Friday, March 16, 2012

Death Valley 2012

We are at the Sunset Campground in Death Valley National Park (map), at Furnace Creek. We've been in this campground before, just a few spaces away, and while it's better than not having a spot in Death Valley at all, it definitely leaves much to be desired. We are here, rather than at our preferred venue of Furnace Creek Campground, because this latter campground is actually closed right now for repairs.

The closure of Furnace Creek means that Sunset is actually pretty busy right now. Most of the tenters are up at Texas Springs, which has been restricted to tents only for the duration of the closure, but all the RVs are here at Sunset, and they even have one of the four large overflow areas open.

Sunset is, for all intents and purposes, a giant gravel parking lot. The spaces are separated by chalk lines and small concrete parking bumpers, and are about 20' wide. We were fortunate to snag one at the end of a row, so we'll have a little bit more breathing room when 16 or so of our biker friends show up later for a barbeque. Also, we'll have no neighbor on that side for the duration of our stay. The 45' class-A that was just a couple feet from us on the other side when we arrived pulled out this morning, so we have a nice view of the mountains out both sides at the moment.

Star Equipment had Ben and Karen's generator back together by 4ish Wednesday, and we got Odyssey ready to roll just before the first start-up. We all had a brief moment of panic when the set shut down soon after startup; it turned out that even the shop tech had trouble bleeding all the air out of this system. Once bled, it ran fine for quite a while, although the generator head was making a grinding noise under heavy load.

They had it all buttoned back up a little bit after closing time, and I gave Ben some parting advice, in particular that the grinding noise was probably the generator end-bearing going, and it should get replaced ASAP. I suggested he test-run the unit the next morning, as the symptom prior to the head replacement had been that we could get it to run fine after bleeding, but it would overheat on startup after sitting overnight. Ben texted me yesterday morning to say that the morning test run went fine.

It was nearly 5pm by the time we got underway, and we made a stop at the Bass Pro Shop in the Silverton Casino on our way out of town (we needed new binoculars, and I wanted to have them for Death Valley). So it was well past sunset and nearly dark when we rolled into Pahrump. We needed salad to go with our crock pot dinner, and had planned to spend the night at Walmart, but when we saw there was a Smith's grocery next door to the Nugget Casino we ended up there instead (map).

Yesterday was stock-up day. After breakfast we walked right back to the Smith's, where I had spotted some nice bakery items and good wine bargain when I picked up the salad. Our next stop was the Rebel Oil station near the Walmart, for $800 worth of $3.699 diesel, the cheapest in the state. Walmart was next, for the remainder of the grocery list, one of our largest on account of the barbeque. And finally we rolled over to Pro-Flame Propane to fill up our empty cylinders on our way out of town. It was late afternoon by the time we rolled in to Furnace Creek, stopping at the water spigot before making our way to the campground (we carried only minimal water over the hill).

Our plan here for Death Valley was to join our friends for dinner tonight at the Wrangler Steakhouse, over where they are staying at Furnace Creek Ranch. Tomorrow was scheduled to be the annual cookout that we host at our camp site, and then Sunday evening we have a reservation for 18 (really) at the Furnace Creek Inn dining room. The weather, however, had other plans.

After realizing that there is a strong chance we will get rained on most of tomorrow and into the dinner hour, with a much lower chance of getting wet this evening, we suggested moving the cookout up to tonight. We emailed the whole gang this morning while most of them were still in Bakersfield, the traditional overnight stop on the way here from the bay area. Most of them have iPhones and we got lots of support for the idea right away, so we've been making preparations for dinner all day. It will also be ten degrees warmer tonight than tomorrow, so it's really the right move all the way around.

Before we had made that decision, I had started on some bus projects in what I thought would be a day of downtime. While wrapping up Ben's generator project Wednesday, we realized that the air cleaner on it had not been changed in a long time, and certainly before Burning Man. I can't tell you how much playa dust came out of the battery bay while I was working in there, so I could only imagine what that air cleaner looked like inside. Since I was at the Napa with Ben anyway to pick up new air and oil filters for his generator, I also picked up a fuel filter for my own genny, plus an air cleaner for our main engine -- an enormous affair that has to ride in the living room until it can be installed.

So this morning before we ran the generator for hot water, I went out and changed the fuel filter. The fuel line needed priming anyway, since the fuel level in the tank dropped below the pickup before we fueled in Pahrump, so it was the perfect time for a filter change. Already in my work clothes, I also changed the Detroit air filter, to get it out of the living room. While I had all the tools our and was still in my grubbies, I also fabricated some brackets for a new bed lift system, which I will share in a later post.

Louise got most of the dinner preparations done without me, and now we are mostly ready except for awaiting the guests. We've asked them to bring as many chairs and tables over from the hotel as they can -- Sunset does not even supply picnic tables at their sites. No wood or charcoal fires are permitted here, so we also asked some of the gang who are driving down in four-wheel vehicles to bring an extra LP cylinder, a portable LP grill, and whatever chairs they could scrounge. With any luck, most folks will have a place to sit. We put out the six chairs and two stools we carry with us, along with two folding end tables and a wobbly folding dining table.

Most of our motorcycling friends will be leaving Monday or Tuesday to head back to the bay area, where we will see them again in a few weeks. We, however, are staying right here in the park, because Louise's dad, stepmom, and brother are all heading here to celebrate her dad's 75th birthday. They'll be staying at the Inn Monday and Tuesday nights, and we'll celebrate with them before heading out ourselves on Wednesday.

Our plans upon departure are still a bit vague. I need to spend some time on line to see if there are any boats we should look at in southern California, which would send us in that direction. Our friend Alfred will also be in the area mid-week, and we've agreed to meet up with him, either en route to SoCal if that's the way we head, or else here in Death Valley, perhaps at a more primitive spot.

I'm still pretty sore from the great battery project, not to mention the ongoing issues I have been having with my right shoulder, and so I am going to try to book a massage at the Inn in the next few days. We'll also probably do a little sightseeing, perhaps with Martin and Stephanie, who are bringing their Range Rover. There are also two extra motorcycles coming with the group, courtesy of one very large pickup truck, so who knows, we might even get in a ride.

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