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Drive to San Diego

April 30, 2022

April 28, 2022

Sunday before last Penny and Gunther and I drove to San Diego in our RV, a Dodge Promaster van made into a camper by the E Hymer company.  The Hymers are supposedly popular in the UK.  It’s like a little house in a truck.

Ours has a bed, lots of drawers and cabinets, a bathroom shower, sink, toilet; kitchen sink, refrigerator, and fold-out table.  We’ve lived in it for two weeks at a time and it is bearable, if not fun.  You can sit on the toilet and flip pancakes.  You can drive anywhere there’s pavement.  It has only a few inches of ground clearance.

Sunday before last we drove from Billings through Bozeman, Whitehall, Silver Star, Twin Bridges and Dillon before getting on I-15 over Monida Pass to Idaho Falls.  Earlier in the month on highway 93 we saw a herd of elk cross the road in Idaho.

It’s 140 miles from Dillon to Idaho Falls and in the 1970s my mother and one of her old lady friends drove that distance only to have supper and return to Dillon.

We camped at the Snake River RV Park.  They were closed, but our information was tacked to a cork board near the office door.  The back-in space had water and electricity but the hard dirt was not particularly level.  Gunther barked for hours at some people from Switzerland camped next to us.  I apologized the next day when I was disconnecting hoses and wires.  The guy from Switzerland apologized for making Gunther bark.  The Snake River park pleased me.

We spent $75 to fill our gas tank and less than $40 to stay at the Snake River RV Park.  That’s with the retired commissioned uniformed services discount.  I always enquire about discounts:  Triple A, military, senior citizen, good citizen, nice guy.  Often there’s a discount.  I make up categories.  Big nose discount.  Flannel shirt discount.  Sometimes the clerk gives me a discount in order to get rid of me.  I think most clerks have some discretion in giving discounts of 5-10%.  Pays to ask.

Monday we drove from Idaho Falls to Hurricane, Utah, close to St. George.  There is a KOA at Hurricane that charges about $50 a night.  The campsites are paved and level and flat.  I get a retired uniformed commissioned service discount for answering my country’s call first as a supply sergeant in the Marine Corps, then to be commissioned as a pharmacist on Indian Reservations and other public health duties as may be assigned.  I was never privileged to serve as a pharmacist in a disaster area, but I was qualified physically and I had specific training.  I came closest to getting called up in July after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  I was in the midst of retirement when the hurricane struck the coast of Louisiana.  Hurt my feelings that they didn’t delay my retirement.

We drove from St. George to our daughter Clara’s in Poway, California.  Gunther happily greeted his doggy cousins Kirby and Bear.  Penny and I parked our Hymer nearby.  

The Hymer has a 30-gallon water tank, a 3-gallon propane tank, and several storage batteries to store electricity from 250-volt solar panels.  It has a cassette toilet that holds, perhaps, two gallons.  Another holding tank holds gray water from the sink and shower.

Clara had us and her brother Todd’s family to feed and house.  Well, it almost like that.  Todd’s sister-in-law lives in San Diego, so they fed Todd’s family part of the time, and Todd’s wife flew back to Duluth several days before Todd and the two boys, Cyrus and Roland.  We managed to run, swim, play games, climb a 2000 foot mountain, go swimming in the ocean the few days we were together with the Roberts family.  Two dogs, three kids.  A little sunburned neck.

Returning we visited Death Valley National Park.  I couldn’t have liked it more.  

I saw pupfish in Salt Creek.  These fish live in Death Valley in a small salty creek, cavorting back and forth like a school of minnows.  Did I mention the big pup fish are an inch long?  I didn’t dip my finger in the water to judge its temperature, but the water was brilliantly clear and clean.  The creek apparently flows all year in this area of Death Valley.  The creek I saw was perhaps 3-5 feet wide and 2-3 inches deep.  The water flowed rapidly and the pupfish would dart around the shallows along the sides of the creek.  Little or no vegetation in most of this sandy area.

The temp was 85 when we went to bed and 65 the next morning.  I had to wear a jacket.  The air was dry, birds were scarce.  Penny looked at the night sky, said it was generous with stars.  I was too lazy to get up.

We drove from Death Valley to a place near Reno where our friend Aleada Bushyhead is buried.  

Aleada taught head start with Penny for more than twenty years.  I remember a meal I ate with Penny and Aleada’s class.  Each of us poured her own milk and I just remember Aleada patiently sawing through an apricot half with a fork and plastic knife.  Aleada liked me, but I don’t know exactly how I know.  Aleada died of COVID-19 last year.

We met her son, Ben Johns, who waited in his pickup at the post office.   He guided us to the cemetery for the Paiutes who live at Pyramid Lake.  He told us of Aleada’s last days on earth, when she caught COVID and couldn’t breathe.  Aleada didn’t want to be kept alive by respirators, and so forth, so she was kept comfortable until she died.  Ben was there for Aleada. While Ben spoke I studied his square-toed cowboy boot.  He had a food stain on his shirt, so I surmised he is single.  Ben is finance officer for his tribe.

The same day we drove east and north from Reno to a Nevada state park at a lake near Idaho.  We spent a happy night boon docking, but I forgot to empty the pee cassette the next morning.  

The next day we drove to Idaho Falls back to the Snake River RV Park.  Same great place as before, and I was able to walk barefoot in the night from our van to the bathrooms about 150 feet away.  The cassette toilet pulls out for emptying in a regular toilet.  I don’t know what would happen if one were to allow the cassette to fill up and overflow.  I hope I never find out.  We’ve sworn off pooping in our RV toilet, but I’ve got some wilderness bags to use if anyone gets desperate.  With normal peeing, the cassette needs to be emptied once daily.  One opens a shutter, then pees in the toilet, then closes the lid and presses the flush button to send the pee water into the cassette.  Then one closes the shutter to the cassette.

From Idaho Falls we tried making a beeline for West Yellowstone, then drove the Gallatin River to Bozeman, then went to Billings.  That cuts at least a 100 miles off the trip if one takes I-15 and drives over Monida Pass to Dillon.

We took a rock chip to the window this trip.  The RV awning wouldn’t deploy when we were in Death Valley, but it worked without any problem when I tried it again at the state park in Nevada.  Death Valley reminded me of photos by the Mars Rover.

The Hymer is fussy and many of its features are lightweight and flimsy.  I don’t understand much about the electronics in the cabin area.  Two 12-volt batteries power the appliances and lights.  Solar collectors and an extra engine generator charge the batteries when the batteries are connected by a heavy solenoid switch.

I discovered it’s not a good idea to keep the coach batteries connected when not in use.  If they get run down the cabin electronics have to be jump-started by climbing under the front of the car with a set of jumper cables.  On the other hand, it doesn’t do much good to leave the batteries disconnected.  The fridge will turn off and mildew.  One wants to intermittently activate the electronics to keep the batteries charged through the cold winters here.

The water system has to be winterized with food-grade antifreeze every fall and de-winterized with bleach water each spring.  That’s not much of a chore, although the water tastes funny in the spring after de-winterizing.  Every spring I de-winterize and winterize a couple of times because I am apt to de-winterize too early.  I read the weather forecast and hope there’s no long period of freezing imminent.

Price of gas ranged from $4.20 in Montana to $6 in California.  Seems like the price went up as we went south.

  1. Blaine Ackley permalink

    What a nice diversion for you two. Seeing the pup fish must have been a real highlight among the many highlights that you had. I was lucky you didn’t come up here or you would have encountered rain and snow. And you got to discover the Snake River RV park, a lake in Nevada, your friend in Reno, and swimming with the grandkids in California. What a treat for you guys.

  2. Thanks, Cousin Blaine. We will visit you folks later this season.

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