Expense Report for January 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.

First, a reminder of the caveats. Every RVer is different–different rig, different diet, different interests–so our expenses are unique to us. Also, I’m not going to share every single personal expense that we incur each month, but only the ones that are directly related to our RV life in some way.

We’ve just completed our fifth full month on the road. In this post, I’ll be sharing the most recent three months’ expenses as well as our average-to-date for comparison, since line items can change drastically from month to month.

We spent the entire month of January boondocking (camping without hookups) at the Pilot Knob LTVA (Long Term Visitor Area) which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It’s located in southern California, about seven miles west of Yuma, Arizona. When we arrived here in late December, we purchased the annual pass for the entire winter season for $180, which allows us to camp for free at any of the seven winter LTVAs through April 15, 2019. The only time we moved the RV all month was to drive it one mile round-trip to the nearby Chevron station to dump the tanks and refill the fresh water and propane tanks.

Our new desert campsite by the mountains

Staying in one place for the entire month radically affected our expenses for the better. Here’s how our spending went for January.

Camping fees + Electricity

November: $137 (Nov 1-3 @ Elephant Butte SP, Nov 4-17 @ Leasburg Dam SP, Nov 18-30 @ Pancho Villa SP, all at $4/night on annual pass. Expense number also includes prorated cost of the annual pass.)

December: $166 (1 free night in a Chevron parking lot, 1 free night in Camping World parking lot, 16 free nights on BLM land in the cactus forest, 7 nights in RV park in Glendale at $19.50/night, 5 nights in our current location in the BLM LTVA where we paid $180 for the annual pass, good through April 15 which comes out to $1.89/night  which I’m pro-rating on this expense report.)

January: $68 – Entire month in the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA. We actually did not spend any money at all this month for camping fees, but for monthly reporting purposes I am prorating the cost of our annual camping passes for New Mexico State Parks ($225 for 13 months) and BLM LTVAs ($180 for December through April).

Five month average: $227

Rainy days often result in gorgeous sunsets

DUMPING FEEs

November: $0

December: $16 (While boondocking we had to pay to dump our tanks at the Pilot/Flying J stations.)

January: $70 – It costs us $12 to dump our tanks and fill up our 50-gallon fresh water tank at the nearby Chevron station, although one time they only charged us $10 for some reason. We dump our tanks every 5-6 days depending on how often we shower.

Five month average: $17

Fuel for the RV

November: $79 (Drove 172 miles, 0 generator hours, 8.8 MPG)

December: $367 (Drove 767 miles, 91.5 generator hours, ~9.1 MPG net of generator use.) We started using the generator this month since we were boondocking without electrical hookups. The generator uses gas from the RV fuel tank.

January: $0 (Stayed in place all month, 21.9 generator hours and we still have almost 3/4 of a tank of gas left from the last time we filled up in December.)

Five month average: $192

Fuel for the Truck

November: $52 (17.7 MPG)

December: $221 (20.0 MPG)

January: $59 (17.7 MPG)

Five month average: $147

PROPANE

November: $31 (12 gallons) – We use propane primarily for cooking. In November we began using the onboard propane furnace more as the temperatures got colder, running it for a little while in the early morning to supplement the small electric heater.

December: $32 (10 gallons)

January: $67 (19 gallons) – Propane was our sole source of heat in January since we were never connected to electricity, but we only used it early in the morning until the sun warmed up the rig. Right now propane is $3.49/gallon at the nearby Chevron.

Five month average: $26

groceries

November: $479

December: $492

January: $480

Five month average: $479

I’m really surprised at how consistent this number is every month. We do almost all our grocery shopping at Walmart, so I’m assuming that that explains the consistency from month to month. 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.

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

dining out

November: $213

December: $253 (mostly while we were staying in Glendale, running errands all over the place.)

January: $230

Five month average: $221

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

Lunch at The Garden Patio (El Pariso) in Los Algodones

household / furnishings

November: $87

December: $42

January: $35

Five month average: $58

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

petcare

November: $5 (we were well stocked up from October)

December: $246 – We took both the cats to the vet in Glendale after Maggie got sick on the drive and showed signs of having worms. Both have been treated and are doing fine.

January: $40 – Stocked up on cat food, treats and litter.

Five month average: $82

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

November: $254 – This month we upgraded to the next higher level for unlimited data so we won’t get throttled so much.

December: $286 – Charge increased as we’re now on the higher data plan.

January: $276

Five month average: $261

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 significantly unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

November: $16 – We had mail forwarded twice, but also requested one additional shipment when Andy’s mail-order prescription meds came in.

December: $37 – We had mail forwarded once to Glendale AZ, but with the holidays and weekends, it did not arrive before we moved on, so that packet will get sent back to Livingston where it will be added to a future mail forwarding. Lesson learned: always specify “Priority Mail” with a tracking number when requesting mail forwarding. Also, we signed up to have our mail scanned for the next two months since it’s tax season. This way we can see what has arrived at our mailbox in Livingston, and we can pick and choose what we want to have sent to us and what can be shredded. If anything of a time-sensitive nature comes in, we’ll also know to have that forwarded to us right away. The scanning service is $10/month.

January: $7 – Had mail forwarded once early in the month, but with the new scanning service we were able to just check online to see what mail had arrived in Livingston throughout the rest of the month. There was nothing that was time-sensitive so we decided to wait until early February to have the next packet sent, which should include all the tax-related forms that arrived in January.

Five month average: $14

Laundry

November: $22 – We did laundry twice, first in Truth or Consequences where the machines were bad and expensive, and the second time in Deming where the facilities were much nicer and less costly.

December: $18 – We did laundry once in Glendale, but we also washed all the quilts and blankets from the bed. One of the kitties had a little accident after the stress from the vet visit.

January: $29 – We did our regular laundry once in Yuma, but then we had to make a second trip to the laundromat to wash the quilts and blankets again. Another little kitty accident (or are they just trying to punish us for something??). The laundromat here in Yuma is more expensive than any we’ve seen, but it’s also very well-maintained.

Five month average: $20

attractions / entertainment

November: $56

December: $137 – I’ve started a new hobby of geocaching, so I paid for a one-year subscription to the premium version of the geocaching app that shows ALL the caches in the area instead of just the very few that were shown in the free version. I also had to renew my annual “plus” subscription to my Evernote app, which is my online notebook for EVERYTHING.

January: $72 – We visited the “Center of the World” which cost us $10.

Five month average: $86

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

The “official” Center of the World inside the pyramid at Felicity, CA

memberships

November: $49 (annual renewal for Sam’s Club membership)

December: $0

January: $0

Five month average: $22

Equipment for RV

November: $2,215 (ordered solar kit including three 100-watt solar panels and a Kodiak portable solar generator. Here’s a link to the kit we purchased.)

December: $388 (Solar charge controller + cables and wiring supplies, black tank cleaning wand, 50amp dogbone, battery tester, moving blankets to protect solar panels when driving)

January: $0 -FINALLY, a month when we didn’t buy any new equipment for the rig!!

Five month average: $577

Our new solar charge controller lets us know how our batteries are doing

RV Maintenance & REpairs

November: $22 (changed out the water filter)

December: $472 (replaced both house batteries, replaced toilet when foot pedal flusher began to fail, replaced weather stripping over cab area)

January: $108 (replaced the water pump and strainer)

Five month average: $130

Crack in the back side of the strainer was allowing air to enter the plumbing lines

truck maintenance & repairs

November: $0

December: $0

January: $0

Five month average: $3

Vehicle insurance

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV and $40/mo for the truck.

VEhicle License and registration

Of course we paid the annual license and registration up front in September but for expense tracking purposes, I’m prorating it across the year. It’s $22/mo for the RV and $17/mo for the truck.

Summary

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

November Total: $3,852 ($1,637 excluding the purchase of the solar kit)

December Total: $3,309

January Total: $1,677

Five month average: $2,697

It obviously makes a huge difference whether we’re moving around a lot or staying in one location for an extended length of time. Except for the huge hit on the solar kit that we purchased, November was a very good month in terms of expenses. We lived very well while spending very little. In December we drove more, continued putting together our solar system, and had some additional maintenance items to attend to, so our expenses were higher than we would have liked, even with the free boondocking. In January, we once again had an excellent month in terms of our pocketbooks while eating well, entertaining ourselves, staying warm and dry and enjoying the beautiful surroundings and interesting culture along the southern border.

Since we purchased the annual pass to the BLM Long Term Visitor Area for $180, we are allowed to boondock for free at any of the seven winter LTVAs in Arizona and California through April 15. We’re starting to think about moving to a different LTVA just for a change of scenery, but have not made any specific plans. We’re very comfortable where we are right now, so we’ll see how itchy our feet get in February. Any time we decide to move, it will impact our expenses for fuel, so stay tuned to see what happens.

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.

Pilot Knob LTVA, Solar Power, Geocaching, Los Algodones Mexico, Missing Family

We just spent our twelfth night boondocking here at the Pilot Knob BLM LTVA (that’s Bureau of Land Management Long Term Visitor Area). So far we are really enjoying it, even though we haven’t spent a whole lot of time exploring the area.

The first few days we were here were spent getting our solar system up and running. Andy had to drill a hole in the floor just above the battery compartment in the entry steps so he could run the cables from the battery to the new charge controller which he mounted above the front door. He ran the cables through a length of PVC pipe conduit to make them less obvious. Now he just needs to fasten the conduit to the wall and then seal up the hole, and that project will be complete.

Our new solar charge controller lets us know how our batteries are doing

We are in love with our new solar system! It has drastically reduced the amount of time we need to run the generator–now we only run it when we need to use the microwave or the Instant Pot, or on a rare rainy day like we had on Saturday. Each morning before the sun even rises, the panels start charging a tiny bit as soon as there is light in the sky. Since I’m the early riser in the family, I go outside and turn the panels toward the east, and at about 7:15 AM when the sun finally rises over the nearby mountain, the panels start doing their magic. By watching the numbers on the charge controller, you can literally see the voltage flowing into the batteries as the sun rises. During the day, we turn the panels to the south and then to the west to follow the sun. On most days the batteries are fully charged by about 10:00 AM, and then the panels just keep them topped off until the sun goes down, by which time we have enough voltage to get us through the night.

Our solar kit also came with the Kodiak portable solar generator, which is basically a big lithium battery with an inverter which allows us to plug in any of our devices that need to be charged, as well as any of our small appliances that run on 110V like the television, Roku, hair dryer, etc. Without the Kodiak, we would have to run the generator to power those devices.

Our new Kodiak portable generator to be charged with solar panels

Since our campsite is free (after purchasing the $180 annual pass last month) and we’re not spending money on fuel to move from campground to campground this month, we’re hoping that the additional savings from not running the generator will all add up to make this a month of significant cost savings, which would be really nice after the last two months of solar investment, maintenance, and repair costs.

This is our first time to stay in a BLM LTVA, and it’s an interesting experience. The camp hosts are a couple named Roy and Joann, who basically collect the entrance fees and answer questions. There are no designated campsites, you just find an area that you like and park your rig there. There are a few rigs that are parked fairly close together since they are friends traveling together, but mostly everyone is pretty spread out and respectful of each other’s privacy. There are all types of rigs from big Class A motorhomes, truck campers, fifth wheels, travel trailers, vans, small Class B and C motorhomes like ours, and even skoolies. It is very quiet here, other than the sounds of the trains going by.

One of our neighbors barely visible through the Sunday morning fog

After having such an intense week in Glendale at Christmas time and then spending a couple of days working on the solar system, it was nice to finally just relax and hang out without having an agenda. Most of the time the weather has been nice, although there were a few days that were extremely windy and cool, and yesterday it rained most of the afternoon. It has never gone below freezing at night where we are, even though it has been colder just to the north of us in Quartzsite and Phoenix.

There are a lot of geocaches in the area, so I’ve gone out on several hunts. Andy went with me on one of my hunts, and I think he might be starting to get the bug! 🙂 Even though the desert looks flat when you look outward, once you start walking across it you find small dunes and washes that conceal all kinds of interesting things that make good hiding places for caches. So far I’ve found caches in an old squatters’ shack, a tree next to an old hot tub, an old paint can, and a pipe buried in the sand in the middle of an old tire. From a short distance away, none of these places are visible due to the slight undulations of the land.

Found a geocache in this abandoned squatters shack hidden between the dunes

There’s also a rock quarry in the side of the mountain (Pilot Knob) next to the campground. There are some geocaches hidden at the top of the quarry and the mountain. Andy and I made an attempt to go after them but the only trail we could find to the top was very steep and unstable, so we decided it wasn’t worth risking an injury. We’re know our limits! 🙂 But we did have a nice hike to a spot about a third of the way up the quarry where we got a great view of the area.

Hiking down from the rock quarry (photo cred: Andy)

So far we’ve gone into Yuma three times. Andy went once to pick up some wire he needed for the solar hookup, and then we went grocery shopping twice at Walmart (two different ones). Once interesting challenge with this location has to do with oranges. When we drive back to the campground (located in California) from grocery shopping in Yuma (Arizona), we have to go through an agricultural inspection station and tell them whether or not we have any fresh produce. If you remember from our previous post, when we first arrived, they actually came inside the RV to inspect, but let us keep our produce. It seems they are most interested in oranges. When we went grocery shopping last week, of course we loaded up on produce as we always do, and that included oranges. We were hoping that since we were in the pickup instead of the RV, they would just wave us through. But no, when we rolled up to the inspector, he specifically asked if we had oranges, and we couldn’t lie. He asked to see them, and then said that although technically he should confiscate them, he would let us keep them “this time”. Of course, yesterday when we went shopping we decided not to get any oranges, and when we pulled up to the inspector he just waved us through without stopping us. You never know. It’s a bummer because the closest grocery store to us on the California side of the border is about 37 miles away, so we’re going to see if we can find a farmer’s market stand or something a little closer that sells California oranges.

Last Friday we spent most of the day in Los Algodones, Mexico. The border crossing is about four miles from where we are….in fact, we can see the lights of Algodones from our campsite at night. Getting in to Mexico is no problem. The local Indian tribe has a parking lot next to the border where you pay $6 for a regular passenger vehicle, then you just walk down the sidewalk through a couple of small buildings with some un-manned metal detectors, and then you’re in Mexico.

Arriving in Los Algodones, Baja California, Mexico

The place is crowded this time of year with American senior citizens who are there to get their prescriptions filled, their glasses replaced, and their dental work done, all at prices much lower than in the US. Many of them live in Arizona and Southern California and come here on a regular basis, others are full-time RVers who specifically stay in this area in the winter for this purpose.

We didn’t need any those services, we were just there for some Mexican food, a margarita, and some sightseeing. We had lunch at a popular spot called “El Pariso” or The Garden Place. It’s a large outdoor seating area surrounded by shops. While you are perusing the menu, a small army of vendors approach your table with all kinds of things for sale–jewelry, wall art, blankets, hats, ponchos, belts, t-shirts, you name it. But once your food arrives, they pretty much leave you alone. I bought a hat which actually came in handy because the sun got pretty intense even though the temperatures were very comfortable. The food was so-so, but the margarita was excellent!

Lunch at The Garden Patio (El Pariso) in Los Algodones

After lunch we did some shopping around for a particular kind of candy we found several months ago when we crossed the border from Columbus, NM to Palomas, Mexico. It’s called Damy Peanut Crunch, and it sells on Amazon for $12.95 for a 100-count bag. We get it in Mexico for about $3.50/bag. Luckily we found it in a small candy store in Algodones, and we found another brand that is similar (although the pieces are smaller) for about $2.05 in the liquor/pharmacy store.

When in Mexico we always look for a bakery, or panadería. We didn’t spot one immediately so we asked one of the vendors, and he said there wasn’t one currently open. Later we stopped to get some freshly made churros from a street vendor, and the guy that was helping him told us about a bakery that was close by, and he volunteered to walk us to it. His name was Victor, and he was such a nice guy. He told us about all the times he visited and lived in the US (which explains how he speaks such good English), but he has returned to Mexico to be with his family. Victor helped us find the Pan Superior bakery where we picked up some of our favorite Mexican sweet breads.

Shopping in the panadería for Mexican sweet breads

The worst part of going across the border in Algodones is the long line to get back into the US. We waited somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour, and we’re told that it’s usually closer to two hours. They do provide shade and benches to sit on while waiting in line, and there are restrooms and vendors selling bottled water. Since a large portion of the people in the line are senior citizens, it’s good that they have some amenities to make the wait a little less uncomfortable. Once we got to the front of the line, we sailed right past the customs agent.

We’re already looking forward to our next visit to Algodones–there’s just something special about having easy access to visit a different country and culture, and meeting friendly people like Victor.

In other maintenance news, Andy was able to get the bat-wing TV antenna fixed so it raises and lowers from the ceiling crank on the inside. After we got it raised, we ran the channel scan on the TV and didn’t pick up a single over-the-air station, so we assumed we were either too far out in the desert or maybe we were being blocked by the nearby mountain. But then I noticed that other rigs had their bat-wing antennas up and it didn’t make sense that they would have them up if there was no reception. So I did some investigating a few days later and found a small push-button switch hidden in one of the overhead bins. There were no instructions or labels on the switch, except for the brand name Winegard, which is the brand of the antenna. I pushed the button and a green light came on, so I tried the channel scan again, and Voila!! We’ve got 19 digital channels coming in, about half of which are in Spanish, but we do get the major networks. The picture is crisp and clear, so chalk that up as a win. Of course, we rarely watch TV anyway, but it’s good to know we can see the next season of “The Voice” and maybe even the Super Bowl!

Other than that, we’ve just been hanging out and enjoying life. There are definitely more rigs here in the LTVA than there were when we first arrived, but there is still a lot of empty space around us. Now that we have our maintenance tasks done and we’re stocked up on groceries, we’re looking forward to doing some sightseeing in the area. There’s a lot of history here, and Yuma actually has a lot of cultural activities on their weekly calendar. We’ll let you know what we get into.

Oh yes, we learned one other thing yesterday when we picked up our mail which we had had forwarded to us via General Delivery in Winterhaven, CA. The postmaster there told me that you are only allowed to use General Delivery at a specific post office for 30 days out of a calendar year, and after that you need to rent a P.O. box. That’s interesting information, but when our thirty days are up and we need to have another packet of mail forwarded to us out here, we’ll just pick a different post office. Winner winner, tofu dinner!! 😀

Lastly, on a very personal note, you’ll notice that it’s been longer than usual since I posted to the blog. Last week we received word that my nephew and his wife lost their baby in the middle of her third trimester of pregnancy. We were devastated for them, and it was difficult knowing that we were so far away and could not be there to join the rest of the family for the memorial service. I just didn’t feel like blogging while going through such an emotional time. We send our love and prayers to Tyler and Allie and their two sons, Hudson and Westin, as they deal with the loss of baby Mackson. Our hearts are back in Mississippi with them, even while we are parked here in the California desert.

Thanks for reading the blog, and be sure to share it with your friends if they are interested in full-time RV living! You can also follow us on Instagram to see what we’re doing between blog posts.

Take care, safe travels, and live every day to the fullest!!

 

 

RV Expense Report – December 2017

Happy New Year, everyone, from our campsite in the BLM Pilot Knob LTVA in Winterhaven, California, just west of Yuma, Arizona. We hope your 2018 was as exciting and fulfilling as ours was, and that this new year brings you nothing but great things! Get out there and make it happen!!

Now it’s time for our monthly expense report where we share the costs associated with our full-time RV life.

First, a reminder of the caveats. Every RVer is different–different rig, different diet, different interests–so our expenses are unique to us. Also, I’m not going to share every single personal expense that we incur each month, but only the ones that are directly related to our RV life in some way.

We’ve just completed our fourth full month on the road. In this post, I’ll be sharing the most recent three months’ expenses as well as our average to date for comparison, since line items can change drastically from month to month.

We spent the majority of December boondocking (camping without hookups) in Arizona on BLM land. We spent the week leading up to Christmas in a mobile home/RV park in Glendale, AZ where we had full hookups, so we could take care of some maintenance items and also visit with some friends. We got our solar system set up and running and it’s already reducing the our boondocking expenses by cutting our generator hours way back, but it did require some additional expenditures for the month.

That said, here’s how the expenses stacked up.

Camping fees + Electricity

October: $323 (7 different locations, but primarily in state parks at $4/night.) We bought the $225 annual pass for the New Mexico State Parks which is actually good for 13 months. For purposes of this monthly expense report, we’re pro-rating that cost over 13 months.)

November: $137 (Nov 1-3 @ Elephant Butte SP, Nov 4-17 @ Leasburg Dam SP, Nov 18-30 @ Pancho Villa SP, all at $4/night on annual pass. Expense number also includes prorated cost of the annual pass.)

December: $166 (1 free night in a Chevron parking lot, 1 free night in Camping World parking lot, 16 free nights on BLM land in the cactus forest, 7 nights in RV park in Glendale at $19.50/night, 5 nights in our current location in the BLM LTVA where we paid $180 for the annual pass, good through April 15 which comes out to $1.89/night  which I’m pro-rating on this expense report.)

Four month average: $266

Setting up camp at sunset at Pilot Knob LTVA

DUMPING FEES

October: $0

November: $0

December: $16 (While boondocking we had to pay to dump our tanks at the Pilot/Flying J stations.)

Four month average: $4

Fuel for the RV

October: $452 (Drove 1,335 miles, 0 generator hours, 8.3 MPG)

November: $79 (Drove 172 miles, 0 generator hours, 8.8 MPG)

December: $367 (Drove 767 miles, 91.5 generator hours, ~9.1 MPG net of generator use.) We started using the generator this month since we were boondocking without electrical hookups. The generator uses gas from the RV fuel tank.

Four month average: $240

Fuel for the Truck

October: $245 (21.5 MPG)

November: $52 (17.7 MPG)

December $221 (20.0 MPG)

Four month average: $169

PROPANE

October: $0

November: $31 (12 gallons) – We use propane primarily for cooking. In November we began using the onboard propane furnace more as the temperatures got colder, running it for a little while in the early morning to supplement the small electric heater.

December: $32 (10 gallons)

Four month average: $16

groceries

October: $499

November: $479

December: $492

Four month average: $479

We primarily eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet so we buy a lot of fresh produce and whole grains, along with some wine/beer. We buy very little processed foods in boxes and cans, although we do buy canned beans and tomatoes.

dining out

October: $194

November: $213

December: $253 (mostly while we were staying in Glendale, running errands all over the place.)

Four month average: $219

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

Amazing vegan food at Seed Shack in Gilbert AZ

household / furnishings

October: $52

November: $87

December: $42

Four month average: $63

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

petcare

October: $45

November: $5 (we were well stocked up from October)

December: $246 – We took both the cats to the vet in Glendale after Maggie got sick on the drive and showed signs of having worms. Both have been treated and are doing fine.

Four month average: $92

These numbers include cat food, litter, treats and the occasional toy for our two kitties, Maggie and Molly. Will also include vet visits when needed.

verizon cellphone / internet

October: $245

November: $254 – This month we upgraded to the next higher level for unlimited data so we won’t get throttled so much.

December: $286 – Charge increased as we’re now on the higher data plan.

Four month average: $258

These numbers include a prorated charge for the purchase of our iPhones when we bought them last fall. We both have the iPhone 8+ which we use for internet access as well as hotspot wi-fi for the laptop and the Roku. We are on the AboveUnlimited data plan so we can go longer without getting throttled. Once the phones are paid off next fall, the monthly charge should drop significantly unless the plan rates go up.

mail forwarding

October: $12

November: $16 – We had mail forwarded twice, but also requested one additional shipment when Andy’s mail-order prescription meds came in.

December: $37 – We had mail forwarded once to Glendale AZ, but with the holidays and weekends, it did not arrive before we moved on, so that packet will get sent back to Livingston where it will be added to a future mail forwarding. Lesson learned: always specify “Priority Mail” with a tracking number when requesting mail forwarding. Also, we signed up to have our mail scanned for the next two months since it’s tax season. This way we can see what has arrived at our mailbox in Livingston, and we can pick and choose what we want to have sent to us and what can be shredded. If anything of a time-sensitive nature comes in, we’ll also know to have that forwarded to us right away. The scanning service is $10/month.

Four month average: $16

Laundry

October: $7

November: $22 – We did laundry twice, first in Truth or Consequences where the machines were bad and expensive, and the second time in Deming where the facilities were much nicer and less costly.

December: $18 – We did laundry once in Glendale, but we also washed all the quilts and blankets from the bed. One of the kitties had a little accident after the stress from the vet visit.

Four month average: $18

attractions / entertainment

October: $84

November: $56

December: $137 – I’ve started a new hobby of geocaching, so I paid for a one-year subscription to the premium version of the geocaching app that shows ALL the caches in the area instead of just the very few that were shown in the free version. I also had to renew my annual “plus” subscription to my Evernote app, which is my online notebook for EVERYTHING.

Four month average: $89

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

memberships

October: $60 (annual renewal for Costco membership)

November: $49 (annual renewal for Sam’s Club membership)

December: $0

Four month average: $27

Equipment for RV

October: $207 (new surge protector to replace one that got fried in a thunderstorm, two vent covers for the roof, extra set of leveling blocks, and other miscellaneous items)

November: $2,215 (ordered solar kit including three 100-watt solar panels and a Kodiak portable solar generator. Here’s a link to the kit we purchased.)

December: $388 (Solar charge controller + cables and wiring supplies, black tank cleaning wand, 50amp dogbone, battery tester, moving blankets to protect solar panels when driving)

Four month average: $722

Kodiak linked to one solar panel, tested successfully

RV Maintenance & REpairs

October: $46 (kit to repair leaky toilet, new gasket seal for bathroom roof vent)

November: $22 (changed out the water filter)

December: $472 (replaced both house batteries, replaced toilet when foot pedal flusher began to fail, replaced weather stripping over cab area)

Four month average: $136

Removing the old toilet

truck maintenance & repairs

October: $0

November: $0

December: $0

Four month average: $3

Vehicle insurance

We have insurance through Progressive and get a multi-vehicle discount. Right now we’re paying $57/mo for the RV and $40/mo for the truck.

VEhicle License and registration

Of course we paid the annual license and registration up front in September but for expense tracking purposes, I’m prorating it across the year. It’s $22/mo for the RV and $17/mo for the truck.

Summary

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

October Total: $2,605

November Total: $3,852 ($1,637 excluding the purchase of the solar kit)

December Total: $3,306

Four month average: $2,952

It obviously makes a huge difference whether we’re moving around a lot or staying in one location for an extended length of time. Except for the huge hit on the solar kit that we purchased, November was a very good month in terms of expenses. We lived very well while spending very little. In December we drove more, continued putting together our solar system, and had some additional maintenance items to attend to, so our expenses were higher than we would have liked, even with the free boondocking. We’ll be monitoring our expenses closely in January to hopefully bring our average spending lower.

We purchased the annual pass to the BLM Long Term Visitor Area for $180, which allows us to boondock at any of the seven LTVAs in Arizona and California through April 15. We won’t be moving the RV around very much during this time until the weather gets too warm to stay this far south. Less fuel, less wear and tear on Lizzy, less stress on us and the kitties.

We’ll continue to closely monitor our expenses and will report them here on a monthly basis. So if you’re interested, be sure to subscribe to this blog so you get all our updates. You can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to stay up with us between blog posts.

Vet Report, Completing Our Solar Setup, More Toilet Woes

Merry Christmas, everyone!! We hope this holiday finds you happy and healthy, wherever you may be!

Our very first RV Christmas has been spent parked in a mobile home park in Glendale, Arizona. Not the most scenic surroundings, but being here has made it possible for us to take care of some important issues before we head back into the desert for more off-grid living.

Parked in a mobile home park for Christmas

First of all, both the kitties got to visit the vet last Friday morning. If you remember from our last post, Maggie had vomited on our last drive and it looked like she had a case of worms. Molly had been having some constipation problems as well as a runny nose, so we took them both to the same vet that we used for our old cat, Macho, when we lived here in Glendale–Dr. Charles Toben at Apollo Animal Hospital. I was able to get a stool sample from Maggie, but of course Molly didn’t cooperate that morning.

Maggie Mae is 10-1/2 years old. She weighed in at 14 pounds, 10 ounces, which is about a pound more than she weighed in August at her last checkup. The vet checked her eyes and said she’s starting to develop a little cloudiness due to age, but it’s not serious yet. He found some acne under her chin (I didn’t know cats got acne), so he shaved her chin so we could treat it with hydrogen peroxide.

Her stool sample came back negative for parasites, but he said that from what we described from her puke, it sounded like the type of worms that are caused from fleas, and that they are cyclical or sporadic,so he gave us worming medication to treat both of them. They don’t currently have fleas, but they had a problem with them when were were in Texas in September, and the vet said these parasites are likely a result of those fleas. He gave them their first dose of meds in the office, and we have to give them a second dose on Friday.

Molly Ann is 8-1/2 years old. She weighed in at 11 pounds, 14 ounces, which means she’s lost over a pound since August. The vet listened to her breathing and said he didn’t hear any problems with her lungs, so her runny nose is most likely seasonal allergies (she’s had this issue for a couple of years). In regards to the constipation issue, we discussed their diet and he recommended adding some canned pumpkin or squash to their wet food in the morning–something else I had never heard of.

Adding pumpkin to the kitties’ diet to keep them regular

Other than those issues, he said they both appear to be healthy. He’s such a great veterinarian, I think he spent almost an hour with us, making sure we had all our questions answered. He provided us with electronic copies of the records, and told us to feel free to call from anywhere on the road if we needed help with the girls.

I’ve started adding a little pumpkin to their morning wet food. So far they are tolerating it, but they definitely know something is a little “off” taste-wise with their breakfast, so they don’t gobble it down like they usually do. I’m still waiting to see if it has the desired outcome (no pun intended!).

After returning the kitties to the rig, we had lunch and then drove to the East Valley to pick up a shipment of solar cables from my friend’s house where they had been shipped. Afterward we drove north to Scottsdale to look for some additional pieces at RV Solar Electric, a place we found via a Google search. Unfortunately that place turned out to only be an office for online sales and not a retail store, so that was a busted trip.

On Saturday we did a little more research and found a solar retailer in Mesa. This time we called ahead to confirm that they had what we needed, and then we made the 45 minute drive back to the East Valley. The store is called Solar Penny, and they were able to take care of everything that we needed. We bought a charge controller so we can charge our house batteries with our new solar panels. We also got the additional cables that we needed to go to the batteries, and the owner even attached the proper connectors so Andy wouldn’t have to do that. We were very pleased with our visit to their shop, and would definitely recommend them to anyone looking for parts or advice for their solar setup.

Picking up vital parts at Solar Penny in Mesa AZ

While we were in the Mesa area we looked for good plant-based options for lunch and found a little gem called Seed Shack in Gilbert. It’s a vegan American-Oriental fusion cafe, and their food is all prepared in-house from scratch. Check out their menu online if you’re in the area and want good healthy food!

Amazing vegan food at Seed Shack in Gilbert AZ

On Saturday night we went to downtown Glendale to see the Christmas lights at their annual Glendale Glitters event which lasts for about six weeks during the holidays. We had a delicious sweet corn tamale from the sidewalk stand in front of Bitzee Mama’s (one of our old favorite Mexican restaurants), and followed it up with some vegan rolled ice cream at Nomadic Rolled Ice Cream. The vanilla ice cream was soy-based, and we chose strawberries and oreo cookies as our mix-ins. It was delicious!

Glendale Glitters 2018

On Sunday we took care of the laundry, and then we went to the VeganFest in Peoria’s Centennial Park. They had about 12-15 food trucks there, all serving vegan food. There were also booths set up for vendors selling things like homemade soap, essential oils, t-shirts, etc. They had a line-up of speakers and demonstrations on vegan topics that appeared to be well-attended and received. Andy had a good falafel pita with fries. I tried the vegan “shrimp” po-boy with cajun chips, and it wasn’t good at all, but it had nothing to do with the “shrimp”–the homemade chips were soggy, and there were very few “shrimp” on a huge roll, so it was mostly bread. Anyway, they get points for trying.

After leaving the VeganFest, we decided to drive around a little bit to see how things had changed. We first went up to the Arrowhead Mall area, which was crazy because who intentionally and unnecessarily drives into mall traffic on the weekend before Christmas?? Next we drove down the 101 to Westgate in Glendale to see where the new casino is being built (they allow overnight RV parking there so we wanted to scope it out). While in that area we went to Cabela’s where we each picked out our Christmas present from each other–I got a new pair of hiking shoes and Andy got a rain jacket that he’s been looking for. Yes, Christmas is a little different this year, as there’s no way to secretly shop for each other and hide gifts until Christmas Eve. Besides, we’re trying to minimize our possessions, so our Christmas gifts to each other are good quality, practical items.

So, we thought we were just about done with all our spending here in the Phoenix area, and were planning to pull out of here on Wednesday, the day after Christmas. But of course, plans are made to be changed. A few days ago we started noticing that when we flushed the toilet, the water wouldn’t shut off when you released the foot pedal. We would have to really jiggle and bang on it to stop the water flow before it totally filled up the bowl and overflowed. So yesterday, Andy checked on parts numbers and called Camping World, knowing that since it was Christmas Eve, they would be closing early. We got to them just in the nick of time and after talking to the parts tech, wound up buying a complete new toilet since the foot pedal mechanism cannot be replaced separately.

Since we now have another to-do item on our list, we elected to extend our stay here in the mobile home park by another day. Fortunately they were able to accommodate us, and we were still eligible for one more night at the discounted rate from Passport America. This actually worked out for the best because we still have not received our latest mail shipment from our forwarding service in Livingston, Texas. Hopefully our mail will arrive on Wednesday.

So, here it is, Christmas Day, and we’re going to enjoy being together on the road. Last night we did our traditional snack spread while we watched “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” for the 1,738th time, followed by “Springsteen on Broadway” on Netflix. Today we’re having cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and then I’m going to make my famous vegan pot roast–well, it’s famous in our house anyway. We’re going to visit the gravesites of Andy’s parents and leave some Christmas flowers there, and then hopefully drive by his old neighborhood to check it out.

Tomorrow will be last minute chores, including installing the new toilet, as we prepare to hit the road again.

Where are we going next? We’re still not 100% sure, but we’re leaning toward Yuma where it will be warmer. There’s a cold front moving in over the next few days. We are looking at staying mostly in a BLM Long Term Visitors Area (LTVA) for the winter, but we’re closely monitoring the situation with the government shutdown. From what we understand, the water was to be shut off and services suspended at the LTVA’s in the event of a shutdown, even though you can still camp there. The trash won’t be collected and bathrooms won’t be cleaned or restocked. The office won’t be manned, so there won’t be anyone there to collect camping fees. Weird situation for sure!

So that’s where we are now! I do miss my family so much this Christmas–I’m sending my love to my parents, all my brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews and their spouses, and great-nieces and nephews, including two new ones that are due to arrive in the next month. Merry Christmas, y’all!! And Merry Christmas to Andy’s brother and sister-in-law in Indiana, as well as his nephew and nieces and their families–hope you all have a joyous Christmas and New Year!!

Stay tuned to find out where we’re headed to next–you’ll know as soon as we do!!

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Solar Equipment, Battery Monitoring, True Cost of Dumping

Our primary focus over the past week has been learning to manage our power consumption and battery charging. We have not had another episode of dead batteries, but we’re very diligent about manually checking the voltage on the batteries several times a day. Andy is still convinced that they are not holding a charge the way they should, even though they are brand new. But without any prior experience with boondocking, we don’t have anything to compare it to.

During the day, we hardly use the lights, so the only things that should be drawing on the battery are: (1) the CO2/propane monitor, (2) the water pump, (3) the thermostat in the refrigerator which runs on propane while boondocking, and (4) the backup camera monitor and dashboard display. My guess is that this last item is the one that is creating the greatest draw on the battery, but there’s no way to turn it off unless you just pull the fuse or disconnect the wiring.

Never tire of these beautiful sunsets!

Before the batteries went dead, we were running the generator for about an hour in the morning and an hour at night, and we weren’t testing the battery voltage. Now we’re finding that we need to run the generator at least 90 minutes each time. If there is any significant power draw on the generator while it’s running (i.e. using the Instant Pot or the microwave) then we need to run it longer in order to top off the batteries. That means more gas is being used at the rate of about 1 gallon for every 2-1/2 hours of generator time.

On Friday we drove to Phoenix to pick up our solar equipment, which we had had shipped to our friends’ house. When we got back to the rig and unpacked everything, we had three solar panels, the Kodiak portable generator, a 30′ solar cable, and three LED outdoor lights. Unfortunately, we have not yet received the two chaining cables to connect the three solar panels together (these were supposed to be part of the kit), or the car charger to charge the Kodiak while we’re driving (not part of the kit). Andy is going to contact the company first thing this morning to find out when we can expect those items.

Our new Kodiak portable generator to be charged with solar panels

We were able to connect one of the panels to the Kodiak and test it out, even though it was pretty overcast this weekend. But we really need those chaining cables and a good sunny day to see the real potential of this system.

Kodiak linked to one solar panel, tested successfully

Yesterday we drove into Tucson and went to Home Depot where Andy picked up some PVC pipe and fittings to make supports for the solar panels so we can stand them up and lean them at the right angle to get the most sunlight. He’ll be working on those this week.

On Saturday we drove to Eloy again to refuel, dump the tanks, and refill the fresh water tank. The one downside to this boondocking spot is that it’s not really close to a dump station. We drove 64 miles roundtrip to take care of this little bit of housekeeping. The rig gets about 8.5 miles per gallon, and gas cost us $2.60/gallon, so it cost us about $19.58 in gas, plus the $8.16 dump fee at Flying J, for a total of $27.74 to dump the tanks and get fresh water. (Flying J charges $12 to dump and get water, but we get a discount with our Good Sam’s card.)

The exciting news is that we went SIX NIGHTS this time without dumping! That’s a new record for us!! We have never really pushed it to the limit to see how long we can go. The last thing I want to happen is for the black tank to fill up in the middle of the night. YUCK!!

Technically we could save a little money by driving back into Tucson to the free dump station we found two weeks ago, but the hassle of driving in city traffic offsets the small savings. Alternately, we could go to the nearby state park and pay $15 to dump and get water, but we would still have to drive somewhere else to get gas and propane, so we just prefer to drive a little further and take care of everything in one location.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been camped here in the Cactus Forest for almost two weeks. We’ll be pulling out on Thursday, headed to an RV park in Glendale, Arizona for Christmas. While I’m looking forward to having full hookups again, I’m going to miss the peace and quiet and wide open spaces of our boondocking spot. We’re already looking forward to heading further southwest for the new year.

We’ll always remember our first true boondocking spot in the Cactus Forest

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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!!

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Safe travels, and Happy Holidays!!

Dead Batteries Again, Geocaching, Maintenance

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

New batteries installed to make boondocking more comfortable

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

Until yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So stay tuned to see how this turns out!!

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

My first geocache find was inside a fake rock

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

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

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

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

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

Handy Andy taking care of preventative maintenance on the roof

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

Sunset on 12/11/18 was especially spectacular!

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

Keeping our fingers crossed on the battery situation!

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Happy Holidays, everyone!

Museum, Enchilada Fries and We Go Solar

We’re down to our last few days here in New Mexico and we’re trying to make the most of them before we pull up stakes and head to Arizona for the winter.

Another beautiful sunrise at Pancho Villa State Park

On Wednesday morning we visited the Columbus Depot Museum which is housed in the old train depot and operated by the Columbus Historical Society. The building itself is worth seeing with the old original floors and windows. They have one room dedicated to the Pancho Villa raid from March 9, 1916, including a diorama that shows how the town was laid out at the time, as well as one of Pancho’s sombreros, the door of the bank vault with a bullet hole in it, and lots of other memorabilia.

A second room is dedicated to railroad memorabilia, as Columbus was originally a railroad town where trains would move soldiers to/from Camp Furlong, ore from the mines in Arizona, and passengers headed west from El Paso. The third room contains a lot of antique household and business items from the early 1900’s.

Inside the Train Room in the Columbus Depot Museum

There’s a small gift shop just inside the entrance that sells trinkets and books. Outside the building there is an old fire engine, some more old farm equipment, and a gazebo that is a recreation of the reviewing stand where General Pershing stood to review the troops as they marched back into the US after chasing Villa’s army through northern Mexico after the raid.

The gentleman who was working in the museum that morning was quite a crusty character. He’s a volunteer, so he gets a free RV spot behind the museum (there’s a second volunteer and they trade shifts). He had his dog with him at his desk, and seeing as how we were the only ones that visited the museum that morning, he was ready to talk…and talk….and talk. He was pretty entertaining, especially later when we could overhear his phone conversation with someone regarding current events….let’s just say he was colorful. 🙂

After touring the museum, we walked across the street and had lunch at the Borderland Cafe so we could contribute to the local economy. This is a popular spot with the locals, as evidenced by the number of people that stopped in for lunch wearing construction vests or cowboy hats and boots. They offered a few veggie options–I got the veg-wich which was a sandwich made with hummus and veggies. Andy got the veggie pizza which was very good. One of their specialties is their enchilada fries–french fries covered with green Hatch chile sauce and Menonite cheese. We split an order of those.

Enchilada fries at the Borderland Cafe in Columbus NM

Yesterday (Thursday) we had to say “See you down the road!” to our new friend, fellow nomad and guitarist-extraordinaire Gary Piazza, who had reached the 14-day stay limit here in the park. He’s moving to nearby Rockhound State Park for a few days before heading to Payson, Arizona where he has a gig waiting. Safe travels, Gary!!

We spent yesterday afternoon hanging out at the local library/computer center, using their speedy wi-fi to do some research on boondocking spots in Arizona and planning our travels for the next week or so.

And speaking of boondocking….

We are about to embark on a whole new chapter in our RV living experience. To date, we have only boondocked twice that I remember. The first time was in a Walmart parking lot in Chattanooga, TN in September 2017 when we were on our way to our first RV rally in Sevierville, TN. The second time was the first night after we hit the road back in August, when we stayed at a Harvest Host location, Landry Vineyards in Monroe, LA.

In each of those cases we didn’t have to be too concerned about how much water, tank capacity or battery power we used because we were only off-grid for one night before getting back to hook-ups. But our plans for the next few months are to spend quite a bit of time off-grid, camping for free on BLM land primarily, so we’ll need to learn to camp differently and more conservatively.

For electric power, we do have a generator that uses gas from the fuel tank on the RV. The generator can charge the house batteries as well as provide power for energy hogs like the microwave and the air conditioner. But we would like to limit the use of the generator as much as possible to conserve gasoline and lower our fuel costs.

And since we are going to be spending a large portion of our time in the Southwest where the sun shines almost every day, it just made sense to invest in a solar system.

Kodiak portable solar generator and panels

After doing a lot of research over the past year, we settled on a solar kit that includes the Kodiak portable solar generator, three 100-watt solar panels, cables, and three outdoor lights. We ordered it yesterday from Earthtech Products and made arrangements to have it shipped to a friend’s house in Phoenix where we’ll pick it up when it arrives in a few weeks (thanks, Nicki and Avery!!).

The Kodiak is a 90 amp-hour lithium battery. The unit has multiple plugs which can be used to keep all our devices charged. In fact, there’s even a 30-amp plug where we could plug the RV directly into the unit to run small things like lights and fans if our house batteries should fail.

If you’re interested in the system, here’s a link Earthtech’s website where you can get the specs.

The cost? Total was $2215, including a car charger which will charge the Kodiak from the alternator while we’re driving the RV.

So yes, this is an investment, not just an expense. The solar panels will allow us to keep our house batteries charged so we can stay off-grid longer, and the Kodiak will provide a secondary power source when we need extra charging power for phones, laptop, Kindles, walkie-talkies, cameras…all that electronic gear.

We do have a couple of maintenance items in the RV that need to be addressed. The light fixture over the kitchen sink appears to have a faulty switch…it keeps dimming and brightening intermittently. Also we have some weather stripping on the passenger-side over-cab area that has come loose and needs to be replaced. Handy Andy will be taking care of these items soon.

Today we’re going to make one last trip across the border to have lunch in Palomas and, yes, visit the bakery again. Tomorrow we’ll drive to Deming to pick up our latest mail packet from our mail service in Livingston, TX, get some groceries, do a little sight-seeing and visit a local coffee shop that looks interesting.

And then on Sunday, we break camp and head west.

Life is good in the Borderlands!

We hope you’re enjoying the blog! Be sure to subscribe to get notifications of new posts when they are published. You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads to see what we’re doing between blog posts.

Stay safe, follow your dreams, and live every day as if it’s your last!!

Campsite Roulette in Elephant Butte Lake SP New Mexico

As I mentioned in our last post, we decided to leave Percha Dam State Park on Sunday because they did not have a dump station, and we made reservations for a 10-night stay in Elephant Butte Lake State Park. New Mexico uses an online reservation service, so in addition to the $4/night for the site, there was a $12 “transaction fee”, which made the total $52–still not bad for 10 nights. Based on the photo of the site alone, we selected site #42 which overlooked the reservoir.

Okay, so that was a rookie mistake.

The drive from Percha Dam SP to Elephant Butte Lake SP only took about 35 minutes, so it wasn’t a bad drive.  We arrived around 2:30 PM on Sunday afternoon and found our campsite in the Quail Run Loop of the park. It did indeed have a good view of the lake through the windshield. However, it also sloped downward at such at angle that there was no way we could get the RV level. We stacked the leveling blocks up to three-high under the front wheels, and it was still sloping downward.

Now, the nice thing about New Mexico state parks is that they set aside at least half of their campsites to be first-come first-served, and these campsites are every bit as nice as the reservation-only sites. We noticed that the campsite just across the road on the uphill side, site #32, was open and it was first-come first served. It appeared to be much more level than our reserved site. So we decided to move to #32 for at least one night until we could get our bearings.

View from Site #32. Just in front of us is Site #43, next to our original Ste #42.

The first-come first-served sites must be paid for by cash or check when you get to the campground. You pick up a pay envelope from the self-serve pay station located in the campground, fill out the triplicate form indicating how many nights you’ll be in the site, and provide your annual pass number if you have one (we do.) You tear off the white and yellow copies and stick those on the windshield of your vehicles, and the pink copy is actually the envelope where you insert your money. You insert the envelope in the pay station deposit box and you’re set. And they DO come around every morning to check to make sure you’ve paid.

So we paid $4 for site #32 and moved in. This site wasn’t quite as level as it appeared, but it was more a problem with the side-to-side leaning than the front-to-back incline. We made it work with the handy leveling blocks but decided that we would look around a little bit more to see if there was a site we liked better. We checked the Desert Cove Loop next door as well as the rest of Quail Run Loop and made note of several sites that looked promising, some of which required a reservation.

In the meantime, I went online and cancelled our original reservation for the downhill slide (Site #42). The cancellation cost us another $12 transaction fee, a $5 cancellation fee, and $4 forfeiture of the first night’s stay for a total of $21.

Cha-ching!

After getting a good night’s sleep in site #32, I had my breakfast and then went for a walk. I decided to check out another camping area just up the park road called Lions Beach. There are three loops in this area. Loops A and C are reservation only, and Loop B is first-come, first-served.  I walked through Loop B and found some amazing campsites. Lions Beach is on a hill that overlooks the reservoir, and the loops are terraced with A being the highest and C being the lowest in elevation. Because of the terracing, every site has a great view. All of the sites looked very level, and even though they are a little close together, each site has a ramada with a picnic table and a fire ring.

There were a couple of available sites in the middle of the loop, and campers in a few other sites were making preparations to leave. When I got back from my walk, Andy was just finishing his breakfast, so when he was done we got in the truck and drove back to Lions Beach so I could let him check out what I had found.

And that’s when it happened. The stars aligned, the Universe smiled, and all our collected good karma came home to roost.

At the very end of the loop, the corner site #79 was being vacated. The site sits on a bluff with over 180° of open viewing of the reservoir and surrounding park area, without having to look at another RV. The previous occupants of the site were in the process of hitching their huge fifth-wheel trailer to their truck and unhooking their utilities.

We knew we would have to move fast if we wanted to snag this spot. We couldn’t be the only ones interested in it. So we drove back to our campsite and waited a few minutes until we saw the fifth-wheel come driving up the road to the dump station, and then we pounced!

We grabbed our lawn chairs and put them in the truck and we drove back over to Lions Beach to site #79, where we found that no one else had yet claimed it. On the way, we had stopped at the pay station and picked up the permit envelope, so I filled it out and stuck the white copy on the truck window, hung the yellow copy on the site number post, and we left the truck and lawn chairs and walked back to our RV at site #32. However, I didn’t yet pay for the site until we were sure that the RV would be level and that the electric and water worked fine. But the important thing was that we had staked our claim.

Staking our claim to Site #79, best site in the campground.

We moved the RV to site #79 after making a stop at the dump station to empty one night’s worth of….well, you know. Andy backed the RV into our new site, and found that it was perfectly level with no leveling blocks needed. Hallelujah!! The utilities all checked out, and we quickly settled in. We decided to go ahead and pay for seven nights ($28), after which we’ll pay for another six. New Mexico state parks limit you to 14 days, after which you must leave the park for at least six days before you can return.

We could not believe our luck! Two people have already stopped by and told us they had been waiting for this site, and that it’s the best site in the park. We totally agree!! You can do all the research and preparation you want, but sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time and be willing to make changes on the fly.

We’ve learned our lesson about New Mexico State Parks. From now on we’ll plan to arrive on Sunday through Thursday and look for a first-come first-served site, rather than paying the transaction fees to make online reservations.

After we settled in and had lunch, we drove in to Truth or Consequences and dropped off our absentee ballots at the post office for the November election. Then we went to Walmart to pick up a few groceries. This Walmart has covered parking with solar panels on roofs, which we found interesting. While shopping in the store we met a very nice, talkative gentleman named Rick who gave us the scoop on things to see and some of the history of the area. We will definitely check out some of his suggestions while we’re here.

Moonrise over the reservoir as seen from our front porch

After dinner we sat outside and watched a beautiful sunset. This park is full of jackrabbits, quail, squirrels and doves, as well as many other bird species. The rabbits and quail are so cute, they come very close to the campsites and are easy to spot. The cats are enjoying watching them through the screens as well.

Sunset from our front porch

Today is supposed to be rainy and cooler so we’ll probably stay in. The rest of the week is supposed to be clear and warmer, which will be really nice.

We feel so fortunate and blessed to be on this journey, living this lifestyle!

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