Wind & dust

We’ve encountered a lot of windy days when towing the Airstream.  I even documented one of them on YouTube (see “Windy Day Towing in Nebraska“) to show how well an Airstream pulls through wind when it’s properly hitched up with a good tow vehicle.  Crosswinds have not been a problem for us, even when other vehicles are being pushed around and threatening to sway, so the major issue we have with wind is the poor fuel economy that results from plowing through it.

The warning we got on Sunday about high winds in the desert finally came true on Monday.  The tow down from Burro Creek on the Joshua Tree Forest Parkway (93 in AZ) to Phoenix was marked by blustery winds.  I watched as the fuel economy plummeted down to 11.5 MPG.  My general rule of thumb is that when it hits 10 MPG it’s time to quit driving for the day.  We’ve had that happen twice:  once in west Texas on I-10, and once in South Dakota on I-90.  Unless you absolutely have to be somewhere, there’s not much point in buying fuel to fight Mother Nature.  Better to take a night off and park somewhere.

This time it didn’t get that bad, but in Phoenix the side effect of heavy wind started to show in the skies.  Sustained winds lift dust from the valley floor and carry it long distances, covering everything and obscuring visibility.  Light dust looks sort of grayish, like haze, and we see that often, but on this day we discovered that heavy dust looks orange.  Eventually everything begins to appear as if you had accidentally detoured to Mars. (Photo by Mars Curiosity rover.)

mars-curiosity

It was obvious we weren’t going to be spending the day outside, so we bagged our plan to spend a night at Lost Dutchman State Park, and instead turned toward home, pausing to visit IKEA in Tempe.

Inside IKEA it was easy to forget that outside the winds were gusting to 45 MPH.  We picked up an LED light set (DIODER) for the Airstream, something which had been recommended to us by Kyle, and some aluminum hooks (BLECKA), and a few other things.  I’ll be installing the DIODER & BLECKA in the next few weeks.

But once outside again, we had to face the reality of the wind.  The next 100 miles of I-10 passes through a stretch of wide-open desert ready-made for dust problems, partially because of agricultural clearing.  It’s famous for sudden total loss of visibility, and so we decided we would bail out & spend the night parked somewhere if conditions started to deteriorate.

Fortunately few people on the highway were in a hurry.  The speed limit is 75 MPH, but we and the trucks were all comfortable at about 60.  Those who zoomed ahead despite the buffeting and dust blowing across the road definitely were taking a huge risk.  At least seven carloads of people lost the gamble: we passed two accidents on both sides of I-10 involving multiple cars and trucks.

Finally we got caught up in some terrifically bad dust, not coincidentally at the scene of the accidents, and that was enough for us.  Watch the YouTube video here.  You can hear dust and gravel pelting the car, in the video.  Once we got past the accident, we took the next exit at Picacho Peak.

We also needed more diesel to get home, but the fuel pumps were offline at the local stations because the power was out.  We added it up:  high winds, accidents on the Interstate, low fuel … and we didn’t need to get home on Monday.  When that many factors pile up on you, it’s time to listen.  So we parked the Airstream facing downwind, dropped the stabilizers and tongue jack, and settled in to wait it out.

Even with the stabilizers down, the trailer was rocking slightly in the heavier gusts, which were reaching 45-50 MPH.  We haven’t felt such wind in the Airstream, or had to wait out a windstorm like that, since we were at Cedar Island NC in 2008.  I had to go out in the truck stop parking lot and capture a rolling 55-gallon drum that was blowing our way. It was definitely an “exciting” wind.

Parked in Picacho to wait out dust storm on I-10But really it wasn’t a big deal for us.  The Dairy Queen next door was shut down for lack of power, but we were in a rolling emergency shelter.  We had a full tank of fresh water (as we always do when traveling), empty black & gray, a refrigerator full of food, lots of battery power, solar panels, Internet, phone, movies, etc.  What did we need?  We were entirely comfortable and could have stayed there for days if we needed to.  So there was not much stress involved, other than making sure the Airstream didn’t get hit by a rolling object in the parking lot.

Eleanor made up spaghetti with meatballs and I had a couple of hours to catch up on the blog.  I took a shower to get refreshed, and then after dinner the power came back on at the fuel station so we were able to tank up with diesel.

Then we considered our options.  #1:  Stay put.  #2:  Go across the Interstate to Picacho Peak State Park.  #3:  Go home (50 miles away).  It was dark but that’s when the winds tend to die down, and the Interstate seemed to be moving well, so I decided to give it another try.  It worked out.  By 8:30 we were backing the Airstream into its carport spot at home.

At that point neither of us wanted to go through the Airstream unloading procedure, even just to move our toothbrushes, so Eleanor suggested we just stay in the Airstream for the night.  That sounded perfect to me.  I plugged in the trailer, dropped the stabilizers, and settled in for one more comfortable night.  Thus, despite arriving home early, we didn’t end our trip early.

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Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine