Sunday, February 19, 2012

Greetings from (the bottom of) Lake Mead

Wednesday evening found us in the parking lot of Arizona Charlie's Hotel and Casino (map), well off the strip in the northwest quadrant of Las Vegas, Nevada. It was refreshing to find another casino in town that welcomed us. We ended up there because it was really the closest legal place to park near where our good friends Ben and Karen were staying in their bus.

We had earlier spent part of the day parked on the street near them so I could have a look at their troublesome generator with easy access to all my tools and work clothes. But that street was clearly posted No Parking (the homeowner told us we'd be OK there for a few hours). The generator was not making power, and by the end of the day I had more or less isolated it to a problem with the voltage regulator.

Since we are not gamblers, whenever we stay at a casino we like to eat in their restaurant in consideration of our parking there. We asked Ben and Karen to join us, and they very generously treated us to a nice meal in Ron's Steakhouse, the quietest and most smoke-free spot in the casino. The steakhouse was surprisingly good and we all enjoyed our meals; I had the very reasonable prix fixe special which involved a salad, steak, and dessert. Signing up for a players' club card also netted us a 10% discount, which again applied when the two of us returned to the casino Thursday evening to eat at the Sourdough Cafe, also tasty.

Thursday morning Ben came and picked me up so we could resume the generator troubleshooting; I needed to talk to Power Tech, the manufacturer on the east coast, who were closed by the time we had isolated the voltage regulator Wednesday afternoon. They gave me a couple additional tips, which confirmed that we had a regulator problem and that the generator head was otherwise good and still had enough residual magnetism. On a hunch, I cleaned off and tightened all the spade terminals on the regulator and its attaching harness and reinstalled it, and, voilĂ , we had 240 volts.

Our jubilation was short-lived, as the generator soon overheated. It turned out there was a whole bunch of air trapped in the cooling system, and it needed to be bled. Once that was done the set seemed to run fine. With a working generator on board after many months, and thus free to venture away from a power outlet, Karen and Ben agreed to join us in the desert for some boondocking mostly away from civilization, and as a good test of the generator with me and my tool box close at hand, plus Odyssey's generator and "buddy plug" available in the event of a problem.

And so it was that Friday we fueled and dumped our tanks at Morton's truck stop, formerly the Flying-J, just north of town, before heading east on Lake Mead Boulevard. We stocked up on groceries at the Albertson's and climbed the hill back up to the lake, where my plan was to stop at a gravel turnout on Northshore Drive, and scout the various boondocking spots by scooter. Oddly, the ranger at the park entrance tried several times to persuade us to go to the $10-per-night no-hookups campground at Callville instead, while we were at the gate buying a new annual parks pass.

That was a great plan, except that it had been so long since we last had the scooters out that I did not realize I was nearly out of fuel. So after pulling the bike out of the bay, the first thing I had to do was ride the ten miles or so to Callville anyway, to fuel up at one of the few dispensers in the park. While I was there I also checked out the little restaurant and store, and got rid of some of our recycling. I also made a quick loop through the campground, which was rather unappealing.

I had a bone-jarring, teeth-rattling ride down five miles of gravel washboard to the end of Boxcar Road, where I found a nice spot right by the lake. But we'd have to do the five miles of washboard in the bus, with no place to stop or turn around until right at the water's edge. After one of my mirrors fell off from the rattling two separate times on the way back, I then made my way here to Government Wash, a familiar spot for us. The lake has come back up about 50' since a year ago, and I was a bit surprised to find we could get the bus right down to the water here, too, and with much less fanfare and rattling.

The downside to Government Wash is that it is much more crowded here, especially on a holiday weekend like this. But I found a good spot within a hundred feet of the water, and after returning to the bus and stowing the scooter we made our way back here to claim it. We are parked on what used to be the lake bottom, a few hundred feet from Government Point (map). The GPS told us we were driving in the lake.

This spot puts us a good distance from most of the two dozen or so other rigs out here at Government Wash, at the expense of having a number of fishermen trailer their boats past us on their way to and from the little beach a couple hundred feet away. The official paved boat ramp here was closed years ago as the lake receded, but light trailers with small fishing boats can still launch from the gravel beach.
Of course the great thing about being this close to the water is that we were able to fill the hot tub. We're probably 40' or so above the lake surface, so my little pump struggled mightily and it took nearly five hours to fill, but fill it did and we have enjoyed a nice soak under the stars for the last two nights. It is very dark and private here.

Ben and Karen joined us Friday evening just as the last light faded from the canyon. With the lateness of the hour, we ended up riding in their Mini over to the mediocre restaurant at Callville for dinner, while the tub finished filling and heating in our absence. We have the two buses tied together in an odd arrangement wherein each of our shore cords is connected to the buddy plug on the other coach; in this way, whenever either of us runs a generator, the other gets some battery charging and hot water making.

Mostly it has been Ben running the generator, as they have a power-hungry fridge with a marginal set of batteries. And mostly his generator has been working, although it seems to continually develop the same air entrainment we solved on Thursday. There are a couple of pinhole leaks visible in the radiator, and some of the rubber hoses are 15 years old, so I am guessing air is ingressing into the coolant loop when the set cools down after a long run. I've had to go out with Ben and bleed the system twice since we set up here. The good news is that it is making good power, and once the air is bled the unit runs fine.

Ben and Karen will remain here one more night, and we'll likely stay beyond that, since we're already well-positioned, and I expect some of the crowd to leave after Presidents' Day. I've suggested to them that they get the generator fully serviced, to include a cooling system backflush, re-core the radiator, and replace all the old hoses. That ought to cure the current symptoms and give them a reliable generator moving forward.

Today we are looking at piling into their Mini and heading out to what's left of St. Thomas, a town that was inundated by Lake Mead in 1938 but is again uncovered due to the extremely low lake level. In all the times we have been to Lake Mead we have never seen it, and we're looking forward to it.


  1. I just had to giggle... we are all so blessed that have you as a friend and generator repair guy :)

    Glad to hear of our dear friends enjoying time together, and wishing we could be there too.

    Please give each other big hugs from us.


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