Archive for January, 2011

The value of a good map: blaming technology is foolish

The Donner Party is famous because of what happened after it got caught in an early snowstorm on the east side of the Sierras. They were delayed in the journey to California because the guide they hired knew about a shortcut in Utah that turned out to be not really suitable for a wagon train.

The same thing happens today, more than 150 years later. Death by GPS in desert illustrates that the guide these days is the maps embedded in GPS navigation units. You will nearly always find these sorts of stories blaming “GPS” when it is really the maps (the guide) people use and the judgment they employ in their travel based on those maps.

These are not just stories of unimaginable suffering. They are reminders that even with a growing suite of digital devices at our side, technology cannot guarantee survival in the wild. Worse, it is giving many a false sense of security and luring some into danger and death.

Technology, of course, is not the only denominator to those disasters. Others include poor planning, faulty judgment, bad luck and the lemming-like rush of visitors to Death Valley in the summer, many of them unfamiliar with the danger – making heat-related illness and fatalities nearly as predictable as the searing temperatures.

But then the header is “Not all GPS units reliable” … The article is full of assertions like “the unit directed them” and “tourists are being led into danger by technology” as if the driver had no choice in the matter. But the truth is in there if you read carefully such as about four tourists who disappeared.

The German tourists “made some classic errors,” said Callagan, the Death Valley wilderness coordinator. “They had no business being where they were in a van, alone, in the summer. They didn’t have a good map. The road systems out in Butte Valley are confusing. They were traveling in the summer, unprepared. Did they have 10 gallons of water? No. They had very little.”

The GPS is not the only guide that may lead you astray. On a forums discussion an RVer was asking about dispersed camping in the Mojave National Preserve. He got two responses. One said to stick to the established campgrounds and avoid off road camping until he had had a chance to investigate them personally. The other said that there were a lot of places where he could pull of the road for an overnight. It is true that there are many such places but what happens when you find you have left an established road at sundown for a trail with no way to turn around or where the trail rapidly degrades to deep soft sand? How do you know who to trust?

This is related to those folks who decide to do a bit of back country hiking near a resort location like South Lake Tahoe. They don’t go prepared. They don’t have a good map. They just hope their cell phone will work to call for help. It may work near a populous area but in places like Death Valley, the odds of a cell phone working are remote, even on the main roads.

We do have very good maps these days. You can know exactly where you are with a good deal of precision nearly anywhere. Vehicles are incredibly reliable and capable. Search and Rescue teams have tools and techniques (and practice in their use) that give them capabilities to find lost travelers like never before. As the Sacramento Bee article notes, though, there is no substitute for proper preparation and good judgment. Never underestimate the wilderness.

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Highway emergency telephone numbers

Via the RGJ ‘data’ page is the Dispatch Magazine Highway Notification Numbers map. There are numbers for emergencies, for roadside assistance, and for travel information.

Although 911 has been designated as the “official” number for reporting emergencies in the United States, many other numbers have been implemented for reporting highway situations: accidents, intoxicated drivers (DUIs), or disabled vehicles. In most cases, dialing these special numbers routes the call to the agency with jurisdiction over the state highways or Interstates, rather than to the local law enforcement agency.

This map shows alternate telephone numbers established by the states to reach a state-level law enforcement agency to report highway situations, some of which could be considered “urgent.” These numbers were generally established before the wide implementation of the 9-1-1 emergency number. The numbers also are routed to various types of agencies, some of which may not be first responders—police, fire or EMS—but rather highway departments.

You’ll often see roadside signs that tell you the emergency number to call when entering some jurisdictions. This map can help you figure out a possible number if you don’t see such signs. It also highlights just how confusing it can be trying to figure out what to dial for help while on the road. Many insurance companies as well as Coachnet and AAA provide and some vehicle warranties provide roadside assistance. You need to be aware of the services provided by those you have available to you and the numbers, both telephone and account or member, that you will need to know to obtain assistance.

It is generally considered to be an emergency when life, limb, or property is endangered. Roadside assistance is needed for when you are disabled but able to get off the road and out of the way of traffic. Travel information is needed to learn about construction ahead or road controls from storms.

The FHA has a traveler Information Telephone Number – 511 and a deployment map with additional information on the WWW. For some states, Safe Travel USA provides the traveler information.

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SN February newsletter

SNU Folks,

The February 2011 Newsletter has been posted — Links to photo galleries and additional information mentioned in articles in this newsletter can also be found there, too.

Topics in the February newsletter include: January lunch at Bavarian World -|- February lunch at El Charro’s -|- Notes from the Prez -|- Repacking wheel bearings -|- TV reception in the Outback -|- Region 12 activities -|- Additions to the website -|- History in Baker

February Lunch at El Charro

The SNU February lunch will be at El Charro Avita in Carson City on Saturday February 26, 2011. Lunch starts at 11:30 am. The menu includes hamburgers and other things in addition to great Mexican food. El Charro is located right on US 395 (South Carson Street) south of downtown Carson City. RSVP to or call 775 972 5011.

SNU 2011 Rally Schedule

For the latest on the Sierra Nevada Unit, check the website homepage

Check Zephyrs and find out what else is new on the


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1957 WBCCI Caravan to Mexico – Morelia

1/30/57 – Short drive to Morelia – good camp – just out of town – shopping tour with friends. Mom has hair-do – few purchases – great shopping center – beautiful city – meeting at 5p, “Toluca manana” we are told quite a blimb over 9,000 ft – more later – the shooping center or market place – so many variets of good woods – can’t decide.

2/1/57 Toluca – weather cludy, looking stormy. Left about 7:45 am from Morelia 150 some miles – and some miles twice. We wer up over 9,000 ft but everything went well – beautiful country – lots of pines and various other trees – high mountains -fair road. Lunch before arrival in Toluca – quite a city – din’t realize we were up over 8,000 ft – high mountain in background with snow. Friday market day – went to market after arrival – no words can describe the scene – hundreds of people – natives, Indians, Americans, and block after block of wares on display. Everything a person can imagine and then some.

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An Airstream collection 1951 – 1990

The family has owned Airstream travel trailers through three generations. Here’s a few pictures from the fifties to the present

See the photo gallery!

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Geologic history of the Sierra Nevada

Stanford researchers have been looking at Oxygen isotope ratios to figure out the elevation of various parts of the western mountains in the past. With this timeline, they can infer the history of the Sierra Nevada mountains. SFGate has the story: How Sierra Nevada rose from the Jungle.

This scenario of a distant past for California and the West comes from new findings by a team of Stanford scientists who have collected nearly 3,000 samples of fossil rainwater absorbed by ancient rocks and glasses formed from melting volcanic eruptions to re-create the geologic history of a region that once extended east to what is now Nebraska.

“There have been many competing hypotheses about the rise of the Sierra Nevada in recent geologic time,” said Chamberlain. “One view suggests there was once a huge plateau in the West known as the Nevada Plano; but all our isotope data, taken with other records, shows clearly that the wave of uplift beginning about 50 million years ago and ending some 20 million years later saw the Sierra rising on the west side of Nevada well before it reached its present height.”

There are a lot of ways this geologic history influences us today. It is why gold (and other minerals) can be found in various places. It is why the eastern slopes have a more difficult grade than the western ones. It is what created the scenery we enjoy. Studies such as described in this report help gain understanding about how it happened but do take note that there are “competing hypothesis.” That means there is still a lot to learn.

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Ghost Towns

Nevada doesn’t have a lot of area where economic activity can be enjoyed to grow long term roots. Ranching is well spread out due to the arid conditions. Farming is reliable in only a few spots. Transportation services tend to be at the few major crossroads. Otherwise, it is a short term thing for activities such as mining that are profitable when the price is right. That means a lot of ghost towns.

A portal to pages, links and photo galleries is on the website as Northern Nevada Ghost Towns. It can provide a start if you want to join those who make a hobby out of finding and touring these abandoned communities. Visiting them often means some significant rough road travel. The pillaging of the sites has not been kind, either, for those who want a glimpse of the past in situ.

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Down to the Mojave and back

The journey log for a jaunt down US 95, Death Valley, the Mojave Desert, and back up US 93 to US 50 across Nevada has a portal page where links, photo gallery listings, and other material is being gathered. See A November 2010 Tour, The southern desert, Colorado River corridor and US 93. There is also a page that has pictures of the great Sand Dunes in this area including Kelso, Death Valley, Dumont, and Sand Mountain.

The Colorado River Corridor along the California and Arizona border has two new photo galleries and one described previously (Quartzsite). The first one heads out of Golden Valley down to Laughlin and then down US 95 to Blythe.

See the photo gallery!

From Quartzite back up to Boulder/Hoover Dam followed Arizona 95, I40, and US 93.

See the photo gallery!

This is recreation country with an Indian Reservation and some wild country thrown in for a good old ‘Wild West’ flavor. Most of the traffic goes east and west with the freeways. The roads north and south are more ‘interesting’ which means a bit slower with a lot to see and a lot of places where you really need to stop, get out, and take a look at what is there.

The Dam Bypass on US 93 has been mentioned in a previous post – US 93 over the Colorado not like it was – It really facilitates traffic on the northern Arizona stretch of US 93 but isn’t much for vistas of the dam or Black Canyon. See the pictures!

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Fort Churchill portal update

Fort Churchill Nevada State Park is a favorite spot on the Pony Express trail along the Carson River. There are several photo galleries of SNU Rallies as well as pictures of the ruins of the fort, Buckland Station, and a campground along the river between Fort Churchill and Lahontan State Park. There are also links for additional information.

The ruins of Fort Churchill with Churchill Butte (6031′ or almost 2000 feet above the playa) in the background.

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1957 WBCCI Caravan to Mexico – Guanahuato to Patzcuaro

1/26/57 – Bus shopping tour of the city – rest in the afternoon Symphony Concert in the evening – very good.

1/27/57 – Church service at 9:30 – nice – pot luck dinner with six friends at 1 pm. 2:30pm walking tour of the city and picture taking. – to bed early fro trip to Morlera in the morning – very enjoyable day – Pineapples, bananas, Apotes, Cherimoyas, mexican fruits, blackbirds – good Mexican bread and cookies.

1/28/57 – Monday Patzcuaro – good weather, nice and warm cool nights – left Guanahuato 8am – wonderful farming country, irrigation in most of the large valleys – fair road – bad sholders – two detours on hill – streets very hard – dips – many trailers hit bottom – 158 miles – bypassed Morelia – going back after hard drive, many hills. Arrived 2:30 pm – Patscuaro – cool in am but wonderful and warmer as day progresses. Campground very very pretty – pine trees – mountain lake beautiful place – no rest for change – meeting time 4pm – various tours outlined – supper – card game with our friends.

1/29/57 – Patzcuaro – no shops so took shopping tour to Buraga back 10 miles – much pottery etc – lunch outside trailer with our friends. Beautiful country. Hair cut Mexican style. Mom bought dress and pottery etc. Indian dances at 4pm. Moving pictures in evening. Rail trip to Urupan tomorrow. Monguey – establ?? -molasses flavor – aquaoz – eat lower part. Depot in Patzcuaro – meal time stop.

1/30/57 – Patxcuaro – weather good – missed town of Patzcuaro 4 miles from camp – 30 Caravaneers boarded train for Urupan – no guide, no nothing – arrived about 11:30 – appointed me official head by kangaroo court. They think I speak Espanol – tour of park – very beautiful – luncheon hotel – taxi cab – Valcane hroses – not for me – really something – argument over prices – arrive in Urupan just in time for train ride back to Patzcuaro – lunch on train – quite a ride – back to camp 9pm every one very tired. Mom rode a horse to Morelia manana. Arrived Morelia 10:30 am

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National Park Fee Free information

If you want to plan to visit a National Park and save a buck or two, check out the Free Entrance Days in the National Parks for 2011. Also check out the Park Pass page. That’s an old page but will give you an idea of the possibilities and limitations for annual or other fee reduction plans you can find if you visit an NPS office. NFS and BLM may be able to help here as well if they have an office convenient for you.

For some, the free days might also clue in the ‘bigger crowds than usual’ thought and that might mean a time to avoid. “Here’s a tip – many of your 394 national parks NEVER charge an entrance fee. So start Planning Your Visit!”

Also note that these national parks tend to have fees for all sorts of things. Visiting, camping, viewing,  … you know how it is when bureaucrats get to spend a lot of their time sitting around thinking of new ways to collect fees and taxes. You must pay fees and you must adhere to the regulations. Plan ahead so you know what you are getting into.

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1957 WBCCI Caravan to Mexico – Guanahuato

photo gallery, newsclippings and other memorabilia from the 1957 Mexican Caravan

1/24/57 – Guanahuato – arrived about 12:30 – lunch and a chance to rest. Meeting at 4pm – Indian dances at suppertime – a real show. So many things to go to see we don’t think we can make it. This baseball field is almost on top of a mountain. How they ever found a level spot this big I don’t know. Stayed in camp tonight, slides of caravan trip to creba?. We have water and electricity for a change – big day tomorrow.

1/25/57 – Church bells – these cities and towns of Mexico have their churches and really believe in ringing the bells. The weather is warm. You can always tell when you are getting close to a town, the church is the first thing you see. I intend to tour the city with the Luckyknotts. Visited the new theater – beautiful building and the university – amazing how they build these beautiful big buildings on a mountain side. Words cannot describe this city from the food of the ravine or canyon solid rock walls on up the mountainside- beautiful rock work. Arrived at cemetery on top of a hill – visited the mummies – strange how these bodies mummify in this place. Our taxi driver tried to take us – was agreed to pay 50 pesos for a two hour trip for 5 people. He wanted to charge 50 pesos per hour so we let him go and were stranded at the cemetery. Finally got another taxi to take us back to town. Visited the market place for an hour or so, got another taxi to camp. What a thrill – these guys drive like madmen, the streets are all so narrow and crooked you wonder how these taxis and bus drivers ever make a turn without banging in the side of the bus or how they maneuver. Arrived at camp just in time to catch the bus for a trip to the mines and luncheon by the 20-31 Club. visited the older church in Guanahuato – too much gilt and too many images. Many peons were killed in the construction of the church – used now only as a tourist attraction. The mine’s only a short way from the city. Words cannot describe this wonder. The mine and smelter were all one unit, now in ruins. The shaft of this mine is about 225 ft in diameter and so deep that in dropping a rock, it takes 18 seconds to hit the water and they say thats only half way down. Luncheon was in a grove of trees below the dam (Manema) Delayed for 2 hours more. Too many people to be fed. Showed pictures of Creba in the evening.

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Quartzsite, Az: winter rv and rock show

This winter in Quartzsite has been a bit colder than usual what with snow in Phoenix and I15 closed and such things. That doesn’t stop the show. Snowbirds still arrived to park out in the cactus. Vendors still arrived to take advantage of the market. It is a unique winter RV experience.

See the photo gallery!

The La Posa Plain Stretches from the Colorado River Indian Reservation around the Dome Rock Mountains down to the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and the Yuma Proving Grounds. Arizona route 95 is a straight north south line here with Quartzsite where it crosses I10. It is Mojave Desert and a very popular spot for folks who seek a mild winter climate for their RV lifestyle. Most of the landscape is managed by the BLM and they provide some facilities and oversight for the many thousands of RV’s camped out in the desert. The scope and size of the RV activity is something to see.

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Trip planning: The next big thing

Scott Adams thinks he has it: the next big thing for vacation travel. The idea is to have something like a dating service that will match families planning a vacation with the actual experience of the ‘been there, done that’ crowd.

My theory is that people are rational with their vacation budgets and avoid travel to places that are hard to research. Most people would pay extra to avoid the risk of the unknown. (If you’re a natural adventurer, your mileage may vary.) So imagine what will happen to the travel industry when it is just as easy to plan an exotic vacation as an obvious one? That day is coming.

In other words, when it comes to travel, knowledge is a substitute for money. And thanks to the Internet, our knowledge about travel options is about to explode. The effect of that change is that the cost of travel will appear to drop a great deal while the enjoyment gained from vacations improves. That will cause a boom in recreational travel.

The key is how to collect that knowledge and prepare it for matching to the requirements of someone planning a family vacation. Scott envisions a phone app for vacationer’s phone that tracks their movements to catalog travel routes, places visited, costs, and anything else that can be collected or inferred from what was done on the vacation. That data would then be processed to provide an vacation profile without personal data organized for easy matching to trip planning goals.

The app’s primary purpose is documenting your vacation for your own digital scrapbook. But push a button and the app converts your personal vacation file to something more generic that can be published for anyone looking for a similar type of vacation. Facial recognition software could automatically masks the identities of your family members. And the app could allow you to easily remove any other information you find too personal. Then you publish. It takes you five minutes to document and publish your entire trip.

Travel diaries have other uses as well. See JB and Jo Harrison Travel Diaries here for information about trailer travel in the 50’s and 60’s. That’s a bit dated for anyone planning a North American adventure now but interesting as a comparison and contrast. Another example of travel planning is being prepared for a more modern perspective. That is a southern deserts trip where the I’net was used to help plan fuel stops, weather and road conditions, sites to see, day length, and other things. The recent photo galleries added to the website are a part of that modern travel guide that others could use to help plan their adventures.

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Winter sky has bright stars

If you can find the constellation Orion in the southern winter sky, you have located two of some of the brightest stars visible. The Astronomy Picture of the Day for January 3 has a picture to help you locate them. Betelgeuse and Rigel are the two in Orion. Above them is Aldebaran and, further up, the Pleiades. Capella, Castor, Pollux, Procyon, and Sirius fill out the hexagon going counter-clockwise.

Cold clear skies out away from city lights can make for a stunning view of the stars. Sitting out in the cold weather to view them might be another matter.

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1957 WBCCI Caravan to Mexico – Aguas Calientes

1/22/57 Aguas Calientes – weather good- left at 8am from Zacatecas- stopped at the granaries about 12 miles out – there are 22 of these all told about 200 years old- built to store grain in so as to have a supply on hand during the dry years. They are cone shaped about 50ft in diameter and about 50 to 60 ft high. – windows near top to pour grain in with steps balance of way up to completely fill the granery – very interesting – balance of trip of about 80 miles to Penuel as good except coming through Aguas Calientes – very clean city but everyone was out to greet us – could hardly drive through the streets for the kids.

1/23/57 – Penuels – weather good – arrived about 2pm – hard job to park the trailer. This is an old hacienda – Indian dance in progress as we arrived – parked trailer and headed for entertainment – good buffet lunch and refreshments – 3pm Indian dances in tennis court – same group of dancers at San Diego festival – very good, front row seats. Potluck supper with the Luckenots outside our trailers regardless of the dust. 7pm reception in governor’s palace – very wonderful program – dancing by the school children- mariachis band and singing – cokes for refreshments and state band for music. Up early 9am trip to bull ring to see bull fights with yearling stock – five of the most famous matadors gave a demonstration of the art of bull fighting – not for me – shopping tour of Agua Calientes in afternoon with our friends. Cocktail with the Diamonds from San Diego in our trailer. 7pm big fiesta – mucha Mexicana in the garden of the hacienda – tacos, enchiladas, tamales, atole sauce in pottery jug or cup (we were allowed to keep these for souvenirs) -coffee and some sweet bread for dessert. Marimba band and mariachis – two young couples to dance for us then a beautiful display of fireworks – really grand. These people really put on the entertainment – to bed late – leave for Quenajuato 8am Our shopping tour of Aguas Caliente good – nice stock? – nice stores but too modern – unable to locate good store for real Mexican goods.

1/24/57 – Quenajuato – one small detour. Going through these Mexican cities is really something – narrow crooked streets – croweded with cheering people – Leon was a dilly and the town of Guanahuato is right up in the mountains – house hung on the hillside and I mean these streets are crooked – had to have an escort to get through town. Parked in the baseball field – very pretty spot.

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SNU January Newsletter

SNU Folks,

The January 2011 Newsletter has been posted. Links to photo galleries and additional information mentioned in articles in this newsletter can also be found there, too.

Topics in the January newsletter

December at J.T.’s -|- January Lunch -|- Notes from the Prez -|- Caravanning In Our Backyard -|- SNU 2010 Highlights -|- What is the SNU

January Lunch at Bavarian World

January’s lunch will be held on Saturday January 22, 2011 at Bavarian World in Reno. The lunch will start at 11:30. Bavarian World is on the southwest corner of Valley Rd. & 6th. To rsvp email or call 775 972 5011.

SNU 2011 Rally Schedule Up

For the latest on the Sierra Nevada Unit, check the website homepage

Check Zephyrs and find out what else is new on the


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