To the Pacific

North America
March 25th 2010
Published: March 27th 2010
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Cactus GraceCactus GraceCactus Grace

These saguaro cactus are sweet.

Through the Deserts

The leveling jack for the RV arrived on Tuesday afternoon and I replaced it in under 90 minutes. With this piece in place and the leveling jack up, we managed to leave Wimberley, TX Tuesday morning without a hitch. You probably know that Texas is big, but did you know that it is 1,013 miles from Orange, Texas to Anthony Texas on I-10. We took this route from start to finish with some minor diversions along the way to make it even longer.

I had heard that western Texas was flat, but I found it to be much more like northern New Mexico with tabletop mountains and some nice desert ravines. You might not consider me very subjective on the matter of scenery though because I'm easily pleased. While many people complain about driving across Kansas, I find I-70 and the great plains to be beautiful.

We skirted along the border of Mexico for the last hundred miles with a good view of Juarez - the current center of the drug war. According to Wikipedia, Cuidad Juarez and El Paso make the largest bi-national metropolitan area in the world - weighing in at 2.4M people.
Gunboats in NawlinsGunboats in NawlinsGunboats in Nawlins

This Coast Guard gun boat escorted our cruise ship in Nawlins
The 300 maquiladoras (assembly plants) have multiplied since NAFTA and Juarez was the fastest growing industrial real estate space in North America in 2007. That's before 2,600 were murdered last year as the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels began a turf war after the government stepped up its offensive as well. 500 more have been murdered this year. Over 60,000 people used to commute across the border everyday, but a recent NYT article estimates that 40% of the population has left this boomtown in the last couple of years. It's turned into a ghost town with tens of thousands of troops and federal agents taking thier places and patrolling the streets now. We didn't take a trip over the border and turn our RV into a drug mule.

We continued north to Las Cruces, NM so that we were within range of White Sand Dunes National Monument. Many people keep asking if we're going to many national parks, but I have to tell them we're not. White sands is the exception though. My relatives in Pensacola would feel at home in the white sands, but these are made of gypsum instead of ground coral and shellfish. The ranger told
Downtown NawlinsDowntown NawlinsDowntown Nawlins

Downtown New Orleans is a 6 hour cruise from the Gulf of Mexico. Jackson Square is on the right.
us a good story about how the gypsum gets washed into the basin where it accumulates in salt flats. The gypsum forms crystals and blows up into the dunes. The dunes are less than 10,000 years old, so new in geological terms. The gypsum in interesting because it forms beautiful textures due to the rains that re-dissolve the gypsum to form a crust. This place has great photographic opportunites, so I snapped quite a few shots.

Las Cruces is in the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert and we continued to drive across it to Tucson which is in the Sonoran desert. In Tucson, we stayed in an 1,100 unit snowbird complex that has many park models (mini-mobile homes) and a couple hundred RV spots. The snowbird market is big money here and we toured several open houses that ran from $18,000 to $55,000. For $4,100 a year, you can rent a lot and have access to the pool, hot tub, theater and craft facilities. The community was very active and we enjoyed the reading room, free coffee, puzzles and lots of games. Grace loved hanging out with all the geezers who were about to go home for the
Loco MexicanLoco MexicanLoco Mexican

Grace is celebrating the first day on the beach in Mexico. Our ship, Norwegian Spirit is in the background.
summer. The resort is very active for 5 months of the year and pretty quiet for the other 7. It's a beautiful place and you might consider avoiding a winter sometime and spend it down there amongst these active octogenarians.

After one night in Tucson, we headed out to the border of California. We were covering a lot of ground fast because I had a conference on Optical Fiber that I had to get to in San Diego. The high desert past Tucson had considerable farming and acres and acres of crops were scattered across the open planes where we could see for a 100 miles in all directions. It reminded me of Alaska because of the wide open spaces and mountain ranges all around. At one desert pass, we pulled over and did a nice hike off highway 8 amongst the saguaro and chollo cactus. I took quite a few pictures of desert scapes that you can check out.

We made our last pitstop in Arizona before diesel prices jump over $3/gallon. Soon after we were across the California border, the visibility was cut way down and large sand dunes were on both sides of the highway.
Kipp FlipKipp FlipKipp Flip

Here I am right before I dove in some clear waters off Mexico.
Little dune buggie were riding up the 200' dune faces and RVs were everywhere. Yuma and the California desert seemed to have even more RVs than Tucson. RV parks had hundreds of slots and more RVs were spread out across the desert where you could boondock for free. From the highway, it looked like many of the RVers were long time residents and enjoyed the rent-free status on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the middle of the desert with no hookups (electricity, water, cable and hopefully sewer). There weren't any facilities out there and it looked like a modern day Grapes of Wrath slum, but they had their RVs now instead of flat bed trucks.

Finding Limits

Traveling in the RV is tedious if you're in a hurry. We're finding that 400 miles in a day is the absolute most we can do and prefer to stay under 300. While we used to drive 600 miles in a day between KC and Denver in our CRV, we didn't push the RV past 70 mph and averaged 65 without counting stops. A 300mile day is 5 hours of driving plus an hour or more of breaking
Lunch on the BeachLunch on the BeachLunch on the Beach

These octopus tacos were excellent.
down and setting up the RV. Towing your house around isn't the most relaxing way to drive either, so I had Grace drive most of it.

We thought that our truck - wild blue - was invincible until we reached the mountains of the west. We'd found the limits of our acceleration when we were pulling our long, long trailer up the mountains of New Mexico. At about 4,000', we couldn't accelerate past 55 on the uphills and Grace and I were looking at each other in disbelief when we didn't rage forward when we pushed the pedal down. I replaced the air filter and added a fuel additive, but the truck still seemed a little lackluster.

Our final day into San diego, we only had 180 miles to go, so we thought we could knock it out in a quick 3 hours. Grace started the day driving up the last mountain range between us and the Pacific Ocean. She set a pretty good pace of about 55 mph since that seems to be the speed limit for trucks with trailers throughout California. I-8 soon turned sharply uphill but Grace kept the pedal down and we charged up
Flying HighFlying HighFlying High

The Austin kite festival brought 10,000 fans and about as many kites out.
the mountain from sea level, to 1,000' and then 2,000'. She had here eye on the transmission temperature though and it was edging up to our limit of 200F. We kept winding up the mountain and by the time we reached 3,000', the gauge had jumped up to 210F. We had to pull over but there wasn't anywere to stop without being in traffic on the steep grade. I encouraged her to go on because it looked like the road was climaxing. It wasn't though and the gauge was now reading 220F and the motor temperature was over 220F too. One mile to an exit, so we turned on the hazard lights and edged up the mountain at only 30 mph. Grace pulled it over and knew we had found the limits of wild blue.

I opened the hood and the engine was blowing hot air everywhere. Wild Blue was hot and tired but not broken. He (Grace insists its masculine) cooled down after about 15 minutes, so I headed back up the hill. We werent't to the top yet and I could only get him to go about 40 mph on the gradual climb. When we passed the
Octopuses GardenOctopuses GardenOctopuses Garden

Our octopus ruled the skies.
4,000' marker, the transmission was back near 200F, so I called my brother Chris to see what to do. He told me there wasn't much to do except to pull over and cool down. There wasn't an exit, so we pulled off on the nice wide shoulder and let him breathe again with the hood up. Another 20 minutes later and we were cool enough to drive, but it still overheated a couple miles later so we pulled over again. After the third cool down period, we'd finally reached the top and some good downhills cooled Wild Blue to a nice temperature. The last 180 miles to San Diego turned out to be the most difficult, but we finally made it to California after 5 hours.

Next time, I'll tell you more about the smiling faces in California. It started with the border check where the security guard was smiling at us in a pleasant way. Why is everyone so happy here?


Ps. Our trip from Wimberley to San Diego ended up being 1,291 highway miles long that we did in 5 days of driving (averaging over 250/day). I'd rather do it with more stopovers
Grace TracksGrace TracksGrace Tracks

This is Grace's tracks when she walked slowly.
next time, but we were late because of the RV part that took it's time to reach us in Texas. I need to mention that Grace is backing the RV into spots now like a champion. She's backed it up at gas stations and into our spot in San Diego. We're both feeling more comfortable behind the wheel now and California will probably require more backing up since we're out of the wide open spaces of the west.

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


Scott TracksScott Tracks
Scott Tracks

My long steps across textured sands.

The white Gypsum sand makes a nice contrast to the surroundings.
Sand DiskingSand Disking
Sand Disking

A popular activity in the dunes is disking. The rides were pretty slow even though the sand was steep
Desert RatDesert Rat
Desert Rat

The B-52 in the White Sand Dunes.
Lonely GraceLonely Grace
Lonely Grace

Grace is flying her kite in the desert
Textured SandsTextured Sands
Textured Sands

The gypsum sand forms a crust that gets worn away by the wind.
Wild BlueWild Blue
Wild Blue

We found the limits of our trucks in the mountains of the west while he hauled 13 tons up 4,000 feet.
90 year old Minnesotan90 year old Minnesotan
90 year old Minnesotan

The guy whose second on the left is 90 years old, so their selling their Park Model in Tucson. Snowbirds no more.
Cholla GardensCholla Gardens
Cholla Gardens

These cholla cactus are rather prickly.
Segmented SaguaroSegmented Saguaro
Segmented Saguaro

The segmented one is sweet.

Here's a closeup of a cholla.
The big climbThe big climb
The big climb

I-8 goes from Casa Grande, AZ to San Diego, CA. We're going up the mountain in the middle.

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