Trippin’ to Mormon Lake
High on my list of things to see is another round of the Overland Expo West, taking place May 20-22 in Mormon Lake, AZ. Since Mormon Lake is not that far from Williams and Flagstaff, they’ve been on the receiving end of the same rainfall I’d gotten in Williams. Last year, the Expo took place in a mudpit, and it actually snowed one night. Fortunately, this year promises drier weather and temps in the high 60s, which is good for me because the sun here pops the perceived temperatures into the 70s. This year won’t be without challenge to the vendors however, since the first two days should net winds approaching 30 MPH. That ought to test the mettle of the canopies and display boards.
They have classes on just about anything you can think of related to overlanding, from navigation, equipment choices and use, to extricating your rig out of bad trail conditions. I might sign up for something sometime, but considering the cost, I want to experience a year of fumbling on my own just to get familiar with the specific problems that the Intrepid presents. There are far too many different classes to even come close to taking them all, so I need to find out what peculiarities a 10,000-pound honker displays on the kind of trail work I gravitate toward. Why take a class on winching techniques when you don’t have a winch, and why work on using traction boards when I’m not dead sure just what I’ll encounter in the Southwest’s dreaded Monsoon Season? Yep, mud, but traction boards also double as bridging devices for lighter vehicles, and don’t work for that when vehicle weights go up. There have been plans to bring out a single design strong enough to withstand the Mighty Furd’s bulk, and I’ll be checking progress from that vendor while I’m there.
Don’t count on heavy coverage of this year’s event by me, since I don’t have much interest in duplicating what I posted a year ago at the 2015 event. I don’t think there’s much difference from year to year. I’ll be there and post something, but I don’t know what yet. Maybe a shot of a canopy tumbling down an aisle.
The rather quick trip to get here went uneventfully enough on I-40, and I stopped at a Safeway in Flagstaff to provision up. I tried to use my iPhone to get me to the nearest laundromat, and Flagstaff is just jam-packed enough that I never saw it. Putting the address in my GPS didn’t help, so I went for the next closest, which was less than a mile away in the old downtown section. That was a mistake in its own way, since traffic, narrow streets and an absence of off-street parking swept me right past it without even seeing it. Thunderstorms were moving in, so I cut my losses and headed for Mormon Lake. The RV park in Mormon Lake has a decent and inexpensive laundry room right next to the showers and bathrooms. I refilled the camper’s water tank there too, at 10 cents a gallon.
The Expo people were just beginning to set up at the RV Park entrance, which I hadn’t expected until Thursday. Nearly all of the event’s workers and attendees pack into an open camping area, which they like to do because well, normal people are social animals. At the end of each day, they cook, make new friends or locate old ones, sit around the campfires, have happy hours, swap baldfaced lies about their adventures, describe what broke, watch the dogs fight over stolen food, and just generally have a grand old time. And nobody gets much sleep because of the noise. I unfortunately don’t do too well in such highly social situations, and for me it’s just too close to jamming into a common RV park, albeit with much more interesting individuals. Then there’s usually the matter of leaving, which in past years has occasionally involved deep mud and tow straps, as well as vehicles trapped in place by other vehicles.
For me, there’s the event and then a return to the relatively quiet solitude of a nearby trail up a mountain in the Coconino forest. Last year, lugging the 26′ Defiant TT, I think I pretty much had my pick of the campsites along that trail. Arriving on the same day this year, not so much. I was surprised to find all of the lower campsites occupado, and next to where I had perched the Mighty Defiant was a nice little travel trailer with a bright yellow generator sitting nearby. Pass. It’s a rocky climb, and recent rains made engaging 4WD mandatory if’n I was to keep going, which I did. The “off-road”-biased Coopers are not mudders, and given the slow speed required by the rocks, the treads quickly filled with mud.
I made it to the top though, which presented a flat mudfest, and managed to turn around and make my way back down to an “eh, this’ll do” site out of earshot of the generator. I counted the site a success, as well as an initial bump in my learning curve of what the overloaded Super Duty can do. The goal is to not discover the hard way what it can’t do. After all, no winch, no traction boards, no nothing except my astounding driving skills. Sure.
The only drawback of the site is that, like most of the sites on this trail, tall trees will take their toll on solar power, as will overcast skies for the next few days. Thanks to the cheap but balky Outback solar controller, I won’t be able to deploy the 200 watts of ground panels I’m carrying. That will probably have to wait until my return to Wellton in November before I can adapt the wiring a little and replace it with a proper Morningstar controller. Sure, the 400Ah capacity of my battery pack can tide me over for awhile, but sooner or later, they need a decent recharge, and 360 watts of touch-and-go sunlight is not the best way to do it reliably.
My plan is to once again break out the Evelo Aurora e-bike for getting to the show and back, and perhaps cart one of the camper’s two propane canisters to the RV park when it goes empty. After re-provisioning in Flagstaff a week from now, the plan is to return and stay long enough to see a sanctioned steer-roping event the following weekend. Life is hard. By then, time will grow short and the trip to Illinois and family will commence in some fashion or other.
By the way, while still in Williams yesterday after another luxuriant shower at Love’s Truck Stop, a guy in a newish Chevy van with two solar panels on its roof came over at the gas pumps and started asking about the Four Wheel Grandby. It seems he was missing being able to stand up straight, and he asked about the headroom, which is like 6-1/2 feet. He said he was considering moving to a pop-up, and asked about what I’d sunk into the Mighty Intrepid. Assuming that he was asking about costs sans mods, I told him that the Grandby cost me almost $22K, and he didn’t flinch. (The stripped shell model starts at less than half that.) The Ford F-250 diesel in 2008 had cost me $44K, which did cause him to flinch. But he balked at the cost of having a high-top installed on his van, which let me know that it wasn’t just about an aching back.
He asked,” Would this work on a 1500?”
I started thinking about all the Toyota Tacomas and all the smaller mid-size trucks that peg their specs merely from adding a bare camper. “Yep, but you’d probably need to add support to the rear suspension – no wait, I take that back.” I’d just updated myself on the new aluminum-bodied F-150 the day before, and told him that, properly-configured, a current F-150 could now match my old F-250 for load carrying capacity, even with the extra weight of a 4×4 drivetrain, and get better mileage than I was getting, to boot. Since he appeared to be a Chevy guy, I added that Chevy almost certainly offered a similar load rating in some way or other.
“What about the diesel?” he asked, as if wanting to know if it wasn’t necessary.
“It’s overkill,” I told him. “This is 6.4 liters, and a smaller one would be better, or you could run gas just fine. These are made for towing heavy trailers, which I used to do. If all you have is the camper, it just isn’t needed.”
He breathed a sigh of relief and left.
As is my want, I later mulled over that conversation on the ride to Flagstaff and thought of all the things I coulda/shoulda added but didn’t have the time or presence of mind. In 2008, the 6.4 diesel was a $6,000 option, and it’s more now of course. Yeah, they can outlast a gas engine in the long run, but most folks don’t keep them long enough to be able to benefit from that, and in the meantime, they require a maintenance regimen more strict and costly than a gas engine.
In my case, the diesel imposes a 400-pound weight penalty that’s removed directly from the cargo-carrying capacity, which is a major reason why I’m bumping past my truck’s 10,00-pound GVWR in spite of having a lightweight camper. The bare truck, with diesel, 4×4, stronger frame and such, weighs so much by itself that it seriously eats into how much extra weight it can carry. Sure, a large twin-turbo diesel’s torque is a muscular combination, but that power becomes useful only with greater weights than the rolling chassis can support. It’s configured for heavy towing, with only a modest load in the bed.
In contrast, the current F-150 is a lighter construction overall, then substitutes aluminum where steel serves no functional purpose – apart from being perceived as more manly. Its maximum GVWR is “only” 7,850 pounds, but the thing weighs so much less bare that cargo capacity can stay large. Whatever you remove from the vehicle can be added in cargo. Since its springs don’t have to deal with an extra 2,300 pounds of vehicle hardware, they can be softer than my model, making the ride less violent. Tip in the lighter bulk of a naturally aspirated 5-liter V8 or Ford’s twin-turbo V6 3.5 liter, and pile on the cargo.
Although I can’t recommend turbocharged engines for vehicles you plan to keep long enough to run into the ground – turbos do fail and need replacing – I found the turbo version motors to be particularly interesting. This gets geeky, so if you’re not interested, this is the end of the article for you, right here. The rest is for gearheads only. If you’re a Chevy or Dodge fan, reading on is optional because, well, I’ve researched only Fords, and who cares? This is more of a revelation to me on how bizarrely pumped up power and chassis ratings have become since I bought my Ford, which in turn represented a major bump up in what had gone before it.
For reference, the Mighty Furd’s twin-turbo diesel is rated at 350 horsepower and 650 foot-pounds of torque at 2,000 RPM. In it’s day, that used to be a lot. For a lightweight camper, that’s overkill. They can’t win a drag race because they must short-shift and can’t take advantage of gear ratios, but the prodigious torque at low RPM makes steep mountain climbs a yawner. They just do it. If I’m not mistaken, my truck is rated at 2,460 pounds payload and 12,500 pounds towing, which is limited by the hitch receiver rather than the powertrain. Fifth-wheel ratings go up to 16,000 pounds, if I recall correctly.
Also for reference, in 2008 Ford offered an “Option Code A627” that pumped payload up to 2,337 pounds in the standard cab 4×4, dropping to 1,542 pounds in the SuperCab (extended cab). The towing limit was 9,500 pounds, and this relied on a drag-racing, bad mileage 4.10 axle, along with bigger springs, shocks, radiator, a reinforced frame, stiffer steel wheels, and an oil cooler. Its 5.4L engine in 4×4 trim also required a 36 gallon fuel tank option, for obvious reasons. Nowadays, the options to get those capabilities have fewer trade-offs.
Ford now offers a second series of miniscule “Ecoboost” 2.7-liter gas engine in the F-150 that, thanks to turbos and variable cam timing (which is now common), pumps out 325 HP, and 375 ft-lbs of torque at 3,000 RPM. That’s certainly enough for a camper such as the big Grandby, and if you can keep your foot off the gas pedal, offers a much more workable fuel mileage than my rig. City/highway ratings are 18/23, while in practice, mine seems to be 10/14 but, like me, you do need to keep those turbos from dumping buckets of fuel into it. Note that all fuel mileage ratings listed here and below do not necessarily take into account shorter axle ratios required for boosting towing ratings. The short-cab 4×4 version is rated at a maximum 2,110 lbs payload and can tow 8,400 pounds. Given the Grandby’s base weight of 1,200 pounds, this payload rating should do nicely.
Their little 3.5-liter Ecoboost offers 365 HP and 420 ft-lbs of torque at 2,500 RPM, which in the old days would place it firmly in big-block territory. That combination of high-RPM horsepower and low-RPM torque actually makes it their most capable combo available, putting payload in the 4×4 standard-cab version at an amazing 3,010 pounds, and towing at 11,800-12,000 pounds depending on the wheel rims chosen. Notice that payload number, which is over 500 pounds more than I have as a 4×4, and in an F-150 no less. Fuel mileage ratings at 16/22 aren’t much worse than the 2.7 motor. This motor’s specs make it obvious that it’s tuned for hauling, not drag racing, with torque at a low 2,500 RPM as the indicator and a max RPM lower than any other engine in the lineup, 5,000 RPM. It’s a grade-climber in the same spirit of my 6.4L diesel.
The naturally-aspirated version of the 3.5L drops power to real-world levels of 282 HP and 253 ft-lbs of torque at a more typical 4250 RPM. A severely dropped payload at 1,660 pounds might be partially related to engine weight, but overall is a mystery to me. Towing similarly drops to 7,400 pounds. I personally wouldn’t pick this version for a Four Wheel-style camper because of the payload limitations, unless the cost savings plus the cost of adding rear air bags somehow made it a fabulous deal and I knew exactly what components limited that spec. A 17/23 fuel mileage rating brings nothing to the table compared to others, since the lower outputs mean more throttle use overall.
Their naturally-aspirated 5.0L V8 offers a workable long-term, “low cost” workhorse option, with 385 HP and a respectable 387 ft-lbs of torque at 3,850 RPM. A max payload at 3,040 more than matches the 3.5 Eco boost, while towing ability is capped at a still-commendable 11,100 of trailer in a 4×4 standard cab. A fuel mileage rating of 15/21 is livable for a V8 of this size. The comparatively low stress of a non-turbo engine means fewer repairs in the long run, if that’s your bag.
The unfortunate part of all these F-150s, when optioned similarly to my 2008 F-250 XLT, is that they probably all cost more new today than my truck did then. Surprise. The only consolation is that all engines are offered on the lowly base XL model, making the only ratings limitations come in with what wheel size options are limited to that model. It pays to go over options with accompanying ratings as carefully as possible.
As Forrest Gump said, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
The Arizona Trail comes right through the Mormon Lake area. You should try to see where it is. It comes along the west side near Double Springs and Dairy Springs. FR 90H, FR 240, Fr90N are all places it crosses. If you plan to camp anywhere near it while on the hike, I can stop and visit.
I noticed a sign right in town saying “Arizona Trail” with an arrow pointing into the woods. I’ll have to check that out next week, since I’m not seeing it in my area on Google Maps, though I think it runs through Flagstaff too, maybe. I assume all your AT plans are on hold from your hosting work, but I have no doubt that if I were in the area while you’re passing through, you’d find my camp without having any directions. It’s quite an ability you’ve got there. Perhaps I should bathe more often.
Your camp was easier to find the last time I found it. lol There are actually two routes of the AZT going through Flagstaff, one around the east side of town and a re-supply route that goes right through town. Yes, it will all be on hold now, until this job is over. I believe at that time I will continue exploring as I work my way south again… and postpone the hike until Spring when water sources will be better and that will also allow me more time to gear up.
Hey, great to see that you’re there again this year! I’ll be looking forward to your posts to see what you find to be interesting there.
Maybe I’ll make it next year, I just moved house, so travel plans for the near future are on the back burner for a while.
There are rather a large number of classes to choose from, aren’t there?
Yep, the breadth of classes is insane. I suppose it doesn’t read like it, but I don’t really care about boosting their attendance so much as to get travel-oriented people to find the most effective way to research all the wacky options, even down to food prep, before committing with cash. Fine-tuning is inevitable, but the less from the get-go, the better. This is my second year at the Expo, but “hey, this is a slick idea” keeps rolling along. I figured I’d seen everything.
I think that you have a good approach to it, go enough times to get familiar with what you can learn from the lower cost attendance options, then come back for classes when you’ve narrowed down what you want to learn for the best cost/knowledge ratio.
I have a friend who dropped by last year, but he wasn’t impressed by the crowding and the mud pit nature of the place once the rains hit, so he did not stay. I got a good impression of if from your posts though.
It was a muddy extravaganza last year, that’s for sure! A bit of bad luck for a normally dry climate.
Hmm, it sounds like someone’s building up a rationale for a new truck. 🙂
Nice overview of the F150. I knew they went aluminum with some of their engines, but no idea they were getting that much power out of them. I can imagine that turbo’s working overtime to get the boost needed for that kinda power.
I always thought turbos were an efficient way to gain horsepower. For those paying attention in the 80’s, Ford made a foray into turbos for select autos. I remember the XR4ti and the Scorpion(?) as two such models. Though sadly they, and turbos in general, didn’t pan out for the long term. I know both my 80’s era vehicles could have benefited from them.
I don’t know what they’re doing with turbos today, but I always thought a programmable turbo would be a nice touch, with power and economy modes at the touch of a button, when desired.
On a separate note, I’ve wondered how your soft-side holds up in the rain, especially with wind added to the mix. Sounds like you may have recently experienced such conditions. Is it waterproof, and does condensation occur inside?
Also, wondering how your air mattress is holding up to your expectations.
No rationale, actually Jim. No, really! I’m serious! Really! Honest! 😉
I think of two things every great now and then. One is to have established a fallback or basic concept of a Plan B should the Mighty Furd suffer a problem not practical to repair. Though similar, the Navistar 6.4L was a complete revamp of the troubled 6.0L, but it can still develop a couple of financially catastrophic problems. Not likely, mind you, but I don’t believe in having absolutely no wild idea of what I should/could do if my horse went down under me somewhere in Nebraska. For me, it’s not paranoia or pessimism, so much as a choice in how to deal with what has proven inevitable over time. I can choose to deal with unexpected mechanical crises with wringing hands and confusion, making bad decisions under pressure, or preferably with a sailor’s vocabulary and a step to flesh out Plan B. In my case I’d have to shop for a well-used replacement, but what has happened since 2008? More than I expected. I like to see the trends of what’s working its way down the pipe and will eventually become affordable. An assumption that I’d just have to find another F-250 for all that I carry may now be a bad assumption, and a needlessly costly one. In the end, I’ve owned the Mighty Furd since new and now can’t possibly replace it with any new vehicle at all, ever. So, examining what’s coming out the factory doors now is an academic exercise that might possibly have a practical application some years from now, should I do something stupid or suffer a mechanical quirk of fate. There are frequently pockets of models and years that stand out in the test of time.
The second thing is similar to that guy at the gas station who looked and kind of assumed that because I have a big F-250 diesel under a Grandby, and I’m smiling, then that must be the best way for him to go too. To my way of thinking, the Grandby is perfect for where I go and what I do. The F-250, optioned as mine is, is the perfect towing platform but is far from the best approach to take underneath an FWC on rough or more challenging trails. Once you get equipment out there in the field, the potential drawbacks start sifting and sorting themselves from no big deal to substantial. Similarly, I don’t want readers here to think that whatever I choose or am using must necessarily be the best option, even for me. Oftentimes, what you already own is the best overall option, even when it isn’t the best-suited. Make do. I’m a big believer in having to push my ancient trade-in into the new car lot. If it isn’t near death, then I’m wasting limited resources. I need a compelling reason to change horses early, not a preference.
I was surprised at the ramp-up in chassis specs of the F-150, but more so at the long-overdue transition of gasoline turbo motors to serious towing instead of street racing. Used to be, for day in, day out heavy lifting, the low-end grunt of more cubic inches was the most practical and long-lived solution to live with. Should Ford’s F-150 retuned diesel-like torque approach hold up in long-term real-world use, then it could represent an official end of the “no substitute for cubic inches” era, or at least of the assumption that a high-RPM racing engine is the best solution to every problem.
I’m not sure on the programmable turbo except for marketing use in cars. I can’t really speak for boost controls on gas engines, since turbos on them have historically been just for extra power on top of adequate power levels, with the possible exception of some Thunderbirds. Turbos are nearly inseparable from diesel engines because their base power output is pretty miserable. My own truck has two turbos in series, at least one of which has its vanes controlled electronically. So they’ve already given me a “programmable” turbo, except that they don’t allow me to mess with its program, which is probably for the best.
With gas turbos, I see the basic issue as similar to being willing to push away from the dinner table, or “just say no” to the gas pedal. If you can’t keep yourself from goosing the go-pedal in town, you install your switch to cripple acceleration and the resulting bad mileage. I myself wouldn’t want to electronically pre-limit the boost or passing power available, simply from a safety standpoint. I would not have the presence of mind to check the turbo switch setting before charging down a short entrance ramp or jumping out leftward at a busy T-intersection into active cross-traffic. I don’t know that delaying when boost first tips in at the bottom end would save fuel either, since without the turbo in action while highway cruising, I’d be leaning on the gas pedal more to hold speed. One of us, my pedal foot or the turbo, must supply the fuel needed to support a given road speed from point A to point B, or to accelerate at the rate needed. There seems to be a displacement for any given vehicle, below which further reductions can’t improve the average mileage significantly. I would have thought 3.5L would have been the low limit based on my experiences with a Buick LeSabre 231 and a Dodge 3.9L pickup, but here they are with a viable 2.7L, which shows what I know. I’d think it would be on the turbo nearly all the time. But owners really do need to avoid the urge to drive it hard, or in the fuel goes. To me, it makes sense to tie your manual turbo control to the sport/economy mode setting on the trans shifter of sporty sedans, maybe. Those don’t actually need a turbo in the first place, so forgetting to throw a manual switch is pretty close to a consequence-free environment.
The Grandby’s fabric is pretty thick and waterproof, and appears to be a woven plastic fabric impregnated with a second plastic. It’s a far cry from tent fabric. It does not seep or leak moisture in windy rainstorms, even though the sealing at the window bottoms takes place inside, instead of being a top-mounted external flap. It can be disconcerting to see or hear it doing its sail bulge or flag snap in stout gusts, but only I care, as it doesn’t seem to. Windy wet weather is a non-issue, though don’t expect to get a lot of ventilation during it. I have had the windows (and presumably fabric walls) steam up when boiling a pot of water while it’s cool/cold outside, but no naturally occurring condensation yet, due to my dry locations. I have read that condensation on the fabric does definitely occur in humid climates, and that the goal is to not soak bedding or allow mold to start between the mattress and the bed platform. I’d expect the Arctic Pack liner to slightly slow the overall condensation rate, but that’s all. Once I return to the upper MidWest, I’ll be checking for any pooled condensation runoff like everyone else. If it’s warm and humid inside, and falling temperatures outside, I’m going to get some degree of condensation on the walls. Never seen a hint of it so far.
The air pad has worked out superbly Jim, and I suspect I’ll never have to add air because of seepage at the fill valves. I think I crossed well over a month w/o touching it before I had to get rid of some pressure due to changing altitude. My back is really picky about sleeping surfaces, and the Exped Megamat 10 with very little air added has been markedly better than a Sleep Number bed I had for years. Everyone’s comfort perceptions are very different, but as long as the person doesn’t have a clawed pet, it should be included on any vehicle camper’s short list to check out further.
I read up a little on the Ford Ecoboost engines and updated towing/payload specs. I think it may be an alternative to a 1 ton diesel for me. I’m not one to buy new, but I could always make an exception.
Which brings me back to my previous smart remark. I’ve discovered a rationale by any other name is still the hobgoblin of desire. 🙂
Thanks for sharing your findings on the F150.