Such a swell Swell

Armed with advice from some friends and a copy of “Hiking the Southwest’s Canyon Country” by Sandra Hinchman, we set off on a tour of canyons in southern Utah.

From Salt Lake City, we headed south to the Wedge Overlook, which overlooks the Little Grand Canyon and San Rafael River.  This area is in the northern section of the San Rafael Swell, a stunning anticline and home to many fantastic outdoor adventures.  Next, we drove south through and spent the night in Buckhorn Draw, a worthwhile destination on its own.

The next day, we headed towards Goblin Valley State Park and hiked Crack Canyon, which was pleasingly shaded.  There were a few spots that required boulder-hopping.  We camped on one of the many dirt roads along the northern side of the San Rafael Reef, which is so named because of appearance and not because it was an ocean reef.  We moved to within the Goblin Valley State Park boundaries.  The Goblin Valley is bizarre, fantastic, almost alien terrain.  After a day here, we hiked the Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyon loop.  These canyons were pretty, dry, and mostly shaded.  The roughly two mile hike connecting the canyons was an unshaded slog through sand.

Finally, we headed south through Hanksville towards Capitol Reef National Park.  Regrettably, time only permitted a brief hike from the visitor center up Sulfur Creek.  We hiked in the river, which had about 10 inches of water at the deepest.  We climbed the first water fall but turned back due to threat of storm.  To finish off the day, we drove the marked scenic drive, which was nothing short of incredible.  We finished the tour with convenient camping on BLM land just west of the park.

I regret not having enough time to explore more and look forward to returning, preferably with ropes and kayaks.

Lift Off

The Yeti has rolled away from Jeff’s shop, RV Interiors and Custom Woodworks, and we’re living full time in the van.  It’s been a rough week learning the van and moving in, hence the lack of recent updates.  Overall, everything is going well.  I’ll have more details, photos, and comments over the coming weeks.  Until then, please enjoy the pictures.

Skiing in Telluride, Part 2

We recently spent a lovely week on the snow in Telluride. It was great to see family, share good ski runs together, and play in the snow. Here’s what we did and learned. Hopefully this will help a few other families to plan their ski vacations.

Snow conditions: Early season conditions. Telluride is a packed powder mountain with the occasional fresh powder day. The powder turns to crud in the afternoons, so the best skiing is early when the lifts open at 9:00 AM. We got a few glorious days of fresh powder. Prospect Bowl was knee deep on powder days. So much fun!

Routes: We love the classic cruisers like See Forever, Polar Queen, and Misty Maiden.  We love the expansive views from so many runs. Peter tried small bumps for the first time on Henry’s and Alta.

Grooming: Limited and spotty. About 1/4 of the mountain was open.  Grooming was not always done in a logical fashion. For example, the only exit out of the groomed Prospect Bowl was an ungroomed and cruddy Upper See Forever. Rock and ice chunks were present in the groomed snow, even during morning first tracks.

Unique situations: World Cup snowboard racing and a 750 person group from Kellogg School of Management seemed to absorb most of TelSki’s resources. Snow cats and snow blowers were focused on the World Cup course, and they didn’t seem to have enough capacity to fully operate the rest of the resort. The movements of the large group made it difficult to experience the “relaxed and unhurried atmosphere” that Telski promises. These two groups come to Telluride annually or semi-annually in mid December. It is exhilarating to watch World Cup athletes leap under your feet when you’re hanging out on chair 4. However, it’s not worth the loss of skiable terrain. We recommend scheduling your ski trip to avoid these groups.

Ski school: Telluride has a diverse and very experienced group of ski instructors. Ski instructors David Brown, Howard Davis, Kevin Edholm, and Shayne “Doggie” shared helpful tips. David had helpful advice on stance and balance. Howard’s toe movement trick makes rotary motion much easier. Kevin had great advice on adapting to crud and chop. Shayne helped Peter to ski more confidently in bumps.

The ski school has some new policies this year that are problematic for returning clients and for safety.

1) Addition of a “hot lap” to the morning clinic shortens actual clinic time by 25% without adding value for the client.

2) Modified treatment of returning students makes continuity of learning more difficult.

The ski school previously honored instructor requests from returning students. This attracted a loyal clientele and supported progressive learning. For example, our parents advanced from never-evers to black diamond skiers in a few years under the consistent training of Telluride ski instructors.

The new policy only honors returning business for consecutive days. So, if you take a rest day or a day to practice your newly-learned skills, you’re no longer able to ski with the same instructor.

Lack of instructor continuity impacts the student in two ways. a) Instructor teaching style shifts from coherent progression to a single overwhelming data dump. b) Skills conflict when taught by different instructors.

I started out the week as a confident level 5. Then each instructor modified my stance and technique, and each method conflicted with the other. By the end of the week, I was a confused and hesitant level 4, and well-meaning instructors were advising me to “relax and be more confident”. So frustrating!

3) Pressure for group size creates unsafe situations

We felt pressure throughout the week to advance to the next level when our skills didn’t support it. Advancing skiers makes larger lesson groups. However, it can also cause safety problems.

One day, we had a skier in our level 5 (intermediate parallel skiing) group class who had started out as a level 1 (never skied) skier 3 days ago. He was athletic and learned quickly. However, he didn’t know how to get off a lift correctly (a level 1 skill). When coming off of lift 5, he wedged his skis and kept his weight back in the chair. (Rather than having tips together and up and weight forward.) His ski tails stepped on top of mine, and we fell off the lift. Being advanced too rapidly proved embarrassing for this skier, and dangerous for his ski school classmates.

Locker rooms: This is a great service at Telluride. Mike is super friendly and keeps the locker room running smoothly.


United Express offers a direct flight from Los Angeles to Montrose. This saved a lot of time. We flew out of Carlsbad, which is the most relaxing airport we’ve ever been in. There’s a patio restaurant next door to the ticketing counter. There, we sat in the sun on comfy sofas and watched the plane arrive. Security doesn’t even open until 15 minutes before flight time, so we had plenty of time to enjoy a snack in the sun.

Flights went smoothly until United mishandled their baggage count on the last flight. Of course, having half the Austrian Snowboard Team did create an unexpected situation. The airline had accepted too many snowboards for the plane capacity, and didn’t figure this out until everyone was boarded. So after buckling up, we sat on the ground for an hour while the World Cup athletes negotiated snowboard transport.

Telluride Express offers timely and friendly van service from Montrose to Telluride. We appreciated the fact that they still served our incoming flight, despite the plane arriving an hour late. I was concerned that my seat belt was sliced halfway through, and that the driver seemed more irritated than concerned when I brought this safety issue to his attention.

Food: Try the chili mac at Poachers, the Detroit deep dish pizza at Brown Dog, locally brewed beer at Smugglers and Tracks, the organic and spicy migas with red sauce at La Cochina de Luz, and the fried calamari at Cosmopolitan. Good deals: 2-for-1 pizza night at Brown Dog and the half price happy hour at Cosmopolitan. Telluride Truffles and herbal tea blends at the Steeping Leaf make a delicious dessert. The tequila and rock salt truffle is unique and savory. Siam’s new fusion mango miso sauce was rich and creamy, and their extensive tea list completed the meal.

Lodging: Recommend the Columbine Condos. Walking distance to the Gondola and Siam. The large, open kitchen and living area were great for cooking meals together.

Brewery Tour, part 2

Over the last week we visited the Lost Abbey, Aztec Brewing, Stone Brewing, and Relm wine bar in North County San Diego.

The Lost Abbey specializes in abbey and saison style beers that are fermented with Brettanomyces yeast. A Latin sign over the door translates to “In Brettanomyces we trust.” Most of the beers are fermented in oak casks to transmit the yeast cultures.

En Illa Brettanomyces Nos Fides

The tap room is a mellow, amber-lit, and features and impressive draft beer selection from both Lost Abbey and Port Brewing. $1 mini-tasters are available for all beers, so it’s easy to try a lot while still drinking moderately.

Mini Taster Glasses

A rotating group of food carts keep drinkers well fueled. We enjoyed a pierogi and a polish sausage from Pierogi Truck of San Diego. There’s abundant seating on beer casks that are topped with 40# bags of dextrose.

Pierogis from Pierogi Truck of San Diego

Aztec Brewing is the new fermenter on the block, having just opened in August. The founders were at the bar pouring drinks and checking in with a multigenerational crowd of happy drinkers. We ordered a 2 flights of 4 beer tasters for $5 per flight. The beers included a jalapeno wheat, ESB bitter, IPA, British ale, chocolate porter, red ale, and imperial stout. It’s really fun to try small sips of such a wide variety of beers. The ESB was Katherine’s favorite. Peter liked the IPA, though Katherine thought it tasted musty. The jalapeno wheat tasted like nachos. We both enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and the taster portions.

We returned to Stone Brewing to explore their hiking trail. A roughly 5 mile trail winds through the Coronado Hills, conveniently starting and ending at Stone Brewery. The trail has some great views of the hills surrounding Escondido and Fallbrook, and a built in fitness course helps us earn our lunch. We finished off the day with a smoky porter and a game of Settlers of Catan in the Stone garden.

Relm in Carlsbad is one of our favorite places to unwind. It’s got cushy sofas, mellow music, and delicious wines by the glass. The business name is an acronym for Relax Enjoy Laugh More, which seems quite appropriate. Now that’s a New Year’s resolution!

Aluminess Factory Visit

Docked at Aluminess

Have you ever checked out the body armour on off road trucks and vans? Maybe wondered what, um, deficits the driver was compensating for? Me too!

I always thought of those heavy duty bumpers and roof racks as expensive and unnecessary toys. However, then I thought about where to carry our tools, tire chains, vehicle rescue equipment, trash, and bicycles. And I talked to folks who’d run into deer or moose on the highway. And I learned about the options for mounting solar equipment on a curved roof. These racks can be really useful.

So, we went to Aluminess in Santee, CA to get measured for a roof rack, front bumper, and rear bumper.

The roof rack will hold and protect our solar panel system, which is the core of our electrical system. Since we want to spend our nights out in the woods rather than plugged in at an RV park, the solar is essential. Solar will also power the technomad electronics so that we can work on the road.  The top of the van isn’t flat, and a roof rack is the best way to mount the solar panels.

The front bumper will hold the winch, which is really useful for rescuing a stuck 10,000 pound vehicle. It’s sort of like carrying your own tow truck. The rear bumper rack has storage for our tools, toys, trash and recycling, and bicycles.

Bumpers Being Made

There are companies that build these racks out of steel or powder coated aluminum. The main advantages are aluminum are weight and rust resistance. Steel is stronger than aluminum, though the aluminum can be shaped to be nearly as strong as steel. A steel bumper can weigh 10 times as much as aluminum. Since the bumper is attached at a distance from the suspension, the weight and vibration from a steel bumper can cause suspension defects over time. Aluminess’ founder Dave got involved when Quigley contacted him about Ford warranty issues due to suspension failures. In analyzing the failures, Dave discovered the damage that steel bumpers were causing, and he started Aluminess to build a lighter weight alternative.

When we arrived at the factory, craftsman Kenny Gorham gave us a tour of the areas where the bumpers and roof racks are fabricated on site. The racks are then powdercoated off site, and then returned to Aluminess for installation.

Roof Rack -- Assembled , Before Powdercoat

We were pleasantly surprised to discover that our rear bumper was ready for immediate installation. We pulled our van into the factory bay. The craftsmen then removed our stock rear chrome bumper and bolted on the Aluminess bumper with storage box and bicycle rack.

Bumper Install -- Removing Chrome Bumper

It will look more complete when we get the spare tire mounted. Aluminess didn’t have the right lug nuts to attach the spare tire to the swing arm, so we had to carry the spare tire separately. Sportsmobile has generously offered to ship us the needed lug nuts. Repositioning the spare tire frees up under-vehicle space to install solar batteries for the house electrical system.

Alan Measures for the Roof Rack

The installation took about 1.5 hours. During that time, Alan and Kenny measured the roof for planning of the roof rack and solar panel installation.

We left Aluminess with the rear bumper installed. There’s still lots of work to do in planning the solar system. Next, we’ll go to RVI to plan the interior build.

Rear Bumper -- Installed. Tire Not Bolted On Yet.

Picking Up The Van — Trip Report

Day 0: Packing Up

The night before our departure, we enjoyed a lovely send off with friends in Tulsa. Leaving town was a bittersweet moment. We’re excited to head out on an adventure, but sad to say goodbye to good friends. We look forward to seeing everybody again the next time that we’re in town.

Day 1: Tulsa to South Dakota

We left Tulsa early in the morning. We headed north through Bartlesville, Kansas, and Nebraska. In Kansas, we were super excited to see a Tumbleweed Tiny House parked on a cornfield.  While we’ve read about these in the New Yorker, this was our first Tiny House sighting. Outside Omaha, we discovered 1 minor glitch with Google Maps. The map routed us across a Missouri River bridge that washed out in June in an extensive multi state flood. While I understand that it’s hard to keep up with road construction, this was a pretty significant omission. After a 45 minute detour, we were back en route. From there, we headed north through Iowa and passed Tulsa’s nearest “ski resort“. We continued north into South Dakota, arriving in Sioux Falls. The Sioux Falls downtown was a pleasant surprise. It was bustling and filled with many independent businesses. We got some (not so) spicy beef enchiladas at Mama’s Ladas enchilada and wine bar and then rested.

Day 2: South Dakota to Colorado

We headed to the South Dakota DMV to take care of a few logistics. Looks like we got there just in time, before an errant driver crashed into the DMV. Next, we headed south through central Nebraska and then west across Nebraska and into eastern Colorado. We passed a lot of Oregon Trail landmarks en route and saw enough wheat to activate all of our Catan knights for free.

Day 3: Colorado to Utah

We drove west across Colorado. It was so exciting to see snow! It was difficult to be so close to so many ski resorts but not be skiing. We continued into Utah, finishing the night in Salina near the Fishlake Wilderness.

Day 4: Utah to California

Salina, Utah to Tulare, CA via Las Vegas. We had a bit of car trouble and spent part of the afternoon at a mechanic’s in St. George.  A wiring harness under the hood had detached, and the fix was fortunately both quick and inexpensive.

Day 5: It’s A Van!

Finally, we met the van in Fresno, CA. So exciting!

The van is a Ford E350 extended body with a Fiberine camper top and Sportsmobile 4 wheel drive system. At this point, the van has completed 2 out of 3 build phases.

Sportsmobile gave us a tour of the van and 4WD system. We were excited to examine the 4WD systems and were a bit frustrated that our sales rep was not very familiar with the workings of most of the 4WD upgrades. The 4WD build foreman was much more knowledgable, fortunately. The accounting review for the purchase was also quite scattered, requiring us to cross reference 5 different invoices for 1 purchase. We found a minor leak in the rear door which Ford will need to address. The Sportsmobile-installed top was watertight, and we’re pleased with the clean way that the bolts were installed. The trim bolts will make more room for the loft bed installation.

The van lift is higher than we expected. This photo shows the relative size. We’ll definitely need to get a dog ramp.  The 4WD system looks nicely done, and we cannot wait to see what it’s capable of off road.

We toured other Sportsmobile vans including an original 1960s Sportsmobile Westie.

We also played with their demonstration models of 4WD parts such as the transfer case and air lockers. We also took a mini test drive of the van and learned how to operate all the 4WD parts.

We then left the van at Sportsmobile and headed back south to Barstow (again!).

Day 6: Barstow to Vegas, then Vegas to San Diego

Due to odd taxation law in California, we had to meet a driver in Vegas to get the van. Peter then took the van on its first shake down drive, heading back to California. Driving a large vehicle takes some getting used to, especially with windy roads and crosswinds!

Tomorrow, we’ll head south to meet with RVI and Aluminess for further work on the van interior. Once the van is built out, we look forward to heading east for skiing.