Thursday, August 20, 2009

Running on empty

We are at the Millers Rest Area on US-6, just west of Tonopah, Nevada (map). This is a familiar stop, as we spent a night here just over two years ago, and we remembered what nice facilities it has for RVs.

As with that stay, it was in the 90s when we arrived, and we had to run the air conditioner for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, this time around, we arrived here with nearly empty fuel tanks (we will need to fuel in Tonopah no matter what), and so we could not run the generator, which gets its fuel from somewhere around the ¼ tank level. I had to run the main engine last night for twenty minutes, and again this morning for ten, just to charge batteries.

Fortunately, as last time, the temperature dropped quickly after sundown, and we had a very pleasant evening with just the fans running. It was also so pleasant out at night that we took the Celestron telescope out (thanks, John!) to observe Jupiter on this dark and clear night. We disagreed on the number of moons we could see -- two were crystal clear, and I thought I could see two more. We also peered at the Milky Way; the sheer number of stars visible here in the desert on a clear night is impressive. Later I put the porro-prism on the scope and tried to see Tonopah in the distance, but I could not get a steady enough view to make anything specific out of the lights.

We're out of fuel because I'm too cheap to pay California prices for diesel. I never saw any for less than $3 since arriving in the bay area, and, of course, in Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra, the price ranged from $3.65 to nearly $4. I knew we had enough to make Tonopah in the tank, but once the level drops below that magic quarter tank mark (which is nearly 80 gallons on our tank), we can no longer run the generator (or diesel boiler, for that matter). In hindsight, I wish we had extended those dip tubes down at least half again that amount -- 40 gallons is plenty of reserve.

For the curious, the alternator on our main engine makes 6.5 kilowatts, larger than some RV generators, and so it is no slouch when it comes to charging the batteries; in fact, with nothing else running, it charges them faster than our AC battery charger can. The downside is that the main engine requires twice as much fuel while parked, 2.2 gph vs. 1.1 gph for the generator, not to mention how much louder it is, so we only do this when we have no other option. By contrast, the main engine alternator is the most efficient way to charge while driving, since the incremental fuel use to run the alternator is then only 0.3 gph.

Yesterday we had a Red Cross conference call, and so did not break camp until after 1pm. We made a brief stop at the mini-mart at the corner of 120 and 395 to get milk and some dinner items for last night, then had a lovely if somewhat twisty drive across 120 to Benton, California, theoretically famous for its hot spring, but nowadays almost a ghost town, with only a DOT maintenance station and the agricultural inspection station keeping the town alive.

As we reached the hot spring on the far west edge of town, I was rolling along at perhaps 10mph, having just mostly coasted all the way down the hill west of town, and slowed quite a bit for the last tight turn. There is a small "resort" at the springs which straddles the road, and just then a dog ran across the street, who looked to be a regular resident. I had to stand on the brake to avoid running it over, and even at that slow speed, it showed how important it is to secure all loose objects. Lots of things shifted forward on the counters -- the coffee maker was hanging by its power cord, and the fish tank wedged hard against the forward bulkhead. Our own dog, who was sleeping at the top of the steps, came flying downstairs still mostly asleep. Fortunately, she did not seem to be injured in any way.

We normally do not allow her to wander back upstairs unrestrained while driving. She either rides on the cockpit floor, with us, or locked in her kennel under the bed. However, the twisty and bouncy nature of 120 had Angel quite car sick, and Louise was in the middle of dealing with that when the dog wandered off. Lesson learned -- we need to pay more attention to where the dog is while we are moving.

Ultimately, no harm done, either to us or to the dog who darted across the road. It did make for a five minute stop in Benton, though, while we checked everything out and got Opal out walking around. We stopped across from the one surviving business in town, a small café-cum-store at the junction of 120 and US-6, where we've eaten when passing through on our motorcycles. Nice to see it is still in business.

We can not say the same for the Montgomery Pass Casino and Hotel, another place we ate (and stayed) on one of our motorcycle trips, just over the Nevada state line at the top of (where else) Montgomery Pass. The place is completly defunct and boarded up. We're not really sorry to see it go -- we had the worst steak ever there once. Still, it was a port in the storm back then, and its demise means there is no gas, food, or lodging between Tonopah and Bishop or Lee Vining, other than the tiny café in Benton.

We knew we did not want to go any farther than Tonopah yesterday, and rather than taking a chance on finding a place to stay in town, we decided to just stop here. This morning we will head in to town for fuel, and I can also use a gallon or two of 40-weight oil. I'm also going to check with the lone tire shop in town to see if that have something in our size -- one of the tags is bald, and I'm afraid it will be down to the belts before long.

We've narrowed down to a choice of two routes from there. We can continue east on US-6, connecting with US-50 in Utah, which will take us all the way to Salida, Colorado (co-linear with I-70 for a good ways), where we can await marching orders in relative cool. That route keeps us a good bit north, which is cooler, but also makes it more difficult to respond if called. It also involves ascending the 11,000' Monarch Pass, which was a bit of a challenge the last time we did it.

The other alternative is to head south on US-95, which would take us into Las Vegas, and connect to I-40 via US-93 over Hoover Dam. From there we can head east to Flagstaff for some cooler temperatures, and even continue on to Santa Fe, also cool, for better positioning. This route involves more freeway, and a slog through some real heat from Vegas to Kingman, but is around 100 miles and 3 hours or so shorter to anyplace we might need to go, plus it involves a lot less climbing, as the Continental Divide is much lower in New Mexico than in Colorado.

I'm almost at the point of flipping a coin, as both of these routes are old ground for us, and my desire to stay in cooler temperatures is balanced by my desire to conserve diesel and keep Odyssey on gentler grades. Perhaps the tire issue will decide it for us -- if I can't find tires in Tonopah, we might have to go half way through Utah to find them on 6, whereas I know I can find them in Vegas on the more southerly route.


  1. Sean,

    Traffic across the Hoover Dam bridge looked dreadfully slow when we were there around the first of the year. Maybe it was holiday traffic - not sure. The new highway around the bridge won't be open just yet.


  2. We vote for Hwy 50! Come meet us somewhere between Gunni and Salida! We're leaving Lake City unexpectedly early next week and will probably be on the road by Monday.

  3. @LiveWorkDream:

    We'd love to see you, too, but alas! We decided to go south. I desperately need a dentist and the bus needs a tag tire, so we decided Vegas was a better choice to get those done ASAP.

    Let's hope this pain in my jaw is just a cavity and not something worse...

    Hugs to Wyatt!

  4. From a post by Louise it looks like you took the Las Vegas option. Hope the tooth problem gets fixed. Toothache is no fun. Vegas is no fun in the heat so head for the hills and keep us posted. --Donna

  5. I think the Hoover Dam route is closed to vehicles of your length and weight due to road construction. We were coming west on I-40 through Kingman a few weeks ago, and there was a sign indicating so. You may want to check with the Highway Dept. to be sure. When driving from Vegas to Kingman back in April we had to detour because of the same road construction.

  6. We had to abandon plans to go over the dam last year coming west on 40, due to security restrictions. We had a moving van as well as a SUV running together, and the truck was not permitted in order to prevent my clan of German/Scott descent from bombing the dam.

    I don't know about RV restrictions, but the construction issue might be worth considering.

    I say, go for the best weather.



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