Snowed in...

I think the above-picture says it all as far as my state of mind. At the time of the picture, I was in good, goofy spirits, having just departed from a sojourn in Page, AZ. The weather was crisp and sunny and the driving was going by easily. I cut westward through the lower regions of Utah, toward Cedar City.

In the mountains of Rt. 14, however, I screwed up. There was a succession of 4% - 8% downgrades and I rode the brake all the way rather than engine braking. Why? Inexperience with mountains, I guess. I knew vaguely about how you're supposed to shift to 1 or 2 in order to slow the engine and relieve the brakes, but I didn't know enough to implement it (this website has since educated me: http://thefuntimesguide.com/2005/07/downhilldriving.php). So somewhere near the bottom, the brakes started to smoke. I pulled over and it took 15 minutes for the smoking to stop. When I got into Cedar City I took it to a garage. Well, here comes a $500 repair bill, I thought grimly as I waited at a nearby coffee shop. But, the mechanic called and stated that although the brakes had overheated, it seemed I'd stopped just in time, and he didn't see any permanent damage (I'm sure, of course, I took months, maybe years, off those brake pads).

By that point, it was close to 6 PM, but I resolved to continue to my original destination, that being the Three Peaks Recreation Area, outside of Cedar City. I had it in mind that the campsite might be full since it was a Thursday night and so late in the day. But when I arrived, I found it to be completely, utterly deserted. Not a soul in sight. As I approached each bend I anticipated the familiar white box shape of a trailer. But no. For some reason, nobody wanted to camp at Three Peaks Recreation Area.

As an aside, I don't like camping in such isolation. I like to have folks around. I don't usually want to talk, look, or interact with them in any way, but it's comforting to know they're there. So no, classic hermetic images like Walden's Pond don't excite me, and this barren scene at Three Peaks made me uneasy.

Why was it empty? Was it closed? Was this the off-season? But even that seemed peculiar, because the weather was very fair. Well, when I woke up the next morning, I got my answer:

It snowed for about 48 hours. I'd guestimate that close to 5 inches fell. This made it impossible to maneuver the van out of the campsite. The roads were already dirt and designed for 4x4, so with soft snow atop, my wheels just spun away in vain. I decided to wait it out. I had plenty of fuel, water, and food.

I had to kind of laugh, as well. This whole trip I nuerotically avoided getting snowed-in. But it being April, I assumed I was in the clear, and wandered off into the mountains without checking the weather. Gotcha! says Mother Nature.

ABOVE: The little outhouse near where I was parked. This seemed like a very nice *free* campground, if not for the foul weather. Developed sites, drinking water, trails, and decent outhouses.

While I waited for it to melt, I did some snow-hikes, made some snow forts and snow men, and mostly read and listened to NPR.

On Saturday, the sun beamed the snow, and it melted enough for me to make an escape. There were a few close-calls as far as getting stuck but I made it to the concrete road and zipped onwards to Cedar City.

I've been in Cedar City since. It's a nice little town with a splendid public library with free internet and a fine view of the mountains (below). One half of Cedar City is kind of old-fashioned and charming, and the other half is a weirdo shopping plaza themed after Providence, RI (yes, you heard me correctly). But in this plaza was a 24-hour Walmart where I was allowed to park at night.

So now I'm contemplating where to go next. I've ruled out going any further north as all forecasts seem to indicate meteorological nastyness that way. I think I'll head west...


Nomad said...

About down hill driving. Based on experience and what I was taught when driving full sized truck and trailer units.

Choose the gear going down hill that you would use to climb the same hill. When braking use short bursts to slow down more than you need to, then take your foot off the brake until you need it on again to allow them a chance to cool down, rather than holding it down all the time.

Thomas Reuben said...

I'm curious since I'm about to hit the road in a van myslef, if you don't mind sharing, what has been your gas mileage and overall expenses thus far?
I am shopping for a used cargo van now. How miles did yours have when you bought it?

jmvan said...

Nomad - thanks for the tip. I tried that yesterday while passing thru Death Valley and it was helpful.

Thomas Reuben - I've logged over 10,000 miles since Thanksgiving due to the twisty, windy path I took cross country. MPG for the Savana is surprisingly good, although erratic. Yesterday, in crossing Nevada, I averaged 17 MPG. The day before, though, while leaving Utah, it was 12 MPG. Elevation and wind seem to be the big factors. Still, considering how big, heavy, and full of my stuff the Savana is, 12-17 mpg is an admirable MPG rate in my opinion. The Savana had 130,000 miles when I bought it. It had been used professionally and was in very good condition. The only regret I have in terms of the van is the cursed fiberglass hi-top. It's a source of leaks, a nightmare in wind, and an obstacle at low-profile entrances and bridges.

Overall expenses, I can't say. But I can break it down for you, as far as most to least expensive per month: gas, van tune-ups (when it arises), health insurance, car insurance, food, campsites.

I'm not sure what type of van you're looking for exactly, but I've always heard positive things about the Astro/Safari models. Feel free to ask any more questions.

cmhennessey said...

please, for the love of all that is holy, no more pictures of caterpillar balls or half-scooped spam cans, you nasty mother-trucker.