Saturday, March 1, 2014

Gila National Forest Without a Refrigerator

Valley of Fire Campground

In the Valley of Fire campground we met a man who, when we told him we were going to Mesa Campground in the Gila National Fores, advised that we not go the route we had planned. He said it is a very steep and winding road. Rather than approach from the east as we planned, he suggested going southwest of the mountains to Demming then approach from the west. I considered his advice, but the map indicated that it shouldn't make much difference.
Not the first one of these we saw

We drove west on New Mexico SR380 to San Antonio, south on I-25 through the town of Truth or Consequences where we stopped for lunch. Given that after my generation passes, few people will remember that the town is named for a television show that aired in the 1960s. Perhaps they will change it back to Hot Springs, which I think is more appealing and accurately reflects a feature of the town. At Caballo, we turned west onto SR152 then turned north on SR35. The road is very steep and winding and takes one to the western side of the continental divide. For nearly forty miles it climbs continuously at a grade of over 8% with numerous very tight switch backs. For the effort, we were rewarded with magnificent views of the valley from which we had just ascended.
Nearing the Continental Divide looking east

We chose, the Mesa Campground, run by the National Forest Service, because it is close to the Gila Cliff dwellings that we wanted to explore. The campsites at this campground are well spaced and they have 30amp electrical service and water. The price is $15 per night, but because we have the senior Golden Age Pass we paid only half price. 

Just to let us know!

Even though temperatures were in the upper 60s and lower 70s during the day, it got very cold at night. Our thermometer each morning told us the temperature was only in the upper teens. Because of this, we didn't hook up to the water. Rather, we used the water in our tank and refilled it before leaving.

Late in the evening on the day we arrived, we heard an odd thumping sound coming from the refrigerator. While investigating the strange noise, we noticed that the interior temperature had risen five degrees from its normal operating temperature. Clearly, it was not a happy refrigerator.

Unlike standard refrigerators used in most homes, the refrigerators in RVs do not use compressors in their operation. Those in RVs use a heat source, either propane and/or electricity, to heat ammonia in a closed system that causes the ammonia to pressurize. The ammonia then passes through a series of tubes where the pressure is released and absorbs the heat from the contents of the fridge. 

We knew from seminars we have taken that it is important that the refrigerator be level when operating, otherwise the condensed ammonia can precipitate, creating crystals that can block the flow of the liquid. What we didn't know was how much out of level and for how long we could run it before that would happen. Until now, we had always left the refrigerator running on propane while we traveled (remembering to turn it off whenever we pulled into a gas station or to refill the propane tanks). It seems we now had an answer. At least we know that two hours of steep uphill climbing when the temperature inside the trailer is 75 degrees or more is enough to cause a problem.

We were now forced to revert to the coolers filled with ice in the back of the truck to maintain our perishables . This required a three hour round trip ride down into the town of Silver City, which is the road our friend told us was the better way into Mesa Campground. That road, New Mexico state road 15, is as steep as Rt 35 that we came in on. However, it was much narrower and the switchbacks were even tighter. I was not looking forward to leaving Mesa Campground with the trailer, but I was glad I had a chance to reconnoiter and make plans on how and when to travel it.

After our trip into Silver City, we drove further up Rt 15 to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The skill and hard work it took to build these structures was readily apparent. But, it was even more amazing to learn that the people only lived here for about forty years. 
High on the cliffs are the well preserved stone dwellings
Marvelous stone work

The next day we did a short hike into Purgatory Chasm. It is a loop trail of only about 3 miles, a pleasant morning stroll. We did the hike in a counterclockwise manner which turned out to be a nice way to do this hike. The trail led us up a long gentle slope through high meadows studded with Juniper and Pine trees. At the farthest point of the loop the trail turned and rewarded us with stunning views of the canyon by which route we would return. 
Purgatory Chasm, Gila National Forest

It struggles to survive as a tree, how did it hold on as a seedling?

One of the joys of our nomadic lifestyle, apart from perpetually being in spring weather, is meeting other interesting people who are also drawn to this way of traveling. At nearly every campground we meet such people, and the Mesa Campground was no exception. Because of our affinity for the Airstream brand, we are especially drawn to others who have also chosen Airstream for their home on the road. Here in the Gila National Forest we met fellow Airstreamers, Matthew Mayo and Jennifer Smith-Mayo. Matthew is a writer/editor and Jennifer is an accomplished photographer  (see their website here). They are full timers who left Maine to travel and do their work on the road. The ever increasing availability of the internet allows many people to continue to work while travelling. Jennifer and Matthew expressed mild dismay that they couldn't stay longer at Mesa Campground because it was one of the few places that had no cell phone availability and they needed to get some work done.
Mathew, Jennifer and Sarah

We planned a very early morning departure from the Gila National Forest in order to avoid traffic on the road to Silver City. I knew that we would need every bit of road space on many of the very sharp switch backs along the way. It took us 65 minutes to travel the 25 miles of steep mountain road to reach state route 70 that would take us into Arizona. 

A few miles south of Safford, Arizona we stayed at Roper Lake State Park. As we pulled into the park, there was a sign informing us that the campground was full. I was amazed that this could be since it was mid week and the main draw here was boating and fishing which was no where near high season. 

Experience has taught us never to believe such signs. Many times there are overflow areas where we can dry camp for a night or even a few days. Once again, our experience was reinforced. The volunteer working at the check in office told us that there actually was one campsite still available. She then told us that they were only renting out half of the campsites. She explained it had something to do with "budget cuts" for the park. I could not quite understand how that made sense. Leaving campsites empty that people are willing to pay for certainly couldn't help the park's finances, especially since much of the work in the state park's campgrounds is frequently done by volunteers. 

Before leaving in the morning I saw two young men outside their trailer letting their cat enjoy some sunshine and fresh air. Since we travel with Dot, our 15 year old cat, I approached them and asked how their cat liked traveling. This ice breaker led to us  talking with them for well over an hour. It turned out that they collected minerals and gems to make jewelry. Sarah sat and talked with Ben and Scott and was thrilled to see their collection. Moreover, they reminded us why Sarah had circled the town of Safford on the map last year when we came to Arizona. About 20 miles northeast of the town is BLM land where people are allowed to search for and collect gems and minerals. Since we had plans to be in Apache Junction by Saturday we couldn't justify going back, but I promised Sarah we would try to pass through there on our way home. 

With that promise made, we started for the town of Superior where we stayed the previous year. Our plan was to spend just one night then have a short ride to Lost Dutchman State park the next day. Besides the convenience, we wanted to dine once again at Jade Grill, an excellent restaurant in this small mining town. Unfortunately, the nearby campground we intended to stay at is now closed. We quickly searched for and found an RV resort just twenty minutes further toward Apache Junction. We decided to try to stay there. After All, a twenty minute drive to go to dinner was not unreasonable. However, that resort was full. All that was left to do was to push on to Lost Dutchman. We arrived late in the afternoon because we had dallied at Roper Lake believing there was no rush to get to Superior. At Lost Dutchman, all campsites including those in the overflow area were full. But, the ranger told us we could stay in the group camping parking lot for the night and try for one of the overflow spots that could become available the next day. We were happy to do that, and were lucky to get into the overflow campground in the morning. 

Now that we are settled in Lost Dutchman State Park, we will stay awhile so that we can have the refrigerator repaired, scheduled maintenance on the trailer performed and to visit relatives in the area.

Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your adventures!
    We look forward to rolling soon


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