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Old 10-31-2010, 07:35 AM   #1
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Trip Report - Death Valley, October 2010

For our first trip in our new rig, my wife, my dog and I headed to Death Valley. It had been over 10 years since I had been there since I was afraid my previous camper, a 1978 Volkswagen, would leave us stranded there. See this thread to find out how well trusting my new van went. Click here to see the full photo album.

It looks so innocent.


We left Woodland Hills, CA and traveled north up Highway 14 through Lancaster, Mojave and Ridgecrest then took Highway 178. We stopped and explored the Red Cliffs Natural Preserve.


We traveled through Trona where the highway became Trona Wildrose Rd. We stopped for lunch at the pass overlooking the Panamint Valley.








Trona Wildrose Rd became Wildrose Rd as we entered Death Valley. It is unpaved in parts but presented no real challenge.


We camped at Thorndike campground on our first night and stopped to see the charcoal kilns on the way.






Thorndike Campground. We aired down at the charcoal kilns and prepared ourselves for our first "4x4 Recommended" road which turned out to be pretty tame. We had the entire campground to ourselves, as everyone else seemed to want to continue on to Mahogany Flats. We were happy at Thorndike and it was kind of like boondocking since there was no one else there.


Airing up the next morning on the way out. Here is where I forgot to put the cover to the front bumper back on before leaving. Luckily, replacements are available from Buckstop.


We rejoined Highway 178 and continued through Death Valley. Here we are looking back from Emigrant Pass.




We stopped for lunch and to register for a backcountry camping permit at the Furnace Creek visitor's center. Our intention was to camp near the mining site of Furnace or Greenwater along the Greenwater Valley road.


Ominous clouds foreshadowing the events to come.


Like I said, the rest of the trip report can be found here. In short, about 1.75 miles along the dirt road, the van's engine died. Somehow we killed the Powertrain Control Module. Another car came along after about an hour and took us back to Furnace Creek where we spent the night. The next day, it took 14 hours to get the van to Las Vegas where we spent the night in the dealer's parking lot. Since the repairs were going to take a few days, we rented a car and returned home.

All in all, it turned out to be a pretty awful trip. In addition to the engine problem, we found many things that aren't working right on the rig. Everything will work out fine, but I don't know that I'll ever be 100% comfortable taking the SMB to remote locations.
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Old 10-31-2010, 09:50 AM   #2
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Re: Trip Report - Death Valley, October 2010

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Originally Posted by SteveInLA
... but I don't know that I'll ever be 100% comfortable taking the SMB to remote locations.

Stevo

i once had a trailer tounge break off and loose a work trailer
still hate trailers 30 years later

i know the feeling

HOWEVER, being away from it all makes the clusters of life worth it

get comfortable w/ the rig and work out the "kinks"

dont make the last stmt in concrete yet

some solutions:
a Spot
a Sat phone
planning a trip with another rig (maybe call the dude in san clemente)

bw
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Old 10-31-2010, 10:25 AM   #3
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Re: Trip Report - Death Valley, October 2010

The road from Thorndike to Mahogany was really bad when I went up there in Sept. And I had Mahogany all to myself. Next time, you should try it, some spectacular views and the hike to Telescope Peak is quite nice (take plenty of water - at least 2 liters/person, preferably more).

Eventually you will trust the van again. But, modern computer controlled vehicles do not lend themselves to roadside repairs the way older ones did. But, all in all, the new ones are much more reliable. I've only been stranded once in 80K.

Mike
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Old 10-31-2010, 10:41 AM   #4
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Re: Trip Report - Death Valley, October 2010

Quote:
Originally Posted by billwilson
Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveInLA
... but I don't know that I'll ever be 100% comfortable taking the SMB to remote locations.

Stevo

i once had a trailer tounge break off and loose a work trailer
still hate trailers 30 years later

i know the feeling

HOWEVER, being away from it all makes the clusters of life worth it

get comfortable w/ the rig and work out the "kinks"

dont make the last stmt in concrete yet

some solutions:
a Spot
a Sat phone
planning a trip with another rig (maybe call the dude in san clemente)

bw
While it may not be your idea of completely getting away from it all, traveling in a small group with at least one other vehicle is always a good idea in the remote backcountry.


Herb
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Old 11-03-2010, 07:41 AM   #5
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Re: Trip Report - Death Valley, October 2010

Steve,
I went through three PCM's in 6000 miles, actually from 3,000 to 6,000. After finding the problem I have 56,000 without incident. I would suggest that you try to remember what things you had engaged at the time of failure. I would use it as a daily driver if at all possible with those things engaged. My van died the last time in the state of Virginia, I live in Oregon, after a week a waiting for a part and no commitment I rented a car and drove the family home. Of course I then had to fly back and drive the van back west. Since I basically flew a red eye, and got a ride to the dealer I just jumped in and started driving, much later that day I realized that i had limited power in the back and realized that the circuit breaker had tripped so in all respects the Van was isolated now from house power. I decided that since I had made it to Chicago that way, it might behoove me to keep it that way until I got home. When I pulled into my drive way I had put close to 3000 error free miles on it. With that I started to go over all the wiring in on the house side of things. I was able to find some loose wires and build a theory on how the loose wire blew the PCM. 50,000 miles later I don't cringe as much when I drive by a Ford dealer. My initial failure was preceded by a day on a washboard road, that I am sure precipitated the failure.

My first big trip in the van was supposed to be a eight week trip around the country, ( I get a sabbatical every 7 years). I decided to buy a new van so I wouldn't have to worry about break down problems, I got a cell phone for emergencies. Well, both times my new van broke down I was out of cell phone coverage.

-greg
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Old 11-03-2010, 05:48 PM   #6
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Re: Trip Report - Death Valley, October 2010

Steve,
I get a little nervous everytime I venture into the back country. Except for blowing two tires at the same time on Saline Valley Rd. I've really never had any problems I couldn't deal with. Don't get "buyers remorse". I have found comfort and made some really nice friends traveling with another van. In time you will regain trust in the van. Life is short so let every trip be an adventure. Your story of breaking down in DV is similar to many other van owner stories believe it or not. Talk to PJPV if you need some emotional support. He bought a used van and has had numerous problems but he bounces back. Get to know your van. Poke around the recesses. Get a creeper and roll around underneath. Get a scan guage and then download and copy a set of the trouble codes for your model. Carry them with you. Little by little as you get kow your van confidence in her will return.
Chris
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Old 11-03-2010, 11:50 PM   #7
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Re: Trip Report - Death Valley, October 2010

Great pictures Thanks

Ron
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Old 11-04-2010, 10:25 AM   #8
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Re: Trip Report - Death Valley, October 2010

I have to admit, you remember the difficult times more than the easy trips. At some point, you understand that as bad as it was, you made it through and you are stronger for it.

Years later, you will think about it more fondly and more clearly than the rest of the trip. And, while you may not want repeat it, you will be glad you had the experience.

You will be much safer if you never leave home. You will be much happier if you have a few bumps in the road of life.

Mike
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Old 11-04-2010, 10:49 AM   #9
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Re: Trip Report - Death Valley, October 2010

Thanks everyone for the words of encouragement. Thinking back, I remember that shortly after buying my VW, it left me stranded on the way to a campout. It turned out to be something very simple to fix (a wire had broken its connector to the ignition coil) and from that experience, I learned more about the inner workings of the Volkswagen engine. Years later, when returning home from a camping trip, the van would stall at low rpms. A few minutes of poking around and I found a vacuum tube or something had come loose. It was a tremendous feeling to know that I had been able to get myself out of a jam. The most frustrating part of what happened this time was knowing there was nothing I could do to fix it on the spot. All of that aside, when it happens again, I know exactly how to handle the situation. That alone helps to restore some of my confidence.

I would love to go on trips with other Sportsmobile owners. I had hoped that the Central California Meetup would have come together a little smoother. I've never been one to do much camping in the winter, but now that I have a rig with a furnace and some insulation, I am looking forward to a few cold weather trips. My weekends are filling up fast for the rest of the year, but when I know the date for our next rip, I'll post here for traveling companions.

Steve in L.A.
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Old 11-04-2010, 11:50 AM   #10
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Re: Trip Report - Death Valley, October 2010

That's the spirit!
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