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.

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!

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

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.

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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!!

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!

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Happy Holidays, everyone!

Desert Boondocking, Amazon Locker, GoPro Timelapse

We’re starting to establish a boondocking routine after being off-grid for almost a week now. The first two nights were spent in parking lots, but we’ve been in the desert since Tuesday (today is Saturday).

I’m an early riser, usually getting up between 5:00-6:00 AM to feed the cats, take care of the bookkeeping, write my blog posts, etc. Andy doesn’t get up until sometime around 8:00 AM. When we’re hooked up to shore power, I typically make my coffee in my little 5-cup electric brewer. However, now that we don’t have an electrical hookup, I use a pour-over filter and heat my water on the propane stove for my coffee. I’m also cooking my morning oatmeal on the stove instead of in the microwave.

We run the generator for about an hour after Andy gets up to top off the batteries and recharge our electronic devices. Technically, I could use both my electric coffee maker and the microwave while the generator is running, but (a) it’s bad manners to run the generator before 7:00 AM when other campers are around, and (b) I don’t want to wait until Andy gets up before I have my coffee!

During the day, we operate solely on the batteries. The weather is mild enough that we don’t need air conditioning or heat, and we get plenty of light from the windows. The refrigerator operates on propane, and the water pump run off the batteries. The water heater runs on propane, but we only turn it on when we need to wash dishes or take a quick shower (more on that later).

We run the generator for another hour in the evening, usually while I prepare dinner, so we can use the Instant Pot or the microwave. While the generator is running, we have just about every electrical device we own plugged in to the wall outlets for charging–Kindles, iPhones, camera batteries, laptop, portable power banks, the Shark hand vacuum–you get the idea.

Taking advantage of generator time to charge our electronics

If the weather is really cool, we’ll take advantage of the generator time to run the small electric heater as well to warm up the inside of the RV. But once we turn the generator off, we rely on warm clothes and blankets to stay comfortable overnight. We have a deal that if either of us wakes up during the night to go to the bathroom, we check the inside temperature and if it’s below 50°, we turn on the propane furnace. I turn it on regardless when I get up to warm things up for me and the kitties.

So that’s how we’re handling our electrical needs while boondocking.

Sunshine in the cholla

When it comes to water, we’ve also made some adjustments.

Our RV has the following tank capacities:

  • Fresh water – 50 gallons
  • Gray water (kitchen sink and shower) – 37 gallons
  • Black water (toilet and bathroom sink) – 24.5 gallons
  • Hot water heater – 6 gallons

In addition, we carry four 1-gallon jugs of drinking water in the RV which we refill at Walmart while grocery shopping, as well as an extra 6 gallons of drinking water stored in the truck.

When we have water hookups in a campground, we don’t have to worry about the fresh water tank running dry. And when we have sewer hookups, we don’t have to worry about moving the RV to dump the waste tanks when they get full. But now that we’re boondocking, we need to be conservative with all that.

The black water tank is the most critical, at least to me. To avoid having it fill up too quickly, we both have found a nice secluded spot out in nature to pee during the daytime. My spot even has a perfect branch to serve as a toilet paper holder. Of course, Andy can use his spot even after dark, but there’s no way I’m going to get that close to the ground when I can’t see around me. So that means we only use our toilet for peeing during the night or for pooping during the day. (Sorry if that’s TMI, but everybody poops and pees.)

The gray water tank is larger, but we are still mindful of the amount of water we use for washing dishes and cleaning. We don’t shower every day (really, people, you don’t need to unless you have a dirty job or you’re working out). We use baby wipes or soap/water to stay clean between showers. We had originally planned to use the showers at the Pilot or Flying J stations on the interstate, but determined that we had enough gray tank capacity to do a “navy” or “military” shower, meaning that you turn off the water while you’re scrubbing your hair or body and then turn it on only to rinse off. Yesterday we both got a good shower in the rig–it felt awesome!!–and saved ourselves $12 that we would have spent at the truck stop.

The longest we’ve ever gone without dumping the tanks has been six nights. Our big challenge is that the meter on the black tank does not work properly. It always shows the tank to be full, even right after we dump. Most likely there is some dried debris on one of the sensors in the tank, so while we were at Camping World earlier this week, we bought a spray wand to clean the inside of the tank, and we’ll take care of that the next time we’re in a spot with full hookups. In the meantime, we have to just keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t overfill in the middle of the night!

We do plan to dump the tanks today or tomorrow whether they need it or not, for our own peace of mind. The nearest dump stations are north of us about 30 miles, and fees range from $10 to $15. We could go back south to the free dump station in Tucson and drive a little further, but then you’re paying for extra gasoline. It’s that balancing act again!

So we’re getting in our boondocking groove, loving the peace and serenity. The rig is very comfortable and the surroundings are beautiful. At this point we don’t plan to leave before our 14-day limit expires, unless weather or circumstances dictate that we move.

Maggie and I enjoying naptime

On Wednesday we drove back to Tucson to pick up a package from an Amazon locker at a Quik Trip convenience store. This was our first experience with the Amazon locker system, and it was awesome! There are more than 3000 Amazon locker locations with more being added all the time, and it’s a perfect solution for full-timers like ourselves, or anyone who doesn’t want their packages sitting on their front steps while they’re not home. When your package gets to the locker, they send you a code which you punch in to the locker display, and your locker just pops open and you take your package. Easy peasy!!

Amazon lockers at the Quik Trip convenience store

Yesterday (Friday) we went back toward Tucson to do some shopping. We hit Walmart first and then went to Fry’s (the Southwest version of Kroger). It was a nice area, but the traffic was horrible, and it reminded us of one of the things that we most enjoyed when we moved from Phoenix to Tupelo–almost no traffic congestion in Tupelo!

I’ve been playing with the GoPro camera a little bit since we’ve been parked here in the desert, shooting timelapses of the cloud movements over the desert landscape. Here’s one I shot from the roof of the RV.

It has been rainy and cloudy for the past couple of days, but should be clearing up nicely over the weekend so I can hopefully get my other camera equipment out for some practice shooting.

That’s about all we have going on here–might do a little sightseeing in the area, but generally we’re just enjoying life here in the beautiful state of Arizona.

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season! We will definitely miss being with family this year–that’s a big downside to this lifestyle–but we send everyone our warmest wishes for a Merry Christmas! Also, a huge congratulations to my nephew Adam and his wife Sarah Beth on the birth of their son, Mills Lawson Walker! He’s gorgeous, and we send our love and best wishes to them!

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Safe travels!

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!!