Sunday, May 11, 2008

Stoking the boiler

We are in a large gravel lot across the street from the Apache Nugget Casino, on the Jicarilla Apache Nation, north of Cuba, New Mexico (map).

We are at 6,800' elevation, having just crossed the Continental Divide at the end of yesterday's drive. We're also moving north, and that combination has nighttime temperatures now dropping into the 30's. We had to fire up the Webasto diesel boiler this morning to even get out of bed.

When it gets that cold out, we tend to leak both coolant and air. That's because the metal barb fittings shrink further than the plastic, rubber, or silicone hoses that are attached to them. We'll find perhaps an ounce or so of coolant on the ground this morning, and our electric air compressor ran every five or ten minutes last night trying to keep up with the air loss.

The Webasto is also acting up this morning. It starts up normally and runs fine for fifteen minutes or so, then, apparently, the boiler is shutting off unexpectedly. We get another five or ten minutes of heat from the thermal mass of the coolant in the system, and then the whole system shuts off. When we cycle the switch, it all seems to fire back up again without trouble. The Webasto has a sophisticated (and expensive) electronic control and a raft of safety switches, and diagnosing which safety or what part of the control box is causing the premature shutdown can be a bear -- I may have to find a Webasto dealer in Denver.

We had a spectacularly beautiful drive yesterday. This section of road is new to us, and we had no inkling how scenic it would be. Louise tried to shoot some video, but I don't think it came out very well. Suffice it to say that it was quintessentially American Southwest, with mesas bordered by vermilion cliffs, hoodoos rising from the desert floor, slot canyon arroyos carved by raging torrents, and big, big sky.

We were on Native American land for most of yesterday, passing through the Santa Ana, Zia, and Jemez Nations on the ascent to the great divide. The little town of Cuba is a way station frozen in time, with a half dozen motels, a few cafés, and even a couple of RV parks, all of which had elaborate but faded signs from the great era of automobile touring (think of the style of signs you see on Route 66 tribute sites or photo essays). Amazingly, most are still going concerns, although we noted a few shuttered businesses.

Since we're not due in Hothckiss until the 15th, we've been keeping our daily mileage down, and we set our sights on this highway intersection where NM537 joins US550 (formerly NM44). My on-line casino guide showed a casino here with possible overnight availability, and Louise's AAA map also showed a state rest area here. We reasoned that one or the other would suffice for the night.

When we arrived, we discovered that they were one and the same. The sign for the casino listed also the Tsé Café coffee shop (inside the casino) and a Rest Area:

This latter item turns out to be a couple of concrete picnic tables under kitschy concrete tee-pees and a set of restrooms, across the parking lot from the casino:

The lot was not big enough to accommodate Odyssey along with all the casino patrons and rest-area users, but we noticed a large gravel lot across the street, complete with trash barrels, that was clearly the designated truck parking.

We set up in a remote corner of this lot, and walked over to the minuscule casino to check it out. Really just a handful of slot machines, a grill with burgers and sandwiches, a small gift and smoke shop, and some restrooms, all in a metal-and-vinyl structure that resembles nothing so much as a three-ring circus tent. We checked in with security about staying the night, and they were very concerned that the lot we were in was unlit and not under the watchful eye of their cameras, suggesting we move to their back parking lot after dark.

We prefer it dark, and we are no strangers to gravel roadside truck lots, so we opted to stay right where we are. We shared the lot with perhaps four or five trucks, none of which came even within a hundred feet of us. The casino is not open 24 hours -- this morning, we are all alone, and we can see only three cars in the employee lot, which we presume to be the cleaning crew and the one roving security guard.

Tonight we are eying the Angel Peak Scenic Area on BLM land south of Bloomfield.


  1. Sean, Thanks for the information you left on the BNO board with my question about the route to Winter Park. Hadn't thought of that. We bought Bob & Shirley Lewis's Eagle last November and have been having a great time with it, but have experienced the same problems with this Webesco as you are discribinig with yours. In our case, it has happened twice, it has been air bubbles in the system from some unknown source. Jim has bled the system both iimes, the last time it has worked the longest, but now we don't use it as much. Call Jim and ask him about the bleed technique, may save you a trip to Denber.


  2. @RJ -- Thanks for the reminder. We haven't had any problems with the system in four years, once they got it running (getting it bled the first time was a chore). Your comment made me go check the expansion tank, and the coolant level was low. I added a gallon or so, and I'm going to hope that cures it. Of course, if we did get some air in the system, we'll have to bleed all the heaters again.

    You've got a great bus there. Maybe we'll see you out on the road one of these days.


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