The house batteries are used for the lights, fans, and water pump as needed. I have almost never used the house inverter - I avoid this due to the power loss which results in the conversion from DC to AC power.
Currently I have the power bank inside my shoe drawer cabinet by the door of the Airstream and I snake in the cable from the solar panels through the door threshold - not the best or cleanest solution but more I’m looking into better options. An extension cord from the 120volt inverter option on the power bank goes to the power strip for all of my desk computer setup so during dry camping, I just unplug from the wall AC power and connect to the extension cord from the power bank.
I recharge the house batteries by connecting my 50amp service cord to the Airstream and then using the 50amp to 30amp and then 30amp to 120volt adapters in a daisy chain. Then I take another 120 volt heavy duty extension cord, snake it out the door threshold, and hook this up to the daisy chain to transfer power from the power bank to the house batteries. Keep in mind that the power bank also suffers from a degree of power loss in using it’s 120volt inverter for either the computer setup or in recharging the Airstream batteries.
This Goal Zero Yeti system is WIFI-enabled and I think this is a fantastic idea and would like to report that it works well but unfortunately it just doesn’t. When it works, you can turn on or off each section of the power bank remotely - i.e. USB, DC outlets, AC outlets - but the problem here is that it has a very hard time remembering a static WIFI router connection (such as a mobile hotspot) so you will find yourself continually having to reset and re-setup the WIFI connection. After messing around with it for quite a while, I just gave in the turned the sections on or off manually by reaching up and into the cabinet and then feeling around for the buttons. Hopefully newer Goal Zero products have improved on this because if it worked, it would be great.
Installing Cabinet Push Button Latches
I have found that for long trips on rough roads, many of the original cabinet latches from Airstream just DO NOT hold the cabinets closed. I first installed these push button latches on some upper cabinets in the RPOD and then carried over the idea to the Airstream. The first cabinet that received this upgrade was the lower floor cabinet under the sofa where I keep a Bowflex weight set (highly recommend for get versatility and compact space saving). The weight of these unit would push the door open and then start to slide over the floor and due to the weight could cause some serious damage if I did not secure them. On this trip, I installed another of these push buttons on the vertical closet cabinet as even with light objects placed on the top shelf, this still managed to open and spill it’s contents all over the rig while in transit. This is a pretty easy install - check out the video for the step by step.
Airstream did use one of these (a different brand) on the vertical pantry slide-out drawer cabinet. I would have liked to have used the same item to keep it all uniform but their’s was a more complicated install with the back recessed in a larger hole than the front.
Climate Management While Dry Camping
Initially as I planned to spend a great deal of time in the Southwest, I had reservations about the Airstream (essentially a tin can) - it’s also why I chose the dual AC unit option. From over a year spent in Gallup, New Mexico as well as time spent in the height of summer in Phoenix, I can report that it was quite comfortable and the AC units kept up very nicely.
As to dry camping, however, different strategies come into play - the most significant of which is shielding the windows. In the Southwest (particularly in high desert areas), you will find that a great deal of the heat is directly light-related, with often a 10-20 degree difference between sun and shade. Airstream is known for their magnificent windows which provide an inside-out fully immersive experience, living in your camping setting. These windows are also an excellent way to warm up the rig in cold conditions but in warm conditions, using the awnings to shield the windows provides significant results. It should be noted that particularly in the Southwest, the spring months can be VERY windy and this will preclude the use of the awnings unless you want to turn them into sails.
The blackout curtains provided by Airstream also do a great job insulating the windows in both cold and hot conditions but keep in mind this is also going to limit your airflow. Getting a cross-breeze going to move the hot air out is key to keeping things comfortable. Opting for the dual AC units means that you do NOT get dual rooftop fans but you can still get a great air movement going by opening up the large end windows with the fan going as well. A battery operated fan (backing up the roof fan) has become one of my favorite things and I cannot recommend this Dewalt fan enough. Once again, a caveat to this strategy in the Southwest is that the winds and the dust/sand can make having so many windows open a bit of a messy situation and you can quickly end up with a coating of dust on just about every surface.
One last thing to note is that the Airstream door can be VERY drafty if it is just closed without locking the deadbolt - this leads to a good bit of warm air loss in cold conditions, cold air loss in warm conditions, and can provide an annoying source of entry for dust in windy conditions. Locking the deadbolt pulls the door in closer to the frame of the Airstream and allows for a much closed gasket seal around the door.
The Journey Back to Northern California
I went traveled through the this lovely little Scandinavian themed ski town in 2018, staying there for a great meal and an overnight. There wasn’t time to stop for an extended stay this time around but it was very nostalgic to drive through.
Devil’s Postpile is closed for over half of the year due to elevation and winter conditions at the site as well as being a somewhat small and remote NPS site. This site does lie on the John Muir (JMT)/Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and is a beautiful and unique site to visit. When I have been through the area before, the site was closed for the season but this time it was open and another goal off my to-do list.
I was NOT prepared for the road situation getting to the monument. The road climbs in elevation from Mammoth Lakes and progresses to a single lane clinging to the side of the mountain with small and infrequent turn-out areas. The drive was a bit of a white-knuckle experience on this one-way road, with no shoulder, towing the Airstream. Coming back out of the monument there was now an attendant at the gate who was very surprised that I had towed into the monument, there is apparently an area near the entrance where you can de-hitch and leave your trailer while driving in, which would have been a much better option.
The site itself lies in a wooded grassy area with a stream and several small ponds. Dogs are welcome on leash here. There is a short hike up and around the monument itself - a large swelling of hexagonal volcanic basalt columns, reminiscent of Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming and the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland.
I would definitely recommend this unique site if you happen to be in the neighborhood.
Back on the road again, my route took me past Mono Lake which I do not think I have ever been close enough to see but a VERY lovely location. Mono is a very alkaline saline soda lake with mineral deposits encrusting much of the shore. Definitely a worthwhile stop while passing through.
After passing Mono Lake our route took us up through State Route 88 and into South Lake Tahoe (though we never got close enough to see the lake itself). Much of this area seemed decimated by fire damage (the Calder Fire) with burned out homes and cabins along the way. Crews were at work trying to clear the area and families were rummaging through the charred remains assessing the damage.
I was infinitely glad that I had visited and experienced both Sequoia National Park and Lake Tahoe on my first contract in California. Yet another reminder to get out and see the world while you can, before these beautiful places are changed forever.
The drive back to Fort Bragg follows a path through several lovely lakes, one of my most favorite being Clear Lake with many clustered homes and small towns scattered along the shore’s grassy slopes. Golden light from the setting sun kindled the lake as we passed through making for a lovely drive.
We finally arrived back to Fort Bragg, a place we had called home for almost a year. I again broke my rule of making camp after dark but in this situation it was relatively straightforward as we were here for half of the year before and knew the area and the layout of the campground well.
Leisure Time RV Park is a small RV park (like most in the vicinity of Fort Bragg) but clean and tidy with excellent campground management/hosts. It is also nestled into the borders of Jackson Demonstration State Forrest with many hiking and biking trails winding between old growth Redwood groves.
Full hookups are available but the park does not have 50AMP as of the time of this writing - for the Airstream, I only need 50AMP for running both A/C units consecutively which would never be needed in Fort Bragg (warm days can be adapted to by simply opening the windows and turning on the fan). With few exceptions, Fort Bragg is very temperate with temperatures rarely dropping below the 40s in winter and also rarely climbing into the 80s in summer. As this park is a few miles off Highway 1 and the ocean, it has an added layer of weather protection as the wind, fog, and rain often do not penetrate inland.
This time around the park also had on site laundry set up (which as a traveling nurse is about the ONLY campground amenity I actually care about). The laundry was clean and the machines had few issues - even better they seemed to be managed by a company called CSC and were set up to allow payment through an app which scanned a QR code on the machine - this process worked beautifully and I’m always happy to get away from the ridiculous use of quarters.
One of my first stops when I got back was Pomo Bluffs Park - we had stayed at Harbor RV Park which lies just adjacent to this small city park for the first half of my last contract. Hiker and I had walked the loop here every day. With grassy hills, waves thundering against the cliffs, and a nice view over Fort Bragg Harbor and the bridge. It was great to be back to these old stomping grounds.
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(The last five videos)
Editing: Adobe Premier Pro (Creative Cloud)
Music: Epidemic Sound, MUSICBED, Soundstripe, YouTube Music Library
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