Grand Canyon Trip – Day 7 – Hoover Dam

I had been to Las Vegas at least five times prior to this trip and each time, going to the Hoover Dam was a tentative item on the list that got canceled for one reason or another.  It was not getting canceled this time.  Though, with the issues we had the night before, it was not an early start.  I think we only had about 45 minutes to ‘visit’ the dam.

Hoover Dam

One could argue that the Hoover Dam is no more, and possibly less, impressive than the previously berated Mt. Shmushmore.  But, at least there’s some cool technology on display.  Parking is kind of a mess, so somewhat by chance we drove over the dam, found a spot on the other side, hopped out of the car and walked around on the dam for a bit, drove back over and up to the new primary traffic bridge above and walked out on that for aerial pictures of the Hoover Dam.  I’m not sure how things were before the new bridge, but if traffic across the dam was anything like what it is now as primarily a pedestrian tourist attraction, that had to have been miserable with no bypass.

After checking the Hoover Dam off the bucket list, we headed back to Las Vegas to drop off the car (which was as confusing as reputed to be by others) and head home.

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Grand Canyon Trip – Day 6b – Bryce Canyon

We had been to Bryce Canyon once before and were nearby so it seemed like a fine idea to stop in again.  I think we were there for maybe an hour all together (partially affected by wasting time taking pictures of a hawk on a post earlier).  It seemed that there were about a dozen people in the entire park at that time and it was pretty cold and windy.

Bryce Canyon Map to Cedar City

We stopped at several of the overlooks and grabbed a few pictures of the rock formations in the fading daylight.  The lighting was incredibly different than the harsh midday sun that we were contending with last time we were in that area and the snow on the tops of the hoodoos was a nice change.  Most of the pictures I took are of the Queens Garden area.

The visitor center was closed already on our way in, but we stopped briefly at the lodge on our way out hoping that a gift shop was open, but we missed that by a few minutes.

While we were stopped, we booked a hotel in Cedar City.  I don’t remember the exact motivation for that area, other than it had been a larger city we drove through a few days earlier while heading north and was a reasonable distance away.   Turns out, it’s also over a mountain range, was heading into a storm and Tom Tom was completely unaware that we were driving a Prius.

I really have no idea how far through the mountains we got though I think we made it past a small lake as you can see on the map.  The visibility was continually deteriorating and the accumulated snow increasing when we came to any clearing in the trees.  It got to the point that just knowing where the road went was a challenge, so we stopped and very carefully turned around, which was a challenge for us since we didn’t exactly know where the road was and a challenge for the front wheel drive Prius since the tires were now all cutting their own tracks.  We saw two other vehicles while we were up there – a large SUV headed East right as we stopped and a minivan going West right after turning around.  The minivan made me wonder if the way was more passable than we thought, but it didn’t seem like a good idea to find out.  We ended up driving through Zion and then backtracking some to get to Cedar City.  In hindsight, there probably was no point to booking the hotel ahead of time and we could have stayed somewhere further South in the direction of the next day’s travel.

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Grand Canyon Trip – Day 6a – Capitol Reef NP

We woke up on on day two of the Capitol Reef visit to snow on the tent.  This did little to encourage expediency in getting on with doing things.  We violated the safety and wildlife rules of camping and proceeded to pull out the stove and make oatmeal in the tent vestibule.

Eventually we did get moving and went back to Capitol Gulch to hike up to Cassidy Arch and through the gulch itself.  Cassidy Arch was a pretty simple climb of about 1000 ft. ending in a relatively distant view of the arch.  We were keeping any eye out for big horn sheep as they were rumored to be present in the area, but saw none.

Cassidy Arch

Capitol Gulch was huge in comparison to what we had hiked the day before and there was no climbing required.  At the end (a few hundred yards from the parking lot on the other side) we finally caught a glimpse of something moving at the top of the cliffs and rounded the end of the plateau to find a family of four sheep.  I took a bunch of pictures of the sheep, which is kind of dumb since they’re just sheep after all, but then ran out of battery on the return, so I don’t have many pictures from in the canyon itself.

A little less than half way back it started to rain and snow lightly, so we took the hint that our day there was coming to an end, made our way out of the canyon and headed out of the park.  It was early enough, and we were close enough that we decided to stop by Bryce Canyon on our way back toward Las Vegas.

Somewhere en route to Bryce we were driving through a field and spotted a hawk on a fence post.  I decided we needed pictures of it, so there was short delay for that.  We also saw another bird soaring above and followed it for a bit.  I got a few very poor pictures, but I think, based on the feather patterns underneath and what I can find on Google that it was a Golden Eagle. Continue reading

Grand Canyon Trip – Day 5 – Capitol Reef NP

Capitol Reef Map

Having completed most everything we could do in Zion short of the hikes that require permits, such as the Narrows and Subway.  Our next destination was Capitol Reef.  It was relatively close, something new, and sounded like there might be some interesting hikes there.  It’s not as well known as Bryce, Arches, or a few of the other parks in that area, but we had already seen parts of those in past trips.

The park itself is a very long narrow stretch of land surrounding a waterpocket fold.  As we learned, the defining element of a fold is where the rock rises up gently from one side, but has broken off and forms cliffs from the other.  In the park, this means that if you approach from the West you see cliff walls and if you approach from the East, not so much.  Capitol Reef has a small area which is the Fruita Historic District where the remains of the town are preserved and the various orchards are still active and at the right time of year you can pick your own fruit.

We stayed at a hotel about 10 miles outside of the park in Torrey, got up relatively early and went straight to the Capitol Reef visitor center to figure out what we were going to do to make best use of about a day and half visit.  The weather which had haunted us thus far on the trip was not far off and the ranger warned us that if we wanted to hike any of the slot canyons we needed to be headed there immediately to avoid potential rain and flash floods later in the day.

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Grand Canyon Trip – Day 4 – Zion National Park

Kolob Canyons Sign

Clearly, a smart person would have categorized this entire trip as being to Zion with some side hikes.  But, I’m being stubborn and calling it the Grand Canyon trip because that’s what we intended it to be.

We had read some of the information on Capitol Reef National Park and it sounded like there was some good hiking and exploring to do there and it was within reasonable driving distance, so that became the evening plan, but first we had one more hike to do in Zion.  It was a more out of the way hike, and certainly one of the less popular as a result.  This was the journey to Kolob Arch, one of the two predominant arches in Zion, the other being Crawford Arch.  It’s also a 14 mile round trip to get to the arch, which probably has some impact on its popularity.  The fact that it’s a 30-45 minute drive out of the park and to a entirely different area also probably has something to do with it.

We started at Lee’s Pass Trailhead and descended into the valley wrapping around to follow LaVerkin Creek for a while and then following one of it’s tributaries up to the arch itself.  It was often obvious that this was a drier time for the area as there were lots of temporary riverbeds and a few would have been waterfalls had there been more recent rain. Continue reading

Grand Canyon Trip – Day 3 – Zion National Park

First order of business for day three was moving to the Zion campground, because 1) I don’t like spending money and 2) when we pack a tent across the country, I get very disappointed when it doesn’t get used.  The campground was full, but we got there early enough that there was just a small line and the ranger was letting cars in as people departed for the day.  This meant we weren’t going to get much choice on sites, but we lucked out and got a site along the river.

Observation Point

Since I chickened out on Angel’s Landing the previous day, our primary hike for the day was going to be Observation Point – a longer hike that starts a bit further into the canyon and ends up above Angel’s Landing, but with less clinging to rocks.

The trail starts out with a lot of switchbacks, then leveled out for a while as it and went through a nice little slot canyon section.  This was probably the coolest individual section of trail and we stopped for picture time on the way down.  After that, the switchbacks resumed and then a final long, gradual climb around the rim of the plateau to the point itself, which is the highest viewpoint in the park and overlooks Angel’s Landing.

I think we started up sometime after 11, which meant we were climbing during the hottest part of the day, which is generally a bad plan, but it was also early season, so we got away with it.  There is apparently also a trail to access the point from the top, so you technically don’t have to drive into Zion to get to the point and could backpack down into the canyon from there.

Observation Point is a pretty broad point – there’s a large area at the top where hikers kind of mill about, rest, have snacks, etc.  There is a geological survey marker at the point, so you know you’ve achieved something.  If you leave your backpack for more than a minute or two with food inside, the chipmunks will try to help themselves to your snacks as well. Continue reading

Grand Canyon Trip – Day 2 – Zion National Park

As mentioned previously, we decided to get up and head out in the early AM and try our luck getting passes for The Wave at the visitor center in Kanab, UT.  We made two mistakes in this adventure.

We arrived at about 8:50, just before the 9:00 lottery, except that we were still on Arizona (Mountain) time and Utah is on Pacific Time.  We were 50 minutes too late.  This was soon discovered to be completely irrelevant though, since they had also gotten rain recently and apparently a high clearance, 4WD vehicle was the baseline requirement for getting to the trailhead… We had a Prius.

So, armed with the advice of the ranger at the visitor center, we headed to Zion, which was reportedly going to be less stormtastic over the upcoming days.  There are definitely other cools things to see and do around the Kanab area, but we hadn’t really planned any and would have been playing a guessing game against the storms, so a return trip to Zion seemed to be the best option. Continue reading

Grand Canyon Trip – Day 1

Reporting on a recent trip that Janet and I took to the Grand Canyon…

Obligatory Moose

We flew out to Las Vegas on Saturday and, in the standard fashion, got a car and made a stop for food and other non-packed supplies, and headed toward the Grand Canyon South Rim.  We didn’t intend to make it all the way to the Grand Canyon.

Janet had found an incredibly cheap hotel, the Ash Fork Inn in Ash Fork, UT.   I think the realization that this might be somewhat questionable started when the hotel did not show up on in the right place on TomTom or Google maps.  Upon arriving, we realized it was exactly what one might expect for the price.  It was certainly the most rundown hotel I’ve stayed in in the US and maybe anywhere, but it was sufficient for somewhere to sleep.  I am also delighted that the most run down accommodation award is no longer owned by me, and not likely to be reclaimed unless we count making her stay in campgrounds. Continue reading

Tankless Water Heater

tankless

Background

I needed to replace a very very old electric tank water heater before the bottom fell out and flooded my basement. I wanted to switch to gas for cost reasons.   I didn’t want to install it close enough to the chimney, which is far from all the plumbing, to use that as a vent and I didn’t want to put a hole in my roof for a water heater vent as a naturally vented tank heater would require.  That meant looking at a power vented model. Power vent models cost more, reducing the up front cost difference between a tank and tankless model.

I also have a general appreciation for the efficiency of not holding a tank of hot water at the ready 24/7, so between the two I was leaning toward a tankless heater.

I bought mine semi-locally from a plumber who installed, but then removed it.  Mine is the Home Depot Ecosense badged version: ECOH200DVLN.  Menards sells the Richards branded version.  Rheem sells the RTGH-95DVLN. As far as I know, they’re all identical.

My research indicated that this was one of the better (best even) tankless heaters available in quality, function and efficiency.  It is definitely overkill for what I need, and if I were buying brand new, I’d have gotten the 8.4 GPM version.  A few Japanese brands that got similar reviews, but as far as I could tell they were mostly internet order and didn’t have much for sales representation in the US.  All brands also made lower efficiency models, but they would have brought the same concerns as a standard water heater in requiring non-PVC roof venting.

Late in my research, I also discovered that there are apparently gas, condensing, tank water heaters which approach the same efficiency of around 93-95% but they are stupid expensive, like a minimum 50% more than the tankless version.

Installation

I installed the unit myself.  I’d describe myself as capable but inexperienced (as in none) in relation to plumbing and gas work in a home.  This was my first time sweating copper pipe (yes, I know shark-bites exist, but they’re expensive, I don’t trust o-rings and I’m an electrical engineer, so soldering things myself is a matter of pride).  It was also my first time messing with gas line.  I’ve worked a bit with PVC before, but it was in the potato canon capacity, not home improvement. So, I did a lot of reading and research before the install.

I bought most of the hardware, and did most of the install over a long weekend.  It took about two to three days worth of effort (steep learning curve for the soldering) and one or two returns to the hardware store as I had to make slight adjustments to my venting plans to better match reality (corner radii, clearance for 3″ PVC around bends, etc).

I did the venting with 3″ PVC.  I believe the instructions indicate you can get away with 2″ PVC, but only for an extremely short run.  My venting goes approximately 20ft to get to the back end of the house. There’s a total of 240 degrees of bend in each line. Rheem has guidelines in the install guide that list a max of 38ft, but I didn’t see anything explicitly stating if that was per vent or combined.  After some digging, I concluded it was per.  There are conversions for accounting for turns in that 38ft total.  I was within those limits, but just to be sure, I used some ‘creative’ deployment of a 60 and 45 combined to get a 90 degree bend plus an orthogonal step toward my wall.

The gas line coming into my house is 1″, which was fortunate given that the furnace which was the only existing gas appliance only needs a 1/2″ feed.  The water heater is a 199,000 BTU beast (over 4x the furnace) and requires at least 3/4″ gas line.  I think have about 35ft of 1″ line and then another 17ft of 3/4″ line to get to the heater.  This is on the edge of what’s acceptable according to the guides and I think falls somewhere just over a .3″WC pressure drop, but there were also tables for .5″WC pressure drop and I’m well within those.  I have two shut off valves in the gas line, one right on the heater (came with) and one in the gas line dropping to the heater before the union.  Nice thing about this is that it let me connect to the drip leg under the unit (between the valves) and pressure check all the joints right up to the very last one to the heater.

The location of the heater was selected to match the former location of the electric tank so I could reuse as much of the plumbing as possible.  Maybe it would have been a better plan to move everything 15ft closer to both the well and gas inlets for the house, but I didn’t and that’s only in hindsight.  These tankless heaters have the water in / out on the bottom instead of the top like a tank unit, so some wrap around plumbing was necessary. They make 18″ long flex lines for this, which I think aren’t a bad idea, but I decided to be cheap and plumb with the 3/4″ copper. Also, I suspect the ones i needed weren’t in stock, encouraging this decision.

I mounted the heater itself on some 2×4’s connected to a joist and stretching down to the floor.  This gives a bit of clearance behind the heater for the plumbing, kept me from having to use masonry bolts, and for whatever it may be worth, keeps the heater from direct contact with a relatively cold concrete wall. I had to move (lower) it once during the install, and having it mounted to 2×4’s instead of concrete definitely made that easier.

Success

Shortest section… After everything was connected and my construction mistakes fixed (mostly plumbing leaks, which are a pain to find and fix once water is in the pipes) the heater fired right up and worked flawlessly.  My well pump with all the taps in my house wide open can’t run enough water to outpace this heater – I could have bought the 8.4GPM model and been just fine, but I bought this one because I found it available at about half price.

More recently, I had the inspection done and passed (forgot to put the extension on the pressure relief valve, but that was just a note) so I guess that means I was successful too!

Thoughts on the heater itself

Speed to getting hot water at a tap is slower than with a tank.  I didn’t count before, so I can’t say for sure how much, but there’s *some* heat up time.

The so called “cold water sandwich” does still exist.  It’s not as pronounced as full hot to full cold and back to full hot, but it is there.  This seem seems to be a simple fact of life of the tankless heaters, but I believe that Rheem claims that this effect doesn’t exist, which is an overstatement.

The venting is powered, thus there is a blower and thus there is some sound.  The heater is mounted roughly under my kitchen sink, so I do hear the fan.  It’s not obnoxious, but it’s present.  I also have an indoor jet pump for the well.  That is much louder. Neither run unless water is being used, so it’s not like they kick on in the middle of the night (like a power vented tank heater would). Probably the most notable aspect of the fan sound is that it makes me aware that I had an occasional habit of turning on a tap with no regard for hot or cold if I was just rinsing something quick and never expected the water to warm up anyway (true regardless of heater).

I do find it a bit annoying that the flush valves aren’t included (the seem to be a minimum of $60).  It’s in the instruction manual that you need to flush the system yearly, and to do that you need the valves.  Seems like they should be included.  I think the outdoor vent terminations are not included either, but this is more variable based on install.  Both came with mine as the plumber I bought it from had the package ready to install.

In having to extend my gas line (1″ and 3/4″ black pipe), having to modify the plumbing (3/4″ copper), the venting (3″ PVC) and all the odds and ends to go with those, there was a lot of cost in the install – I’d say a few hundred dollars there and that’s not counting the hundred worth of valves and terminations that typically don’t come with the system. I think that with the loan of my Dad’s pipe threading wrench and borrowing a 3.5″ hole saw from work, I didn’t need to buy any major tools for the job. That said, I have a MAPP gas torch, a few pipe cutters, saws, hammers, drills, pliers, pipe wrenches, etc. all of which were used often.

The remote temperature control could be nice, but I don’t see much use for it in my situation, so it’s just wired up and chillin’ with the heater in the basement.

It’s going to be hard to say what the cost improvement is since I was going from a horribly old electric tank to a new, top of the line gas tankless, but it aught be an improvement.  I think the payback period, for me, is probably only a few years.

I will be curious to see how long the system lasts – not that I have reason to expect failure, but these are notably more complex than any tank heater I’ve ever seen with exception of the 95% efficient types mentioned earlier. I know that tank heaters are commonly rated at 6, 9 and 12 years and given the cost and mode of operation, I would hope that this would last at least toward the upper end of those timelines.