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RV'ing Desert Hideaway
New Job, Go West
As a consulting computer engineer, jobs may pop up just about anywhere in the country. A new job in Reno, NV brings thoughts of new adventures in places my wife, Pam and I have yet to explore. This is the great benefit of being essentially a gypsy engineer, not only having a great job that pays well, then you get to explore and enjoy.
Of course moving into new territories raises flags of adjusting your lifestyle and habits to accommodate the peculiarities of a new neighborhood. Checking with locals in our current location in Texas, You learn that certain techniques are favored while traveling the southwest regions of the U.S. While driving across a desert region you need to be aware of basic survivor techniques, you just can't pull off at the next exit for help. Carrying extra drinking water is advised, also many drivers also carry multiple portable tanks of fuel. Vehicles today actually create a naivety of our security on the road. We have GPS navigation tools, satellite radio, DVD players creating a false sense of security. I take the advise seriously and purchase extra portable fuel tanks and we prepare for our trip to Nevada.
Take the Advise
Our recent purchase of a used dually diesel Ford brought a new level of questions about hauling our fifth wheel RV. Did the gas mileage improve over the gas engine that preceded this truck? What would be the range of the fuel tanks while towing? Lots of questions with no immediate answers. I knew answers would appear during our next trip, I just didn't know how abruptly that might happen.
One of our trucking friends heard about our travel plans and explained some of the peculiarities about driving out west. A real important emphasis was made about fuel management as well as survival gear. Since we had an RV, survival gear wasn't an issue. I was chided to make sure that I had enough fuel when passing through Wikieup, AZ on US 93. Thinking to myself, isn't that a rather detailed instruction? So the message was stored in my list of travel issues to handle at the right time. Little did I know that this particular point would become a popular reminder by my wife for years to come.
Learning a New Truck
Off we went into the western sunset. Driving West Texas is a long drive and the scenery doesn't change much. Flat terrain punctuated with interesting cactus and spacious skylines. My wife follows me in her favorite sports car, our three day trek to Reno, NV on the move. The drive threatens to be on the boring side, I attempt to kill the boredom by making keen observations of my new (used) truck. How long could I drive on a tank of fuel? What is the gas mileage while towing verses non-towing? Watching the gas gauge on both fuel tanks I start to get a feel for consumption and distance per tank. The immediate calculations prove promising with an MPG that seemed to only warrant one fill up during our lunch break and then another at our stopping point. So far so good, my planning was working out. I was seeing such good mileage results that I started to do my planning for our remaining pit-stops along the drive. We stopped for the evening near the border of Texas and New Mexico for our first night. On a different subject though, we actually saw bright lights during the evening drive, that seemed to follow us westward. Kind of spooky but we did see these lights in the distance. But that is another story.
I wasn't aware at this time that the southwestern United States has a unique geological characteristic, where the terrain slopes ever so gradually downwards towards central New Mexico. This slope isn't noticeable at all, but I soon discovered that it makes a huge negative difference in my fuel calculations.
US 93 in Arizona
The drive continued on into New Mexico along Interstate 10, then into Arizona where we pick up US-93 near Phoenix. US-93 is a good smooth US route and it travels in amongst the cactus, the scenes reminiscent of when we used to watch old western movies. The random rocks piled high all looking burned out brown by centuries of unrelenting sunshine. Almost expecting to see bandits lurking in rock crevasses just waiting to ambush you. The road narrows down to just two lanes with little to no breakdown areas on the road. With a large fifth wheel trailer combination this only means that your ability to turn around is severely limited because you would get stuck in the sand on the side of the road.
The area is full of interesting towns, we stopped in Nowhere, AZ true to it's name you felt like you were nowhere. The fuel management calculations seemed to be doing pretty well, although I was starting to wonder that my original calculations seemed to be too good. Now doubt was creeping into my thoughts about the calculations. But I pushed on thinking that I could pick up more fuel in Wikieup should I need it. By now it was late in the afternoon, the sun was setting and we were alone on this long stretch of US 93.
As dusk cast darkness on our caravan, we approached the town of Wikieup. It is a small town and the old adage of "Don't blink you might miss it." came to mind. While trying to negotiate a turn at a stop light, the locals stopped on the opposing side of the light were a bit wide eyed as our big rig wheeled around the corner. It was at this point that I realized that the only gas station in town was on my right flank and disappearing behind me. Right about now, my wife calls on the CB radio to issue a not so subtle reminder that I just missed the gas station that I was supposed to stop at. I said back, "Yes, yes, I know!" while I watch the roadway turn back into a two lane narrow road surrounded by cactus. I still had some hope that my original fuel calculations were good, but why did I feel that I just stuck my neck into a guillotine.
The road was only illuminated by the starlight in the ultra clear desert night sky and our headlights. No headlights from passing vehicles even the CB radio was quiet. Looking down now at the gas guage creeping up on the "E" mark, it was becoming embarrassing apparent that I had messed up. The narrow road prohibits turning around, a glance at the road map shows absolutely nothing around for 50, 60 or more miles. At this point a grip of fear that this mistake was going to be severe at best. I called on the CB for anybody with advise about finding diesel fuel. The radio hisses quietly with no immediate answers. I called again, a reply hisses back just above the noise level. "Sorry, buddy there is no diesel until you get into Kingman, AZ" some 80 miles away! My quick calculations indicate that I only had about 50 or 60 miles of fuel left in both my tank and the reserve portable tanks. I now sink into a depression of doubt hooked to a sense of hopelessness.
At this point my wife calls on the radio to tell me that there is a small mark on the Triple A guide books that looked something like a Civil Engineering site, it was called "Burro Creek". She thought that it was ahead of us but not sure how far ahead. I looked into the darkness with bloodshot eyes, for what seemed like 10 or more miles. Out of the darkness flashed a simple wooden sign with no lights on it, "Burro Creek Campground"! Whoa! I just missed it. Pam calls on the CB to confirm that she saw it as well. I wanted to scream at this point because there is no way I could back this rig up on a US highway in pitch darkness as there is no way to turn around! While concentrating on what to do next, another sign looms out of the darkness, "Scenic Overlook Ahead". The rig just barely fit into the turn around, but we made it back to the entrance at Burro Creek. The entrance also had a steep decline sign set at 11% slope, yet another thing to worry about. Arriving at the campground was one of the biggest reliefs in recent memory, now we could relax and figure out how to get out of the fuel mess we were in.
Someone was watching over us that night, who would have guessed that we would stumble on a campground in the middle of the Arizona desert just when we needed it the most. At sunrise, we start to appreciate the beauty of this area. The quiet is literally hissing in your ears, no sounds except an occasional conversation off in the distance. I sat on the picnic table to take in the sights and marvel at a large hawk gliding effortlessly only 15 feet above my head. I am amazed to hear the wind rushing through his feathers. The beauty is stark and simple, multiple layers of rock strata painted with a palette of colors unnoticed at our usual 60 mile per hour pace. We both wonder if we stumbled on a secret bit of heaven that only an exclusive few knew about it.
With reluctance, plans are made to unhook the RV trailer to lighten the load on the truck. Hopefully the gas mileage should increase to a level where I could reach Kingman, AZ some eighty miles away. Pam decides to stay back and enjoy the peace and quite while I seek out some fuel. The drive to Kingman only took a little over an hour. My hopes were increased every mile, that even if I ran out of fuel at least I would be closer to civilization.
I make it to a Kingman truck stop and proceed to fill up all my tanks. A quick calculation indicates that I had less than one gallon left, certainly not enough had I been towing the trailer. The ride back was uneventful although I soon realized that this stretch of 80 miles really cost me 210 miles worth of fuel. When we got back to Kingman a few days later, I had to fill up yet again at the same truck stop.
We spent a couple of days enjoying the peaceful canyon. Careful walks on the trails looking at the wildlife. The Bureau of Land Management assigns a campground keeper to watch over the site. His work is a passion of love for the land, we found ourselves envious of the job description and wished we could abandon our corporate grind and relax at a job you could just die for.
If your ever on US-93 eighty miles south of Kingman, AZ, stop in at Burro Creek, take a deep breath and absorb the peace and quiet. But please leave it beautiful for every one behind you.
- For more adventures in RV'ing read "RV'ing Horror Story, Brakes!" by Don Fairchild