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My Expedition Vehicle & Trailer

Monday, January 31, 2011

Death Valley Radio "Expedition" January 21st, 2011

I found myself with a weekend opportunity to take the trailer out on another shakedown trip. Later on I found out just how much shaking there would be! Because I was going alone I elected to avoid many interesting areas that might entail more difficult roads. Instead I thought I'd see if I could go all the way out on a tank of gas and use my own fuel cans to refuel and drive back. The hot springs in Saline Valley sounded like the perfect destination!

Google Maps location of the hot springs: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=36.81157,-117.76778&ll=36.81157,-117.76778&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

 I reinstalled my African Outback roof rack and also attached the custom half rail to lash down four 5.5 gallon Scepter military issue fuel cans. In addition I had two 2.7 gallon fuel cans mounted on the trailer.  While I was at it I mounted my Hi Lift jack up on the rack too. Who cares about aerodynamics anyhow!

I wanted a camping area that would be very open because I planned to bring out a number of 2-way radios including an HF radio that covered Amateur radio frequencies. I needed space to allow my 100 foot long high frequency transmitting antenna to work well. If the areas closer to the hot springs were crowded I could always pick something a little further away

As usual I was overly ambitious about cramming too many activities into the weekend. I brought along six or so radios but ended up using only two of them full time. I rushed to complete the addition of the Fiamma awning to the trailer as well as the telescoping mast for holding up some radio antennas. To operate the radios and solar panels I built a batch of fresh cables to connect everything  I had a late start on Friday and my main concern was traversing South Pass late at night and any snow or ice that might coat the road.

When I exited off of the pavement onto Saline Valley Road I kept an eye on the outside temperature as I steadily gained elevation that night. I was encouraged that at the high point of over six thousand feet, the lowest temp was well above freezing at 38 degrees Fahrenheit. When I descended through the canyon and into Saline Valley I never saw ice or the few minuscule patches of unmelted snow. The washboard surface of the roads in the valley were jittering hells and I had no idea of the problems that would surface later once I arrived at the hot springs.

View of the evil washboards in front of me on Saline Valley Road that night .

I had only been to the hot springs once before, almost 4 years ago and now I was very tired and sleepy,  I missed the last turnoff in the dark! I had the approximate mileage and GPS but when towing a trailer I am reluctant to embark on any wild detours so I was overly cautious about turning on unfamiliar roads. After I doubled back and located the turnoff I was reassured a ways down the road by the "Bat Signal" in my headlights. Here is a daytime photo of the marker.

I drove slowly through the pitch black area of the lower springs, only spotting one vehicle parked in an area just above. This beautiful Fuso off-road machine! I took this daytime shot on the way out and wondered how he got his kayaks up onto the roof? Wow. How does he do that?

I found the upper hot springs and doubled back a bit to pick a spot to deploy the tent on the trailer. It was then that I saw the tailgate of the trailer hanging open and I had this vision of a 30 mile long "yard sale" of all of my gear strewn the length of Saline Valley Road.  With my exhausted brain I struggled to understand what I had lost and if I had to drive back to retrieve things. Most of the gear stored in the trailer was in Rubbermaid Action Packers, duffel bags or carry bags. As far as I could tell, the only thing that I had lost was a medium sized tool bag that had my wheel chocks, rubber mallet and some other trailer gear. I decided to pop open the tent and sleep without doing anything.

Early the next morning I woke up, re-took inventory and still felt that I was okay so I took a number of early morning pictures with the red rays of the sun on the snowy Inyos..
 There was lots of snow up on the Inyos and it made me think about a snowshoe attempt to traverse the Swansea-Keeler trail along the tops of the Inyos. Hmmmm. Another adventure to ponder!

Camp Sweet Camp!

Da flipp side facing East...

Every morning the ravens were up in the sky, always on the lookout for mischief to engage in

Next it was time to wolf down some hot blueberry pancakes and then get to work setting up the huge pile of comms equipment I had brought out as well as the awning, table and solar panels. I had spent some time at home building up various cables for the panels and radios. This included a funky looking power distribution block using Anderson Power Poles and screw terminal strips. It was connected to the trailer's dual batteries through a 100 Amp thermal circuit breaker.

With this contraption I could power up six different bits of radio gear. In the next picture you can see the telescoping aluminum mast on the trailer with two broadband antennas: a discone on top and a log periodic Yagi just below. To the right is the telescoping fiberglass mast with and Inverted "V" high frequency antenna.

Trailer's telescoping mast with antennas:

The mast drops into this piece of PVC on the nose box.

HF long wire antenna fed by 450 ohm ladder line

Table full of radios and antenna tuners. The LDG Z-100 worked perfectly!

I had a lot of fun with the radios. On the scanner I found military contractors controlling some sort of aerial RPV for a military Green Flag exercise. On the HF radio I had sweet comms with folks in Washington, Idaho, Northern California and even Mississippi. A nice thing to have besides a cell phone or even a satellite phone which depends on a wired network. HF radios let you talk person to person over very long distances without needing radio repeaters. Just DC power and a good antenna.

The new awning was a nice addition. I need to shorten up the mounting bolts on the backside so that the RTT (Roof Top Tent) won't catch on them.

Solar panels for charging the truck's second battery and the two trailer batteries

My view to the east. The hot springs are between the palm trees, left to right.

I even wandered over there midday and had this nice pool to soak in all by myself

Another casualty of the washboard roads. My 19 gallon water tank developed a crack and a small leak. The orange pan is collecting the water for later dish washing. I swear I wasn't driving that fast! Honest!

The colorful sunsets were never disappointing

While I was out there I had a chance to talk to the few people who made it out to the springs. One really cool couple were Wynne and Scot who asked for a jump start for their Jeep when they were about to leave on Sunday.

Wynne owns Spotted Dog Press in Bishop and had a number of Walt Wheelock's venerable titles in the firm's stable. Scot and I seem to share the same interest in capturing great deals on cool tools!

Speaking of folks, there was a young couple in a 2WD Honda CRV. Talk about poor planning! They apparently were low on food and kept asking everyone about going out the North Pass Road. Even if the heavy snow was melting there would be lots of mud. Without 4WD, chains and good tires it would be foolish to try. Despite clear advice against it, they tried anyhow. Ultimately they were stuck for a while in the mud, freed themselves and next suffered a flat tire. They rolled back into camp at 9 PM on Saturday and again went begging for food. Sunday morning they came begging for gasoline! I gave them two gallons and told them that the next time some old desert rats gave them advice they had better follow it.

Sunday morning I refueled the truck and reluctantly packed up. Somehow all of my gear fit back into my rig!

I still had plenty of daylight for a leisurely drive out and caught some interesting sights. The time of day was perfect for reflections on the water collected in the normally dry lake bed.

The towers of the 1920's Salt Tram are silhouetted here, locked in time as they seem to march downhill.

The remains of the Salt Tram loading terminal's harvesting ponds barely poke out of the water

The snow capped Inyos rise above the bleak landscape to almost nine thousand feet.

Washboard road behind me.

And more washboard road ahead of me. Sigh.
Soon it would become dark. I never did spot my lost tool bag but I'll close with something I recently heard:

A bad day on the trail is far better than a good day in the city!

Thanks for riding along with me here at Sun To The North! I hope that you've enjoyed my adventure as much as I did.