A Most “Pleasant” Fortnight: Lake Pleasant AZ

Stunning view from Yavapai Point

Waving goodbye to our new Lance Owners Association “Rally in the Valley” friends, we hopped on AZ-303 for the 35 mile drive north to Lake Pleasant Regional Park, another in the wonderful Maricopa County parks system. This was a new park for us, however, so we were curious what we would find; reviews had been mixed. Turning into the park we were immediately surrounded by rolling hills, and after passing through the main entrance we spied something we hadn’t seen since leaving Oklahoma: a large body of water.

Lake Pleasant is a manmade lake, a reservoir of fresh water for Phoenix and Tucson. The history of this engineering marvel and its associated aqueducts is described in the very nice new “Discovery Center” in the park, which was conveniently located just a five minute walk from our campsite.

Someone was thinking ahead

Lake Pleasant is part of the massive Central Arizona Project, the system of reservoirs, dams, pumps and aqueducts stretching from the Colorado River at Lake Havasu to Tucson that delivers water to Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties in Arizona, especially the Phoenix and Tucson areas. Originally a private irrigation project, the first dam here was named for Carl Pleasant (one of the engineers on the project) and was completed in 1927. So while the lake is indeed a pleasant place, it was in fact named for a person.

This original dam was replaced in 1994 with the New Waddell Dam, increasing the reservoir capacity by a factor of seven. During the winter months, when electricity costs are low, water is pumped from the CAP aqueduct (and eventually from the Colorado River) into the reservoir. Then in the summer, when electricity is costly, it is released through a hydroelectric plant, generating power. Clever, no? The reservoir provides a way to smooth out the natural surges and drops in supply from snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains.

The politics and history of water in the southwest are long and evolving. Booming populations in the region combined with climate change are potentially worrisome for the long-term water supply, but regardless, it is impressive that there was once sufficient foresight, planning and capital available to build this major infrastructure which makes possible the modern way of life in southern Arizona. It also makes me appreciate how spoiled we are in the Great Lakes area to have almostĀ too much fresh water at the moment.

So much for the history. In addition to its role in the water supply, Lake Pleasant also provides a venue for recreational boaters and ATVers. In fact, the vibe of this park reminded us of Roosevelt Lake, where we stayed last year. Something about these types of activities seems to bring out a “less mellow” sort of camper. Maybe it was the proximity to the Super Bowl, but during our first week there I felt like we were in a bit of an ongoing tailgate party. The second week was an entirely different and more peaceful experience. Such are the vagaries of the moveable feast that is the RV life.

Certainly for Maureen, the sight of water was a continuous joy. We have both grown to love the desert, but there is something definitely pacifying about gazing at a still expanse of water. And here it is surrounded on all sides by hills and mountains, providing an idyllic setting. Our site was perched at the top of the campground so we had mostly unimpeded views, although it was windy at times.

Soaking in the water and mountain views

We were delighted that our friends Dick and Marcia from back home in Beverly Shores, who have a home in nearby Scottsdale, drove out to visit us for lunch and a hike. They had been here before, but it had been some time, and they were happy to see what was new. We had a great time, and kudos to Dick for going off trail to pick up wayward bits of trash that had blown into the scrub.

Friends from back home in Indiana

During the week I tackled a problem that had started to show up during the last two weeks: our power converter (the box that converts 120VAC from the power pedestal to 12VDC for the lights, water pump, TV, furnace fan, refrigerator controller, etc.) had started to occasionally surge its outputĀ voltage to 15-16V. From my Lance Owners Association friends I knew that this was the first sign that the thing was on its last legs, a known problem for this WFCO brand converter (or as a friend of mine calls it, WTFCO). If left unchecked, too high a voltage can damage our very expensive Lifeline AGM batteries.

Fortunately, there was a short term fix: switch off the converter. This allowed us to use the backup system we just happen to have – our solar panels! In this state we were in a sort of a hybrid electric “dry camp”. We had 120VAC available for the microwave and water heater, but everything else listed above was running off the solar/battery combination. It worked fine until I could make repairs.

Cleaning our dusty solar panels

I ordered a replacement converter that other Lance owners have said would be an upgrade, the Progressive Dynamics PD4655V. It features a “Charge Wizard”, which basically means it’s a smart charger that boosts the voltage when it senses that the batteries are very low, reducing charge times. This is also handy for getting a quick charge when using a generator on a cloudy day and the solar panels aren’t contributing.

The one thing I haven’t hacked a solution for yet is getting packages delivered to us on the road. Amazon Locker works in theory, but apparently this package was too big or too heavy for that. So we relied on the kindness of friends, in this case the sister of a friend that Maureen was going to be seeing anyway. We shipped the box to her and they rendezvoused. Thanks Lisa!

The old (left) and the new (right)

Installing the box was only a little frustrating. The old converter supplied ample places for wires to connect. Because we have solar panels and a circuit for additional 12V outlets, along with the converter output, three very fat wires need to attach to the distribution board.

Old converter (bottom section) and DC distribution board (upper right) with fat wires

The new DC board only provides one post for connections, so I had to make a “pigtail” with a bus bar to connect everything together.

The amazing pigtail innovation

I have a degree in electrical engineering, but they never taught us about when you might need a pigtail. Fortunately Google helped me figure this one out while I was standing in Home Depot wondering how massive a wire nut I would need for this job.

Our other encounter with the positive march of technology was our weekly visit to the laundromat. We had been less than pleased with the last laundry we had used, so I searched again and found Coin Less Laundry. Their system uses a stored value card (like a gift card); you put money on the card, then insert it into the machines to purchase a wash or dry. No more coin changers, or fumbling with quarters and having them jam in the coin slots. Plus this allows them to have prices that are not multiples of $0.25. The machines were new with plenty of granite-topped tables for sorting and folding. All of this combined to make this weekly chore almost pleasant. I recall that machines at one other laundry we used near Tucson also took Apple Pay – even better – so maybe this industry is finally modernizing, albeit slowly.

Better than quarters, not as good as Apple Pay

The rest of our two weeks back at the park we hit the trails, as usual, looking for the elusive wild burros. We eventually found them near the water’s edge.

Wild burros!

We got halfway through the Pipeline Canyon trail, only to discover that the floating bridge was out. As evidence that the lake water level was indeed rising (see above), workmen were relocating it slightly higher on the shore. Since we didn’t know how long that job would take we hiked back out, drove to the other end of the trail and then hiked from there to the other side of the bridge and back. So we got to do the whole trail, just in two segments.

Floating bridge out

Pipeline Canon and Yavapai Point trails

In the end we really enjoyed Lake Pleasant. While rowdy at times, it was a nice change of pace to be near water. And while it was a bit more remote from amenities like grocery stores, you felt like you were in a special place. With a little planning it was easy to make it work. Which pretty well sums up how we roll on our Odyssey.

Trademark AZ Sunset #1

Trademark AZ Sunset #2