Saturday, March 26, 2011

More relaxing out near the Anza Borrego Desert

When I left off from my previous post, I had just recouped from a minor mishap but had no idea where I would find an rv park to settle in for some tourist/sightseeing in the greater San Diego area.  Before actually heading down to that general area, I had done some research on rv parks that I felt fit the parameters of my criteria.  I found only two or three that met the site fee limit I have. The one I had pulled into the night before was rejected after I could not get onto the site.  Of the other two, one was located deep within a valley with impossible access roads for the size of my rig and the other had no site availability at that time. As I left Sonrise RV Repair, I knew I had two choices -- head back up to the Chino / Riverside area where I had been moving between two regional parks every two weeks (14 day limit stay) for the previous two months or head out toward the Anza Borrgo Desert area.  

View along the road to Shelter Valley
Fortunately for me, when I placed a call to the Stagecoach Trails RV Park in Julian (actually it’s in the little unincorporated town of Shelter Valley), they had a site available for me. I asked for some guidance from Mike, the current manager at this park, regarding which route to take - explaining that I had pulled into a turn off area along I 15 just south of Temecula. Originally, I thought maybe I should double back to take the 78 which has a section known as the Banner Grade.  I told him my concerns about that section of the road and he told me I was right to not drive up that  road hauling my 5th wheel.  In essence he said I should definitely avoid going up that way as it’s narrow, steep and curvy.  He directed me to the 79.  Interestingly, as I drove out of Temecula on the 79 there were a couple of signs warning about tractor trailers/rvs over a certain length (I think it’s 40’ from the kingpin?) not being recommended on that road!! After the two days I had just experienced, I felt a little smidgin of trepidation but Mike had assured me that truckers and rv’ers use the 79 all the time. I was further reassured when, after pulling into a turn off section along this road to grab a bite to eat, etc., I saw a couple of tractor trailers coming down from the opposite direction. It was a longer route (mileage and drive time) to take out to the rv park but, it was the definitely the easier approach.

Corral area at Stagecoach
Stagecoach RV Park is a pretty good sized park set on a very slight grade with nice, wide access roads and good sized sites. The sites themselves are gravel/dirt and most of them have trees, though they were barely budding for the spring season while I was there. This park has minimal lighting at night and which makes it a great spot for stargazing!! It’s a an especially great park if you’re a horseman (or woman). There are several corrals for horses and a large ring area where I saw a couple exercising each of their horses before they climbed up on them and rode off into the hills.

I spent a very quiet 2½ weeks out there!!  Literally, it was exceptionally quiet – no cell service at the park, no tv signal on my lame converter box receiver, not even a decent radio station!! I could use the park’s wi-fi network but it was agonizingly slow.  Also, and on a few occasions, I was blocked from accessing websites

Imposing storm clouds close in on Shelter Valley
that I frequently use by software that they had loaded into their network – ex. I couldn’t get NPR on the radio so I tried accessing it on my laptop – nope!! Thankfully, I have subscribed to a podcast service that automatically monitors specific segments on NPR that I like to listen to - ex. ‘This American Life’, ‘Fresh Air’, ‘Wait, wait. . . don’t tell me’so I was able to listen to the ones that I had already downloaded.  Then, too, I had loaded all my cds and also downloaded other music onto my laptop so I had something to listen to when I was just hanging around for the day/evening. I’d say the little town/village is appropriately named Shelter Valley. It is surrounded by hills/mountain ranges. I don’t think there was one little opening for any tv/radio/cell phone signals to squeak through. If you don’t have a satellite dish out there, you’re outta luck!!

Approaching Borrego Springs

When I first arrived at this rv park, I just booked 4 or 5 nights. The plan was to drive over to the Anza Borrego Desert State Park and check out the state rv park there – hoping that the website information was not correct and that there actually was a few days available for me to have a site. No luck there. It was just about totally booked for the timeframe that  
I could consider. They only had scattered one nighters available  for the dates I asked about.

After taking the walking path from the Visitor Center to the campground, I doubled back and spent time on the pathways surrounding the center, where a limited few desert flowers were blooming and there was a nice display of labeled cactus. Then I went inside the Center to look at the informative displays there, and to watch the 20 minute movie about the four seasons in the desert.  Once I left the state park, I drove back to the little 'downtown' section of Borrego Springs, passing a few private rv parks along the way. I decided that if I couldn’t set up right in the state park, I would just stay at the park I was already set up in as it would serve me just as well as any of the parks in the town – especially since I was able to use my Passport America for the entire stay at Stagecoach! I did do as Al (of The Bayfield Bunch) suggested and stopped by Jilberto’s for a bite to eat. I didn’t have a burger though -- I was hankering a chimichanga.

I arrived out here in Shelter Valley on Wednesday, the 23rd of February. On Friday, while down at the office/store, I was talking with the gal working the desk/counter and someone mentioned that they were calling for snow that night and Saturday. The gal at the counter said, assuredly ‘. . oh we don't get snow out this way'!! That night, I was reading and listening to a lovely classical music piece on one of the few stations that I found I could access. I kept hearing this odd noise that didn’t seem to belong to the music. I finally got up and walked around the inside of the rig, stopping and listening here and there. When I stopped under one of the vent openings, I suddenly recognized the sound – frozen rain on the roof. I turned on the outside lights and stuck my head out the door. The mixture was turning to large snowflakes and I just stood there dumbfounded. It was around 9:00 pm. My mind was thinking … if this keeps up all night, there’s going to be a lot of this white stuff on the ground tomorrow morning – yikes!! I was awake early that next morning and, of course, the first thing I did at daybreak was raise the shade to see how much was accumulated. A little more than a dusting is all that accumulate -- I was so thankful for that!

On another day, I drove over the Banner Grade  to have a look at it and to reach the town of Ramona, the closest town, to re-stock some grocery items. I thought I might find a Starbucks there and use their wi-fi connection for an hour or so. The only Starbucks was in the supermarket and they didn’t offer wi-fi access in their section. I did stop at the Blockbuster there - thinking I’d get a few videos but, the thought of driving 45 – 50 minutes to return them made no sense to me. The Banner Grade section of the 78 sure is intimidating to drive. It was a gray/gloomy day weather-wise the day I

Living along the Banner Grade outside Julian CA
 drove it and it gave me the feeling of being closed in as I drove through it. I had hoped to drive back over it on a sunny day but never did get back to do that. The setting and scenery was impressive – I couldn’t believe that folks actually built houses and live in the hills and valleys along this section.

Though there was no cell servce within the rv park, a short drive (about 4 miles) up the road there was a perfectly good signal and a pull out spot.  I found myself making that drive at least every other day; though often I would make calls while I was out 'n about sightseeing.  In another life, when I was working as a fee appraiser I would often travel into towns/cities that I wasn't familiar with.  I think that's when I became an avid street sign reader and have taken to
grabbing a photo of ones that I find amusing or unusual. On the drive up and back from the cell phone pull off area, I chuckled when I saw the street sign to the right.  I was amazed at the length of the name of the road that the Stagecoach RV Park is located on.  I was even more amazed when I saw that the entire name actually fit on the street sign (photo on the left ).   

Just as the off the grid location was beginning to get to me, I got some good news:  both of my daughters were coming out for a visit!!   More about that in another post.   


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A little R ‘n R – then more exploring

That was the plan after returning from the ten days in southeastern CA at the end of January/first of February. The rest and regrouping went well. After leaving Winterhaven I had returned to the Riverside, CA
area and booked a site at the
Rancho Jurupa Regional Park
in Rubidoux (just outside of
After my 14 day limited stay at that park, I moved over to another Regional park (San Bernardino county this time) in Chino, CA (Prado Regional Park). My ‘wishy/washy’ schedule was shaping up to look like I’d move to an area about two hours south of Chino, estimating that would happen after about a five day stay at Prado.
I prepped the rig after on the evening of the fifth day and decided to take a leisurely approach the next morning, as I didn’t want to join the commuter rush-hour traffic on the highways. So, after running a couple of errands in the morning, it was time to ‘hitch up’. As I backed the bed of my truck up to align the receiver with the king pin I realized that I was approaching lopsided. It was then that I remembered that I had twinge of concern when I was unhitching at that site five days prior. I had wanted to get a certain alignment on the pad when setting up and, in order to get that setup, I found that the truck's driver side wheels (front and back) were off the pavement on the dirt/grass and it was set lower than the passenger side wheels. I had disengaged with minimal affect to the hitch but I do remember giving a passing thought to…. 'hmnnn, is that going to give me a problem when it’s time to leave?'

You’re already ahead of me, aren’t you? Of course, it gave me a problem. I tried coming at that hitch ‘six ways to Sunday’ (I have to look up the origin of that saying someday)! I finally had to admit that I was stumped and stuck. 1-800-AAA - - hello? Yes, I do need help today. Wow, within 30 minutes a really big tow truck pulled up alongside my rig and a knowledgeable guy came over to take a look at the situation. After looking at it from a couple different angles and listening to my explanation of how I got into this predicament, he came over to ‘console’ me with a ‘there, there, it’s going to be fine, dear’ and a pat on my shoulder. While awaiting the arrival of AAA, I had gotten out my can of WD-40 and sprayed the ‘arm’ and the clamp that wraps around the king pin. As the AAA guy climbed into the driver’s seat of my truck, I told him, ‘of course, it’s going to release and clamp now because I sprayed it’. Gosh darn if it didn’t do just that!! I just stood there with my mouth ‘gaping’. I’m not totally convinced that it was the WD-40 – I’m sure it had more to do with his being able to align the hitch/bed at a better angle and keep all the wheels on the asphalt!! We had a little discussion about my using the slider part of the hitch when I get into this kind of situation again. This time I looked at him and said ‘oh, please tell me I’m NOT going to let this happen again’. Hmnnnn. . . . .Cindy, are you reading this?? What’s my record for ‘repeat offending’ (sorry, folks . . just a little sisterly private joke – sort of ahem!)

Now that the easy part of the predicament was taken care of we turned our attention to the next problem. Ya see, when I moved the truck to approach the hitch at an angle I could not complete the approach to connect the hitch with the tailgate in the lowered position so. . . . I had to put it in it’s upright/closed position. I just kept repeating the mantra to move very slowly each time I had to pull away from the hitch to try again. I was doing very well with that but after a few attempts taking this approach, I had to move away again and when I put my foot down on the brake this time, I must have pushed the brake a little too hard because it didn’t ‘grab’ right away and, of course, the hitch hit my tailgate just a ‘smidge’. I couldn’t believe it but, then. . . . I could!! I got out of the truck and just kept saying oh please, tell me that little 'smidge' didn’t bend the tailgate. Alas contact was dead-on the latching mechanism and it totally ‘froze’ the grab 'handle' -- I couldn’t budge it. I was hoping that it was just because my hands/wrists don't have the strength they once did. Unfortunately, the AAA wasn't able to get it to release the latch either. He did give me a couple of suggestions before getting my signature on his forms and off he went.

I had a reservation at an rv park in Valley Center. When I was in the throes of my angsting, I had called to say I probably wouldn’t be able to make it down that day. However, now that I was securely hitched I thought I could make the two hour drive and get set up before dark so why not just head down? It was around 2:45 when I started the short drive down SR71 toward another short hop on the 91 to I-15. From there it was a straight drive to the exit for Valley Center. No sooner did I get onto the 91 and traffic just stopped. We literally crawled for half an hour or more. I turned on the radio and before long there was a traffic update saying that the 91 was closed between such and such streets. Not being familiar with the names of the exits along this roadway, I just kept hoping, first/foremost that the people involved were going to be alright and then that the closure was beyond the turnoff for I-15. I arrived at the rv park a little after 5:00 and the gal was just leaving the office. I offered to come down in the morning to register / pay and she said that would be fine. She gave me a map with my site circled, told me the directions to the site and off she went in her car – out of the park to her home. So-o-o-o no onsite management?!? I proceeded to head toward my site which was up a nasty road full of holes and then up a hill to a dead end of sorts. My site was the last on the left and there was a drainage pipe sticking out of the side of the approach to the ‘pad’. My truck stalled at the top of the hill and I didn’t like that – my truck never stalls!! I tried pulling forward down a narrow dead end roadway to get set myself up to back onto the site. There was no one around to ask for assistance ‘spotting’ my rear. I gave it three good tries and then just pulled straight down the narrow access road, straightened out and backed up far enough to turn to the right, head back down the hill and out the front entrance. Problem was. . . . I had no idea where I would go from there. As I would reach a stop light, I was madly typing into my new iPhone trying to find a Walmart and issuing forth a little ‘prayer’ that it was a Walmart that hadn’t banned overnight rv’ers. I finally found one in San Marcos. As darkness fell, I’m driving on unfamiliar parkways and streets in unfamiliar towns following the google map directions on my new phone (as I hadn’t been able to download VZ Navigator on the iPhone??). The last straw was when I took the right hand turn as directed on the phone and found myself facing big orange ‘road closed’ and traffic detour signs. I pulled forward with the rest of the traffic to a stop light and, though I wasn’t in the correct lane, I put my signal on to turn into the parking lot of the shopping center there on my left. Eventually the cars in the left-most lane cleared out and I made the left turn taking me into this lot. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was looking at a Walmart sign ahead of me!!! What a huge sigh of relief I let out. It was around 6:30 – 7:00 by then. I could see another 5th wheel at the other end of the parking lot so I circled around to that end and found a long stretch of parking spots empty and pulled into/lined up along them. I walked around the parking lot to check for signage about overnight parking – there was none. I noticed a security van roaming throughout the parking lot and waited abit to see if he would come over to my rv or the other 5th wheel to say anything but he didn’t. More sighing with relief. I did abit more walking around the large shopping center parking lot for awhile to try to unwind and then went into a restaurant to eat. After climbing through the rv to find my phone charger and my laptop, I went over to the Starbuck’s to charge my phone and use the laptop. I knew it would be a chilly night in the rv so I had a nice hot tea while doing that. They closed at 8:30 so I went to the rv, changed into warm ‘jammies’, a sweatshirt and some socks, read for awhile – then went sound asleep.

I don’t have a generator (onboard or otherwise) and I had recently noticed that my battery wasn’t charging correctly (when I unhook the electric at a site, the interior lights wouldn’t come on and that had not happened in well over a year). I also have never cleaned out my water holding tank – so, I’ve never filled it either!! Dry camping for the night was going to be a little tricky but not impossible. Fortunately, I had plenty of bottled water and moist wipes to wash up and make myself ‘presentable’ and tame my (these days) ‘wild and wooly’ hair! I woke early but figured Starbucks would be opening shortly and I could head back over there. While having one of their wonderful yogurt parfaits and a couple of hot cups of coffee, I looked up rv service places in the area that I could call with my tailgate/unhitching predicament. Then, though I knew that I had already ‘scoured’ the gamut of rv park offerings in the El Cajon, Escondido, San Diego, Oceanside areas, I checked again – because I still had no idea where I would head for my stay in the area. To be frank, most of the rv parks are much too expensive for my budget or they are dumpy places that I don’t want to stay in.

Boy, did I hit the jackpot when I called Sonrise RV Repair in Escondido. I chose them because they were almost right around the corner from the shopping plaza I was in. The guy who answered, JR, listened attentively as I described what had happened and as I explained what the AAA guy had suggested which was.. . .park on a level surface, lower the first section of jack legs all the way out, even setting them on blocks, then raise the electric jacks up to their highest position. That should get the kingpin up high enough to ‘clear’ the tailgate ithat wasstuck in the up position. Once free of the fifth wheel, I could then get the truck over to the Ford dealer to see about fixing the tailgate. JR thought that was certainly a feasible approach and cautioned that I should make sure to properly ‘block’ all the wheels both in front of and behind the tires before starting the process. I realized that I didn’t have enough blocks to accomplish that AND, I was still very nervous about raising up the front end of the fifth wheel that high – it just didn’t seem a safe thing to be doing on my own. JR asked where I was located and when I explained my location, he said to come over there and they would be able to take a look at the situation and the tailgate problem and help get me back on track. The guys in this facility are exactly what you’d ‘conjure’ up in a 'perfect service visit' scenario to be the type of people who truly do want to be helpful and find a way to repair whatever problem you’re having and not empty your checkbook. These folks did that and more -- making the effort to find ways to quiet/ease the angst going on within you. JR kept me informed about what they were finding and doing. The guy who worked on the tailgate came in to tell me how he resolved the problem. That ended up being much simpler than the ‘worse case’ scenario JR had laid out as a possibility -- cut the tailgate apart to get it off the truck!! They tested my battery and while doing that, found that the cable connector nuts were very loose – which explains the lack of charge. He noted that a rig my size could really use two batteries, especially if I was dry camping or in a situation like having or choosing to overnight in Walmarts, Flying J’s, rest areas, etc. He had another guy working on my antennae issue and they found that LaMesa in Mesa, AZ had not fixed the problem correctly back in the fall when I had my rig in there for some work. Then he told me that I should know how to use the ‘rolling’ function on my hitch so, he had one of the guys search on the internet for the instructions so that he could give me a copy to have with me. It took the guy quite awhile to fnd the model that I have but he stuck with it and finally found it. JR then took me out to the rv ad proceeded to show me how to release the handle on the hitch, get into the truck cab and maneuver the brake control and move the truck slowly forward. Then he demonstrated getting the hitch back to it’s towing position. After that he asked if I wanted to give it a try – which I did and I couldn’t thank him enough. I have tried, on several occasions to get an rv repair guy or facility to go through that scenario with me but always just get a verbal descriptive and assurances that it’s ‘a piece of cake’ – you do this and then that and then just do it in reverse – what’s the big deal??!’. Well, they’re right . . it’s not a big deal after all but, also, it really didn’t take all that much time to just do a little demo and then let me do it so I would see that I was doing it the right way.

BIG, HUGE KUDOS to Sonrise RV Repair in Escondido. BIG SMILES all over my face!!  In the end of the matter, I was back to my old self when I drove away from their facility. The bill was more than reasonable for the time and effort they put into my service needs.

After stopping to fill up the gas tank, I got myself back onto I-15 still not knowing where I would head. In the back of my mind I recalled that the original ‘wishy/washy’ plan included heading out toward the Anza Borrego Desert area after 10 to 14 days exploring the greater San Diego area. I decided to ‘fast forward’ to that part of the plan and will write about that in a following post.