Friday, May 22, 2015

Life Elevated in UTAH, which ROCKS, and the "Mighty Five"

Southern Utah is home to some of the most unique geologic formations in the world, and to five of America's most magnificent national parks: the "Mighty Five", with a Capital M.  Zion, Arches,
Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands  National Parks, all unique, breathtaking, brilliant, exhilarating, relaxing, adventure-filled, awesome, and  incredible in their own right and in close proximity to one another.  How can your Life not be Elevated by a visit to one, two or all of these majestic destinations?  Not to mention Utah's impressive 43 state parks and numerous monuments which are no less stunning.
We feel quite fortunate that our route from our winter location in Boulder City/Lake Mead, Nevada up to Flaming Gorge in the NE section of Utah allows us to visit so many of these stunning destinations.
After another spectacular Winter in southern Nevada, we departed April 17th, headed north for Flaming Gorge Utah on the Green River where we will spend our summer volunteering for the U.S Forestry Service.  We will miss being in our beloved Oregon, where we luckily spent the past two summers near family and friends volunteering for a  BLM recreation site on Mt. Hood, but we are excited to explore a new area hiking, kayaking and fly fishing on the Green River and etc. etc.
We previously visited Arches, Canyonlands and Zion National Parks while traveling from Oregon to southern Nevada in October 2013, but had not had the privilege to enjoy the  remaining  two "Mighty Five", Bryce Canyon or Capitol Reef, so that is just what we are doing as we slowly meander up to NE Utah for a fun-filled summer at scenic Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.

I used to think Arches was my 'favorite' Utah national park, that is until we recently visited Bryce Canyon and fell in love with the hoodoos.  Now I've decided it's impossible to have a 'favorite' Utah national park as they are all so diverse, special and gorgeous in their own unique way.
Delicate Arch  @ Arches National Park

'Hoodoos' at Bryce Canyon National Park

Limestone columns or pillars are sculpted by rain into bulbous spires called hoodoos.  It's fun to hike above them or below them, and numerous trails allow either.
Navajo/Queens Garden Loop Trail             (Hoodo you think you are?)

We were thrilled to experience the sweet treat of SNOW one day, even though we had to dig really deep for our gloves.

Natural Bridge
We decided to spend a month in Torrey, Utah because it's the 'Gateway to Capitol Reef National Park'  and the opportunity to thoroughly explore this 'new' park for us, and  the numerous state parks and monuments close by.  Plenty to see and do in a months time.  Capitol Reef is another natural gem and impressive Utah 70 mile long national park that is part of the famous Waterpocket Fold.
Soon we will be continuing further north, spending time in Palisades State Park and Antelope Island State Park before arriving at Flaming Gorge, but for now, we will continue to enjoy the unlimited recreational and hiking opportunities available to us, and our "Life Elevated" here in awesome Utah.

Capitol Reef National Park

                                                        Fremont River and old Mormon Orchards, (Fruita)  in Capitol Reef Valley

Chimney Rock

Cohab Canyon Slot Canyon

The "Castle"
                                                    Juniper Tree - Windblown
Gopher SnakeS
Cathedral Valley  Temples of Moon and Sun
Cassidy Arch     (named for the outlaw Butch Cassidy)

                                                       Hickman Bridge

                                                                                       Saddle Up!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

HOPS; Growing, Harvesting and Brewing HOPS makes for a HOPPY summer in Oregon

What a sweet treat to have the privilege of growing our own HOPS at my brothers home in NW Oregon this past summer and then after harvesting, using it for our own home beer brewing.
After arriving May 1st  for another summer of volunteering for a BLM recreation site on Mt. Hood Oregon, we immediately planted the 2 mail order HOPS plants that were waiting for us at my brothers home, 20 miles away. (No, not male order)  The Glacier HOP plant and Mt. Hood HOP plant were both 2 inches tall when we planted them with a south exposure and twine rope to grow up.

                                                      HOPS and snapdragons

We diligently watered, fertilized and babied our HOPS all summer long and watched them steadfastly grow and Grow and GROW.

Needless to say, they really did grow like a weed!  And needless to say, we were Very HOPPY, indeed!

For the love of HOPS, we still have another month of growing at least, with our goal to harvest early September.
Fresh  HOP  season, which starts mid August and lasts until mid September, is the one time annually when plump green HOPS are harvested and dried here in the Pacific Northwest, which boasts two of the country's largest hop-growing regions.

                                                            HOP on!

It's harvest time.

It's time to cut these babies down.  So we do.




                                                       Our finished product.

  We are in HOP heaven with the resinous sweet aroma of freshly harvested HOPS.  We are thrilled with our first crop of homegrown HOPS.  We will use a small amount for brewing a gallon of fresh hopped (also known as wet hopped) beer.  The remainder we will vacuum pack and store in our freezer for our future beer brewing.  Our 2 plants yielded 3 pounds of dried HOPS, which was more than we anticipated.  SWEET!

                                 First we brew a fresh HOPS Black IPA.

                                                       Fresh HOPS  Black IPA

Then we vacuum pack the remaining HOPS to store in our freezer for future use.

After another spectacular summer in NW Oregon, it is time to head south to southern Nevada again for the Winter.   A big THANKS to my favorite brother John, for letting us grow HOPS on his rich, fertile land.  We owe you a couple more pints, Bro.  xo
Our next blog post we will share some of the awesome Portland area Breweries and Alehouses we were fortunate to visit this past summer as well.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Home Brew Beer, RV Style

Yes, you can brew your own beer in an RV. Perhaps you cannot make 5 gallon/50 bottles batches, but you can make some of the best brew possible. All you need to do is downsize things just like we all did when we moved into our RVs.  But I am getting ahead of myself, how did this idea of brewing beer in an RV come about?

I was still in contact with some of my prior co-workers, when one of the guys had just started home brewing in a small condo and suggested I do the same in the RV.  I explained that storage was a problem in the RV, and he said he had the same problem at his place and was making small, one gallon, batches.  After a short discussion of the ins and outs of small batches, he offered to bring his equipment over to the RV and make a batch with me.  Well, Elliot and I had a great time making beer in the RV, and I realized this is something you could do in an RV. The final product was unbelievable…I honestly said “I cannot believe I made beer better than I can buy!” Elliot also brought up the idea of coming into a new RV Park or boondock site and inviting the people next door over for a home brew!  
What a great ice breaker to meet the people next to you. I only have Elliot to thank for this great idea and some of the best beer I have ever drunk.  We will stay in contact, and I always consult the Beer Dr. when I make a change to one of his/our recipes or need a how to.

The equipment needed can be minimal or as elaborate and expensive as you can imagine. Below you can see I started with a minimal set of two 10-12 qt pots, one 2 gallon drink cooler, immersion cooler and a few other items, well less than $100:

When making beer, the number one ingredient is water and what better place to make beer than Oregon.  We are currently staying in northern Oregon; above the 49 parallel where a fresh water artesian well brings in the best possible water from Mt. Hood.  Before making beer, we make sure the water is right for our brew:

Once the water is tested, it’s time to make beer.  Following our recipe, we make our wort in a 2 gallon sport drink cooler

The wort takes 60-90 minutes, depending on what beer we are making.  Once it is complete, it’s time to extract the wort, leaving the grains behind.  We do this with a stainless steel filter attached to a liquid on/off value connected to the cooler and drain into our boiling pot.

The Fifth-wheel entry steps are perfect for this providing just the right ladder effect for draining.

Following our recipe, we boil the wort for 60-90 minutes, and add hops according to the recipe schedule.

After the wort has boiled for the allotted time, it’s time to cool it as quickly as possible. This helps prevent any airborne microbes from contaminating our batch. I use an immersion cooler and our pure Mt. Hood, Oregon 55 degree water.

Once the wort is cooled, we pitch the yeast and store it in our primary one gallon fermenter for about one week to let the wort settle and the krauesen form at the top of the fermenter and the hop particles and dead yeast will form trub at the bottom. This is what is should look like after one week:

Next, we transfer our wort to a secondary fermenter, away from the krauesen and trub, letting the beer clear further.  This is also where we dry hop the brew. Dry hopping is a new means to add hop flavor and aroma, without adding bitterns.

You’ll notice a hop bag used for leaf hops at the top of the fermenter. The bag lets the hop oil drain from the leafs and buds, without clouding up our batch. We then let the beer settle for another week in the secondary, then into the bottles for a minimum of two weeks to carbonate and settle further.  We use a 48 qt cooler in the “basement” of our fifth-wheel to store the bottles, that keeps them at a more constant temperature and out of the way. Then after waiting, and waiting for our brew to perfect, we finally get to drink some of the best beer money can buy:

So as you can see, making home brewed beer in an RV is easy and simple.  You just have to downsize the batch size and all falls into place.

Cheers and hoppy brewing!!!

Solar Mod

Our solar Mod:  There are already plenty of blogs, articles and even books on RV solar mods, so I will skip the basics, how-to, etc and simply explain what is different about ours and why.  First, we only boondock a few weeks each year, so adding a large expensive, system did not make sense for us. We started with four Interstate 6 volt 108 AH batteries, one 100 watt panel and a 40 amp MPPT from WindyNation, which cost much less than $300, not including the batteries.  I mounted the panel with hinges and bolts so the panel could be tilted in any direction to maximize solar power.

We started the solar mod incrementally to keep the cost low, and determine how many watts we really needed. We also already had a Honda 2000 generator, so if the single panel proved to not meet our needs we could always go back to running the generator and dealing with the noise and exhaust fumes.

We first tested our new solar system in Quartzsite during the big show in January 2014. For those of you that do not know about the big show in Quartzsite, basically over 500,000 RVers arrive and spend about a week in the middle of January to attend the show and boondock in the BLM deserts. Everything you want or need for RVs is for sale during the show. (I’ll explain our big find later)  

When we first arrived, we pointed the rig to the East, with Southern exposure to our awning/solar side for maximum sun coverage.  I raised our panel and check the amp meter, 5.6 amps. 

With full batteries already from our travels, we made the first day no problem. We typically do not use a lot of electricity during the day, however, most evenings we like to check emails, internet and perhaps watch a DVD movie.  Well, this exceeded our new solar systems capabilities by the second day.  As the week went by, we lost 3-5% more each day making us run the generator more and more just to bring the batteries back above 80%. Time for more solar panels!

Next we purchased three more 100 watt panels from WindyNation for right over $300, bringing our total to about $600 so far.  We also purchased a motorized tilt solar mount at the big show – our big find!  This was a big deal for me, because I do not like climbing on the roof every time we arrive or leave and really don’t want to if a rain or wind storm comes in quickly and you jump up on the roof and fight the wind or rain to lower the solar panels. 

 Direct Link to Demo of Motorized Tilt Solar Panel

After the installation of the new panels and the motorized tilt system we returned to Quartzite to retest our solar system.  We were able to stay several days, use all the electric power we wanted (no A/C of course), and each evening the batteries were back to 100%. 
Some more picture of the installation: