We just spent our twelfth night boondocking here at the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA (that’s Bureau of Land Management Long Term Visitor Area). So far we are really enjoying it, even though we haven’t spent a whole lot of time exploring the area.
The first few days we were here were spent getting our solar system up and running. Andy had to drill a hole in the floor just above the battery compartment in the entry steps so he could run the cables from the battery to the new charge controller which he mounted above the front door. He ran the cables through a length of PVC pipe conduit to make them less obvious. Now he just needs to fasten the conduit to the wall and then seal up the hole, and that project will be complete.
Our new solar charge controller lets us know how our batteries are doing
We are in love with our new solar system! It has drastically reduced the amount of time we need to run the generator–now we only run it when we need to use the microwave or the Instant Pot, or on a rare rainy day like we had on Saturday. Each morning before the sun even rises, the panels start charging a tiny bit as soon as there is light in the sky. Since I’m the early riser in the family, I go outside and turn the panels toward the east, and at about 7:15 AM when the sun finally rises over the nearby mountain, the panels start doing their magic. By watching the numbers on the charge controller, you can literally see the voltage flowing into the batteries as the sun rises. During the day, we turn the panels to the south and then to the west to follow the sun. On most days the batteries are fully charged by about 10:00 AM, and then the panels just keep them topped off until the sun goes down, by which time we have enough voltage to get us through the night.
Our solar kit also came with the Kodiak portable solar generator, which is basically a big lithium battery with an inverter which allows us to plug in any of our devices that need to be charged, as well as any of our small appliances that run on 110V like the television, Roku, hair dryer, etc. Without the Kodiak, we would have to run the generator to power those devices.
Our new Kodiak portable generator to be charged with solar panels
Since our campsite is free (after purchasing the $180 annual pass last month) and we’re not spending money on fuel to move from campground to campground this month, we’re hoping that the additional savings from not running the generator will all add up to make this a month of significant cost savings, which would be really nice after the last two months of solar investment, maintenance, and repair costs.
This is our first time to stay in a BLM LTVA, and it’s an interesting experience. The camp hosts are a couple named Roy and Joann, who basically collect the entrance fees and answer questions. There are no designated campsites, you just find an area that you like and park your rig there. There are a few rigs that are parked fairly close together since they are friends traveling together, but mostly everyone is pretty spread out and respectful of each other’s privacy. There are all types of rigs from big Class A motorhomes, truck campers, fifth wheels, travel trailers, vans, small Class B and C motorhomes like ours, and even skoolies. It is very quiet here, other than the sounds of the trains going by.
One of our neighbors barely visible through the Sunday morning fog
After having such an intense week in Glendale at Christmas time and then spending a couple of days working on the solar system, it was nice to finally just relax and hang out without having an agenda. Most of the time the weather has been nice, although there were a few days that were extremely windy and cool, and yesterday it rained most of the afternoon. It has never gone below freezing at night where we are, even though it has been colder just to the north of us in Quartzsite and Phoenix.
There are a lot of geocaches in the area, so I’ve gone out on several hunts. Andy went with me on one of my hunts, and I think he might be starting to get the bug! 🙂 Even though the desert looks flat when you look outward, once you start walking across it you find small dunes and washes that conceal all kinds of interesting things that make good hiding places for caches. So far I’ve found caches in an old squatters’ shack, a tree next to an old hot tub, an old paint can, and a pipe buried in the sand in the middle of an old tire. From a short distance away, none of these places are visible due to the slight undulations of the land.
Found a geocache in this abandoned squatters shack hidden between the dunes
There’s also a rock quarry in the side of the mountain (Pilot Knob) next to the campground. There are some geocaches hidden at the top of the quarry and the mountain. Andy and I made an attempt to go after them but the only trail we could find to the top was very steep and unstable, so we decided it wasn’t worth risking an injury. We’re know our limits! 🙂 But we did have a nice hike to a spot about a third of the way up the quarry where we got a great view of the area.
Hiking down from the rock quarry (photo cred: Andy)
So far we’ve gone into Yuma three times. Andy went once to pick up some wire he needed for the solar hookup, and then we went grocery shopping twice at Walmart (two different ones). Once interesting challenge with this location has to do with oranges. When we drive back to the campground (located in California) from grocery shopping in Yuma (Arizona), we have to go through an agricultural inspection station and tell them whether or not we have any fresh produce. If you remember from our previous post, when we first arrived, they actually came inside the RV to inspect, but let us keep our produce. It seems they are most interested in oranges. When we went grocery shopping last week, of course we loaded up on produce as we always do, and that included oranges. We were hoping that since we were in the pickup instead of the RV, they would just wave us through. But no, when we rolled up to the inspector, he specifically asked if we had oranges, and we couldn’t lie. He asked to see them, and then said that although technically he should confiscate them, he would let us keep them “this time”. Of course, yesterday when we went shopping we decided not to get any oranges, and when we pulled up to the inspector he just waved us through without stopping us. You never know. It’s a bummer because the closest grocery store to us on the California side of the border is about 37 miles away, so we’re going to see if we can find a farmer’s market stand or something a little closer that sells California oranges.
Last Friday we spent most of the day in Los Algodones, Mexico. The border crossing is about four miles from where we are….in fact, we can see the lights of Algodones from our campsite at night. Getting in to Mexico is no problem. The local Indian tribe has a parking lot next to the border where you pay $6 for a regular passenger vehicle, then you just walk down the sidewalk through a couple of small buildings with some un-manned metal detectors, and then you’re in Mexico.
Arriving in Los Algodones, Baja California, Mexico
The place is crowded this time of year with American senior citizens who are there to get their prescriptions filled, their glasses replaced, and their dental work done, all at prices much lower than in the US. Many of them live in Arizona and Southern California and come here on a regular basis, others are full-time RVers who specifically stay in this area in the winter for this purpose.
We didn’t need any those services, we were just there for some Mexican food, a margarita, and some sightseeing. We had lunch at a popular spot called “El Pariso” or The Garden Place. It’s a large outdoor seating area surrounded by shops. While you are perusing the menu, a small army of vendors approach your table with all kinds of things for sale–jewelry, wall art, blankets, hats, ponchos, belts, t-shirts, you name it. But once your food arrives, they pretty much leave you alone. I bought a hat which actually came in handy because the sun got pretty intense even though the temperatures were very comfortable. The food was so-so, but the margarita was excellent!
Lunch at The Garden Patio (El Pariso) in Los Algodones
After lunch we did some shopping around for a particular kind of candy we found several months ago when we crossed the border from Columbus, NM to Palomas, Mexico. It’s called Damy Peanut Crunch, and it sells on Amazon for $12.95 for a 100-count bag. We get it in Mexico for about $3.50/bag. Luckily we found it in a small candy store in Algodones, and we found another brand that is similar (although the pieces are smaller) for about $2.05 in the liquor/pharmacy store.
When in Mexico we always look for a bakery, or panadería. We didn’t spot one immediately so we asked one of the vendors, and he said there wasn’t one currently open. Later we stopped to get some freshly made churros from a street vendor, and the guy that was helping him told us about a bakery that was close by, and he volunteered to walk us to it. His name was Victor, and he was such a nice guy. He told us about all the times he visited and lived in the US (which explains how he speaks such good English), but he has returned to Mexico to be with his family. Victor helped us find the Pan Superior bakery where we picked up some of our favorite Mexican sweet breads.
Shopping in the panadería for Mexican sweet breads
The worst part of going across the border in Algodones is the long line to get back into the US. We waited somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour, and we’re told that it’s usually closer to two hours. They do provide shade and benches to sit on while waiting in line, and there are restrooms and vendors selling bottled water. Since a large portion of the people in the line are senior citizens, it’s good that they have some amenities to make the wait a little less uncomfortable. Once we got to the front of the line, we sailed right past the customs agent.
We’re already looking forward to our next visit to Algodones–there’s just something special about having easy access to visit a different country and culture, and meeting friendly people like Victor.
In other maintenance news, Andy was able to get the bat-wing TV antenna fixed so it raises and lowers from the ceiling crank on the inside. After we got it raised, we ran the channel scan on the TV and didn’t pick up a single over-the-air station, so we assumed we were either too far out in the desert or maybe we were being blocked by the nearby mountain. But then I noticed that other rigs had their bat-wing antennas up and it didn’t make sense that they would have them up if there was no reception. So I did some investigating a few days later and found a small push-button switch hidden in one of the overhead bins. There were no instructions or labels on the switch, except for the brand name Winegard, which is the brand of the antenna. I pushed the button and a green light came on, so I tried the channel scan again, and Voila!! We’ve got 19 digital channels coming in, about half of which are in Spanish, but we do get the major networks. The picture is crisp and clear, so chalk that up as a win. Of course, we rarely watch TV anyway, but it’s good to know we can see the next season of “The Voice” and maybe even the Super Bowl!
Other than that, we’ve just been hanging out and enjoying life. There are definitely more rigs here in the LTVA than there were when we first arrived, but there is still a lot of empty space around us. Now that we have our maintenance tasks done and we’re stocked up on groceries, we’re looking forward to doing some sightseeing in the area. There’s a lot of history here, and Yuma actually has a lot of cultural activities on their weekly calendar. We’ll let you know what we get into.
Oh yes, we learned one other thing yesterday when we picked up our mail which we had had forwarded to us via General Delivery in Winterhaven, CA. The postmaster there told me that you are only allowed to use General Delivery at a specific post office for 30 days out of a calendar year, and after that you need to rent a P.O. box. That’s interesting information, but when our thirty days are up and we need to have another packet of mail forwarded to us out here, we’ll just pick a different post office. Winner winner, tofu dinner!! 😀
Lastly, on a very personal note, you’ll notice that it’s been longer than usual since I posted to the blog. Last week we received word that my nephew and his wife lost their baby in the middle of her third trimester of pregnancy. We were devastated for them, and it was difficult knowing that we were so far away and could not be there to join the rest of the family for the memorial service. I just didn’t feel like blogging while going through such an emotional time. We send our love and prayers to Tyler and Allie and their two sons, Hudson and Westin, as they deal with the loss of baby Mackson. Our hearts are back in Mississippi with them, even while we are parked here in the California desert.
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Take care, safe travels, and live every day to the fullest!!