Currently located at Pilot Knob BLM LTVA in Winterhaven, CA, just west of Yuma, AZ:
Greetings once again from the desert Southwest! At the moment, it’s 5:40 AM, and I’m sitting at my dining table listening to the wind whistle through all the little nooks and crannies on the rig, while enjoying a cup of hot tea. It’s 47° outside, but it will warm up fairly quickly once the sun rises over the nearby mountain.
We’ve been totally off-grid for eleven days now–one night in a casino parking lot, and the remainder of the time here in the wide open desert of Southern California. This is the same place that we parked last winter in our first rig, a 24′ Thor Chateau Class C, so after being here awhile in our new 33′ Grand Design Reflection fifth wheel, we’re starting to get a better idea of how the two rigs compare when it comes to boondocking.
Electrical power – SOLAR
In both rigs, we’ve used our three 100-watt solar panels to power our two 100-amp hour Battle Born lithium batteries. This supplies all the power we need for lights, monitors, and fans. We also use the panels to charge our Inergy Kodiak solar generator (100 amp-hour) which we then use to charge our iPhones, Kindles, and laptop, and to also power small appliances like the hair dryer and Nutribullet blender. So no difference between the two rigs.
The other thing we use the Kodiak for is to power our television. On Super Bowl Sunday, we were able to plug in the TV to the Kodiak, raise our over-the-air antenna, and enjoy all the festivities while off-grid in the desert. We powered the TV for almost five hours, using only about 40% of the power stored in the Kodiak.
electrical power – generator
In the Class C, we had an onboard Onan 4000 generator to power everything electrical, including the air conditioner. The generator could be started by pressing a button on the control panel inside the rig, and it used gasoline from the rig’s fuel tank, as long as the tank was at least one-quarter full. The generator wasn’t exactly quiet, but there was no problem with carrying on a conversation inside the rig when it was running. But when we had issues with the generator as we did in Flagstaff, we had to leave our campsite and drive the rig to a repair facility to have it taken care of.
Our fifth wheel did not come with an onboard generator, so we purchased a Honda 2200i portable generator to power larger appliances like the microwave and the Instant Pot. But just as importantly, we’ll need it to charge up our house batteries when skies are too cloudy to provide enough solar power. Now we have to go outside to start/stop the generator, and we have to keep jerry cans of gasoline on hand to keep it running. We have to keep a chain and lock on it to make sure it doesn’t walk away (a fairly common occurrence for portable generators). This one is not powerful enough to run our air conditioner; but last year we didn’t use the A/C at all while boondocking, and that’s why we chose to buy the smaller unit. So far this generator is providing all the power we need, and if it needs servicing, we can take it to a repair shop without having to move the RV.
I do miss being able to fire up the genny without going outside and not having to worry about theft, but so far it’s not so bad.
When boondocking, we use propane for stovetop cooking as well as the hot water heater and the furnace. In the Class C, we had a 9.6 gallon onboard propane tank, meaning we had to drive the rig to a propane source when we needed a refill. Therefore, we never passed up an opportunity to top off the propane when we took the rig to a dump station or to get gas. That Class C really just sipped propane, even when running the furnace on cold mornings–since the rig was so small, it heated up quickly inside.
Our new rig has two 30-pound tanks which hold a total of 14 gallons of propane. When one tank runs out, we can just switch to the second tank, assuming that it hasn’t also run out. The tank on the left side has a gauge that indicates how full it is, but the one on the right side does not. As we’re camped out in the desert where temperatures get pretty chilly at night, we’re finding that we go through propane a lot quicker in this rig. Makes sense, because there’s a lot more open interior space to heat up. We usually keep the temperatures between 60° and 63° overnight and just pile on the blankets. But I usually get up before sunrise, and I’ll crank the furnace up a couple of degrees to keep it comfortable until the sun comes up to warm the rig.
Another difference in the new rig is that we now have a propane oven instead of the convection microwave we had in the Class C. I used the oven this week to cook some sweet potato fries at 425°, and not surprisingly, we ran out of propane yesterday after filling the tank just a week ago. The nice thing is that we can just pull the tank out of the rig, put it in the truck and drive it over to the nearby Chevron station to get it refilled, all without moving the rig. The sucky part is that the tank weighs about 55 pounds when it’s full, so according to Andy, it’s a real bear trying to lift that thing and get it back into the little compartment on the side of the rig. It may wind up being a two-person chore, but I’ve also heard of people who chose to swap out their 30-pound tanks for smaller 20-pounders, just because of the weight involved.
tank capacity and dumping
Our Class C had tank capacities of 50 gallons fresh water, 37 gallons gray water, and 24.5 gallons black water. By being very conservative (including both of us peeing in the woods in the daytime), we were able to make it for 7 days before we needed to drive the rig to the dump station. When we were camped in Flagstaff last summer, we had a regular weekly dump day.
Our new fifth wheel has tank capacities of 60 gallons fresh water, 75 gallons gray water (split between one 43-gallon tank for the shower/bathroom sink and one 32-gallon tank for the kitchen sink), and 43 gallons black water. Last week we went for 8 days between visits to the dump station, although we had taken on fresh water only 6 days earlier (when we first arrived at Pilot Knob). The rig has a monitor panel that is “supposed to” tell you how full your tanks are, but as every RV owner knows, those things are wildly unreliable, especially the one for the black tank. Therefore, we just need to continue pushing our limits until we figure out what works for us and our kidneys. This week we’ll try for 9 days. While we could probably haul in some additional water to supplement what the fresh water tank holds, it wouldn’t be a good idea simply because of the extra weight that would be added to the rig. We’re already pretty close to capacity as far as weight goes, so it wouldn’t be a good idea to go over that 60-gallon limit–that’s 500 pounds of water.
And when it comes to dumping the tanks, it’s definitely more of a chore in this fifth wheel than it was in the Class C. With the old rig, we would leave our Tacoma parked at the campsite with me while Andy drove the rig to the dump station, sometimes 20 miles away. We didn’t have to worry about the solar panels because I was there to keep an eye on everything.
With the new setup, we have to use the truck to haul the trailer; so if I stay behind to watch over the solar panels, I’m without a vehicle for shade or emergency transportation. When we dumped last week, we packed up everything to go a half-mile to the dump station and then return to the LTVA. The whole process took us over two-and-a-half hours. The next time we dump here, I’ll probably stay behind with an umbrella for shade, since the dump station is within walking distance in case there’s a problem. But when we get into boondocking areas where it’s a significant distance to the dump station, it’s still going to be a pain to have to totally break camp to dump, especially if it’s a campsite that we don’t want someone else to grab while we’re gone.
This is where the new rig really shines!
Our Class C, at only 24′ long with no slides, was pretty tight quarters for two adults and two cats. It was certainly livable, but when the weather got really rainy or windy for several days in a row, it was easy to get a little stir-crazy having to stay inside that small space for days on end. There was no seating beyond the u-shaped dinette (benches too high for my shorter legs) and the driver/passenger seats in the cab (always full of “stuff”). The bed was a full XL size, pretty small for the four of us. So when the weather was nice we spent a lot of time outdoors in our patio chairs or hiking the surrounding country-side, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But those bad-weather days were a trial.
The new rig with its opposing slides in the living/kitchen area, is such a game-changer. This past week we had three straight days where the winds were a steady 15-25 MPH, with even higher gusts. It was cold, it was dusty, and it was just too miserable to be outside. But we were able to relax in our recliners, move around in our living space, and enjoy the comfort of our queen size bed, even while the rig was slightly swaying back and forth from the wind (our Class C did the same thing last year when we were camped here during the windy season). Yes, the wind still drives me nuts, but at least we didn’t feel like we were confined to a tin can like sardines for three days.
But I have noticed that with all this comfort inside the new rig, I have to make more of a conscious effort to spend time outdoors. It’s so easy to just plop down in that recliner with a cat or two in my lap, and let hours pass while I play on my iPhone. With all the windows in this rig, we can forget that we’re actually indoors. I’m trying to make sure that I get in at least an hour of walking/hiking each day that the weather allows it.
Yes, that Class C was small, but we could get her into just about any camping spot that we wanted to, with no worries about backing into a site. We boondocked in some awesome places that were tucked into the bushes, trees or cactus, where larger rigs could only dream of going.
One big thing that I do miss about our old rig is the ability to just pull over on the side of the road on travel days and fix a good lunch in our kitchen, while the kitties relax with us. In the new rig, with the slides pulled in for traveling, it’s just not practical to try and have lunch inside. And we dare not bring the cats into the rig because they would certainly find a place to hide where we couldn’t get to them, so we would never get them back into the truck after lunch. So on travel days I just pack us a lunch and we eat in the truck or at a picnic table if one is available. But I sure miss those travel day lunches we used to have.
Boondocking in this rig is going to be a little more challenging when it comes to fitting into smaller spaces. Fortunately right now we are in a wide open desert environment where the only thing we have to worry about is finding a spot that is generally level. Yes, those auto-levelers are awesome, but you have to be somewhat level to start with. And you definitely need to be level if you’re going to put the slides out to avoid damaging them from unnecessary stress.
I’m still pretty, shall we say, “freaked out” about pulling this rig around in the desert. Poor Andy has to deal with my gasping for air and my muttering under my breath when he’s trying to drive the rig over the bumpy terrain to get to a campsite. I’ve promised him that I’m going to try to do better! 🙂 I’m sure I’ll get more comfortable with it after we get a few more boondocking relocations under our belts. But just thinking about trying to pull Lizzy Too up the mountain to the spot where we spent last summer in the National Forest near Flagstaff–that gives me the willies!!
So that’s a quick summary of what we’re learning about our new rig’s boondocking capabilities, as compared to our old rig. We seem to be settling in pretty well, and so far we haven’t encountered any real problems with being off-grid in Lizzy Too.
We plan to be here in the Yuma area for at least another month or so. Andy had his appointment with his doctor last week, and they changed his blood pressure medication to something a little stronger. He’ll need to go back this week for a follow-up. He also had some lab work done, so we’re waiting for those results as well.
We’re looking forward to visiting Los Algodones this week–always fun to go across the border here, as it’s such a lively town with tons of folks from the U.S. and Canada shopping and dining. There are plenty of geocaches around here that I still need to hunt, and there are several upcoming festivals and events in Yuma that look like they could be fun. Of course, we treat ourselves to the breakfast buffet at the Quechan Casino every Friday morning, and yesterday there was even an ice cream truck that showed up here in the LTVA, and of course we indulged!
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