Tag Archives: steep grade

The Road Less Traveled By

Any other highway but I-10 would be fine this time. So we started westward on I-20 and almost magically found ourselves entering the Sacramento Mountains on US-82. How could we have known how cool this was going to be? How many times did we not take this road?

We’ve crossed the continent, out and back, almost every year for the past ten. Every time we’ve been pulling our sweet 25′ Airstream home-on-wheels behind us. It seems like we’ve taken I-10 way too many times.

Really we probably used other highways at least half of the times we traversed the continent. We’ve crossed on The TransCanada Highway once, and each of I-90, 80, 70, and 40 at least once in both directions. Interstate 10 gets all our other crossings because it’s the most southern route and therefore the most suitable for towing our unwinterized RV in January, Feb, or Mar, which we often seem to do.

We were headed from North Carolina to Casa Grande AZ for the WBCCI Airstream Club’s annual winter Board meeting. Each evening on this trip we looked at the possible routes and weather a day ahead ahead. An overnight in Sweetwater TX on I-20 gave us a good look at a route we’d never considered. We saw a straighter line than I-20/I-10 offered from Sweetwater to Las Cruces, by picking our way from I-20 to US-82. We had no idea the adventure we were facing, the route simply looked more direct.

One hundred or so miles later we were in an incomparably beautiful area, the Sacramento Mountains in Lincoln National Forest. Without a doubt this was the prettiest part of our entire drive. The two lane road gently turned and climbed back and forth as it followed an ancient route through a gorge and then inexorably upward toward Cloudcroft NM at 8,650 ft above sea level.

There were long stretches of nothing but unspoiled terrain. This natural beauty reminded us of driving on Top of the World Highway between Dawson City YT and Chicken Alaska, where for as far as we could see away from our road there was no trace of civilization anywhere. Gradually we started seeing more homesteads, then RV parks, and finally stores. In Cloudcroft we even drove by a small ski slope filled with folks enjoying skiing on a sunny afternoon.

It took a little while for us to recover from the excitement of watching our engine and transmission temperatures climb on the mile-high climb and imagine our brake temperatures climb on the 4,300′ descent. Then we realized we were going to be driving right by White Sands National Monument. Several times we had driven on one border or the other of the White Sands Missile Range. We’d never been on this side of the area and hadn’t thought how to find our way to it. We had to stop!


We spent a fascinating hour touring the Visitors Center and watching their very good video about the area. We learned some history and geology about the area, and why the white sand is special – it’s gypsum instead of quartz. What surprised us most is the rule prohibiting taking any of this white sand out of the park. Sure enough, we saw little piles of it on the sidewalk of the parking area where people dumped out their shoes so they wouldn’t be absconding with the material.

I’ve friends who won’t take that road, the one less traveled. Their travel’s going to be on the four-lanes and GPS-referred routes. There’s nothing wrong with that. Those roads are likely to have good paved shoulders, softer grades, great sight lines, and perhaps other safety features. The best thing is that the really interesting routes might remain, in Robert Frost’s words, “the road less traveled by.” It did make all the difference for us yesterday.

See You Down The Road

Jim and Debbie,
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees
©dreamstreamr odyssey 2017

Making the grade

Cayoosh Creek is far below

Cayoosh Creek is far below

On how steep a grade do you tow your trailer? We found our new high last week. Last week’s drive was one of the most beautiful and certainly the most harrowing we’ve experienced. Almost the entire distance from Kamloops to Pemberton the views were just absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. Half the distance had excellent roads. The other half were the worst paved roads we’ve ever traveled, bar none.

Our route from Kamloops was Highway #1 to Cache Creek, then a short stretch north on #97 north to pick up #99 south toward Whistler. The bulk of #99 was narrow and without shoulder, and in countless places suddenly the road surface would be like a twenty feet long pothole, causing the truck and trailer to pitch up and down wretchedly. We were sure all the hangers would be off the closet rods and one or more roof lockers might be lying on the floor. But no damage whatsoever!

Highway #99 (if we should call this stretch highway) has at least a half-dozen one lane bridges over Cayoosh Creek, Gott Creek, and others. A few of these we found with new bridges under construction. We stopped for fifteen or twenty minutes while the flagmen decide whether northbound or southbound will have the route next.

The most challenging aspect of the drive was the steep grades. Our trip mapping program (by Trailer Life) highlights every section which has more than a 6 percent grade. Steeper than this can be a little challenging for some tow vehicles or motorhomes, you probably know. And how about ten percent, eleven percent, and fifteen percent? Yeah, really 15% grades. We didn’t know highways have these — or how we would manage. It was fine towing downhill in second and first gear, the engine provided almost all the braking we needed.

Amazing how CPR carved a railroad through

Amazing how CPR carved a railroad through

A couple of places we stopped for the view, it was just too great. Tremendously steep deep gorges, and peaks rising straight up above us. We were glad for the stops too. You know, grab some more cookies out of the pantry or maybe visit the washroom in the RV. A young couple on big motorcycles stopped at this outlook while we were there. They asked if we would snap their picture. So they returned the favor for us. We played tag with them the remainder of the trip to Pemberton.

Our destination was to have been Alice Lake, near Squamish south of Whistler. We had a little less than two hours remaining when we decided we just didn’t need to go so far. We had passed ourselves several times in the switchbacks and half feared the trailer would bypass us on a couple of the grades. We pulled into Nairn Falls Provincial Park near Pemberton. It is another very nice provincial park, if a little close to the highway.

The sites are large, nicely graded, and covered with fine crushed gravel like the sites at Paul Lake. The natural growth is much thicker here because the annual precipitation is double or triple that of the Kamloops area. So the sites have a little more privacy but it hardly matters at all — the peak occupancy is past. School started for September, the long weekend is over, and even the Europeans are probably flying home by now.

We didn’t know we would have so much “fun” driving . The views and landscape were worth it, maybe. But in retrospect, maybe it would have been more enjoyable and easier on the transmission and brakes to have driven Highway #1 the entire route through Vancouver. We could have gone up to Whistler another time, and the highway from Vancouver to Whistler is perfect, thanks to hosting Winter Olympics 2010.

We made the grades up and down, thanks to great engine, transmission and brakes. Next time we see a 15% grade warning we know a little of what to expect. Oh yeah, we won’t try this in freezing weather. And we would drive this route again, but perhaps at a lower speed than the posted 60 km/hr maximum to dampen the bumps a little.

Jim and Debbie
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