2016-03-13 at Bullhead City And The Tamed Colorado River

Ondatra zibethicus

On leaving my friend in Yucca Valley (Pioneertown actually), I traversed miles of open desert and reached Interstate 40 near Amboy California. There is a serene beauty to the desert not everyone appreciates, so travelers here might miss out on the majesty if they have their blinders on.

My new ride is such a contrast in aesthetics from my past chariot (Suzuki Samurai). Where Sami was small and restricted all leg movement, the Travato has generous leg room. Where it was impossible to sleep, eat a meal, relax, work on my computer, take a bathroom break or shower in the Samurai, the Travato offers me all this and more. Where Sami was loud inside, the Travato is quiet enough to carry on a normal conversation, even to use the phone (hands-free Bluetooth radio). I love driving the Samurai, but it requires 100% concentration. In driving it you feel every bump, every dip, every riffle, every cross wind… and you need to be prepared to respond and be fully ‘present’. All these aspects are highly subdued with the Travato. It drives more like a luxury sedan than the truck it truly is.

On this expedition I experimented with fuel economy. On back roads I targeted a speed of about 60-65 mph, and 65-70 on the interstate. Rarely was I the fastest rig on the roads I traveled. I must have been a source of frustration to the impatient drivers sharing the road with me. I would not give in to their pace, other than to take the occasional pull-over when they presented themselves. When researching the Travato, I was told I should expect to get about 15.7 miles per gallon. The drive from my home in Poway to my friends in Bullhead (each at about 500’ in elevation) yielded 17.5 mpg, so I was rather pleased with the results. The next leg to Flagstaff climbed from 500’ to 7500’ in elevation, and achieved only 13.4 mpg, but the run from Flag to Albuquerque elevated the fuel economy back up closer to 18 mpg. I did a lot of back road driving on my trip, including mountainous truck trails and sandy washes and slow going bird hunting, which did not allow for maximized fuel economy. Even so, I achieved about 16 mpg for the complete trip. For much of the return trip west I fought 30-60 mph headwinds, so 16 mpg was a good result.

I’d been wondering about the off-road capabilities of the Travato, but risks of committing to serious experiments were a concern (getting stuck). My good friend Jack Norris, my host in Bullhead City, had a 4×4 truck and agreed to follow me into the nearby desert for a test drive up a sandy wash. The results of my experiment were superb. The Travato (built on the Dodge Ram Promaster 3500 chassis) has a sophisticated driving program and includes four different braking response systems, one of which is a ‘traction’ program which will apply some braking to one wheel if it should spin, thus allowing the other (front wheel drive) wheel to continue pulling. This is similar to the old ‘positraction‘ that hotrodders valued for drag racing, but with front-wheel drive and brakes, rather than mechanical gears. The only time I felt my momentum diminish was after parking for a few moments. There, upon starting out again, the forward progress was slowed (but not stopped) as I sunk deeper into the soft sand. I reversed for about 3-4 feet and resumed my journey at the previous pace. The work on the suspension before I left to lift the rear end by two inches was a wise choice. I’m considering an air-suspension (bags or shocks) to add another on-demand system to lift another two inches of temporary lift and get a higher clearance ratio.

At Bullhead City I spent time at the Havasu NWR, but I found the ducks at the foot of Davis Dam were most fun, and gave me a chance to experiment with the viability of the van as a photo blind. Ideas about how to maximize its potential percolated my brain. The sliding side door is a great place for shooting, but it needs a camouflaged curtain to hide the shooter. I already have two kinds of camo-netting. All that is required is to fashion a split curtain (upper and lower) so the opening can accommodate the camera. Another aspect of the ‘blind’ to consider, will be a support rail for the camera to rest steadily on. Most likely the support rail will serve as the rod for the lower curtain.

On the days I visited Davis Camp (2016-03-13&14), the ducks would drift downstream below the pontoon row that served as a barrier preventing the watercraft from approaching too close to the dam wall. There, I had the opportunity to be close enough for respectable image captures. I visited the location on Sunday and once again the following Monday. Sunday the river was filled with idiots on jet skis and powerboats that would race upstream to the limit of the pontoons, chasing the feeding waterfowl up behind the barrier. During those occasional calms between boat-storms, the birds would drift back downstream to feed until the next barrage of idiots would chase them back to the sanctuary above the barrier. The birds learned to retreat upon hearing the roar of these hydrocarbon-consuming toys, well ahead of the machines and their riders. The fools on the watercraft may have been ignorant of their impact. Monday, when I returned to the scene, there were but a few boaters, and I could spend more quality time with the birds. One female Hooded Merganser was especially fun to watch. She would drift downstream, foraging the center of the stream, then she would paddle back upstream through the eddies at the river’s edge nearest me, offering good close looks.

Waterfowl images from below Davis Dam can be viewed below:

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