Battery Update, Christmas Plans, More Geocaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

VOILA!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We’ve loved camping among these giant saguaros!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe travels, and Happy Holidays!!

Desert Boondocking, Amazon Locker, GoPro Timelapse

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

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

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

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

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

Taking advantage of generator time to charge our electronics

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

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

Sunshine in the cholla

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

Our RV has the following tank capacities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie and I enjoying naptime

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

Amazon lockers at the Quik Trip convenience store

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

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

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

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

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

Be sure to follow us on Instagram as well to stay up to date on our latest doings between blog posts!

Safe travels!

Boondocking – From Asphalt to BLM

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boondocking in the Camping World parking lot in Tucson

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

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

Ice cream at The Screamery on Congress Street in Tucson

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

Statue of Pancho Villa in Tucson

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

Touring RVs on the sales lot at Camping World

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

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

New batteries installed to make boondocking more comfortable

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

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

Free dump station in Tucson

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

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

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

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

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

BLM sign marking the camping area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy holidays, everyone! Safe travels!!