Monday, April 6, 2009

Final morning in Box Canyon

The time has come, finally, for us to leave this great spot here in Box Canyon. We have been here 12 full days, just two days shy of the dispersed camping limit.

We still have a couple days' tankage, but we are out of almost everything else; two weeks in the desert has cleaned out the larder. Except for a single package 0f veal, the freezer is empty, there are no fresh veggies left in the fridge, the salad dressing ran out yesterday, and the clincher: we finished the last drop of red wine, a Chianti, last night, including our "backup" stash of bottles we keep for unexpected company.

Yesterday we packed up most of the gear, including the scooters and the giant pile of tools and parts I had out for the last ten days. Today's first stop will be the wastewater plant in Indio, followed by the Wal-Mart in Palm Desert to restock the cupboards and fridge, somewhere nearby to do laundry, and ending up at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon tonight, a nearly exact reversal of our stops en route here two weeks ago. After some of the projects took their toll on my creaky body, I could use a massage, and we remembered from last visit that their spa has a 2-for-1 deal on Tuesdays, which we will try to take advantage of tomorrow morning.

From there, we will head out to the coast, after a much-needed fuel stop, to begin the trek northwards to the bay area. I am hoping on a Tuesday that we will have no trouble getting a spot on the Rincon Parkway for the night.

In addition to some quiet relaxation, we got a great deal of the way through our project backlog while we were here. A block of uninterrupted time with no distractions and great weather was just the ticket, for both of us. In addition to "spring cleaning," here are just a few of the things we got done:
  • Got the video capture box installed on the computer, and converted our entire collection of VHS and 8mm tapes either to files on our server, or DVDs. Mind you, these were not pre-recorded tapes, but rather things like our Red Cross interview on Portland television that Louise posted here last week, construction videos from our condo remodel, the video we made of Odyssey the day we bought it, and my brief moment of fame when the Vice President of the United States (Al Gore), the Governor of California (Gray Davis) and the Mayor of San Jose (Ron Gonzales) all dropped in on my Network Operations Center for a tour.
  • Touched up water damage on the kitchen and bathroom cabinets. In five years of constant use, sometimes being not entirely level, occasional splashes of water from dishwashing, coming out of the shower, etc, had caused some of our natural maple cabinet doors, drawer faces, and even sections of wall to become rough and discolored. The correct fix would be refinishing, but I thought I'd try my hand with some 400 grit sandpaper, Minwax Natural finish, and a spray can of Delft Semi-Gloss, and try to "feather" it in. In came out surprisingly well -- I'm sorry I did not take before-and-after photos. This should stave off actual refinishing for several more years.
  • Touched up several scrapes, dings, and blemishes on the outside of the bus, routine wear-and-tear for our low chassis. I needed to apply "rust converter" in some spots, hit everything with primer, then shot some quick touch-up paint that more-or-less blends in to the body color (metallic black) in those areas. What I did not get to is filling in some of the larger spots with body filler ("Bondo"); that will have to wait till another "project week."
  • Rewired part of the dashboard. When we converted Odyssey five years ago, I put in a small panel of six LED indicator lights, mostly to cover an ugly hole in the dashboard where a radar detector had been. I figured I'd hook the lights up to "something" eventually, and I finally got around to it. I also connected a dash switch to the driver fan (previously I had to scooch out of my seat to reach the switch on the fan itself), connected the heated mirrors which I also never had got around to connecting, replaced some burned-out dash lamps, and fixed a problem with the backup camera (a broken wire) that made it hard to switch back to forward view.
  • Rewired the A/V cabinet. As a result of the tape-conversion project, we can now get rid of the VCR, which went right into the Goodwill pile. That prompted a cleanup of the whole cabinet, and we decided to rewire so that the entertainment system (TV, surround-sound receiver, DVD player, and DirecTV box) would be on a separate circuit from the network equipment (HughesNet modem, file server, and wireless router). The network stuff stays on 24/7, and with it all on the same circuit, the parasitic loads of the other gear (energy they continue to use even when switched off) could not be eliminated from the batteries. A real waste, since we seldom use A/V gear. I also added a pilot light, to let us know if we've left the A/V breaker on, and changed the cabling so we can watch DirecTV without having to turn the surround-sound receiver on (impossible with our first monitor, but that changed when we had to replace it a year ago). The freed-up shelf in the A/V cabinet got repurposed as storage for items that previously were harder to get to.
  • Cleaned out "the garage." Like many people's real garages, the scooter bay ends up being a repository for things we've acquired along the road that don't have a designated place in the rig. Such as the extra jugs of coolant and distilled water we bought when we had a major coolant leak, or the spare jug of oil from when we were leaking oil, and even an extra fire extinguisher we picked up on our last Red Cross job (being one of the few with room to carry them, we often end up the recipient of safety and other supplies that have been opened during the operation when it closes down -- I don't think we've had to buy a bottle of hand sanitizer since becoming volunteers: there are always dozens of half-used bottles left over). I was able to "use up" or find a home for everything except the bundle of "hot wood" firewood we bought months ago -- we've burned nothing here except the mesquite littering the desert and our trash, including some we found lying around.
  • Installed a pilot light for the patio light. Our patio light is an incredibly bright (read: annoying to any neighbors, but great in the boonies) emergency vehicle "scene light." On more than one occasion, we forgot it was on after walking the dog or whatever, to discover in horror that it had been shining on another rig into the late hours when we take the dog out for her final walk of the day. I used a bright blue LED that I salvaged from one of those keychain flashlights; it's very annoying, even in the daylight, so we're not likely to make that mistake again.
  • Repaired our solar-powered patio lights. These cheapo units from Target have barely lasted a year. I was able to make two working from the three we have left, out of the four that came in the set. When these two crap out, we'll get something more robust, but I think I can keep these running for another year. I'm keeping the innards of the third as a hangar queen.
  • Built a giant mound of stuff to get rid of. This includes the aforementioned Sony VCR along with the last few pre-recorded VHS tapes, the Hitachi 8mm video camera kit (complete with tripod, carrying case, and half a dozen unopened blank tapes), the Pinnacle Studio Movie Box video capture device, which we no longer need now that everything's converted, a full (used once, for a test) spray can of Delft Satin Wood Finish (turned out we needed Semi-Gloss), Louise's motorcycle boots (Daytonas seem poseur overkill on a 125cc scooter), her old Alinco scanner (replaced with a less powerful but easier to reprogram Bearcat), and a bunch of miscellaneous items rounded up in spring cleaning.

If we stayed another week, I'm sure we could knock out a bunch more on the to-do list, but we are very satisfied with what we accomplished, and being out of food, nearly out of water, and extremely close to the fuel level where the generator will no longer run (1/4 tank), we have little choice but to head back to civilization. Besides which, BLM rules would require us to move at least 25 miles on Wednesday anyway.

Other than being productive, we've really enjoyed it here. Traffic on the paved road has been very light, only a few vehicles each day, with maybe a dozen or two on the weekend. In two weeks, only one motorcycle, four automobiles, and two ATVs have passed by on the dirt roads. We've been in shorts and t-shirts most of the time, and have dined nightly outside on our portable table, with the exception of just two nights where it was too windy or brisk. Even here, the lights of LA take their toll on the night sky, but still even that has been beautiful. We even had a chance to hike a little in the side canyons, which are designated wilderness and even more serene than right here.

In a few minutes, I will go bury our two animal-waste pits and our fire pit, and restore the area to pre-visit conditions. I've already had to fill in half a dozen holes the dog excavated, including the one under the bus, where she nearly completely undermined one of the front tires -- I'm glad we caught her before the bus slid down into the hole, possibly landing on her.

Opal's dangerous "nest"

We should be rolling by mid-day sometime. If you're one of the several people waiting on call-backs from us (there is no cell coverage here), we should be able to return your calls this afternoon or evening.


  1. Hi Guys!
    How much do you want for the Pinnacle video capture device? I've got some old tapes I'd like to make disappear. Does it include any software to ease the project?
    Take Care,

  2. Glad to hear that you had a productive 12 days in the desert. After following your blog I should have known you would find it problematic to just sit and vegatate in the desert like I do when I get there. Maybe there is a Rally Seminar in there somewhere for me. Safe Travels!

  3. When going to Rincon Parkway we always try to arrive no later than Wednesday to make sure we have a spot for the weekend. You shouldn't have any trouble getting a spot on Tuesday.
    Looks like you might be in for some rain though. 70% chance Tuesday night. If you have a chance and the nerve to ride the scooters into Ventura, Tony's Pizzeria on Thompson and Figueroa St. makes a great pizza. It's a hole in the wall with only outside seating, but great old fashined style pizza.

  4. Hi, guys. Great report about your stay in Mecca.

    I tried to find you on the DS map, but you've dropped off. I wanted to find out what satellite you're on. FYI, I'm on SatMex5, and the last time I was in that area, I couldn't get "on." Seems the footprint ends about there. Specific problem areas for me were Emma Wood State Beach, Refugio SB, and even Buellton--all areas around Pt. Conception. I hope you don't have the same problem.


    Grandma G, #4028

  5. I understand your frustration with cheap LED solar lights. Yes, I have the exact same style of lights pictured in the edge of the 'Opal's dangerous "nest"' photo.

    The lights feel hefty and initially appear to be well made. But then you discover that each solar cell (four for each lamp) is installed from underneath the top cover - and at least one on each lamp will leak.

    I pulled all four of my lamps apart (ugghh: 4 screws for each cell; four cells in each lamp; 64 little screws) and used silicone caulk to seal the cells, plus some caulk around each of the detectors. The net result has been that all four of my lights still work, though I'm sure I spent more time and effort than the lights cost in the first place...

  6. Wow, we must be on the same path. We were just there on April 2nd. We didn't see you guys, though. We were on the west side, near Mecca. Pretty neat place. Wish we could have stayed longer!


  7. @Jenn: Based on your map link over on your blog, I'd say we were a little further east/uphill from you. Since it looks like you came down the hill from Joshua Tree, I'm going to say you rolled right past us. We were set back from the road far enough, and obscured enough by a flanking pair of mesquites, that you really had only a couple of seconds to catch us as you rolled around the bend. We've gotten pretty good at hiding a giant bus when we want to -- we always prefer stealth over conspicuity.


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