Monthly Expense Report and Full-Year Recap – August 2019 – Full-Time RV Living

It’s time once again for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life. We live in a 24′ Thor Chateau 22E Class C RV with our two cats, Maggie and Molly. We do not have a sticks-and-bricks home base, but travel wherever the weather takes us as we chase 70°.

And since we just celebrated our one-year anniversary as full-time RVers, we’ll also be looking at our expenses for the full twelve months to see what our annual cost has been for our new lifestyle.

First, a reminder of the caveats related to our expenses. 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.

This month we’ll review (1) expenses for the most recent month, (2) total expenses for the past 12 months, and (3) average monthly expense. We’ll also look back at months with higher-than-normal spending where it might have skewed the averages.

So let’s get started!

We’ve spent all of June, July and August in a free boondocking site in the Coconino National Forest on Forest Road 151 (also known as Hart Prairie Road), off Highway 180 northwest of Flagstaff. The weather has been near-perfect for boondocking, and there are plenty of empty camping spots along this road so we haven’t felt any pressure to leave this area.

Because we stayed in one spot again in August and didn’t move the rig except to dump the tanks and refill propane and water, our camping expenses were again lower than average. But this month we finally had to shell out some money for a few maintenance and repair items on the rig, and we’re also coming up on annual renewals for things like our mail forwarding service, vehicle registration and insurance. It was a tough month on the pocketbook, but that’s why every full-time RVer should have an adequate emergency fund and/or savings socked away.

So let’s see how we’ve done this year:

Camping fees + Electricity

August: $17 – We actually camped for free all month, but this figure represents the prorated monthly amount for our annual camping pass for the New Mexico State Parks, which is good through the end of October. We’ll be using it again in September!

Yearly total: $1,691

Monthly average: $141 – We kept our monthly expenses fairly low by (1) boondocking on public land, (2) buying the annual pass for the BLM LTVA for the winter in Yuma, AZ, and (3) buying the annual pass for the New Mexico State Parks where we spent last October and November.

Highest month: September 2018, $439 – Our first month was spent entirely at the Escapees Rainbow’s End RV Park in Livingston, Texas while we went through the process of establishing our Texas domicile (getting a Texas address, drivers license, vehicle registration, registering to vote, setting up a bank account, etc.). We got a cheaper rate by paying for an entire month, but our electricity usage was extra.

Parked in site #60 at Escapees Rainbow’s End

DUMPING FEEs

August: $50 – Five weekly dumps @ $10/each.

Yearly total: $412

Monthly average: $34 – When we stayed in RV parks (rarely after last September), or in the New Mexico state parks (last October and November), we did not have to pay dumping fees, which kept the average lower.

Highest month: January 2019, $70 – We were staying at the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA (Long Term Visitor Area) for the winter, and dumping our tanks at the nearby Chevron station where they charged $12 per dump. While staying there, we had to dump the tanks about every five days instead of weekly because, unlike where we are camping now, there were no trees to hide behind so we couldn’t pee outside. That’s one big advantage to camping and peeing in the forest–the black water tank takes a lot longer to reach capacity so we dump less often!!

Free dump station in Tucson

Fuel for the RV

August: $102 – This figure actually includes our fuel for July as well, since we had not filled up the tank since June 26. The only driving we did in the RV for the summer was just to go into Flagstaff every week to dump the tanks, about a 28-mile round trip. The fuel also powers our generator which we use most nights to run the convection oven/microwave or the Instant Pot for cooking.

Yearly total: $1,517

Monthly average: $126 – Our style of travel is to pick a place we like and then stay there for at least a couple of weeks, if not longer, while we explore the surrounding area in our pickup truck. That goes a long way toward keeping the cost of fuel on the low side for us as compared to a lot of other full-timers.

Highest month: October 2018, $452 – In October, we pulled out of the Escapees RV Park in Livingston, Texas and drove all the way to New Mexico. During the month we moved to 7 different locations across Texas and New Mexico, including a couple of state parks and an RV park in Albuquerque. We drove a total of 1,335 miles that month, and the average gas price was $2.85/gallon.

Stopped for lunch in the Lowe’s parking lot in Kerrville, TX

Fuel for the Truck

August: $52 – Camping so close to Flagstaff has helped keep our daily driving fuel costs lower. There’s plenty of nearby shopping and things to do so we don’t have to drive the truck as much.

Yearly total: $1,374

Monthly average: $114 – Our fuel costs have definitely been lower than average for the past few months since we’ve been staying in one place so close to Flagstaff. Earlier in the year, gas prices were higher and we had to drive further to get groceries or go sight-seeing.

Highest month: October 2018, $245 – Again, this was the month that we left Texas and drove all over New Mexico (same as RV Fuel costs above).

Site #4, pull-through, $15/night with full hookups

PROPANE

August: $31 – Propane used for cooking on the stove, running the refrigerator and hot water heater, and for running the furnace for a short time each morning to take the chill off in the rig.

Yearly total: $458 – We actually didn’t buy propane until November 2018, more than two months after we hit the road, because we spent so much time in RV parks and state parks where we had electrical hookups to run the refrigerator, hot water heater, and small electric space heater.

Monthly average: $38 – Propane costs per gallon have been all over the board this year, depending on where we were staying. Over the winter in Yuma, it was $3.76/gallon. In May when we stayed just south of the Grand Canyon, it was $4.80/gallon in Tusayan since there was only one provider. This summer in Flagstaff, we’ve paid $2.83/gallon at Tractor Supply, which has been nice!

Highest month: May 2019, $76 – This was the month we boondocked south of the Grand Canyon, and were held hostage by the single propane supplier in Tusayan. Oh, and it snowed twice while we were there, so it was cold.

Snow-covered truck and rig

groceries

August: $463

Yearly total: $5,879

Monthly average: $490 – We do almost all our grocery shopping at Walmart (don’t judge, we all do what works best for us).

Highest month: April 2019, $575 – In addition to our normal grocery shopping, we stocked up on some bulk goods at Costco, Sam’s Club and Sprouts.

NOTE: 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, both salt-free.

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

dining out

August: $286 – This was Andy’s birthday month (the big 7-0), so we ate out a little more than usual this month. We found a Mexican restaurant, MartAnne’s, that we really liked because they have crunchy seitan tacos as well as some other vegan and vegetarian options on the menu. Their salsa rocks, and their margaritas are excellent. We also had to try the new dairy-free ice cream flavors at Baskin-Robbins (yes, they are awesome!!). And, hallelujah, Burger King came out with their Impossible Whopper this month–we’ve had three already! Yes, we know that fast food isn’t good for us, but you have no idea (unless you’re a vegan or vegetarian) how exciting it is to go to a chain fast food restaurant and order a burger off the menu. When we’re on the road, often times the chain restaurants are the only ones available, and it’s nice to have this option!!

Yearly total: $2,921

Monthly average: $243 – We really don’t eat out as much as we used to when we lived in our sticks-and-bricks house. Much of the time we’re boondocking out in the middle of nowhere, so it’s just easier to cook our meals in the rig. But when we do decide to splurge, we try to pick places that have great meatless options, and then we become repeat customers.

Highest month: May 2019, $464 – This is what happens when we go sight-seeing in Sedona, Williams, Grand Canyon and Flagstaff, all in the same month. So many good food and drink options at tourist-trap prices!

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

Another fun lunch in Los Algodones

household / furnishings

August: $73 – In addition to the usual paper products, etc., we bought a new runner rug to replace the one that has become thoroughly embedded with dirt while camping here in the forest over the summer. We’re keeping the new one rolled up in the truck until we get out of here.

Yearly total: $1,514 – One third of this was for the new mattress that we purchased in April.

Monthly average: $126

Highest month: April 2019, $546 – We purchased a new memory foam mattress ($496) to replace the original mattress that came with the RV. That was one of the best decisions we made this year when it comes to comfort and relaxation.

The new mattress in place. Fits perfectly!

petcare

August: $26 for food and litter

Yearly total: $654 – includes vet visits

Monthly average: $55

Highest month: December 2018, $246 – In addition to food and litter, both kitties got a checkup at the Apollo Animal Hospital in Glendale, Arizona while we were there for the Christmas holidays. Both got good reports, with just the usual effects of getting older (Maggie is 11 and Molly is 9).

Molly and Maggie spend a lot of time soaking up the sun and enjoying the breeze by the window

verizon cellphone / internet

August: $280

Yearly total: $3,242

Monthly average: $270

Highest month: December 2018, $286 – We upgraded our cellular plans to the one with the most data before getting throttled.

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them in the fall of 2017. 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 now on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled. Once the phones are paid off this fall, the monthly charge should drop by about $30/month unless the plan rates go up.

Taking advantage of generator time to charge our electronics

mail forwarding

August: $151 – This month we had to renew our annual membership in the mail forwarding service ($115), and also paid for the next three months of mail scanning service ($30) which allows us to see what mail has arrived at our box in Livingston so we can decide if it’s urgent enough to request that it be forwarded, or if it can be shredded by them. We also had one shipment sent to us in Flagstaff this month since it contained our new vehicle registration stickers.

Yearly total: $337

Monthly average: $28 – We typically have one, sometimes two, shipments of mail sent to us, although we’ve been going longer and longer between shipments as we handle almost everything electronically now.

Highest month: August 2019 (see above)

Sunset at our camp on Bloody Basin Road

Laundry

August: $37 – We had to wash the bedding twice due to a cat who shall remain nameless who has decided to punish us for some reason.

Yearly total: $262

Monthly average: $22 – The cost of doing laundry is definitely lower when staying in an RV park like Escapees. We typically do laundry about every three weeks, unless there’s a cat pee emergency.

Highest month: August 2019 (see above)

Laundry Day – The chore that never goes away.

attractions / entertainment

August: $57 – Just the monthly subscriptions to Hulu, Spotify, Audible, Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, etc.

Yearly total: $949 – We made good use of Andy’s “America The Beautiful” lifetime senior pass for all the National Parks and National Monuments that we visited, including the Grand Canyon. We got free admission to all of them. Andy bought the pass for $10 before we went on the road, and it’s been awesome. We’ve been able to visit some amazing places without spending a lot of money.

Monthly average: $79

Highest month: March 2019, $103 – We did a walking tour of the Vulture Mine near Wickenburg, and I also bought a new hiking pack.

Hanging out at the overlook at the Powell Memorial at the Grand Canyon

memberships

August: $0

Yearly total: $411 – This includes things like AAA Roadside Assistance, Costco, Sam’s Club, Escapees, Amazon Prime. We are also members of Passport America which gets us discounts at RV parks, but we’re already paid several years in advance. We were also members of Harvest Hosts this year, but elected not to renew that membership since we only used it once.

Monthly average: $34

Highest month: March 2019, $136 – Renewal of our AAA Roadside Assistance (which we finally got to use this month).

Amazon lockers at the Quik Trip convenience store

Equipment for RV

August: $8

Yearly total: $4,700 – The majority of this figure is from the purchase of our solar system, which is comprised of three 100-watt solar panels and a 100 amp hour Kodiak solar generator which we purchased as a kit, two 100 amp hour Battle Born lithium batteries, a Morningstar solar charge controller, and all the cables and wiring to connect everything. It was a big investment, but this system is what allows us to boondock and dry camp without hookups, saving us thousands of dollars in campground and RV park fees.

Monthly average: $392 – This monthly number is greatly skewed by the purchase of the solar system. If we disregard that one-time purchase, our monthly equipment purchases are closer to $50 for the year.

Highest month: November 2018, $2,215. This was the month we order the kit with the solar panels and the Kodiak generator.

Kodiak linked to one solar panel, tested successfully

RV Maintenance & REpairs

August: $853 – After being on the road for a year with fairly routine maintenance expenses, we took a good hit in the wallet this month. First, our generator stopped working (on Andy’s birthday no less, so I couldn’t bake cinnamon rolls for him). We spent $160 to have it repaired (carburetor removed and cleaned, dipstick replaced because it didn’t fit right and was leaking oil, had the oil changed). Then we had the oil changed and a new air filter put into the RV. And last but not least, we replaced both front tires on the rig after one of them split between the sidewall and the tread (you can read the details here). The two new tires cost us $555, including roadside hazard insurance.

Yearly total: $1,685

Monthly average: $140

Highest month: August 2019 (see above)

After driving two miles down the mountain, the tire was definitely gone.

truck maintenance & repairs

August: $0 – We did take the truck in to have the brakes checked because they were (and still are) squeaking a lot. They checked the pads and said they were still good for at least another year. They cleaned them up, and didn’t charge us anything. Thanks, Meineke!

Yearly total: $83

Monthly average: $7

Highest month: March 2019, $70 – oil change and car wash

NOTE: We drive a 2004 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner pickup with a camper shell on the back as our chase vehicle (not towed). It has just over 108K miles on it, and it’s super-dependable.

Our campsite for the week while we wait for the nasty weather to blow through

Vehicle insurance

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. For this past year, we paid $57/mo for the RV for full-timer’s insurance. That is increasing to $60/mo for the next year.

For the Tacoma, our insurance was $40/mo for the first six months, and then in March, it increased $49/mo. When it renews this month, it’s going up to $51/mo for the next six months.

VEhicle License and registration

Our annual license and registration for the RV when we first registered it last September was $260 (prorated at $22/mo on our monthly reports). For the truck it was $201 ($17/mo). Since this was the first year we registered the vehicles in Texas, there was an extra $95 charge on each vehicle to transfer them from out-of-state. Based on the renewal notices that we just received, the expenses for the next year will be $134 ($11/mo) for the RV and $75 ($6/mo) for the truck.

Summary

So our RV Living expenses for August and the past year were:

August: $2,629

Yearly total: $29,767

Monthly average: $2,481

Like I said, this does not include personal expenses like gifts, charitable contributions, grooming and haircuts, clothing, medical expenses or health insurance–things that really aren’t a function of our RV lifestyle, per se. Those types of expenses can vary wildly from person to person, so we don’t include them in this monthly report.

Setting up camp at sunset at Pilot Knob LTVA

Tomorrow is Labor Day, and it will be our last day here in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, for this year at least. On Tuesday, we will be pulling up stakes and heading to New Mexico as we begin our slow journey back to Mississippi for the Thanksgiving holiday. We might also do a little boondocking in Colorado before it gets too cold, but for at least a few days we’re going to stay in the Bluewater Lake State Park near Gallup, New Mexico where we’ll have electrical hookups. I’m going to spend a day or two getting the rig cleaned up from all the dust we’ve collected from being parked beside a well-traveled forest road. We may even have to run the air conditioner for a change, depending on the weather. We hadn’t run it at all since last summer, until this week when Andy took the rig to get the tires replaced, and he ran the A/C while waiting in the parking lot so he and the kitties would stay cool. Fortunately, it still runs well!!

So that’s our annual report for our first year on the road! We’ll continue to closely monitor our expenses and will report them here on a monthly basis. If you have any questions, be sure to leave them in the comments, and we’ll get back to you.

If you’re interested in our monthly expense reports or just our daily adventures, 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.

Safe travels!!

Lava River Cave Spelunking, Passport Renewal, Dodging Bullets on RV Maintenance

From the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona:

Well, we’ve had quite the eventful week, full of adventures, chores and unexpected challenges with Lizzy (our RV). Let’s recap:

On Tuesday we decided to explore one of the local geological features, the Lava River Cave in the Coconino National Forest just a few miles from where we’re staying. This cave is a lava tube formed about 600,000 years ago during a time of volcanic activity in this area. The tube cave is about 3/4-mile long from the entrance to the underground dead end. We read a lot of online reviews about what to expect, so we were equipped with headlamps, extra flashlights, gloves, closed-toe boots, and jackets (the temperature in the cave this time of year is between 40°-50°).

Entrance to the Lava River Cave in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, AZ

The entrance to the cave was a challenge right off the bat, as you have to climb down a big pile of boulders and rocks that at one time comprised the ceiling of the tube. You’re basically just climbing down into a hole in the ground. Once you get to the bottom of the rock pile, it becomes horizontal instead of vertical–at that point, you just start scrambling over rocks to move into the cave. Because the inside of the cave is so cool, condensation drips from the roof in some places, causing the rocks that you’re walking on to become extra slippery, especially since some of them were loose and most of them were tilted one way or another.

Even though I was wearing hiking boots, I found that the soles did not provide a great amount of traction on the wet surfaces, so I found myself doing a duck-walk or crab-crawl most of the time, using my hands to help keep my balance. It wasn’t long before my quads and knees were exhausted. Andy’s boots seemed to work better than mine did, as he was able to walk upright most of the time.

The rockpile we had to scramble over and the low ceiling at the beginning of the cave.

This is a totally undeveloped cave–in other words, there are no lights, no safety rails, no personnel on site, no instructions or directional marking of any kind (except for a little graffiti that we found), and no cellphone service underground. We met a group of sixth graders on a field trip, coming out as we were going in, and of course they seemed totally confident about clambering over the rocks. We met a couple more individuals, older guys who were solo hiking, and several couples/pairs of hikers.

Our original intention was to hike all the way to the end and back. But after about 45 minutes we stopped to rest, chatted with a gentleman who showed up, and then decided that we would head back to the entrance. The guy we were talking with told us that he was headed back to the entrance also, so we waited until he was a little ways away before we started back.

Taking a rest break by the light of our headlamps

But somehow, we got turned around, because soon we found ourselves in a section with a very low ceiling, and we knew we had not come that way. NOTE: Even though this is a “tube”, there’s a place where the tube splits into two tubes, and after a short distance, the two tubes rejoin into a single tube. We thought maybe we had gone into the other side of the split than we had used on the outbound hike. We turned around and went back, found a different tunnel and went that way. But after another ten minutes or so, we ran into a young couple and jokingly said, “We assume this is the way back to the entrance.”

“I don’t think so,” the guy said. “You’re actually going toward the end of the cave.” He pulled up a picture of the map on his phone, which does absolutely no good because there are no markings in the cave to relate to the map–the inside of the cave looks the same in both directions. But since they were going toward the end, we turned around and went back in the opposite direction, taking care when we came to the split to go into the right tunnel.

Finally we got to another spot where the ceiling was a little low, and there was a big rock pile ahead of us. Andy was certain that we were lost again, but I kept thinking I was seeing some light in my peripheral vision. I asked him to turn off his headlamp and I did the same, and at that point we could see sunlight coming through the ceiling at the top of the rockpile. It looked like just a small hole in the top of the cave, but it was actually the entrance where we had come in–it just looked totally different from the inside.

We had to scale the rock wall with hands and feet to climb out of the cave, but to me, that was easiest part of the whole thing since the rocks were dry and it was easier to balance when climbing up than it was when stepping downward. The young couple we had met in the cave had caught up to us by that point and we exited the cave together, after spending a total of 2 hours inside. We found out they are from Chicago (two other guys we met in the cave were from somewhere in the UK), and then we had them snap a photo of us to commemorate the adventure.

We made it out alive! 🙂

This was one of the most interesting things we’ve ever done on any of our travels, and I’m glad we did it even if I was extremely sore for the next couple of days. Guess I need to start adding some squats to my daily exercise to get these quads in shape!! If you ever decide to check out the Lava River Cave, be sure to read lots of reviews and heed the advice given. You can definitely get hurt in there, and you for sure don’t want your batteries to run out in your headlamp or flashlight!!

On Wednesday, it was time to dump the tanks again so Andy drove the rig into Flagstaff to take care of that chore. And since we’re getting ready to hit the road again, he also stopped by Jiffy Lube to get an oil change and a new air filter in the rig. As he was driving back to camp, he said he noticed a distinct “shimmy” in the way it was handling. He pulled off the road at one point and checked the tires but didn’t see anything wrong. But when he got back to camp and parked the rig, he checked the tires again and noticed that the front passenger tire had some slight cracking where the sidewall met the tread. We decided that on Friday he would take the rig into Flagstaff to have the tire replaced (cue the spooky music….).

On Thursday, we had a list of chores and errands to get done in preparation for leaving. At the top of the list was getting Andy’s passport renewed. It actually expires in December, but they recommend renewing up to nine months in advance due to the length of time it can take for processing. The bad part about the renewal is that you have to send them your current passport when you mail in your application, so at that point you can’t really travel internationally unless you pay extra to have the new passport expedited. We do plan to visit Mexico again in late October or early November, so we decided it was past time to get this process started. We went to the local post office in Flagstaff, got his picture taken, completed the forms, paid the appropriate fees, and then mailed everything to Irving, Texas for processing. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it gets done quickly (mine only took about three weeks when I renewed it back in 2016).

Andy gets new hiking shoes for his 70th birthday.

After that, we went to the Flagstaff Mall so Andy could buy some new hiking shoes (birthday gift), ate lunch at Burger King (Impossible Whopper, FTW!!), bought groceries and supplies at Walmart, and picked up an Amazon shipment from the Amazon locker at Whole Foods. By the time we got back to camp it was close to 2:00 PM.

I stepped out of the rig for a bit and found Andy flat on his back up under the RV, checking on some wiring. I just happened to look at the tire next to him and noticed that the slight cracking we had seen the day before was now a full-blown split in the sidewall, exposing the inside of the tire. It was obvious that he could not drive the rig into town to buy new tires now, and that we needed to get someone to come to us to change the tire. We have AAA Roadside Assistance, so that’s who we called.

The small cracks became a split overnight. Time to call AAA.

After giving them all our information and directions to where we’re parked, they said they would call back and let us know who would be helping us. But when they called again, they said that they would not cover the service because we were too far off a paved road. The road we’re on is gravel, but it’s used every day by Fedex, UPS, school buses, all sorts of commercial vehicles, and lots of passenger traffic. But they wouldn’t budge.

Andy asked them if they would cover it if he drove the rig down to the highway, about two miles down the mountain, and they said they would. I wasn’t at all happy about that idea, but it seemed to be the only alternative unless we wanted to pay for a service call out of our pockets. So that’s what Andy did–he drove the rig down the mountain, very slowly, and sat there until the service guy showed up about 20-25 minutes later. By then the tire was totally ruined, and wouldn’t have gone any further. Fortunately we had a good spare tire, so they swapped it out and Andy drove back up the mountain. The service guy didn’t even carry equipment to add air to the spare tire, but again, fortunately we have an air compressor on board and Andy took care of that as well.

After driving two miles down the mountain, the tire was definitely gone.

So yesterday (Friday), Andy drove the rig to Discount Tires in Flagstaff to get two new front tires. One of our friends had offered us their family discount information, but this local store wouldn’t accept it–however they did work with Andy on the price, and we feel like we got a fair deal. We got two Michelin tires for $199 each, and also paid for the lifetime roadside hazard insurance. With all the fees and labor charges, it came to just over $550.

These tires had been on this rig for a long time, as they were on the rig when we bought it in April 2017. They had plenty of tread left, but dry rot had set in. They were just old, and needed to be replaced. We were very fortunate that all this happened BEFORE we set out on our next relocation move coming up this Tuesday! This tire could have blown on the interstate at 60 MPH….I don’t even want to think about it!!

So now we have the rig and the truck ready to hit the road again (as far as we know!). On Monday (Labor Day) we’ll do laundry and hit the grocery store again, then get things packed up and ready to go. We plan to leave out fairly early on Tuesday morning, on our way to Bluewater Lake State Park in New Mexico.

I love travel days, seeing new things, eating lunch on the road, the excitement of getting to a new camping spot. I’m looking forward to having electrical hookups for a few days, with unlimited water. I’m also looking forward to being able to use the campground showers every day if I want to, without having to worry about moving our big litter box out of our RV shower!

We’ll miss Flagstaff for sure, but we’ll be back next year unless plans change in the meantime. We made a return visit last night to MartAnne’s for their crunchy seitan tacos, and we’re going to hit Fratelli Pizza once more as well.

My fish tacos at MartAnne’s. Andy had the seitan tacos again.

And yes, we just reached our ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY on the road!! One year ago today, we met my parents for breakfast at Cracker Barrel in Tupelo, said a tearful goodbye, and then headed west toward Texas. Our first night on the road that night was at a Harvest Host winery in Monroe, Louisiana where we boondocked next to the vineyard. It doesn’t seem like a year ago, but on the other hand, it’s been so long since I’ve seen my family. I’m getting really excited about returning to Tupelo in November to spend a couple of weeks with my folks for Thanksgiving!!

Our next blog post will be our usual monthly expense report for August, but we’ll also look at what our costs were for the entire first year on the road. Be sure to subscribe if you’re interested in that kind of information!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!!

The Wedding Cache, End of Hiking, September Travel Plans Made

From Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona:

It’s still definitely summer here at 8,100′, although the daytime temperatures rarely exceed 81° or 82°. There hasn’t been any rain for several weeks, ever since the very-timely week of moisture that came through the area just in time to help battle the Museum Fire back in late July. Everything is covered in dust again, both inside and outside the rig and it’s a constant battle to keep things wiped down and swept up. But when we look at the weather in other parts of the U.S., we feel blessed to have been here this summer where temperatures have been moderate and the skies have been blue.

Andy’s still hiking from time to time, as long as it’s downhill both ways! 🙂

It had been awhile since I had gone geocaching. According to the geocaching app, there were only three caches that were located within what for me is walking distance from our campsite, and I’ve already found all three of those. There are many more that are hidden in places that are just a short drive away. I saw an interesting-looking one on the app that was located not far from the trailhead on Snowbowl Road, just about a ten minute drive from our campsite, and I talked Andy into going with me to look for it.

According to the notes in the app, the cache was hidden by a couple near the location where they had been married a year earlier, in celebration of their first wedding anniversary. It was a .3-mile walk from the trailhead, and then a left turn up into the trees and rocks. The GPS coordinates got us to the general area but then we had to search high and low among all the boulders and fallen trees. I finally found it hidden among the roots of a huge downed pine tree, covered with some smaller pieces of wood.

Hard to see, but there’s an ammo box geocache hidden in there.

The cache was an ammo box (one of my favorite containers to find because they have lots of room for swag), and it was in great condition. I signed the log and left a plastic bunny that I had found at another geocache when we first arrived here (I know this bunny has some pop-culture significance, but I don’t know what it is). In return, I took a crocheted heart from the cache.

I left the bunny and took the crocheted heart from the Wedding Cache.

When I got back home I read the tag on the heart and found that it was one of thousands that are being scattered around the world by an organization called The Peyton Heart Project (peytonheartproject.net). The hearts each have an uplifting, encouraging message written on the attached tag, and are intended to be a morale booster to anyone who might be considering suicide or self-harm. The organization was founded in memory of a kid named Peyton who took his own life after being bullied. They are always looking for volunteers both to crochet the hearts and also to distribute them. If you’re good with a crochet needle, check them out. NOTE: For those who don’t know how to crochet, they also make the hearts by just wrapping yarn around a cardboard heart-shaped template.

After we found the geocache, we did some more hiking on the Viet Springs trail, looking for an old cabin that was supposed to be down there. We found the memorial boulder at the fork in the trail, but we didn’t go far enough to get to the cabin since it would have been even more of a strenuous uphill return climb, and the hubby isn’t as used to hiking as I am.

I was still enjoying my daily morning hikes through the forest around here–that is, until my last hike on Friday morning. I chose one of my favorite routes that should have been quiet and peaceful with a good chance to spot some deer (along with the cows that are now scattered throughout the woods). But as I hiked along, I noticed that there were more campers and four-wheelers than usual along the trail, even for a Friday morning. I  also came across a guy cutting up firewood with a chainsaw. Not exactly the peaceful, quiet hike that I was anticipating.

Summer thistles are starting to fade now, but still colorful.

But things got a lot less “serene” when I was about a half-mile from our rig on my return. I saw a red pickup truck in a small clearing off the trail, and there was a young couple kneeling on the ground next to a tree, and at first I thought they were setting up a tent because it looked like he was pounding in tent stakes. But as I drew nearer, I saw that they had a deer carcass strung up by its hoof to a tree, and they were butchering it on the ground.

Hike ruined.

Now, I know that people have hunted wildlife for ages in order to feed their families. I don’t eat meat anymore, but I get it. I have brothers who are avid hunters, and I grew up in a culture where hunting was celebrated. What I failed to realize was that the archery hunting season had opened Friday morning, and that’s why there were so many people in the woods that day. All I could think about was that deer, strung up to a tree, being eviscerated right on my hiking path. It was probably one of the deer that I had seen so often on my walks, possibly one that had visited our campsite on multiple occasions.

I see deer in the woods on almost every hike, and they occasionally visit our campsite.

So now, I’ve lost all my desire to hike through the forest here. I feel like we’re camped in the middle of a hunting ground–which we are. Hopefully most of the hunters are only here for the weekend and they’ll head home today. But there will be some who will remain here, and then next weekend is Labor Day weekend, which I’m sure will bring even larger crowds into this area, riding their four-wheelers with their weapons, looking to bag one of “my” deer. The whole thing has left me depressed and unsettled.

We were already planning to start traveling again in September, but the opening of hunting season has set the wheels in motion, even though the weather is still nicer here than it will be anywhere else we go. But yesterday we did some research and made some travel plans.

We’ll be pulling out of here on September 3, the day after Labor Day, and heading to New Mexico. We’ve made reservations for three nights at Bluewater Lake State Park, located off I-40 near Prewitt, New Mexico at an elevation of 7,554′. We chose this location for several reasons: (1) we’ll have electrical hookups so we can run the air conditioner if needed, (2) there are showers and a dump station onsite, (3) there’s a lake, and (4) we’ll only have to pay $4/day for the electricity since we still have an active New Mexico State Parks annual pass. I wanted a site with access to electricity and water so that I can spend one day giving the rig a deep cleaning after being in this dust for so long. Only 14 of the 149 sites in this park have electricity, so reservations were essential even if there was a $12 fee just to make the reservation on the online system, ReserveAmerica (such a ripoff!).

After our three nights are up there, depending on the weather, we will most likely head up to the Durango, Colorado area to do a little boondocking in the San Juan National Forest. Or we might decide to just snag a first-come first-serve site at the same state park where we’ll already be. No need to plan TOO far ahead! 🙂

September travel plans, subject to change according to the weather.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our stay here in the Flagstaff area this summer, and are already talking about coming back here next year. But who knows, a lot of things can change between now and then, including weather patterns. This year there was an above-average amount of snow and rain in the winter and spring here in the Southwest which made everything very lush. That could be very different next year, and temperatures could be much warmer. We shall see!

Tomorrow is our official 1-year anniversary of our full-time RV lifestyle! One year ago tomorrow, we moved out of our sticks-and-bricks house and into our RV, and then parked it at nearby Tombigbee State Park just outside of Tupelo while we finished emptying the house for the closing three days later.

This year has flown by like a rocket! We have absolutely no regrets about our decision to downsize and live on the road, and cannot wait to see what the future holds for us!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

 

Cows Come Calling, Milestone Birthday, Generator Conks Out

From the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona:

Summer is definitely showing signs of winding down here in the mountains. The angle of the sun is noticeably different than it was when we arrived here back in late May, making the shadows longer and darker. The temperatures have continued to be mostly very pleasant with highs in the upper 70s, with just a few days climbing into the low 80s. However, with the exception of about a week of rain last month, the monsoon failed to really develop in this area so the humidity levels have been very low, making the temperatures even more pleasant.

Summertime in the Coconino National Forest

Of course, our campsite and the nearby road are very dusty, so it’s a constant battle trying to keep the rig and the truck somewhat clean. I’ve already told Andy that our next stop needs to be a place with water hookups so I can spend a day or two deep-cleaning the inside of the RV to get rid of all the dirt and dust we’ve accumulated. But every boondocker worth their salt knows that a little dirt never hurt anyone, and we’ve learned to just do the best we can with a whisk broom and a hand-vacuum.

Over the summer, the grass around here has grown tall and thick, thanks to so much winter and spring moisture. Starting in early August, when we would drive into Flagstaff, we noticed that there were cows grazing in the forest lands on the other side of Highway 180 from where we are located. We thought that was unusual, but then again there are plenty of old dried-out cow patties scattered around our campsite that would indicate that cows have been here in the past.

Then last Friday, we both started noticing these weird sounds coming from off in the distance, down the mountain. They got louder and louder as the day went on, until we recognized them as cows bellowing. And finally, around 2:30 PM, cows started appearing out of the trees, wandering through our campsite, headed further up the mountain toward the nearby pond (Hart Prairie Tank).

The cow parade lasted for a couple of hours. They were mostly females with their calves, but there were a few bulls in the mix as well. They were pretty noisy, calling out to each other as they were being herded into their new grazing area. By nightfall they had pretty much congregated near the pond, and we could here them  throughout the night.

Since then, the cows have spread out over the area, and they wander from spot to spot, grazing on the tall grass. I see them scattered out all along my usual hiking routes, sometimes in large clusters, but often in small groups of four or five. We still get regular visits several times a day from four to six at a time coming through our camp, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. One day Andy was sitting outside in his chair reading, and I looked out the window and saw four cows right behind him. He had no idea they were there, they had walked up so quietly. 🙂

I did a little research and found that some of the local ranchers lease the grazing rights from the National Forest in order to meet the local demand for grass-fed beef in stores and restaurants. As a vegetarian, it’s sad to me to think that these intelligent, social and docile animals will wind up being butchered, but I’m glad that they at least didn’t have to spend their short lives on some factory farm being fed grains that they are not designed to eat.

Yesterday was a big day in our household. It was Andy’s birthday–he finally reached the Big 7-0! He said he doesn’t feel any older, and he certainly doesn’t look any older, so I guess it’s true that 70 is just a number. Happy Birthday, Andy!!

My plan was to bake some cinnamon rolls for his birthday breakfast, so as soon as he rolled out bed, I went to start the generator so I could use the convection oven. Of all days, on Andy’s birthday the generator refused to run. It started a time or two, but would immediately shut down. We had been having some intermittent issues with it, and Andy had been nursing it along with Seafoam fuel treatments and checking the oil, but yesterday, nothing he tried would work to keep the genny running.

The generator decided to crap out on Andy’s birthday, so no cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

It was time to call in the professionals.

So we headed to Starbucks. 🙂

Although Starbucks didn’t have cinnamon rolls, they do have some decent pastries, so we had coffee and sugar for breakfast while I did a little research on Google to look for a generator service shop. I found a place in Flagstaff that works on Onan generators (ours is the RV QC 4000) and who have excellent reviews, so after we left Starbucks, Andy called them while I went inside the post office to pick up our mail, and he made a service appointment for 8:00 AM this morning. (If you know Andy, you know he’s NOT a morning person, so that’s how seriously important it was to get the generator fixed.)

We went back to the rig for the afternoon to make sure that the kitties were comfortable since it was a little on the warm side. We leave the windows open and the fans on while we’re away, so we don’t like to leave the rig unattended for too long. Once things started to cool off later in the afternoon, we drove back into Flagstaff and I took Andy out for an early-bird birthday dinner at the top-rated (per Yelp!) Mexican restaurant in town, MartAnne’s. I chose this place because, in addition to their rave reviews, they also have several great vegan/vegetarian options on their menu. They actually have crispy seitan tacos, served with rice and beans, which we both had to try. The server gave us complementary chips and salsa (they’re not usually free there), since we ordered guacamole and it was Andy’s birthday. Their salsa is excellent, very smoky and a little spicy. We each had a margarita, and thoroughly enjoyed our meal there.

Delicious seitan crispy tacos at MartAnne’s Mexican restaurant in Flagstaff

Afterwards we walked around the historic downtown area, checking out some of the shops, and picked up a bottle of hard cherry cider for later. Then we drove to Baskin-Robbins where we could enjoy some dairy-free dessert. We made it back to the rig before sundown so we could make some preparations for taking the rig in for the generator service this morning.

We had no way of knowing how long the rig would be in the repair shop, and were a little worried about the kitties being in the rig for very long while it was parked in the direct sun while they worked on the generator. We talked about me following Andy into town in the truck in case we needed to rescue the kitties and take them someplace cool. But, in that scenario, the campsite would be unattended, and we didn’t want to lose our solar panels, so after we got back from Baskin-Robbins last night, Andy went ahead and loaded the solar panels in the back of the truck, and we decided that I would stay in camp unless he called me to come rescue him and the fur-babies.

We got up very early this morning so that Andy could leave with the rig around 7:15 AM for our 8:00 appointment. He texted me around 8:30 to let me know they had already diagnosed the problem and were getting it taken care of. First of all, for some reason the oil dipstick did not fit correctly and we were getting an oil leak. Secondly, the carburetor was dirty and needed cleaning. They replaced the dipstick, removed and cleaned the carburetor, and then did an oil change on the generator. The total charge was $160 for parts and labor, and they were done by  about 9:15. The morning was cool enough that the kitties were fine, so it was a very successful visit to the repair shop. A big shout-out to Flag Tool & Engine Repair–if you’re ever in the Flagstaff area and need generator work done, be sure to look them up!

While Andy had the rig in town, he went ahead and dumped the tanks, refilled the water and propane, and topped off the gas tank, so we’re good to go for another week of awesome boondocking!!

Cloudy or sunny, full-time RV life is awesome!

Living in an RV means you have to be able to roll with the punches and go with the flow. We’ve actually been very pleased so far with how this RV has performed in our first year of full-timing. This RV was never designed for full-time living, but it’s held up pretty darn well. I think it helps that we don’t move around as much as a lot of other full-timers do, so we don’t put as much stress on the rig. Over the summer, we’ve driven her about 30 miles per week, just to go into town to dump the tanks and get water/propane. We’ll do more driving this fall, but even then, we tend to get where we’re going and then stay there for at least a couple of weeks before moving on. That’s just the way we roll, and I think it’s good for us AND the rig.

Hard to believe that Monday will be our one-year anniversary of living full-time in Lizzy. We just got our new 2020 Texas registration stickers in the mail to go on the windshields of both vehicles. Texas is kind of weird–instead of a yearly sticker to go on the plate, it goes on the windshield. Texas does require a yearly vehicle inspection to complete the registration, but when you renew on-line as we did, you can self-certify that the vehicle is currently out-of-state, and they will send you the sticker anyway. Then, once you drive back into Texas, you have three days to find an inspection station and get the inspection done–until then, there will be a note on your file with the DMV stating that your registration is incomplete. We’ll be heading heading through Texas in late October or early November on our way back to Mississippi for Thanksgiving, and will get the inspection done then.

We have legal vehicles for another year!

So that’s all the excitement around camp for now. We’re all doing well, enjoying life with the deer and the cows, listening to the wind in the pines and the aspens, hiking through the mountains, reading good books, and generally feeling blessed to be where we are.

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Summer in Flagstaff – Dreams Can Come True

The Backstory:

In July 1991, Andy and I got married in Houston, Texas where we were both living at the time. We had a fairly short engagement and I had not met his parents before the wedding. So for our honeymoon, Andy planned a trip for us to fly out to Arizona, his home state, to introduce me to his parents and to do some sightseeing.

I had never been to Arizona (Texas was as far west as I had ever been), so I was excited about the trip. I had my own preconceptions about what Arizona would be like–hot desert, lots of cactus and rattlesnakes, old western towns. When we landed at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix and walked outside to pick up our rental car, the hot, dry air immediately reinforced those preconceptions.

But over the next few days, I found out that there is so much more to Arizona than what is portrayed in the western movies and popular culture. Andy had made reservations for us to stay near Sedona, but when we arrived at the hotel, we found that although it had a Sedona address, it was located far enough away that the red rocks weren’t even visible. Andy wasn’t pleased at all, so he got on the phone and changed our reservation, and found us a hotel in Flagstaff instead. We left immediately and drove into Flagstaff in the middle of a monsoon rain shower (I knew nothing about monsoons at that time), and I immediately fell in love with Northern Arizona.

My introduction to Northern Arizona in July 1991, between Sedona and Flagstaff.

The temperature in July was cool, the vegetation was green with all the Ponderosa pine, aspen and juniper trees. The air smelled fresh and clean, especially after the rain. The town of Flagstaff was full of interesting restaurants, coffee shops, tourist traps, and businesses that catered to the college crowd at NAU. Everywhere we looked there were people bicycling or hiking, or driving around with kayaks and/or camping gear loaded onto their vehicles. I had just been introduced to Paradise.

Flash-Forward to May 2000:

After we got married, we got introduced to tent-camping by some friends of ours. We would pitch our tent at local state parks where we would enjoy the outdoors while fighting off those huge Texas mosquitoes in the oppressive Gulf Coast humidity–but we had a blast.

And then one fateful day, on a whim, we visited an RV show at the nearby Astrodome. We had never looked at RVs before, and were in awe of the luxury and convenience to be found in what we had always thought of as a “camper”. Who knew that you could actually have a fireplace (electric) in a camper? We heard stories of people who actually lived in these units full-time, after selling their homes and belongings, and who traveled the country as nomads. And right there, we decided that’s what we were going to do “when we retire”.

In May 2000, we left Houston and moved to the Phoenix area to be closer to Andy’s parents as they began to need some assistance with aging issues. Living in Arizona gave us the opportunity to see more of the state as we continued tent camping, and we both fell in love even more with Northern Arizona, specifically the areas of Sedona, Prescott and Flagstaff. We began to dream about one day living in the high country among the pines, in the cooler temperatures.

Exploring the Mogollon Rim in Northern Arizona, 2004

And now….

Here it is, mid-August 2019, and we are close to wrapping up an entire summer fulfilling our dream of actually living in Flagstaff, Arizona. And it’s been so much better than we had ever imagined!

Instead of paying the high cost of rent or a mortgage for real estate in the Flagstaff area, we brought our home with us and parked it for free on public land in the Coconino National Forest, about 10 miles outside of the city limits at about 8,100′ in elevation. We are surrounded by pine and aspen trees, and we can hike every day along the multitude of forest roads and trails that wind up and down the mountain.

Boondocking on Forest Road 151 in a designated dispersed campsite

When we arrived, there was still snow on the nearby peaks visible from our campsite. Over the summer we’ve watched our environment change as the snow melted and ran in small streams down the sides of the road. The aspens that were bare when we arrived gradually leafed out and are now whispering in the breezes that cool the forest.

We watched the spring flowers bloom, one variety after another, until the fields were covered in blue, purple and yellow flowers, and the butterflies began to arrive. We saw deer, elk, squirrels, chipmunks, a rabbit, a skunk, a coyote, and many different bird species. Every day the sky was blue and the humidity was low–until the monsoon arrived just in time to help put an end to the Museum Fire that broke out in early July just north of Flagstaff.

Springtime blossoms in the Coconino National Forest

With the monsoon providing rain and higher humidity, the grasses began to grow tall. The spring flowers gradually faded, to be replaced by summer flowers like thistles, that attract the most beautiful bees I’ve ever seen. My daily hikes have been an adventure in observing the almost daily changes in the flora of the area.

The bees love the thistles, and I love this bee.

Our location has given us easy access to all the services and amenities that Flagstaff has to offer. We’ve supported the local economy by purchasing gas, propane and groceries, dining out, paying dumping fees, doing laundry and getting haircuts–even dropping some bucks at the local art fair.

Because our RV is self-contained, has an onboard generator, and we have invested in solar power, we’re able to boondock (camp without electric/water/sewer hookups), so we didn’t have to worry about trying to snag one of those hard-to-get reservations at an RV park in Flagstaff. We’ve been able to keep our expenses to a minimum by living close to nature instead of paying for hookups in a park where RVs are parked side-by-side with no privacy.

Our new Battle Born lithium batteries are a great investment in boondocking

By living in the area for several months, we’ve gotten to know our way around and feel like we’re actually part of a community that admittedly is somewhat seasonal. We’re certainly not the only people who “summer” in Flagstaff!

And that’s the whole point–we didn’t want to just “vacation” in Flagstaff, we wanted to actually live here, and that’s what we’ve been able to do, thanks to the full-time RV lifestyle that we have adopted. It was a dream that we had for years that finally came to fruition in a way that we never could have expected, but which turned out perfectly for us.

I can’t imagine that I would ever want a sticks-and-bricks home in Flagstaff (or anywhere else, for that matter). I just don’t want to feel tied down to a property where I store my stuff, where I have to contend with yard maintenance and HOA fees and less-than-desirable neighbors. And Flagstaff gets pretty cold in the winter, and I’m not a cold-weather person.

So when the summer ends, we will leave Flagstaff (reluctantly) and drive on to our next destination, wherever that may be, as we chase 70°. We’ll eventually head east to Mississippi for the Thanksgiving holidays with my family, and then return to the desert for the winter.

But we already know in our hearts that when the temperatures start to warm up after the winter is over, we’ll once again point the RV toward our summer dream destination, Flagstaff, Arizona.

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Monthly Expense Report – July 2019 – Full-time RV Living

It’s time once again for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life. We live in a 24′ Thor Chateau 22E Class C RV with our two cats, Maggie and Molly. We do not have a sticks-and-bricks home base, but travel wherever the weather takes us as we chase 70°.

First, a reminder of the caveats related to our expenses. 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 eleven full months 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 all of June and July in a free boondocking site in the Coconino National Forest on Forest Road 151 (also known as Hart Prairie Road), off Highway 180 northwest of Flagstaff. The weather has been near-perfect for boondocking, and there are plenty of empty camping spots along this road so we haven’t felt any pressure to leave this area.

Because we stayed in one spot all month and didn’t move the rig except to dump the tanks and refill propane and water, our camping expenses were lower than average in June and July. However, this month we decided to replace our cheap deep-cycle lead acid batteries and invest in a couple of lithium batteries for our solar system while they were on sale in Flagstaff, so our expenses did jump significantly in July because of that one line item (see Equipment below). But the change has already made a significant difference in our camping experience since we don’t have to babysit the batteries or constantly monitor our electrical usage at night or on cloudy days.

That said, here are our expenses for the past three months:

Camping fees + Electricity

May: $207 – We boondocked for free for 24 of the 31 nights. The seven nights we spent in the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams cost us $27/night which was a 50% discount on their normal rates with our Passport America membership, for a total of $189. The remainder is the prorated cost of our annual pass to New Mexico state parks (expires October 31).

June: $17 – We boondocked for free for the entire month in the National Forest, so there were no out-of-pocket expenses. The $17 is the monthly prorated cost of our annual pass to New Mexico state parks (expires October 31).

July: $17 – Same as June.

Eleven month average: $152

DUMPING FEEs

May: $42 – We didn’t have to pay to dump while we had full hookups in Williams. While staying on FR 320, we dumped three times at an RV park in Tusayan for $14 per visit. Technically, we could have driven into the Grand Canyon National Park and dumped at their campground for free, but we still would have had to visit the Tusayan RV park to buy propane, and Andy decided it was easier to just get everything done at one location.

June: $40 – We dumped the tanks and refilled our fresh water four times at Black Bart’s RV Park in Flagstaff at $10/visit.

July: $40 – Same as June.

Eleven month average: $33

Fuel for the RV

May: $111 – We moved three times, but only filled up the rig twice. We drove a total of 239 miles and used the generator 22.2 hours. We bought 34 gallons of gas and averaged approximately 9.6 MPG, net of generator use. Our average gas price in May was $3.22/gallon–another effect of being in a high-tourism area.

June: $62 – We filled up the RV one time toward the end of the month, and basically it was just the expense of running the generator all month plus taking the rig into town four times to dump the tanks. We bought 21 gallons of gas at $2.99/gallon, and ran the generator for 14.7 hours, and drove the rig 118 miles.

July: $0 – The RV was only moved four times in July, when Andy drove it into Flagstaff to dump the tanks, a 30-mile round trip. We ran the generator 14.7 hours in July (same as June, seems to be a pattern here), which equates to about 6.3 gallons of fuel.

Eleven month average: $129

Fuel for the Truck

May: $115 (37 gal, 19.6 MPG)

June: $95 (30 gal, 19.5 MPG)

July: $43 (15 gal, 18.8 MPG)

Eleven month average: $120

PROPANE

May: $76 (15.9 gallons) – Most of our propane purchases in May were at the RV park in Tusayan, where the cost was $4.85/gallon + tax = $5.28/gallon. They were the only propane supplier within reasonable driving distance, and they knew it and admitted it. We had some very cold weather, including sleet and snow, so we ran the furnace a little more than we usually do. Fortunately we had one week with full hookups in Williams when we were able to use the electric space heater, which offset at least a portion of the propane cost for the month.

June: $38 (12.5 gallons) – Warmer weather means less propane usage. And after the high prices in Tusayan last month, it was nice to get back to some reasonable propane prices. We filled up twice at Tractor Supply in Flagstaff, at $2.79/gallon.

July: $22 (7.7 gallons) – Another good month for propane usage. We filled up once at Tractor Supply in Flagstaff at $2.83/gallon (including tax).

Eleven month average: $39

groceries

May: $464 – We were a little surprised at this number being down so much, as grocery prices in Williams and Flagstaff are a little higher than we’ve been paying. But when we saw what we spent on dining out (see below), the grocery figure made sense. Many of our restaurant meals involved doggie bags that provided us with an extra meal at home. And usually, when we ate lunch at a restaurant, we were too full to eat dinner later.

June: $466 – This was a fairly typical month for groceries, all of which were purchased at Walmart in Flagstaff.

July: $418 – Our grocery cost was down a little bit this month, as I cooked more one-pot meals that could be spread over two or three meals, and we also ate out a few more times this month.

We made two meals out of these Instant Pot Mexican-style Stuffed Peppers.

Eleven month average: $492

NOTE: 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

May: $464 – We spent way more than usual on eating out in May. We had a nice lunch in Sedona ($76); ate three times at the Grand Canyon Brewing Company which was conveniently located right across the street from the RV park where we stayed in Williams (twice we only had drinks and appetizer, total for three visits was $103);  ice cream and coffee at Twisters on Route 66 in Williams ($19); dinner at El Corral Mexican Restaurant on Route 66 in Williams ($41); two visits to We Cook Pizza in Tusayan ($71); brunch at Toasted Owl Cafe in Flagstaff ($49); lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge Harvey House Cafe in the Grand Canyon National Park ($37); breakfast at McDonald’s on the way to the Canyon ($26 – highway robbery!); and a few other miscellaneous charges including reloading Andy’s Starbucks card for $25. When we dine out, we pretty much order what we want and don’t worry about the prices, especially if it’s an unusual place with high-quality food. But hopefully we can get back on track in June and get this line item back in budget. 🙂

June: $192 – We did much better on dining out this month, thanks in large part to finding Fratelli Pizza in Flagstaff where they have a pizza-by-the-slice lunch special for $10 that we are now addicted to. We also visited Cornish Pasty Company in Flagstaff where they have delicious vegetarian/vegan options, and we also hit the local Pita Pit and IHOP (twice). Oh yeah, I think I remember stopping for some ice cream in the historic district one afternoon… 🙂

July: $246 – We tend to be creatures of habit, and once we find a good deal, we stick with it. So we had lunch at Fratelli Pizza 3 times and brunch at IHOP 3 times (we like to eat a big breakfast before we go grocery shopping). We also spent $20 on food and drinks at the Flagstaff Art in the Park festival, and another $20 for crepes in downtown Flagstaff. And then a weird thing happened–someone fraudulently used my Starbucks gold card (or at least the card number) in Brooklyn, NY to buy $16 worth of whatever. The only reason I found out about it was because I have that card set up so that whenever the balance on it falls below $10, it automatically reloads the card with $25 from my Paypal account by charging one of my credit cards. And I have my credit cards set up to send me a text message whenever ANYTHING of any amount is charged to the credit card. So when I got a text message one morning from my credit card company saying that I had just reloaded my Starbucks card, I knew something was wrong. I called Starbucks, and they reimbursed me for the $16 and then created a new gold card for me with the remaining balance from the old card, and cancelled the old card. They also moved the $25 that had been reloaded onto the old card over to the new card. Long story short, this month’s dining costs include that $25 for reloading my Starbucks card. And a big shout-out to Starbucks customer service for handling this issue to my complete satisfaction!

Strawberry Cheesecake crepes from the Creperie in downtown Flagstaff

Eleven month average: $239

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

household / furnishings

May: $149 – Includes $76 for a new Blu-ray player to replace our old one that quit working. We don’t play DVDs very often, but while we were camped on FR 320 we had very little cellular service and could not do our usual streaming of Hulu and YouTube, so we fell back on our DVD collection. When the old Blu-ray player wouldn’t play the discs without freezing and skipping, we replaced it with a newer, “smarter” version from Walmart.

June: $25 – Nothing this month but the necessities.

July: $36 – My flashlight bit the dust, so I got a new one for $16. Otherwise, just the typical paper products and cleaning supplies.

Eleven month average: $131

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

petcare

May: $24 – Just food and litter.

June: $24 – Another month of just food and litter.

July: $48 – In addition to food and litter, the babies ran out of treats this month so we had to restock. Those things are EXPENSIVE, but our babies love them. 🙂

Maggie in her hidey-hole.

Eleven month average: $57

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

May: $276

June: $276

July: $276

Eleven month average: $269

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them in the fall of 2017. 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 now on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled. Once the phones are paid off this fall, the monthly charge should drop by about $30/month unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

May: $30 – Renewed our mail scanning service for another three months. This service allows us to see the front of the envelope that is sent to our mailing address in Livingston, Texas, and then we can choose to have it shredded or added to our next mail forwarding. Because of this scanning, we were able to see that there was nothing urgent in our mail this month, so we did not have anything forwarded to us in May. It will instead be held until our next forwarding request, probably in early June.

June: $7 – Had our mail forwarded one time, nothing of any interest in there. Probably won’t have it forwarded again until August.

July: $7 – We wound up having our mail forwarded once. When we checked the website to see what incoming envelopes had been scanned for us, we saw that the renewal notices for the license plates on both vehicles had arrived, so we had them forwarded this month instead of waiting until August.

Eleven month average: $17

Laundry

May: $15 – Did laundry once at the RV park where we stayed in Williams. I also had to wash the top quilt on our bed because Maggie puked on it (she’s not sick, I think she just gagged on a hair in her throat). Oh, well, at least they’ve stopped peeing on it!! 🙂

June: $25 – It just worked out, timing-wise, that we did laundry twice this month (we usually average going to the laundromat about every three weeks).

July: $28 – We did our regular laundry once, but then we had to make a special trip to wash the bed linens, as one of the kitties tried to baptize us one morning.

Eleven month average: $20

attractions / entertainment

May: $58 – Just the monthly subscriptions listed below, plus a bag of assorted puzzle books that I picked up at the Goodwill store in Sedona. NOTE: We visited the Grand Canyon National Park several times for free with Andy’s “America the Beautiful” senior lifetime pass for which he paid $10, right before they increased the price to $80. But even at $80, it’s still a tremendous bargain if you visit any of the national parks or monuments, especially since it’s a lifetime pass. Can’t wait until I turn 62 so I can get mine!! 🙂

June: $85 – In addition to our monthly subscriptions (see below), we checked out the Flagstaff Folk Festival ($10).  We also purchased a few items to carry in our hiking packs in case of emergency (lessons learned from Andy’s big adventure). We visited the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, but got in free with Andy’s “America The  Beautiful” senior pass (saved $25). We also visited the Arizona Snowbowl and took the chairlift ride to the top of the ski lift, but thanks to a fortuitous conversation with a couple in the parking lot, this excursion was also free (details here). This month we dropped our subscription to Netflix and replaced it with a subscription to Hulu, where I binge-watched 11 seasons of “Frasier” and am now working my way through “This Is Us”.

July: $68 – In addition to the subscriptions listed below, I also paid $11 for a one-year subscription for the Elite upgrade to my Walkmeter app on my iPhone. This is the app that I use for hiking (my entertainment of choice) to map my routes and keep track of my time and distance, as well as the weather and other stats. It helps keep me motivated to exercise, so I think it’s worth it.

Could there be a more beautiful place to hike?

Eleven month average: $81

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

memberships

May: $127 – Annual renewal fee for Amazon Prime. Currently questioning whether or not we should drop this next year.

June: $0

July: $0

Eleven month average: $37

Equipment for RV

May: $0 – Hallelujah!!

June: $17 – New tire pressure gauge and valve caps.

July: $1,719 – No, that’s not a typo. This month we decided to take advantage of a 10%-off sale on Battle Born lithium batteries at Northern Arizona Wind & Sun. We replaced our two pathetic 25-amp-hour lead acid house batteries with two 100-amp-hour Battle Born lithium batteries. We were tired of having to be so miserly with our energy usage at night and on cloudy days, and since we made the upgrade, we’ve had plenty of power of spare. We can finally run our fan at night without worrying about whether or not there would be enough sunshine in the early morning to replenish what we used overnight–now a full charge will last us for 3-4 days without having to top it off at all. And when we finally make that trip up to the Pacific Northwest, we’ll be better equipped to deal with the cloudy days that are so common up there.

Our new Battle Born lithium batteries are a great investment in boondocking

Eleven month average: $427 (Includes over $2K in solar equipment purchased in November 2018.)

RV Maintenance & REpairs

May: $35 – Bought two replacement lights (the amber teardrop-shaped clearance lights) for the overhead cab area to try to prevent water leakage into the rig.

June: $15 – Bought SeaFoam gas treatment for the generator. We also purchased new LED light bulbs for the interior, but we used our Discover Card reward dollars for those.

July: $15 – Oil for the generator, two cans of compressed air for blowing the dust out of the solar panel cable connectors.

Eleven month average: $76

truck maintenance & repairs

May: $0

June: $0

July: $0

Eleven month average: $8

NOTE: We drive a 2004 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner pickup with a camper shell on the back as our chase vehicle (not towed). It has just over 107K miles on it, and it’s super-dependable, but I think we’re going to need to have the brakes looked at pretty soon.

Vehicle insurance

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV. In March, the monthly cost for the truck increased from $40/mo to $49/mo.

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. Since this was the first year we registered the vehicles in Texas, there was an extra $95 charge on each vehicle to transfer them from out-of-state. Based on the renewal notices that we just received, the expenses for the next year will be $11/mo for the RV and $6/mo for the truck.

Summary

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

May Total: $2,337

June Total: $1,529

July Total: $3,127

Eleven month average: $2,467

After blowing our budget in May while staying in touristy spots like Williams, Arizona and the Grand Canyon, it feels good to have the purse strings under control again. If we exclude the cost of the new batteries that we bought this month, this would have been our best month ever in terms of expenses–so it was probably the right time to bite the bullet and spend the money.

Monsoon clouds at sunset over our rig

We’re still camped at about 8,100′ just northwest of Flagstaff, and the forecast calls for high temperatures between 75° to 79° for the next two weeks. It’s hard to predict exactly because the published forecast is for the city of Flagstaff, and we are about 1200′ higher than they are. The monsoon season has arrived, so we’re getting rain almost every day now. Usually it’s just an afternoon shower, but earlier this week we got a couple of days of almost constant drizzle. As long as we don’t get too warm or too soggy, we plan to stay in the Flagstaff area as long as we can. We like where we’re camped, and we like being in close proximity to good shopping and services. Of course, last week there was a wildfire in the area, the Museum Fire; and while we were never directly threatened by anything more than some smoke, it was a reminder that we could have to evacuate at any time if a fire breaks out near us, or if the Forest Service decides to close off an area due to dry or dangerous conditions.

The first smoke we saw from the Museum Fire on Sunday, July 21, 2019

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.

Eleven-Month RVersary, Museum Fire Update, Major Rig Upgrade

Today marks the eleven-month anniversary of the day we moved out of our sticks-and-bricks house and into our little RV to start our new life as full-time RVers. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been out here for almost a year–time just seems to fly by. But we’re still having the time of our lives, and have no inclination to even remotely consider settling down somewhere.

Over the next month, I’m going to be working on a retrospective of our first year on the road. Not sure if it will be a YouTube video or just a blog post, but I’m putting some ideas together, so stay tuned to see what we come up with!

We are still camped in the Coconino National Forest just northwest of Flagstaff. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Museum Fire, a wildfire that started last Sunday, July 21, just north of Flagstaff. The fire grew quickly on Sunday and Monday in the dry timber and steep terrain just about a mile outside the Flagstaff city limits. On Monday, the smoke was drifting to the west, so the air outside our RV was very smoky and hazy. In fact, it was so thick that I didn’t even attempt to do my daily hike that morning.

Smoke from the #MuseumFire invades our camp on Monday

Fortunately, on Tuesday, the monsoon rains finally arrived, bringing cooler temperatures, higher humidity, and much needed moisture to the Flagstaff area. There was more rain on Wednesday (and fortunately not a lot of lightning) which allowed the firefighters to begin getting a handle on the blaze. The amount of smoke was greatly reduced, and with the shift in wind direction, we no longer had any smoke in our area.

We’ve driven into Flagstaff a couple of times for grocery shopping and dumping the tanks, and while we’ve seen a lot of firefighting activity, including helitankers slurping up water from the reservoirs and dumping it on the hotspots, the residents of Flagstaff for the most part seem to be taking things in stride. Businesses are open, tourists are still flocking in, and things look pretty normal except for the wisps of smoke that continue to rise over the mountains to the north.

Right now they say just under 2,000 acres have burned and that the fire is 12% contained. The emphasis is starting to shift to flood control as the monsoon rains are expected to continue for another month or two. There are a couple of watersheds on the mountains that will funnel water, debris and ash down into some of the neighborhoods, so there are huge sandbagging operations going on right now. The athletic teams from the local high schools and Northern Arizona University have been volunteering to fill sandbags to help protect their communities. On one single day, they distributed over 100,000 of them.

We, of course, have been keeping a close eye on the fire as well as the weather. We are far enough away from the Museum Fire that we’ve never been endangered by anything other than heavy smoke for one day. But the monsoon clouds can bring lightning, even when there’s no rain, and lightning is the primary cause of wildfires in Arizona. There is a very good early warning system in this area that pushes out alerts to every cellphone connected to cell towers in the affected area. The alarms are very loud, and it’s actually pretty funny when you’re in a restaurant or Walmart, and everyone’s phone starts blaring at the same time! But the alerts do serve an important function, letting people know when they need to move out of the area due to fire or other hazardous conditions. If a fire should start somewhere near us, we would be alerted both by the phone system as well as by personnel from the local authorities who fan out into the forests, looking for campers and hikers.

One of the many automated alerts we received while eating pizza in Flagstaff

If you would like to get the latest information on the Museum Fire, you can get the official updates on Inciweb – Incident Information System or you can follow Coconino National Forest on Twitter @CoconinoNF. If you like the gossip around the fire, just get on Twitter and do a search for the hashtag #museumfire and you’ll get the official stuff and the posts from some frustrated people.

Unfortunately for the fire suppression effort, the forecast for the weekend is calling for drier, warmer conditions before more rain moves into the area next week. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the containment efforts of the past few days will allow them to hold the line until more moisture arrives.

A big “Thank You” to all the first responders, incident teams, firefighters, hotshots, and support personnel who are putting it all on the line at this fire and every other fire that is currently burning. You folks rock!!

So, in other news, we just made a major upgrade to our rig. Back in early December, we visited Camping World in Tucson, even spending the night in their parking lot, to have our house batteries replaced. Being the naive RV newbies that we were, we took their word that the new batteries would provide us with 150 amp hours of power, which should have been plenty for our needs. We soon found out that something was definitely lacking in the power situation. As long as we had the solar panels hooked up on a sunny day, we had all the power we needed during the daytime, but at night the charge would rapidly deplete as the sun went down. The deep cycle batteries that we were using can only be drawn down to about 50% capacity without damaging them, so we had to be super careful at night not to use too many lights or let the fan run overnight. In the mornings, the first thing that I would do upon rising would be to check the charge controller to see if there was enough battery life available to turn on the furnace (it’s propane but the furnace fan runs off of 12V battery power).

We finally took a closer look at the batteries which are stored under the entryway steps, and were able to determine that they were actually only 25 amp hours each, and since you can only draw them down to 50% charge, we only had a total of 25 amp hours between the two batteries. We were getting by, but just barely. Fortunately we have been in Arizona where it’s sunny most of the time, but with the monsoon clouds moving in, we were ready to make a change.

We had been interested in upgrading to lithium batteries for some time. While they are much more expensive, they require no maintenance (no need to add water), and best of all, they don’t have the 50% limit on how far they can be drawn down. You can pretty much use them to their full capacity. In addition, they have a much longer lifespan. The only drawback is that they will shut down if the temperatures get into the 20’s and stay there for awhile. We try to avoid any place that gets that cold at night anyway.

As it happened, on Monday of this week, the local solar system supplier in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona Wind & Sun, announced a 10% off sale on their Battle Born lithium batteries. Battle Born is the top of the line in RV lithium batteries, and so we decided it was time to do the upgrade. Andy called them to ask a few questions, and then told them to hold two batteries for us and he would drive into town to pick them up (the same day that all the smoke was blowing over our campsite). We were hoping to get the batteries installed quickly so that we could make a quick exit from the area if the fire started moving our way. In fact, while he was in town, I stayed at the rig with my maps, trying to plan where we might want to go next if we needed to make a quick escape.

Unfortunately, when Andy got to NAzW&S, they told him they didn’t have the batteries in stock, and it would be Wednesday or Thursday before they arrived. He went ahead and paid for them, so at that point we were committed to staying in the Flagstaff area for at least a few more days. As it turned out, the fire moved away from us and the smoke cleared out of our area, so the sense of urgency was greatly diminished.

When Andy took the rig to town on Thursday (yesterday) to dump the tanks and get water, he called NAzW&S to check on the order, and found out that the batteries had arrived. He drove by to pick them up, and got back to our campsite around noon. We ate a quick lunch of PB&J sandwiches and then got started on the installation project.

Removing the old deep-cycle lead-acid batteries, 25 Ah each

Everybody knows that projects always take longer than first estimated, and this was no different. Pulling the old batteries out was no problem. But the new Battle Born lithium batteries are slightly larger (although lighter), and it was a tight squeeze to drop them both into the battery compartment under the entryway step. Once they were seated in the compartment, the battery terminals on each end were difficult to reach under the upper lip of the compartment, so attaching those stiff battery cables was a real BEAR! But Handy Andy persevered, and an hour or so later, they were all hooked up.

Hooking up the Battle Born lithium batteries, 100 Ah each

The next step was to reconfigure the solar charge controller with the appropriate settings for the lithium batteries (as opposed to our old deep cycle lead acid batteries). After changing the eight DIP switches, we just got general FAULT errors on the display, and I couldn’t even get the appropriate menu items to appear so I could make the rest of the changes. After reading through the manual, I determined that we needed to disconnect the charge controller at the fusebox to let it reboot, so that the changes in the DIP switches would be accepted. After we did that, the correct menu items were available, and I made the rest of the changes, and then we had to reboot it again.

Finally, the setup was complete, and we marveled at how much power we had available, just from the amount of charge the batteries had straight out of the box. By then the sun was going down so we didn’t have much time to charge them from the solar panels, but even so, we were able to use all the lights we wanted, as well as run the fan overnight. And this morning, there was hardly a dent in the amount of power used overnight.

YES, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!!

Today we had plenty of sunshine (along with a few small showers), so the batteries have been fully charged from the sun. At this point, we could probably go three or four days without having to charge them again if we needed to. This opens up a lot more possibilities for boondocking in cloudy places like the Pacific Northwest, where I’d really like to visit in the future. Another successful upgrade for our full-time RV life!

This afternoon we had a quick chat with an investment advisor from Fidelity, where we have the majority of our investment funds. Of course he was trying to up-sell us to a managed fund, but I told him I wasn’t interested. He did a quick review of our holdings and told us we looked to be in good shape, although he did advise me that my portfolio might be a little too aggressive since most financial mangers are expecting a downturn in the next year or so. I told him I’d had the same thoughts, and that I’d probably make some adjustments on my own in the next few months if it looks like the prudent thing to do. Fortunately, we haven’t yet had to dip into any of our investment holdings, but it’s nice to know that we have that cushion if needed.

So for now, we’re still just hanging out in the Flagstaff area, enjoying the alpine weather. High temperatures remain in the high 70’s and low 80’s, with lows in the 50’s at night. The humidity levels have risen some this week (right now it’s 73° with 35% humidity outside), but I doubt you’d find any more pleasant weather anywhere in the country right now. We’re going to enjoy it as long as we can.

I’m still doing a lot of hiking–I’m usually gone for an hour and a half to two hours each morning while Andy has his breakfast and starts his day. I’ve been participating in some Fitbit challenges with some of my friends, and that helps keep me motivated when my feet and knees start to ache. There are just so many roads and trails around here, and so much natural beauty, it really isn’t that hard to get motivated to wander in the woods each morning.

Could there be a more beautiful place to hike?

That’s pretty much it for now. Life is good!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Quick Update on the Museum Fire

As I’ve mentioned before, I follow several accounts on Twitter that provide updates on wildfires in Arizona, so that we can stay informed in the event that a fire breaks out near us. Yesterday just before noon a tweet came across my feed regarding a 1-acre fire just north of Flagstaff. The tweet said that firefighters were responding.

The fire was named the Museum Fire, due to its proximity to the Museum of Northern Arizona.

Our camp in relation to the Museum Fire.

Within an hour the fire had grown to 200 acres, and there was a Type 2 response team on the scene with almost 200 crew and tons of equipment, including water tanker helicopters and large planes dropping fire retardant.

Around 2:00 both Andy and I received loud alarms on our phones indicating that evacuation and pre-evacuation orders had been issued near the fire zone. We checked the map and verified that we were not being ordered to evacuate. In fact the fire was moving toward the north and east, away from us.

From where we are camping we can see the smoke rising over the pine trees. By early evening the fire had grown to about 400 acres. As night fell, the moon rose through the smoke, appearing blood red–kind of spooky.

Smoke is visible from our campsite

During the night, the firefighters concentrated on “burnout” operations, which involves intentionally setting small, closely controlled fires ahead of the main fire to deprive it of fuel and protect property. The fire is close to the hill where the TV, radio and cell towers are located, as well as some neighborhoods in the northeast Flagstaff city limits.

This morning, the latest estimate of the fire is 1,000 acres. There will be a “heavy air attack” component of the firefight today. The skies are overcast but the forecast calls for little chance of rain in our area today, although chances increase on Tuesday and Wednesday. The monsoon season has been a bust around here so far, but hopefully it’s about to arrive in the nick of time. Of course, it can be a double-edged sword, as monsoon storms typical bring wind and lightning which can just make things worse.

Unless something drastically changes, we are safe where we are. We are actively monitoring the situation via our Twitter feed (yes, Twitter is an excellent tool for getting the most current notices and announcements from the proper authorities). We were already stocked up on groceries, fuel and water, so we don’t have any immediate need to drive into Flagstaff where things are pretty busy right now.

If this fire (or any other fire) should approach our area, we can be packed up and on the road in 10-15 minutes with everything we own. That’s one advantage of living in a RV–we can move our house away from a wildfire.

Even if the fire doesn’t move our way, it’s still possible that the Forest Service will close off this area from recreational use as a precaution and we’ll have to leave (especially if we don’t get some rain soon). Hoping that doesn’t happen, of course, but could totally understand if they make that decision. We love it here, and hope to stay longer.

If you would like to get the latest updates on the fire, just do a search on Twitter for #museumfire for the chatter, or follow Coconino National Forest (@coconinonf) or InciWeb (@inciweb) for more official announcements.

Otherwise, we’re doing fine, just enjoying the great weather while the rest of the country was sweltering. Doing a lot of hiking on some new trails–there are so many to choose from!

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog. Be sure to subscribe to keep up with our travels. You can also follow us on Instagram for updates between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Our 28th Anniversary, Flagstaff Folk Festival, Forest Fire Awareness

Happy 4th of July, fellow Americans! Hope you’re having a safe and relaxing holiday as we celebrate the birthday of our country!

July 4th just happens to also be our wedding anniversary, and today marks 28 years since we tied the knot on a hot summer day in Houston, Texas. We’ve had a lot of adventures and we’ve taken some big risks in those 28 years, but nothing like what we’re currently doing! The fact that we have enough love between us and faith in each other to risk selling our house and all our possessions to go traveling around the country in a little RV–that says a lot, doesn’t it? We’re having a grand old time, and we’re both looking forward to many more years together, sharing life wherever it takes us!

We’re still loving the wildflowers that continue to bloom in “our yard”

We don’t have anything special planned for today. Andy took the rig into Flagstaff this morning to dump the tanks and refill the fresh water. When he got back we fixed our usual lunch–a huge chopped salad with homemade cashew-herb dressing, a cup of pinto beans, and a graham cracker with marshmallow creme for dessert. This afternoon Andy’s getting a shower while I work on the bookkeeping and the blog. This evening, we’ll have some Thai peanut noodles that I made last night, along with a bottle of wine that we’ve been saving for a special occasion. We thought about going out to dinner, but we don’t like to leave the rig unattended at night when we’re boondocking.

We’re still parked in the Coconino National Forest just northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona, enjoying the beautiful alpine summer weather. It’s pretty quiet most of the time, but with today being a holiday, there are a lot of dirt bikes, ATV’s, bicycles and just regular traffic going by, raising the dust. I even saw a big Class A go by a few minutes ago, the first one of those we’ve seen since we’ve been up here. But Andy said that he saw a lot of empty camping spots further down the hill when he drove into town this morning, so it looks like most of these people are just up here for the day.

Another colorful sunset last night–everything had a pink tint!

We had a good time this past Sunday, attending the second day of the Flagstaff Folk Festival, held on the grounds of the Pioneer Museum. We weren’t really sure what to expect so we didn’t plan to stay more than a couple of hours, but if we’re here next year at this same time, we’ll definitely plan to stay longer. They had five different stages with different acts performing for about 30-45 minutes each. They also had places set aside for workshops and jam sessions, along with food vendors and arts/crafts.

We heard all types of music, mostly with acoustic instruments, played by people of all ages. Some of the venues were outdoors, one was in an old barn, one was in the art gallery. We thoroughly enjoyed (almost) all the music, and we applaud the people of Flagstaff for hosting this enjoyable event!

I recorded a few clips from some of the performers and strung them together into a short video:

Otherwise, things are pretty quiet around here. I took a longer-than-usual hike on Monday on a trail I hadn’t been on before, and saw several groups of deer along the way. I had planned to go 45 minutes out and then turn around, but at the end of 45 minutes, I could hear traffic sounds, so I kept going to see where I came out, and it was on Highway 180 north of where we’re camped. It ended up being a two-hour hike and I was pretty tired by the time I got back to the rig, but thoroughly enjoyed the scenery.

Beautiful greenery along the hiking trail

Yesterday we treated ourselves to the lunch special at Fratelli Pizza (our current addiction) and then did our grocery shopping for the next five or six days. Real exciting stuff!

Speaking of excitement, we had a little jolt this morning. We had just sat down at the table to have our cinnamon rolls and coffee (a little anniversary treat), and when I opened the blinds over the dinette, we saw about five or six Forestry Service trucks parked across the road from us. One truck was marked as a fire-fighting truck.

We were immediately concerned because this is the season for wildfires here in the Southwest, but we didn’t see or smell any smoke. We didn’t want to be nosy so we didn’t walk over to ask them what was going on, and after about twenty minutes they all left. However, later this afternoon we did hear that there is a small (just over 3 acres as of last report) wildfire between here and Flagstaff.

I have subscribed to the Twitter feed for the Coconino National Forest, as well as the wildfire incident reporting authorities, and I get text alerts whenever they post any kind of updates on wildfires in the area, or anywhere in Arizona. If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile, you might remember that we got evacuated from the Hilltop Campground in the Prescott National Forest due to a nearby wildfire back in April. Things are a lot drier now, so we keep a close eye on weather conditions and news reports. And that’s another reason why we don’t leave the rig unattended for more than a few hours at a time–if anything happens, we want to make sure we can respond quickly and take appropriate action to protect the rig, the kitties, and ourselves.

It is illegal to use any kind of fireworks in the National Forests, so we’re really hoping that the people who are playing or camping in the area around us today will do so safely and leave the pyrotechnics out of it. I would hate to have my anniversary ruined by some idiot with a bottle rocket!!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Monthly Expense Report – June 2019 – Full-time RV Living

It’s time once again for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life. We live in a 24′ Thor Chateau 22E Class C RV with our two cats, Maggie and Molly. We do not have a sticks-and-bricks home base, but travel wherever the weather takes us as we chase 70°.

First, a reminder of the caveats related to our expenses. 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 ten full months 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 entire month of June in a free boondocking site in the Coconino National Forest on Forest Road 151 (also known as Hart Prairie Road), off Highway 180 northwest of Flagstaff. The weather has been near-perfect for boondocking, and there are plenty of empty camping spots along this road so we haven’t felt any pressure to leave this area.

Re-positioned the rig so that it’s parked in the shade

Because we stayed in one spot all month and didn’t move the rig except to dump the tanks and refill propane and water, our expenses were lower than average in June. We also cut back our spending on food and dining out, and we didn’t have any major issues with the rig or the truck. As a result of all that, we had our lowest expenses of any month since we’ve been on the road. HOORAY!! 🙂

Here are our expenses for the past three months:

Camping fees + Electricity

April: $168 – We boondocked for free on Bloody Basin Road (BLM land), as well as our current location in the National Forest. We paid $126 ($9/night for 14 nights) at Hilltop Campground, and the remainder is the prorated cost of our annual passes to New Mexico state parks and the BLM LTVAs (expired April 15).

May: $207 – We boondocked for free for 24 of the 31 nights. The seven nights we spent in the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams cost us $27/night which was a 50% discount on their normal rates with our Passport America membership, for a total of $189. The remainder is the prorated cost of our annual pass to New Mexico state parks (expires October 31).

June: $17 – We boondocked for free for the entire month in the National Forest, so there were no out-of-pocket expenses. The $17 is the monthly prorated cost of our annual pass to New Mexico state parks (expires October 31).

Ten month average: $166

DUMPING FEEs

April: $50 – Dumped once in Wickenburg ($10) on April 1 on our way to Bloody Basin Road, then twice while we were boondocked there. We had to dump at the local RV parks, which charged $20. While we were camped at Hilltop Campground, we dumped at Affinity RV Service in Prescott Valley where they offer free dumps and water.

May: $42 – We didn’t have to pay to dump while we had full hookups in Williams. While staying on FR 320, we dumped three times at an RV park in Tusayan for $14 per visit. Technically, we could have driven into the Grand Canyon National Park and dumped at their campground for free, but we still would have had to visit the Tusayan RV park to buy propane, and Andy decided it was easier to just get everything done at one location.

June: $40 – We dumped the tanks and refilled our fresh water four times at Black Bart’s RV Park in Flagstaff at $10/visit.

Ten month average: $32

Fuel for the RV

April: $141 – We moved three times, and filled up the rig each time we moved. We drove a total of 331 miles and used the generator a total of 20.7 hours. We bought 48 gallons of gas, and averaged approximately 8.5 MPG, net of generator use. Our average gas price in April was $2.94/gallon–it’s definitely going up.

May: $111 – We moved three times, but only filled up the rig twice. We drove a total of 239 miles and used the generator 22.2 hours. We bought 34 gallons of gas and averaged approximately 9.6 MPG, net of generator use. Our average gas price in May was $3.22/gallon–another effect of being in a high-tourism area.

June: $62 – We filled up the RV one time toward the end of the month, and basically it was just the expense of running the generator all month plus taking the rig into town four times to dump the tanks. We bought 21 gallons of gas at $2.99/gallon, and ran the generator for 14.7 hours, and drove the rig 118 miles.

Ten month average: $142

Sometimes you get lucky and catch just the right light – San Francisco peaks from our campsite

Fuel for the Truck

April: $130 (45 gal, 18.2 MPG)

May: $115 (37 gal, 19.6 MPG)

June: $95 (30 gal, 19.5 MPG)

Ten month average: $128

PROPANE

April: $43 (17.6 gallons) – Although our propane use was just slightly higher, our cost was lower due to buying it in Arizona instead of California. The highest we paid was $3.09, the lowest was $1.90.

May: $76 (15.9 gallons) – Most of our propane purchases in May were at the RV park in Tusayan, where the cost was $4.85/gallon + tax = $5.28/gallon. They were the only propane supplier within reasonable driving distance, and they knew it and admitted it. We had some very cold weather, including sleet and snow, so we ran the furnace a little more than we usually do. Fortunately we had one week with full hookups in Williams when we were able to use the electric space heater, which offset at least a portion of the propane cost for the month.

June: $38 (12.5 gallons) – Warmer weather means less propane usage. And after the high prices in Tusayan last month, it was nice to get back to some reasonable propane prices. We filled up twice at Tractor Supply in Flagstaff, at $2.79/gallon.

Ten month average: $41

groceries

April: $575 – In addition to our usual grocery shopping, we stocked up on some bulk goods at Sprouts and Sam’s Club.

May: $464 – We were a little surprised at this number being down so much, as grocery prices in Williams and Flagstaff are a little higher than we’ve been paying. But when we saw what we spent on dining out (see below), the grocery figure made sense. Many of our restaurant meals involved doggie bags that provided us with an extra meal at home. And usually, when we ate lunch at a restaurant, we were too full to eat dinner later.

June: $466 – This was a fairly typical month for groceries, all of which were purchased at Walmart in Flagstaff.

Ten month average: $500

NOTE: 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

April: $201 – We drove up to Yarnell and met our friends John and Helen at Gilligan’s Pizza for lunch–so yummy! We also tried out a Thai restaurant in Prescott that was pretty good. We also visited Starbucks for a treat, and after our purchases on our loyalty cards, the balance on both our cards was below our threshold for automatic replenishment; so $50 of this month’s dining expenditure was just cash being reloaded on our Starbucks cards for future visits.

May: $464 – We spent way more than usual on eating out in May. We had a nice lunch in Sedona ($76); ate three times at the Grand Canyon Brewing Company which was conveniently located right across the street from the RV park where we stayed in Williams (twice we only had drinks and appetizer, total for three visits was $103);  ice cream and coffee at Twisters on Route 66 in Williams ($19); dinner at El Corral Mexican Restaurant on Route 66 in Williams ($41); two visits to We Cook Pizza in Tusayan ($71); brunch at Toasted Owl Cafe in Flagstaff ($49); lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge Harvey House Cafe in the Grand Canyon National Park ($37); breakfast at McDonald’s on the way to the Canyon ($26 – highway robbery!); and a few other miscellaneous charges including reloading Andy’s Starbucks card for $25. When we dine out, we pretty much order what we want and don’t worry about the prices, especially if it’s an unusual place with high-quality food. But hopefully we can get back on track in June and get this line item back in budget. 🙂

June: $192 – We did much better on dining out this month, thanks in large part to finding Fratelli Pizza in Flagstaff where they have a pizza-by-the-slice lunch special for $10 that we are now addicted to. We also visited Cornish Pasty Company in Flagstaff where they have delicious vegetarian/vegan options, and we also hit the local Pita Pit and IHOP (twice). Oh yeah, I think I remember stopping for some ice cream in the historic district one afternoon… 🙂

One slice of pesto and one slice of cheese pizza–delicious!

Ten month average: $239

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

household / furnishings

April: $546 – Includes $496 for new mattress, and $11 to dispose of old one.

May: $149 – Includes $76 for a new Blu-ray player to replace our old one that quit working. We don’t play DVDs very often, but while we were camped on FR 320 we had very little cellular service and could not do our usual streaming of Hulu and YouTube, so we fell back on our DVD collection. When the old Blu-ray player wouldn’t play the discs without freezing and skipping, we replaced it with a newer, “smarter” version from Walmart.

June: $25 – Nothing this month but the necessities.

Ten month average: $140

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

petcare

April: $70 – Stocked up on the newer dust-free litter as well as their treats.

May: $24 – Just food and litter.

June: $24 – Another month of just food and litter.

Ten month average: $58

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

April: $276

May: $276

June: $276

Ten month average: $269

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them in the fall of 2017. 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 now on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled. Once the phones are paid off this fall, the monthly charge should drop by about $30/month unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

April: $14 – Had mail forwarded to us twice, once in Prescott and once in Flagstaff.

May: $30 – Renewed our mail scanning service for another three months. This service allows us to see the front of the envelope that is sent to our mailing address in Livingston, Texas, and then we can choose to have it shredded or added to our next mail forwarding. Because of this scanning, we were able to see that there was nothing urgent in our mail this month, so we did not have anything forwarded to us in May. It will instead be held until our next forwarding request, probably in early June.

June: $7 – Had our mail forwarded one time, nothing of any interest in there. Probably won’t have it forwarded again until August.

Ten month average: $18

Laundry

April: $15 – Did laundry once in Prescott Valley.

May: $15 – Did laundry once at the RV park where we stayed in Williams. I also had to wash the top quilt on our bed because Maggie puked on it (she’s not sick, I think she just gagged on a hair in her throat). Oh, well, at least they’ve stopped peeing on it!! 🙂

June: $25 – It just worked out, timing-wise, that we did laundry twice this month (we usually average going to the laundromat about every three weeks).

Laundry Day – The chore that never goes away.

Ten month average: $20

attractions / entertainment

April: $51 – Just the monthly subscriptions listed below.

May: $58 – Just the monthly subscriptions listed below, plus a bag of assorted puzzle books that I picked up at the Goodwill store in Sedona. NOTE: We visited the Grand Canyon National Park several times for free with Andy’s “America the Beautiful” senior lifetime pass for which he paid $10, right before they increased the price to $80. But even at $80, it’s still a tremendous bargain if you visit any of the national parks or monuments, especially since it’s a lifetime pass. Can’t wait until I turn 62 so I can get mine!! 🙂

June: $85 – In addition to our monthly subscriptions (see below), we checked out the Flagstaff Folk Festival ($10).  We also purchased a few items to carry in our hiking packs in case of emergency (lessons learned from Andy’s big adventure). We visited the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, but got in free with Andy’s “America The  Beautiful” senior pass (saved $25). We also visited the Arizona Snowbowl and took the chairlift ride to the top of the ski lift, but thanks to a fortuitous conversation with a couple in the parking lot, this excursion was also free (details here). This month we dropped our subscription to Netflix and replaced it with a subscription to Hulu, where I binge-watched 11 seasons of “Frasier” and am now working my way through “This Is Us”.

Our view on our way down on the Arizona Snowbowl chairlift

Ten month average: $82

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

memberships

April: $0

May: $127 – Annual renewal fee for Amazon Prime. Currently questioning whether or not we should drop this next year.

June: $0

Ten month average: $41

Equipment for RV

April: $7 – Blind spot mirrors, drain pan and funnel for generator oil change.

May: $0 – Hallelujah!!

June: $17 – New tire pressure gauge and valve caps.

Ten month average: $297 (Includes over $2K in solar equipment purchased in November 2018.)

RV Maintenance & REpairs

April: $63 – Bought PVC pipe to replace old dryer vent hose mounted under the rig to hold the “stinky slinky” (sewer drain hose), after the old dryer vent hose basically disintegrated. Also purchased air filters and oil to perform an oil change on the Onan generator.

May: $35 – Bought two replacement lights (the amber teardrop-shaped clearance lights) for the overhead cab area to try to prevent water leakage into the rig.

June: $15 – Bought SeaFoam gas treatment for the generator. We also purchased new LED light bulbs for the interior, but we used our Discover Card reward dollars for those.

Ten month average: $82

truck maintenance & repairs

April: $0

May: $0

June: $0

Nine month average: $8

NOTE: We drive a 2004 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner pickup with a camper shell on the back as our chase vehicle (not towed). It has just over 107K miles on it, and it’s super-dependable.

Vehicle insurance

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV. In March, the monthly cost for the truck increased from $40/mo to $49/mo.

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:

April Total: $2,495

May Total: $2,337

June Total: $1,529

Ten month average: $2,401

After blowing our budget in May while staying in touristy spots like Williams, Arizona and the Grand Canyon, it feels good to have the purse strings under control again. An occasional indulgence is fine as long as we don’t make a habit of it!

We’re currently at about 8,100′ just northwest of Flagstaff, and the forecast calls for high temperatures between 75° to 85° for the next two weeks. It’s hard to predict exactly because the published forecast is for the city of Flagstaff, and we are about 1200′ higher than they are. As long as we don’t get too warm, we plan to stay in the Flagstaff area as long as we can. We like where we’re camped, and we like being in close proximity to good shopping and services.

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.