Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bail Out Special

A few days ago we were on our way to the Hualapai (Wall o' Pie) Mountains when we stopped at Burger King and Willa picked up a Yellow Saver (local penny saver type paper) to read during breakfast. I just happened to notice the ads laying on the table, and I must admit I laughed my butt off when I saw this special ad for the bailout.

It's good to have a laugh when things are so messed up. Hope you enjoyed this one!


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fools Gold Follies

Yesterday, our neighbors Jon and Lori, invited us to go on a Jeep ride back to a mine in the hills east of Quartzsite. They are prospectors, and they have a group of prospector friends that occasionally go out and search for gold with them. Willa and I decided to go with them, as they were going to do something that we felt was insane, and we were compelled to witness the activities first hand.

The "insane" part was lowering miners down into an abondoned verticle mine shaft with gear that was jury rigged, in the least. Mines are inherently dangerous, including mines that follow strict safety guidelines. In the days of mining before the turn of the century, it was much more dangerous. Men built mines with little regard to the geology of the area, digging in areas that are loose gravel without using adequate shoring to hold back the inevitible slides and cave-ins. When a mine became too risky to continue mining it, or if the treasure found didn't make it worth the effort and risk to mine it, the mine was abandoned.

The area around Quartzsite is riddled with abandoned mineshafts. Almost everywhere we go around here there are verticle and horizontal shafts in the hills. Almost all the abandoned mine shafts are open and unprotected. Many of these abandoned mines are caving in on a regular basis. Still, there are prospectors that constantly take the risk of going into these mines, risking cave-ins, explosions, toxic fumes, and snake dens. So, when we heard that this group of prospectors was going to go out to a "secret" mine that had not been entered for many years, we decided to join the group and see the action ourselves.

The day started off on a dubious note, we hurried through getting ready in order to make sure we were at the meeting place a few minutes before the 9:30 agreed upon time. We were supposed to meet about 5 prospectors and then jump into 4x4's and head out to the mine. Jon had warned us that these guys were usually late or missing for these work parties. Sure enough, at 9:30 there were only two prospectors, James and Jim there with Jon, Lori, Willa, and I. We were really a bit short to have enough people to do the job at hand. Jon and James decided to wait until 10 and if noone else showed up, we would drive out to the mine and see if any of those missing would be already on their way. At 10:00, we left for the mine, with just the six of us. Since I had two empty seats, Jim and James rode with us in the Trail Limo.

The road to the mine was a well travelled bumpy dirt road most of the way, with some challenging 4x4 in a couple of spots. There was a particularly exciting off camber rock decent that tipped us up to about 35 degrees at one point. We had no problems though.

We arrived to the mine, and then set up the "elevator" at the top of the verticle shaft. Jon had an A frame that bolted to the front bumper of his Jeep. Then, he uses some click straps to hold it up at an angle. The winch cable runs through a pulley at the top of the A frame. There is a safety rope that also runs throught the top of the A frame. I hooked a strap from the back of Jon's Jeep to the back of Trail Limo to be an anchor incase of a cave in. Then a miner puts on a harness, clicks into the winch line, then ties the safety rope. Then, he swings out above the shaft and the winch lowers them down into the hole.

Jim went first. This was his first time ever being lowered into a mine, and he was extremely nervous. As he was lowered down, he was visibly shaking. I didn't have time to even take a picture before Jim was yelling "Get me out of here!" Within seconds, he was up out of the hole, and was visibly shaken. He told us that while he was going down, he reache a point where he was against some very week shoring in the shaft. He asked Jon to raise him, and when Jon did that, the harness snagged on a board. When Jim asked Jon to lower him, the board pulled out, and a huge amount of loose dirt poured into the hole around Jim. Even after Jim was up out of the hole, you could here the rock falling into the deep shaft below us.

Jim was obviously very traumatized. James was not very comforting to Jim. He mocked him for not continueing down the shaft. However, James seemed to be getting nervous himself when he was the next to go down the shaft. He went down about 20 feet, a little higher than Jim was when he reversed, and James said it was not going to be safe to continue any further into the shaft. Jon raised James up out of the shaft, and we all packed up and left for home.

On the way back home, Jim was still very shaken, and James continued to give him a hard time. At one point, Jim said he would like to get out of the Jeep, as he was getting sick. After walking for a short ways, he felt a little better, and we continued on back.

My feelings are the people who go into abandoned mines are more foolhardy than brave. They allow their greed for instant wealth to overcome good judgement. If a mine is abandoned, the odds are it will not be safe or profitable to enter the mine again and look for treasures. Obviously, others opinions differ from mine. I'll just stay poor and pass on the fool's gold.

Friday, March 6, 2009

An Uplifting Experience

To lift... or not to lift. Is there any question?

Of course there is, or should be. We all want our vehicles to be great on the road, so we have to keep them low. They need to stay out of the wind drag to get good mileage, and have more power. Also, they corner much better, and aren't so dang tippy, right? Plus, you need to be able to have people of all ages climb into the vehicle with no problems, right

Yeah, but... Jeeps are supposed to be able to travel on trails without dragging their belly on the ground all the time. Of course, snakes do a pretty good job of travelling with their bellies on the earth, but I haven't seen a Jeep that can duplicate the motion of a snake yet. Anyway, when the Trail Limo hits its belly on the ground, it usually causes a sudden stop. Or, at least some seriously nasty slowing and expensive noises from down in the basement.

Since the Trail Limo has a very long wheelbase (116 inches, which is the same as my Durango had) it tends to drag a lot more than its shorter cousings did. When I first bought the Trail Limo, I really didn't intend to modify it very much. I knew it was limited for center clearance, but I figured it would be ok for fire roads, and it probably wouldn't see trails much worse than that. After driving the Trail Limo out on the trails, I realized two things: 1) It was definately well endowed when it came to gears and traction, and 2) It's clearance limitation was not worthy of its traction capability.

So, after doing a ton of research, I found that the best reasonable way for me to go was to get a lift kit installed. I looked at all the "budget lifts" and determined that their lack of engineering makes them a poor excuse for a lift. Invariably, Jeepers who installed the budget lift ended up eventually upgrading to a fully engineered lift. The geometry of the new suspensions on Jeeps creates a need to be able to adjust the suspension to get reasonable road manners and maximum trail capability.

After checking prices and features of all the lifts, I found there were several options, but one overriding factor was that Jeep has developed a relationship with Rubicon Express that has encouraged most of the Jeep dealers to install them at their service departments. Since the dealers install them, they will be more likely to do warranty repairs on the rest of vehicle without pointing fingers at the lift and saying "Oh, we can't repair your broken whatchamacallit because you have that lift on there, and we don't know if the whatchamacallit is being affected by it." So, I decided to go with a dealer installed Rubicon Express 3.4 inch super flex lift. It was spendy, but I figured in the long run it will be worth it.

After it was all said and done, I love the new look, the trail capability, and the driveability of my lifted Trail Limo. It is noticeably higher, and the 32" tires on it look undersized for the vehicle now, but it looks a lot more serious, and it is soooo much better on the trail. No more belly dragging on all but the biggest rocks, and the suspension does a great job of keeping all the wheels on the ground. Yeah, it would be great to get a bigger tire on it, but on my limited budget I need to get the wear out of the existing tires before I replace them. Baby steps.

I would say that if a person didn't want to lift their Jeep, and they wanted a 4 door Wrangler, they should seriously consider one of the less expensive models, like the X or the Sahara. The Rubicon is definately not needed for a Jeep that will stay on roads and highways. It's features like axle lockers, electric disconnect sway bar, 4 to 1 transfer case gearing, heavy duty Dana 44 axles, and factory rocker protection are all wasted on a vehicle that isn't going to be doing trail work. Given that, when you have a Rubicon Unlimited (4 door) Wrangler, you really are wasting all those trail features if you can't go on the trails because of clearance issues. So, if you are going to go big in the driveline, you need to go big in the height, to balance it out.

So, at least for the Trail Limo, there is no question!


Monday, March 2, 2009

More exploration, and there is such a thing as a free lunch... kind of!

Well, it has been a busy week since I last blogged. I have been pretty busy. For one thing, I installed the winch bumper and winch on the Limo. It wasn't an easy job, as there were several little mods that needed to be done to accomodate the winch and this ultra high clearance bumper. I had to rotate the sway bar disconnect, and cut off the cross member that protects it. Taking a sawzall and die grinder to your almost new $35,000 Jeep takes either a large degree of insanity, or a real vision. My vision has been blurry for years, but I went ahead and did the mods. The final product looks great, and I'm very happy with the way the winch is down in the bumper instead of up in front of the radiator. I also made one of the clip on license plate holder for the winch, and it is a nice touch.

Yesterday, we took a trail through the Plamosa Mountains. This is a trail described in the Arizona Trails book written by Wells. It is an "easy" rated trail, so we didn't expect much. We had a couple of friends along in the "Trail Limo" for the ride. Ron and Evelyn are our neighbors in the RV Park and we injected them with the geocache bug a few months ago. They are hopelessly addicted now, with over 100 finds. In fact, Ron found their 100th cache while we were on this trip. Ron and Evie are rapidly catching us (we are now at 250 caches.) We like to think we have a life, so we can't cache every moment. I just wish we could say we are busy finding the next cure for a deadly disease or something. Instead, I think I'd have to fall back and say we watch a lot of movies, sleep in late, blog, and bake. (I blog, she bakes!)

Back to Plamosa. It was cool, because the trail actually ran through a section of small sand dunes. Before coming to Arizona, my vision of the desert was always like the Sahara. Miles and miles of sand dunes with no vegetation to be found. The Sonora desert in Arizona is much more lush, and has many species of cactus and plant life everywhere you go. So, it was interesting to actually see some sand dunes, even though they were quite small, rising up out of the desert about 10 feet. Still we did get a chance to blast up the sides of them in 4 wheel drive and throw a few "roos" behind the Limo.

One of the caches we visited is locted next to a "guzzler". Funny, I always thought a guzzler is a guy that doesn't know the proper way to embibe (which describes practically every friend I ever had until I reached my fifties... and a few since!) Or, perhaps a car that sucks gas fast enough to bring a smile to the face of a shiek. Now, I have been enlightened by the game of geocaching, so I know that a guzzler is a man made device to collect water for drinking. In the hillside around the Quartzsite area there are over 9 guzzlers. They are in canyons next to steep mountains. They look like a failed attempt at building a pole barn. The collector is a very large area covered by aluminum roofing. It is constructed on a hillside in a canyon. At the lower edge of the collector there is a gutter that collects the water and dumps it into a large covered tank. From there, the water is piped down the hill to a large trough. The trough is to provide water for game. Now... you all know all that I know about guzzlers.

After the trail ran through the dunes up to the guzzler, and around the mountains for about 14 miles, we were deposited on the Plamosa highway just a few miles from the town of Bouse (rhymes with "House".) Bouse was the base for the tank battalions that General Patton brought here during WW II to learn desert warfare. We drove into Bouse and found a small cache magnetically stuck to a tank in a memorial. On the way back to Quartzsite, we drove up a nice 4x4 road and picked up 4 more caches. One of them was next to a cabin and memorial dedicated to a guy named "Bill" that passed on in 1988. Not exactly an antiquity... yet, but hang on for a century and it will be!

This afternoon, after a discussion of what we want to be when we grow up, we went to a lunch provided by the owners of the RV Park. It was a pot luck combined with them providing us the main course and soft drinks. The main course was "Spanish Spaghetti". We were all in a quandry about how spaghetti could be spanish, but now we know. It is like Italian spaghetti, but it has green chiles, cubed pork and a mix of cheddar and Monterey cheese on top. It was very tastey. So were all the side dishes provided by the other folks in the park. Willa put together a very refreshing side dish of pineapple and mandarin oranges in a lemon yogurt. It was a great dish for a very hot day. Temps today reached 90 degrees. Pretty dang hot for the first of March. I guess it was a "kinda" free lunch, since it was provided at no cost, other than the seasonal rent we paid to live here. Still, a good deal!

After the lunch, a group of bluegrass and country musicians played a concert for us. They are all professional musicians, and the music was very entertaining. One song was particularly entertaining. The "hook" of the chorus was something like "he was my best friend when he took my wife away. I hated him then, but I love him today!"

I ended the day by finally finishing my Quartzsite write up and mailing it out to my mail list.

Be sure to visit my pictures at Quartzsite area pictures to see more pictures of the surrounding area.