Pilot Knob LTVA, Solar Power, Geocaching, Los Algodones Mexico, Missing Family

We just spent our twelfth night boondocking here at the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA (that’s Bureau of Land Management Long Term Visitor Area). So far we are really enjoying it, even though we haven’t spent a whole lot of time exploring the area.

The first few days we were here were spent getting our solar system up and running. Andy had to drill a hole in the floor just above the battery compartment in the entry steps so he could run the cables from the battery to the new charge controller which he mounted above the front door. He ran the cables through a length of PVC pipe conduit to make them less obvious. Now he just needs to fasten the conduit to the wall and then seal up the hole, and that project will be complete.

Our new solar charge controller lets us know how our batteries are doing

We are in love with our new solar system! It has drastically reduced the amount of time we need to run the generator–now we only run it when we need to use the microwave or the Instant Pot, or on a rare rainy day like we had on Saturday. Each morning before the sun even rises, the panels start charging a tiny bit as soon as there is light in the sky. Since I’m the early riser in the family, I go outside and turn the panels toward the east, and at about 7:15 AM when the sun finally rises over the nearby mountain, the panels start doing their magic. By watching the numbers on the charge controller, you can literally see the voltage flowing into the batteries as the sun rises. During the day, we turn the panels to the south and then to the west to follow the sun. On most days the batteries are fully charged by about 10:00 AM, and then the panels just keep them topped off until the sun goes down, by which time we have enough voltage to get us through the night.

Our solar kit also came with the Kodiak portable solar generator, which is basically a big lithium battery with an inverter which allows us to plug in any of our devices that need to be charged, as well as any of our small appliances that run on 110V like the television, Roku, hair dryer, etc. Without the Kodiak, we would have to run the generator to power those devices.

Our new Kodiak portable generator to be charged with solar panels

Since our campsite is free (after purchasing the $180 annual pass last month) and we’re not spending money on fuel to move from campground to campground this month, we’re hoping that the additional savings from not running the generator will all add up to make this a month of significant cost savings, which would be really nice after the last two months of solar investment, maintenance, and repair costs.

This is our first time to stay in a BLM LTVA, and it’s an interesting experience. The camp hosts are a couple named Roy and Joann, who basically collect the entrance fees and answer questions. There are no designated campsites, you just find an area that you like and park your rig there. There are a few rigs that are parked fairly close together since they are friends traveling together, but mostly everyone is pretty spread out and respectful of each other’s privacy. There are all types of rigs from big Class A motorhomes, truck campers, fifth wheels, travel trailers, vans, small Class B and C motorhomes like ours, and even skoolies. It is very quiet here, other than the sounds of the trains going by.

One of our neighbors barely visible through the Sunday morning fog

After having such an intense week in Glendale at Christmas time and then spending a couple of days working on the solar system, it was nice to finally just relax and hang out without having an agenda. Most of the time the weather has been nice, although there were a few days that were extremely windy and cool, and yesterday it rained most of the afternoon. It has never gone below freezing at night where we are, even though it has been colder just to the north of us in Quartzsite and Phoenix.

There are a lot of geocaches in the area, so I’ve gone out on several hunts. Andy went with me on one of my hunts, and I think he might be starting to get the bug! 🙂 Even though the desert looks flat when you look outward, once you start walking across it you find small dunes and washes that conceal all kinds of interesting things that make good hiding places for caches. So far I’ve found caches in an old squatters’ shack, a tree next to an old hot tub, an old paint can, and a pipe buried in the sand in the middle of an old tire. From a short distance away, none of these places are visible due to the slight undulations of the land.

Found a geocache in this abandoned squatters shack hidden between the dunes

There’s also a rock quarry in the side of the mountain (Pilot Knob) next to the campground. There are some geocaches hidden at the top of the quarry and the mountain. Andy and I made an attempt to go after them but the only trail we could find to the top was very steep and unstable, so we decided it wasn’t worth risking an injury. We’re know our limits! 🙂 But we did have a nice hike to a spot about a third of the way up the quarry where we got a great view of the area.

Hiking down from the rock quarry (photo cred: Andy)

So far we’ve gone into Yuma three times. Andy went once to pick up some wire he needed for the solar hookup, and then we went grocery shopping twice at Walmart (two different ones). Once interesting challenge with this location has to do with oranges. When we drive back to the campground (located in California) from grocery shopping in Yuma (Arizona), we have to go through an agricultural inspection station and tell them whether or not we have any fresh produce. If you remember from our previous post, when we first arrived, they actually came inside the RV to inspect, but let us keep our produce. It seems they are most interested in oranges. When we went grocery shopping last week, of course we loaded up on produce as we always do, and that included oranges. We were hoping that since we were in the pickup instead of the RV, they would just wave us through. But no, when we rolled up to the inspector, he specifically asked if we had oranges, and we couldn’t lie. He asked to see them, and then said that although technically he should confiscate them, he would let us keep them “this time”. Of course, yesterday when we went shopping we decided not to get any oranges, and when we pulled up to the inspector he just waved us through without stopping us. You never know. It’s a bummer because the closest grocery store to us on the California side of the border is about 37 miles away, so we’re going to see if we can find a farmer’s market stand or something a little closer that sells California oranges.

Last Friday we spent most of the day in Los Algodones, Mexico. The border crossing is about four miles from where we are….in fact, we can see the lights of Algodones from our campsite at night. Getting in to Mexico is no problem. The local Indian tribe has a parking lot next to the border where you pay $6 for a regular passenger vehicle, then you just walk down the sidewalk through a couple of small buildings with some un-manned metal detectors, and then you’re in Mexico.

Arriving in Los Algodones, Baja California, Mexico

The place is crowded this time of year with American senior citizens who are there to get their prescriptions filled, their glasses replaced, and their dental work done, all at prices much lower than in the US. Many of them live in Arizona and Southern California and come here on a regular basis, others are full-time RVers who specifically stay in this area in the winter for this purpose.

We didn’t need any those services, we were just there for some Mexican food, a margarita, and some sightseeing. We had lunch at a popular spot called “El Pariso” or The Garden Place. It’s a large outdoor seating area surrounded by shops. While you are perusing the menu, a small army of vendors approach your table with all kinds of things for sale–jewelry, wall art, blankets, hats, ponchos, belts, t-shirts, you name it. But once your food arrives, they pretty much leave you alone. I bought a hat which actually came in handy because the sun got pretty intense even though the temperatures were very comfortable. The food was so-so, but the margarita was excellent!

Lunch at The Garden Patio (El Pariso) in Los Algodones

After lunch we did some shopping around for a particular kind of candy we found several months ago when we crossed the border from Columbus, NM to Palomas, Mexico. It’s called Damy Peanut Crunch, and it sells on Amazon for $12.95 for a 100-count bag. We get it in Mexico for about $3.50/bag. Luckily we found it in a small candy store in Algodones, and we found another brand that is similar (although the pieces are smaller) for about $2.05 in the liquor/pharmacy store.

When in Mexico we always look for a bakery, or panadería. We didn’t spot one immediately so we asked one of the vendors, and he said there wasn’t one currently open. Later we stopped to get some freshly made churros from a street vendor, and the guy that was helping him told us about a bakery that was close by, and he volunteered to walk us to it. His name was Victor, and he was such a nice guy. He told us about all the times he visited and lived in the US (which explains how he speaks such good English), but he has returned to Mexico to be with his family. Victor helped us find the Pan Superior bakery where we picked up some of our favorite Mexican sweet breads.

Shopping in the panadería for Mexican sweet breads

The worst part of going across the border in Algodones is the long line to get back into the US. We waited somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour, and we’re told that it’s usually closer to two hours. They do provide shade and benches to sit on while waiting in line, and there are restrooms and vendors selling bottled water. Since a large portion of the people in the line are senior citizens, it’s good that they have some amenities to make the wait a little less uncomfortable. Once we got to the front of the line, we sailed right past the customs agent.

We’re already looking forward to our next visit to Algodones–there’s just something special about having easy access to visit a different country and culture, and meeting friendly people like Victor.

In other maintenance news, Andy was able to get the bat-wing TV antenna fixed so it raises and lowers from the ceiling crank on the inside. After we got it raised, we ran the channel scan on the TV and didn’t pick up a single over-the-air station, so we assumed we were either too far out in the desert or maybe we were being blocked by the nearby mountain. But then I noticed that other rigs had their bat-wing antennas up and it didn’t make sense that they would have them up if there was no reception. So I did some investigating a few days later and found a small push-button switch hidden in one of the overhead bins. There were no instructions or labels on the switch, except for the brand name Winegard, which is the brand of the antenna. I pushed the button and a green light came on, so I tried the channel scan again, and Voila!! We’ve got 19 digital channels coming in, about half of which are in Spanish, but we do get the major networks. The picture is crisp and clear, so chalk that up as a win. Of course, we rarely watch TV anyway, but it’s good to know we can see the next season of “The Voice” and maybe even the Super Bowl!

Other than that, we’ve just been hanging out and enjoying life. There are definitely more rigs here in the LTVA than there were when we first arrived, but there is still a lot of empty space around us. Now that we have our maintenance tasks done and we’re stocked up on groceries, we’re looking forward to doing some sightseeing in the area. There’s a lot of history here, and Yuma actually has a lot of cultural activities on their weekly calendar. We’ll let you know what we get into.

Oh yes, we learned one other thing yesterday when we picked up our mail which we had had forwarded to us via General Delivery in Winterhaven, CA. The postmaster there told me that you are only allowed to use General Delivery at a specific post office for 30 days out of a calendar year, and after that you need to rent a P.O. box. That’s interesting information, but when our thirty days are up and we need to have another packet of mail forwarded to us out here, we’ll just pick a different post office. Winner winner, tofu dinner!! 😀

Lastly, on a very personal note, you’ll notice that it’s been longer than usual since I posted to the blog. Last week we received word that my nephew and his wife lost their baby in the middle of her third trimester of pregnancy. We were devastated for them, and it was difficult knowing that we were so far away and could not be there to join the rest of the family for the memorial service. I just didn’t feel like blogging while going through such an emotional time. We send our love and prayers to Tyler and Allie and their two sons, Hudson and Westin, as they deal with the loss of baby Mackson. Our hearts are back in Mississippi with them, even while we are parked here in the California desert.

Thanks for reading the blog, and be sure to share it with your friends if they are interested in full-time RV living! You can also follow us on Instagram to see what we’re doing between blog posts.

Take care, safe travels, and live every day to the fullest!!

 

 

RV Expense Report – December 2017

Happy New Year, everyone, from our campsite in the BLM Pilot Knob LTVA in Winterhaven, California, just west of Yuma, Arizona. We hope your 2018 was as exciting and fulfilling as ours was, and that this new year brings you nothing but great things! Get out there and make it happen!!

Now it’s time for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life.

First, a reminder of the caveats. Every RVer is different–different rig, different diet, different interests–so our expenses are unique to us. Also, I’m not going to share every single personal expense that we incur each month, but only the ones that are directly related to our RV life in some way.

We’ve just completed our fourth full month on the road. In this post, I’ll be sharing the most recent three months’ expenses as well as our average to date for comparison, since line items can change drastically from month to month.

We spent the majority of December boondocking (camping without hookups) in Arizona on BLM land. We spent the week leading up to Christmas in a mobile home/RV park in Glendale, AZ where we had full hookups, so we could take care of some maintenance items and also visit with some friends. We got our solar system set up and running and it’s already reducing the our boondocking expenses by cutting our generator hours way back, but it did require some additional expenditures for the month.

That said, here’s how the expenses stacked up.

Camping fees + Electricity

October: $323 (7 different locations, but primarily in state parks at $4/night.) We bought the $225 annual pass for the New Mexico State Parks which is actually good for 13 months. For purposes of this monthly expense report, we’re pro-rating that cost over 13 months.)

November: $137 (Nov 1-3 @ Elephant Butte SP, Nov 4-17 @ Leasburg Dam SP, Nov 18-30 @ Pancho Villa SP, all at $4/night on annual pass. Expense number also includes prorated cost of the annual pass.)

December: $166 (1 free night in a Chevron parking lot, 1 free night in Camping World parking lot, 16 free nights on BLM land in the cactus forest, 7 nights in RV park in Glendale at $19.50/night, 5 nights in our current location in the BLM LTVA where we paid $180 for the annual pass, good through April 15 which comes out to $1.89/night  which I’m pro-rating on this expense report.)

Four month average: $266

Setting up camp at sunset at Pilot Knob LTVA

DUMPING FEES

October: $0

November: $0

December: $16 (While boondocking we had to pay to dump our tanks at the Pilot/Flying J stations.)

Four month average: $4

Fuel for the RV

October: $452 (Drove 1,335 miles, 0 generator hours, 8.3 MPG)

November: $79 (Drove 172 miles, 0 generator hours, 8.8 MPG)

December: $367 (Drove 767 miles, 91.5 generator hours, ~9.1 MPG net of generator use.) We started using the generator this month since we were boondocking without electrical hookups. The generator uses gas from the RV fuel tank.

Four month average: $240

Fuel for the Truck

October: $245 (21.5 MPG)

November: $52 (17.7 MPG)

December $221 (20.0 MPG)

Four month average: $169

PROPANE

October: $0

November: $31 (12 gallons) – We use propane primarily for cooking. In November we began using the onboard propane furnace more as the temperatures got colder, running it for a little while in the early morning to supplement the small electric heater.

December: $32 (10 gallons)

Four month average: $16

groceries

October: $499

November: $479

December: $492

Four month average: $479

We primarily eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet so we buy a lot of fresh produce and whole grains, along with some wine/beer. We buy very little processed foods in boxes and cans, although we do buy canned beans and tomatoes.

dining out

October: $194

November: $213

December: $253 (mostly while we were staying in Glendale, running errands all over the place.)

Four month average: $219

These numbers include coffees and snacks that we buy when we’re really there just to use the wi-fi. 🙂

Amazing vegan food at Seed Shack in Gilbert AZ

household / furnishings

October: $52

November: $87

December: $42

Four month average: $63

These numbers include things like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, small household items for the kitchen, etc.

petcare

October: $45

November: $5 (we were well stocked up from October)

December: $246 – We took both the cats to the vet in Glendale after Maggie got sick on the drive and showed signs of having worms. Both have been treated and are doing fine.

Four month average: $92

These numbers include cat food, litter, treats and the occasional toy for our two kitties, Maggie and Molly. Will also include vet visits when needed.

verizon cellphone / internet

October: $245

November: $254 – This month we upgraded to the next higher level for unlimited data so we won’t get throttled so much.

December: $286 – Charge increased as we’re now on the higher data plan.

Four month average: $258

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them last fall. We both have the iPhone 8+ which we use for internet access as well as hotspot wi-fi for the laptop and the Roku. We are on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled. Once the phones are paid off next fall, the monthly charge should drop significantly unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

October: $12

November: $16 – We had mail forwarded twice, but also requested one additional shipment when Andy’s mail-order prescription meds came in.

December: $37 – We had mail forwarded once to Glendale AZ, but with the holidays and weekends, it did not arrive before we moved on, so that packet will get sent back to Livingston where it will be added to a future mail forwarding. Lesson learned: always specify “Priority Mail” with a tracking number when requesting mail forwarding. Also, we signed up to have our mail scanned for the next two months since it’s tax season. This way we can see what has arrived at our mailbox in Livingston, and we can pick and choose what we want to have sent to us and what can be shredded. If anything of a time-sensitive nature comes in, we’ll also know to have that forwarded to us right away. The scanning service is $10/month.

Four month average: $16

Laundry

October: $7

November: $22 – We did laundry twice, first in Truth or Consequences where the machines were bad and expensive, and the second time in Deming where the facilities were much nicer and less costly.

December: $18 – We did laundry once in Glendale, but we also washed all the quilts and blankets from the bed. One of the kitties had a little accident after the stress from the vet visit.

Four month average: $18

attractions / entertainment

October: $84

November: $56

December: $137 – I’ve started a new hobby of geocaching, so I paid for a one-year subscription to the premium version of the geocaching app that shows ALL the caches in the area instead of just the very few that were shown in the free version. I also had to renew my annual “plus” subscription to my Evernote app, which is my online notebook for EVERYTHING.

Four month average: $89

These numbers include our subscriptions to Netflix, Audible, and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited book plan, as well as entrance fees to places we visit.

memberships

October: $60 (annual renewal for Costco membership)

November: $49 (annual renewal for Sam’s Club membership)

December: $0

Four month average: $27

Equipment for RV

October: $207 (new surge protector to replace one that got fried in a thunderstorm, two vent covers for the roof, extra set of leveling blocks, and other miscellaneous items)

November: $2,215 (ordered solar kit including three 100-watt solar panels and a Kodiak portable solar generator. Here’s a link to the kit we purchased.)

December: $388 (Solar charge controller + cables and wiring supplies, black tank cleaning wand, 50amp dogbone, battery tester, moving blankets to protect solar panels when driving)

Four month average: $722

Kodiak linked to one solar panel, tested successfully

RV Maintenance & REpairs

October: $46 (kit to repair leaky toilet, new gasket seal for bathroom roof vent)

November: $22 (changed out the water filter)

December: $472 (replaced both house batteries, replaced toilet when foot pedal flusher began to fail, replaced weather stripping over cab area)

Four month average: $136

Removing the old toilet

truck maintenance & repairs

October: $0

November: $0

December: $0

Four month average: $3

Vehicle insurance

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV and $40/mo for the truck.

VEhicle License and registration

Of course we paid the annual license and registration up front in September but for expense tracking purposes, I’m prorating it across the year. It’s $22/mo for the RV and $17/mo for the truck.

Summary

So those are our RV living expenses for the last three months:

October Total: $2,605

November Total: $3,852 ($1,637 excluding the purchase of the solar kit)

December Total: $3,306

Four month average: $2,952

It obviously makes a huge difference whether we’re moving around a lot or staying in one location for an extended length of time. Except for the huge hit on the solar kit that we purchased, November was a very good month in terms of expenses. We lived very well while spending very little. In December we drove more, continued putting together our solar system, and had some additional maintenance items to attend to, so our expenses were higher than we would have liked, even with the free boondocking. We’ll be monitoring our expenses closely in January to hopefully bring our average spending lower.

We purchased the annual pass to the BLM Long Term Visitor Area for $180, which allows us to boondock at any of the seven LTVAs in Arizona and California through April 15. We won’t be moving the RV around very much during this time until the weather gets too warm to stay this far south. Less fuel, less wear and tear on Lizzy, less stress on us and the kitties.

We’ll continue to closely monitor our expenses and will report them here on a monthly basis. So if you’re interested, be sure to subscribe to this blog so you get all our updates. You can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to stay up with us between blog posts.

Vet Report, Completing Our Solar Setup, More Toilet Woes

Merry Christmas, everyone!! We hope this holiday finds you happy and healthy, wherever you may be!

Our very first RV Christmas has been spent parked in a mobile home park in Glendale, Arizona. Not the most scenic surroundings, but being here has made it possible for us to take care of some important issues before we head back into the desert for more off-grid living.

Parked in a mobile home park for Christmas

First of all, both the kitties got to visit the vet last Friday morning. If you remember from our last post, Maggie had vomited on our last drive and it looked like she had a case of worms. Molly had been having some constipation problems as well as a runny nose, so we took them both to the same vet that we used for our old cat, Macho, when we lived here in Glendale–Dr. Charles Toben at Apollo Animal Hospital. I was able to get a stool sample from Maggie, but of course Molly didn’t cooperate that morning.

Maggie Mae is 10-1/2 years old. She weighed in at 14 pounds, 10 ounces, which is about a pound more than she weighed in August at her last checkup. The vet checked her eyes and said she’s starting to develop a little cloudiness due to age, but it’s not serious yet. He found some acne under her chin (I didn’t know cats got acne), so he shaved her chin so we could treat it with hydrogen peroxide.

Her stool sample came back negative for parasites, but he said that from what we described from her puke, it sounded like the type of worms that are caused from fleas, and that they are cyclical or sporadic,so he gave us worming medication to treat both of them. They don’t currently have fleas, but they had a problem with them when were were in Texas in September, and the vet said these parasites are likely a result of those fleas. He gave them their first dose of meds in the office, and we have to give them a second dose on Friday.

Molly Ann is 8-1/2 years old. She weighed in at 11 pounds, 14 ounces, which means she’s lost over a pound since August. The vet listened to her breathing and said he didn’t hear any problems with her lungs, so her runny nose is most likely seasonal allergies (she’s had this issue for a couple of years). In regards to the constipation issue, we discussed their diet and he recommended adding some canned pumpkin or squash to their wet food in the morning–something else I had never heard of.

Adding pumpkin to the kitties’ diet to keep them regular

Other than those issues, he said they both appear to be healthy. He’s such a great veterinarian, I think he spent almost an hour with us, making sure we had all our questions answered. He provided us with electronic copies of the records, and told us to feel free to call from anywhere on the road if we needed help with the girls.

I’ve started adding a little pumpkin to their morning wet food. So far they are tolerating it, but they definitely know something is a little “off” taste-wise with their breakfast, so they don’t gobble it down like they usually do. I’m still waiting to see if it has the desired outcome (no pun intended!).

After returning the kitties to the rig, we had lunch and then drove to the East Valley to pick up a shipment of solar cables from my friend’s house where they had been shipped. Afterward we drove north to Scottsdale to look for some additional pieces at RV Solar Electric, a place we found via a Google search. Unfortunately that place turned out to only be an office for online sales and not a retail store, so that was a busted trip.

On Saturday we did a little more research and found a solar retailer in Mesa. This time we called ahead to confirm that they had what we needed, and then we made the 45 minute drive back to the East Valley. The store is called Solar Penny, and they were able to take care of everything that we needed. We bought a charge controller so we can charge our house batteries with our new solar panels. We also got the additional cables that we needed to go to the batteries, and the owner even attached the proper connectors so Andy wouldn’t have to do that. We were very pleased with our visit to their shop, and would definitely recommend them to anyone looking for parts or advice for their solar setup.

Picking up vital parts at Solar Penny in Mesa AZ

While we were in the Mesa area we looked for good plant-based options for lunch and found a little gem called Seed Shack in Gilbert. It’s a vegan American-Oriental fusion cafe, and their food is all prepared in-house from scratch. Check out their menu online if you’re in the area and want good healthy food!

Amazing vegan food at Seed Shack in Gilbert AZ

On Saturday night we went to downtown Glendale to see the Christmas lights at their annual Glendale Glitters event which lasts for about six weeks during the holidays. We had a delicious sweet corn tamale from the sidewalk stand in front of Bitzee Mama’s (one of our old favorite Mexican restaurants), and followed it up with some vegan rolled ice cream at Nomadic Rolled Ice Cream. The vanilla ice cream was soy-based, and we chose strawberries and oreo cookies as our mix-ins. It was delicious!

Glendale Glitters 2018

On Sunday we took care of the laundry, and then we went to the VeganFest in Peoria’s Centennial Park. They had about 12-15 food trucks there, all serving vegan food. There were also booths set up for vendors selling things like homemade soap, essential oils, t-shirts, etc. They had a line-up of speakers and demonstrations on vegan topics that appeared to be well-attended and received. Andy had a good falafel pita with fries. I tried the vegan “shrimp” po-boy with cajun chips, and it wasn’t good at all, but it had nothing to do with the “shrimp”–the homemade chips were soggy, and there were very few “shrimp” on a huge roll, so it was mostly bread. Anyway, they get points for trying.

After leaving the VeganFest, we decided to drive around a little bit to see how things had changed. We first went up to the Arrowhead Mall area, which was crazy because who intentionally and unnecessarily drives into mall traffic on the weekend before Christmas?? Next we drove down the 101 to Westgate in Glendale to see where the new casino is being built (they allow overnight RV parking there so we wanted to scope it out). While in that area we went to Cabela’s where we each picked out our Christmas present from each other–I got a new pair of hiking shoes and Andy got a rain jacket that he’s been looking for. Yes, Christmas is a little different this year, as there’s no way to secretly shop for each other and hide gifts until Christmas Eve. Besides, we’re trying to minimize our possessions, so our Christmas gifts to each other are good quality, practical items.

So, we thought we were just about done with all our spending here in the Phoenix area, and were planning to pull out of here on Wednesday, the day after Christmas. But of course, plans are made to be changed. A few days ago we started noticing that when we flushed the toilet, the water wouldn’t shut off when you released the foot pedal. We would have to really jiggle and bang on it to stop the water flow before it totally filled up the bowl and overflowed. So yesterday, Andy checked on parts numbers and called Camping World, knowing that since it was Christmas Eve, they would be closing early. We got to them just in the nick of time and after talking to the parts tech, wound up buying a complete new toilet since the foot pedal mechanism cannot be replaced separately.

Since we now have another to-do item on our list, we elected to extend our stay here in the mobile home park by another day. Fortunately they were able to accommodate us, and we were still eligible for one more night at the discounted rate from Passport America. This actually worked out for the best because we still have not received our latest mail shipment from our forwarding service in Livingston, Texas. Hopefully our mail will arrive on Wednesday.

So, here it is, Christmas Day, and we’re going to enjoy being together on the road. Last night we did our traditional snack spread while we watched “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” for the 1,738th time, followed by “Springsteen on Broadway” on Netflix. Today we’re having cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and then I’m going to make my famous vegan pot roast–well, it’s famous in our house anyway. We’re going to visit the gravesites of Andy’s parents and leave some Christmas flowers there, and then hopefully drive by his old neighborhood to check it out.

Tomorrow will be last minute chores, including installing the new toilet, as we prepare to hit the road again.

Where are we going next? We’re still not 100% sure, but we’re leaning toward Yuma where it will be warmer. There’s a cold front moving in over the next few days. We are looking at staying mostly in a BLM Long Term Visitors Area (LTVA) for the winter, but we’re closely monitoring the situation with the government shutdown. From what we understand, the water was to be shut off and services suspended at the LTVA’s in the event of a shutdown, even though you can still camp there. The trash won’t be collected and bathrooms won’t be cleaned or restocked. The office won’t be manned, so there won’t be anyone there to collect camping fees. Weird situation for sure!

So that’s where we are now! I do miss my family so much this Christmas–I’m sending my love to my parents, all my brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews and their spouses, and great-nieces and nephews, including two new ones that are due to arrive in the next month. Merry Christmas, y’all!! And Merry Christmas to Andy’s brother and sister-in-law in Indiana, as well as his nephew and nieces and their families–hope you all have a joyous Christmas and New Year!!

Stay tuned to find out where we’re headed to next–you’ll know as soon as we do!!

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Boondocking Ends, Back to Hookups and City Life, Worms?

Yesterday (Thursday) we left our campsite in the Cactus Forest on BLM land after spending 16 glorious days in the Arizona desert. Our very first true boondocking experience was everything that we had hoped it would be, even if there were some anxious moments learning to monitor and conserve our battery usage.

There was a lot to love about that campsite. The sunrises and sunsets were amazing almost every day, except the few days it was completely overcast. It was peaceful and quiet, except for the faint background noise of gunfire coming from a shooting range a couple of miles away, and the occasional helicopter from a nearby airbase flying overhead. There was a lot of privacy as there are only five or six spots to set up camp on the little road, and they are spaced well apart from each other.

I got my feet wet in my new hobby of geocaching while we were there, successfully locating five caches in some pretty interesting locations and containers. We did lots of hiking through the desert and along the dirt road. And we were close enough to Tucson that we could drive into town for supplies and groceries.

We got a lot better acquainted with our RV, Lizzy, as we learned to live without electrical and water hookups. While we didn’t have to pay for the campsite, it still wasn’t “free”. We had to pay for propane for heat and refrigeration, and we had to pay extra for gasoline to run the generator to keep the batteries charged. I’ll be doing some analysis of the numbers to find out what our average daily costs were while boondocking, and report those back to you when we do the month-end financial recap.

Leaving our campsite in the Cactus Forest on BLM land

But yesterday it was time to move on, so we packed up and drove to our new temporary home in the Triple T Mobile Home and RV Park in Glendale, Arizona. We chose this spot for two reasons–they are part of the Passport America discount program, and it’s near where we used to live so we’re familiar with the area.

With the Passport America discount, we’re paying half price for the site, or $19.50/night, for full hookups, which is a steal during snowbird season in Arizona. The park is rather old and is mostly filled with long-term mobile homes and RV’s. They didn’t have any RV sites available, but they had a long-term site that had just opened up, so they put us between two mobile homes. Not the best view we’ve ever had, but for six nights, we can handle it.

Our new temporary home in Glendale AZ

When Andy started to hookup the electricity, he found that the receptacle configuration didn’t match our plug, so he couldn’t connect. He thought that the receptacle might be 50-amp since this was a long-term spot, so we went to Walmart and bought a 50 amp to 30 amp adapter, commonly known as a “dog bone”, to make the connection. On the way back we stopped by the office to officially check in, and when we mentioned the receptacle, Wendy, the office manager, checked her records and said that it should be 30 amps, not 50.

Our 30-amp plug didn’t match their 30-amp receptacle

When we got back to the RV, Andy looked at it again and compared the receptacle to the 50-amp dog bone, and they didn’t match. He took photos of the receptacle and our RV plug and went back to the office to talk to Wendy. She immediately notified her onsite maintenance guy to change out the receptacle, and within an hour it was complete and we were connected to electricity. Hallelujah!!

Maintenance guy replaced the receptacle–great customer service!

We got the water hooked up, connected the sewer hose and dumped the tanks, and even got the TV set up to receive local channels. After all that, Andy decided he wanted to visit a local Thai place where we used to eat a lot, so we went to Siam Thai Restaurant on Northern at 51st Avenue and had a delicious meal while we unwound a little bit.

It was so strange last night, hearing all the planes, trains and automobiles, as well as the voices of children outside the RV, after being in such quiet surroundings for over two weeks. We were afraid we might not sleep well, but we both conked out pretty quickly.

We have a long checklist of things we need to do while we’re here in Glendale. Since Tuesday is Christmas and a lot of places will be closing early on Monday as well as being closed on Sunday, we’ll have to compress a lot into the next couple of days. The last few pieces of our solar kit have been delivered to our friend Nicki’s house, so we’ll pick that up today. We plan to also visit a solar system supplier to pick up a couple of other items that we need to hook the solar panels to our house batteries. Andy wants to run by the local Onan generator shop to pick up some filters and oil for the generator. We have mail being delivered to the post office here that we need to pick up, and then there’s the usual laundry, grocery shopping, haircut (for me, not Andy!).

We have an unexpected appointment that we had to make for this morning–a visit to our old veterinarian here in Glendale. Yesterday while we were driving, Maggie threw up, which she has never done before. And I noticed that there were what looked like tiny worms in her puke. So we immediately made an appointment to take her in for a checkup, and while we’re at it, we’re taking Molly as well. Both kitties are eating well and drinking plenty of water,  but they both have had some potty issues lately, so it’s time to get them checked. This morning I’m collecting stool samples–what fun. 😛

We’re scheduled to be here in this spot through Tuesday night, leaving on Wednesday, but if for some reason the vet needs to see the kitties for a follow-up, we might be here in the area a little longer. We’re hoping that’s not the case because we’re already getting anxious to get back out to the open spaces and relative quiet of the desert. We’re planning to be somewhere in the Quartzsite/Yuma/Ehrenberg area, although we are NOT planning to attend the RTR–way too congested for us!!

We’ll know more about our plans after this morning’s vet visit.

For updates between the blog posts, you can follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads.

Happy holidays and safe travels, everyone!

 

Solar Equipment, Battery Monitoring, True Cost of Dumping

Our primary focus over the past week has been learning to manage our power consumption and battery charging. We have not had another episode of dead batteries, but we’re very diligent about manually checking the voltage on the batteries several times a day. Andy is still convinced that they are not holding a charge the way they should, even though they are brand new. But without any prior experience with boondocking, we don’t have anything to compare it to.

During the day, we hardly use the lights, so the only things that should be drawing on the battery are: (1) the CO2/propane monitor, (2) the water pump, (3) the thermostat in the refrigerator which runs on propane while boondocking, and (4) the backup camera monitor and dashboard display. My guess is that this last item is the one that is creating the greatest draw on the battery, but there’s no way to turn it off unless you just pull the fuse or disconnect the wiring.

Never tire of these beautiful sunsets!

Before the batteries went dead, we were running the generator for about an hour in the morning and an hour at night, and we weren’t testing the battery voltage. Now we’re finding that we need to run the generator at least 90 minutes each time. If there is any significant power draw on the generator while it’s running (i.e. using the Instant Pot or the microwave) then we need to run it longer in order to top off the batteries. That means more gas is being used at the rate of about 1 gallon for every 2-1/2 hours of generator time.

On Friday we drove to Phoenix to pick up our solar equipment, which we had had shipped to our friends’ house. When we got back to the rig and unpacked everything, we had three solar panels, the Kodiak portable generator, a 30′ solar cable, and three LED outdoor lights. Unfortunately, we have not yet received the two chaining cables to connect the three solar panels together (these were supposed to be part of the kit), or the car charger to charge the Kodiak while we’re driving (not part of the kit). Andy is going to contact the company first thing this morning to find out when we can expect those items.

Our new Kodiak portable generator to be charged with solar panels

We were able to connect one of the panels to the Kodiak and test it out, even though it was pretty overcast this weekend. But we really need those chaining cables and a good sunny day to see the real potential of this system.

Kodiak linked to one solar panel, tested successfully

Yesterday we drove into Tucson and went to Home Depot where Andy picked up some PVC pipe and fittings to make supports for the solar panels so we can stand them up and lean them at the right angle to get the most sunlight. He’ll be working on those this week.

On Saturday we drove to Eloy again to refuel, dump the tanks, and refill the fresh water tank. The one downside to this boondocking spot is that it’s not really close to a dump station. We drove 64 miles roundtrip to take care of this little bit of housekeeping. The rig gets about 8.5 miles per gallon, and gas cost us $2.60/gallon, so it cost us about $19.58 in gas, plus the $8.16 dump fee at Flying J, for a total of $27.74 to dump the tanks and get fresh water. (Flying J charges $12 to dump and get water, but we get a discount with our Good Sam’s card.)

The exciting news is that we went SIX NIGHTS this time without dumping! That’s a new record for us!! We have never really pushed it to the limit to see how long we can go. The last thing I want to happen is for the black tank to fill up in the middle of the night. YUCK!!

Technically we could save a little money by driving back into Tucson to the free dump station we found two weeks ago, but the hassle of driving in city traffic offsets the small savings. Alternately, we could go to the nearby state park and pay $15 to dump and get water, but we would still have to drive somewhere else to get gas and propane, so we just prefer to drive a little further and take care of everything in one location.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been camped here in the Cactus Forest for almost two weeks. We’ll be pulling out on Thursday, headed to an RV park in Glendale, Arizona for Christmas. While I’m looking forward to having full hookups again, I’m going to miss the peace and quiet and wide open spaces of our boondocking spot. We’re already looking forward to heading further southwest for the new year.

We’ll always remember our first true boondocking spot in the Cactus Forest

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Battery Update, Christmas Plans, More Geocaching

As I reported in the last post, we had another episode of battery death, this time with our brand new 150 amp-hour batteries that we just purchased last week at Camping World. At the time of that post, we had let the generator run all night to try to recharge the batteries. Here’s what happened next.

When Andy got up, we shut off the generator and checked the batteries. Still nothing. Everything was dead, and they were not being charged from the generator.

Next we tried charging them from the alternator while running the engine (the batteries normally get charged while we’re driving the RV). That didn’t work either.

We checked the fusebox again, and didn’t see any problems with the fuses or breakers. At this point, we were starting to think it was a problem with the converter (the system that converts 110 current from the generator or shore power into DC current to be stored in the battery). However, since all the 12-volt systems in the RV were completely offline, it was just exactly as if the battery disconnect switch had been  flipped, even though it had not been. And THAT reminded us that there was another fused breaker hidden underneath the big pantry drawer below the stove.

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Reset button on the battery disconnect breaker located under the kitchen pantry drawer

In order to reach that breaker, you have to empty the drawer and then remove it from its tracks to gain access. Once he could reach the breaker, Andy pressed the tiny reset button, and…

VOILA!!

All the 12-volt systems were back online! The battery was still weak, registering around 11.95 volts as I remember, but at least we knew why the batteries had not been charging…they were in effect disconnected from the system.

We immediately fired up the generator and let it run for a couple of hours, and then checked the batteries again, and found that they were indeed charging and were back to a safe reading of 12.95. And since we needed to run the generator in the evening so I could use the Instant Pots for dinner, we kept the batteries topped off at 12.95.

The next test was to see how well they held up overnight with the furnace blower running, as well as the other minor draws on the system. When Andy got up this morning and checked the batteries, they read about 12.19, or about 60% capacity, which was acceptable. We ran the generator for a little over an hour this morning, and by then the reading was about 13.1, so we’re feeling great about that.

Our best guess of what happened is that when we failed to run the generator on Tuesday morning based on the reading on the stupid control panel, the batteries drained to the point that it caused the disconnect breaker to trip when we turned off the generator on Tuesday night to switch back over to the 12-volt system.

So we’ve learned some valuable lessons in the last two days:

  • We cannot rely on the factory-installed battery meter to monitor the available charge on the batteries. Instead, we are now using the multi-meter to get the exact voltage, even though it’s a pain to have to open up the battery compartment (located under one of the entry steps) to use the meter. We check it several times a day. At some point we’ll probably look into having a proper battery meter installed that displays the voltage at all times.
  • We will always run the generator at least twice a day to keep the batteries topped off, unless we’re driving the RV, in which case they’ll be charged from the alternator.
  • If the entire 12-volt system goes dead, the first thing we will check will be the disconnect breaker under the kitchen drawer.

So Andy called Camping World in Tucson to cancel the service appointment that we had scheduled with them for 8:00 AM on Friday. Turns out they didn’t even log the appointment so they wouldn’t have been expecting us anyway. Funny how that all worked out.

Tomorrow we’ll be picking up our new solar panels and Kodiak generator at our friends’ house in Phoenix. They were kind enough to let us have the equipment shipped to their address, and we’re looking forward to getting to visit with them for a little bit! While we’re in Phoenix, we’re also going to have lunch at one of our old favorites, Green New American Vegetarian restaurant on 7th Street. They have an extensive vegan menu, and we can’t wait to chow down!

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We’ve loved camping among these giant saguaros!

We have also made our plans for Christmas. We’ll be leaving this beautiful BLM campsite  in the Cactus Forest on Thursday of next week (sad face!), and we’ll travel to Glendale where we have reservations at an RV park for six nights. It will be nice to have full hookups again for a little while–unlimited showers, laundry facilities onsite, sewer hookups, electricity, and wi-fi. We were fortunate to get a site in this campground on our Passport America membership at half-price, so the six nights will only cost us $117, which is awesome! We’ll stay there through Christmas Day, and then pull out on December 26th for destination still to be determined.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to hunt for geocaches, finding my fourth one this morning. The ones that I’ve found are all located just off the road so I could have easily driven to the spot and saved some time. But I’ve picked up this hobby primarily for the exercise, so I’m hiking through the desert to each of the cache sites, burning off some calories and seeing some beautiful scenery.

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My 3rd geocache find was hanging near an electrical transmission tower.

If you would like to know more about what geocaching is and how it works, check out their website at Geocaching.com.

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My 4th geocache find was in an oxygen cylindar stuck in a tree. Fun find!

Yesterday we made a quick trip into Marana to ship a Christmas package to my parents and pick up a few grocery items for our salads. While there we also had lunch at Chipotle (the sofritas bowl rocks!!) and later some ice cream at The Screamery.

So that’s what’s been going on around here…just enjoying some blue skies, comfortable temperatures, and fully-charged batteries!! Our next big challenge this weekend will be learning to use our new solar system so we don’t have to run the generator so much to keep the batteries charged. Free power from the sun!!

Be sure to follow us on Instagram to stay up to date with us between blog posts! Also, feel free to share these posts with your family and friends if they are interested in learning more about full time RV life!

Safe travels, and Happy Holidays!!

Boondocking – From Asphalt to BLM

As you know, we spent the first three months of our full-time RV life connected to electricity and water hookups, with an occasional sewer connection. We stayed in state parks and private campgrounds where there were dump stations and showers, but also camping fees.

Well, we’ve changed things up considerably in our fourth month. We’ve now graduated to boondocking!

As I reported in our last post, after leaving New Mexico on Sunday, we spent the night in the back lot of a Chevron station in San Simon, Arizona, along with a lot of eighteen-wheelers. We actually got a pretty good night’s sleep in spite of the traffic noise from the interstate. We ran our generator all night in order to use the electric heater, so it all became white noise after awhile.

On Monday morning Andy made some phone calls to locate a source for new house batteries, and we decided to go to Camping World. They had the batteries that we needed, the warranty would be good at any Camping World in the country, and they would also allow us to park overnight in their parking lot until they could work us in on Tuesday morning.

So after having breakfast in the back lot of the Chevron station, we pulled out and drove across the street to the Shell station to top off the gas tank in the RV even though we had filled the tank the night before at Chevron. We just wanted to see how much gas the generator had used overnight. Turned out it used 6.4 gallons in 15.1 hours, so we’re getting about 2 hours and 20 minutes per gallon of gas. We were also going to top off our propane there, but they ran out when they were helping the customer in front of us.

We drove on into Tucson, arriving at Camping World around 11:00 AM. We went ahead and picked out the batteries that we wanted and set up our service appointment for 8:30 AM the following morning. They have a pretty small parking lot, but we got a good space and settled in, having a good lunch in the RV while we watched customers come and go.

Boondocking in the Camping World parking lot in Tucson

After lunch we decided to do a little exploring in Tucson, primarily to get some ice cream. We drove downtown and parked at Broadway and 6th Avenue. By the way, have you used the ParkMobile app yet to pay for your parking? We first used it in Santa Fe, but found that Tucson also uses it. Very convenient!

We got some delicious ice cream at The Screamery on Congress Street. I had the Sweet Cream Honeycomb and the Rough At Sea. I don’t remember what Andy had, but it was all very good, and the guy that waited on us was very friendly and professional. We highly recommend The Screamery!

Ice cream at The Screamery on Congress Street in Tucson

Afterwards we took a stroll down Congress Street to the Veinte de Agosto Park to see the statue of Pancho Villa. I never realized old Pancho was such a popular character in the area, but he seems to be everywhere! We walked back up Broadway to get back to our parking space, and found this area of Tucson to be full of restaurants, condos, small shops, even a downtown grocery store. If I were in the mood to live in a sticks-and-bricks again, I would definitely consider looking for a condo in this area of Tucson.

Statue of Pancho Villa in Tucson

We returned to Camping World and then spent about an hour looking through some of the RVs they have for sale on the lot. They mostly had travel trailers which didn’t interest us, but we did go through some Class A’s and fifth-wheels, just to check out some floor plans. We’re not planning to trade in Lizzy for awhile, but it doesn’t hurt to stay up to date on what’s out there.

Touring RVs on the sales lot at Camping World

Camping World closed at 6:00 PM so the parking lot cleared out except for us and a big Class A rig that was also spending the night. We cooked dinner, cleaned up the dishes and settled in for the night. Once again we were right off the interstate, and there was plenty of security lighting in the parking lot, so it was almost like napping during the daytime instead of sleeping. We still managed to get some good rest before rising early for our service appointment.

They had told us we could pull the rig around to the service area at 8:00 AM, and sure enough they knocked on our door at 7:55 to make sure we were ready. We verified that it was okay to leave the cats inside the rig while they were swapping out the batteries, and they even agreed to let one of us stay inside with them. So Andy stayed in the rig while I waited inside the store. They were finished with everything by 9:00 AM, to the tune of $285. We got two new deep-cycle, 150 amp-hour batteries, and also were told that the previous batteries had been hooked up incorrectly. That, combined with the fact that we rarely drew down the batteries at all since we were always hooked up to electricity, probably contributed to their early failure. Now we have our electrical system in good shape and ready to work with the new solar panels that we have ordered.

New batteries installed to make boondocking more comfortable

We weren’t ready to leave Tucson just yet because we were waiting on an Amazon delivery to a nearby locker. The item was scheduled to be delivered “before 9 PM”, and we were hoping for something on the earlier side. Since we needed to pick up a few groceries, we left Camping World after topping off the propane tank, and drove to Walmart, taking a spot on the far edge of the parking lot. We fixed a cup of hot tea and settled in with our books and iPhones. Around 11:00 AM we went inside and did our grocery shopping, then put the groceries away and had lunch.

Since our destination for the night was on BLM land in an unfamiliar area, we decided that we needed to leave Walmart by 1:00 PM to allow time for dumping the tanks and finding a camping spot, even if our Amazon package had not arrived by then. We located a free dump station using the Campendium app (yay!) on Flowing Wells Road in Tucson. A big thanks to Merrigans Arizona RoadRunner RV for providing free sewer dump and fresh water fill-ups to the RV community. I did spend a little money in the store to say “thank-you”.

Free dump station in Tucson

Our destination for the night was a BLM campsite commonly known as Cactus Forest Campground on Cattle Tank Road, just northeast of Red Rock, AZ. It was a good thing that we left Tucson when we did, because when we got off the interstate and started east on East Park Link Drive, we found the road was totally closed for construction. It’s out in a rural area, so there aren’t a huge number of alternate routes to get where we were going. We tried a road that looked promising and wound up on a small dirt road that led to someone’s ranch where we turned around. A friendly guy came out to the rig and directed us to an alternate route using Missile Base Road.

So we turned around and went back toward Tucson until we found Missile Base Road and turned east. This route would bring us into the campsite from the south instead of the north. Unfortunately, Google Maps didn’t know about the brand new paved extension of Cattle Tank Road. Instead, it directed us to another dirt road that was horrendous–we wound up turning around in someone’s driveway again (Andy’s getting really good at that).

We went back to the new paved extension, and even though it wasn’t on the map, we decided to go for it, and it brought us right to the campsite.

New paved extension on South Cattle Tank Road, not yet on Google maps

After living in developed campgrounds with hookups for the past 18 months since we bought the RV, we were in for quite a different experience. The only indication that we were in the right place was a brown metal post that had the BLM logo on it and said “No Dumping” and “Camping 14-Day Limit”. There is a good-sized lot at the entrance where a Class A was parked next to a primitive corral that contained a couple of watering tanks. The dirt and gravel road that leads further into the area is narrow with cactus on each side. Within the first 100 yards are several pull-outs where you can park your rig, and there are obvious signs (i.e. fire ring) that it’s meant for camping. We found a good spot and were set up very quickly since there are no hookups.

BLM sign marking the camping area

We fell in love immediately with our surroundings. It truly is a cactus forest with towering saguaro, jumping cholla, teddy bear cholla, barrel cactus, and prickly-pear, just to name a few. There are also palo verde trees. We took a sunset walk down the road in both directions and were so happy that we didn’t give up on finding this place. Besides us and and the Class A parked up at the entrance, only one other camper was in the area, a van-dweller that arrived after we did and parked further down the road. The campsites are so far apart from each other that you literally feel alone out here.

Our first BLM campsite is in a cactus forest. Beautiful!

After being in such noisy places for the previous two nights, it was such a relief to be here in the desert where it was almost totally quiet and dark. Every once it a while we would hear a car go by on the paved road, or a plane fly overhead toward the Tucson airport, but it was so peaceful, and the sunset was gorgeous, even though it was a little overcast. We waited until it was totally dark before starting the generator to run the Instant Pot, just so we could enjoy a quiet sunset.

Sunset out our front door. Glad to be back home in Arizona!

I wish I could say I got a good night’s sleep. I actually did until about 3:00 AM when the kitties decided it was time to eat–Maggie does that a lot. I held her off until about 5:15 but I was awake the entire time.

By the way, for those of you who were asking, Molly seems to be doing fine at the moment after that one bad day that she had on Sunday. We’ll continue to monitor her, but at the moment her plumbing doesn’t seem to be bothering her.

So here it is, Wednesday morning, and I’m watching the sun rise over a cactus forest in complete silence except for Andy’s snoring–he is impervious to the antics of the cats during the night. 🙂

We’ll need to drive back to Tucson today to pick up the Amazon package that finally made it to the locker about 8:00 PM last night. Have you ever used an Amazon locker? This will be our first time. It’s located at a Quik Trip store, so this should be interesting. It’s a great option for full-time RVers who need a place to have things shipped while not having a permanent home address.

Otherwise we’ll do a little hiking and just soak up the good vibes from our surroundings today. I feel like we’ve graduated from RV prep school to boondocking college!! There will be a new set of challenges to solve camping this way–conserving water so we don’t have to take the rig to a dump station as often, conserving our battery power–but being able to have our home in a place with this kind of view is definitely worth it!

If you have any questions about our RV life, be sure to leave a comment and we’ll address it in a future blog post. You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads for updates between blog posts.

Happy holidays, everyone! Safe travels!!

Museum, Enchilada Fries and We Go Solar

We’re down to our last few days here in New Mexico and we’re trying to make the most of them before we pull up stakes and head to Arizona for the winter.

Another beautiful sunrise at Pancho Villa State Park

On Wednesday morning we visited the Columbus Depot Museum which is housed in the old train depot and operated by the Columbus Historical Society. The building itself is worth seeing with the old original floors and windows. They have one room dedicated to the Pancho Villa raid from March 9, 1916, including a diorama that shows how the town was laid out at the time, as well as one of Pancho’s sombreros, the door of the bank vault with a bullet hole in it, and lots of other memorabilia.

A second room is dedicated to railroad memorabilia, as Columbus was originally a railroad town where trains would move soldiers to/from Camp Furlong, ore from the mines in Arizona, and passengers headed west from El Paso. The third room contains a lot of antique household and business items from the early 1900’s.

Inside the Train Room in the Columbus Depot Museum

There’s a small gift shop just inside the entrance that sells trinkets and books. Outside the building there is an old fire engine, some more old farm equipment, and a gazebo that is a recreation of the reviewing stand where General Pershing stood to review the troops as they marched back into the US after chasing Villa’s army through northern Mexico after the raid.

The gentleman who was working in the museum that morning was quite a crusty character. He’s a volunteer, so he gets a free RV spot behind the museum (there’s a second volunteer and they trade shifts). He had his dog with him at his desk, and seeing as how we were the only ones that visited the museum that morning, he was ready to talk…and talk….and talk. He was pretty entertaining, especially later when we could overhear his phone conversation with someone regarding current events….let’s just say he was colorful. 🙂

After touring the museum, we walked across the street and had lunch at the Borderland Cafe so we could contribute to the local economy. This is a popular spot with the locals, as evidenced by the number of people that stopped in for lunch wearing construction vests or cowboy hats and boots. They offered a few veggie options–I got the veg-wich which was a sandwich made with hummus and veggies. Andy got the veggie pizza which was very good. One of their specialties is their enchilada fries–french fries covered with green Hatch chile sauce and Menonite cheese. We split an order of those.

Enchilada fries at the Borderland Cafe in Columbus NM

Yesterday (Thursday) we had to say “See you down the road!” to our new friend, fellow nomad and guitarist-extraordinaire Gary Piazza, who had reached the 14-day stay limit here in the park. He’s moving to nearby Rockhound State Park for a few days before heading to Payson, Arizona where he has a gig waiting. Safe travels, Gary!!

We spent yesterday afternoon hanging out at the local library/computer center, using their speedy wi-fi to do some research on boondocking spots in Arizona and planning our travels for the next week or so.

And speaking of boondocking….

We are about to embark on a whole new chapter in our RV living experience. To date, we have only boondocked twice that I remember. The first time was in a Walmart parking lot in Chattanooga, TN in September 2017 when we were on our way to our first RV rally in Sevierville, TN. The second time was the first night after we hit the road back in August, when we stayed at a Harvest Host location, Landry Vineyards in Monroe, LA.

In each of those cases we didn’t have to be too concerned about how much water, tank capacity or battery power we used because we were only off-grid for one night before getting back to hook-ups. But our plans for the next few months are to spend quite a bit of time off-grid, camping for free on BLM land primarily, so we’ll need to learn to camp differently and more conservatively.

For electric power, we do have a generator that uses gas from the fuel tank on the RV. The generator can charge the house batteries as well as provide power for energy hogs like the microwave and the air conditioner. But we would like to limit the use of the generator as much as possible to conserve gasoline and lower our fuel costs.

And since we are going to be spending a large portion of our time in the Southwest where the sun shines almost every day, it just made sense to invest in a solar system.

Kodiak portable solar generator and panels

After doing a lot of research over the past year, we settled on a solar kit that includes the Kodiak portable solar generator, three 100-watt solar panels, cables, and three outdoor lights. We ordered it yesterday from Earthtech Products and made arrangements to have it shipped to a friend’s house in Phoenix where we’ll pick it up when it arrives in a few weeks (thanks, Nicki and Avery!!).

The Kodiak is a 90 amp-hour lithium battery. The unit has multiple plugs which can be used to keep all our devices charged. In fact, there’s even a 30-amp plug where we could plug the RV directly into the unit to run small things like lights and fans if our house batteries should fail.

If you’re interested in the system, here’s a link Earthtech’s website where you can get the specs.

The cost? Total was $2215, including a car charger which will charge the Kodiak from the alternator while we’re driving the RV.

So yes, this is an investment, not just an expense. The solar panels will allow us to keep our house batteries charged so we can stay off-grid longer, and the Kodiak will provide a secondary power source when we need extra charging power for phones, laptop, Kindles, walkie-talkies, cameras…all that electronic gear.

We do have a couple of maintenance items in the RV that need to be addressed. The light fixture over the kitchen sink appears to have a faulty switch…it keeps dimming and brightening intermittently. Also we have some weather stripping on the passenger-side over-cab area that has come loose and needs to be replaced. Handy Andy will be taking care of these items soon.

Today we’re going to make one last trip across the border to have lunch in Palomas and, yes, visit the bakery again. Tomorrow we’ll drive to Deming to pick up our latest mail packet from our mail service in Livingston, TX, get some groceries, do a little sight-seeing and visit a local coffee shop that looks interesting.

And then on Sunday, we break camp and head west.

Life is good in the Borderlands!

We hope you’re enjoying the blog! Be sure to subscribe to get notifications of new posts when they are published. You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to see what we’re doing between blog posts.

Stay safe, follow your dreams, and live every day as if it’s your last!!

Toilet Surgery, Rain and Birthday Shopping

I am pleased to report that our toilet repair project was successful! Andy had done a lot of research by watching YouTube videos and even contacting the manufacturer to make sure he was clear on how to go about removing the toilet, replacing the seals and then reattaching everything. And all that research paid off with a relatively painless process.

The one thing we were most worried about was how bad it would smell in the RV while the drain pipe was open. Actually there was little to no smell at all (we did dump the tanks first, and also added a deodorizing packet to the tank). The worst thing that happened was when we turned the water back on–we had a leak where the water line attached to the back of the toilet. The connection was supposed to be “finger tight”, but obviously that wasn’t tight enough and it required more tightening with pliers. We think that this connector was the source of our slow leak all along rather than the seals, but it was good to go ahead and do a complete maintenance job anyway on such an important piece of equipment.

If anyone is interested in seeing how the project went, we recorded most of it on the GoPro and posted it to our YouTube channel:

We had hoped to do some sight-seeing on Friday but it rained almost the entire day with only a slight pause in the afternoon, just enough time for a short walk to get some fresh air. We spent the day reading, editing the video above, housecleaning–all those normal little chores you do on a cool, rainy day.

A rainy, cloudy day at our campground

Yesterday (Saturday) it was time to go to town for groceries and supplies, as well as some birthday shopping. My 60th birthday is coming up next week, and I wanted (actually needed) a new pair of hiking shoes, as well as some long-sleeved pullover shirts for cooler weather. The forecast is calling for a big drop in temperatures on Monday, and I wanted to be ready.

So we drove into Las Cruces, and first went to Jason’s Deli for lunch. I like Jason’s because they have good meatless options on their menu, and Andy likes Jason’s because they have free ice cream for dessert. Next we went to Dick’s Sporting Goods where I picked out a pair of hiking shoes and some warm socks. Perhaps “picked out” is too strong a term–it was actually the only pair they had in my size. No problem, I liked them anyway.

Birthday gifts from the hubby–new warm clothes!

Next stop was Walmart where we did most of our grocery shopping. I also picked up three long-sleeve pullover shirts there to complete my birthday shopping. Last stop was Sprouts for some red lentils from their bulk bins. And to my delight, they also had just put out their stock of cinnamon gummy bears for the holidays–my favorite!

Even though we ate lunch at Jason’s, we still eat almost all our meals at home in the RV, and cook almost everything from scratch. Last night I used both of our Instant Pots to cook dinner, making brown rice in the 3-quart Mini Duo and red lentil curry in the 6-quart Duo. We had enough leftover for two more meals, so half went in the fridge for our next travel day, and half went in the freezer. Having leftovers in the refrigerator takes a lot of the pressure off when we pull into a new campground after a long day of driving.

Two Instant Pots for a rice and curry dinner

Today the weather is supposed to be pretty nice, so we’re hoping to do a little sightseeing. Tomorrow a cold front will arrive, dropping the temperatures by almost 25°.  The high today (Sunday) is forecast at 72°, by Tuesday the forecast high is 48°.

Now you know why I wanted those warmer shoes and shirts!

We only have two more nights here at Leasburg Dam State Park. Tuesday we will be driving north to Albuquerque where we will stay for three nights at the Enchanted Trails RV Park. While there, we will be able to pick up our mail which has been forwarded to us from our mailbox in Livingston, Texas. The mail pouch will include our absentee ballots so we can vote in the mid-term elections.

And that’s what’s going on in our lives right now. The kitties are doing fine, we’re healthy and happy, and we’re loving our new lifestyle on the road.

Stay tuned for more updates as we get ready to move to our next destination! You can also follow us on Instagram @JustCallUsNomads!

Settling In to Full Time RV Life

It’s been just over six weeks since we moved into our RV, Lizzy, full time after selling our house and almost all our possessions. Those six weeks have not been without challenges, but we’re starting to get into a groove now as we settle into our new lifestyle.

The weather here in New Mexico has been interesting. We arrived just at the tail end of a warm spell, so the first few days we used the air conditioner. Then on Sunday we had a severe thunderstorm roll through with high winds and heavy rain. We got an emergency alert on our phones that indicated we could also see hail, but fortunately we were spared from that. And after the storm ended, we were treated to a beautiful double rainbow!

Double rainbow after the storm

Yesterday was overcast and drizzly, and this morning we woke to a dense fog. But by 10:00, the fog lifted and the beautiful blue skies have returned. With the rainy front that moved through, the temperatures have cooled considerably, and we haven’t used the air conditioner in several days, relying on the breeze only.

Here’s a little timelapse that I shot from the roof of Lizzy this morning as the fog lifted.

Speaking of breeze, Andy was able to install two vent covers on the roof just before the storm hit on Sunday. The covers allow us to keep the vents open and the fan running even when it’s raining so we don’t have to close everything up and run the air conditioner. The vents do have original covers that tilt up, but those can get damaged or even ripped off in a high wind, so these new covers that we installed will protect the original tilted cover from the wind. Confusing, I know….

Installing covers over our vents and fan

On Saturday we did some hiking on some of the trails here in the park that meander down along the Rio Grande River and over to the Leasburg Dam. The trail along the river was nice and serene, but the dam was a bit of a disappointment. There really isn’t any water to speak of behind the dam, at least on the day we were there. The dam was built in 1908 to divert water from the Rio Grande into the surrounding agricultural fields of the Upper Masilla Valley. It’s just over 11 feet high, and was the first dam completed on the Rio Grande Project by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (it was originally 10 feet high but was raised by 1.25 feet in 1919).

Hiking along the Rio Grande river on the Mogollon Trail

Rio Grande River below Leasburg Dam

Yesterday (Monday) was an errands day. The first order of business was to locate some repair parts for the toilet, which appears to have a slow leak. Andy tried for over an hour to talk to someone by telephone in the parts department at Camping World in Anthony, Texas to see if they had the parts in stock. They took his number and said they would call back, but after waiting for a half hour we decided to just make the 45 minute drive and ask them in person.

When we got there, they only had one guy working in the parts department, and he was slammed. When we finally got to the front of the line, he was able to identify the parts we needed, but then told us they were out of stock. He was kind enough to call another RV dealer just across the freeway, and they said they could have the part by the next day. But since we didn’t want to make another trip to Anthony, we just decided to order it from Amazon and have it shipped to us here in Radium Springs. Free shipping, and it will be here tomorrow (Wednesday).

Retailers, this is why Amazon is winning.

After we left Camping World, we headed back north to Las Cruces for the rest of our errands. First we had lunch at Chipotle (our original plan was to eat at a local Mexican restaurant that was supposed to be really good, but they were closed for some reason). Then we tried to go by the bank, but they were closed for Columbus Day.

Next stop was Home Depot so we could pick up some plumber’s grease for the toilet repair. From there we went to Walmart for groceries and supplies (cat treats!!). And our last stop was Sprouts for some good fresh greens, since Walmart didn’t have any decent romaine or kale. After all that, we headed home to the RV, put up the groceries and enjoyed the rest of our evening. Oh, have I mentioned that we have developed a serious addiction to those 50¢ pies at Walmart??

Most of our grocery haul.

Today we’ll need to unhook Lizzy and drive her over to the dump station here in the park to dump the tanks. We’re using the campground showers instead of the one in the RV so we can go longer between dumping, and there are also vault toilets close by that we can use to extend the time between dumps. It’s a bit of a hassle to have to unhook and move Lizzy, but it’s worth it to have our own kitchen and bathroom facilities available.

So I know it sounds kind of boring, but we are not on vacation. We are just living our normal everyday lives, just like people in sticks and bricks houses. But our view from our windows is amazing, and when we get tired of it, we’ll just move. We just paid for five more nights here at $4/night, and will probably tack on a few more days after that.

Plans for the next few days include toilet repairs and some sightseeing, so stay tuned! Be sure to follow us on Instagram as well for more of a real-time look at what we’re up to!