Shopping in El Centro, Lunch With Friends, New Water Pump, Hiking On the Border

Wow, it’s been ten days since I last posted an update, but it’s been pretty quiet around here. Right now we’re just enjoying living our lives where the weather is mild and the neighbors aren’t crazy.

We are still trying to closely monitor our expenditures this month to offset the money we spent on the new solar system, batteries and toilet in November and December. So far we’re keeping our expenses low (knock on wood), thanks to our annual pass to the BLM LTVA and not moving the RV from spot to spot.

We’ve been doing our grocery shopping at Walmart in Yuma which is about seven miles east of us. Unfortunately we cannot bring oranges or other citrus fruit back into California from Arizona (there’s an agricultural inspection station on the way back to camp), and Andy eats an orange every morning for breakfast.

We checked the map for grocery stores west of us, and since there is nothing really close by, we decided to go to El Centro, California to get oranges. Based on Yelp! reviews of grocery stores in El Centro, we decided to go to Cardenas Mexican market, and it was a winner! They have amazing produce, baked goods, fresh tamales, a food court….just an awesome store. Of course we wound up buying more than just oranges. We each got a huge slice of their flan for $2.50 each, which gave us dessert for three meals. The flan was absolutely heavenly, some of the best we’ve ever had. We also bought almost two pounds of their flavored pistachios, some vegetable tamales and some assorted pastries. So even though we had to drive for almost an hour to get oranges, we considered it worth the trip.

Andy selecting oranges in the produce section of Cardenas in El Centro

We made a return trip to El Centro yesterday, thanks to an invitation from one of Andy’s Facebook friends, Grant Jones and his wife Cindy. Grant, like Andy, does lapidary work and makes beautiful handmade jewelry, and the two of them have been connected on Facebook for several years. They invited us to meet them in El Centro for lunch as they were on their way from San Diego to Quartzsite, and they let us pick the restaurant.

Since we aren’t that familiar with El Centro, once again I turned to Yelp! for reviews and found Antojitos  Como en Casa (“like at home”) Mexican restaurant. It’s a small place on the edge of a residential neighborhood, and when we pulled up, it was obvious that the food must be good because of the number of cars parked in the small lot and along the street. We enjoyed finally getting to meet Grant and Cindy, who treated us to some delicious traditional Mexican food and some great conversation. Thanks, you guys!

Lunch with Grant and Cindy in El Centro at Antojito Como en Casa

Of course, after we left the restaurant we made a return visit to Cardenas to get more oranges….and flan….and pistachios….and pastries. 🙂

One fact of life that all RVers have to accept is that there will always be some sort of repair or maintenance that needs to be done. This week it was the water pump. We were still getting water from the faucets, but ever since we’ve been in this campground, the pump had been making a really loud vibrating noise every time we ran the water. We noticed it after the first two times we dumped the tanks and refilled the fresh water tank. The noise would last for about 24 hours and then it would go back to normal (never silent, but a much quieter vibration when the water runs). But after the third time we dumped and refilled, the vibrations were loud again and stayed that way.

The water pump is located under the dinette seat. We pulled everything out of the dinette (table and cushions) and checked all the plumbing. We could see that there was a very small leak from the pump, and we could also see that when the pump vibrated, the vibration was carried along all the plumbing lines, in some cases causing them to vibrate against the wooden structure as well as the water tank itself, sort of like beating a drum.

Water pump located under the dinette, right next to the fresh water tank

Since there was a leak we decided to go ahead and replace the pump, so we called around Yuma and sourced a replacement unit for just under $100. We also wound up buying some foam rubber pipe insulation to wrap around the plumbing lines to help dampen the vibration. Handy Andy did a great job of installing the new pump, and although we still get a growling noise when the pump runs, it’s much quieter now. There does still seem to be some air in the lines that we can’t get rid of (possibly getting drawn into the line from a hairline crack in the input line?), but for the time being we’re living with it.

We’re still enjoying our hikes around the area. Last Sunday I took a look at Google satellite view of the area and noticed what looked like another quarry on the south side of the mountain we’re camped next to. I saw that the road that goes by our LTVA leads to a canal that runs along the US/Mexico border. The area looked interesting so we decided to hike it.

Satellite view of the area around Pilot Knob LTVA. The US/Mexico border is just to the south of the canal.

It was about a mile and a half from our RV to the canal, and then we hiked another half mile or so to the east along the canal. The area is beautiful in a rugged way with canyons and washes at the base of the mountain, and lush greenery and flocks of ducks along the irrigation canal. On the other side of the canal stands the steel-slat border fence, and on the other side of the fence is densely-populated Los Algodones and Pedregal. We could hear the sound of Spanish-language radio, roosters crowing, dogs barking, and people carrying on their day-to-day conversations. It was totally peaceful and serene.

Hiking along the All-American irrigation canal, beyond which is the border fence and then Mexico

The area that had looked like a quarry in the Google satellite view was actually an area on top of a mesa that had been scraped by something like a bulldozer. The dark areas in the picture are covered with rocks that most likely came to the surface from ancient volcanic activity (Pilot Knob is geologically a volcanic “plug”). We found all kinds of agate, jasper, quartz, and even a large chunk of petrified wood. Andy was drooling over all these amazing stone specimens, but of course he doesn’t have the lapidary equipment to make cabochons any more, so we left the rocks in place.

This is what we thought was a quarry, but turned out to be bulldozed areas on a mesa.

By the time we got back to camp we had covered a little over four miles on our very enjoyable hike.

Otherwise, we’ve just been living life. On Saturday and Sunday we watched some football (Go Saints!! Who-Dat!!). We had a good bit of rain on Monday night and Tuesday morning and things got pretty muddy, but by the next day it was almost all dried up. We took advantage of the rainy day to get the laundry done and do some grocery shopping, and treated ourselves to lunch at Olive Garden in Yuma. I’m also continuing to do some geocaching in the area, although I’ve found almost all the ones that are within hiking distance except for the ones that are at the top of the mountain–I’m not crazy enough to risk a fall to log a geocache.

So that’s what we’re up to! We’ve been here for three weeks now, and haven’t yet even considered where we might go next. For the moment we are happy right where we are. There’s still some sight-seeing that we want to do in the area, so we’re not bored yet!

Rainy days often result in gorgeous sunsets

Thanks for taking time to read our blog, and be sure to share it with others who might be interested in full-time RV life. You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels, and GO SAINTS!! WHO DAT!! 🙂

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.

Christmas Remembrances, New Toilet Install, Tamales With Friends, Moving to California

We spent a fairly quiet Christmas Day in Glendale, Arizona after almost a week of hustle and bustle. I baked some cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and then around 11:00 AM I started a seitan pot roast in the crock pot for our vegan dinner. (If you’re not familiar with seitan, here a link to find out more.) While dinner was cooking, we took some time to visit the gravesites of Andy’s mom and dad and place some Christmas decorations on their markers.

A Christmas visit to the resting place of Andy’s parents

We also placed flowers on the marker for Andy’s aunt and uncle who are buried in the same cemetery. This was the first time in several years that we have been able to visit these memorials, and it was nice to be able to do so on Christmas Day.

The day after Christmas (Wednesday) was a whirlwind of activity as we were trying to get all our chores done before it was time to leave Glendale. In addition we had been invited to a Christmas party by one of Andy’s former co-workers, so we had to hustle.

The top priority of the day was to get the new toilet installed, but first we wanted to flush the black tank. If you’re not familiar with RV black tanks, they have sensors installed inside them that are connected to the control panel, and they are supposed to let you know how full your tank is getting. But over time, “debris” can accumulate on the sensors, and it can appear that your tank is more full than it is. We used a pressure wand made specifically for flushing black tanks, hooked it up to the water hose, stuck it down through the toilet valve, and cleaned the tank thoroughly.

After cleaning the tank, Andy removed the old toilet with the malfunctioning foot pedal (it would no longer consistently turn off the water flow after flushing, which could have potentially caused a flood in the RV), and then installed our new Thetford toilet. It was actually a pretty quick process, and since the black tank had been flushed, there was no problem with smell.

Removing the old toilet

Once again, we were thankful that the timing of this repair worked out like it did, with us being close to a Camping World store, plus having full hookups with water and sewer, along with a dumpster to dispose of the old toilet. Things really do just work out.

After the toilet installation, I did some more housekeeping in the RV, and then we made a run to the post office to check on our Escapees mail (still had not arrived), and then to the grocery store to stock up on fresh vegetables and fruit (which became a little bit of an issue as you’ll see shortly).

That night, we finally got to have some fun, as we attended a Christmas party in the home of one of Andy’s former co-workers, Angelica, and her son, Devon. Angelica has a tradition of hosting a get-together for her family and friends on the night AFTER Christmas, which I think is brilliant. She served a traditional meal of tamales (both spinach/cheese and red with meat), along with pozole (soup or stew made with pork), rice and beans. Although we don’t usually eat meat, we decided not long ago to make an exception when someone invites us into their home–we eat what they prepare. And the food was all delicious. We enjoyed getting to meet Angelica’s family and friends, catching up on work-related gossip, participating in the Dirty Santa gift exchange, and then being presented with a to-go bag of tamales and homemade fudge. Thanks again, Angelica and Devon, for sharing your Christmas holiday gathering with us. We love you!

Good food, good friends Angelica and Devon

After we got back from the Christmas party, we finally sat down at the computer to figure out where we wanted to go next. We knew we wanted to move toward southwestern Arizona where the weather is warmer for the winter, but the area can get quite crowded with all the snowbirds. (Haha, when we lived in Glendale we used to complain about all the snowbirds tying up traffic and crowding the restaurants, and now we’re part of the “problem”!!) We knew we wanted to boondock to save money, but we are not familiar with the area and didn’t want to risk trying to find an offgrid site on some random gravel road after dark.

We finally decided to take advantage of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs), located in Arizona and California. The BLM has seven winter LTVAs where you can set up camp for an extended length of time by paying one fee. For $180, you can get a permit to use the LTVA from September through the following April, and that includes being able to move from one LTVA to another. Unfortunately, they do NOT prorate the cost of the permit, so even though it’s now the end of December, the permit is still $180. If you’re interested in learning more about LTVA’s here’s a link to a great summary on FreeCampsites.net. Unfortunately, the BLM website is down right now due to the government shut-down, so I can’t direct you to their official information.

We elected to head to the Pilot Knob LTVA which is located just west of Yuma, right across the California state line. We chose this location because of its proximity to good grocery shopping in Yuma as well as a popular border crossing into Mexico at Los Algodones. We love walking across the border for good Mexican food, and Los Agodones is known for its pharmacies, dentists and eye doctors who cater especially to Americans who are tired of paying exorbitant prices for healthcare in the U.S.

So yesterday (Thursday), we broke camp in Glendale, leaving the mobile home park where we had stayed for a week. While Andy drove the RV to Costco to top off the propane, I made one more trip to the post office to check on our mail from Escapees, and unfortunately it still had not arrived. As far as I know, there is nothing urgent or time-sensitive in the packet, so it will eventually be returned to Livingston where our mail service can add it to a future shipment. This was the first time we didn’t use Priority Mail when requesting our mail packet, and with the holidays, it just took too long to arrive. Lesson learned: we will always request Priority Mail on future mail forwarding requests.

Our route from Glendale AZ to Pilot Knob LTVA in Winterhaven, CA

We had a nice drive on our travels, stopping for lunch in Gila Bend in the large parking lot of a Shell station. Honestly, one of my favorite parts of this lifestyle are our lunches in random parking lots–it’s so cool to have our refrigerator, stove, dining table, and kitchen sink right there with us in climate-controlled comfort while we watch the big trucks and other travelers come and go. We prepared our normal lunch, washed the dishes, and then hit the road again.

We made a final stop for gasoline at a Love’s station in Yuma, knowing that the gas prices would be much higher once we crossed the state line into California. We paid $2.54/gallon at Love’s, and the price at the Chevron station just outside our new campsite in California is $4.79/gallon. We will definitely be driving the seven miles back into Yuma when we need to fill up the gas tank.

The next tricky part of the trip was going through the agricultural inspection station right before we got to our campground. When arriving in California, your vehicle can be inspected for fresh fruits and vegetables that might be carrying diseases or pests that can contaminate and possibly cause financial loss to the California farming areas. As I mentioned above, we had just bought groceries before leaving Glendale, and we had plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in the RV. We didn’t want to toss them out without at least trying to see if they would let us keep them.

When we got to the inspection station, they were pretty much just waving the passenger cars through. But when Andy pulled the RV up to the inspector, the guy asked him if he was carrying any fruits or vegetables, and hey, we’re not gonna lie. Andy told him what we had and told him he was welcome to come inside the RV to check it out, which he did. The inspector was especially interested in the oranges, which we had purchased at Walmart and did not have stickers on them showing the origin. However, I guess he didn’t think it was worth the hassle, because he said “Those look like California oranges to me”, and let us go through. Whew!!

The Pilot Knob BLM site is just about a mile past the inspection station, and we pulled in about 3:30 PM PST (we also changed time zones and gained an hour when we hit California). We met the camp host, a nice lady named Joann, who told us that even though the BLM is shut down, they had contacted her and told her that they should still collect the fees. The LTVA is all dispersed camping, meaning there are no designated campsites, you just look for a level area of open space and park your RV. It helps if you can find an area where the previous occupant might have left a fire ring of rocks, indicating that it’s probably a good level place to camp. We found a nice spot, although it took us a little time to position the RV where it was as level as possible, then went back to the entrance to pay our annual $180 fee and get our permit stickers for the vehicles.

Setting up camp at sunset at Pilot Knob LTVA

We can see I-8 from our campsite, but there’s really not a lot of traffic noise. There is also a train track running along the interstate, and we can definitely hear the train horns but after awhile you don’t notice them. Finally, there is a military base near here, so we get some flyovers of helicopters from time to time.

We were afraid the LTVA would be crowded already with snowbirds, but Joann told us that it hasn’t been nearly as crowded this year as it has been in the past. She said that the younger people aren’t coming here like the older ones did. Fine with me, more space for us! There are some beautiful big rigs parked here, as well as some older, smaller trailers and vans. We love the variety of neighbors, especially since there’s plenty of space and privacy around us.

Our new desert campsite by the mountains

So that’s where we are this morning, in the BLM Pilot Knob LTVA located in Winterhaven, California. We have no idea how long we will stay in this one location. We are paid up through April, but will most likely move up closer to Quartzsite, Arizona to the La Posa LTVA once the huge crowds leave at the end of January. One drawback to our current location is that there is no dump station or water spigots in the campground, although there are facilities fairly close by with those amenities, sometimes for a fee. If we move to the LTVA in Quartzsite, they do have those amenities available in the campground itself, included in the permit that we’ve already purchased.

Today we’re going to relax and enjoy our new surroundings. Andy is going to work on getting our solar system up and running now that we’re back in the sunshine.

I want to send a special shout-out to my Dad. Yesterday as we were driving into Yuma, I briefly caught a glimpse of a text message notification that popped up momentarily on my iPhone which was, at the time, being used for navigation. All I saw in that quick glance was “am at the ER in Tupelo with your dad“. As soon as we got stopped at the Love’s station, I checked the text and found that my 82-year-old Daddy was in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. I managed to get in touch with Mom to get details, and long story short, he had a successful surgery and this morning he’s on his way home with very minimal pain or discomfort. Hooray! Love you, Daddy!

This is the one regret I have about this lifestyle–not being close to family for events like this. When we lived in Tupelo, we were able to quickly drive to the hospital to be with family members when they were sick. Fortunately that doesn’t happen very often, and none of us should put our lives on hold just waiting for some catastrophe to happen. But know this–if anyone in either of our families has an emergency and needs us, we will be on the next flight out to get back to them. We will figure it out. We will make it happen. We both love our families and miss them while we’re on the road!

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to keep up with what we’re doing between blog posts. And feel free to share this blog with your family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV life!

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!!

Follow us on Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads for the latest updates between blog posts!

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

Be sure to follow us on Instagram for updates between the blog posts. Feel free to share this post with anyone you know who might be interested in full-time RV life!

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.

IMG_3115

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!

IMG_3064

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.

IMG_3125

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.

IMG_3129

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!!

Dead Batteries Again, Geocaching, Maintenance

It wouldn’t be RV life without something in the rig breaking or malfunctioning, but we didn’t expect it to be the house batteries. We just replaced them a week ago.

New batteries installed to make boondocking more comfortable

As I mentioned before, since we’ve been boondocking in the desert, we’ve been running the generator for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening to keep the batteries topped off. The battery meter on the control panel (granted, it’s not the most reliable indicator) never went below 3/4 before we would run the generator.

Until yesterday.

For whatever reason, we did not run the generator yesterday morning as usual. At lunchtime it was still reading 3/4 and we still did not run it. We know it’s not good to let the batteries discharge below 1/2, but since it was still at 3/4, no alarm bells were going off. We knew we would be running the generator in the evening because I needed to use the microwave when making dinner.

We ran the generator for at least an hour while we had dinner, letting the batteries top off. Then, as we got ready to do the dishes, Andy turned off the generator for the evening, and the rig immediately went pitch black. Totally dark. No little LED lights. Nada. Nothing.

We grabbed a flashlight and checked the breakers in the fusebox, and everything looked fine there. We restarted the generator and all the power came back on, so we knew it wasn’t a breaker or a fuse. We just weren’t getting any power from the batteries.

Andy dug out his volt-meter from the storage bin and checked the voltage on the batteries. They both read 11.95, when they should be over 12. So it was obvious we were going to have to let the generator run all night to have lights, water, heat and refrigeration.

I’m not sure what we’re going to do this morning. Right now it’s about 6:30 AM and Andy is still asleep, but when he gets up we’ll try the batteries again. If they’re still dead, we will most likely make a return trip to Camping World in Tucson to try and get this issue resolved.

It just doesn’t make good sense–the rig was working fine on batteries just before we ran the generator at dinnertime. The generator should have topped off the batteries so they should have had even more charge an hour later. But instead, they were dead. Something just isn’t right. And yes, for those RV geeks out there, we did check the battery disconnect switch (a.k.a. the “store/use” switch”), and it was set to “Use”.

So stay tuned to see how this turns out!!

Otherwise, we’ve been thoroughly enjoying camping here in the desert on BLM land. On Monday, I finally went on my first geocache hunt and successfully located the cache inside a large fake rock, which also housed a live scorpion! I didn’t have any trinkets with me to swap, so I just signed the log book.

My first geocache find was inside a fake rock

Yesterday (Tuesday), I went on my second hunt and found the cache inside an old microwave oven that had been left in the fork of a palo verde tree. This time I had come prepared, as I had picked up some mini-dominos from the Dollar Tree on Monday afternoon when I went Christmas shopping. I left one of the dominos in the cache and removed a little Christmas ornament.

My second geocache find was inside a microwave in a tree!

If we wind up staying here for a few more days, depending on the batteries, my next geocache hunt will be for a cache that’s rated “micro”, which means the container is very small, at least in relation to a fake rock and a microwave oven. It will be fun to try something a little more challenging now that I’ve gotten my feet wet. There are lots of geocaches registered in the area, so I’m hoping we can be here a little longer.

Yesterday we also got notification that our new solar equipment has been delivered to our friends in Phoenix. We’ll be driving into Phoenix on Friday to pick it up, and possibly staying in Phoenix for a few days, depending once again on the battery situation. We should have our plans firmed up by later today.

Andy spent the last couple of afternoons doing some maintenance on the rig. First he replaced some weather-stripping along the over-cab area on the passenger side where it had come loose and was sagging. Then he did a thorough inspection of the roof and re-sealed some areas where the caulking had cracked or deteriorated. Water is the enemy of an RV, and we want to make sure that we don’t have any leaks that could lead to rotting wood or mold.

Handy Andy taking care of preventative maintenance on the roof

Not much else going on–I did drive into Marana on Monday afternoon to do a little Christmas shopping, and I also finally pulled out my ukulele and started trying to teach myself a few songs. Just need to get some callouses built up on my fingertips!

Sunset on 12/11/18 was especially spectacular!

And we’re still enjoying the most beautiful sunsets ever here in the Arizona desert! I also enjoy the gorgeous sunrises, but I’m the only one in the rig that’s awake to see them! 🙂 I’ve shot a few more timelapses with the GoPro and will try to put together a compilation video in the next few days.

Keeping our fingers crossed on the battery situation!

Follow us on Instagram to stay up to date between our blog posts.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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!!

House of Pies, Leaving New Mexico, A Day of Challenges

After an amazing two months in New Mexico, it was finally time to move on to lower altitudes and higher temperatures.

New Mexico cactus in our campsite

We spent yesterday (Saturday) in Deming, running errands, stocking up on groceries and doing a little more sightseeing. First we went by the post office to pick up our mail, about three weeks’ worth, that had been forwarded from our home base in Livingston, Texas. Next we stopped by the bank to use the ATM machine to get a little traveling money.

By then it was lunchtime, and after checking the local reviews on Yelp, decided to try out Elisa’s House of Pies and Restaurant which just happened to be right next to the bank. This place is a little jewel that you would hardly notice from the outside, tucked away on a little alleyway. But once we stepped inside, met the owners and tasted the food, we were blown away.

Elisa’s House of Pies and Restaurant is a jewel!

Elisa and her husband are true Southerners–he’s from South Carolina and she’s from Pascagoula, Mississippi–and their hospitality and food reflect their heritage. Andy and I both had vegetable plates, and the collard greens were definitely the star of the show. They were amazing! And then there were six different pies from which to choose–Pecan, Buttermilk, Pineapple-Coconut Chess, Millionaire, Sweet Potato and Key Lime. Andy got the Millionaire and I got the Chess, and they were both to die for, tasted just like home.

Vegetable plate with the best collards ever!

We had such a good time talking to Elisa and her husband, as well as their daughter and son-in-law who showed up to help them with their Christmas decorations. We found out that they had also done some full-time RVing when they retired from their janitorial services business in Washington State, and that they have been in Deming for about nine years. They are such a sweet couple, great cooks, and we look forward to visiting them again the next time we come through Deming.

Elisa and her husband with me and Andy. Such sweet people!

After we finished lunch we went to Walmart to do our shopping, and then we stopped for an afternoon latte at the Copper Kettle coffee shop in downtown Deming before heading back to the campsite. We spent the rest of the evening having dinner and getting things set to leave this morning.

Time for a latte at the Copper Kettle in Deming.

So yesterday was a great day.

Today, not so much.

This morning I got up early and fed the cats as usual. We’ve noticed lately that Molly seems to be having some “potty difficulties” that come and go, but this morning she was really having problems. She went to the litter box at least 8-10 times and was obviously stressed. She finally seemed to get her business done and settled down, but it seems like we need to take her in for a check up. Both the cats got thorough checkups and blood work done before we went on the road and they were pronounced healthy, but Molly might need a second opinion.

We planned to pull out of Pancho Villa State Park around 10:30, drive west to Lordsburg where we would stop for lunch in Veterans Park, and then continue to Bowie, Arizona where we would boondock for the night in a large parking lot next to the Shell station.

Our last morning in New Mexico at Pancho Villa State Park

When we were breaking camp, Andy unplugged the RV from the electrical post as usual. But I noticed that the refrigerator did not switch over to propane as it usually does when we disconnect. I let him know that something seemed wrong, and when he started troubleshooting he found out that our house batteries were completely dead.

Well, that’s not good when you’re planning to boondock.

He cranked up the RV and turned on the generator, and after a little while the batteries recharged enough for us to feel comfortable moving forward with our original plan for the day. We finished packing up, dumped the tanks, and then pulled out of the state park, headed west. It was a beautiful drive west on Highway 9 to Hachita, NM, then north on Highway 146 to I-10 where we once again turned west toward Arizona.

Driving through southern New Mexico on Highway 146.

As planned, we stopped at Veterans Park in Lordsburg, New Mexico for lunch. It’s not much of a park, just a gravel drive with some covered picnic tables, and we were the only ones there, but it was a fine place to stop for lunch. The batteries had recovered enough on the drive that the meter showed them to be fully charged. We had our usual salad and beans for lunch, and then just relaxed for awhile before moving on. But we noticed that the batteries had already started to deplete after just a little while with the lights on…not good. So we’ll definitely have to have them seen about tomorrow.

Parked for lunch in Veterans Park in Lordsburg NM

We left Lordsburg about 3:00 and arrived at our destination a little before 4:00. Our plan was to fill up our gas tanks at the Shell station in exchange for boondocking on their lot (we knew they allowed overnight parking from the listing on FreeCampsites.net). However when we pulled up to the gas pumps, we found that their regular unleaded gas was $3.69 per gallon–totally outrageous!

We checked our Gas Buddy app and found that gas was anywhere from $2.69 – $2.83 in the vicinity, so we turned around and drove back east for 12 miles to San Simon where we bought gas at a Chevron station for $2.69/gallon.

And here’s where it gets interesting.

I filled up the truck with gas, using my usual credit card. Andy pulled the RV up to a gas pump but when he went to pump the gas, he found a sign on the pump that said he had to leave his credit card with the attendant before pumping. The same sign was on all the pumps except the one I had used. Weird.

So he went inside to see the attendant, and they kept his drivers license while he pumped the gas. The RV took $105 worth of gas. He went back inside to pay for it, using his credit card (both our cards are on the same account, but the cards have different numbers, and I’m the primary on the account). I was sitting in the truck while he went inside.

A few minutes later I got a text message from the credit card company, asking me to confirm a charge for $105 at a Chevron station. I texted back to confirm, but then Andy came out of the store and told me that his card had been denied three times. What the heck!

So I went back inside with him and we tried to use my card, the same one I had just used to fill up the truck, paying at the pump. This time my card was also denied, so I wound up using a different credit card to pay for the gas.

On the way out, Andy asked them if we could park overnight in their lot, and they said sure, no problem, as long as we didn’t block traffic. Andy had decided that he had rather stay at this location instead of driving back to the station with the high prices.

So that’s where we’ve wound up boondocking for the night, at the Chevron station in San Simon, Arizona, right off I-10. They have a large lot where a lot of 18-wheelers are also parked, but we found a spot far enough away from the large trucks that it shouldn’t be an issue.

Boondocking behind the Chevron station in San Simon, AZ

As soon as we got parked, I got on the phone with Capital One and spent a half-hour trying to make sure that our cards were not compromised. They said that we got the fraud alerts because this Chevron station doesn’t use chip readers (they still swipe cards) and because of the large dollar amount, not to mention we had two simultaneous transactions on the same account (one on my card and one on his)–all these issues combined to raise red flags. We’ve been on the road for three months, we regularly fill up both vehicles at the same station on our separate cards, and we’ve never had a problem. But, long story short, our cards are fine, and Capital One now has a voice recording of me being very irritable.

After we settled in, Andy fired up the generator and I cooked a pot of vegetable soup in the Instant Pot. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep before continuing our travels in the morning. Our first order of business will be to shop for new batteries for our coach, as we can’t really boondock without them. We’ll be stopping in Tucson to get that seen about tomorrow. But for tonight, we’ll just run the generator to make sure we have heat and light in the rig.

We’ll be keeping an eye on Molly to see how she’s feeling. If she still seems to be having issues in the morning, we’ll see about getting her to a veterinarian in Tucson. We also have a package from Amazon that we’ll need to pick up in Tucson on Tuesday or Wednesday, so obviously we’ll be spending some time in the area.

And that’s life on the road….some days are diamonds, some days are stone.

But it’s all an adventure, and we’re loving it.

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!!