Monday, September 15, 2014

There and back, a Road Trip Update!

Today was an unfortunate weather day and I've been indoors apart from a couple trips to the van for stuff. I was just going to write off the day until I realized (at 5pm after wasting most of the day) that I needed to update the blog with trip photos and other info. Fair warning, this is going to be a long post.

In the last post I had set off to CA for both fun and employment reasons, well I did have fun and am still working on the employment stuff. Mainly waiting on the owner to make some sort of decision.

Anyway, here is my road trip summary. Breakdowns are offset with bullet points

The first leg of the journey was from Denver to Salida. Part of it was highway, the other being scenic routes.The views of the two mountain ranges were awesome as I traveled along the valley.

The free camp site I ended up at was along a winding dirt road into national forest land. Fairly level with a fire pit but the best part was the night sky. No moon that night to pollute the sky and I managed to capture a few good star shots.
  • I managed to travel 115 miles before something broke. Specifically the sliding brass contact part inside the shifter assembly split in half. I was able to make a suitable repair out of one of the broken halves and it worked well until I replaced it once I returned to Denver.

The next leg was from Salida to Durango. This segment involved going over Monarch pass (hwy 50), taking the scenic route from Gunnison to hwy 160 via hwy 149.

 Traveling over Wolf Creek Pass was fun but quite slow, I met a fellow Westy owner on the other side of the pass who was heading to Durango.

After an interesting van discussion, we formed a slow two van expedition for the rest of the way to Durango. Camped out at Herman's trail-head which was quite busy
  • Filling the tank up in Salida, I discovered the rubber hoses that feed fuel to the expansion tanks were leaking. The old hoses must have cracked when I was reinstalling the fuel tank. I purchased some hose clamps and tried cutting the cracked bits away but was only partially successful in stopping the leaks. I ended up replacing two of the easy-to-reach sections of hose in AZ. Upon returning to Denver I replaced all 4 of the rubber lines and, so far, have not had any fuel leaks.
  • Leaving Salia and traveling up Monarch pass, I had a massive burst of oil smoke happen while at high rpms in 2nd gear. I thought I had blew the motor. After cursing the VW gods, I went back to inspect the damage but was surprised to find that there was nothing to see. I restarted the motor and saw that it was smoking only on throttle application but I didn't hear anything unusual. After driving up the pass and down to Gunnison the smoke had cleared out and it was running normally. The next day in Durango I paid a visit to Mick with and borrowed a compression tester to figure out what had happened to the motor. Nothing out of the ordinary showed up and apparently what had happened was actually a design flaw. When the engine is at the full mark of oil, and you happen to be going up a steep enough hill at high rpms, the oil will froth up and fill up the crankcase vent pipe till the pcv valve opens up and it all gets sucked into the intake causing a massive cloud of smoke.
From Durango, it was a short trip to Mesa Verde National Park where I signed up to do two guided tours of the cliff dwellings. The tours are cheap! ($4).

One was in the afternoon and the other the next morning. I purchased an annual park pass there as I had several other National Parks to visit along the trip and it has already paid for itself after stopping at just two parks.  Camping in the park was quite expensive ($30!!) but the whole campground has fast WiFi and nice showers. I was able to set up camp and make a nice meal before the sun set.  I wish I had a motorcycle as the roads inside this park are epic. super twisty with lots of undulations. I had tons of fun driving the van hard through the park. The cliff dwellings are impressive and almost impossible to imagine that people actually lived inside them. Such limited space and water resources.

  • While having fun in the park, the speedometer decided to have some fun by reading double. If I was doing 20mph, it was reading 40mph. 50 was 100, etc.. It would not do it from a cold start but soon afterwards it would jump up and stay that way. I had to disconnect the drive cable while driving to keep the needle from ramming into the stopper at 120mph. Sometimes I could reconnect the cable and it would read normal till I stopped. Eventually I just automatically disconnected the cable at every stop and kept doing this all they way to CA and back to Denver. Upon inspection in Denver, I found that some grease from the odometer drive had worked its way up into the magnetic portion of the needle drive and was physically bonding the two together. I cleaned out the grease and everything is working normally once again.
The next stop on the road trip was to get to the Grand Canyon via the scenic route (hwy 162 & 163 in Utah through Monument Valley) and also stop at the 4 corners.

Such beautiful scenery; deep red canyons, vast expanses of dry plains, and buttes! Spectacular Buttes in Monument Valley! It is a place that must be experienced, no photo can capture the beauty of this place, the same applies to the Grand Canyon.

 I arrived at the Grand Canyon about midnight and camped out on the national forest land just outside of the park for free.
  • I discovered the illumination bulbs within the shifter housing had burned out. Probably burned out just to spite me as I recently had the housing apart to fix the shifter contact parts.
Next day in Grand Canyon was mostly walking along the rim trail, which was super nice, and then down 4 miles into the canyon along the Bright Angel trail.

Afterwards it was a nice drive to Lake Mead national park and hot desert camping on the lake. About half of this drive was along old route 66 which was quite fun. Hardly anyone drives along the route and most of the towns are empty. There are a couple of places that are done up nicely for tourists but, for the most part, it is just a nice scenic route to avoid the highway that it parallels. I did do a bit of a mileage experiment just to test out the fuel tank and level sender by seeing just how far I could go without stopping. I gave up at 250 miles. Filling up afterwards I calculated that there was about 1 gallon left in the tank. 
  • Nothing broke during this part of the trip
From Lake Mead, it was a long, hot, drive through the desert to Joshua Tree park. I got up just before sunrise and walked around in the lake before heading out.

Despite the lack of moisture, the desert is quite interesting, lots of rock outcroppings  and scrappy looking shrubs and cacti. Joshua Tree park is like driving into an alien landscape full of bizarre looking trees.

I though I was going to spend more time here but most of the park can be seen just by driving through and doing a few of the short hikes. After the park, I drove around the Salton Sea, which is 246 ft below sea level, and then hit up some super awesome twisty roads on the way into San Diego.
  • The first and by far the worst casualty to report of the whole trip was the brand new windshield, the first rock to hit it managed to put a 6" crack on the passenger side. I had it drilled and filled to prevent further damage. I can never have nice things...
  • Second casualty was my starter motor giving up. Whenever I stopped for gas, I had to hose down the starter with water to cool it off before it would crank the motor over. I purchased a re-manufactured starter from the local parts place and now it cranks up quickly, regardless of exterior temperature. 

Entering civilization after being on the open road was interesting: First thing I noticed was how slow I had been driving or rather how slow I had gotten accustomed to traveling. Nothing like a super highway to speed things up. Second, was just how disconnected I felt with the surroundings. The noise, lights, and people were overloading my senses.

Other notes:
From now on, whenever I do a road trip, I will be keeping my sleeping bag spread over the rear bed as it was doing a very nice job of reducing engine noise. I noticed this after the first day of driving and it was quite a difference, especially after 5-6 hours of 50-60mph.

Also, I like this new motor, it drives well and is good at cruising speed, I consistently averaged 18mpg for most of the trip. Although more power would be nice to have for those mountain passes and off-road excursions.

The return trip

Since I did a lot of sightseeing on the way out, I shortened the trip to just stopping briefly at a couple of locations on the way back. I stopped at grand canyon again and also stopped at mesa verde to use their showers. I did take a slightly different route once I had crossed the CO boarder which took me through some very nice mountain passes I had not been over before.

A super cool cloud sunset over route 66.

A good Grand Canyon shot with a clearer sky.

  • I had to get the propane tank filled up in the Grand Canyon. It was cold outside when it was filled up but in the heat of the day, the tank started to give off large bursts of propane to reduce the internal tank pressure. This was unnerving as every 15 mins or so I would get a cloud of propane and could smell it inside the van. I'm just glad that the gas cloud didn't ignite while I was filling up at the gas stations. Hopefully the pressure relief valve didn't decide to fail as I need to use the tank for the return trip back to CA. 

 A super chill goat in Utah

 Over the pass at Silverton.

 And the van turned over 180,000 miles

Next post should be about the backpacking trip in Canada. stay tuned....