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Chapter #383: The Four Corners Region - Part 5 - August 30, 2021


Some California wildfire smoke obscures the background in this October 2020 image of Kanab, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)

From a Flat Tire in Kanab to The Stratosphere in Las Vegas

After an uneventful trip from Page, Arizona to Kanab, Utah, I set up camp at the venerable Kanab RV Corral. By booking early, I was able to enjoy the bucolic charm of old Kanab. Since I first stayed at the RV Corral in 2006, tourist facilities in the City of Kanab have expanded exponentially. New hotels and RV Parks seem to sprout up every year. Even so, the population of Kanab now stands at only 4,636.

To the east of the city, the Grand Plateau RV Resort features eighty RV spaces and fifteen cabins. Nearby, Red Canyon Cabins features approximately fifty-five individual cabins, which wrap around the Kanab Quality Inn. Upon my arrival at the Kanab RV Corral, I learned that there was not a single unreserved RV
Once a private residence, the iconic Parry Lodge in Kanab, Utah shows the town as it once was - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)space in Kanab that night. Not ironically, the Kanab Creek aquifer draws on the same watershed that feed the Colorado River and Lake Mead downstream. As the eastern gateway to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, Kanab now appears dominated by developers and hoteliers. Each new facility uses untold amounts of water.

While in Kanab, I visited the historic Parry Lodge, first built as a private home in 1892. In 1930, the Parry brothers, converted the large property into a Hollywood movie support destination, complete with motel and luxury hotel accommodations. In 2021, with decreased revenue and an increased cost of operation, the property closed during the depths of the health crisis. As of August 2021, the historic lodge is again open for business.

Western actor Joel McCrea is on of many who shot movies in Kanab, Utah and stayed at the historic Parry Lodge - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Although tourists could not enter during my visit, I could peer down the driveway and see “Randolph Scott’s Room”, which was the first door along an otherwise deserted driveway. John Wayne’s room was farther down the driveway. Out front, there were memorial plaques honoring various Western movie heroes of the 20th century, including Ronald Reagan and Joel McCrea. On August 14, 2003, the complex became a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. While I was strolling the grounds, a woman told me about a nearby historical movie site.

Intrigued, I drove up along Kanab Creek to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Remembering it as a small outpost of animal care in 2006, I was amazed to see a huge ranch and campus designed to care for everything from horses to raptors. Since I did not have a tour reservation, I stuck to the dirt road and went up canyon. Near the upper reaches of the facility, I discovered an One lucky rescue horse occupies the historic barn and movie set at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)historical red barn. Other than a new roof, the barn looked just as it did for over a century. During that time, the wooden structure had served as both a horse barn and a Hollywood Western movie location. From the woman in town, I had learned that none other than the late, great George “Gabby” Hayes had filmed there.

On the morning of May 26, I prepared for the 207-mile trip from Kanab to Las Vegas, Nevada. While checking my RV tires, I realized that my left-rear tire was woefully low on pressure. Although I could not see it then, a steel screw had punctured the tread. After a failed attempt to pump up the tire, I decided to roll my rig slowly to the Ramsay Towing & Service Center, just up the highway. There, the nice woman behind the counter said it would be a minimum two hour wait for service. I decided to roll slowly down the back streets of Kanab to the nearby Best Tire and Wheel The picturesque RV space where I discovered a flat tire before departure from Kanab, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Shop. There, a tired voice from the back of the shop told me that he had appointments stacked up and more customers expected soon. He suggested that I try Hatch Automotive, just across the highway.

At the rustic Hatch Automotive garage, an older gentleman (Dr. Livingston, I presume) stood inside, wearing a sparkling clean set of clothes. As I waited for him to finish a conversation, I noticed a tire-busting machine in the corner of the garage. It looked like it had last seen service twenty years prior. When the gentleman turned to me, he almost chuckled at my request for assistance. He pointed to the depths of the garage and said that a young man who was up to his elbows in grease was the only person who did any work around there. It was then that I realized that Hatch Automotive was probably a hobby for that retired gentleman. “I guess I’ll just fix it myself”, I said. “That would be a good idea”, the gentleman replied.

With the front axle of my RV rolled up on wooden blocks, I was ready to dismount the rear flat tire - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)From there, I slowly rolled my rig to a wide street behind the nearby La Quinta Inn. I remember what a mobile tire-buster once told me near the Arizona border. "You can do it yourself. Just roll one axle up high enough that the second axle lifts its tire off the ground. Then it is as easy as changing a tire on your car". Utilizing various pieces of lumber that I normally use to level my rig, I managed to pull forward on to my makeshift wooden ramp. With the rear axle suspended in the air, I used my trusty lug wrench to remove the offending wheel. Way back in Needles, on the first day of my trip, I had checked my spare tire for proper inflation. Confident that it could do the job, I rolled my spare tire and rearward and then mounted it on the rear axle. Within twenty minutes, I finished by using my trusty torque wrench to cinch down the lug nuts to a proper level. After rolling off my makeshift lumberyard, I was ready to roll. Soon, the stress of looking for nonexistent tire-service in Kanab disappeared. Happy to be moving again, I looked at my watch. My entire tire escapade in Kanab had taken just over one hour. It felt like instant manifestation all over again.

With help from my lug wrench, I was able to put the spare tire on my RV in Kanab, Utah - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)Across the U.S. there is a shortage of labor, especially in the smaller towns. For the available wages, young people do not want to bust tires or learn automotive repair. If he was paid a fair wage, the 1980's Chevy Dinosaur that the young mechanic was digging into at Hatch Automotive would not be worth the time it took to repair. With a college or a trade school degree, a young person could escape the grease and grime associated with being an underpaid mechanic in Kanab, Utah. A young auto mechanic would be better off taking an unpaid apprenticeship at a Tesla Service Center. At least there is a future in working on electric vehicles. With over 570,000 RVs sold in the past year, there are now tens of thousands more travelers on the road. The lesson I learned on this trip was to depend on myself for minor repairs. If you need a flat tire fixed in Kanab, be prepared to wait most of a day for service. If you need after-hours roadside RV service near Aztec, New Mexico, be prepared for a $500 service call, plus time and one half for any actual repairs. With that, the price to change and fix a flat tire on the road could easily approach $1,000. My new motto is, “Be Prepared. Have a spare.”

At the Las Vegas RV Resort in late May 2021, I found intense heat and inadequate air conditioning in my coach - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)From the snow of Southwestern Colorado to the heat of Las Vegas, my arrival in Nevada was a shock. My fifth wheel has a single air conditioning unit aboard. Until arriving in Las Vegas in late May 2021, I never imagined that I might need a second A/C unit. After a relatively cool first night, I spoke with my neighbor at the Las Vegas RV Resort. He was a specialist in industrial plumbing design and installation. He and his wife had recently arrived in Las Vegas from his Florida home. His main task in Las Vegas was to design and oversee the installation of industrial piping at the former Molycorp Mine (Now called the Mountain Pass Mine), south of Primm, Nevada. Mountain Pass Mine is not an historical mine tucked into a romantic mountain pass. It is a strip mine, pure and simple.

Las Vegas - The land of ultimate excess, as exemplified by the Stratosphere tower near Downtown - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)When he arrived in Las Vegas, my RV neighbor found inadequate Wi-Fi and scorching desert heat. With plans to spend fourteen months in Las Vegas, he needed quick relief. By the time I departed, two days later, he had shade cloth installed on all his exterior windows and a microwave Wi-Fi disk installed atop his access ladder. With high-speed internet, he could view and revise the water, chemical and steam pipes required to restart one of the few rare-earth mineral mines in the United States. Although the Department of Defense had partnered with the mine’s new owners in 2019, decades of neglect and intermittent closures at the mine had left its infrastructure inoperable. Apparently, it was in worse shape than any highway I had recently driven in the Four Corners Region. In essence, the entire mineral processing system at the mine would require a redesign and replacement.

When I asked how long that would take, he sighed and said, “They think the mine can be operational in twelve to fourteen months”. After a long pause, he said, “I’m not sure I can get enough skilled pipe-fitters to complete that task in the 120-degree heat of the Mojave Desert”. The former owner of the Mountain Pass Mine was Molycorp, which went bankrupt in 2014. The mine had suffered the same fate as many “green energy” technologies, such as solar panels and Like so many follies in the Nevada desert, the Las Vegas Monorail stands defunct and useless near the Strip - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)lithium-ion batteries. For decades, China had undercut U.S. domestic prices and, in this case, had driven the only major rare-earth minerals mine in America out of business.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense awoke from its slumber and agreed to partially fund the reopening of the Mountain Pass Mine. As we know, if China were to curtail the supply of rare-earth minerals to the U.S., the emerging electrical vehicle (EV) industry would fail almost immediately. The Mountain Pass Mine is located just across the Nevada border, in San Bernardino County, California. As such, every part of the refurbishment project will be subject to review by California state agencies. When he had retrofitted paper mills throughout the Southern U.S., my neighbor told me, the state of jurisdiction would issue one permit for an entire project. California, he said, requires a separate permit for each aspect of design and construction. With California environmental rules and bureaucracy in mind, the reopening of the Mountain Pass Mine in late 2022 sounded like a “pipe dream” to me.

The Little White Chapel in Las Vegas still advertises that both Joan Collins and Michael Jordan were once married there - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)On my layover day in Las Vegas, the air temperature rose to about 105-degrees. On the asphalt pads of the RV Park, the temperature was ten or fifteen degrees higher. The intense heat and my under-powered air conditioner reminded me about a story from Yuma, Arizona. For decades, Yuma was renowned as the hottest city in America. Tired of constantly being the butt of “hot city” jokes, Yuma relocated its official weather station to the center of a well-watered citrus orchard. Almost instantly, Phoenix, Arizona became the hottest city in America, with 169 days each year at 90F degrees or more. As the Colorado River wanes to a trickle, there will be insufficient imported water for cotton farming and cattle ranching in Southern Arizona. Soon after that, we can expect outlawing of the outdoor water-mister systems that make dining or relaxing outdoors in Phoenix possible.

The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility has no no energy storage capability - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)On Friday May 28, I bid my Las Vegas RV Resort neighbor adieu and drove the final 305-miles home to Simi Valley, California. While in Las Vegas, I had spent under $20 to get my Kanab flat tire repaired and ready for redeployment. As luck would have it, my final dash through the Mojave Desert was uneventful. The following week, I visited Simi RV. The parts specialist there had a Dometic refrigerator thermo fuse replacement kit hanging on the rack. The RV refrigerator failure at the beginning of my trip had been an inconvenience, but not a full-scale disaster. Looking back, I had spent $24 for three temporary foam coolers, $30 for two Igloo permanent coolers and $15 for ice, just to keep my food from rotting. Then I spent $168 for the unneeded printed circuit board (PCB), $34 to exchange the PCB for a proper spare. I paid another $212 for a technician in Aztec, New Mexico to fully diagnose the thermo fuse issue. Adding $65 for my new thermo fuse replacement kit brought the grand total for RV refrigerator repairs to over $550.

A mock-up of my RV refrigerator wind deflector on our RV - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)While purchasing my new thermo fuse replacement kit, I told the owner of Simi RV about my refrigerator issue. He said that other owners of some Cougar and Montana model RVs had experienced similar thermo fuse failures. With a lot of research and testing, he had determined that wind created a low-pressure area along the side of the RV. Wind entering the upper vent was making the propane flame burn too hot, thus burning out the thermo fuse. The remedy was to put an aluminum wing or baffle at the leading edge of the refrigerator vent. That would deflect the passing air around the refrigerator unit and keep the flame operating at the proper temperature.

Since my RV is beyond its warranty period, he could fix the problem, but Simi RV had almost a three month wait for service. Instead, we agreed that I would complete my own repair. He gave me an unfinished, bent piece of aluminum, Final installation of my RV refrigerator wind deflector - Click for larger image (https://jamesmcgillis.com)which I customized to my satisfaction, including a black paint job. I installed long screws, which passed through my new creation and into the structure of the upper RV vent. Soon, I shall take another RV trip, which will include a live test of my new baffle.

On the bright side, for $550 I got my RV refrigerator working. For that amount, I also now have the equivalent of an associate degree in RV refrigerator repair. Since I was able to avoid scuttling my annual, two-week visit to the Four Corners Region, I believe it was all well worth the price. After a subsequent RV trip to Morro Bay, California, I am happy to report that my refrigeration issue appears to be solved.

This concludes Part Five of a Five-Part Article. To return to Part One, click HERE.

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