Monday, May 30, 2016

Google Maps Is Now A Good Way To Plan Your RV Travel

I have used many Google services over the last few years and in many cases they keep getting better and more relevant to RV Travel.  Way back when I only used paper maps and planned our RV trips on paper.  I would get out a tablet of paper and make entries for the days we would travel.  Later when computer maps came out I bought DeLorme maps first.  They worked pretty good and when I got the map CD it came with a gps that I plugged into my laptop and it would tell me where we were and give directions.

Delorme Map with Topo 
Next we used Microsoft Streets and Trips.  It was much easier to use than Delorme.  Then Trailer Life came out with a specialty RVing map software and we used that through several upgrades.  None were perfect, but I did like the Trailer Life program as it did a lot of things related to RV travel well.  And a key to all of these systems is that you could save the maps and add points of interest and RV campgrounds.

I started getting Garmins about 8 years ago.  My wife bought me one for Christmas.  It was amazing how good they were at helping you find places.  Web maps then wiped out all the software CD systems.  Microsoft finally discontinued Streets and Trips about 2 years ago.  And smartphones are now used by most to find places.

Google Maps have been very good for a long time, in general.  But you could not easily use them to plan a trip with.  I tried a number of times.  Several years ago they added the ability to add points of interest and campgrounds, but to me it was still a hard system to use.  Now Google Maps can save your trips and easily add layers with both points of interest and campgrounds to the same map.  So for this summers very extensive trip I have put all of it on a Google map.

I switched to using the Apple calendar about 8 months ago after years of using the Google Gmail calendar.  So I have not yet figured out how to integrate the dates on the Google Map for the trip.  But I am going to work on that for our Fall trip to the Balloon Fiesta in NM.  At this time I highly recommend using Google Maps to plan extensive trips.  And send me comments on how to integrate dates into the maps if that is something you know how to do.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Beautiful Mammoth Mountain Area

It has been about ten years since I have been to the Mammoth Mountain lakes area in the eastern Sierra of CA.  It is a beautiful area with lots to see and do winter or summer.

Mammoth was always a great fishing area.  When I was much younger I used to come up here to the great small World famous trout streams.  And then there is winter sports.  Mammoth mountain gets lots of snow and this place is packed in the winter.  But ten years ago when I last came up to go fishing there were few people here in the summer.  Not any more!  When we visited last week this place was packed.  The difference is summer mountain biking.  Everywhere people dressed up in expensive bike outfits are riding very expensive mountain bikes.  So this means if you decide to come up for a visit in the summer, make reservations.

We stayed at Mammoth Mountain RV park.  (click link left to go to the RV park web site) It looks like it was built and is run by the National Park Service.  It is not.  I really like this RV park a lot except for the very thick dirt / dust that covers many of the sites.  You and your pets and especially children will track in lots of fine dust.  But the spaces are mostly very large, and the utilities work well.   It is set in a forest of large trees.  The people here were quite nice and the location is great.  A few blocks from the center of town.  Or a quick bike ride.

The Devils Postpile is a National Monument and is 13 miles out of Mammoth.  Driving up there and stopping at the sights on the way has always been one of the major things to do when here.  You can still drive up towards the Devils Postpile and stop at the several attractions on the way like a large earthquake fissure and the Minarets but now since there are so many people here in the summer you have to park by the main ski lodge and take a tram/bus to the Postpile.  This is not convenient.  When we were there this parking lot had many hundreds of cars and looked like about a three block walk to wait for the bus.  So we did not go to the Postpile this visit and went to see the Inyo Craters instead.

One of the two Inyo Craters
The visit to see the Inyo craters requires driving on a dirt road for about a mile and then walking uphill a few hundred feet in elevation.  The length of the trail to the craters is about 3/4 of a mile.

When you go to this area just keep in mind that the whole valley is an ancient super volcano crater.  Like Yellowstone, but a bit smaller.  So if it blows when you are here that would not be a good thing.  But I don't think that is expected to happen any time soon.

The summer temps in this area a very agreeable.  Be sure to drive up towards the twin lakes area right out of town.  There is a lovely old Tamarack Lodge area.  It is a beautiful spot.

I have to say that I preferred Mammoth Mountain before the crowds of summer bikers showed up.  But then I am not a crowd loving person.  Today you can have a lot more choices of food and drink than then years ago.  It was nice though the last time we were up we did not bother to make reservations and just showed up.  There were lots of hotel rooms available.  Not any more.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Tufa Or Not

Many times I have driven past Mono Lake in the eastern Sierra mountains and looked east going about 60 mph on 395 and said, "some day I have to stop and see the Tufa".  Well earlier this week the time had come.  We stayed 3 nights at the Mono Vista RV Park in Lee Vining CA, right across from the Mono Lake visitor center.

This is what I planned to do.  Take some beautiful pictures of this lake and it's famed Tufa.  Full disclosure here.  This image was not taken by me and I got it off the internet.  I wish I had the opportunity to get this kind of shot.  But sadly climate and wild fires were against me.

Here is about the best I could do.  There was just too little alpenglow to get any kind of shot.

This was just a little peek of glowing night sky that lasted for five minutes and hardly made it to the Tufa at all.  If you look close at the picture of the tufa you can see the tiniest amount of red in the foreground.  And that was it.  I went all three nights over to get great shots and did not have much luck.

But we did go to Bodie and that produced some great pictures for memories.

I do recommend the Mono Vista RV park if you go to stay in Lee Vining.  Nice people.  Sites have grass.  Some trees.  Very clean and neat.  Good utilities.  Price was about $35 with Good Sam.  Click the link above to go to their web site.  This park is very close to the road that goes in the back side of Yosemite.  I had the opportunity to talk to all sorts of people from all over Europe who were staying in this RV park and going over into Yosemite.

So what else is in Lee Vining.  There is the Mono Lake visitor center.  This is a large park building with exhibits, maps, rangers, ranger talks, and so on.  I highly recommend stoping here ever if you are not overnighting in Lee Vining.  It is right off 395 just a block north of town on the east side.

Great views from the visitor center.

The columbine flowers were next to the building and this is one of the most interesting and beautiful flowers I know of.  I like these pictures a lot better than the ones I got of the Tufa.

If you do not feel like spending a lot of time at Mono Lake it is easily accessible from Mammoth Lakes.  However, in my opinion staying at the Mono Vista RV park is better than any I saw at Mammoth Lakes for larger RVs like ours.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Emigrant Lake County Campground

Not too long after you get into Oregon going north on Interstate 5 is this beautiful campground on a lake.  The campground is at the first Ashland Oregon exit.

Emigrant Lake 
We stayed here for a number of days earlier this year.  We had a great full hookup site with great views from the coach or sitting outside.  The picture above was 50 steps from our front door.  

our camp site
another shot of our camp site
This campground does take reservations and is popular.  So if you are going in the summer book early.  And I would say if you are going on holiday weekends when it is not too cold you should get reservations.  

A short walk from our camp site
The campground reservations can be found here  

Our site was large and had full hookups.  There are not many large sites.  Most are for smaller RVs.  

The mid sized town of Ashland is very worth you time to go into and explore.  It is about 5-6 miles from the campground.  The town is famous for it's Shakespeare festival, but there is a walkable downtown with shops and restaurants.  My suggestion for places to eat is just to walk around and look at menus or go through TripAdvisor.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Days On The Road ARE Better Than Days At Home Or The Desk

Well we are at the end of our last adventure RV trip of 2014 and I am adding up the year.  It was a very good one.  This is the best year ever overall for RVing for me.  We started out with a trip to the Bluegrass Festival in Blythe and then to Quartsite.  Followed up with a real adventure in Moab UT.  Then the big summer journey to the North West, including a cruise to Alaska.  And now we are at the end of going to NM and the Balloon festival.

Frazier on the beach in Manzanita OR
After our big summer trip was finished and we had had time to unpack and read the mail it only took a couple of days for me to be sitting at my desk and to think, "This is not as good as being on the road in the motorhome."

A few weeks later we flew to Ohio to be with Barbara's wonderful large family.  I love interacting with all of them.  They are so interactive and just fun to be with.  Plus Ohio weather co-operated and was great.  We stayed at a very nice suite hotel close to Barbara's sister and were busy every day.  Thing is, I prefer staying in the coach to any hotel suite.  (Except maybe the Plaza in NYC or the Fairmont in SF.)

Emigrant Lake in OR
Without of doubt our motorhome had too many visits to the RV doctors this year.  This was the year of plumbing problems.  It is mostly my fault and that our motorhome is getting older.  I got lazy and did not put on the external pressure regulator while at an RV park in Junction City OR.  The built in pressure regulator has given up and needs to be replaced.  So I blew fresh water lines in several places.  Got them fixed at Country Coach sort of.

The fresh water pressure regulator that has aged out and is not working.  
Turns out there were several other water leaking episodes for follow on the trip.

The bottom line.  Travel by RV is something to savor and enjoy as long as possible.  That is why we put up with these snarly beasts called RV's.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Wilson Sleek Cell Phone Reception Booster

Shortly before we left for our summer trip the middle of June this year I bought a Verizon 4G Wilson Sleek cell phone booster kit.  Wilson shipped it to me quickly and it was in perfect condition.  My plan was to hook it up to the built in cell phone antenna that came with my coach.  For the first 10 days of our trip there was no reason to try the Wilson as the cell phone reception we got was fine without it.

But soon after we arrived at our campground near Mt Rainier I discovered that the cell reception at the park was so poor that there was not any high speed data available.  And voice calls were not possible.  So I got out the Wilson kit and hooked it up.  The first snag was that there is more than one coax cable connector size and the one at the end of the cable in our motorhome did not match the one on the Wilson.  So I hooked it up with the included small antenna.

You need to have a cigaret lighter to power the Wilson Sleek or some other 12volt source.  So I plugged it in and put my Motorola Maxx in the cradle.  It promptly increased the signal and we got reasonably good data speed and good voice call quality.

After about 30 minutes I went over to pick up my phone and it was very warm.  It seems the Wilson generates quite a bit of heat.  With a phone sitting in the base cradle with no space between it and the base I was worried about ruining my phone.  So I tried moving one side of the phone a bit away from the base plate.  This significantly reduced the heat by allowing it to dissipate and the cell signal seemed to be the same as with all the phone right on the base plate.

During our trip we used the Wilson a couple of times and it worked well each time.  The heat on the phone does worry me.  In my opinion it likely will degrade the phone over time.  I still have not bought the adapter coax connector.  Radio Shack did not have them.  Wilson has them on their web site, but they are not cheap.

Monday, September 1, 2014

RV Things I Bought For This Summers Trip I Can Recommend or Not

This summer was a great trip.  We were gone 2 months and drove about 3,500 miles.  Before we left we added quite a few things that we wanted / needed to make the trip better.  So here is the scorecard of what worked and what did not.

1.  Garmin 760LMT

I have had Garmin's for a few years and this is my third one.  This has a large 7" screen and can be set for either car or RV mode.  The great thing about the RV mode is that it routes you on roads and underpasses that are appropriate to your rig size.  There are a few tricks to learn if you are used to older Garmin's to get the best out of this one, but overall I loved using it for travel this summer.

2.  Garmin BC 20 wireless back up camera

Adding this backup camera really made the Garmin 760 even more useful.  When I bought my Jeep a little over a year ago a backup camera did not come with it.  The Jeep Wrangler is tall and small low to the ground cars can hide from your sight when you back up.  I had that happen and had a very sight impact with a small Honda.  When that happened I wanted to drive more safely and so I had this in mind.  When I got the 760 Garmin as a gift then this was a no brainer.  On top of it being a good idea it was super simple to install on the Wrangler.  There is a youtube video showing how to do it.  I followed the instructions and it worked the first time I tried it.

This is not a cheap setup.  $550 for both.  To me that is a good value for what it does.  I like the Garmin's far better than any other GPS type system I have tried.  I do have a late model smartphone that uses the Google system for directions.  Sometimes the Google system is better, but it is just not reliable.  And it does not work if there is a break in cell coverage.  The Garmin is near 100% reliable. The Google phone might be 50% reliable.  If you are driving a big rig around you need something you can depend on.

3.  Aurelia Robust Nitrile powder free gloves.

I got these on Amazon for a little over 10 bucks for 100.  Highly recommended.  I have always used garden gloves.  This summer when CAT overfilled our oil after changing it and then we developed a small oil leak because CAT did not put on a part a year ago there was a lot of oil over the back of our rig, our car, hitch, bikes, and so on.  Even if it were not for the oil being over everything these gloves are super.  They are thin enough so you can do far more with them than garden gloves, but they are thick enough so my skin gets some protection.

4.  Sure Fit Deluxe Sofa Pet Throw

Our dog likes to be on the sofa.  Our sofa is covered with leather.  Plus we like it clean.  We have been using beach towels.  This is better.  Of course you have to tuck in all the edges so the dog does not get it all tangled up, but once you do that this is a great pet cover.

5.  High Quality Hoses.

I bought several things on line from the Water Filter Store which is in Temecula.  Everything I bought there, water softener, sediment filter, Watts pressure regulator, and extra filters was very good and delivered quickly.  However, a special mention has to go to the three hoses I bought from them.  They are just super.  The quality is first class+.  They don't kink and the brass hardware is heavy duty.  The heavy duty hardware is so much better than standard hoses there is just no comparison.  My set up when I camp now is water regulator on park faucet (the regulator I bought is adjustable and has a gauge on it to read pressure), connect to hose to get close to water compartment, then sediment filter, short hose, water softener, then to the rig water.  My rig has a built in canister filter also that removes chemicals and some bacteria.

With all this hooked up the water that comes out of the rig is vastly improved.  Bad taste is gone.  Water is soft so the dishes soap up easily.  In the shower you use a small fraction of the water.  In our rig washer the whites now come out white instead of grey.

I did buy several things that did not work out so well.  So here are my thumbs down awards.  

1.  Wilmar filter wrench

These did not work well and smell bad.  Stunk up our garage for a month.  If these were made correctly they would work fine, but the design and materials on these is lousy.

2.  Valterra Water Pressure Gauge

Mine worked maybe once and now the gauge never goes below 20 psi.  If we had not been on our trip I would have returned it.  I bought a Watts unit which is much better quality and it works fine.

3.  The sewer treatment I bought at Quartsite two years ago.  I bought a case because it was so cheap. It was so cheap because it did not work.