Here's the latest Update.
Currently, I'm in Moab. Today the temperature hit 110°F in the shade.
South Dakota was a blast. The Badlands are stunningly beautiful. We toured the area dragging the camper, and used every minute of daylight viewing scenery and hiking out at some interesting stops. I would have liked to go back for another day, but scheduling prohibited.
Rapid City was a mixed-bag. It is well located, but it's a bustling city and the campground wasn't what we prefer for camping. It was clean, but barren and without views. Fortunately, with a brand-new Air Conditioner on the camper, we were at least comfortable in the treeless location.
Of course we went to Rushmore, did a cave tour, and a few unpaved roads in Black Hills and Custer State Park, but nothing really worthy of writing about, as I couldn't find any resources for good off-road trails in the area. We then shot over to Devil's Tower on our way to Cody, Wyoming.
I decided to reset my MPG when leaving Rapid City, and change my approach to driving the mountains. Where I had been trying to maintain speed, now I drove for RPM range, keeping the RPM under 4K and just going as fast as the terrain permitted in that range. On a few occasions, this meant I was climbing mountains at 40MPH, but I had a great improvement in MPG. Where I had been getting 8.5MPG, now I'm getting an average of 12.7MPG (and the Rockies are higher than the Appalachians). My average speed has dropped from 58MPH to 48MPH, but we've also been stopping along the road a lot to sightsee and take pictures.
The drive to Cody, WY through the front-range of the Rockies was also stunning. This drive is where we encountered our third mechanical failure. During a stop to take pictures at over 8,000ft, we heard a Bang-Whoooosh like a tire just blew out. I thought we'd lost another trailer tire, but inspection of both the trailer and the Pathfinder revealed no flat tires. It turned-out one of my Air-Lift Airbags popped.
I'd pumped-up the airbags to their max 35PSI before leaving home. It was cooler and the altitude was under 800ft. I checked them once at lower altitudes but hotter weather, and they were at 39PSI. I left them at that pressure because I still wasn't happy with the rear-end sag when the trailer was hooked-up (and I even paid to have the Equalizer hitch professionally adjusted), and I figured they must be designed to handle some extra pressure caused by temperature change.
Of course, thrown in an extra 7K-ft of altitude, and this is another story. I inspected the hoses to see if maybe a hose popped-off or burst (I saved my leftover hose length), but it seems one of the bags themselves popped. In any event, I had to drive-on without them, so both bags are surely shot now. Cody was a one-night stop and we got in too late to deal with the airbags. Then at Jackson, WY, I called every auto and RV service outfit in the phone book, but nobody had a set of airbags in stock (neither AirLift nor Firestone) and couldn't get them delivered before I was scheduled to leave.
We did two days in Yellowstone National Park, and one day in Teton Village and Jackson. We drove through Teton National Park going to and from Yellowstone, and explored a few of the unpaved roads here, but again, this is a National Park so there was nothing you couldn't drive with a car. But again, the scenery is amazing. We also did quite a bit of hiking, and went on a nice horseback ride in the Teton National Park backcountry. Actually, I wasn't planning on riding myself, but they wouldn't let my two teenagers go without an adult (which is different than what they told me on the phone). At 6'1" and 300 pounds, mostly gut, I am not built for horseback riding and paid the price with a very badly pulled muscle in my lower back. I'm still suffering today.
If you're planning on visiting Yellowstone, plan at least two full days, and ideally stay in the park itself. In spite of NPS warnings, pop-up and hybrid campers can stay in the Fishing Bridge RV campsite. I stayed at Grand Teton RV Park in Moran, and it was over 30 miles from camp to the park.
I'm happy to say that the ABS works perfectly. I was heading back to camp from a Chuckwagon dinner/show in Jackson and an Elk jumped out in front of me while I was going about 70MPH. The General Grabber AT2's and the Pathfinder's ABS stopped me with 20 feet to spare. I know if I'd had the stock tires still on the truck I'd have been driving to camp with an extra passenger. I also drove all the rest of the way with all my auxiliary lights on, except when there was on-coming traffic. I figured a ticket for using off-road lights on a highway was better than being dead from hitting an elk or moose at 65-70 MPH.
I figured I'd have better luck getting the airbags replaced in Salt Lake City, but to no avail. I gave up on visiting the Great Salt Lake in favor of trying to find replacement airbags, but again, nobody had them in stock. I even called/visited three different Firestone service centers but, surprisingly, none had even heard of the product or knew how to get it. I tried calling Air-Lift directly to try and find a stocking dealer or distributor in the area, but after 30 minutes on hold they hung-up on me saying it was lunch time, please call back later.
So I got an oil change and rotated the tires (worried about premature wear due to the out-of-camber condition caused by the rear-end sagging). I also called AutoAnything.com and asked them to ship me a new Air-Lift kit overnight to my campsite in Moab. They agreed and I figured all I had to do was find someone to install. 1PM today and still no airbags. It appears that Air-Lift's computers were down yesterday and they never received the order. I'm pretty disappointed with Air-Lift. AutoAnything customer service has been working hard to get me the kit tomorrow, but even they are not getting cooperation from Air-Lift.
So, with half a day shot (again!), today I did a nearby off-road trek that wasn't in the guide books, but looked like it would be a nice, short 12-mile loop. Unfortunately, I misjudged the elevation between two segments of the trail, and was never able to link-up with the exit trail. So the 12-mile loop turned into a 20-mile back-and-forth, but it was a nice back-country drive. Because the rear of the Pathfinder is sagging under my normal off-road loadout, (tow-chains, hi-lift jack, 10 gallons extra gas, 10 gallons water, extra oil/antifreze/parts, tools, etc), I didn't want to try anything too extreme. This trail had some good inclines, some dry creek beds, slight tippy spots, and lots of small rock (nothing larger than 10", and mostly in the 5-8" range). I scraped bottom lightly on a few unavoidable/unmovable obstacles, but nothing too hard and no damage done. The Pathfinder took this all in stride in 4WD LOW, and always felt sure-footed and under control
Hopefully, the air bags will come tomorrow morning and I'll get them installed. I'll have to find a garage to do this, as I don't have the equipment to do the work myself on the road. Hopefully, we'll go rafting while the truck is being fixed.
If all works well, Saturday I'm going to lead a small group from the campsite on a 28-mile scenic trek via Sand Flats Rd, Hurrah Pass and Chicken Corners Trail. I've not decided which trails to try on Sunday. On Monday we head to Colorado (Estes Park).