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TR-4 days, 3 National Parks
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psych-illogical
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 11:48 am    Post subject: TR-4 days, 3 National Parks Reply with quote

Chapter 1-Flagstaff to Mesa Verde

Every year about this time I take a 3 or 4 day swing through Colorado on my motorcycle. This year was shaping up to do the same thing but as my departure date drew closer I found myself looking at my Westy and thinking that I should take her out and stretch her legs a bit. I love motorcycle touring but the Westy was calling, and I was listening. I haven't had her on a road trip since last fall and I overhauled the engine over the winter in my garage. With about 2000 miles on the overhaul I figured it would be good to really get out on the road and give it a good workout. In the 7 years I've owned this van I've replaced/rebuilt just about everything on it and it's just about mechanically perfect (if not a wee bit cosmetically challenged). I'm still living on borrowed time with 190,000 on the original transmission and I've never had to replace the alternator. Front end is still as I bought it but it still handles nice and tight.

Well, with my decision made to take the van I loaded her up with the requisite camping gear, filled the fridge (works perfect in all 3 modes) and set off not being entirely sure of my itinerary.

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I kissed my wife goodbye (sadly, she couldn't get the time off work) and headed out of town on Hwy 89 across the Navajo reservation. I stopped in Cameron about 50 miles out of town for a soda and a bathroom break. This is a pretty touristy little stop since they sell tons of souvenirs and the restaurant is actually pretty good. When I was there, there were 2 big tourist buses, one full of German tourists the other was Japanese tourists. I think the exchange rate has made this a really good year to come visit the US.
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About 10 miles further down the road I had my first little running glitch with the van. The temp was higher than I'm comfortable with. The gauge usually runs in the bottom half to middle of the LED but it was at least a couple of needle widths above the LED. I looked at the OP gauge and it was showing just a little bit south of 20 psi at 3500 rpm. I pulled over and as it idled down the oil light started to flicker a bit. My first thought was that it was that bra that I had just put on the day before restricting the air flow. Off it comes;
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It only took 2 minutes to pull it off and stuff it in the back. Without waiting for additional cooling time I took off down the road and the temp almost immediately came down and the oil pressure went back up. "ITS A MIRACLE" I shouted to no-one in particular. Temp stayed fine (pretty much) for the rest of the trip.

I snapped this one out the window at 60 mph on the Navajo rez just outside of Kayenta. A lot of people complain about how boring the rez is but overall it's very spectacular and striking country. The geology is amazing.
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I stopped and took a picture of the San Juan River right at Four Corners.
It's flowing pretty big and muddy this summer. They had a huge snowpack in Colorado this winter and it's still running off. The San Juan, like most western rivers is heavily dammed so they're releasing a bunch of water out of Navajo dam to make room for more runoff as well as allowing the next big lake, Lake Powell to recharge.
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Once past Four Corners it's about 40 or so miles to Cortez CO across more high desert. I had figured my first night would be somewhere in the Cortez/Durango/Pagosa Springs area and I had the idea that maybe I should go to Mesa Verde National Park. I drive right by there a couple of times a year and I always think that one of the times I should stop. The last time I was there my daughter was 2. She's 26 now. With my mind made up I turned off at the park exit just past Cortez. And up and up I climbed. The road up into the park is steep and you gain a couple thousand feet in just about 4 miles. Once again the temp gauge crept up but this time only to the top to the LED which I was comfortable with and it seemed reach some sort of equilibrium so I kept going. At the park entrance I bought one of these:
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Oops. Got the camera strap in there.

I usually buy the annual park pass since I live close to the Grand Canyon, I get my moneys worth out of it. Mesa Verde has a nice campground and it was only about half full. I think I paid $24 for the night though. A bit steep if you ask me.
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I decided to take a hike on a short little mile and a half trail adjacent to the campground and, while still very much in the campground I ran into this little guy:
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He was about 2 feet long and very docile. I tried to approach him closer to get him to coil for a more dramatic photo and he just turned around and disappeared into the brush. As near as I could tell from my field guide, he's probably one of the many subspecies of Western rattlesnake.

There were tons of these too;
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The campground was full of them and they're quite used to humans.

I bought a pound of some very good range fed beef right before I left. I grilled up a burger on this very cool little grill that my wife found at a yard sale. It worked great:
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After I ate it was time to do the dishes. I post this one just for the interest of other Westy campers who like to see other's setups. I like the two tub method with the draining rack and it all nests together nicely in the closet.
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One of my biggest disappointments in the otherwise extremely well designed Westy platform is the nearly worthless sink that they put in.

I had a great nights sleep and in the morning I got everything packed up and headed deeper into the park. Another 20 miles or so to get to the cliff dwellings that are the reason for this park being here.

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I've many more pics of the ruins but this one probably captures the ruins as good as any.

I saw this curious little fellow on the trail to the ruins:
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This is a pretty amazing place to visit. Ancient cultural sites are always very thought provoking. Living in the southwest I get to see lots of them and they always inspire.

After my brief visit I headed back out of the park and continued my journey east through southern Colorado. I did actually have a goal in mind for today and that was to make it to Great Sand Dunes NP near Alamosa. It was the one planned stop on my little foray. I had camped there once before on a motorcycle trip with my usual riding buddies Pat and Larry about 12 years before. I thought it was high time to revisit that place.

Chapter 2 coming soon.
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SWbySWesty
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 12:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

nice trip report, thanks for posting it!
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 12:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 2-On to Great Sand Dunes NP

This was a really pretty drive. It was about 40 more miles into Durango and I usually look forward to stopping at the Steamworks brewery for a burger and a beer but not this time. In the first place I really wanted to stay self sufficient on this trip and prepare all of my own meals and, in the second place it was still a bit early in the morning for a beer. I was getting a little bit hungry so I stopped in a town park and made a sandwich.
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Any of you familiar with this part of the country know that the drive from Durango to Pagosa is just beautiful. I love southern Colorado. Past Pagosa is Wolf Creek Pass. This is one steep hill that gets you from about 7000 ft to over 10,000 in relatively few miles. This was one more spot where my temp gauge and oil pressure gauge were making me a bit nervous. I was really keeping an eye on things and it was a real borderline situation. The pressure was a little above 20 and the temp was maybe a couple of needle widths above the LED but I kept going. I made it to the top and as I pulled over the oil light flickered a bit. One thing that made me feel a teeny bit better was the number of cars I did pass on the hill with hoods up and steam coming out. At least I was in better shape than those guys. I decided to give it 15 - 20 minutes to cool down and enjoy the scenery while I was there.
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Going down the east side of Wolf Creek was every bit as steep as the west side but this time I was coasting. Very quickly the temp was way down below the LED and my OP was running at 50. Woohoo! At least it recovers well. Once down out of the mountains you're pretty much in the plains. It was a pretty flat run of another 100 miles or so to Alomosa, the biggest town near Great Sand Dunes and then another 30 miles to the park. These guys were just outside the NP and they were skittish and ready to run so I just slowed down to about 30 and snapped this out the window:
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As remote and relatively unheard of as this national park is, I was very surprised to see a sign at the entrance saying that the one campground was full. There is a private campground right at the park entrance so for $20 a night I got a spot in there. Once again, I thought it was a little steep but it did come with a shower. The campground is arranged on the side of a pretty steep slope and the roads are pretty rocky. I sure wouldn't drive a Honda Civic up in there. It was steep enough that in the half mile up to where I camped the temp went high again and the OP dropped. Damn, this is starting to bug me!

My camp site:
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It was stormy:
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Right after I finished dinner The Dog and I watched it rain:
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The Dunes from my camp site:
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I managed to space out and leave my camera in the car the next day when I went into the park. Then I cruised into Alamosa on a mission. I was going to do something about my oil pressure. When I reassembled the engine my bearing clearances were pretty tight and I figured I would try running 10W40 oil (I always ran 20W50 in this thing before). When I got to Alamosa I went to the grocery store for a disposable baking pan and then the auto parts store for some 20W50. At this point I was only about 500 miles short of needing to change the oil anyway.
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About 20 minutes later I had the oil changed and the old oil poured back into the bottles to drop off back inside the FLAPS for recycling. I was back on the road again.

Next up, Chapter 3.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 12:24 pm    Post subject: Re: TR-4 days, 3 National Parks Reply with quote

psych-illogical wrote:
I snapped this one out the window at 60 mph on the Navajo rez just outside of Kayenta. A lot of people complain about how boring the rez is but overall it's very spectacular and striking country. The geology is amazing.


People complain about the desert region, in general, being boring. But, you're so right; that part of AZ is indeed spectacular, especially when the sun is at the perfect position to bring out all of those fantastic colors.

psych-illogical wrote:
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Funny; I was ^there a year ago only on the other side of those bushes/trees and it was pouring rain.

psych-illogical wrote:
One of my biggest disappointments in the otherwise extremely well designed Westy platform is the nearly worthless sink that they put in.


I think I'm probably the only one around here who uses the Westy stove, fridge and sink on trips. The sink is small, no question; but I can wash dishes in mine, no problem... provided there's water in the tank. Laughing
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 12:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

nice write up. You are inspiring me to take the 74 on a road trip out of Flagstaff. I'll keep following these posts.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 12:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm jealous! Sad

That is a beautiful part of the country.

Thanks for the stories and pics. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 1:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

those camp prices may seem high out in the wild open west
but here in the east coast & north east that's right on par. especially if there's bathroom facilities and staff in the park.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 1:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice trip, thanks for posting! Wink Sounds like you're ready for a new radiator, eh?

When I first put the bra on Dixie I cut out much of the screening over the air intakes, leaving only a six inch band to hold the thing together. Probably not necessary now that I've replaced the rad but appropriate at the time.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 1:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jake de Villiers wrote:
Sounds like you're ready for a new radiator, eh?


I've gotta do some more digging into my cooling system. All brand new in the last two years:
radiator
heater core
water pump
t-stat
pressure tank (used part)
pressure cap
new coolant and bled the system within the last month

I've got to pressure test the system and see if there's anything going on there.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 2:22 pm    Post subject: Re: TR-4 days, 3 National Parks Reply with quote

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Best Post of the Day.

I love how simple and clean some of the campsite photos look when the westy in question only has one or two travelers. When I arrive, I feel like someone opened the door on a clown car and the contents spill out. Laughing
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 2:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 3-Change of venue. Colorado to New Mexico

After changing my oil in Alamosa I headed due south to Antonito and over the mountains into Chama. Man this is pretty country up here!

The Rio Grande:
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I had to pull over just to take it all in!
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This was another steep mountain pass that went up to about 10,300. I took a little pride in the fact that these two guys actually slowed me down a bit.
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This pass went much better. Although the temp went up to about the top of the LED on this climb it was the oil pressure that made me feel so much better. It stayed around 35 psi with the 20W50 in there. Woohoo! This was a really slow stretch but the scenery was beautiful so I was in no hurry at all (owning a vanagon teaches you that anyway). Due to the slow speed, when I gassed up in Chama I posted a best ever of 24 mpg on that tank of gas. For the remainder of the trip my oil pressure was typically in the 40 to 45 range at cruising rpms with the temp gauge in its normal bottom-of-the-LED range. I'm pretty happy with that. OK, enough tech talk and back to the trip.

I've been to Chama several times and have even had the chance to ride the Cumbress and Toltec steam train that runs out of there. What a hoot that is. I just love trains and especially the old steamers. I sure wish we had a broader reaching rail system in this country.

Here are a few pics from around the train yard:
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I don't know if these are here for parts or future restoration. Maybe Moot Point will see this and chime in. He's a train nut.
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The depot:
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This snow blower puts the one in my garage to shame:
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Well, after lunch in Chama I gassed up and headed west. By now I had a theme going with national parks and decided to go to Chaco Cultural NP. I've been there a couple of times before and it's got a mystical sort of feel to it that I can't quite explain. It has several big puebloan ruins and was a huge cultural and commercial center in the region until about 700 years ago. These people were great architects and astronomers. Many, many of the buildings and other features in the area perfectly align with astronomical events. I think it's pretty cool.

The last time I was here was two years ago on one of my motorcycle trips and I had just set up in the camp ground when I saw a Westy come in and upon closer inspection realized that it belonged to my old friend Moot Point who I had just been camping with in our Westys at a music festival in Pagosa two weeks earlier. Total random chance.

The road in to Chaco is 20 miles of the absolute worst washboards I've ever been on. I think I lost fillings and was thinking to myself, I'm gonna loose car parts on this one. It was TERRIBLE! But worth it. I love camping at Chaco and once I got there and got set up all was once again right with the world.

Note the missing bumper end cap Sad
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One of the locals:
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I had my Chacos at Chaco:
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Prayer flags in the wind. It got stormy later in the day.
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It did storm pretty good starting right around sunset. I had a cold beer under my awning and enjoyed the show. When I went to bed I propped my pillow up against the tailgate and had a perfect view of the light show through the windshield. The thunder rumbled up and down the canyons half the night. It was a very cool night spent in Chaco.

When I woke up the light was great.
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I had a little breakfast, packed up and drove into the park to walk around some of the ruins.

This one is Casa Bonita and I think it's the biggest one in the park:

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It's Sunday morning and time for me to head home. I wanted to take the south road out of the park but was warned that it gets really sloppy if it rains and it rained most of the night. So, it's back out the north road and all of it's washboards. On the bright side I did find my bumper end cap on the way out.

Coming up. The final chapter.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 3:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

LOVE THIS THREAD Very Happy
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 3:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

psych-illogical wrote:
Jake de Villiers wrote:
Sounds like you're ready for a new radiator, eh?


I've gotta do some more digging into my cooling system. All brand new in the last two years:
radiator
heater core
water pump
t-stat
pressure tank (used part)
pressure cap
new coolant and bled the system within the last month

I've got to pressure test the system and see if there's anything going on there.


I just re-read the part where you mention the temperature gauge being 'a little too high for comfort'. A couple of needle widths above the LED isn't too high, its just about where it should be with the thermostat fully open! Wink

Definitely run 15W40 or 20W50 oil to keep the oil pressure where you like it but there's nothing wrong with your cooling system.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 4:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I don't know if these are here for parts or future restoration. Maybe Moot Point will see this and chime in. He's a train nut.
Chiming in...

Those two locomotives are the steam equivalent of the Vanagons we all wish we had in our back yards for parts: they haven't been built in years, they are too good to throw away but too far gone to fix up. The Cumbres & Toltec keeps as many parts around as possible to keep their other narrow gauge locomotives running. I highly recommend a trip on the C&T. http://www.cumbrestoltec.com/ It's more laid-back than the Durango train and they let you wander around the yard taking photos, something that's forbidden in Durango.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 5:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the info Moot. I figured as much. I've ridden both trains and I do prefer the C&T for it's more laid back atmosphere.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 5:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Loved the flags

Peace Bro and thanks for the story
Applause
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 5:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I skim read(pictures only) but thanks for posting. It makes me want to take another road trip! Very Happy
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 5:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice trip! That grill, I used to have one, great unit, not sure what happened to mine, but after selling house and yard sale, selling another house and yard sale, You might have it!

I live and work in National Parks, so understand your love of them. Need something bigger than a Westy to live in full time, but the Westy is great for exploring from the base.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 6:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

psych-illogical wrote:
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^That reminds me so much of the Flagstaff depot... except for the color scheme. Very Happy

psych-illogical wrote:
The road in to Chaco is 20 miles of the absolute worst washboards I've ever been on. I think I lost fillings and was thinking to myself, I'm gonna loose car parts on this one. It was TERRIBLE!
...
Note the missing bumper end cap Sad
...
On the bright side I did find my bumper end cap on the way out.


Must be a recurring theme in New Mexico. Went through NM last year and decided to stop at the wolf sanctuary near Pine Hill... that was only 5 miles in. I'm shocked nothing fell off the van! I can't imagine driving 20 miles' worth of that type of road.

I so hoped to read that you found the end cap on your way out. Woohoo! Very Happy

And that C&T railroad is definitely on my list having done the Durango-Silverton route last year!
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 7:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 4 - The way home

Going out of the north road from Chaco definitely wasn't my preference. It would have been a shorter drive home going the south road and this way put me up through Farmington and Shiprock. More damned stoplights than I encountered on the whole trip so far and it took seemingly forever. That part of northern New Mexico is in a boom phase right now with all the gas wells and exploration going on and the towns are really long and stretched out. I really didn't want to go back through Kayenta and Tuba City again as I had started my trip that way so I looked at the map and saw some secondary roads angling southwest through the rez that I'd never been on before. I'm always up for a new adventure. It ended up being a pretty nice drive. Some great scenery and new roads. It rained hard on me three times that day.

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Still 250 miles from home my alternator light came on Mad . Now what! I stopped and checked to make sure I hadn't thrown a belt. Nope, belt's still there and the alternator's turning over like it should. I also have a gauge and it's showing right at 12 volts. Dang! It normally sits at about 14v.

Well, to cut right to the chase, I did make it home. A total of 400 miles for the day. The rest of the trip was full of worry about the van dying punctuated with mini celebrations every time I hit a new milestone.

Worry, worry, worry...Yaaay, I made it to Ganado and I can actually get a cell call out here. Called my wife to let her know what was going on.

Worry, worry, worry...Yaaay, I made it to I-40,

Worry, worry, worry... Yaaaay, I'm within 100 miles of Flagstaff. At least if it dies now I can use my AAA card to get towed home.

Worry, worry, worry,...hmmm, only 25 miles to go. I just might make it, and then... I pulled into the driveway. Whew. Made it!

I don't know if the alternator was putting out just enough to float the battery or if these things can acually run 200+ miles just on battery charge. I was being very careful not to have any unnecessary electrical load on the car. I've ordered a new alternator and the list of things I haven't done to this van shrinks a little bit more.

Sorry for the lack of pictures in this last installment. I was a little too fraught with worry for most of the day to think about taking any photos.

All in all, I had a great trip. I feel very fortunate to live in such a spectacular part of the world and even more so for having such a great platform for exploring it. There's not another vehicle I can think of that possesses the unique characteristics of a Westy that make it such a great general purpose vehicle and such a great camper all at the same time.

Cheers and happy trails to all.
_________________
83 1/2 Westy waterboxer
'57 Beetle-sold Sad
Coupla '81 BMW motorcycles (R80G/S; R100RS)
'96 BMW R1100GS
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