Sunday, December 22, 2019

Imperial Dam And Life In The Desert.

Imperial Dam LTVA in Summer; not an RV in site.
____ Born and brought-up in England, the freedom of wide-open spaces was not part of my life in an over-crowded island where my roaming was always thwarted by the bellowing of “Oi you. Get off of my land.” Rambling on unfenced land and wild-camping, apart from during a couple of Summers in the South of France, eluded me until I retired. Then it became “Boondocking.” Living free, self-contained and un-troubled in an easy-going climate where economy meets relaxation meets contentment. In Arizona, in the United States; a place with such strict immigration and border controls that you would think the place had such a bulging population that it could not possibly take one more person. During my years as a long-haul truck driver, I never ceased to be amazed by the vast emptiness that is much of North America. The States of Wyoming and Montana with no houses for miles on grassland that stretched over the horizon in all directions. Arizona and New Mexico with arid scrubland and rocky out-crops on land that could profit no-one. Then there is Canada; where flying across country shows so much forest, lake, mountain and plain without road, house and human being.

____ Any area of un-usable land in the UK is fenced and probably owned by an aristocrat who has been handed-down the estate for centuries. The enjoyment of the people is denied on the pretext that a threatened species rare butterfly is breeding near-by. Although that doesn’t stop the annual pheasant shoot for the Lord of the Manor and his cronies. Imagine how surprised and delighted I was to find that this selfishness does not apply in Arizona. Apart from a few square miles that are set aside for military use, the State of Arizona positively encourages the population to go out and enjoy the wilderness that will not sustain agriculture. Living off the grid in a recreational vehicle in the desert is totally possible and under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management it has become simple. The usual back-country rules apply; pack-out what you pack-in and leave no trace. You can be as far away from civilization as you can get or you can opt for a place such as the Imperial Dam Long Term Visitor Area.

____ The LTVA is not free but at $180 for seven months, it is very good value. Access to potable water, a place to dump waste water and garbage and a community of fellow like-minded people. How much you have to do with your neighbours is entirely up to you; moving you vehicle to another camping area is always an option as is yoga, going to church and visiting the library. Safety in numbers is reassuring in the potentially hostile desert environment  and a friendly daily wave to everyone you meet means you can be pretty sure that they will keep an eye-out for you. Some neighbours are chatty some are very reclusive, some interesting life-stories with many returning year after year to Imperial Dam and Arizona. Some expensive rigs on show with all the toys in attendance; some people on very tight budgets with even a few tents but an economic lifestyle at the fore front of most people’s way of life.

____ To be continued.

December Sunset.

Monday, December 16, 2019

December Departure 2019.

Seven Days of Driving.

____ One week into December and the bitter cold of the Winnipeg Winter begins to hit hard. Finally all the ducks are in a row, Cheryl has the all-clear after her cataract operation and we are ready to head South. The Mack is reluctant to start at minus 16 degrees C. Two magnetic block heaters, the propane heater, the battery charger on 75 amp start-mode plus a healthy shot of ether and the 11 litre diesel fires-up as snow flurries fly in a grey Manitoba sky. South of the border, the weather is the same with an Arctic front bearing down on the whole Mid-West. We decide to push-on into the night, driving in a warm cab as opposed to sleeping in a cold living quarters. Then at Sioux Falls, the alternator packs-up. No volts at the volt-meter and it’s not a broken fan belt. Into the Coffee Cup Truck Stop at Vermillion for the night, knowing that the batteries are flat and tomorrow will not be easy.

____ Having a self-contained, off-the-grid vehicle does have some advantages in our sorry state. The generator charges the batteries while we go for breakfast, the house-batteries in the back of the truck can be used to boost the flat batteries and with another shot of ether we can continue. The old-style diesel engine of the Mack is well-suited to running on reduced electrical power; we keep the lights and heater fan off, running for three hours as the voltmeter slowly drops from 12 to 10. Another blast on the generator at lunch time gets us through to nightfall. Same scenario for the Sunday and by Monday morning I start looking for opportunities for getting the alternator fixed. With the Mack being a fire-truck, the alternator is not the normal unit fitted a 16 ton truck; it is a huge 250 amp lump and not what would be easily sourced, new or re-built. We make steady progress, even with our disability, maybe Arizona would be the best place to get things sorted; at least we would be in the warm.

____ We arrange a rendezvous with Gail and Milo at Snyder Hill, just south of Tucson. Cheryl’s sister and brother in law have been boondocking for a couple of weeks in Arizona and are pleased we have finally started our trip. Milo is eager to help with the alternator problem and finds a place on the Internet in Tucson that rebuilds starters and alternators. Luna Industries says to bring it in and they will look at it straight away. Thanks to Milo and the Suzuki Vitara that he hauls behind his motorhome, this is not a problem. Luna Industries know their stuff! Two hours later and we have a repaired alternator. It was broken wire connecting the alternator to the regulator and fixed for $60. An expensive piece of 3 inch wire but a cheap repair when a new alternator costs $2700 and a rebuilt one costs $1850. Fair play to Luna Industries for saying it was just a broken wire because if they had said it was old and un-repairable I would have believed them.

____ Now with our batteries charging and the warmth of the Arizona Sun shining through the cab windows, we headed for Yuma. Making our way to Imperial Dam Long Term Visitor Area and our home for the rest of the year. Stocking up with supplies so that the Mack can rest-up for seven days after the seven arduous days of the south-bound journey.

Colton 250 amp Heavy Duty Alternator.

Working in the Arizona sunshine.

Snyder Hill BLM Campground, South of Tucson.

German Registered Unimog at Snyder Hill.

Back at Imperial Dam LTVA, next to the fire-pit that I built earlier this year.