Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Racetrack Playa

After driving up Lippincott Road, I stopped off at the Racetrack Playa to take some photos. I've only been there once before and it was over 100 deg then. This time it was much cooler, as you can imagine from the photos.

I lucked out and got there just as a lumbering rain cloud was drifting northward over the playa. The sun was coming down from the south and that helped to light up the playa and make for some nice contrast. These are only a few of the photos I took, and these have been shrunk in file size so they are easier to view in this blog.

I took a lot more photos that didn't turn out so well ... they showed clearly how I failed to hold the camera horizontal. I went on a week day in order to minimize the number of tourists trapsing out there and getting in my shots. I saw only 2 other vehicles there and didn't see any people. It was too early in the day for me to camp at the Homestake dry camp site, so I decided to move on.

Even though it was sprinkling rain, my shots of Teakettle Junction turned out fairly well. I considered returning by Hidden Valley and Hunter Mountain road, but instead drove north to Ubehebe. That road was in excellent condition, far better than when my previous drive down it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Comparing Car Scratch Removers

Before I sold my Acura MDX I faced a challenge of removing as much of the "desert pinstriping" scratches from the finish as possible ... without paying too much in time, effort, or money. I chose to not pay a detail shop to buff them out. This choice was partly out of my stinginess, and partly out of curiousity about the new scratch remover products that I've seen for sale in the auto supply stores.

I tried 3 products: Mothers Scratch Remover, NuFinish Scratch Doctor, and QUIXX. A friend played the role of impartial judge. Here's the results:

Worst - but still pretty good: Mothers Scratch Remover
Middle (but the best for large areas) - NuFinish Scratch Doctor
Best (and rated best by Consumer Reports and other groups) - Quixx

Quixx comes in a very small tube - the size of a tube of travel toothpaste - and it is very expensive. Therefore it would be prohibitive to use on a large area. But for the occassional scratch from a kid's bike handlebars, it's definitely the way to go.

For large areas - such as the results of my desert pinstriping - then NuFinish wins. I have trashed the Mothers product and have kept the other two for future use.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Lippincott Road in Death Valley

The 3 most challenging roads in Death Valley are popular with off-road enthusiasts and other adventurers. Their relative rank changes often with the varying conditions. Currently, based on what I read in the related online forums, Lippincott Road is probably number 3. The other 2 difficult roads are: (1) Goler Wash and over Mengel Pass (this goes past the Barker Ranch where Charles Manson was captured) and (2) Steel Pass and Dedeckera Canyon (south of Eureka dunes). I've wanted to drive these remote routes just for the fun of it, and now I have a car that might just survive such a trip.

Lippincott road connects the Saline Valley with the Racetrack playa (where the famous moving rocks are found). My off-road trail books report that it's about 7 miles long and should take 1.5 hours to drive (an average speed of less than 5 mph). Hint of things to come: there was a long stretch where I was driving slower than walking speed.

To get to Lippincott road, I drove up 395 to highway 190 and turned east heading up the hills toward Death Valley. Just before Father Crowley Point, I turned north on the well signed Saline Valley Alternate road. This deteriorating asphalt road is so rough that I had to drive slowly. You can see from the photo that it was raining very lightly.

The western end of Lippincott Road is on the southern end of the vast Saline valley and is marked by a large cairn (read: 4 foot tall pile of rocks). The park service does not sign the road here, or put it on their maps, in order to help reduce the chances that a tourist might take it. As I sat there preparing for the adventure, a pair of F-18s roared overhead, maybe 100 ft AGL. They use the Panamint and Saline valleys for training flights.

That straight section crosses the valley and was surprisingly difficult. I'm not sure my old Acura MDX could have made that section, but could have easily handled 80% of the rest of the route. I hoped to speed across that straight road, but about every 50 yards I encountered a wash. Not the nice sandy washes that I find in the Mojave desert, but 12 to 18 inch drops into boulder filled gullys cut out by water runnoff.

After crossing the valley and beginning the uphill climb, most of the road looked like this (3rd pic). Not hard at all. But the occasional boulder or rut keeps you from going too fast or getting too complacent.

Soon I started coming across the famed washouts that make sections of the road very narrow. This is one reason why it's recommended that wide and long wheel base vehicles not be driven on this road. The photo shows how previous drivers have made a new route around the washout. I had to make a 3 point turn in that turnout and then there's a 2 foot rise behind that small bush. Most of the washouts are like the one shown next. You're required to fit between the washout and some large immovable thing (boulder). For each of these, I got out and walked the route first to make sure my car would fit.

Then the road got a little rougher. Still easy enough that my Acura could have handled it. I drove most of this road with my suspension set at normal street height (7.3 inches of clearance).

More boulders. Notice the steep sides. That promotes falling rocks that can easily make this road impassable. I followed the worn trail around the boulder to the right, but that was banked a lot and made the car tip over to the left toward the "nice boulder".

Then the road started getting more interesting. There didn't seem to be an "easy" route through the boulder filled road. I got out and walked part of it and realized that it didn't stop anywhere within sight. It seemed to cross several sharp switchbacks. So I returned to the car and decided to put it in its most capable mode (super transformer mode): off-road suspension height, "rock crawl" mode, and low gear.

Since I couldn't find an easy path, I decided to just drive right over the rocks. That kept me from taking very many pictures of this section. I didn't want to stop on a steep hill driving over pointy boulders. It was amazing how easily the LR3 handled it. It didn't slip/slide a bit. Just drove right over it all. The entire length of this challenging section was probably about 100 yards.

Somewhere in that fun, I noticed that my dashboard display was showing something I hadn't expected. I emailed the pic afterward to the sales guy so he could tell me what it was about.

Next came the steep section. It doesn't show up well in the photos.

Finally I arrived at the top. The sign might be a bit of an understatement. I've seen photos on the internet of the previous sign that was much scarier. I don't know why they tamed it down a bit. Overall, I enjoyed the drive. It wasn't too challenging, and it didn't damage my car. I'm glad I drove up it, instead of down. It would be less fun riding my brakes for over an hour and sliding down over all them boulders (and probably gashing something underneath my car). My old Acura MDX would not have been able to make that road.

First Wax on the New Car

I finished waxing my new car for the first time. I'm not a wax expert. I normally wax my car once or twice a year. I wanted to take the opportunity to add any useful protection right away, rather than learn a year from now that I "should have" done something. I asked a lot of people what products I should use, and was very surprised at the wide variation in answers. A few told me that they use the 10 year old tin of paste wax in their garage. Many told me that they never wax their cars. Several told me that they never wash their cars. To put this in context: this is akin to somebody telling me that they never wash their hands after handling raw chicken meat.

So I turned to the internet. The glorious internet that lets me get advice from unknown goobers who probably don't even own a car. OK, that's a bit much. But you get the idea. Rather than describe the path I took, I'll describe what I ended up doing.

The new car surface felt like clearcoat with no dealer applied wax. I applied Dupont Teflon Ultra Spray Wax. It went on easy and buffed off with normal effort (requiring about 3 passes with a microfiber towel). Here's the only down-side ... The bottle warns you to not apply to plastic or vinyl trim. My new Land Rover LR3 has gobs of black plastic trim - around each wheel, along the base of the truck, and the rear bumper. Their warning is very VERY accurate. After all my care (and it was a bit extreme, since I used blue painters tape to tape-off the lines where the trim met with the body panels) there were some unintended splatters of wax on the trip pieces. These dried to be tiny white spots on the black trim. High contrast and so therefore very noticeable when close up. They can be removed with a lot of elbow grease, and I don't have enough to get it all. I am considering covering them up with some trim color restoration product like Forever Black. Stay tuned on that topic.

After the wax cured a bit, I applied Zaino Z-CS clear polymer sealant. This high-tech product is intended to provide additional UV protection as well as maintaining a show-room shine for up to 9 months. It competes with products such as Ultima Paint Guard Plus. These products are popular with car hobbyists that prepare their cars for shows. Zaino Z-CS can be applied to plastic and vinyl trim pieces, and so I did that. I had tested it on the trim to make sure that it was safe.

For the windshield, I'm trying a new product from PPG called Aquapel. It's supposed to work just like Rain-X, except that it lasts much much longer. Reportedly up to 9 months. I read that it's used on the canopies of US fighter jets. Josh Wardell did an amazing test of Aquapel and Rain-X (and nothing) on his car and posted video of the tests and the results. He's got a lot of product advice on his car care page.

Lastly, I used a common tire treatment from Black Magic. What I did new here was to use some foam applicators instead of spraying the tires directly. This prevented overspray or mist from hitting the car's finish.

U2 Joshua Tree


I finally made it to the famous U2 Joshua Tree that's photographed in the art from their album of that name. It's not in Joshua Tree National Park, but is instead just west of Death Valley National Park on a high altitude plain.

Before you can ask, I'll confess that I did listen to the album on my way up the highway. I thought it'd be appropriate. To be honest, I don't like all the tracks. But I really like the first two: "Where the streets have no name" and "I still haven't found what I'm looking for".

I have read several accounts online of people making pilgrimages to the site, and I've seen some nice photographs taken in the area (the best ones were in winter with snow on the ground). Last fall I tried and failed to locate the tree. I was very close, about 3 miles to the west of its actual location.

Here are a few links to such sites: This site is plugged by memorial material left at the tree. This site is easily found by googling. This guy has some nice photos showing the tree's progression as it died.

The tree has become a memorial with visitors leaving albums, CDs, notes, and such. There's a concrete memorial plaque in the ground. I saw a guitar pick inside one of the tree's hollow branches. It's an easy walk from highway 190. As I expected, I didn't have to search for it, and was able to follow a lot of footprints in the sand.

You can see from my photos that it was a cold and cloudy day. In fact, it had rained recently and it was still lightly sprinkling. The tube labeled "U2ube" contains more memorabelia as well as a spiral notebook for leaving notes. I read a few notes. The last one was dated May 8th by "snow-nymph". She posts a lot of reports and photos from her adventures around the area. I'm not alone in my adventurous wanderings and I've come across the postings from her and many others who also like to wander out and visit the big outdoors.

The last pic I'll post here is of the plaque that I mentioned. (I know that's obvious: I'm trying to repair a formatting issue with blogger, and this extra sentence ought to do the trick)