Ocean Beach VW Bus

Welcome to the Ocean Beach California VW Bus report. This is the ongoing trip, maintenance, and upgrade log for our 1976 VW Camper. The intent is to track the progress of "Independence" and to meet other local VW enthusiasts.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

She lives

After a long spell of sitting in the driveway, it looks like Indy is going to be just fine. She has passed the California Smog Inspection after some work from BRU Automotive. Woot! Go Indy go!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Repairs: the engine?

I think Indy had a close call with death. The last time we went camping, she had trouble running uphills. I know -- really had trouble, not just normal VW trouble. We finally took her into the shop. I was hoping fuel pump. There guess - cyclinder head. She's running on 3 cylinders...

$1200 later and a new left cylinder head... she runs like a puppy.

The likely problem: heat. Lots of it. Over an extended time. Say ... a trip to Cabo? I suspect the oil leak we had on that trip led to this problem. We noticed a brief performance issue near Encinatas on the way back. But really noticed it on the way back from the desert on her next big trip.

No need to give you a new per mile estimate. However, even with this repair, the trip to Cabo should still be considered a success.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Mileage check: ?46,507

The insurance company asks us periodically to validate that we don't drive Indy over 7500 miles per year. When we got her, she was at 39155 miles. Today, she is at 46,507. The first digit is unknown. That means we have driven almost 7500 miles (in 2 years.) I think we qualify. Or perhaps we've driven her 107,000 miles.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Distractions and inspiration

The google keyword search for "vw bus worsening uphill power" didn't come up with anything useful. But lots of distractions...

Love My Bus has a bunch of videos and other stuff.

What a road trip describes the ending to the roadtrip in a VW called Grimold from MyKin.US. Warning: sad bus ending.

Camping: Borrego Springs

Sophia had a geography conference in Borrego Springs Saturday. So we decided to go camping!

The camping reservation involved some confusion. The camphost thought we were at Tamarisk Grove. Nope. We wanted (and Sophia claims to have reserved) Borrego Palm Canyon. In the end, we found a site. #75 is good. Sophia really like #70 though.

Friday was really hot -- 99deg. This broke the record from 1934. And Saturday was partly cloudy but STILL hot. The 99 deg broke the 1972 record. The worst part was it got windy in the afternoon. Really windy. And did I mention hot?

There was a helicopter rescue in the canyon. A family of five needed to be rescued when the mother became dehydrated and couldn't walk out. Given the heat and the number of people who attempted the hike, it was to be expected. Be prepared folks!

Eric and I walked up the canyon in the morning before it got hot. He hadn't been there since the mud flood 3 years ago. It certainly has changed the landscape. After the 3+ mile hike, we went for ice cream.

Due to the winds getting even stronger after sunset, we only stayed one night. No need to suffer. We left around 6:45 and made it home by 9pm.

Poor Indy doesn't have any power going up hills. Expect to see a repair note soon.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Camping: Palomar

Here are the sites we like at Palomar.

  • #22 Isolated and flat
  • #30 near bathroom
  • #19, #20 ok
  • #11, #12 up the hill
  • #9, #10 close together

Art from Rich

My good friend Rich drew a picture of our bus. Thanks Rich!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Camping: Baja

Two week Baja Road Trip

We spent the Christmas holidays on a 13-day road trip in Baja. We went from San Diego to San Jose del Cabo and back. Overall, the trip was smooth. We did the journey in our 76 VW Westfalia van, and it fared well. We were a bit nervous about gas, as the van has a pretty short range. The tough stretch was between El Rosario and Villa Jesus Maria, but there was guys selling gas at Catavina and the junction to Bahia Los Angeles (the Pemex in Catavina was closed). We also carried 3 gallons on top. We exchanged dollars for pesos in San Ysidro before we crossed the border.

The trip was mostly camping. We used the LP Baja Book and also the Foghorn Outdoors Baja Camping book. The LP book was right on the mark, but the Baja Camping book was a little outdated in some respects. We got our tourist permits ahead of time through Discover Baja Club. Here is where we camped:

Ensenada: Estero Beach Resort $28, basic RV lot with grassy landscaping right on the estuary. Pool, laudry, hot showers and really clean bathrooms. This is part of the Estero Beach Resort, which has a variety of spa amenities, as well as a good restaurant. (I’ve never paid that much to camp in the US!) We thought we would make it to San Quintin, but we got a late start out of San Diego and had a bit of an adventure getting our tourist cards stamped.

Catavina: Santa Inez Ranch. $6. Essentially a big parking lot. Flush toilets.

Mulege: Hotel Serenidada RV area. $16. Just a portion of the gravel lot that doubles as the hotel parking lot. Rather disappointing. We definatley should have pushed on a little further to camp on one of the beach south of Mulege. Hot showers and flush toilets. Zero view. I was at the hotel Serenidad in 2001 for a friend’s wedding. In the past 5 years, the hotel has gotten pretty tired.

Playas Santispac: $7. Toilets. Lots of RVers here for the long haul, but still a nice spot. It was pretty crowded when we were there, but we grabbed a spot off the main stretch. Water was nice for swimming. Ana’s Cantina at Santispac makes a STRONG margarita. Ray’s Place, which is a pretty popular restaurant at Santispac, burned down between Christmas and New Year. Apparently Santispac is going to be developed with a hotel/resort in the next year or so (??).

La Paz. Aquamarina RV Park, $19. Hot showers and flush toilets. Lots of trees, location near the water. Good restaurant (Parilla No.3 on Mabasola) near the RV park.

San Jose Del Cabo: We spent three days at the in-laws time share. We did have thai food at a thai place in San Jose (Baan Thai) That was novel. Good food, but expensive … more that what we would pay in the US. Nice ambience and friendly service.

Ciudad Insurgentes: Manfreds RV Park, $12. This place was very empty and there were a lot of flies, as it’s close to an open field with horse. Hot showers, flush toilet, friendly proprieters. It was getting dark so we decided to stop.

Playa la Perla. $7. Loved it! Small beach with 10 palapas. Friendly crowd when we were there. Calm waters for swimming, snorkeling and floating. Pit toilets.

San Quintin: Rancho Celito Linda: $10. Hot showers and flush toilets. Basic palapa, not very private. A better option may have been Gypsys Beach camp. Short walk to dunes/water. The restaurant at Celito Linda has a yummy cracked crab dinner. One order is enough for two to share.

Next time we plan to do more informal camping (fewer RV parks) or more longer-term beach camping. Now that I know how great the locations are on the beaches south of Mulege, we’ll do it different next time! This was our first trip down, so we may have been a bit more “cautious” than necessary. Overall a great time with friendly and helpful people wherever we met. Can't wait to go back!!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Repair: foil hose for heater

Well, the heater foil hose that runs under the bus, bringing the cabin warm air from the engine, decided to shred last week when I drove Indy to work. A co-worker laughed at my tinfoil tail.

I didn't see much about the repair online or in the books. So I went to homedepot and got a replacement aluminum vent. The 4" measurement of the hose was a little off and so putting it on took a little more effort than expected. However -- it looks like brand new. And perhaps we'll even get some heat this winter.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Maintenance: check your spare

Indy got a flat tire a couple of weeks ago. Just sitting there. Well, just sitting there a day after being driven the first time in a couple of months. Bah. And the day before a planned camping trip.

The jack is spectacular. The rusted lugnuts not so much. AAA to the rescue. Even if the towtruck driver could have removed the flat, the spare was even worse. I don't we'd even looked at it in 2 years. Shame on us.

So here's a reminder -- check your spare.

OB Tire couldn't find anything wrong with the flat. They had to chip/saw/melt off one of the lugnuts that was completely stripped (thanks AAA?). An expensive lesson: let the pros do all the hard work. And so I had them loosen all the other tires so that I'd be able to get them off the next time.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Notes from the road is a site I think I'll need a lot of time to visit. He has some great stories about Baja. And great photos. And...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Baja mileage

Mileage chart for Baja California.

PlaceFrom LastSouthboundNorthbound
San Ignacio46551534
Santa Rosalia46598488
Cuidad Constitucion92813272
La Paz133946139
Los Barriles70101768
San Jose del Cabo49106619
Cabo San Lucas1910850

Some potential places with 4 1/2 day drives each way:

SB - El Rosario, Gueno Negro, Mulege, before La Paz, Cabo
NB - Ciudad Constitucion, San Ignacio, Catavina, San Quntin, Home

Book: Into a Desert Place

Graham Machintosh walked 3000 miles around the coast of Baja California. The book describes his adventures. Driving a VW camper isn't the same as walking. But I feel a little bit like our upcoming adventure to Cabo has the same sense of awe and paralyzing fear. So the best thing to do is to start planning and gathering information.

Fortunately, I think the biggest fear I have is that I will like the trip so much I'll want to go again and for much longer.

For now, how about an interactive map of Baja

P.S. I realize I haven't actually mentioned the plan here. We are hoping to drive down highway 1 from San Diego to Cabo and back around Christmas this year. Interested in joining us? Have you previously done this -- and have advice to offer? Expect to hear a lot more about it.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


I think I actually need proper training. So here's what SDCC has to offer for the summer (6/21-8/15):


Maybe I should just look to see what books are required and go the self-study route. And take apart Indy from top to bottom as the lab.


Trip Report: Borrego Palm Canyon (again)

This will be a fairly short report until I get the photos. And then it will likely just be another one line with links.

We left San Diego at 7pm heading out I-8 to CA-163 to I-15 and Poway/Scripps Parkway. There are a couple of good hills to go up to get to Ramona. Indy did great and there are no reports of being passed by trucks carrying portapotties. Not this time.

The weather beyond Ramona was very foggy with rain. Surprise for April but instead of the 93deg in Borrego on Thursday, the forecast for Saturday was in the 70s. We picked up extra fuel and butter in Ramona before heading around the mountains to S-2 and then down S-22 and Montezuma Grade. We got into the campground around 9:15 and the sign read "Campground Full." Thanks Sophia for planning ahead and getting reservations.

We met around friends, gave a tour of Indy, made smores, and went to bed. Tender and I went on hike to the visitor center in the morning on Saturday. She was a little too warm but didn't refuse to keep going. Rather, she was panting louder than Indy in second gear going up a hill. We all survived.

The weather was indeed great -- upper 70's perhaps -- and I went for a two hour cross-country trek Saturday. I didn't see any Anza-Borrego sheep but people reported them in Palm Canyon. The stars in the desert were brilliant; at least until the moon came out and scared them all away.

We headed out fairly early (8:30) on Sunday because the sun was up at 6:15 and the kids in the next site over started hunting for Easter eggs at 7. We were back in the city around 10:30. Indy passed through the 42K mark on this trip.

Repairs: Starter

Well, Indy keeps getting new parts on her schedule. I got stuck at Taichi on Thursday night. The guesses were low battery (but jump starting didn't help), starter, or fuel pump (previously replaced.) We had her towed into Ocean Beach. Rich's Auto Repair reported that it was the starter and had Indy back up and running in time for a weekend camping trip to the desert Friday evening.

I cried when I was stranded. I smiled like it was my birthday when I picked her up. I think she brings us as much value as stress. She's now gone over 42K miles: we don't know if it is 142,000 or 242,000 and potentially 342,000. She is 30 afterall. I wonder how many other drivers have a little celebration every 100 miles when the odometer turns to the year the car was created. We do! Celebrate the Independence of '76!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Window repair

The driver side window is finally repaired. $10 part and a bit of work. The weld broke, causing the window extra stress, the caused the rusting support to fail. So now would be a good time to start thinking about a camping trip!

Anyone have suggestions for mounting an portable gas can onto the back. We're going to need it for the trip down Baja.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Baja California

We went to Cabo (by air not by VW) for Christmas. My parents have a timeshare at a resort. We'd talked about driving but didn't have time to make it down Baja from San Diego. We had a great time and our definitely considering driving next year.

Expect to see lots of posts and other information as we discover it.

Post a comment if you have done the drive or might consider driving down soon.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

ExtremePumpkins.com - Extreme Pumpkin Carving

ExtremePumpkins.com is a little strange. But enjoyable.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Camping in Anza Borrego

Day 1: Getting there

Sophia picked me up in Indy at work on Friday for a weekend adventure in Anza Borrego. We headed up I-15 to Scripps Poway Parkway and its steep hills up and over to S-67. I was expecting traffic on the first portion. But not into Ramona. Yikes. After waiting in traffic from Woodson Mountain, we finally connected with S-78 in Ramona.

After a quick stop to pick up forgotten groceries, we headed up more hills and twisty roads into Santa Ysabel. We didn't stop for Dudley's bread but turned north onto S-79 to avoid the hill up into Julian. At the junction for S-2 we pulled over to put on jackets and switch drivers. And wouldn't you know it, Debbie and Wendy pull in right behind us. Almost as if we'd caravanned (no offense to vans.)

After a short jog on the S-2 to the S-22 in a parade of campers and pickups towing off-road vehicles later we were finally on our last leg into Borrego Springs. But first the truck in front of us lost its trailer going over the cow grates and sent a shower of sparks flying. We had to go down the Montezuma grade after dark. The brakes held out great and in fact we nearly caught up to the speedy SUVs that passed us near the top by the time we got to the bottom.

The Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is just at the bottom of the mountains, under Indian Head at the foot of the Palm Canyon. We drove around for a bit looking for the ideal site and ended up choosing #70. The evening weather was spectacular and we had a bonus shooting star display while we ate dinner around a campfire.

Day 2: Camping

We woke up early (7am) to see the sun rising over Fonts Point. After breakfast, everyone got a tour of the bus as noone had seen the inside of one before. It is kind of difficult to explain how the bed folds down and how one gets upstairs.

The rest of the day was a typical day hanging out at a desert campground. Well, except that Debbie potentially broke her wrist when she fell on the hike up the canyon to see the palms. She wasn't in much pain and so hopefully it is just a sprain. The medical facilities in Borrego Springs didn't have an x-ray machine.

Don and Lorrie made it around sunset. They only stayed until dessert though before driving back. They got lucky too and saw some of the shooting stars.

More perfect weather if not a little too warm. I wish we had an extra tarp that we could have hung up over the covered picnic table for shade. Our stand alone shelter worked though even if we had to play chase to stay in the cool.

Day 3: Getting home the long way

Another sunrise. This time at 6am though because the time changed at midnight.

I wanted Sophia to see the Salton Sea. Rebecca was going to try to go mountain biking. And Debbie (along with Wendy) were off back to the city to check out her wrist. So we all left the campground and went our own direction.

We kept heading East on S-22 past the badlands into Imperial County towards the Salton Sea. Going this way added another county to our map (California:Imperial). The aggriculture area makes it feel like a different country. But the oddest bit are all the off-road vehicles. We saw lots of campers pulling trailers of ATVs and motocycles. And a few trails of dust.

The badlands just before the county border really do intrigue me. I ought to plan a trip with someone in a jeep to explore them. Or perhaps I need to get my mountain bike in riding shape (and moreso myself) and go exploring.

We didn't actually go to the shoreline, nor even get out of the bus at the sea. Instead we just headed south on the divided S-86 to Westmorland, Brawley, and El Centro. We came down the 86 into El Centro. We should have gone to US-111 for the divided highway.

We picked up a fresh tank of gas ($2.85/gal) and hoped to get real Mexican food without much luck. Looking at the map now, perhaps we should have gone into Mexico. We could have picked up perhaps two Mexican states (Sonora and Baja California Norte) if we'd planned a little better. Or at least proper food in Mexicali or Tecate.

Instead, we took the blue road (S-80) from the 3 building town of Seeley through Plaster City (a factory and off-roader camp) to Coyote and Ocotillo, looking for the place the locals would eat. We eventually had a picnic in Ocotillo because we just couldn't find Mexican food.

And then we got onto Interstate 8 to head up above 4000ft again into San Diego county and the 87 miles to Ocean Beach. One very interesting new bit along this stretch was the wind generator farm near Live Oak Springs and the Campo Indian Reservation.

We changed drivers in Lakeside and headed into the city. We would have been heading directly home except we needed a detour up I-15 to my office to pick up my car. We were home and unpacked and the dog bathed by 4pm.


To work: 17 miles
To Santa Ysabel: 40 miles
To Borrego Springs: 36 miles
To Salton Sea: 27 miles
To El Centro: 52 miles
To Ocotillo: 27 miles
To home: 90 miles
Total: 289 miles

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Overland in a VW Camper (Westfalia) through Mexico, Central America, South America, and Africa

VW Vagabonds went 3 years, 60,000 miles, 24 countries, 4 continents, and 3200 gallons of gas in a VW bus. Amazing.

They are speaking in a variety of places in Southern California. Here's the schedule. Or find them at the Ocean Beach Farmer's Market on Wednesday evenings.