North to Williams, AZ and the FCU Labor Day Rally...


pineGrove, Post-rally

We’d first camped at Pine Grove in June of ’07...our very first and only dry camping experience until now!
“Dry camping is like tent camping except you have a nicer tent.”
We found there was a problem with the solar system. Dang!
At least we didn’t discover the solar issues when we really needed to rely on the system for survival!
Don’t know how we did it, but we missed a turn to get us to Usery Mountain Park. Dang! Majorly bummed.

When we left the RV Park on Monday, since we had not been to town since the Train trip, we decided to drive through town and take a few pictures for the travel log… so we did that… you know, the highlights that can be seen from a moving vehicle… and then we headed back east toward Flagstaff to begin the next leg of our trip… a couple of days of dry camping at Pinegrove Camp Ground in the Coconino National Forest about 20 miles SE of Flagstaff off lake Mary Road.

It was only 35 miles to Flagstaff and another 20 miles to Pine-

grove Camp Ground, so it didn’t take us long to get there.

We’d camped at this camp ground in June of 2007 when

we made our trip up to Mormon Lake Lodge. That was

our only other time of dry camping. So it was fitting that

we come back to Pinegrove to begin honing our dry

camping skills so we can keep up with the rest of our Airsteaming friends. We liked Pinegrove so much the first time that we knew we’d eventually be back. We stayed in the very same camp site as we did before, too!  We got there before the folks who were in our site left, so we had to wait a bit. As soon as they left and the camp hosts checked the site, we moved in. All the sites are well-maintained, with picnic tables, grills and fire rings. Each also has a leveled tent pad for the tent campers among us. Our site was a pull-through and the curb side of the Bambi looked west into a wooded area with low green grasses this time around. When we’d been there in June it was not quite so green— and fires weren’t allowed— as June is the driest part of summer up north.

Many of our new friends in the 4CU are avid dry campers, actually preferring that mode to parks with hookups, etc., because they can get further away from traffic and closer to the beauty of the out of doors. We can understand that, even though we do like our creature comforts. We think this group will be good for us in terms of broadening our camping horizons. So we wanted to practice…particularly with our solar system—

                         to see how much battery power we needed to fulfill at

                          least  some of our creature comforts and then to

                             determine how long it takes the solar system to

                            recharge the batteries. As Greg says, “Dry camping is

                            like tent camping except you have a nicer tent.” This

                             is really true. In order to conserve battery power, one uses fewer house lights and spends less time with the TV (yes, we can use the TV from battery power) and computer— creature comforts in general. The result is that you spend more time around the campfire and go to bed earlier…at least that’s the theory. We confess that we did watch a movie on the laptop…and then plugged the laptop into the inverter...which converts 12v DC battery power to 110v AC power... to recharge the lap top batteries. 

The first night at the campground we drove the batteries down to about 85% of their capacity, which is not bad. The next morning, Tuesday, we anticipated the solar system to kick in to start recharging the batteries as the sun came up. We’d camped in a site with good daytime sun. But it did not look like that was happening… we could hear the solar

solenoid clicking in and out a few times, but our monitoring

panel never showed that there was any charging going on,

and that our battery voltage was drifting down throughout

the day. We tried to trouble shoot, but we didn’t know

enough to really do anything… so we just kept and eye on

things to make sure we didn’t dip too low into the batteries.

Later that morning, we were pleasantly surprised to hear a familiar voice from behind the Bambi…it was Jim from the 4CU! We’d just met him at the Rally!  He had gone to another campground in the area after the Rally but couldn’t get in, so he came to the same campground we were in. What a nice surprise! Now Jim is a very experienced camper, and boondocks most of the time with no hookups… and he uses solar panels. So we asked him for his input on what was going on with out system. He went and got his voltage meter and came back to test our batteries for their charge. They were a bit low, but certainly within acceptable ranges having spent an evening running off them… He gave us some pointers about solar running in general and told us to keep an eye on things to make sure we didn’t go too low with the batteries. He also encouraged us to obtain a voltage meter so we could test our power supply when we needed to (since accomplished). He was most reassuring and it was good to know that there was a friend in the campground if we needed info. This was a very first “not-at-a-rally path crossing” with a fellow 4CU member!  Jim was camped across the park from us… we dropped by later that day to say “hey” again and chew the fat a spell. He was all spread out with his patio set up and enjoying his unobstructed view of the woods. He said he’d be there for a couple of weeks at least. What a nice way to live!

So we kept watching the battery power and went through another evening with a nice camp fire and minimal use of power. Yes, we did watch

                       another movie… and by the time the evening was over, we

                            were down to 65%, according to the system monitor.

                             We knew that was not too low…so we here happy to

                              see that we had gone two nights on batteries without

                             charging… and that’s not bad, considering that we still

                             enjoyed some creature comforts along the way! We did

                             know, however, that we needed to have the solar system

                                checked out by someone who knew what they were

                                doing as soon as we got back to Tucson. We were disappointed that we were having solar issues, but glad we’d found about it now rather than later when we really needed it.  (It has since been resolved and we are up and running.)

We didn’t have to be out of the camp site Wednesday until 1:00 PM but we had a long drive ahead of us, so we dumped the tanks and left late morning, heading south. We drove south on Lake Mary Road (Hwy 3) and picked up Hwy 87 south of Happy Jack, AZ and on south through Strawberry and Pine...pleasant little mountain towns, and on toward Payson, AZ. If we had turned east at Payson on Hwy 260 that would have take us to Heber/Overgaard and on to Show Low, one of our old stomping grounds. However, we headed south on 87 toward Phoenix. At Payson, Hwy 87 becomes a 4-lane highway, as it is the main corridor route from the Phoenix Metro area to the White Mountains, and is a heavily traveled route. We’d been on it going north from the junction going to Roosevelt Lake, but never further south on Hwy 87 (Beeline Highway) to Phoenix. We were struck with the beauty of the drive… far different than other approaches to the Phoenix Metro area that we’ve taken going north or south. This route takes you through the Lower Salt River Canyon area, which is quite rugged and beautiful. When you descend from the pine forests through scrub piñion pine and begin to see saguaro cacti, it is a beautiful site… the terrain is amazing and the vistas are really quite beautiful. The desert beckoned us homeward.

We turned south on Bush Highway north of Mesa and Apache Junction to head south to Usery Mountain Park. We had planned to stay one night there and check out the park for future trips. This is a  park in the Maricopa County Regional Recreational System, and has water and electric hookups…one of several parks that has camping available in that general area. And it’s not too far from Lost Dutchman State Park, which we have driven through, but not camped in (yet). We thought Lost Dutchman and Usery Mountain Parks might make a nice 2-stop trip in the coolet winter months.

However—and we are not quite sure how this happened—

we missed a turn at some point and by the time we realized

we’d gone too far, we were in the northern reaches of Mesa,

AZ. Dang! It was getting late in the day and neither one of

us felt like back tracking to find the turn we’d missed, so we

decided to go on home to Tucson. So we headed south

on the first main route we came to knowing that we could pickup Hwy 60 and head east toward Apache Junction and then on south to Tucson the way we’d come on our way up.

Our decision to head home turned out to be a lucky one, because as we were making our way through Mesa to Hwy 60 our Pressure Pro Tire Pressure Monitoring System sounded an alarm, showing the street

                          side tire on the Bambi at 49 lbs...65 lbs is normal! Yikes!

                              And within seconds, the 2nd level alarm went off  and

                                    showing it had dropped to 14 lbs. That’s not a

                                        slow leak! We were in the inside lane in city

                                        traffic, so we pulled into the left turn lane at a

                                        light and waited to make a left turn, pulling

                                      immediately into a gas station parking lot.

                                      We got out and checked the tire, and sure

                                       enough… it was low, nearly flat. We were at

                                        that moment no longer “Flat Tire Virgins!” This

                                         is something that we had been dreading since we started towing, knowing that it was, as they say, not a matter of “if,” but a matter of “when”…and “when” had arrived. We are just glad it happened on a city street at not-so-fast speeds with a nice level, paved place to pull off onto… and not on some winding narrow mountain road (which would have been the case if we’d not missed that turn to Usery Mountain)… We thanked the stars for sparing us that.

Upon closer inspection, we realized that the flat was not from a nail or something we ran over, but from a failed valve stem. It was cracked at the point where it enters the wheel, and was hissing air. This was very timely because Terry had been reading on the AirForums about rubber valve stem failures in general and the recent recall of rubber Chinese valve stems. Of course, no one knows if they have the defective valve stems or not because they are not marked and there seems to be no way of tracing where those bad valve stems ended up. This is particularly critical on trailer tires because they are under more air pressure than typical car or truck tires. We inspected our rubber valve stems before the trip and hadn’t seen any evidence of cracking, so we had decided to change them out to metal stems when we replaced tires… Ha!  We didn’t even get close to that!

So do we call the roadside assistance or do we change the tire ourselves? Well, considering that we were in the best possible situation to change it ourselves, we just got to it…Terry tried to jack up the Bambi using the jack points as defined by Airstream… The jack points worked fine, but the bottle jack we bought for the trailer did not go high enough to get the tire sufficiently off the ground to get it off, even with some building up… so we put a jack stand in place as a backup to the jack and got out the truck jack and placed it under the axle bracket (not the axle itself, which is a no-no, but under the bracket that holds the axle). That’s all it took… we were able to raise it high enough to get the tire off… after that it went faster… We had bought a torque wrench early on to check the torque of the lug bolts before/during trips… it made it easy to get the lug bolts off.  We got the spare on, put the pressure monitor on the spare, and were on the road within an hour and headed down the road for the 2 hours remaining on the trip home… no more problems, thank goodness. It was a good experience for us because now the dread of that situation is behind us and we know we can deal with it if we need to again.

We got home about 7:00 PM or a little before…we were bushed from the day’s challenges, so we just left the Bambi in the driveway, locked everything up and left it till the next day to unload. We were home a day earlier than anyone expected anyway, so what was the rush?

It was actually a great trip… We had a pleasant drive up to the cool country… We took the Train to the Grand Canyon, something that we’ve been wanting to do… We met a great bunch of folks in the 4CU and enjoyed the experience of our first rally, resulting in our joining the 4CU… We had a few days of decompression at Pine Grove and discovered issues with the solar system before we really needed to rely on it… And the silver lining to the flat tire on the way home was getting through a tire change unscathed. So yes, it was a good trip. And we are ready to go again as soon as we can figure out when and where to go!

Click on the slideshow icon below to see the pictures of Pine Grove and our trip home. Sorry, there are no pictures of the flat, though we should have documented that, but we were preoccupied! Hope you enjoy! You can return to the main page by clicking “Other Trips” below the pictures.  Stay tuned for our next adventure!  And we’ll see you down the road...

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>The Grand Canyon4cu_rally_gc_lday08.html4cu_rally_gc_lday08.htmlshapeimage_9_link_0
>The Rally4cu_rally_ral_lday08.html4cu_rally_ral_lday08.htmlshapeimage_10_link_0
The Pressure Pro tire pressure monitors alarmed in Mesa traffic showing that we were down to 49 lbs in the street side tire. In seconds it was down to 14 lbs!
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