Damn, it's been more than a year since our last drive. It was short and sweet, but after so long, it was nice. Lots of people on the road though, but I was lucky enough to get mostly clear roads for most of the fun bits:
really nice, inside
social distanced meeting
We then went for the drive. It was fun once I was able to get some free road on hwy84, all the way to the beach:
huge line at alice's resaurant, we skipped it and went home
As the end of our trip driving across the southern states back to CA, we ended up in San Bernandino.
Yeah, festivals, it's been a while, we missed them. Park and Rave was nowhere close to what a real dreamstate would have been, and quite expensive ($360 for a single night per car), but eh, beggars can't be choosers. We're glad we had at least this :)
After close to 3000 miles coming from Dallas, we arrived an San Bernandino just on time for the show:
our vehicle was too big though, so we had to park in the back
I took my outfit, and found a few friends. Thanks to Bryan Keyes for adopting me in his box:
I even happened to run into Triode (but got in trouble for it and sent back to my caged area)
Thumbs up to everyone who brought some partying spirit:
I was not very close to the front, especially with our campervan that had to be all the way in the back so as not to block the view, but with a proper zoom, it wasn't too bad to take pictures:
The videso were more shaky on long zoom though (sorry):
I can say without doubt, this was the very best festival I went to this year of covid :)
As part of driving across the southern states back to CA, we were in Phoenix for 14 hours.
Due to a lot of time in national parks, and adding Organ Pipe Cactus NP to the itinerary, we only had half a day in Phoenix. We arrived pretty late the first day, just in time to spend a quick hour at Odysea Aquarium, which was somewhat out of town.
In the end, the aquarium isn't huge, so 1H was enough. It's not one of the best aquariums I've seen, but it was still decent:
As part of driving across the southern states back to CA, we were in Tucson. The museum is indeed in Pima, next to Tucson, and more an Air Museum than a Space Museum, but the Air Museum bit is quite good. It's a distant second to the national museum of the airforce in Dayton, OH, but it's still worth a good 6-7H. It would be worth more time if all the planes outside had better descriptions, or working QR links (most of them pointed to a non working website, which was a shame).
I have 3 big picture galleries here:
A good portions of the displays are in 5 different hangars:
Some hangars had a mix of things:
Interesting pieces were japanese planes and a pilot guided cruise missile trainer:
I had never seen this portable helicopter. For some reason, it never became popular, I wonder why :)
More planes and helis:
a D21 drone, meant to be launched from the A12, the first version of the SR21
interestingly, there were severals warthogs flying outside that day
Of course, a sizeable portion of the collection is outdoors, which most of the year, is in somewhat unberable heat, but thankfully in november, it was only mid 80's. Normally you can get a narrated tour in a tram, but during covid, they were cancelled, so I just went on foot. Unfortunately a lot of description plaques were missing, or pointed to unreachable web pages :-(
unconventional propellor bomber that was improved with small jet engines
even some french planes
There were a few airliners, that felt a bit out of place:
They did have some really cool plane paintings:
Normally, the museum also has a tour of the graveyard in a bus, the huge amount of planes that are sitting around the airport, some decomissioned and dismantled, while others are technically ready to be re-used if needed. Unfortunately, again, with covid, that tour has been cancelled, and I heard it might not come back.
So, I hired an uber to drive me close to some of the fences around the area, and I jumped out in a few places to take some pictures:
This is a better idea of what it looks like from the sky:
So that was it. It wasn't a complete visit since I wasn't really able to see the graveyard from inside, or get a good description of the outdoor planes in the museum (they were missing plaques and had non working QR codes), but it was the best that could be done during covid times, and it was still quite enjoyable :) It's definitely a unique collection.
As part of driving across the southern states back to CA, we drove by Tucson, and on my list of things to do, was the Tucson Titan Missile Museum which I found out later is, I believe, the only (former) genuine 9 megaton class ICBM site in the world, that you can visit (the newer ICBMs are much smaller).
Titan missiles were back when the US ICBM arsenal was only 54 missiles with very high yield (9 megaton). They were, for the times, very precise missiles that were guided at takeoff and then fully ballistic once their takeoff fuel ran out. They have since then been replaced by hundreds of smaller minuteman missiles of 150 kilotons each.
All the titans sites were destroyed except for this one, and the ICBMs were mostly re-used as rockets to launch other payloads. This makes this site and one remaining display rocket, very unique, and it was very cool that we were able to visit them (they also had just re-opened after a lengthy covid closure).
To learn more about those weapons, and how things could have gone very wrong with them, watch comand and control
It was great that we were able to visit after arriving in Tucson:
this is the actual size of the warhead
they also have a very nice short RF antenna
Outside is unassuming:
but if you look through the right window, you see the titan missile, impressive view
a few side displays
But after a set of stairs, we got down, and it was really cool:
the whole room is kept completely level
I won mission commander
the launch key was actually pretty simple
ready to launch
we gave the key to Jennifer for a second launch
From there, we had a look at the missile launch room across the corridor:
Definitely a special experience, really happy we got to see this.
After our road trip to Dallas to see Jennifer's parents, we did the trip back.through the southern portion of the southern states, crossing theborder patrol checkpoints multiple times because we were close to the Mexican border. We mostly took hwy 40 east, and hwy 20 and 10 going west (both are more south than 40).
Big Bend is nice, but it's way the hell out there by the Rio Grande and Mexican border. Even within texas, it was a 9H drive, and we didn't even start from the northern point. We did a few stops on the way to break the very long drive, and had a 12H day by starting at sunrise:
some of these were still running
Our first stops were two old hangars used for training during WWII. Unfortunately the first one, national WASP WWII, had just closed the week we arrived so we had a peak around the area, but no museum:
An hour down the road, was hangar 25, also used for training:
and a few miles down the road was a vietnam memorial:
Then, we resumed the drive, although we found some groundhogs and other things on the way:
jackrabbit roping was a thing
yeah, a 'few' of those on the way
and then, the remaining of the long drive to big bend:
sunset on the way
Day 01-02: Big Bend
After our first night at Chisos Mountains campground, we got up very early for a long hike:
breakfast by the Chisos visitor center, ready for the hike
hiking up to Emory Peak
we were parked down there
and we sumiitted pretty early, 3rd people up
Boot Canyon was nice with shade, but we didn't get to see any bears
that was the best animal we saw, no bears
we did a good time, 16.3 miles in 8h, 2.4mph moving average
Next, we drove towards Rio Grande village for our 2nd night, starting with Boquillas Canyon:
we saw a few road runners
mexico, across the river
you used to be able to cross the border but now it's closed, so they brought souvenirs and left them for sale (honor system)
the art was actually pretty good and reasonably priced
we walked into Boquillas Canyon, carved by the rio grande when it had more flow
When then went back to Rio Grande to watch sunset:
The next morning, I went to see sunrise colors in around our camp. We then had a look at the visitor center, and drove out via the west to Santa Elena Canyon:
Eventually we got to Santa Elen, which started with a creek crossing:
It was there a nice hike in the canyon, along the Rio Grande, up to where the trail stopped.
It was then time to leave the leave the park via the west exit, which was best reach by 'old maverick road', a dirt road that is a bit faster, but not that much if you drive it the recommended speed. At slightly higher speeds, we got out in 30mn, so it was a good shortcut:
After getting out, we took hwy170 to stay by the river and see a few more attractions while we had daylight. We started with Closed Canyon Trail, which as the name implies didn't quite lead to the Rio Grande like I was hoping:
unfortunately this was the end of the trail for us, it was deep water (deep enough for swimming)
Nearby was Hoodoos and Balanced Rocks Trail, where we did sunset
Day 03: Carlsbad Caverns
After a long 2 days at Big Bend, we drove towards Whites City to go see Carlsbad Caverns the next morning. It was slightly tricky because a timezone difference between New Mexico and Texas when driving a few minutes north and south.
The Caverns were very impressive. We ended up spending around 3H and we were lucky that it was not busy at all. The only downside of the late season was that the bats had moved to a warmer area:
this shows how big the caves are, and the elevator as the quick way out
Day 03b-04: Guadalupe Mountains NP
We then hurried over to Guadalupe Mountains NP to get a camping spot and head over to McKittrick Canyon which closed early (16:30). We had to make a mad rush to the notch at an average of 3.1 miles/h, a record for us. We had a ranger who tried to turn us around before we made it to the top because we were too late, but I begged her and assured her we'd make it out in time, which we barely did with 5mn to spare :)
don't ask, I don't know ;)
the grotto, our first stop
long climb to the notch
on the way out, we found this little guy
We then drove back to our campervan for the night:
Jennifer made burgers for us
Early the next morning, we went for the summit hike (guadalupe peak trail) and got on the trail at 08:00:
long way up from the parking lot
On the way down, we went to another trail to Devil's Hall Trail Garden, a very interesting formation:
We then had a look at the visitor center on the way out:
Then it was time to drive towards white sands for a nice hotel and shower
Day 05: White Sands NP
Because of Covid, the visitor store was closed, and we weren't able to get dune sliding disks. Jennifer tried the cooler lid, but it was too big and not smooth. I tried a trashcan lid, but it wasn't rigid enough:
the slope also wasn't steep enough
jennifer tried too
It was complicated, but we eventually got some disks at big5, and they worked a lot better for Jennifer who was smaller and lighter than me:
we also walked the dunes
I walked closer to the edge to the missile teting range
was this a missile target?
Jennifer had more funs with dunes
Here's a video of how we did:
We ended up being there long enough for sunset:
It was then a long ass drive to Gila Forest, crossing a very curvy mountain pass in the dark with a campervan, not that much fun
Day 06: Gila Cliff Dwellings and Forest
we slept by a lake, 40mn from our destination
there was a hot springs on the way, but it was closed because of covid
try this at home
finally we arrived, it was a long trip
Once there, we went to check out a nearby trail to a natural hotspring:
after crossing the river twice
we finally got to the natural warm pools
Then a long 4H drive back out to Chiricahua NP, our next location
Day 07: Chiricahua NP
We arrived late in the evening and got to our campsite parking location or the night:
We were up early the next morning for a beautiful sunrise on the trail. We ended up doing the full loop plus the an add-on (11.2 miles in just under 5h). Time was of the essence as we had to get to Tucson by 15:45 for our tour there:
jays were not afraid of us
damn, that's a lot of rocks
this is all the columns are created
It was a bit unfortunate that the time was slightly rushed, but it was a very nice hike. The scenery and rock formations were outstanding. They were only second to bryce canyon...
Day 07-08-09: Tucson, Titan & Pima Air&Space Museum, Saguaro East & West NP
As the 2nd part of day 7, we had to hurry out of Chiricahua to get to South Tucson on time for our timed 16:00 tour of the Titan Missile Museum, which was a don't miss if you are in the areas. See the Tucson Titan Museum page for more details.
After I was done with the museum, I went to join Jennifer at Saguaro East:
woodpecker make those holes for nests
After leaving the park, we went to check out Trail Dust Town, which is probably fun outside of covid, but was pretty deserted and sad when we went:
We then got gourmet thin crust pizza for Jennifer's Birthday:
The next morning, we went towards Saguaro West and the museums on the way. We started with the International Wildlife Museum, which unfortunately opened a bit late (09:00), but was a nice collection:
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum:
Then, we went to the Red Hills Visitor Center and Saguaro West NP:
Day 09-10: Organ Pipe NP
We ended up finishing Saguaro West quicker than we thought, so we headed for Organ Pipe NP to get there before sunset. Organ Pipe NP felt a bit redundant with everything we had already seen, but we figured we were close enough, and not coming back, so we went :)
We got there in time for a beautiful sunset:
I found a little rat/mouse by our campervan, while Jennifer made a nice dinner for us:
We then went to check out the border of Mexico:
smile for the camera
After that, we did the Ajo Mountain Dr:
We then did Arch Canyon Trail, and the unmaintained trail to reach the double arch. That was a huge mistake, it burned a lot of time, and we never really made it to the double arch, although we got so close, but it was getting quite unsafe, so we quit and went back.
Arch Canyon had a walk to the top, but it was not a great idea
nice view from the top, though
we were hoping to get up there, we got very close, but not quite
Next, and last, was Estes Canyon Bull Pasture Trail. It was a nice hike too:
From there, we drove to Phoenix, which was slightly out of the way, but close enough for a stop
After staying in a crappy motel (it was hard to find a better hotel without central air and lobby, but with direct access from the outside parking lot and independent AC units), we went to the excellent botanical garden when it opened the next morning:
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They had a nice butterfly garden, it was their last day of opening when we arrived:
monarch butterfly catterpillar
We then wnt to visit the rest of the garden:
It was a very nice botanical garden. After that, we stopped at the Japanese Friendship Garden, which wasn't huge, but a nice oasis in the middle of the city:
a few fish
After those 2 parks, it was time to drive back to California, and spend a bit of time at Joshua NP:
Day 11: California Joshua Tree NP
After Phoenix, we were driving to San Bernandino, and to break the long drive, it was fun to go through Joshua Tree NP. We only had a couple of hours to go through it, which isn't a lot, but we had been before, so it was enough to see it again (including parts we hadn't seen last time):
after a long time on the road, welcome back to CA
Cottonwood Spring, we hadn't seen, and is quite nice
Cholla Cactus Garden was quite nice, and worth visiting again
interesting to see the mesh inside
After the south portion of the NP, we hadn't seen, we connected to the north section, that has lots of nice rock formations and Joshua Trees:
I carried my outfit across multiple states for almost a month, just in case I could end up there :)
After the show, we found a place to park our campervan, and get some sleep before the drive home the next day:
Jennifer heard we could park and sleep by Flying J, but that didn't work so well (they apparently don't allow it anymore)
Day 12: Drive Home
The drive home was uneventful, outside of the onramp of hwy5 being closed by an overturned RV
After escaping LA before traffic could get bad, we stopped at a truck stop to have breakfast and refill our propane before returning the RV:
turns out that thanks to the microwave, we used very little propane, only 10%
after being stuck on the hwy5 onramp for half an hour, we had to drive on the onramp backwards, and continue on hwy99 until the next entrance
hwy5 has canals on its side for a long length
Eventually, we got home, tired, emptied the van, and returned it to end our long trip.
2nd leg of our trip was the longest
this was the full trip
one downside of the Kuga Campervan was its terrible fuel economy, mostly because of a crap american engine
That was a long trip, we got to see a lot, and despite the american truck platform the Kuga campervan was built on, was indeed american crap with a gas guzzling engine, the Kuga build on top, was quite good, we enjoyed it.
We got a Kuga Campervan for a road trip from travellers-autobarnrv. While the underneath platform is a crap chevrolet with a gas guzzling engine, unreliable AC/heating, poor build quality across the board (gaps in the door seals creating major wind noise, we had to fix them with duct tape), and not even a glove box, it actually worked pretty well for our national parks trip, and as much as the platform vehicle is on the poor side, the campervan conversion is quite good.
We definitely looked at competing options, but turns out they were both a lot more expensive and had a very poor kitchen in comparison (including total lack of 120V support of any kind, and of course no microwave, and microwave is great to quickly heat food and drinks on the road)
You can read about our two trips with it, here:
It doesn't win beauty contests (ok, the decals and color scheme don't help), it's top heavy and will be happy to tip over on a curvy road if you drive it like a regular car, but it is practical and much easier to handle than a full RV:
the Kuga didn't like twisty mountain roads though, it was a boat to drive and the seats in the back would fly around
One plus side of the gas guzzling V8 though, was that I never felt it didn't have enough power. The van was ECU limited to 100mph, as the engine could do more, and I was easily able to reach 85mph+ climbing at altitude. Too bad the vehicle doesn't have a more efficient V6 turbo like some competitors.
That said, the conversion inside is the better one I found amongst rentals I looked at:
decent size fridge fully powered by big enough solar panels (it'll run forever without plugging in or driving). Competition often required you to plug in if parking for a few days, or run the engine
The kitchen is legit. Proper gas burners with an 8 gallon propane tank, not a little camping stove thing you screw in and out every time you need it
A nice sink with more than 15 gallons of water (not safe to drink for reasons that are a bit complicated to go into)
And the big bonus is: a microwave. With the microwave, we ended up heating most of our food and barely use the gas outside of cooking eggs and stuff like that.
The one thing missing, which is available in more expensive campervans, is a toilet. Having some makeshift toilet would have been nice, but realistically it's not in any campervan of that class.
Back to the power system, our version (not all Kugas have power fed from the alternator to the rear battery, but ours did as I requested it), the main issue, was that the microwave, or expresso machine we added, would not work unless the van wan plugged in utility power (RV site), so I decided to fix that.
this is how it's supposed to work
similarly, RV sites have water that you can use to refill the Kuga
This is how it looks by default: big cable to allow jump starting the car if its battery is dead, power input from the car's alternator to charge the battery when the engine is on, and solar charge controller:
my big 3000W inverter didn't quite fit in the battery cabinet, but there was a hole to feed cables to the battery
non standard equipment, but nice addition :) (uses over 1000W, just like the microwave)
the kitchen is definitely better than other campervans that trade this space for a 2nd row of seats
Because I made a temporary addition, I didn't wire the inverter into the car's 120V system, so cheated by making a male-male plug (totally illegal ;) ):
Two things have to be done to use the inverter: turning off external power (to make sure outside power is never backfed into the inverter), and the 2nd breaker turns off battery charging from external power. This one is important or the battery charger tries to charge the battery from 120V while the 120V is coming from the battery through the inverter:
our Kuga had been upgraded with a 12V and USB plug coming from the battery, my inverter meter is on the left. The 12V plug there was only good for 10A though, so you can't use it for an inverter
Here is a demo of the microwave. The start was a bit rough because the microwave needs around 150A from the 12V battery at start, my connecting cables didn't have the best connection for so many amps, and the battery was a bit low, so the voltage sagged a bit at start:
Demo of the expresso machine, which also requires over a 1000W and peaks at more than 120A on the 12V battery:
I will however stress that, if you attempt this:
have a good understanding of Amps, Volts, and wire gauges. Understand how many Wh are usable in your 12V battery, so that you don't run it flag and damage it
if your battery is not fully charge, run the engine and the alternator will bring in a lot of extra amps
unless you really know what you're doing, not the best thing to do a rental vehicle. If you damage the electrical system, that's on you. If you create a terrible short without a fuse and start a fire, that's definitely on you
you need a big inverter, and it really should be pure sine wave or the microwave will not be happy. My inverter is 3000W for a 1500W use.
you need thick and short cables between the inverter and the battery. 150-200A is a lot of amps, you need fat cabling for this to work, and many inverters come with cables that are too thin.
again, keep track of your battery voltage. Running 1500W from the battery will work for 5 to 10mn at most if the battery is full, or not at all if it ran the fridge all night and it's low on charge in the morning
Lead acid batteries get damaged if you run them down, the Kuga's electrical system does not have a low voltage battery disconnect (it could), so it is on your to make sure the battery is not run down
Space in the Kuga
While the Kuga can fit 3 people, it's not comfortable when you drive (the middle seat is small and narrow). Also, the 3rd person needs to sleep on top, which requires setting up boards and shifting luggage every night (we did use the top space to store luggage, which was more for 3 people). Yes, you can have a passenger ride in the back, it's legal in some states, illegal in some others (CA, but no points for the driver, while in NM it's definitely a big fine for the driver)
don't let the picture fool you, the middle seat is only ok for someone not very wide and ok being somewhat sandwiched for many hours of driving
The kuga is not meant to have 2 boards on top, or hold luggage or more than the first, non moveable, board. If you put 2, you need a way to stop the luggage from flying off, and even the board from sliding around:
because there was no way to stop the bottom board from sliding, I jerry rigged something with duct tape and got it secured that way. Ghetto, but it worked well enough.
normally if you only need the minimal of luggage depth, there is fabric and clips to hold things
this was the 2nd board before I found the way to properly secure it
The bottom bed is big enough, albeit a bit short. I'm 5"10 / 1M77, and my feet stuck out a bit, but thankfully stopped just before the doors:
you're actually supposed to sleep in the other direction, but if you're short both directions work
One of the boards used for the bed, is conveniently also the table, that works pretty well:
we can also note on this picture that the pantry had decent space
while we often used the microwave, the gas cooker was quite functional
At the end of the trip, we had to refill the little propane we used:
the container is well sized and should be enough for most trips
The Kuga is not even close to a $200,000 custom converted Mercedes campervan, but it also doesn't come close to costing the same. It's so much cheaper. We got ours from travellers-autobarnrv and we were very happy with the pricing and service (including free unlimited miles).
And here are the adventures we went on with ours. Maybe it'll inspire you for yours: